Thursday, March 30, 2023

Review of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Science
Book Club Event = Book List (07/29/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Earth's Flora and Fauna


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“This genetic wealth, combined with their rapid evolution, makes them virtuosos of biochemistry, able to adapt to any possible challenge.  They help to digest our food, releasing otherwise inaccessible nutrients.  They produce vitamins and minerals that are missing from our diet.  They break down toxins and hazardous chemicals.  They protect us from disease by crowding out more dangerous microbes or killing them directly with antimicrobial chemicals.  They produce substances that affect the way we smell.  They are such an inevitable presence that we have outsourced surprising aspects of our lives to them.“– Ed Yong, Chapter 1: Living Islands, Page 18

“Each of us has our own distinctive microbiome, sculpted by the genes we inherited, the places we’ve lived in, the drugs we’ve taken, the food we’ve eaten, the years we’ve lived, the hands we’ve shaken.  Microbially, we are similar but different.  When microbiologists first started cataloguing the human microbiome in its entirety they hoped to discover a “core” microbiome: a group of species that everyone shares.  It’s now debatable if that core exists.  Some species are common, but none is everywhere.  If there is a core, it exists at the level of functions, not organisms.  There are certain jobs, like digesting a certain nutrient or carrying out a specific metabolic trick, that are always filled by some microbe – just not always the same one.” – Ed Yong, Chapter 1: Living Islands, Page 23

“We like our black-and-white narratives, with clear heroes and villains.  In the last few years, I’ve seen the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” slowly give ground to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us”, even though the latter is just as wrong as the former.  We cannot simply assume that a particular microbe is “good” just because it lives inside us.  Even scientists forget this.  The very term symbiosis has been twisted so that its original neutral meaning – “living together” – has been infused with positive spin, and almost flaky connotations of cooperation and harmony.  But evolution doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t necessarily favour cooperation, even if that’s in everyone’s interests.  And it saddles even the most harmonious relationships with conflict.” – Ed Yong, Chapter 4: Terms and Conditions Apply, Page 89


Review

Is This An Overview?

Human individuals are never alone.  Each contains a multitude of microbes.  Humans live together with the microbes, in symbiosis.  Microbes follow humans throughout life.  Sharing food.  Upon death, microbes consume humans.  Microbes are part of the ecosystem, influencing much of life.  Many functions in ecology, and even in the human body, have been delegated to microbes. 

The associations about microbes have changed.  Microbes were thought to be a dangerous threat to be removed.  Microbes make their presence felt with traumatic human experiences such as ravaging diseases.  As more research was done, microbes were found to produce many wanted and beneficial effects.  Microbes have become seen as a much needed ally.  Many health and ecological problems, are associated with bad microbiomes.

The symbiosis of human and microbes can be managed, but like any symbiosis, there is always an inherent conflict.  The symbiosis is a complex partnership.  Microbes educate the immune system, or threaten the host when the immune system is compromised.  Microbes can be very beneficial within a context and location, but the same microbes can be harmful in other locations.  Different host activities and environmental factors develop different microbiomes.  Every human has a different microbiome.  Rather than there being a core microbiome that a species share, microbe similarities appear in their function.  Different microbes can perform the same tasks. 

 

What Are Microbes And What Do They Do?

Most microbes are bacteria.  Other microbes include fungi, archaea, and viruses.  Bacteria can photosynthesis, and produce oxygen.  Some microbes can survive even without oxygen, which is claimed to be an essential gas. 

Microbes break down material elements to be used by the flora and fauna.  They can decompose the organic bodies which provides nutrition for the soil.  Bacteria can even break down pollutants, harmful chemical.  Microbes can protect the human from harmful microbes.  Some facilitate food digestion, allowing humans to obtain otherwise inaccessible and needed nutrients.  They effect human smell.  Develop the human body. 

Microbes are very genetically diverse.  Microbes can exchange DNA with each other with ease.  Microbe evolution appears to be quick to the host, but is still a slow and gradual process of change.  

