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The Big Questions in Science and Religion
The Big Questions in Science and Religion
by Keith Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.84

52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, readable, fascinating and fun to argue about, 24 Feb. 2009
I very much enjoyed reading this book because Christian theologian and philosopher Keith Ward is that rare person who is not only an expert in his field, the philosophy of religion, but is also very knowledgeable about science and religions other than his own. Such wide knowledge is necessary to presume to write such a book as this, and only a few people could justify the effort. Ward writes without cant and goes to great lengths to air out conflicting points of view. He is as fair to science as one can be who obviously believes in some non-scientific ideas such as the divinity of Jesus, the reality of miracles, and the notion of "purpose" in the universe. He has heard all the arguments and has read all the great names in science and religion and has spent decades thinking about these questions. So regardless of how the individual reader may feel about his conclusions or lack thereof, Ward is clearly worth reading. I believe he has gone a long way in this very interesting book toward clarifying the issues involved, if not in resolving them!

Professor Ward posits ten questions beginning with "How Did the Universe Begin?" through "What is the Nature of Space and Time?" and ending with "Does Science Allow for Revelation and Divine Action?" Each question has a subtext question, e.g., under "How Did the Universe Begin?" Ward asks, "Is There an Ultimate Explanation for the Universe?" Each couplet of questions has its own separate chapter so that there are ten chapters in all.

Sometimes the subtext question changes the enquiry considerably. In Chapter 6, for example, Ward asks, "Is it Still Possible to Speak of the Soul? along with "Does Science Allow the Possibility of Life after Death?" Clearly one may speak of the soul both metaphorically from a psychological point of view and idealistically from a philosophic point of view without bringing science into the discussion at all. But this example illustrates Professor Ward's intent. He, like the Templeton Foundation which sponsored this book, is intent on bringing about a consilience and understanding between science and religion.

I think this is an admirable and absolutely necessary endeavor if humanity is to find peace with itself; and indeed, such a meeting of the minds may be essential for long term human survival. Right now much of the conflict in the world is based on differences between religions or between a religious worldview and one based on empirical science. Unlike Richard Dawkins and others who feel that never the twain shall meet, Ward and the Templeton Foundation believe that science can be made compatible with religion and vice-versa. There is a third view, of course, that science is just another--albeit very powerful--religion itself.

I am brought to a sense of something close to melancholy when I think about the questions being asked in this book. Such questions as "How Will the Universe End?" (Chapter 2) with its subtitle "(Does the Universe Have a Goal or Purpose?)" leave me exasperated, in awe, humbled, and much diminished. I cannot think of a purpose or a goal that the universe may have, but Ward posits the idea that from a religious point of view a purpose might be "to generate many forms of goodness and many beings who can appreciate and create such forms of goodness." (p. 57) From a scientific point of view a goal might have "to do with the increase of knowledge, freedom, and intelligent life." (p. 58) From my point of view, "goodness" is hopelessly anthropomorphic while "freedom" is a puzzle, and "knowledge" and intelligence beg the question of knowledge and intelligence for what? As ends in themselves?

Furthermore it is difficult for me to imagine that we have a real understanding of some of the most basic ideas that necessarily come up in this book, such as infinity, randomness, eternity, the extent of the universe, being, nonbeing, God, etc. The God that is worthy of being the creator of the universe or outside of it or both seems to me to be completely beyond our understanding--which, by the way, is one of the reasons there is the idea of "faith" in religion.

I didn't care much for Ward's dismissal of David Hume's position on miracles, and was surprised at the vehemence he showed toward the great empirical philosopher (see pp. 92-93). I thought Ward misunderstood Hume, almost willfully. Hume's position is clear: when he says that miracles are impossible he means that if it happened, it wasn't a miracle. I don't think Hume contradicted himself. I think the source of Ward's disagreement is in not fully realizing the extent of Hume's empirical realism. Clearly as a Christian Ward wants to believe in miracles, and apparently does.

I also didn't care much for his discussion of time. I think that time has all the reality of a mathematical point and has no existence outside of matter and energy. The same can be said for space, or more properly spacetime. Ward seems to think that time "flows" and has a reality independent of events--or perhaps it is not clear what Ward thinks about time. In fact, so carefully does Ward present the various points of view on the various subjects that sometimes it is not clear where the general or historical view ends and his point of view begins! (Or perhaps I need to read more carefully.) At any rate, in Chapter 5 he writes "I am not opposed to putting logical limitations on divine omnipotence..." (p. 115); but later on intones, "God's acts fall under no general law...God just does not fit into our equations." (p. 264)

Can God square the circle? On the one hand, no, on the other, who are we to put limitations on what God can do? Our logic, Boolean or fuzzy or whatever, is surely a frail thing with which to constrain the might of an ineffable God.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2016 4:28 PM GMT


The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means
The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means
by George Soros
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russell's paradox in the financial markets, 13 Feb. 2009
George Soros has forgotten more about finance, economics and trading than most of his critics will ever know. He has made more money than most of his critics put together will ever make. So when George Soros speaks on matters to do with money, I listen, and when he writes a new book, I read it.

