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You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos
You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos
par Robert Arthur
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 18,81

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Why taboos lead to corruption and human misery, 3 février 2013
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos (Broché)
I read this book a few years ago when Arthur self-published it (copyright 2007) and distributed it with covers made from breakfast cereal boxes! This latest edition from Feral House is your usual paperback and is effectively the same book as the one from 2007.

However, in addition to a more attractive cover and overall design, there are two significant differences. One, the amateurish drawings are gone. Too bad. They added to the quirky, kinky experience of reading the book. I definitely miss them! Two, the hundreds of footnotes are now endnotes at the conclusion of each chapter instead at the bottom of the relevant page. That's the contemporary practice, but I'm not sure it's an improvement especially when many of the notes contain additional information not just a reference. It's annoying having to flip back and forth between the page you are reading and the end of the chapter in order to read an addition comment.

Anyway, here is my review of the cereal box edition. Most of what I wrote still applies:

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!). This brings me to the weaknesses in the book: (1) My book cover is made of the cardboard from a Rice Krispies cereal box! (Arthur binds his own books.) (2) While Arthur's self-editing is almost as good as his writing, which is first rate, the proofreading is...well, not good. There are plenty of typos, footnote numbers amiss, and some needless repetition and miss wording. (3) The extensive "artwork" is an acquired taste. Initially I found it crude and amateurish. After a couple hundred pages I still found it crude but with some redeeming functionality since it wonderfully augments the trashy aspects of the subject matter. (4) The title, "You Will Die" applies to Arthur's second volume, as yet unfinished, with the meaning that one of the most pervasive human taboos pertains to the fact of death.

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. Tip: buy a copy now. It might be a collector's item when a more professionally packaged product comes out.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


Lisbon, Portugal City Travel Guide 2013: Attractions, Restaurants, and More... (DBH Mega City Guides Book 5) (English Edition)
Lisbon, Portugal City Travel Guide 2013: Attractions, Restaurants, and More... (DBH Mega City Guides Book 5) (English Edition)
Prix : EUR 2,68

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Handy and attractive, 1 février 2013
Okay I am reviewing this book without having yet seen Lisbon. I'll be there for a few days in April. I zoomed through the book and found it definitely worthwhile, and it's handy that I can take it with me on my Kindle.

There are a number of interesting photos in the book. I was struck with the one showing the Cathedral of Lisboa with its Romanesque architectural remaining me of buildings on the campus of my alma mater, UCLA.

Additionally David Hoffmann has embedded some short videos in the text that you can view with your Kindle, tablet or smartphone, one showing him at the top of the Elevator of Santa Justa and another at the Castle of Sao Jorge.

He doesn't miss mentioning sights tourists love such as the Rua Augusta with its eateries, shops and assorted tourist traps. And David shows us that Lisbon ("Lisboa" to natives) has an aquarium, admission price 16 Euros in 2010. When traveling I like to visit aquariums and botanical gardens. They relax me from the rigors of shuffling suitcases around and eating opulent meals and drinking expensive wines.

Then there's a photo of the Cristo Rei statue with arms outspread looking like the one in Rio de Janeiro, which inspired it.

Restaurant recommendations? Yes, several beginning with Alma. David gives the addresses, phone numbers and web sites. I checked out the Alma online and it looks like a true gourmand's delight. No prices mentioned. But when you're blowing your grandchildren's inheritance, so what? (Just kidding, kiddies, your college trust fund is safe.)

Hoffmann, being a relatively young guy, also allows us to check out the nightlife. He shows us half a dozen night spots beginning with the Lux and ending with the Silk Club. He writes, "Known for its exclusivity, visitors of Silk should be warned that it is quite difficult to enter, especially if no bottle service is requested. Once inside, however, the modern décor, chic atmosphere and sexy lighting become a playground for the young and beautiful."

Hmmm. I wonder if they let septuagenarians in? Probably not.

Finally there are of course day trips. David gives four or five beginning with Cabo da Roco and ending with Sintra, the latter of which I and my friends are planning to visit.

All in all a nifty little guide book enhanced with beautiful photos and video. I'll update this review when I get back from Lisbon.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


Foreign Faction - Who Really Kidnapped JonBenet?
Foreign Faction - Who Really Kidnapped JonBenet?
par A. James Kolar
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 30,93

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Mostly very convincing but..., 20 janvier 2013
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Foreign Faction - Who Really Kidnapped JonBenet? (Relié)
Like the excellent book written by Sgt. Steve Thomas ("JonBenét: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation" 2000) one-time lead investigator A. James Kolar demolishes the "intruder theory." I mean really demolishes it with evidence and information not contained in Thomas's eminently persuasive book. Consequently I am even more convinced than ever that the Ramsey family members, John, Patsy and son Burke--one or all--were involved in the tragedy.

However I no longer hold to the idea that Patsy lost her temper and accidently banged JonBenét's head against a porcelain toilet or hit her while playing wild with a golf club or some other instrument. I am still totally convinced that she wrote the "War and Peace" of all ransom notes. But what Kolar brings to the case that I wasn't aware of before is the very real possibility that older brother Burke (nine-years-old at the time) deliberately hit his six-year-old sister in the head with some blunt instrument hard enough to render her not just unconscious but hemorrhaging badly and on her way to death. (According to autopsy information not previously available to the public, JonBenét died of strangulation but without medical attention would have died from that blow to the head due to internal bleeding.)