 

How To Have A Relationship With Microbes?

Microbes were discovered by Antony van Leeuwenhoek during the 17th century, using handmade lenses to observe a drop of water.  After bacterium were proved to cause anthrax, they were perceived to be avatars of death.  Various other deadly diseases had after that been seen as caused by microbes.  It was not until the late 19th century in which microbes were seen as anything but deadly sources.  Martius Beijerinck studies their impact on the soil and atmosphere. 

The perspective that the presence of microbes is a sign of contaminants is a problematic stereotype, because there are relatively few microbes that cause problems for humans.  There are many more that are just passengers, or are integral to the human processes.  Many human processes have been delegated to microbes. 

Human immune system is not just composed of cells, but also microbes.  As microbes allow the immune system to react to threats without overreacting.  The immune system is more about managing the relationships between microbes, rather than just defense and destruction.

Microbes are a factor in determining weight.  Antibiotics in animals has tended to make the animals heavier, with the antibiotics claimed to be growth promoters.  Antibiotics disrupts microbiomes.  The indiscriminate use of antibiotics has caused the bacteria to evolve to resist the antibiotics.  Making antibiotics obsolete.  Antibiotics need to be used judiciously with understanding of the risks and benefits.  Probiotics are an antithesis to antibiotics, for probiotics deliberately attempt to add microbiomes rather than remove them. 

There are consequences to a world without microbes.  For that removes the microbes that are also very beneficial.  Microbes matter, but so does their hosts behavior.  It is an ecosystem, where all parts influence to each other.  Humans can manage the partnerships with microbes.  To manipulate the partnerships intentionally. 

 

Caveats?

There is an inherent complexity to how microbes influence life.  Research on microbes is ongoing, with many associations acknowledged to not be consistent.  Microbes are part of a dynamic system, in which there are other influencing factors.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are microbes?  
•What functions do microbes have?
•Can there be a world without microbes?
•What are the benefits and consequences of microbes?
•How did the associations about microbes change?
•What is symbiosis?  
•Is there a shared core microbiome within a species?
•How do microbes evolve?  How do they use DNA?
•How do the microbes influence the host?
•How does the host influence the microbes?
•How does context and location influence microbe outcomes?
•How does drinking alcohol influence microbes?
•How were microbes discovered?
•What does the human immune system do?
•What are antibiotics?
•What are probiotics?

Book Details
Edition:                First U.S. Edition
Publisher:             HarperCollins Publishers
Edition ISBN:      9780062368621
Pages to read:       255
Publication:          2016
1st Edition:           2016
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5






Sunday, March 26, 2023

Review of Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Book Club Event = Book List (11/11/2023)


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“I also want to reject both the naïve proposition that we are prisoners of our pasts and the pernicious suggestion that history is whatever we make of it.  History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous.  The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.” – Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Preface, Page xxiii

“As sources fill the historical landscape with their facts, they reduce the room available to other facts.  Even if we imagine the landscape to be forever expandable, the rule of interdependence implies that new facts cannot emerge in a vacuum.  They will have to gain their right to existence in light of the field constituted by previously created facts.  They may dethrone some of these facts, erase or qualify others.  The point remains that sources occupy competing positions in the historical landscape.  These positions themselves are inherently imbued with meaning since facts cannot be created meaningless.  Even as an ideal recorded, the chronicler necessarily produces meaning and, therefore, silences.” – Michel-Rolph Trouillot, The Three Faces of Sans Souci, Page 49-50

“The unthinkable is that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alternatives, that which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions were phrased.” – Michel-Rolph Trouillot, An Unthinkable History, Page 82


Review

Overview:

There is power in the production of history.  History is produced by competing groups and individuals.  Competitors with uneven contribution.  Competitors who do not have equal access to the production of history.  While some competitors leave many traces to be left to be used as sources, others are silent for their lack of traces left behind.  A seeming consensus hides a history of conflict.  A conflict between past and present narrators.  Humans are both agents in history, and history’s narrators.  History incorporates what happened and the process about what happened. 