When Soros speaks about politics, which he frequently does, I also like to listen. He is a sharp critic of the United States especially under the policies of the Bush administration, as well he should be since we'll be paying for the stupidities of the Bush administration both nationally and internationally for many years to come. But here in this book, he puts aside (for the most part) the political and concentrates on one of his pet ideas, which he calls "reflexivity."

This is the idea that human interactions and the "truth" of those interactions are shaped not only by fundamentals and events in the natural world but by our perception of those events. This might be called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as applied to the social sciences, markets and interpersonal relationships. The value of a stock is influenced by a feedback loop that is in part based on the perceptions of buyers and sellers. This makes the value of a stock or commodity a moving target forever in flux. As in Russell's self-referential paradox, reflexivity makes it impossible to accurately predict where markets will go, or to predict in principle the direction of human activities. Simply put, there is a quality in economics, the financial markets and like phenomena that is self-referential leading to uncertainty. Soros concludes that markets do not tend toward equilibrium and they are not "efficient" and price fluctuations are not "random walks" away from a "true" value. Finally, he concludes that financial bubbles arise because the self-referential quality of markets is not understood by economists and others in the financial world.

Here's how he puts it more generally at the start of Chapter 1: "...our understanding of the world in which we live is inherently imperfect because we are part of the world we seek to understand." (p. 3)

Soros sees reflexivity as a "two-way feedback loop, between the participants' views and the actual state of affairs. People base their decisions not on the actual situation that confronts them but on their perception or interpretation of that situation." Our decisions, he contends, have dual functions. One is the "manipulative function," the other is the "cognitive function." As we try to understand the world, we also try to manipulate it to our advantage. He notes, "The two functions operate concurrently, not sequentially." This "creates an indeterminacy in both the participants' perceptions and the actual course of events." We are (of course) "obliged to form a view of the world, but that view cannot possibly correspond to the actual state of affairs." We are obliged "to act on the basis of beliefs which are not rooted in reality."(pp. 10-11)

Taking a clue from cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, it is clear that we construct (as the postmodernists are wont to remind us) a "reality" within our heads that only approximates the "real" world and is biased by our needs and desires and is limited by both our senses and our ability to make meaning of what we perceive. Soros's reflexivity is in essence putting a name on something that has generally been known (but mostly ignored) for a long time.
A consequence of Soros' view is "the postulate of radical fallibility" which, when applied to financial markets allows one to "assert that, instead of being always right, financial markets are always wrong." (p. 76) As for financial bubbles and what follows, he writes (all in italics for emphasis on page 78), "there has to be both some form of credit or leverage and some kind of misconception or misinterpretation involved for a boom-bust process to develop." Of course he is referring most directly to what he calls "The Current Crisis and Beyond" which is the title of Part II of the book.

In Chapter 7 Soros makes some predictions about what is to come. The last note in the book is dated March 23, 2008. I read through the "outlook," and from the perspective of today (February 13, 2009) it's easy to see that Soros is substantially right. He is not only an expert on international markets but a fine connoisseur of bubbles and the opportunities they present. "Nothing is quite as profitable as investing in an early-stage bubble," he writes. (p. 129)

Soros has a way of saying the obvious that some of his critics have disparaged, but sometimes the obvious is what we overlook. According to his "new paradigm" based on reflexivity, "events in the financial markets are best interpreted as a form of history. The past is uniquely determined, the future is uncertain. Consequently it is easier to explain how the present position has been reached than it is to predict where it will lead." (p. 104)

I would add that this is what economists are quite expert at: telling us what has happened. Guessing what is going to happen is what Soros is very good at.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 30, 2009 7:30 AM BST


Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives
Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives
by Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology David Sloan Wilson PhD
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.41

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary theory as a guide to life, 4 Feb. 2009
"The most extraordinary fact about public awareness of evolution is not that 50 percent don't believe the theory but that nearly 100 percent haven't connected it to anything of importance in their lives." (p. 315)

This is a bit curious, but when you consider that Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology was published only 34 years ago, and further that evolutionary psychology has only recently made its way into the curriculum of our university psychology departments, it is understandable. For my part, like David Sloan Wilson (son of Sloan Wilson who wrote a couple of fiction bestsellers in the 1950s, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and A Summer Place), I took to the application of evolutionary ideas to my life the way a duck takes to water. But the overall public awareness and acceptance has lagged, in part due, as Wilson explains, to the failure of the larger academic community to incorporate evolutionary ideas and findings into their fields of study.

