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Viruses Vs. Superbugs: A Solution to the Antibiotics Crisis? (Macmillan Science)
Viruses Vs. Superbugs: A Solution to the Antibiotics Crisis? (Macmillan Science)
by T. Häusler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £30.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history of phage therapy and its possible future, 6 Jun. 2009
This is mostly a history of bacteriophage therapy with an emphasis on the pioneering work of French bacteriologist Felix d'Herelle beginning before World War I. Much of the early work was done during the Great War in places like the Soviet Union to combat bacterial infection associated with battlefield wounds. D'Herelle himself went to such places as India to study cholera phages and was able to save the lives of many people.

Bacteriophages are viruses that exclusively attack bacteria much the same way other viruses attack our cells by invading and taking over the DNA machinery to reproduce themselves. After getting the bacterium to produce perhaps as many as a thousand or more viruses the phages burst open the bacteria cells walls with enzymes and flow out to attack other bacteria. With such a multiplier effect it doesn't take long to infect and destroy billions of bacteria. Typically there are some bacteria that are immune to the particular phage but their numbers are so small that our immune systems finish them off. Some of the cures in the book have been spectacular. Hausler reports on dying patients up and feeling fine in a day or two.

Over the years there were many such successes. However, because the actual studies and experiments were conducted with less rigor than modern standards require and because there were dosage problems and unsubstantiated claims, bacteriophage therapy has had a checkered history. When penicillin and other antibiotics came into widespread use in the forties, phage therapy was all but forgotten. Now with bacteria becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics, interest in phage therapy has returned. Hausler devotes a significant portion of the book describing the problems and promises of phage therapy and explains why progress toward using phages against resistant bacteria has been so slow.

Where it seems likely that new successes will occur (and are occurring) is in veterinarian medicine. Until it becomes easier (and cheaper) to get phage products through the FDA in the US, most of the work will probably be with animals, especially those animals like cows, pigs, and chickens that become our food. With part of the problem of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics due to their use in animal feed, using phage therapy instead, or in combination with antibiotics, could become widespread.

While it is true that bacteria evolve and become resistant to their phages, it is also true that phages themselves can evolve to bypass bacterial resistance. In other words there is a primordial "arms war" going on between phages and bacteria of which we can take advantage. One method microbiologists use to find phages that work against specify bacteria is to take water from sewers where the bacteria have been excreted from people or animals and search that water for phages. There will be found the phages that have evolved to attack the bacteria that have evolved!

The book has plenty of endnotes and a good index. Of special interest perhaps are the appendices, one listing common bacteria and what they do to us, and the other detailing the advantages and disadvantages of phage therapy.

All and all this is a good introduction to an exciting and promising area of medical science. But note well the question mark at the end of the book's subtitle: "A Solution to the Antibiotic Crisis?" It would appear that phage therapy will not solve the crisis by itself, but will most likely allow us to rely less on antibiotics, thereby allowing some antibiotics to be used for longer periods of time before bacterial resistance sets in.


Food Inc.: A Participant Guide (Media tie-in): How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It: A Participant ... and Poorer and What You Can Do About It
Food Inc.: A Participant Guide (Media tie-in): How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It: A Participant ... and Poorer and What You Can Do About It
by Karl Weber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the front lines of the food wars, 21 May 2009
This book is a companion piece to the documentary Food Inc. It consists of 25 essays on topics ranging from agribusiness, to so-called "frankenfoods," to pesticides and hormones, to biofuels, to nutrition and global hunger. The essays are written by acknowledged experts including Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (2006) and Michael Pollan, who wrote some of the best books I have read on food, including The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001), The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), and In Defense of Foods: An Eater's Manifesto (2008)--see my reviews at Amazon.

The topics are presented in a fairly balanced way with one essay followed by an essay termed "ANOTHER TAKE." For example Peter Pringle's piece "Food, Science, and the Challenge of World Hunger--Who Will Control the Future?" argues that genetically modified (GM) foods are not as dangerous as some think and they can, with proper precautions taken, help us feed a growing world population. However in the next essay, using the term "genetically engineered" (GE) foods, Ronnie Cummins argues that such foods are dangerous and threaten to take away from local farmers the ability to grow food and give that power solely to agribusiness.

In his essay, "Exploring the Corporate Powers behind the Way We Eat," Robert Kenner recounts his experience making Food Inc. emphasizing how closed and secretive are the big corporations that produce and process our food. They wouldn't let him and his camera crews into their plants and they made the people who would talk to him feel threatened. There was no counter to this, possibly because the agribusiness people wouldn't participate in the book just as they wouldn't cooperate in the making of the film. This is damning. Secrecy and closed-doors suggest that they have something to hide.

Nonetheless I have mixed feelings. There is no question that in an ideal world we would all have local access to organically grown and minimally processed foods--free range chickens and vegetables grown with natural fertilizers in a sustainable family farm environment where the animals are treated humanely. But we don't. Why? The usual answer is you can't produce food cheaply enough in that manner to feed a world of six and a half billion people. This book in effect argues that you can, and the real reason we don't is that the big corporations have a stranglehold on not just our governments but on the science and logistics required to deliver and present the food including labor, transportation, storage, and the markets. Small and local can't compete.