Power shapes the narrative.  An integral part and cannot be removed from the narrative.  How history happened cannot be separated from who wields power.  Power to include or exclude information.  Power to share information, or to silence information.  What is referenced and the silences of what is not, are determined within the production of history.  From the creation of the sources, to the assembly of the information, to the retrieval of information in the process of making a narrative, to finding the retrospective significance.  Silences are inherent in the historical record.  For some events and experiences leave behind sources, while others do not.  Even within sources, the narrator chooses which to use and exclude.  The process of historical production is shown using the Haitian Revolution, slavery, and Cristopher Columbus.

 

Positivist or Constructivist?

There are two major schools of thought on history which are the positivist, and constructivists.  Those who are influenced by positivism, believe in the separation between historic facts and how those facts are narrated.  Those who are influenced by constructivism, do not separate facts and the narration.  Constructivist see a historical narrative as a fiction among others.  Constructivists do not consider the sociohistorical process.

There is more to the production of history than the dichotomy between positivism and constructivism.  The author rejects claims about people being prisoners of the past, and rejects claims about purely socially constricted history. 

Historical narrative needs to take account of the distinction and overlap between process and narrative.  To embrace the ambiguity.  The production of history occurs within context.

 

How Is Historical Fact Made?

There is a difference between a fake and a fiction.  Fabricating sources and evidence produces a fake, as they violate the claims to historical truth.  Rules of history that is different in time and place.  History is not just fiction, for history leaves behind material evidence that limit the range of narratives, while also setting the boundaries for future historical narratives.

Facts always have meaning, for they only become facts because they mattered, no matter how minimally.  Facts are not created equal.  Facts are interdependent with other facts.  Each fact has meaning in relation to other facts.  Facts compete with other facts for room, earning the right to exist among other facts.  Some facts will be requalified with new facts.  New knowledge must acknowledge and contradict previous understandings. 

Silences are born contemporaneously with the found traces.  While some events are noted immediately, other are not.  Some facts leave behind a physical or psychological impact, other do not.  Unequal experiences by the agents of history, leads to uneven historical power to inscribe their traces.  Sources build on these traces, which privilege some over others.  Sources choose what to include and exclude.  Sources imply choices.  Some facts make it to history, from others there is only silence.  Silences are inherent in history, for historic facts always have missing parts.  Some parts are recorded, while others are left out. 

Assembling archives is not a passive act.  They prepare facts for historical intelligibility.  They set the rules for credibility and interdependence.  Provide the choices of which stories have relevance, which stories have significance.  Classifications and terminologies matter.  Depending on the lexicon used, determines the categories an event goes into. 

 

The Unthinkable:

There are events that are unthinkable.  Events for which alternatives cannot be conceived.  Unthinkable events that defy how the questions are phrased.  When the unthinkable events do happen, the event is recast to fit a reality of possibilities. 

 

Caveats?

The examples used showcase the production of history are limited.  They were not meant to and do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the events.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How is history produced?
•How do facts come to be?
•Why are there silences?
•What power does history have?
•What are unthinkable events?
•How do positivist and constructivist approach history?
•How does the author approach history?
•What is the difference between a fake and fiction?
•How do archives and lexicon choice influence history?
•What do you know of slavery?  What information do you reject?
•Who is Sans Souci? 
•What did Christopher Columbus do?

Book Details
Foreword Author: Hazel V. Carby
Publisher:             Beacon Press [Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations]
Edition ISBN:      9780807080535
Pages to read:       162
Publication:          2015
1st Edition:           1995
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5






Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Review of The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Philosophy
Book Club Event = Book List (05/13/2023)


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“They assert that it is the task of science in general to make predictions, or rather, to improve upon our everyday predictions, and to put them upon a more secure basis; and that it is, in particular, the task of the social sciences to furnish us with long-term historical prophecies.  They also believe that they have discovered laws of history which enable them to prophesy the course of historical events.  The various social philosophies which raise claims of this kind, I have grouped together under the name historicism.” – Karl Popper, Author’s Introduction, Page 50