That is changing fast with evolutionary medicine, evolutionary psychology and other scientific approaches now established fields of study. What David Wilson hopes follows is an awareness of evolutionary ideas and principles in the social sciences and the humanities, which is one of the reasons he wrote this book which grew out a class he taught to undergraduates.

The essence of evolutionary thought as applied to our daily lives is to ask the question, how does such and such a behavior or such and such an idea relate to the way evolution works? For example, not so long ago we were urged to drink lots of water every day (probably from studies funded by bottled water companies!). But if you think about the human experience in the Pleistocene in what is called the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) you might ask yourself, how was it possible for humans to drink so much water? Clearly humans would develop an ability to function very well, even optimally, without having to drink so much water, which in those days and climes would have been difficult to do safely. Consequently, doing this "thought experiment" I began to doubt the necessity to drink so much water. And lo and behold it came down from newer studies that actually humans don't really need to drink so much water! David Sloan Wilson gives a number of other examples of evolutionary thinking that has helped us to better understand ourselves and our place in the world and our communities. He is very strong on the idea of cooperation as an adaptive force in evolution, especially human evolution.

One of the ideas that most impressed me is his recognition of the arms struggle between society and the "selfish" individual. Some old-line evolutionists are loath to accept altruism and other seemingly selfless behaviors that benefit the tribe or larger groups as adaptive (other than through kinship) since the genes that code for such behavior would be easily overrun by genes from individuals looking out only for themselves. But what I think is overlooked is the human ability to spot these cheaters and keep them in check or to kick them out of the tribe or worse. Wilson makes the very interesting point that gossip is part of this process. Through gossip a society "maintains a dossier of information on every member and quickly detects social failings." (p. 160). Sociopaths don't fare well in communities in which everybody knows everybody else. But of course gossip doesn't work well, and a sociopath can flourish, where almost everyone is a stranger to one another, which is usually the case in our big cities. This lack of communal checks explains in large part why there is so much crime in our cities.

Another interesting and fundamental idea is what Wilson calls "dancing with ghosts." The idea is that the adaptations we made during the EEA in some cases no longer apply effectively to the current environment. Thus the very nice ability to efficiently put on fat when large amounts of sugar, carbs and fats are temporarily available worked well in the prehistory when the dearth of winter or the dry season was to come; but in today's world of supermarkets and a MacDonald's on every corner, this ability has become a detriment leading to obesity and chronic disease. Many people in the West are dancing with the ghosts of "eat your fill when it's available." This predictive adaptive response (PAR) is no longer adaptive. Wilson gives some other examples relating to pronghorn antelopes that still "flee with amazing speed and endurance from predators that no longer populate the American plains" and baby sea turtles that mistake the lights of the city for the moon shining off the ocean and crawl in the wrong direction. (pp. 52-53)

Wilson also argues convincingly for the idea that life in the ghetto is more dangerous than say life in the suburbs because young people in the ghetto must take greater chances in order to be gain status and wealth. For a person like David Sloan Wilson to risk his life for some status gain would be foolish since he is going to gain enough wealth and status to be successful because of his many social and economic advantages. For a guy in the ghetto, it is sometimes worth the risk (or so it seems) to fight another at the drop of an insult because of the gain in status that can lead to better mating opportunities and a greater command of turf. When the environment is "unstable" and "life expectancy" is "low," a good strategy is to "take care of immediate needs and reproduce early." When you have a "stable environment and high life expectancy" on the other hand, you should "plan for the long term, including delayed reproduction."

There is also a lot in this book about religion from an evolutionary point of view, which I don't have space to go into, some of it based on Wilson's earlier book Darwin's Cathedral (2002).


Detour [1945] [DVD]
Detour [1945] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Neal
Offered by DVD STORE SPAIN
Price: £12.57

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grade B, but one of the most memorable of film noirs, 31 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Detour [1945] [DVD] (DVD)
"What kind of dames thumb rides? Sunday school teachers?"

I guess this would be the most appropriate tagline for this black and white grade B noir from 1945. Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is the one asking the rhetorical question, although it could have been Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald) who has some nasty scratches on his hand to prove he can speak from experience. The lady in question is Vera (Ann Savage) who can turn on you like a cornered rat and strike at you like a rattlesnake, which is what she does to Roberts after he's picked her up hitchhiking. In a scene as startling as any I've seen in quite a while, Vera wakes from a nap and suddenly, without warning, but in retrospect with plenty of foreshadowing, viciously tears into Roberts who finds himself caught in a deadly vice of his own making.