However, what is hardly mentioned in the book and seems almost taboo to say is that the underlying problem, which is only going to get worse, is the enormous demand for food put on our resources because we have too many people living on this planet. I can see a Wendell Berry kind of agrarian paradise possible after we cut our numbers by perhaps half (more would be better) with a larger percentage of the population choosing to become farmers.

Currently the Slow Foods, sustainable foods, organic foods, and the humane treatment to animals movements are mainly supported by society's well-to-do, its elites educationally and economically. The average person cannot afford to shop at Whole Foods, which is sometimes called "Whole Paycheck." Neither can your average urban or suburban dweller conveniently find his or her way to the local farmer's market, if there is one.

But the main problem in the United States is public ignorance. The average person has little understanding of nutrition and is bombarded by conflicting claims in the literature as the big corporations pay for studies that support their interests. On television and elsewhere there's an endless stream of ads promoting fast and cheap food, adulterated food, and food that entices and seduces with depictions of juicy, fatty, starchy essences. A secondary problem is the loss of the tradition of the home cooked meal. As Joel Salatin writes in his essay "Declare Your Independence": "Learn to Cook Again"(!). Much of the food that is bought at supermarkets and taken home to prepare is of the "throw it in the microwave" variety. With many if not most households having two bread winners or a single parent, who has the time and energy to prepare a complete home-cooked meal?

So ultimately the stranglehold that agribusiness has on our society is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle pursued by most people, a lifestyle that has removed us from the land and thrown us onto the concrete and asphalt jungles of our cities and suburbs, has taught us little to nothing about our real relationship with the natural environment and the foods that have sustained us for thousands of years. Instead we live in ignorance in an artificial and unsustainable world of mass produced, sanitized junk food, force fed to us as if by gigantic steam shovels. Or, to change the image, like our cattle, hogs and chickens we are kept at the trough and stuffed to the gills with an ever flowing stream of denatured concoctions of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, sugars and additives until perhaps someday we'll burst. Obesity and chronic disease reign supreme and all our days we will dwell in the house of the overfed and the under nourished.

I applaud editor Karl Weber and the others who contributed to this excellent book and hope it is widely read. And I wish the producers of the documentary a huge audience. Understanding and education come first. We as a society have to know there is a problem, and if this book and accompanying film reach large number of people, that will be a giant step in the right direction.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 5, 2010 9:40 PM BST


W [DVD]
W [DVD]
Dvd ~ Josh Brolin
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.98

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A vain little man, 20 May 2009
This review is from: W [DVD] (DVD)
Vain because he thought he was the decider and that God had chosen his ear in which to whisper. Little as measured by his talent compared to others who have held the office. But more than that, the tragedy of George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, is a direct result of a sociopathic personality that this film was not able to fully capture.

That personality belonged and belongs to Dick Cheney, Bush's prince of darkness-like vice president, a man who was able to manipulate W. as a puppeteer might manipulate a puppet by playing on W.'s vanity and insecurities, and on his vainglorious lust to outdo his father and to shine brighter than his brother Jed.

Or is it George W. himself who has the sociopathic personality? How can you approve the torture of people to find a justification to invade another country knowing full well that thousands of people will die because of your actions? Can you tell yourself you are bringing democracy to another land when in your heart of hearts you know that your motive is to be able to run for reelection as a wartime president or one who has just won a war and thereby upstage your father who was not reelected? I think the question of whether George W. was the more manipulated or more the manipulator has not yet been answered.

This film is curious in what it shows and where it would not go. We do not see W. as a boy blowing up frogs with firecrackers. There is no snorting of cocaine. We see him as a fraternity pledge at Yale ticking off the names and nicknames of his fellows, but what is missed is the significance of the nicknaming for George W., which is to control others through the threat of demeaning them with an embarrassing tag. We do see how nicknaming allows him to simplistically regard others, as he calls Cheney "Vice" (yes!) and slaps derogatory names on foreign leaders who fail to come into his war coalition. But the psychological essence of calling other people names is to boast a personality suffering from a poor self-image.

So the 43rd president was simultaneously a vain and self-conscious man acutely aware of his limitations, always working to boast himself up. He went to all the best private schools, knowing of course that only his father's money and prestige got him in, and of course as a C-student felt his miss-measure against the others. Yet he is that C-student who became the most powerful man in the world, and yet he had no idea how to use his power. He became isolated and controlled by the office of the presidency and by those in his inner circle.

There is always the danger when making a film focused on a putatively despicable character that you will by showing his all too human attributes and behaviors make him into an anti-hero with whom the audience cannot help but identify. I'm sure Oliver Stone was aware of this trap, but nevertheless he fell into it. We see George W. on the John, watching ballgames on TV, in domestic embrace with his wife. We see his father favoring the other son. We see George W. fail and fail again, and then we see him give up drinking and become a rousing political success as he helps guide his father's winning campaign for the presidency, as he wins the governorship of Texas and as he becomes president of the United States. In some ways--at least as far as intelligence and compromised morality goes--he rose from greater depths than perhaps any other American president.