For this excerpt, he is a reference to Plato.  “However this may be, he certainly believed in both – in a general historical tendency towards corruption, and in the possibility that we may stop further corruption in the political field by arresting all political change.  This, accordingly, is the aim he strives for.  He tries to realize it by the establishment of a state which is free from the evils of all other states because it does not degenerate, because it does not change.  The state which is free from the evil and corruption is the best, the perfect state.  It is the state of the Golden Age which knew no change.  It is the arrested state.” – Karl Popper, Chapter 3: Plato’s Theory of Forms or Ideas, Page 73

“The most cherished ideas of the humanitarians were often loudly acclaimed by their deadliest enemies, who in this way penetrated into the humanitarian camp under the guise of allies, causing disunion and thorough confusion.” 


Review

Overview:

Closed societies reinforce officially claimed rules, often through repression and totalitarianism.  Closed societies resist change, and resist learning from experiences.  Within an open society, criticisms are welcome.  Open societies are inclusive to different people, interests, and ideas.  The open society learns from experiences.  Society cannot delegate all their thinking, even to those deemed the best of decision makers.  For everyone makes mistakes. 

Closed societies have people determine what to do, without allowing for criticism.  Totalitarian regimes consider any criticism as hostile, as they are a challenge to the authority.  This process leads to surprise and contradictions.  Wanting to be correct, and therefore ignore contradictory evidence is not limited to totalitarian decision makers.  Without criticism, the decision makers can get more influence, even when they are against freedom and reason.  Reluctance to criticize bad ideas leads to the destruction of good ideas.  Humanitarian claims can be made by their deadliest enemies, as totalitarian regimes often get favored for their humanitarian claims.  Under the guise of humanitarian allies, they generate disunion and confusion. 

Alternatively, the open society prevents people from hiding their contradictions.  Those who desire an open society want to reject absolute authority, and reject the values that are hurting human kind.  The open society wants rational criticism.  To find values, whether new or old, that raise the standards of freedom.  The open society declares an unwillingness to delegate all responsibility for thinking to others in authority. 

 

Social Engineering:

The open society is intimately tied to Popper’s views on science, which is defined by a need to put conjectures to experimental tests.  There is tension in the challenges that open society has for its claims, but there is far more tension in closed society.  For Popper, it was democratic inquiry that facilitated finding values that were wanted to be achieved, and the experts who explain how to achieve that. 

Popper supported piecemeal social engineering, and was opposed to large scale social engineering.  Plato thought large scale social engineering was needed.  Utopian engineering tends to try to be large scale, effecting the whole society.  Grand scale social engineering is too complicated to be managed practically.  Alternatively, piecemeal engineering is much simpler.  Small scale engineering can experiment with appropriate ways.  To make adjusts to policy designs.  To bring in science to politics, and to learn from mistakes.  Wrong ways, will not damage everyone.  The potential damage will be localized.  Small scale engineering is also politically viable for they are less risky, and therefore also more practical.  

 

What Is Historicism?

Historicism is the use of science founded upon laws of history to obtain predictions and prophecies.  Historicism is a misunderstanding of the method of science.  Under historicism, all historical events are interpreted as leading to an ultimate outcome.  Historicist theories depend on group formation, elements of collectivism.  A tribe, or larger groups, that the individual cannot exist without. 

 

What the historicist do, is find the origin and historic role of institutions to find their destiny.  They interpret history to discover laws of development to obtain historical forecasts.  Fascism and Marxian are different version of historical philosophies that see different prophecies, but both are totalitarian.  Fascism has a feature for racialism, in which history is interpreted as a struggle between different races for mastery.  With in Marx’s views, history is interpreted as a struggle between the different classes for economic supremacy. 

 

Natural vs Normative Laws:

The distinction between natural and normative laws become blurred.  Natural laws reflect physical realities. Laws of nature that either are or are not true.    No exceptions to natural laws.  Uncertainties about them are hypothesis.  Humans cannot control natural laws.  Humans can use natural laws for technical purposes. 

