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Our Separate Ways: The Struggle for the Future of the U.S.–Israel Alliance
Our Separate Ways: The Struggle for the Future of the U.S.–Israel Alliance
by Dana H. Allin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, authoritative, easy to read, and sure to be controversial, June 27, 2016
The first part of the book recalls not only the history of the Jewish state, how it came to be and how it has struggled and progressed, but how it has been perceived in the imagination of the American politic. As we recall, progressives, liberals, Democrats and educated people in general in the United States have long supported the Zionist idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. More recently in the middle of the twentieth century with the sense of the horror of the holocaust still fresh in everyone’s mind our feelings that Jews are justified in having a homeland safe from the prejudices and persecutions that they had long suffered during the centuries-long diaspora was strengthened. But then came in the latter half of the twentieth century “The Rise of the Right” (Chapter 2) and a shift in American appreciation of Israel’s struggles. Now Christian fundamentalists were in the vanguard of support for Israel while liberals were seen by some as growing lukewarm because of what many on the left saw as a growing apartheid state in the Middle East.

The second part of the book zeros in on the nitty-gritty of recent U.S.-Israeli politics, especially during the Obama administration. Authors Allin and Simon (both avowed Zionists, by the way) are senior professional political scientists with Simon being both Jewish himself and lately a close adviser to President Obama. They present a fascinating inside look at much that has gone on between the US and Israel during this latter stage of the conflict involving the Muslim world and Israel. Allin and Simon work hard to be objective and fair, but there is little doubt that they see President Obama as having a balanced position in the struggle and Prime Minister Netanyahu being an uncompromising nationalist. Indeed from reading this book it appears that Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to a two-state solution and is intent on Israeli supremacy in the Holy Land.

One of the things that the authors are at pains to demonstrate is that the Obama administration differed in no significant way from previous US administrations in its unequivocal support of Israel as a friend and an ally. I think they make case very well in spite a lot of right wing BS to the contrary, and despite the unfortunate personal animosity between Obama and Netanyahu, dubbed “the Obama-Netanyahu psychodrama…” on page 175.

In addition to the insights the authors provide into US-Israel relationships there is a wealth of information about the so-called Arab Spring and its aftermath and about the situation in the Middle East vis-à-vis the rest of the world. They offer insights into the Sunni-Shia divide and the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is some material on the horrors that developed in Syria and Egypt.

As for the “red line” that Obama had famously drawn in Syria about the use of chemical weapons, the authors exonerate the president by claiming that by the time it was clear that Assad had used chemical weapons the situation had changed and “98 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile of 1,308 metric tons of mustard agent and precursors had been destroyed.” (p. 151) The authors go on to argue that bombing Syria would not have gotten rid of the chemical weapons. Indeed some were in civilian areas and bombing them would result in the kind of collateral damage that would be unacceptable. On the other hand Obama’s opponents argue that the loss of credibility from not bombing Syria was of significant damage to the creditability of the United States. My personal opinion is I wish I knew what would have been the right thing to do. It’s easy to second guess and criticize but as Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here” and when you are in the hot seat you have to make a decision that will inevitably lead to dead bodies on the ground somewhere. One thing I have always admired about Obama as president is his obvious desire to be responsible for as few deaths as possible. However I think he made a mistake in not going after Assad regardless of what the Russians thought.

Putting aside the horrors of the past one of the most disturbing parts of the book is on education in Israel and the rise of a relatively uneducated ultra-conservative population. As the authors observe, “…the average achievement level of Israeli children in math, science, and reading is below twenty-four of twenty-five most relevant OECD countries.” (p. 195) They add, “The erosion of higher education in Israel has accelerated a serious brain drain because young Israeli doctoral students have little hope of finding teaching jobs in their own country. A truly astonishing percentage of tenure-track physics professors in the United States are Israeli.” (p. 196)

The authors believe that many well-educated people will consequently emigrate out of Israel. They add, “Over time, this process would facilitate the right-wing grip on electoral politics, not only by decreasing the pool of potential left-wing constituents but by increasing the societal load of economically disenfranchised voters, who, like their American counterparts, may be more attracted to right-wing policies.” (p. 198)

Finally, the authors quote George Washington University Professor Michael Barnett who opines that in lieu of a two state solution some other possible outcomes in Israel include “civil war, ethnic cleansing or a non-democratic state.” Then Allin and Simon ask, “can Israel and the United States remain close allies?” This is a very real question since it appears to the authors (and I for one tend to agree) that the United States is moving toward the multicultural left.