But of course without the intervention of his father and being the son of a powerful man, George W. would probably have amounted to little. And so his triumph in becoming the 43rd president is tainted by the full knowledge that, as this film makes clear, he couldn't have done it without his father's influence and his father's name.

The real truth of the phenomenon that is George W. Bush lies not in him or the political dynasty he derailed or the shame he brought on America, but in the fact that so many Americans actually voted for him. He is the product of his times, and these were the times of great moral corruption in America, times in which preemptive war and torture became accepted practice, times in which the Republican Party became the property of people like Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Dick Cheney and the neocons, until in 2008 it became a parody of itself with Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber.

Josh Brolin is convincing in capturing the contradictions in W.'s personality while Richard Dreyfuss makes for a surprisingly apt Dick Cheney. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush is as pretty as pretty can be, and James Cromwell as the senior Bush is very true to type. Thandie Newton captured well Condoleezza Rice's quality of quiet, submissive loyalty while being able to keep her hands clean. The unavoidable weakness of the casting however is that the characters unfortunately do not look enough like the characters we have seen on TV to fool our eyes.

The script by Stanley Weiser, who also co-scripted Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987), and Stone's direction are competent but undistinguished and a bit shallow. The right way to make this film in my not so humble opinion is to really show us the evil of George W. Bush, the evil that was tragically the man, and the harm that he did to this country and to the people of Iraq, and to show us how America itself, from the Congress to the media to the pulpit and pew, was manipulated and complaisance in bringing about the tragedy. Instead Stone and Weiser emphasized George W.'s little guy vain personality and the irony of his rise to power.


Why Diet and Exercise Fail: How Current Research Contradicts Conventional Wisdom about Weight Loss
Why Diet and Exercise Fail: How Current Research Contradicts Conventional Wisdom about Weight Loss
by Daniel Matthew Korn
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finding the culprit leading to obesity in the American diet, 12 May 2009
Korn presents two arguments in this book, one major and one minor. The major argument is that caffeine consumption increases appetite leading to weight gain. He calls it "increasing our level of hunger." (e.g., p. 134)

Step by step he eliminates the usual suspects. First there is the idea that Americans don't get enough exercise. Actually he argues we get more exercise than people in some other countries who are not nearly as fat. In particular he cites a study showing "that levels of energy expenditure of women in rural Nigeria and metropolitan Chicago are not that different" while Nigerian women are relatively thin and American women relatively fat. (p. 9)

Second there is the idea that Americans are fat because they consume a diet that is too full of fatty foods. However, Korn points out that the Inuit and the French, for example, consume more fat than Americans but are not as fat. Also there is the experience of the Atkins diet which shows that a diet high in fat by itself doesn't necessarily lead to being fat.

Third there is the idea that eating unrefined carbohydrates is the culprit. However, Korn refers us to the Thai diet which is 80% white rice while pointing out that the Thai are much thinner than Americans.

Additionally, Korn points to the well-known phenomenon that people from other cultures who take up the American diet almost invariably become fatter than they were. So it IS something in the diet that is causing the weight gain and that something Korn insists is caffeine.

One reason we and all those people in white coats haven't been able to figure this out, Korn explains, is that genetic factors have muddied the waters. Some people, especially people of northern European linage, have genes that allow them to consume caffeine without raising their level of hunger. Other people, Hispanic for example, have no such genetic protection. Another reason that nutritionists haven't identified caffeine as a major factor in current obesity epidemic is that many nutritionists work for companies that use caffeine in their products. Such companies are not going to fund studies that show caffeine as a contributing cause of obesity.

Actually it has been known for at least a few decades that caffeine increases appetite, which is one of the reasons it is so popular. Korn refers to studies showing that people who drink diet soda, which typically has even more caffeine in it that sugared soda, are actually fatter than those who drink sugared soda or those who drink no soda at all. I can recall hearing about this irony some years ago.

Korn's minor argument is that lack of sleep leads to raised levels of cortisol in our bodies which is "a predictor of weight gain." (p. 103). Korn cites studies indicating that if we increase our intake of omega-3 fats relative to omega-6 fats in our diet we will sleep better and longer. It is the imbalance in our intake of these fats he argues that contributes indirectly to weight gain.

While I found Korn's arguments persuasive, it still boils down to calories in and calories out. Allowing for the fact that some people just naturally burn more calories than others, it is still the case that if you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight. Cutting out the caffeine may help people to some extent, but I think just eliminating all those juicy, oozing fat commercials on television and ads in magazines and elsewhere, would be even more effective in helping people live within their caloric means.

Furthermore, eating out less, eating more whole foods and "slow" foods and being aware of what you're eating, and eating more slowly while eschewing highly refined foods and so on, are factors each in themselves as important as cutting out caffeine in guarding against unhealthy weight gain. I had to drastically cut down on my consumption of caffeine many years ago because it made me nauseous as though sea sick. I now drink decaffeinated coffee only in the morning and thin tea at lunch, but for me at least there has been no change in appetite. I returned myself to a healthy weight by doing what most people cannot do, that is count calories.