So Patsy Ramey's pathetic and rather stupid cover up was to protect her only surviving child. Kolar quotes Patsy as saying she could not go on living if she lost him.

Curiously Kolar does not lead with this scenario. Instead, beginning on page 8 "Chapter Two: Foreign Faction," he presents a fanciful and frankly ridiculous intruder scenario. I almost didn't read this book because I began reading on page 8 and after a few pages shook my head, saying to myself, "Another nutcase, crackpot theory." I put down the book. Something made me pick the book up again and I came to realize that Kolar was presenting this intruder scenario as a burlesque of what could have happened. Interesting enough before I finished the 454 pages of narrative (with appendices and notes the book runs to 508 pages) Kolar had presented ample evidence to show that the "foreign faction" theory was preposterous.

Another curious thing about this book is the fact that Kolar never actually presents his implied account of the crime in which Burke landed the first blow and Patsy applied the cord around the neck. Presumably she thought JonBenét was dead or at least brain dead. Or maybe she didn't realize she was tying the cord so tight that she was killing her not-quite-dead daughter. Or perhaps--another speculation--Burke did it all himself.

Instead of spelling out his theory Kolar writes that he "found the totality of the circumstances comprising the investigative theory to be rather disquieting, and too disturbing...to express in a public forum." He adds, "I realize that this situation is probably a little frustrating to the reader, but the foundation for this theory is interspersed throughout this manuscript and I will have to leave it to your imagination for the moment." (p.423)

Okay, let's imagine. But first here are some of the most important evidentiary highlights and logic insights presented by Kovar that were not known to me before reading this book.

First, as mentioned above Kolar gives us the result of the autopsy. Previously I had believed that the blow to the head was the cause of death. I got that from "Cracking More Cases: The Forensic Science of Solving Crimes" (2004) by Dr. Henry C. Lee with Thomas W. O'Neil. Apparently Dr. Lee was mistaken since Kolar reports that JonBenét was still alive when the cord was tighten around her neck. The significant point here is that the blow could have been accidental; the cord around her neck was not.

Second, Kolar makes it clear that the trace unidentified DNA found on JonBenét's clothing (from five different males and one female!) was there before JonBenét wore the clothes. A study showed that brand new clothing including underwear can test positive for DNA presumably placed there accidentally by people making the clothes. (pp.272 and 304)

Third, fibers from Patsy's sweater were found on the sticky side of the tape over JonBenét's mouth.

Fourth, there is some conversation not previous reported at the end of the 911 call made by Patsy Ramsey on the morning of the 26th. It turns out that Patsy didn't quite place the telephone receiver correctly and some further conversation was accidently heard. This is how Kolar reports what the "three distinct voices" said (p. 102):

Male (angry): "We're not speaking to you!"
Female: "Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus"
Young male: "Well what DID you find?"

The point of especial interest here (and a "red flag" according to Kolar) is that the Ramseys insisted that Burke slept until well past the time of Patsy's 911 call.

Fifth: Kolar completely discredits the idea that a stun gun was used on JonBenét (part of the intruder theory). The two abrasions found on JonBenét's back which Lou Smit claimed were caused by a stun gun were the wrong distance apart but fit exactly the prongs from a piece of Burke's "O" gauge train track. See pages 386-387. Additionally it is highly probable that the use of a stun gun on JonBenét would have resulted in some horrific screaming which would have awakened someone in the house.

Sixth: Neither John nor Patsy woke Burke that morning to ask him if he had heard or seen anything! Hard to imagine that they would just let him sleep when their daughter is missing especially since his bedroom was just a few feet away from JonBenét's bedroom. Additionally, one would expect the parents to search Burke's room, not just look in to see if he was sleeping.

Seventh: When JonBenét's body was found in the basement, "Fleet White charged up from the basement shouting for someone to call an ambulance..." But this did not cause Patsy to leave the solarium to see what was happening. It was not until John was directed "to retrieve his wife did she enter the living room to encounter the lifeless body of her daughter." (p. 329) Kolar considers this a red flag since it seems to imply that Patsy knew her daughter was dead and that no ambulance would be necessary.

Eighth: Burke apparently had psychological problems that the Ramsey's were able to keep hidden due to doctor-client privilege. Apparently Burke was mean to JonBenét including having hit her with a golf club sometime in the past. The abrasions from his train tracks on her back suggest that he may have hurt her on other occasions. Kolar hints that Burke may have sexually abused his sister. See Chapter Thirty-Three, "SBP and Beyond" for the speculations. By the way, "SBP" stands for Sexual Behavior Problems in children.

There's more, but these eight added to what had previously been reported make it overwhelmingly clear that the Ramseys were involved.