Roberts plays it passively, a born loser who knows he's losing again. A pianist who once dreamed of Carnegie Hall, he just knuckles under to Vera who comes off as a dom...--well, I won't use the word, but she appears to be the kind of dame who likes black leather while welding certain items of inducement, shall we say. But Roberts can't get a yen for her since he's still in love his sweetheart, a night club singer named Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). Too bad, if he had, he might have gotten the upper hand in his relationship with Vera because she certainly wants him. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, it is said, and 'tis true, I can tell you, but Vera had the fury from first glance.

Some of the dialogue is pretty lame, dime novel realistic you might say, the kind of talk that is written on the fly without imagination. E.g., "As I drove off, it was still raining and the drops streaked down the windshield like tears," which might not have been half bad except that the windshield wipers were flapping and there were no tracks of anybody's tears... Or, how about this: "Life's like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it's the ninth inning."
Strange to say though, sprinkled among the prosaic and the banal are such gems as the one at the top of this review and this: "So when this drunk handed me a ten spot after a request, I couldn't get very excited. What was it I asked myself? A piece of paper crawling with germs. Couldn't buy anything I wanted."

Sociologically speaking, this is a bit of a retrofit from the Depression era which featured gritty tales about guys down on their luck hitchhiking and looking for that one big shot at something, anything, love, money, half a break. And Roberts, even though a pianist of some talent, is like a James M. Cain protagonist, an ordinary Joe who gets involved with a dame (or two) and somehow makes the wrong moves and ends up in the deepest of deep quagmires. And like many another antihero, we can sympathize with him although we know and can see it's mostly his own damn fault. Fate has dealt him a bad hand that he should have tossed in, but he plays it out with the kind of fatalism that would befit a minor Greek tragedy.


The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Penguin Press Science)
The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Penguin Press Science)
by Paul Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turtle trouble?, 29 Jan. 2009
Paul Davies is perhaps the most prominent of a nouveau species of scientist: the philosopher physicist. Here in The Mind of God he goes all out in an attempt to "trace the logic of scientific rationality back as far as it will go in the search for ultimate answers to the mystery of existence." (p. 223) And yes he runs into "turtle trouble." (You'll recall that the world is a flat plate resting on the back of a giant turtle... And what is the turtle resting on? It's turtles all the way down.)

I think it's fair to say--and this is my belief--that the human mind cannot fully grasp the whole of which it is a part, nor can it see beyond a certain distance, either out into the cosmos or into the very small, instead only to somewhere near the Big Bang, and only tentatively into the future, to the Planck limit perhaps. Clearly the mind of any God worthy of the appellation is far, far beyond our reach. And as for a theory of everything? Well, someday there may be a broken statue in the sand like that of Ozymandias, only this time it won't be that of an emperor drunk with self-importance, but of a humble physicist looking for a TOE.

Davies who is a recipient (1995) of the Templeton Prize which is given to people whom the judges think foster human understanding of divine creativity. Typically they like to give it to a scientist who believes in God, although the Rev. Billy Graham and Charles Colson of Watergate infamy have been recipients. After reading this book, and just from what is in this book, I believe that Davies does believe in God, but in a God that is a bit removed from the personal gods of the major Western religions. (But you might want to Google "Paul Davies" yourself and get a more definitive statement--or not, since what he writes in this book speaks for itself.) He clearly believes in free will (see page 139) and in a universe that could easily be designed. He also believes in "the progressive nature of biological evolution" (p. 183) which is a no-no for most evolutionary biologists, and in something he sometimes calls "the good" or simply "good" (e.g., p 183 and elsewhere). In short Davies is a man straddling two worlds, that of science and religion, who is finding a consilience in philosophy.

Let's look at some of the ideas and discussions in the book, most of which are still viable and fascinating even though the book was first published in 1992.

On the famous, often asked question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" the gist of an answer coming from much of what Davies writes is, "it couldn't be otherwise." From my point of view, the best way to say much the same thing is to recognize that nonbeing has no meaning without being. Of course this subjects the cosmos to the limitations of human logic! But that is what a lot of this book is about, the limits of human logic and human understanding.

Another point nicely made by Davies is that the incompleteness theorems of Godel and the self-referential paradox from Russell strongly suggest that we cannot hope to understand the universe. Those are logical obstacles. A physical one is the problem of getting to the Big Bang as opposed to getting very, very, very close to the Big Bang, which is where we are now and where we are likely to stay. In fact, Davies argues somewhere here that even if we could get to the very instance of the Big Bang that would not explain everything.