If you want to know how seasoned political scientists view international affairs as opposed to sound bites on Fox News or CNN this book is an eye-opener and an education.

--Dennis Littrell


The Naturalist on the River Amazons
The Naturalist on the River Amazons
by Henry Walter Bates
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary and very readable, June 24, 2016
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I read the Kindle edition which is the edition from 1864. It came out five years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.” (I believe all the editions offered are very much the same; after all, this is public domain book.) It includes “An Appreciation” by Darwin and numerous typos and archaic geographical names; however I wasn’t the slightest bit distracted. The lengthy narrative is a masterpiece of its kind coming from one the great naturalists of the nineteen century in the person of Henry Walter Bates who began this awesome adventure in 1848 with Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace returned to England in 1852 but Bates stayed on another seven years as he sent over 14,000 specimens back to Europe, some 8,000 of them new to science, including plants, animals, many birds, and many, many insects.

Bates does not limit his attention to flora and fauna. He gives the reader a vivid, colorful and detailed account of what it was like to live along the rivers of the Amazon among the various “Indian” tribes, the mulattos, the half breeds, the “negroes,” free and slave, the whites and even some cannibals. He gives us some idea of the politics, the sociology, geography, and a riveting account of what’s it’s like to face mosquitos, poisonous snakes, alligators, jaguars, biting insects, etc. in heavy, humid heat while tramping through the jungle in bare feet. Yes, he was often in bare feet.

In navigating the rivers we learn what it’s like to travel aboard small craft tossed about by sharp changes in wind and weather. Additionally, finding enough to eat was no small matter; and eating nothing but turtle flesh for weeks on end with just a smattering of fruits and nuts was more challenging that I would ever want to be challenged. But Bates didn’t just endure this; he reveled in it. What a romantic age it was for the naturalist adventurer! It was like competing for the highest prizes since there was still so, so much to be discovered; and to be one of the great naturalists of that age was to be a most amazing and greatly admired person.

Bates can claim his place alongside Darwin and Wallace and maybe even hold a bit of an edge in terms of hardships endured and species discovered. His indefatigable curiosity about plants, animals, people and their interactions is like no one I’ve ever read. I won’t say that this book is better than Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” published in 1839, but it belongs in the same league. No serious student of natural history, evolutionary biology, anthropology, or sociology, for that matter, should miss it. The difference between the way people lived along the Amazon in the middle of the nineteenth century and the way they live today alone is fascinating. The many hardships of everyday life that Bates endured along with the locals—and endured them with such nonchalance—amazed me. I thought at one time what a fine thing it would be to study ants in faraway places like the Amazon basin. To be honest after reading this book I know that even in my best years I would not be able to do it.

Bottom line: this is the best natural history book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Understanding Evolution and Ourselves”


The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
by Marc Lynch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.38
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, dense, authoritative, June 2, 2016
Professor Lynch is a professional political scientist with a chair at Georgetown University and the author of several books on the Middle East. He is the kind of writer whose expertise is unquestioned, and it is only in his interpretation of events that one might find controversy.

I didn’t find any, myself. I would only say that Lynch failed to fault Islam, the religion itself, for the horrors taking place in the Middle East today. This is understandable since there is little to be gained by blaming an entire religion and much to lose through distraction and ineffectual focus. True, it is in part Islam’s inability to separate mosque from state that underlies the failure of democracy to take hold in the Middle East. Lynch seems to intimate as much when he writes, “The Arab uprisings of 2011 were only one episode in a generational challenge to a failed political order.” (p. 254)

What Lynch focuses on is the autocratic regimes themselves and their inability to awaken to the new reality brought about by rapid and nearly universal communication among the populace. (They can see clearly how much better things are in other places in the world.) No longer can the regimes manage public opinion and knowledge through nearly absolute control of media. Instead with Facebook, Twitter and other venues anyone with a smart phone and/or an Internet connection can learn via YouTube videos, outside news sources and messages from friends, comrades, family and even enemies the truth about what is happening almost anywhere in the Middle East.