Okay, now let's imagine what happened according to the evidence that Kolar presents in this book (sans any gore or prurient interest). Sometime early in the morning of December 26 Burke hit JonBenét in the head with a blunt and heavy instrument. She lay lifeless. A frightened Burke woke his mother (or she was still awake). Failing to revive her daughter she panicked and devised a cover-up including writing the ransom note and putting a cord around JonBenét's neck and tightening it. At some later point she woke John (or he woke up) and found himself faced with a dead daughter and an in-progress cover up. Incidentally, this is a particularly horrific example of the adage that the cover up can be worse that the crime.

Okay, with all this very convincing evidence why were the Ramseys never charged with anything? Mostly, as others have reported, it had to do with politics. And of course the exact details including who actually tightened the cord could never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law unless the Ramseys chose to confess. But readers might want to make their own discoveries by reading this book in which not only the facts about the case are made with unusual clarity but so too is the division between the Bolder Police Department investigative officers and the district attorney's office.

Don't miss this outstanding and amazingly thorough book written by a man with intimate knowledge of the case. He is fair and considerate almost to a fault in his effort to tell us what really happened as far as it can be known.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Dennis Littrell's True Crime Companion" and other works


Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future
Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future
par Climate Central
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 17,59

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Bends over backwards to be clear and fair, 22 décembre 2012
The purpose of this book is to make what we know about climate change ("global warming") crystal clear even to a sixth grader. Written in non-sensationalist prose designed to lower the emotional atmosphere of the "debate," this book could be used as a high school text on the subject. The book's only weakness is some repetition which might well serve a didactic purpose (especially for members of the US Congress).

The ideas and facts about what is happening to our planet climatically speaking are presented in sixty sound-bite sized chapters with titles like "Nobody Ever Said the Whole World would Warm Up at the Same Rate," "Some Species Can Adapt to Changing Climate a Lot Better Than Others," "The Artic Has Been Losing Ice Much Faster Than the Antarctic. That's Just What Scientists Expected," and so on. A problem for some readers may be that the facts are so painstakingly expressed in such carefully qualified language that the main truth about climate change may be obscured by a lack of focus.

And what is the main truth? The main truth is that it is getting warmer and humans burning fossils fuels are in some very significant measure responsible for this warming, and this warming is almost certainly not going to be good for humans. I would add at the risk of being labeled an alarmist that the worst case scenario is a runaway greenhouse effect leading to the sterilization of the planet. Admittedly (and the authors of this book make such an admission) this is unlikely to happen. Still, when the downside is so horrific it seems rational to take measures before things get out of hand.

Which brings me to the real nitty-gritty of the climate debate, namely what are we going to do about it, if anything? And the answer seems to be nothing. Since it's "only" going to be 3.2 to 7.2 degrees F hotter in 2100 than it was in 2000 (IPCC estimate) and we're going to get there gradually with ups and downs, it's unlikely that the seriousness of the situation will be appreciated by most people until things become intolerable. By then it may be too late.

What's to be done? I'm very much afraid that human nature is not capable of dealing with this kind of problem. When something costs money today for saving others tomorrow humans are slow to act. Given any amount of uncertainty and we will not act at all. Very few people are willing to lower their standard of living for people yet unborn. This is in addition to the "argument" that if China doesn't do it why should we?

That part of the reality doesn't bother me as much as does the denial from some quarters and the massive amounts of money spent by fossil fuel purveyors to deny global warming. Physicist Richard Feynman is quoted as saying, "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool." (p. 6) We have been fooling ourselves with denial. Currently the denial has eased and instead the official line from the deniers is that yes, it's getting hotter but it's just a natural cycle. Others are admitting that humans are causing some of it but global warming can be a good thing! This book makes it clear that global warming on balance is NOT going to be a good thing. And of course it could be horrific.

I am hopeful that humanity will wake up in time but I won't be around when that happens if it does. I hope my grandchildren and yours are wiser than we humans are today. Read this book. It can help.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society
The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society
par David Wolman
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 19,60

5.0 étoiles sur 5 If you think you understand money..., 17 décembre 2012
Think again, and read this book.

I don't have any doubt that the cashless society, as Wolman predicts, is coming. We've been anticipating it for a long time. In a science fiction novel I wrote decades ago the society used digital "points" that were kept track of by the totalitarian government. You got points for being productive or doing what society wanted and you lost points for being unproductive or doing what society didn't like. You got an allotment at various times in your life and if you went broke you were forcibly made productive or else...

Perhaps the best feature of a cashless society: less crime. Another nice feature: no sharing of germs on bills. Digital cash harbors no bacteria (but watch out for viruses). But Wolman's main argument to hasten us toward the end of money is that cash is expensive. It costs money to make cash (and guess who pays?). And you can lose cash or get it taken from you. And then there is all that we pay to fight counterfeiting. Wolman has a nice chapter on who makes the funny money and how sometimes it is better than the "real" thing and increasingly impossible to detect unless you are an expert. One more aside: in the 70s I wrote a short story about a guy who passed one-dollar bills, called "Garbage Sam and the Bill Passer" (included in my short story collection available at Amazon). The bills were made by the "Red Chinese" but Wolman shows us that in the real world of today the main culprits are the North Koreans who are counterfeiting the Yankee dollar so perfectly that they have cost the US billions of dollars--well, that would be the Yankee hundred dollar bill.