Davies is decidedly not a postmodernist. He believes that we discover the laws of the universe. He even sees mathematics as a discovery. However, I think some of the philosophical difficulties in this book would resolve a bit if Davies kept in mind that mathematics is a language, a very precise language with a great grasp but a language that so far as we know is only spoken by human beings. Davies is of the school that finds it surprising that mathematics should be so effective in describing and helping us to order the world. Personally, I am not so surprised since mathematics is part and parcel of the world, as inescapable as the law of gravity. The essence of mathematics is abstraction which is the talent that most clearly separates us from other animals. Mathematic abstraction comes from verbal abstraction, an evolutionary adaptation which allowed us to talk and think concretely about yesterday and tomorrow and things not in our immediate presence.

It appears that Davies believes in God as "a necessary being." He argues that "if"--Davies uses the conditional a lot, perhaps to avoid making the direct statement--"if the universe really has an explanation and it can't explain itself, then it must be explained by something outside itself--e.g., God. But what, then, explains God? This age-old...conundrum is in danger of pitching us into an infinite regress. The only escape, it would seem, is to assume that God can somehow 'explain himself,' which is to say that God is a necessary being..." (p. 177) Personally, I am not so unenamored with the infinite regress. In fact my mind cannot avoid it, despite the "turtles all the way down" parody.

As for marveling at the various "lucky flukes" (Fred Hoyle's term) of physics that allow us to exist in this universe (c.f., the anthropic principle), I want to say that had things been different, there would be no one around to do the marveling--no one around, no marveling--or those doing the marveling would be different from us in such a way as to be the recipients of some other lucky flukes of matter and energy, which they would marvel at.

This is the kind of book--delightful as it is--that makes one understand the need for experimental proof!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2013 1:40 PM GMT


You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos
You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos
by Robert R. Arthur
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Why taboos lead to corruption and human misery, 26 Jan. 2009
This is a sensational book, and I mean that in the widest sense of the word "sensational." It's explosive and amazingly informative. You will not be able to read this book without being amazed--amazed at the hypocrisy of human beings, amazed at the history of human hypocrisy and corruption, amazed at the corruption currently extant in this once great nation, and amazed at the lies you have been, and are being told, by just about everybody in any position of power or influence. This is a book that combines the racy readability of the tabloid style with the rigorous research and documentation of a PhD dissertation.

Arthur is effective because he writes extremely well and because he has great energy in his expression. His style is straightforward. The pages practically turn themselves. The secret to this kind of writing is a lot of simple declarative sentences packed with interesting facts. He footnotes just about everything. There are hundreds of footnotes, and I found myself reading them because some of them contained not just the source but some additional and very interesting addenda (that of course he might have kept on the page!).

To quote from Arthur's Website: "The thesis of this book is that taboos are a burden on society .... [T]abooed topics lack open discussion and accurate information. Without these two tools, irrational views cannot be changed. By protecting irrational views taboos hinder progress towards greater happiness."

Arthur begins with the taboo about picking your nose and all the mendacity associated with mucus, urine and excrement. He devotes several page-turning chapters to sexual hypocrisy, and ends with a very fine delineation of the fraudulent and debilitating "war on drugs." There are five appendices, one a scandalous expose on "Great Philanderers" including some juicy stuff on our ex-presidents. I particularly enjoyed the dirt on Ronnie Reagan, but you might find the stuff on Bill Clinton more to your taste. Incidentally, Arthur does a nice job of explaining why some people like George W. Bush have changed their tune with time: "Older people are led to believe that they control their behavior better because they are wiser, and wisdom can be taught to youth. However, this is a hypocritical stance regarding sex because they now have a lower sex drive, and a lower sex drive cannot be taught to youth." (p. 309)

What Arthur does especially well is not only explain the various taboos and the attendant governmental blunders, corruptions and stupidities, but why the taboos and corruption continue to exist and how they developed in a historical sense, and who benefits. He shows how the war on drugs has become a full employment program for law enforcement, the judiciary, and most government agencies as well as serving to keep the trade profitable for the people that supply and sell the drugs. In other words, how wonderfully well our government and the drug cartels work hand-in-hand! With this information we can see that the "war on drugs" is like the perpetual wars of Orwell's "1984": a fraudulent business that serves to further empower the government and is therefore unlikely to ever end.

From my point of view, one of the worst aspects of the war on drugs (at least from a Constitutional perspective) comes from the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1984 which allows "law enforcement to confiscate any property or money they believe to be tainted by drugs" on mere suspicion. "The burden is then on the owner to institute expensive legal proceedings to prove the property is clean." (p. 466) Arthur rightly likens this to practices rampant during the Spanish Inquisition when inquisitors seized the property of the accused.