Lynch of course points with muted voice to the colonialism of the past since this book is about today and now, and the past is well known and nothing can be done about it. (The word “colonialism” does not even appear in the excellent Index.) As for the more recent past beginning with the stupidities and gross ignorance of the Bush administration, Lynch spells them out unsparingly. He finds less fault with Obama than he does with Bush, and that is understandable since George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons are the ones who destabilized the Middle East with their invasion of Iraq. As Lynch points out one of the effects of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was to increase the influence of Iran. Iraq with Hussein’s Sunni government in charge was a buffer against Iranian ambitions.

Whereas Bush didn’t care how many people his actions caused to die, Obama’s policies are obviously directed toward killing as few people as possible. However any decision that Obama made or will make will result in the death of people. Such is the nature of military and political power, which is why sociopaths (such as some of the autocrats in the Middle East and elsewhere) are often found in power today and historically. Personally, writing as a political scientist (I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science from UCLA) I believe that Obama should have gone after Asad following the gassing of his people. For complicated reasons including Russian support of Asad and the possibility of a negotiated settlement Obamas was persuaded not to attack the regime. In the last chapter of the book Lynch, disagreeing with me, states that the “Intervention would not have saved Syria.” He writes:

“The conventional wisdom now holds that the Obama administration’s failure to act in Syria has been as devastating as the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq…But American non-intervention was not the problem, and if it does ultimately intervene directly this will only create new problems.” (p. 248) He adds (p. 249) that intervention by the Obama administration was exactly what jihadists wanted since it would ultimate fail. “Obama was right to avoid this intervention. Perhaps his greatest sin in the eyes of the Washington consensus was to have learned the lessons of Iraq.”

As for the prognosis, Lynch (writing in January, 2016) contends forcefully that the uprising that began in 2011 is not over, that the autocratic powers will continue to be under pressure from people who want a greater say in how their lives play out.

Further he believes (p. 246) that “…America has no real allies in the Middle East.” (Interesting. Does that include or exclude Israel?)

Finally, Lynch expects Islamic extremism to get worse.

The book is eminently readable and exquisitely edited but with this reservation: if you don’t have some familiarity with the politics of the Middle East you might want to take notes. It’s hard to know the players without a score card, and separating Sunni from Shi’a can take some getting used to.

--Dennis Littrell
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2016 9:26 AM PDT


Take Back Your Power
Take Back Your Power
DVD
Price: $9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Presents a scary case against smart meters, May 31, 2016
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This is a very alarming documentary about what radiation from so-called smart meters can do to your health and wealth. It’s well presented, interesting and even entertaining. Fair and balanced? I don’t know. Indeed, can there at this time be a fair and balanced take on this subject? I suggest the reader see this and make up his or her own mind, perhaps with a little added research.

As for my opinion, I think in the midst of so much misinformation, partial information, propaganda, paid lies, emotional lies, ignorance--especially ignorance since most people really know little to nothing about the effects of electromagnetic radiation on living tissues--we need to look at the broader picture and concentrate on what we know.

How can we know the truth? I’m not sure we can. But how many smart meters are in operation throughout the world? That can be estimated to a fair accuracy. But how many people suffer ill-health or even death because of these meters? That is the problem: that number cannot be even estimated confidently. Why? Because a causal trail would have to be established from the meters to the ailing persons AND other possible causes would have to be eliminated.

So what do I think? My belief is that (1) some people may be more susceptible to EMRs than others, and (2) it may be the case that the electric companies have mistakenly in some cases installed meters that really are harmful to our health.

Probably the most frightening case given in the documentary is not about smart meters. It is about two faculty members and one student at San Diego State University getting brain cancer at a single location, Nasatir Hall on campus. Was this a cancer cluster caused by something on or near the site (the documentary points to a nearby High Performance Wireless Research Network Tower) or was it just a coincidence? One of the faculty members and a student died in 2008; the other faculty member died in 1993.