Surprisingly the most important expense associated with using cash is the inconvenience. This is especially true for the lower rungs of society. And Wolman is not just talking about usurious payday advances. First there's the time and effort needed to pay out and count bills and coins. This may not seem like much unless you work in a convenience store or a bank, but actually compared to flashing your phone at merchant it is life in the very slow lane. And if you're the merchant cash can be troublesome because you have to take measures to make sure your employees are not dipping into the till, and of course you have to get that cash to the bank. And for society as a whole, cash businesses sorely tempt the honest to cheat on their income taxes. Add up all that slowness and...well, time is money. Worldwide the difference goes into the billions of dollars, euros, yuans, etc.

Okay, Wolman makes his argument and at least I'm convinced. So why aren't all the reviews of this book glowing? It's certainly well written and imminently readable with flashes of sparkling prose and a lot of interesting information.

Reason number one: some people fear the coming of the cashless society as just another step toward totalitarianism. (They are right, but nothing can stop that except a reversion to a more primitive way of life, probably via the breakdown of society...but that's another story.)

Another reason is that the gold bugs and Fed haters don't like to read about the virtues of fiat money, which Wolman celebrates. And finally some people might think that Wolman wanders a bit afield in some of the chapters, perhaps most especially in the last two chapters. The adventure in India in Chapter 7 with mobile digital money, while germane, could be seen as a bit drawn out. And the diversion at the Coin and Currency Show in Portland, Oregon in the Chapter 8 might appear tacked on.

However I think those last two chapters, while not as interesting as the earlier ones, each served a purpose. In India Wolman showed us why it is the poor and the average person who is estranged from the plastic and digital money that we take for granted who will be best served by the death of cash. And among the numismatics in the final chapter we can see why it is psychologically hard for many people to part with the beauty, romance and history of bills and coins. However, as Wolman quotes a coin collector as saying, "If change means no more coins, then no more coins. Besides, I collect backwards in history, not forwards." (p. 199)

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness
Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness
par Frank Brady
Edition : Relié

5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the strangest and saddest stories of our time, 11 décembre 2012
I'm a pretty good chess player having achieved a USCF expert's rating in my twenties and even in my sixties gaining a draw with International Master John Donaldson at the US Open in Los Angeles in 2003. (He offered a draw in a losing position. Since I had little time left on my clock I accepted.)

I should also say that I am a personal friend of Larry Remlinger whom I have known since childhood. He played against Fischer in at least one US Junior Championship in the 1950s. He recalled that after the games one day he and Fischer played blitz chess well into the night. Larry told me that Fischer (a year and half younger than Larry) was winning at first but as the night wore on Larry pulled ahead. Larry despised Bobby Fischer as well he might since even then Fischer was a narcissistic spoiled brat of a human being. And of course he only got worse as the paranoia and schizophrenia kicked in.

Frank Brady did not interview Larry Remlinger and Larry did not contact Brady. Too bad.

Nonetheless this is an outstanding biography, painstakingly researched and documented, beautifully edited and written in the kind of prose that tells the story without flourishes or pretension, the kind of "invisible" prose that George Orwell admired and practiced. And it is a "fair and balanced" account, celebrating the genius of Fischer's mastery of chess while not shying away from reporting his great failings as a human being. Moreover it is a great human tragic tale, the sort of story that would engage the mind of Sophocles or Shakespeare, and may someday find its great author to dramatize the sadness.

Yes, sadness, profound and maddening sadness. Note well that there is no review of this outstanding biography written by a master chess player among the (135 and counting in the US) Amazon reviews. There are many reasons for this but the most important one is that the story is just too painful to relive, especially if you love chess and have spent some serious time playing the game. What the rise of Robert James Fischer promised for chess--excitement, prestige, publicity, and especially the infusion of more money into the game so that a working professional might make a living playing chess--was in some measure delivered when he stepped off that stage in Reykjavik in 1972 as the World Champion. However almost immediately Fischer withdrew his magical presence from the game. This effectively trashed the hopes and dreams of chess players everywhere, but especially in the United States. Those who knew Fischer well realized that he was mentally ill (almost surely a narcissistic paranoid schizophrenic) and really was not able to behave in a socially acceptable manner. So it was hard to blame Fischer, the "good" Fischer, the genius Fischer, the Fischer who worked harder than anyone else, the Fischer who loved the game more than anyone else, the obsessive Fischer who could at his best be charming.

Ah, charming. The one real failing in Brady's book is his inability to show us that charming Fischer. He relates how so very many people put up with Fischer's hateful remarks, his virulent anti-Semitism, his egomaniacal self-centeredness, and his just plain antisocial behavior. What did they get in return for their fawning obsequiousness and especially for allowing him extended stays in their homes even while he was insulting them? The prestige and thrill of being in the presence of a genius does not explain it completely. What Fischer apparently was able to do on occasion was to charm. For some reason Brady was not able to produce the kind of reminiscences that would make this charm come to life.

What Brady does reveal here that was not entirely clear in previous works about Fischer is a clear expression of Fischer's sexual preferences (young, pretty, blond, female and plays chess). Also any doubt about Fischer's sex life or lack of is dispelled. Well, almost. It is clear that Fischer had liaisons. However what it was like to be in bed with Bobby is unrevealed, and perhaps that is just as well. Someday maybe a woman may come forward and tell us. (And we might believe her.) But for most readers that understandably would be Too Much Information. My guess is that Brady knows more than he was willing to tell us...