Another consequence of the war on drugs is to make drugs more potent. "With the danger of arrest," Arthur writes, "it is important to make something concealable for possession, use, and transportation." He adds, "Potent forms of a drug carry less risk because they weigh less than milder forms" since "punishments are based on quantities with larger weights receiving more severe penalties." (p. 347)

Ironically, it is the war on drugs itself that has made doing drugs dangerous. Arthur shows that most of the deaths associated with drug use are the result of criminalization. Overdoses would seldom occur if drugs were legal and regulated, not to mention that drug dealers would not be shooting people in turf wars. Furthermore, terrorists would have to find another way to finance their terrorism, since a large percentage of their funding comes from the illegal drug trade.

Robert Arthur has been a public defender and an inner city school teacher. He is eloquent, compassionate and fired with the kind of energy that we need to fight against the corruption around us. I hope that a major book publisher recognizes the enormous value in this book, both in a humanitarian sense and commercially, and gives Arthur a royalty contract to manufacture and distribute the book on a large scale so that it might reach a wider readership.


Atonement [DVD] [2007]
Atonement [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Keira Knightley
Offered by Springwood Media
Price: £2.90

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-wrenching, beautifully acted and directed, 25 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Atonement [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

There is little I can add to the myriad critics and viewers who have seen this beautifully rendered work of art from the novel by Ian McEwan. But I want to point to the commanding performance by Vanessa Redgrave at the end in which she tells us what has happened. She absolutely commands the screen and engages us in such a direct way that we are enthralled and touched. From an artistic point of view it is interesting that the words she speaks need no embellishment or any acting out. There are so perfect and her delivery is beyond professional. It is lived, as is the case with all great acting.

I also was very much taken with the performance of Romola Garai who played Briony at 18. Her face conveyed more than words can tell. She felt so deeply not just her character's great sin, but the tragedy of the war and the dying she saw all around her and the sense that she could not be forgiven. Saoirse Ronan, who played Briony as a girl had a hard edge, almost an evil edge to her that was perfect for the part, a kind of "bad seed" depiction with her washed out face and small self-importance and her inability to not just understand what she saw and experienced, but her inability to understand herself and to love instead of desiring only to be loved.

The way the story is presented with scenes out of chronological order but in psychological and emotional order was most effective. I was especially impressed with the idea of showing us the scene where Briony pretends to drown and is saved by Robbie after the fact of the great lie she tells. As presented we immediately understand why she lied. His anger and failure to understand her childish love for him perhaps worked like the Achilles heel of his character. Had he been able to love her as one might love a child and help her to understand that he could not love her otherwise, everything might have been different. Or perhaps not. In a sense hers was an act of atonement, although not in a positive sense.

The epic scenes of the beginning of World War II with the British in retreat and all the bloodshed and waste of war magnified and accentuated, especially the scene with Briony and the dying French soldier Luc, made us understand the how precious life was for those who witnessed this while serving as a dramatic and psychological foil for the love and life that Cecilia and Robbie could not experience.

I also like the economy with which the essential details of the story were presented. We see the dramatic scenes and then we understand with just a few words or even a look what actually happened. For example when Briony as a nurse attends the wedding of Lola and Paul and as the bride and groom walk away we see the shame in their faces, the same shame that Briony feels, only they are not going to own up to it, we know. And then there is the quick flashback to the scene that Briony as a girl had witnessed and this time her mind allows her to see the man's face. And then a bit later on in the scene that the author inside the author (Briony) makes up, we understand that there will be no revelation of the truth because a spouse cannot testify against a spouse, or at least in this case would not.

And then there is the brilliant ending with Vanessa Redgrave summing it up and tying it all together--but more than that, showing us how Briony grew as she went from childhood to old age. In fact the emotional and human transformation that takes place in Briony's character is perhaps the central point of the story. I haven't read the novel by Ian McEwan but I am familiar with his work and know he must have been responsible for such a psychologically compelling development and ending--although it is obvious that the script by Christopher Hampton and the direction by Joe Wright are more than first rate.


Belly of an Architect [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Belly of an Architect [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by DVD STORE SPAIN
Price: £22.02

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Longing for his flat belly days?, 22 Jan. 2009
Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis and a fear of death that simultaneously hits Chicago architect Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy). He has traveled to Rome to present an elaborate tribute to the French architect Louis Boullee. Kracklite is fifty-four years old, uncertain that he has fulfilled the promise of his youth. He is married to a woman (Chloe Webb) young enough to be his daughter. So when he begins to develop stomach pains (perhaps due to a growing stomach tumor) while working in Rome and gets no satisfaction from doctors, he begins to believe his wife is poisoning him. Furthermore it appears that she is having an affair with an Italian architect named Caspasian (Lambert Wilson) who also desires to take over Kracklite's Boullee project. I think a lot of men in their fifties can identify with these sorts of threats to their well-being and perhaps be unable to tell the real from the unreal.