Counting calories is time consuming and a nuisance. In the beginning it will take an hour a day or so, and for people who perforce must eat out a lot, it will involve a lot of guess work. Furthermore, there is a tendency to "estimate" instead actually count and that leads to fudging. Nonetheless, counting calories makes us more aware of what we are eating and allows us to be more in charge of what we eat (and how much) rather than relying on our appetite mechanism.


Little Children [DVD]
Little Children [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kate Winslet
Price: £3.75

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sexual realism?, 28 April 2009
This review is from: Little Children [DVD] (DVD)
The way director Todd Field handles human sexuality in this movie reminds me a bit of the way Todd Solondz handled it in Happiness (1998). There are the same starkly realistic depictions of a variety of human desires, lusts and cravings with perhaps an emphasis on what devotees of the missionary position might call "perversions." Although not quite as wild as Solondz's film, Little Children is equally challenging to politically correct notions of sexuality.

Kate Winslet stars as Sarah Pierce, a suburban mom who has a Master's in English lit and a husband who finds sex in cyber space more satisfying than sex with her. She joins (at a slight distance) some other more conventional suburban moms at the local playground where they sit around and talk while watching their children play. One of the things the women talk about is Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), who is a handsome stay at home dad who has twice fluked the bar exam. He takes care of his son while his high powered wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is busy bringing home the bacon. The women don't talk to him. They watch him warily but with keen interest and call him "the prom king." When Sarah catches her husband having sex with his computer (so to speak) she resolves to gain the Prom King for herself, partly out of sheer romantic lust and partly out of revenge.

While we watch the adulterous union unfold, we are given some perspective in the form of Ronnie J. McGorvey (played with appropriate creepiness by Jackie Earle Haley) who has just been released from prison after serving a term for exposing himself to children. A side complication arrives in the form of Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), who is a "retired" cop with a temper management problem and a tendency to find objects of hate onto which to direct his anger. Ronnie the pervert becomes his target.

All this seems...well, unremarkable and even tiresome except for the fact that everybody in the movie is flawed in some very serious and interesting way, and director Field's interpretation of the characters comes down resolutely on the side of the nonconventional. In some respects what Field and Tom Perrotta, who wrote the novel from which he and Field adapted the screenplay, are saying is that the characters are all little children (hence the title). And not only that, but we're all a bit perverse. It just depends on your point of view. Sarah's parenting skills are less than optimal and it's obvious that she is bored with being a stay at home mom. Her "perversion" is similar to Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary in that she wants more out of life than being a wife and mother. She wants, as she explains to the woman's book club, what Madame Bovary wanted, to satisfy "the hunger - the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness."

Brad wants to remain a child, being taken care of by his wife, while he pretends to study for the bar exam but instead plays touch football and watches the boys at the skateboard park as though a boy himself, or allows himself to be seduced by Sarah.

Ronnie wants to have sex with little girls, and Sarah's husband wants to have sex with a porn star--or perhaps they just want to masturbate to fantasies of same...and so on.

What makes this an excellent movie is first of all Kate Winslet who continues to prove she can play a wide variety of characters and get into their skin and become them as she has done in so many films. She brings the nuances of Sarah Pierce's character, her strengths and weaknesses, to life in a vivid and compelling way that forces us to identify with her, much the same way we identify with Madame Bovary.

Also first rate is the unflinching way human sexuality is presented and the refusal to accept conventionality that is the heart of this story. I think that directors Todd Field and Todd Solondz may be working in a new genre for the 21st century that might be called "sexual realism." Perhaps it is just a coincidence but both directors had Jane Adams play a kind of forlorn wallflower at the game of life in both movies. Perhaps she symbolizes in some strange way the confused, frustrated and deeply masked phenomenon that is human sexuality.

The real essence of the film is contained in the scene in which Ronnie enters the pool with all the children playing in it and the moms in the lounge chairs watching. Suddenly Sarah becomes aware that Ronnie the pervert is in the pool and then all the other moms become aware. There is a mass hysteria and a mass exit from the pool by the children. The moms are horrified and are desperate to know, "Did he touch you?" Ronnie is seen as some kind of bug-like creature who somehow will bring a contagion upon them through his touch. The point here and indeed throughout the film (and also in Solondz's film) is that we overreact to sex that offends us. We find the touch of a creepy pedophile worse than some kind of physical violence.

This is a thesis that will not find acceptance in America for many years to come if ever because sexual perversity is more threatening to most Americans than extreme violence. Why this should be so is not really a mystery. But to explain it here is beyond the scope of this review, and anyway explaining it would hardly change it. However the fact that Field and Solandz are bringing it to our attention is something new and is perhaps the beginning of a challenge to conventional morality.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2016 3:59 PM GMT


Just How Stupid are We: Facing the Truth About the American Voter
Just How Stupid are We: Facing the Truth About the American Voter
by Rick Shenkman
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe not as stupid as we were a few years ago, 11 April 2009
This is really about democracy in the age of mass media. What journalist and historian Rick Shenkman does is show how television and other mass media have changed the way democracy works in the United States. He shows how people are easily influenced by psychological factors, by "myths" and by appearances far more than they are by substantive issues or the policies of the candidates.