Also not revealed is who Fischer's biological father was. Brady makes it clear that it is not clear whether a Hungarian Jewish physicist named Paul Nemenyi (the primary suspect) actually was his father or not. Almost certainly Hans-Gerhardt Fischer who is listed as Bobby's father on his birth certificate is not his biological father.

And with this we can add what is probably the saddest irony of Bobby Fischer's life, not only was this hateful anti-Semite Jewish on his mother's side, the high probability is that he was Jewish on his father's side as well. One can guess that fear and subliminal self-hatred was the primary guiding force in Fischer's life. Indeed, as Brady and many others have observed, the bad things that happened to Fischer and the good things that never happened were almost always Fischer's fault.

--Dennis Littrell, chess player and author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter
par Stephen Prothero
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 15,78

4.0 étoiles sur 5 My rankings of the major world religions included, 11 novembre 2012
What Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero objects to is the idea that (1) all religions are one, or (2) all religions are "the same idiocy, the same poison." (p. 324). The first opinion Prothero attributes to "the perennial philosophers" and people like Indian saint Ramakrishna. The second he hangs on those he calls "the New Atheists." He calls these mind sets "Godthink."

To counter these misconceptions Prothero has written "God Is Not One" to give the general reader a detailed account of what each of eight world religion traditions profess, believe and practice and how they actually do differ. He adds a ninth chapter on atheism which--especially in the writings of "the New Atheists"--he defines as something like a religion itself.

Let's begin with his line up and how he ranks the major world religions. He begins with Islam calling it today the greatest of all religions. Why? Because even though it currently has fewer adherents than Christianity it is growing faster. Furthermore Prothero insists "Islam is the leader of the pack in terms of contemporary impact." (p. 19) Additionally Islam's preeminence is partly due to the fact that Muslims do not restrict their faith to the private realm and do not believe as most Christians do in the separation of church and state.

So here is his line up from the greatest to the merely great, as it were:

Islam
Christianity
Confucianism
Hinduism
Buddhism
Yoruba Religion
Judaism
Daoism

Naturally practically every reader (I would imagine) would disagree with some part of this line up. I certain do not think that Islam is the greatest religion mainly because I disagree with Prothero's criteria for greatness. In terms of actually historical influence whether for good or evil, whether politically, militarily, culturally or economically Christianity is clearly the "greatest" religion. If we allow our criteria to become more subjective, say by ranking religions according to how likely they are to be true in a scientific sense, the rankings would be different. If we used as our criteria such things as how little harm the religions have done we have another ranking order. Finally if we ranked the religions on longevity still another ranking would present itself. Islam is the youngest of the religions on Prothero's list. However longevity is a fuzzy criterion since it doesn't account for changes that may have taken place within a religion, changes that can be so great as to make today's religion very different from that of hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The Hinduism of the Vedas and that of today different substantially. The Buddhism of the Buddha who did not believe in God or ghosts and who did not discuss such things as an afterlife contrasts with the Buddhism of most Mahayana Buddhists today.

But the real distinction to be made among religions is not so much among the various traditions but among the various practices and beliefs within each religion. Every religion has its most conservative adherents and its most liberal. Fundamentalists everywhere tend to believe literally in the precepts of their religion and its world view while progressives see their holy books more as symbolic guides than as literal truths. This is most apparent in Hinduism and its six orthodox philosophies (not to mention the six unorthodox philosophies) and in the myriad beliefs and practices among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Conservative Jews, for example, are much more like conservative Muslims than they are like humanistic Jews. Fundamentalist Christians like Muslims reject the separation of church and state and want children to be indoctrinated with their beliefs.

The strength of this book is in Prothero's wide knowledge and understanding of religious practices and theology and in his clear and informative writing style. Consequently this is an excellent introduction for anyone wanting to gain a kind of Religion 101 knowledge of the major world religions.

Of course Prothero has left out Jainism, Shinto and Sikhism although he does mention them. I also think he doesn't give not enough ink to Zen in Buddhism and I would argue that Confucianism is better understood as a social philosophy than as a religion. Additionally, instead of writing the ninth chapter on atheism which--despite Prothero's heated insistence that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al, are practicing a religion--is not a religion, he might have written a chapter on the great religions that didn't make his cut.

There is an accidental irony in the title, "God Is Not One." What Prothero means is that all religions are not the same, and he certainly makes his point. But there is another very important point to make when saying that "God Is Not One," namely that various conceptions of God are not one and indeed vary considerably. The God of the Old Testament is not at all like the deist God that created the universe and then presumably stepped aside. The God of the Vedas about which nothing can be said is a far cry from the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and much closer to the Way of Daoism.

Finally, the inherent weakness in Prothero's approach is that in spite of his desire to show differences the fact that he devotes just about the same number of pages to each of the religions belies their great differences. The fact that Hinduism for example is much more complicated and diverse than is Daoism is muted. The fact that Islam has many fewer organized differing interpretations of its beliefs than does Christianity is not in evidence. But I think the most annoying thing about Prothero's approach to religious understanding is his failure to bite the bullet and take sides and say yes, this religion is more compatible with what I believe or what I think is true.