So the human belly is a big deal in this film. At one point Kracklite prints out scores of photocopies of the belly of a Roman statue as if in scrutinizing mass copies of a flat belly he might somehow explain why he is in pain. Or perhaps the flat belly symbolizes his lost youth and the insecure feeling he has about the affection and faithfulness of Louisa, his young wife. Maybe it is even the case that the belly is a euphemistic symbol of something else that is no longer as vital as it once was. When men in their fifties worry about such things they also worry about their ability not just to cut the mustard but the quality of their work. In short, they worry about being superseded. One cannot help but feel in this case that Kracklite's growing paranoia is in part responsible for his declining power. Fear of something may give it strength.

As for the way cinematic auteur Peter Greenaway directs this film, I think his intent is to let the film reflect the subject matter in the sense that both are of artistic intent rather than the movie being a commercial enterprise. (That is perhaps an understatement.) He shows the beauty of the architectural ruins of Rome. He thinks in terms of tableaux in wide shots. He picks a backdrop and sets the camera at some distance from the backdrop: Italian ruins, a spacious lobby, expansive steps in front of an impressive building. And then he plays the scene. Unlike most modern directors he mostly eschews close-ups. I'd rather he didn't. The effect is like being in a theater watching a play. There is a certain appropriateness I suppose about this technique since it creates in the viewer a feeling of spying, which is exactly what Kracklite finds himself doing in one scene, looking through a keyhole to see what his wife and Capasian are doing; and Greenaway has us see too, at the same distance.

In another sense, there is a studied feel to this movie that suggests something a bit cold like marble which again is appropriate. Yet Brian Dennehy, in an intense, engaging performance, makes us feel for him and his predicament. We understand that he is realizing his mortality and we appreciate that his reaction is understandably confused and frightened. As for his wife, she seems distant not only because of the camera work but perhaps because she is psychologically estranged from her husband and from what he is going through.


In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating
In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating
by Michael Pollan
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How our "food" is no longer really food, 21 Jan. 2009
The devils here are "nutritionism" and "reductive science." I would prefer the terms "big agriculture" and "over processed, refined and denatured" foods. And if the word "science" is insisted upon, it should be "science" sponsored by big agriculture and food processing companies. Terminology aside, the point that Michael Pollan is making is that the problem with the American diet that has led to an astonishing increase in obesity and attendant chronic diseases of plenty such as type two diabetes, is that we are eating foods that have been produced unnaturally in monocultures, foods that have been stripped of many of their nutrients, foods that are alien to any kind of established or traditional cuisine.

Pollan demonizes reductive science because that has been the tool of the corporate interests. However reduction in science is a method breaks things down into individual parts, a method that is handy for some kinds of problems. When we cannot break down the problem effectively, as in the case with food, reductive science is less capable and we must give greater weight to historical science. We must look at entire cuisines and the social situations in which food is eaten to understand our nutritional relationship to what we eat and how. Sometimes it is the case the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts. In the case of even a single food, such as an orange or an apple or leaf of spinach, it is not currently possible to identify reductively just what it is about the food that makes it healthy for us to eat. Indeed, as Pollan argues, there may well be synergistic effects from a single food to an entire cuisine that are essential to good eating.

Pollan writes: "In recent years a less reductive method of doing nutritional science has emerged, based on the idea of studying whole dietary patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients." (p. 179) He adds, "How a culture eats may have just as much of a bearing on health as what a culture eats." (p. 182)

It is also the case that we eat too much. We eat by portion size or until our plate is clean when we should be paying attention to how much we have eaten and how full we feel. We are not able to do that very well because we eat too fast and eat amid a host of distractions like the TV, or the traffic as we are driving in our vehicles, and we have no traditional guidance as to how much to eat. Guiding us are the great corporations that produce the food and want us to consume vast quantities of their products. Furthermore, eating has gotten too easy. I did a little study of some of the foods eaten by the Native Americans in the area around Sacramento and found that just processing foods like acorns, Digger pine nuts, black walnuts, etc. required hours per meal. Pollan asks, "How often would you eat French fries if you had to peel, wash, cut and fry them yourself--and then clean up the mess?" (p. 186) Fast food is a huge part of the problem which is why there is a healthy movement that started in Italy called "slow food." Pollan even refers to some studies which show that "the widespread availability of cheap convenience foods could explain most of the twelve-pound increase in the weight of the average American since the early 1960s." (pp. 186-187)

The sad truth is that big agriculture and the food processing corporations have addicted Americans to the easy macronutrients in their "foods" and we are in denial. Pollan notes, "The snack food and beverage industry has surely been the great beneficiary of the new social taboo against smoking..." (p. 191) We have traded one addiction for another.