Okay, again what do I think? My belief is that a cancer cluster of three people 15 years apart (with no new cases since 2008) is probably a coincidence. There’s a whole world of science, pseudoscience and conjecture about cancer clusters that the reader might want to research. The problem is two-fold: probabilistically proving cause is extremely difficult, and even if there is no single cause there will be cancer clusters arising purely by chance.

As in many other aspects of the environment concerning our health the truth is very difficult to find because there will be research on both sides of any issue sponsored by people with a vested interest in one side or the other.

However, just as with tobacco and climate change, eventually the truth will out. I am waiting. Meanwhile I am pleased that there is no smart meter on my home, although if there were I don’t think I would worry about it. But maybe I would do more research and then maybe I would worry. Maybe not.

Life is complicated and although I think this documentary is a bit over the top I think it is worth watching. In a way it’s a good place to begin your research if you are worried about how electrical magnetic radiation may affect our health.

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


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.39
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force and a fascinating read, May 20, 2016
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This is the kind of book I wish I could have written. It is as readable as a novel written for tweeners, as authoritative as something by Jared Diamond, as witty as repartee from a Parisian Salon (with perhaps Voltaire, David Hume, Einstein and Ray Kurzweil in attendance) as deep as the ocean and as speculative as the future itself.

Harari, who has a PhD in history from Oxford and is a lecturer in history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, begins in the prehistory with the early hominids and ends with “The Animal that Became a God.” (That would be us…well, we will be gone but with the distinction of being the “intelligent designers” of the cyborgs to come.) Along the way Harari has reference to biological evolution, agriculture, history, economics, political science, anthropology, tribalism and the war system, the Industrial Revolution, the scientific revolution, psychology, religion, futurism and more. He lambasts the agricultural revolution (we were happier, healthier, taller and smarter as hunter-gatherers), dissects empires (empires did more good than harm) and debates with himself about whether science has made us happier. He even ponders the nature of happiness with a nod to Buddhism.

The power of the book and why it is an international bestseller comes from the crisp, readable and witty prose (translated from his original Hebrew into English with the help of Haim Watzman) expressed with verve and daring inspired by a deep knowledge of humans, their history and their culture. No PC correctness here, and no suffering of fools and their delusions or wishful thinking. Just the facts as he knows them and reasonable conclusions stemming from those facts along with some creative speculation.

What struck me throughout was how very much in agreement I was with his conclusions and how his knowledge and my knowledge of the past and the present were similar. (It’s the zeitgeist, I imagine.) I also liked his guesses about where we are headed as human beings. I turned the pages with the kind of enthusiasm for what is to come that I haven’t experienced in many moons.

Do yourself a favor and read this amazing book.

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


Standing Army
Standing Army
DVD
Price: $1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Do we really need so many foreign military bases?, May 4, 2016
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This review is from: Standing Army (Amazon Video)
This is about the hundreds of U.S. military bases scattered across the globe. According to various sources the U.S. has anywhere from 662 bases in 38 countries (from the Wikipedia article) to something like 700 (according to this documentary) to 800 (according to an article in The Nation Magazine). The question is why?

It’s been 71 years since the end of World War II and yet there are still hundreds of bases in Germany and Japan. The documentary shows protests against some of these bases. In particular Kadena Air Base in Okinawa faces daily protests. Japanese citizens claim that the land on which the base stands belongs to them and should be returned. Of course Osama bin Laden used the presence of U.S. military bases on Islamic lands as justification for the murders of thousands of Americans. The documentary basically asks how would we feel if there were foreign military bases in the United States?

It is easy to say, well, we didn’t suffer unconditional surrender, and yes Japan attacked the U.S., etc., but that was then. This is now, and Germany and Japan are our allies. Regardless of how other people feel about the bases the question we should ask ourselves—and it’s a question this documentary asks—is isn’t this a great waste of taxpayer money?

Directors Thomas Fazi and Enrico Parenti use interviews and film footage to show what a waste these bases are and why there are continuing to be maintained. Naturally Eisenhower’s famous warning about the “industrial military complex” comes into play. In short, this production argues that the bases are not only a waste of money but do not add to our national security. Indeed David Vine in his article in The Nation claims the bases are “doing us more harm than good.”