However in this politically and socially correct age to imply that one religion is truer than another is to fall into the kind of error that a teacher of comparative religion must avoid. Let me say then that according to what I believe is true and good for humanity I would rate the major religions in this approximate order of "greatness":

Deism
Agnosticism
Zen Buddhism
Vedanta
Daoism
Confucianism (as a religion)
Christianity, Judaism, Islam (progressive)
Modern Hinduism (non-conservative philosophies)
Christianity, Judaism, Islam (moderate)
Modern Hinduism (conservative philosophies)
Christianity, Judaism, Islam (conservative)
Atheism (as a religion)

I can't rate Yoruba because I know so little about it.

The reader will instantly notice how much trouble I got myself into!

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


End This Depression Now!
End This Depression Now!
par Paul Krugman
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 18,68

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Clearest explanation of why it happened and what can be done, 25 octobre 2012
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : End This Depression Now! (Relié)
Krugman makes it clear in the kind of prose that even middle school students can appreciate that what we need now is more spending not less. The problem for most of us is that we think about the US government's finances in the way we think about our household or small business finances. If we spend more than we take in we are in trouble. However the US economy as a whole doesn't work that way and neither does the government. As Krugman observes in reference to why we are still in what he calls (variously) "a slump," "a great recession," and in the title, "a depression": "...your spending is my income and my income is your spending." He asks, "if ordinary citizens are tightening their belts--spending less--and the government also spends less, who is going to buy American products?" (p. 28)

So the solution to our economic problem, Krugman insists, is not austerity (which might work for households) but the opposite. We need the government to spend money to create jobs so that people can buy other people's goods and services. We especially need some infrastructure building here at home instead of in the Middle East.

"Collectively," Krugman asserts, "the world's residents are trying to buy less stuff than they are capable of producing, to spend less than they earn. That's possible for an individual, but not for the world as a whole. And the result is the devastation all around us." (p. 30)

The other thing to understand about governments, especially huge governments like the US with a $15-trillion a year economy is that government intervention can smooth out a crisis. This is because the US will not run out of people to buy its debt since its tax base is so huge that the risk of default is miniscule. When the economy gets back on its feet tax revenues will increase and the debts will be paid. Well, not paid in full. That is unlikely to ever happen, since it makes little sense. To borrow to buy something you don't need like luxuries is not wise. (Wars are usually luxuries for governments.) But to borrow to help grow the economy is a fine investment. Sound companies borrow because borrowing allows them to take advantage of their knowhow in producing goods and services that people will buy allowing the company to make money. Borrowing to party big time to impress the neighbors or your girlfriend grows no wealth. (Wars are sometimes shock and awe parties for heads of state looking to stay in power.)

Aside from offering the solution to our economic woes in simple, straightforward terms, Krugman also does an outstanding job of explaining how we got into this mess in the first place. I've read several books and a number of articles explaining the mortgage crisis, the "too big to fail" bank welfare fraud and the derivatives hustles, but nowhere is this spelled out in as clear as fashion as Krugman does here. He is simply the best economist writing for an informed non-professional public at work today. This is not to mention that he is also a Nobel Prize winning economist.

As for wages being too high, Krugman writes:

"...today it's often argued that more labor market `flexibility'--a euphemism for wage cuts--is what we really need" (to cure high unemployment). "But while an individual worker can improve his chances of getting a job by accepting a lower wage, because that makes him more attractive compared to other workers, an across-the-board cut in wages leaves everyone in the same place, except for one thing: it reduces everyone's income, but the level of debt remains the same. So more flexibility in wages (and prices) would just make matters worse." (pp. 52-53)

I think the average person, even the fairly well educated average person, doesn't really understand how banks work and how they make money. I didn't until I was well into my fifties. Certainly the core of the Tea Party doesn't, although some of the supporters of financial institution deregulation do and that is precisely why they want deregulation. Here's how Krugman explains this in part:

First he notes that the Glass-Steagall act of 1933 primarily did two things. It "established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which guaranteed (and still guarantees) depositors against loss if their bank should happened to fail" (p. 59) Additionally, "Glass-Steagall limited the amount of risk banks could take. This was especially necessary given the establishment of deposit insurance, which could have created enormous `moral hazard.' That is, it could have created a situation in which bankers could raise lots of money, no questions asked--hey, it's all government-insured--then put that money into high-risk, high stakes investments, figuring that it was heads they win, tails the taxpayers lose."

Krugman then reminds us that this is exactly what happened during the savings and loan scandal of the Reagan administration. Likewise, the big investments banks knew during the later years of the George W. Bush administration that they were in fact too big to fail and the government in order to prevent a massive financial meltdown would have to bail them out if their Pandora's Box of risky derivatives (and other "financial instruments") went toxic. This knowledge gave them free rein to gamble like drunken sailors--well, that knowledge and the (how sweet it is!) deregulation of investment banking that took place primarily in the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Toxic those gambles went and both the Bush and the Obama administrations found themselves with no choice but to bail the banks out lest the whole economy come tumbling down.