Shenkman thinks that civic lessons (his prescription in the final chapter) will solve the problem, but I think the problem is far deeper than might appear. Quite simply the modern state has gotten too complex for voters to comprehend how it might be governed. Consequently they have no idea whom to vote for since they don't have any idea which programs will work and which won't. So they try to make a judgment about a candidate, a gut feel for the man or woman. That's the best they can do. As Shenkman points out the average person with a job, a commute, family responsibilities, etc., doesn't have time to study the issues or to gain an understanding of the problems our societies face. What is more, the people actually holding office, our senators and congress persons themselves, don't have time to read the bills they vote on. They rely on staffers and lobbyists to do that for them, even including drafting the bills in the first place. In short we are becoming more and more removed from the actual process of governance. In the long run we may rely on software and robotic systems do the job of governing for us.

Because voters do not understand the issues except on the most elementary and emotional level, they are easily swayed by advertising. Thirty-second TV commercials are basically what voters rely on for information about the candidates. This allows those with the money to pay for the commercials to control elections. Large corporations contribute money to candidates that will do their bidding and those candidates use the money to fashion ads to seduce the electorate. What we have effectively is democracy by capitalism. I wish Shenkman had focused more on this aspect of the problem rather than on the stupidity of the average voter.

By the way, Shenkman gives five defining characteristics of stupidity on pages 14-15. They are "sheer ignorance," "negligence," "wooden-headedness," "shortsightedness," and "bone-headedness." I would say that stupidity is lethargy of the mind, a slowness to make connections, and willful ignorance. But however you define it, stupidity is a great failing.

Shenkman sees voters as relying on myths, such as George Washington never telling a lie or of Teddy Roosevelt leading a glorious charge up San Juan Hill. He quotes John F. Kennedy as saying "Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." The central myth of American politics, Shenkman believes, is that of "The People," a term he invariably capitalizes. He credits James Madison with being one of the first politicians to make good use of this "endlessly elastic term (p. 65). He adds that this "classic throwaway line with a pleasant populist tinge" (also p. 65) has become endlessly useful in such pronouncement as "the wisdom of the people," or "The People" can be relied upon to discern the truth, to do the right thing, etc.

Politicians of whatever stripe habitually refer to "the American people" as believing this or that or wanting this or that or whatever it is that the politician is advocating or against. Clergymen pretend to speak for God. Politicians pretend to speak for the people. But The People is not a homogenous entity. The People is really a diverse group of conflicting interests. Nobody really speaks for The People anymore than anyone speaks for God. They would just like us to think they do.

As a historian it is natural that Shenkman give the reader a historical perspective on democracy in America, and he does that in excellent style. His prose is eminently readable and his command of American history admirable. He shows how democracy has changed from when only land owners could vote through the rise of so-called Jacksonian democracy to the enfranchisement of women to especially the age of television. (No doubt he is now writing about democracy in the age of the Internet, and I suspect also on how Barack Obama used that newest medium to defeat the Republicans last year.)

Shenkman reflects on the changes brought about by the shrinking of the influence of party bosses and labor unions. He recalls how John F. Kennedy's staff effectively used appearance before the television cameras to win the presidency in 1960 by defeating Richard Nixon (who apparently wasn't aware that "the camera never blinks" and would catch him sweating!). Shenkman relates how sound bites and catchy phrasing ("There you go again") helped to make a grade B movie actor president and leader of the free world, a man who is now credited with bringing down the Berlin Wall and Soviet communism. (More myths in the making!)

In the penultimate chapter Shenkman talks about how we can't publically talk about how stupid the electorate is. That's taboo. Liberals can't say the people are stupid because that goes against their principles. Conservatives can say it because those stupid people are the ones that voted them into office! Since the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court have largely been in the hands of the Republican Party.

Finally what fascinates me most about what has happened to American democracy over my lifetime has been how the average idiot has gone from being a donkey Democrat to being a Rethuglican. Hopefully after the disaster of the George W. Bush/Dick Chaney/Karl Rove/Donald Rumsfeld era the "stupid" electorate with gain some smarts and start electing people who at least believe in governing and who rely on rationality and evidence as opposed to faith-based ignorance.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2009 1:44 AM BST


Did Man Create God?: Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain?
Did Man Create God?: Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain?
by David E. Comings
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, fascinating and utterly convincing, 8 April 2009
The obvious answer to the not so rhetorical question in the title is yes, of course. Comings however gives a most complete and thoroughly convincing answer in 694 carefully considered pages. The book left this reader a bit in awe of not only his erudition, energy and competence, but most impressed with his generosity of spirit in tackling the project in such a thorough manner. The deeper question of whether God exists independently of man's creation is of course another question entirely, and not one that I think anybody can answer, and certainly Comings does not attempt to do so. He writes:

"...[T]he questions 'Did Man Create God?' or 'Is the Theory of God a man-made theory?' are fundamentally different from the question 'Does God Exist?' It is perfectly possible that the answer to the question, 'Did Man Create God?' is 'Yes,' and yet a God, different than the one man made, still exists." (p. 640)

Dr. Comings makes it clear however that such gods as depicted in the Bible and other religious works, gods that bring havoc upon the world and intercede in human affairs, answering or not answer prayers, defeating or not defeating enemies, etc., are, by their very nature, obvious projections of the human mind. One the reasons that Comings went to the considerable trouble to produce this rather remarkable tome is to remove any doubt on that score. The evidence he presents from a wide range of disciplines is all but overwhelming.