Personally I agree that the bases add little to our national security. Some bases, such as the one in the middle of the Indian Ocean and others in the Middle East may allow us to respond quickly to terrorists and pirates. This is good since it facilitates global trade which is beneficial to the U.S. But why should the price be so high, and why shouldn’t other countries pay more for their defense and keeping the trade routes open? Good questions, but the fact remains that, as this interesting and compelling documentary makes clear, we have far, far too many bases overseas at a cost well beyond their value. One could say it’s time to bring the troops home. One would guess that we could be just as safe with perhaps a quarter of the bases. As the headline in The Nation puts it: “The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History.”

The importance of this documentary is in the fact that the vast majority of Americans have no idea how great and expensive is our military presence globally. This should open some eyes. Spend 76 minutes watching this documentary and decide for yourself: Do we really to spend an estimated $156 billion or more a year while incurring some serious animosity and ill will?

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


Silent Conquest
Silent Conquest
DVD
Price: $4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit alarmist but very much worth watching, May 4, 2016
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This review is from: Silent Conquest (Amazon Video)
If you’ve been wondering just which parts of Sharia law are being incorporated into laws (or are in danger of being incorporated into laws) in Europe, Canada and the U.S. this documentary has the answer. In Sharia law it is a crime punishable by death to criticize or speak negatively about the Prophet or about Islam itself.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC: 57 Islamic nations) has it as one of their goals to make it a crime not only in Muslim lands but in western democracies to say negative things about their religion! This film is in part a report on how well they are doing in this effort. The idea is to label criticism of Islam a hate crime as defined in Western nations including the U.S. If they are successful this documentary warns us that will be the end of freedom of speech in the West.

It’s a rather outrageous attempt on the part of the OIC. It’s one thing to have laws in an Islamic country against defamation of the Prophet and Islam, but quite another to try to impose such laws on citizens of other nations. What is particularly glaring is that no such prohibition is being hawked about to “protect” other religions.

Personally I don’t think Islam needs the protection. This attempt is really an embarrassment to the world’s second largest religion. I see pluses and minuses in all religions. No religion has a monopoly on truth (or falsehood) and no religion should be free from criticism.

I should also like to point out that there is a difference between speech that applies to race and that which applies to religion. Racial differences are biological facts of life superimposed, as it were, on individuals without their consent. Religion is a social, political and (hopefully) spiritual human invention. Criticism of religions and religion is part of the exchange of ideas protected in U.S. by the First Amendment to the Constitution. I hope and trust it will stay that way.

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


Pawn Sacrifice
Pawn Sacrifice
DVD
Price: $14.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth seeing but a bit disappointing, April 30, 2016
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This is a nice vehicle for Tobey Maguire who does a good job of portraying a paranoid schizophrenic, but that person is not Robert James Fischer. They got Maguire’s hair style right but otherwise any resemblance between the tall, lanky, expansive Bobby Fischer and Maguire is slight. He probably didn’t see enough footage of Fischer at that age. He didn’t use any of Fischer’s mannerisms that I noticed and of course Fischer was several inches taller. Liev Schreiber who played Spassky actually looks a bit like Spassky but is bigger and more robust. So we have in the movie Fischer vs. Spassky at the chess board but Spassky bigger than Fischer!

As for games mentioned in some detail I had to go back to the first and sixth games of the match to recall what happened and to compare my perception with that of the commentary in the movie. The sixth game was a brilliant game as almost everybody agrees, but contrary to some popular opinion Fischer did not blunder away his bishop in game one. He and Spassky were in a clearly drawn bishop and pawn ending. He wanted more, but there was nothing he could do, so what he did was sacrifice his bishop for two pawns, not as some people think in an attempt to win the game but to show his confidence and to shake Spassky up a bit. Fischer thought the resulting position after many moves would be a draw. He was wrong but this is an example of Fischer psychology: I will make you play a hundred moves if necessary just to show you how strong I am. You will weaken not me.