One of the results of deregulation has been the enormous increase in the wealth of the top one percent (yes, those people) and what has happened to the real income of most of the rest of us. Krugman has two charts on page 74 showing the growth in household income from 1947 to the present. While the rich have indeed gotten richer the average family has seen its income growth "slowed to a crawl."

But it's even worse than Krugman makes it appear. That's because the only reason middle income Americans have been able to tread water is because many of those families became two income families. In other words the head of household's real income has actually fallen.

Another factor in the actual decline in the average worker's buying power and the amazing increase in CEO compensation comes about, Krugman suggests, because worker's unions have lost a lot of their power. "It's surely relevant here to note the sharp decline in unionization during the 1980s, which removed one major player that might have protested huge paychecks for executives." (p. 82)

One more point. Krugman argues that the harsh austerity measures currently being acted out in Greece and other places in Europe are not only mistaken but based on a kind of "morality play" mentality. We all understand how it feels when our neighbors get away with something like buying houses they can't afford. We don't want the government to bail them out. They were fiscally irresponsible and should have to pay the piper. However even if that is true it doesn't help us by administering punishment in the form taking place in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere. Our standard of living will suffer if we place our desire to punish others ahead of our doing what is necessary to grow the economy. It would help a lot if somehow some of the mortgage indebtedness were to be forgiven, is what Krugman suggests.

In short, there's a tremendous amount of economic wisdom in this book, so much so I would recommend it as a supplement to a college macroeconomics text. You'll find that a number of the sometimes difficult ideas in those texts are illuminated almost incidentally by Krugman as he explains how we got into this mess and how we can get out. I wish this were required reading for high school students and the members of the Congress of the United States.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"


The Violent Bear It Away
The Violent Bear It Away
par Flannery O'Connor
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 11,61

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A flawed masterpiece, 15 octobre 2012
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Violent Bear It Away (Broché)
While I greatly admire Flannery O'Connor as a master story teller, I don't care much for her theology. Fortunately there is little to no overt theology in "The Violent Bear It Away" (although there's plenty of Christian symbolism). Instead what we have is a most compelling tale of three southerners morbidly obsessed with baptism.

Francis Marion Tarwater, the central character, is a 14-year-old orphaned boy raised by his great uncle, 70 years his senior. The old man imagined himself a prophet and thought that he could raise young Tarwater to follow in his footsteps. To that end he stole the boy away from his uncle ("the schoolteacher," Rayber, who was the brother of the boy's mother and old Tarwater's nephew), and took the boy to his wooden house in a clearing in the woods where he raised corn and operated a whiskey still. Old Tarwater completely dominated the boy psychologically, keeping him out of school and filling his mind with the fear of the Lord and the need to be prepared when the Lord called upon him since he too would become a prophet.

The obsession the three had with baptism concerned Rayber's son, Bishop, who was mentally retarded. The old man desperately wanted to baptize the little boy but the school teacher saw baptism as a superstitious ritual and wouldn't allow it. The old man repeatedly ranted and raved to the 14-year-old Tarwater that Bishop must be baptized. But young Tarwater had a mind of his own and told himself he wasn't going to baptize the dim-witted boy. Yet so powerful was his great uncle's raving that Tarwater felt despite himself a great compulsion to baptize Bishop.

What makes this tale work is O'Connor's almost magical narrative control, her deep psychological understanding of her characters and a masterful command of the story-teller's art. I guess I should also add her incredible ability to create the kind of atmosphere that seems realistic and mythical at the same time. Her use of water and fire motifs brought powerfully the Biblical experience to the scene of the story, Powderhead, Tennessee and environs. She is also good at foreshadowing events so that the reader may realize at some unclear point what is going to happen next. I'm not sure when I realized what would happen to Bishop, but at some point I knew. (Perhaps it was just the lake and the hotel clerk's expressed fear that Tarwater would do something evil.)

Additionally, O'Connor's ability to reveal character through dialogue, interior monologues, and interior dialogues (especially young Tarwater's interior dialogue) compels us to turn the pages to see just what these people are going to do next. This narrative tension (which is primarily the result of believable and fascinating characters) grows and is what compels the reader onward toward the resolution.

Okay, here's the "flawed" part: first, the ending. The reader is left to imagine what will happen to Tarwater. That's the easy way out, especially after O'Connor has the boy do evil and confused deeds and then get raped--a scene that seems unnecessary and tacked on as though O'Connor just had to punish the boy immediately. Tarwater responds by burning up a bit of the forest. What next? One can suppose that he will pay for his crimes, but he is 14-years-old. One really wants a sequel in which Tarwater becomes a fire and brimstone preacher who possibly in his later years is a TV evangelist who is (say) a serial killer. (Just kidding.) But I don't think O'Connor was ready at the time to write anymore.

The main problem with the novel, however, from my point of view is O'Connor's symbolic and heavy-handed condemnation of protestant Christianity and secular rationalism. The school teacher Rayber who fails in just about everything he does is the weakest character in the book. He cannot act. Tarwater is going to go one up on Rayber by acting. He says proudly, "I can act." Both the Tarwaters who represent a confused and violent Protestantism are superior to secularism in that even though they act violently they do act. Unmentioned but present in the character of the mentally retarded Bishop (yes, Bishop!) is Catholicism itself, pure and uncorrupted. Notice that even though Bishop is retarded he is innocence and good. And notice too that he, according to Christian theology, goes to heaven. He is an angel.