In addition to being a physician, Dr. Comings is also a neuroscientist and a molecular geneticist. A good portion of this book is devoted to applying knowledge gleaned from neuroscience and genetics to the question "Did Man Create God?" Additionally Comings brings evidence from evolution, history and philosophy to "provide strong evidence that man made up the Theory of God in an attempt to explain how the universe, the earth, and man were created." (p. 642) Comings shows how God is maintained in our brains and in human society because belief in God has proven adaptive in the Darwinian sense and efficacious psychologically in the sense that God is the answer to all the unanswerables, and as such, is essential to humanity's mental homeostasis.

To maintain this dualism, however, Comings sees humans as having a split consciousness. He writes: "One of the central themes of this book is the remarkable ability of man to possess both a rational brain that critically analyzes and assesses all...important questions and a spiritual brain that does not care much about facts and just plunges ahead with its need to find the transcendent, to rise above mere mortality, and to connect with an all-encompassing spiritual presence." (p. 642)

Belief in God can be seen as part of a spiritual dimension to human existence. However I would say that belief in the sort of God that would reward mass killings with sexual fun in heaven with many virgins is not spiritual at all, but is instead a kind of bestial expression of human politics and the war system. In contrast, a desire to transcend the reality of mortal flesh is what is spiritual. Comings demonstrates that genetically and neurologically, this spirituality is what is hardwired into our brains and not a specific belief in God or gods. He writes: "Spirituality can be defined as a feeling of a connection with something greater than oneself including any form of social order. Perhaps the greatest factor in the evolution of spirituality is that such a trait would maximize the development of man as a social animal." (p. 530)

Most books exceeding 600 pages have proven in my experience to be too long and in need of reduction. Dr. Comings' book is the exception. He writes long because he writes thoroughly with a keen desire to make an irrefutable case. I believe he has succeeded admirably. Some of the material he covers is difficult, but he writes in such a clear and engaging manner that we are marvelously informed. Additionally the text is adorned and augmented with numerous color prints, drawings, tables, photos, graphs and other artwork. The entire book is printed on expensive glossy paper so that it weighs 2.65 pounds. (Yes, I weighed it.) This is indeed a magnum opus, a fitting testament to all that Dr. Comings has learned in a lifetime of study and practice.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If only--if only!--this book were required reading for all of humankind how much better we would understand ourselves and others, and how so much of the hatred, prejudice, plain ignorance and stupidity that characterizes human affairs and leads to untold amounts of pain and suffering would dissipate like the wisps of a bad dream.


The Relationship Training Manual for Men* *Women's Edition
The Relationship Training Manual for Men* *Women's Edition
by Ph. D. David Unger
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Relationships 101 to mastery for both men and women, 30 Mar. 2009
This book is the same as the excellent "The Relationship Training Manual for Men" augmented with 49 pages of very interesting asides for women scattered throughout the text. Dr. Unger explains in the Introduction:

"I considered toning down what I had written for men for fear of offending women. But that seemed a disservice to both women and men....This way, you get to be that fly on the wall and look inside the locker room as I try to coach the guys so that they can win at the game of love." (p. 9)

Here's an example: "Aside to women: What kind of sex do you want to have?...Sadly, to this day, many women are reluctant to truthfully voice their desires. It is sometimes easier for women to say what they don't want than what they do." (p. 299)

So true, and that is not likely to change because what women really love is when a man discerns this himself. Women will "instruct" men in technique, however, and if you read between the lines of what they don't want you might be able to figure out what they really want.

Here's another aside to women: "You know that if your man talks to you about sex, there is a good chance he is going to say things you are not going to like hearing. He will compare you to someone else or say things in a way that you find crude or insulting..." (p. 285)

Men are crude, relatively speaking, and few men realize that the language of love for women is largely symbolic, although the actions have to be real. Women should also be advised that comparing him to other men can only be done in a positive way. Neither men nor women like unflattering comparisons.

On pages 220-221 Unger advises women (since they have "substantially better communication skills") to be "the overseer to ensure that...discussions rarely escalate." This is excellent advice. In a normal relationship if you do this it will lead to two positive results. One, he will feel freer to be candid; and two, he will consciously or unconsciously realize that you have control of the situation--at least that you have control of yourself--and he will respect that and may even emulate such wise behavior.

As far as the meat of the book goes (no pun intended) let me say that any man, regardless of age, station in life, regardless of whatever fine or not so fine qualities he may or may not have, any man with the desire and the need to make a relationship work will find this book invaluable. And readable, and sly. Unger knows relationships and he writes in a lively and vivid style that is candid to the point of utter bluntness at times.