Some reviewers pointed out some chessic type errors but there weren’t that many and they were minor. Here’s one they got right that may surprise some people. Notice that Fischer used the descriptive notation (“P-K4”) while most other grandmasters even back in 1972 used algebraic notation (“e4”). And while there were chess clock on analyst boards where they serve no purpose at least the boards were set up right with the white square at the player’s right hand, avoiding a common error in movies.

Probably the biggest error had nothing to do with chess but with the fact that Fischer’s mental illness at the time of the Spassky match had not developed as much as the movie suggests. His personality was more rounded than displayed. He actually had a charming side. People liked him in spite his bad manners and selfishness. There’s a YouTube video of him on TV with Bob Hope filmed sometime shortly after the match with Spassky that shows a very different Fischer than the one Maguire portrayed.

The bit with the girl (sarcastically she says to Fischer: “it was good for me too” as he studies a chess game in bed) was apparently director Edward Zwick’s take on the nagging question of Fischer’s sexuality, meaning yes he was heterosexual, but chess was just more interesting.

The real disappointment for me was that they did not make clear the really great triumphant of Fischer’s preceding the championship match. He destroyed three of the top grandmasters en route to the title match, at one point winning 20 games in a row. Amazing. The greatest streak in grandmaster history. So he was a clear favorite although Spassky was the World Champion. That’s why he wanted so much to win the first game and confirm immediately that he was clearly superior.

I was also disappointed that Fischer’s life after winning the championship was not explored. I had hoped for a cinematic take on what happened to “The Wandering King” (the title of a book about his life by Hans Bohm and Kees Jongkind). Perhaps that material would be better presented in a documentary than in a popular flick.

Bottom line: worth seeing but not as good as I had hoped.

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


Robonomics: Prepare Today for the Jobless Economy of Tomorrow
Robonomics: Prepare Today for the Jobless Economy of Tomorrow
Price: $9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eminently readable and well considered although perhaps not critical enough, April 19, 2016
This is about what Crews calls the “Automation Revolution” to come. It reads for the most part as though written by a spokesperson for the robotics industry. Indeed Crews’ enthusiasm about how robots are going to make our lives better is so untempered by even a hint of unintended consequences that I am forced to give him only four stars. '

But guess what? I think he’s probably right at least as far as the number one worry of the general public is concerned, namely that robots will take over the world and enslave human beings…or something like that. As Crews makes clear robots do what they are programmed to do and nothing more. They have no desire to take over the world and they will be scripted to value human life and indeed other forms of life, perhaps in a hierarchy of value.

What about black hat hackers? It appears that Crews believes that advanced AI systems will not be vulnerable to hacking. (See the Chapter “13. Defense.”) Here I don’t know if he is on terra firma or not. It seems that today’s systems are indeed very vulnerable to hacking as North Korea, the Chinese, the US, Israel and others have demonstrated. If anyone knows how and why advanced AI systems will be safe from hackers I would like to see the explanation. Crews does not elaborate. My personal opinion is that surveillance will become so nearly ubiquitous that it will be hard to get away with anything criminal. But that, as they say, is another story.

Regardless of hackers, Crews' main point is that robots (Artificial Intelligence with muscle so to speak) will make almost everything we need not only a lot cheaper but safer.

Crews shows in concrete detail what robots can do from being household nannies and housekeepers, to teachers, to police bots to warriors and even health counselors and doctors of surgery. He has chapters on how robots will revolutionize various industries: agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, transportation, etc. Furthermore robots, because they will be enormously intelligent and exactingly competent, will make our lives safer and healthier.

Again I agree—that is, unless we blow ourselves up or pollute the planet before the age of AI can be ushered in. I am taking it as given that AI systems will eventually become so advanced that robotic intelligence will approach or even exceed human intelligence. AI has been a little late in fulfilling this promise but lately there have been scientific breakthroughs that are so promising, as Crews points out, that investors and big corporations are nurturing the projects with a lot of money. Some people even believe that quantum computers will become viable in the not too distant future. If so AI systems run on such machines will be something close to godlike. (Crews, I think wisely, doesn’t speculate on how, when and if QM machines will materialize.)