When we look at traditional diets the world over from China to the Mediterranean, we can see that they suffer from heart attacks, obesity, etc. must less often than we do. I think a more active lifestyle is a major factor here, but the total of ensemble of what, how, and when they eat in traditional ways is the other major factor. Pollan concludes that "the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet, however, is not one of them." (p. 11)

There is a lot of other interesting information and insights in this excellent book about how and why we got to this sorry state of affairs vis-à-vis food. This is the third of Pollan's books on food that I have read, and although perhaps the least of the three, it is nonetheless an outstanding piece of work that ought to be widely read. The other books are The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001) and The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Natural History of Four Meals (2006). See my reviews at Amazon.


In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Edition: Hardcover

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How our "food" is no longer really food, 21 Jan. 2009
The devils here are "nutritionism" and "reductive science." I would prefer the terms "big agriculture" and "over processed, refined and denatured" foods. And if the word "science" is insisted upon, it should be "science" sponsored by big agriculture and food processing companies. Terminology aside, the point that Michael Pollan is making is that the problem with the American diet that has led to an astonishing increase in obesity and attendant chronic diseases of plenty such as type two diabetes, is that we are eating foods that have been produced unnaturally in monocultures, foods that have been stripped of many of their nutrients, foods that are alien to any kind of established or traditional cuisine.

Pollan demonizes reductive science because that has been the tool of the corporate interests. However reduction in science is a method breaks things down into individual parts, a method that is handy for some kinds of problems. When we cannot break down the problem effectively, as in the case with food, reductive science is less capable and we must give greater weight to historical science. We must look at entire cuisines and the social situations in which food is eaten to understand our nutritional relationship to what we eat and how. Sometimes it is the case the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts. In the case of even a single food, such as an orange or an apple or leaf of spinach, it is not currently possible to identify reductively just what it is about the food that makes it healthy for us to eat. Indeed, as Pollan argues, there may well be synergistic effects from a single food to an entire cuisine that are essential to good eating.

Pollan writes: "In recent years a less reductive method of doing nutritional science has emerged, based on the idea of studying whole dietary patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients." (p. 179) He adds, "How a culture eats may have just as much of a bearing on health as what a culture eats." (p. 182)

It is also the case that we eat too much. We eat by portion size or until our plate is clean when we should be paying attention to how much we have eaten and how full we feel. We are not able to do that very well because we eat too fast and eat amid a host of distractions like the TV, or the traffic as we are driving in our vehicles, and we have no traditional guidance as to how much to eat. Guiding us are the great corporations that produce the food and want us to consume vast quantities of their products. Furthermore, eating has gotten too easy. I did a little study of some of the foods eaten by the Native Americans in the area around Sacramento and found that just processing foods like acorns, Digger pine nuts, black walnuts, etc. required hours per meal. Pollan asks, "How often would you eat French fries if you had to peel, wash, cut and fry them yourself--and then clean up the mess?" (p. 186) Fast food is a huge part of the problem which is why there is a healthy movement that started in Italy called "slow food." Pollan even refers to some studies which show that "the widespread availability of cheap convenience foods could explain most of the twelve-pound increase in the weight of the average American since the early 1960s." (pp. 186-187)

The sad truth is that big agriculture and the food processing corporations have addicted Americans to the easy macronutrients in their "foods" and we are in denial. Pollan notes, "The snack food and beverage industry has surely been the great beneficiary of the new social taboo against smoking..." (p. 191) We have traded one addiction for another.

When we look at traditional diets the world over from China to the Mediterranean, we can see that they suffer from heart attacks, obesity, etc. must less often than we do. I think a more active lifestyle is a major factor here, but the total of ensemble of what, how, and when they eat in traditional ways is the other major factor. Pollan concludes that "the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet, however, is not one of them." (p. 11)

There is a lot of other interesting information and insights in this excellent book about how and why we got to this sorry state of affairs vis-à-vis food. This is the third of Pollan's books on food that I have read, and although perhaps the least of the three, it is nonetheless an outstanding piece of work that ought to be widely read. The other books are The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001) and The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Natural History of Four Meals (2006). See my reviews at Amazon.
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