Although this book is written for males, it is clearly a manual that women will like. Unger understands women and their needs. His goal is to help men understand women to the extent that they can form and maintain a relationship while at the same time being true to themselves. Yes, Unger tells us what women really want, but it's complex and it changes. And by the by he also tells us what men want, which is not always as obvious as some women think.

In a sense Unger generalizes about men and women. Guys are guys: they want the remote and not a lot of talk. Women are women and they want to infinitely examine the relationship and feel adored. But both want to have control. This is the key: if you can make your partner feel that he or she is in control while knowing all the while that you really have the upper hand in the things that really matter, well then, the relationship will work.

Unger brings these relationship questions and problems to life through illustrative dialogue and interior monologues: she said, he said, she thought, he thought...she wants, he wants, and then critiques the scene and gives advice on what to say and what do that will not only avoid unhappiness but actually help you to get what you want out of the relationship--even sometimes to get your own way.

Well, to get your way more often than you are getting it now. Men and women are different and Unger appreciates those differences and spells them out as they relate to various situations. She wants to go out and you want to stay home. Obviously if she stayed home all day and you were at work all day, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why it is she who wants to go out. But what do you do? Unger shows you how to win the big ones and to let the little matters go as they may. Of course if you are at loggerheads about something that is vitally important to both of you, then maybe you have an intractable problem. It's all compromise, but Unger isn't suggesting that you become a "Yes, dear" kind of guy--however sometimes that helps. Lose the little ones and you'll have a better chance of winning the big ones--and by the way, it's important to know which are which.

I'm an old man and I've known many women and have lived with a few for many years, and I can tell you that to make a relationship work requires work and it requires compromise. If you follow Dr. Unger's advice and understand it well, you can have the confidence to go after the best of partners and have an excellent chance of getting and keeping the one you love.

Do yourself a favor. Buy this book and read it together. You don't have to fill in the blank lines or do all the exercises. Just read the book. It will help a lot, believe me.


The Relationship Training Manual for Men
The Relationship Training Manual for Men
by Ph. D. David Unger
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Relationships 101 to mastery, 16 Mar. 2009
Any man, regardless of age, station in life, regardless of whatever fine or not so fine qualities he may or may not have, any man with the desire and the need to make a relationship work will find this book invaluable. And readable, and sly. Unger knows relationships and he writes in a lively and vivid style that is candid to the point of utter bluntness at times. Here he is asking the reader to rate himself as a lover on a one to ten scale:

"How would you feel about sharing that number with your friends? How about if you had to tell all your friends the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your sex life?...Chances are, you would rather tell them how much money you really make." (pp. 258-259)

Fact is, most men are lousy lovers and they know it. Unger adds, "Whatever energy men can muster for foreplay and emotional connection during sex pretty much depletes the small amount of interest they have in connecting. By the time they climax, they have used up all their 'us'ing." (p. 259)

This sort of blunt candor is what makes this reality-based book work. Naturally Unger explains in multitudinous detail exactly what women want and how you can greatly improve your chance of supplying that. Part of his advice reminds me a bit of a parody title for an old book on how to have good sex. The book was "The Joy of Sex." The parody title was "The Job of Sex." Yes, relationships require effort.

Although this book is written for males, it is clearly a manual that women would like. Unger understands women and their needs. His goal is to help men understand women to the extent that they can form and maintain a relationship while at the same time being true to themselves. Yes, Unger tells us what women really want, but it's complex and it changes. Part of the truth is that she doesn't always know herself what she wants, and part of the truth is "Yes, they want an "us," but they also want so much more. They want us to be all things. They want us to be strong and sensitive. Hard and soft. This and that. And, of course, we are all those things. It is just that sometimes when we are one they might want us to be the other." (p. 66).

There is something delicious about the way Unger generalizes about men and women. Guys are guys: they want the remote and not a lot of talk. Women are women and they want to infinitely examine the relationship and feel adored. But both want to have control. This is the key: if you can make your partner feel that she is in control while knowing all the while that you really have the upper hand in the things that really matter, well then, the relationship will work.

Unger brings these relationship questions and problems to life through illustrative dialogue and interior monologues: she said, he said, she thought, he thought...she wants, he wants, and then critiques the scene and gives advice on what to say and what do that will not only avoid unhappiness but actually help you to get what you want out of the relationship--even sometimes to get your own way.

Well, to get your way more often than you are getting it now. Men and women are different and Unger appreciates those differences and spells them out as they relate to various situations. She wants to go out and you want to stay home. Obviously if she stayed home all day and you were at work all day, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why it is she who wants to go out. But what do you do? Unger shows you how to win the big ones and to let the little matters go as they may. Of course if you are at loggerheads about something that is vitally important to both of you, then maybe you have an intractable problem. It's all compromise, but Unger isn't suggesting that you become a "Yes, dear" kind of guy--however sometimes that helps. Lose the little ones and you'll have a better chance of winning the big ones--and by the way, it's important to know which are which.