What Crews sees as clear is that robots will be employed in almost every aspect of our lives, including building other robots. Forget the “almost.” Although Crews doesn’t mention it (it probably got edited out) but one of the first and most wide-spread use of robots will be as sexual surrogates. Note that one of the most wide-spread and popular uses of the Internet is for virtual love. He does mention that robots will be handy as human companions.

The problem with this brave new world is that virtually nobody will have a job. How will humans adjust to doing nothing but leisure? Crews is not worried. He sees humans furthering their educations, going on cruises, making music, doing artwork, or just hanging out, perhaps meditating on the bounty that is life. However since few people will have jobs there will be few wages to tax. What’s a government to do? Crews writes:

“The federal government should tax labor done by AI systems and smart robots to make up for the loss of income from income and payroll taxes. The government should also provide a basic income for all Americans when their labor can no longer be traded for money.” (Kindle location 1394-96).

Moreover: “The federal government will need to pay a stipend, a universal basic income, to practically every adult citizen.” (Kindle location 1533-34)

This really gets to the nitty-gritty of what is going to happen to our world if and when robots are capable of doing human work. I have thought a bit about this myself and my conclusion is that everybody on the planet will then be assigned some sort of responsibility such as being an expert on bees or even just one species of bees, or on trees or periods of history, and so on. Or if you have musical talent you can write songs, sing, play instruments. If you are athletically talented you can play sports. Or perhaps you will be paid to contemplate your navel.

All this makes me wonder what humans and life are all about. What does it all mean?

At any rate I am working on a book about the social, political and economic aspects of the future which I hope to complete before I become too enfeebled. Crews has admirably anticipated some of my concerns.

By the way, Crews’ text comes with almost two hundred end notes, many of which have links to Internet sources. You could do your own research.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2016 3:33 PM PDT


Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
DVD
Price: $3.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dumpster diving for food and enlightenment, April 9, 2016
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What is enlightening here is the terrible waste that Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin uncovered as they went for six months living on only thrown-away vittles. Wow. Six months of dumpster diving and the like. They must have gotten very hungry and really bored with the food choices. But—no! Grant Baldwin gained about ten pounds and they had so much food that it was an embarrassment. True this was in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada which is, relatively speaking, a very well-off place to live.

If that were the only point of the documentary it would not be so good. What makes this work is the research that Rustemeyer and Baldwin did about food waste in not only Canada but in the US, and the filming and interviews they did with other people in the food business. They report that it is estimated that 40% of the food grown in the United States is wasted. It is mostly thrown into landfills where it produces the greenhouse gas, methane, as well as creating an unsanitary mess. They also show that responsible farmers allow gleaning on their property so that unharvested food does not go to waste. Additionally of course farmers typically compost anything they can’t sell.

What I found most interesting was the part about how the expiration dates on food products are contributing massively to the waste. According to another source (treehugger.com) “Most consumers think that the dates on the food in their fridge say something about food safety. But most ‘sell by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘best by’ dates are intended to indicate freshness, and say nothing about when food may spoil.”

So, because of the confusion in the minds of most people food retailers find it best to remove food that is past the expiration date on the package from their shelves. What to do with it? As we see in this documentary often what they do is just throw it out. That’s often the easiest course for the retailer. Thus Rustemeyer and Baldwin in their dumpster travels come upon a very large dumpster (as big as a swimming pool, Baldwin remarks) full of hundreds of hummus packages all perfectly good to eat. The shot is arresting: it looks like you could swim among the packages there are so many of them!

Another problem for the retailer that results in throwing away perfectly edible food is the sense that if it doesn’t look good nobody will buy. Ugly fruits and veggies are removed from sight and again end up most often in the dumpster. (Old hippy dumpster divers know this!)

I would observe that many food producers are vehemently opposed to GMO labeling but are very accommodating with the “use by” labeling. Why? Well, if the retailer has to throw out the food they will probably have to buy more, which would be good for the producer’s bottom line. GMO labeling…not so good since people might not buy their product.

In addition to the fine editing, excellent camera work and the well-researched presentation of this Indie documentary there is the pleasure of seeing people who really care about the environment and about the waste.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Scared and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


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