According to the Wikipedia article O'Connor said that the voice that Tarwater heard (in the interior dialogue) was the devil, and the rapist was the devil made flesh.

In the world of literal Christianity and Catholicism the world is infused with angels and devils (fallen angels). O'Connor apparently believed this theology. Regardless we can read this fascinating novel without sharing her beliefs and admire her purely as a gifted literary artist, which she was.

Perhaps the meaning of the title, "The Violent Bear It Away" (Matthew 11:12) refers to the fact that it was through violence and by the violent that Bishop was baptized.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Novels and Other Fictions"


Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita
par Anonymous
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 7,27

1 internaute sur 1 a trouvé ce commentaire utile :
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fine translation, excellent introduction, 10 octobre 2012
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Bhagavad Gita (Broché)
I have read the Gita several times and can say that this translation by Juan Mascaro is one of the best, but what really impressed me was the introduction by Simon Brodbeck written for this, the Penguin Classics edition from 2002. (Not to be confused with the Penguin Classics Gita from 2008 translated by Laurie L. Patton, which I haven't read.) Mascaro's translation is from 1962 as is his interesting introduction.

First I want to say a few things about the translation and then I will get to why I was so impressed with Brodbeck's introduction.

Mascaro writes that "The aim of this translation is to give, without notes or commentary, the spiritual message of the Bhagavad Gita in pure English." (p. lxiii) Consequently Mascaro's is not a strictly literal translation. The strength of the translation I believe is in the "pure English"--that is, in the direct clarity of expression which Mascaro does so well.

He writes that he has "in a few cases" avoided "the accepted translation of a word," noting that "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." As an example is the word "Dharma," which Mascaro renders as "Truth." Thus we have Dhrita-Rashtra begin the Gita with the words, "On the field of Truth, on the battlefield of life..."

Of course "Dharma" is usually considered not quite translatable into English with just a single word or two and so is usually left as is. I think Mascaro's careful and considered decision is okay and maybe even superior in that the word "Truth" in English especially when capitalized, really grabs our attention and summons up our critical faculties.

Another example is Mascaro's use of the word "God" instead of either "Brahman" or "Atman." Here I think it would be better to keep the Hindu usage since the idea of God in the West which comes mainly from the Abrahamic religions is quite different. I would even say that Mascaro equates God with a non-personal Infinity and vice-versa.

Now to Brodbeck's introduction.

One of the important ideas from the Gita that Brodbeck, who teaches at Cardiff University, addresses is maya, which Krishna calls "the cloud of appearance" that surrounds us. Brodbeck makes a distinction between why an event occurs and the reasons we give to ourselves to explain the event. (The reason I didn't get the job is because the interviewer was biased against me, one might say. But maybe I was unqualified or something else.) Brodbeck writes, "In light of this distinction we can see that...all reasons identified by words or thought are partial, biased, and largely imaginary. They do not refer to the external world, only to our internal world."

The surprising thing is this is true even about events that seem entirely concrete, for example, hitting a home run in baseball. If a batter attempts to explain how and why he hit the homerun it doesn't work because swinging at a 90 mph fastball is largely an act removed from our immediate consciousness, not to mention the connection with the pitcher. Brodbeck adds, "Identified antecedents do not properly represent the pure, rational flux within which any event is embedded, which fills all space and time." (p. xviii)

This is akin to what Einstein meant when he said, "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us `Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness." (Quoted at ThinkExist.com.)

One of the things that Krishna is at pains to tell us in the Gita is that we do not act. The universe (God, or the Atman, if you like) acts through us. Put another way there is not a whole lot we can do about the consequences or "fruits" of our actions, and therefore, as Krishna advises, let us not identify with winning and losing but do our duty with grace and a sincere effort.

Brodbeck even goes so far as to say that the "'I' is no more than a sign amongst others; it denotes no metaphysical entity." (p. xx) He adds that the yogi who has followed Krishna knows "that all actual activities are absolutely necessary, and that no `I' owns any of them." (p. xxii)

Clearly what Brodbeck is saying (and this is also my interpretation of the Gita) is that there is no such thing as free will as understood in the common parlance. This of course is unacceptable socially and politically since society must have individual accountability.

Near the end of his introduction Brodbeck sets the Gita in the context of the Mahabharata suggesting that Krishna had an "anti-imperialistic" "political agenda" that made him desire the victory of Arjuna's tribe, the Pandavas, over the Kauravas. Brodbeck says that these considerations are not evident unless one knows the Mahabharata. Most of us have not and will not ever read the very long Mahabharata and so we'll have to take Brodbeck at his word. This raises the scholarly question of to what extent is the Bhagavad Gita an intrinsic part of that larger work and to what extent has the Gita been inserted into the Mahabharata?

I have read and reviewed seven other books which include a translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Those reviews can be found in the bibliography of my book, "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)."

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is."


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