I'm an old man and I've known many women and have lived with a few for many years, and I can tell you that to make a relationship work requires work (which is why this manual is 360 pages long) and it requires compromise. You want a woman? You'll have to pay for her--not in money, but in love and caring, kindness and strength--and intelligence. Women think they want an alpha male, but if they get one they will find out that he is gone tomorrow unless THEY work very hard with skill and intelligence on the relationship; and in the end they may find that an alpha male is a good experience once in a while, but requires more high maintenance than a Barbie doll with a princess complex. If they have you instead of an alpha male (which is what they really have) they may find they have, if you have read and practiced the wisdom in this manual, somebody better than an alpha male, who, after all, has his de facto harem to attend to. In fact, I can say if you follow Dr. Unger's advice and understand it well, you can have the confidence to go after the best of women and have an excellent chance of getting and keeping her.

Do yourself and her a favor. Buy this book and read it. You don't have to fill in the blank lines or do all the exercises. Just read the book. It will help a lot, believe me.


Sex And War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism And Offers a Path to a Safer World
Sex And War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism And Offers a Path to a Safer World
by Malcolm Potts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books I've read in years, 13 Mar. 2009
Potts' main thesis is that all men have the potential to kill other people to get what they want or because they are told to kill or because they have dehumanized their victims. All men--you, me, and Professor Potts himself, but for the grace of God, could be in Darfur slicing people up with machetes. All that is required is that the victims be seen as members of an outgroup as opposed to the ingroup to which we belong.

This is a startling thesis, one that sets the standard social science model, in which it is said we have to be carefully taught to kill, on its head. What Potts says is that the violence we have seen throughout human history is innate, an evolved trait that was once useful for hominids in the tribal setting. This is also the thesis of evolutionary psychology. Instead of learning to kill, or being taught to kill, we need to be taught NOT to kill. We don't usually kill members of our family or friends because they are part of an ingroup with which we identify.

Potts has a solution, which is why he has written this fascinating and exhaustive treatise on war and its causes. His solution begins with an understanding that our psyches are governed by evolved Stone Age emotions similar to what we see in chimpanzees as they conduct their horrific raids on isolated individuals from neighboring groups, ripping and tearing their victims apart with their bare hands and teeth. Potts calls this "team aggression," a strategy that has been perfected in human beings. Men bond together and use their greater numbers to kill members of other tribes so as to gain resources such as territory, slaves and women to impregnate.

In the modern world we have men with Stone Age brains in positions of power with their fingers on weapons of mass destruction. We know that they will posture and threaten and eventually convince themselves of the evil of the enemy and pull the trigger.

Understanding all this, Potts moves to the solution. Since it is men--not women--who engage in team aggression, we need to put women in positions of power since they have proven to be less likely to go on killing raids. (Potts presents a formidable amount of evidence to support this idea.) Furthermore, the average woman needs to be empowered to the extent that she can choose when and if to have children. Potts shows that countries with large and growing populations relative to resources are more likely to engage in raids on their neighbors than countries with stable populations. Additionally, it is the demographic makeup of the population that is significant. A country with a large percentage of young men relative to older men and women tends to be more violent. Women in sub-Saharan Africa for example typically do not have access to contraception and family planning. Consequently they (and women in the Middle East as well) typically have six, seven or eight children in their lifetimes. Rapid population growth is the result which strains resources and leads to a society with a lot of young men in it who have little to lose and so are easily led to acts of violence.

He adds: "Fundamentalist teachings, whether Christian, Muslim, or any other religion, end up restricting and controlling women, which in turn makes wars and terrorism more likely. The twenty-first century is seeing a clash of cultures, but that clash is not between Islam and Christendom. Rather it is between fundamentalism and reason." (p. 363)

Potts notes that "In the past fifty years the world has accommodated rapid population growth tolerably well, although as rising oil and food prices suggest, this may not be true in the future." He compares us to the "first people to cross into North America, or the Polynesians who first landed at Easter Island...Presented with vast new supplies of food, energy, building materials, and luxury goods our forbears could never have imagined, we have gorged ourselves on consumption, and we have driven our global population...to six billion in 2000... The evidence of that increase is now all around us, in our polluted environment, our warming climate, our disappearing rainforests, and our increasingly degraded farmland: We are, as a species, in the process of proving Malthus's proposition that population will always outstrip resources." (pp. 296-297)

We are Easter Island natives. We have arrived not at an unspoiled island with flightless birds and a virgin forest to ravage, but at a planet with resources still rich enough to exploit and a powerful science and technology to do the exploiting. It took a few hundred years for the Easter Islanders to deplete their resources and return to a mean and savage, poverty-stricken existence. How long will it take us?

Potts writes, "...it is highly likely that our numbers and industrial demands have already exceeded the environment's capacity to support them. Mathias Wackernagel in California, Norman Myers in England, and others calculate that we may have exceeded Earth's carrying capacity as long ago as 1975. According to these calculations, we already need a planet 20 percent larger than the one we have." (p. 299)

There are two points that Potts does not dwell on that I want to emphasize. First, wars have the ability to fix the problem of too many young men with nothing to do. Second, women make sexual choices and in doing so often choose the most violent men to mate with because they know that such men are more likely to survive and provide for their children than less violent men. Women in precarious situation do not make moral judgments. Instead they make realistic ones.
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