Normative laws are those that reflect human social structure.  Normative laws are legislature, and needs to be enforced by people.  Legislature that can be altered.  Legislature that provides direction for behavior.  Their enforcement subject to human actions and decisions, requiring human sanction.  Some decisions are impossible as they contradict natural laws. 

 

Does History Have Meaning:

History does not have meaning, but people can give it meaning.  As history becomes interpreted, it provides impetus for change in the present.  History is based on interpretations, which continually change. 

Popper did not believe in a separation been ideas and theories.  Every observation contains preconceptions.  Theories define which facts are selected.  History, is no different than science in the selection of facts.  There is always a point of view.  This does not legitimate purposely falsifying anything.  But, that it is difficult to decide on the truth or false value of ideas.

 

Heraclitus:

Earliest forms of historicism come from Heraclitus.  Heraclitus emphasized change, with an immutable law of destiny.  Setting up the contradiction of change, contemporaneously with unchangeable laws.  Resisting change, while also demanding it.  Change breaks the stability that society needs, while also the need to change to social circumstances.

Heraclitus also elevated certain people who had reason that came from a mystical intuitive understanding.  That mystical intuition gives those people power, to be able to understand the more appropriate way of behavior. 

 

Plato:

Plato exhibited Greek culture at the time.  A culture situated in a cosmic setting.  Plato through that Plato’s era was depraved, due to a historical tendency towards decay.  Plato also thought that it was possible to end the process of decay through human effort.  Not just human effort, but superhuman effort.  A law of decay broken by wise humans, with powerful human reason.  A contradiction, for breaking the law of decay is part of the law of historical destiny.  Degeneration was part of moral degeneration, which had the consequent of political degeneration.  Intertwined with racial degeneration.

For Plato, everything that preserves is good, while anything that corrupts is evil.  Change leads away from the perfect originator.  Copies are rarely perfect replicas.  Copies have errors, which are a corruption of the perfect.  This is part of the law of increasing decay and corruption, for copies of copies will have even more errors.  Although, Plato thinks that change and decay can be defied by someone of a good soul.

The historical tendency towards corruption could be prevented by preventing change.  By arresting all political change.  Without change, there is no degeneration.  Without change, there would be no evil.  Central to Plato’s philosophy is are the Forms (or Idea).  Perfect and unchanging things.  The Platonic Form is the origin of things.  Sustainable virtues. 

Plato was looking for knowledge that would not change.  Knowledge used to understand the changing world and society.  To understand the political changes, and the historical laws.  To understand how to rule humans.  Without some knowledge that would not change, it would make comparisons between the same ideas.  Essences that can be discovered with intellectual intuition.  Essences are the proper name to related things, a definition. 

Plato provided a philosophic defense for those who claim to have an unchallengeable insight into the operations of reality.  Plato created a hierarchy of people, with the few enlightened and the rest thoughtless. 

Plato favored communally shared resources, and people.  Communism directed by a ruling class.  For the ruling class to be effective, the family structure must be disassembled.  The family must cover the whole warrior class.  Communism that is meant to prevent disunion.  There are more conditions for the stability of the ruling class.  Conditions such as division of the classes, identity of state with the ruling class.  The ruling class is meant to be educated and make decisions based on collective interests of the members.  Popper identifies additional conditions based on the same logic.  Conditions such as a monopoly of military training, while exclusion from economic activity.  The aim of the state is autarky.  The ideas that the ruling class views have to be the same.  Alternatives to economics or ideas would undermine stability.  Popper considers this program totalitarian.

Plato recognized that even the best people, still depend on others and cannot be self-sufficient.  Society and the individual depend on each other for their existence.  Individual lack of self-sufficiency gives rise to the society.  Gives rise to the state.  Perfection depends on the state.  It is the state that protects the perfection of the people.  The state provides the social conditions for the perfection of the people.  The state takes priority over people, for it is the state that can be self-sufficient.

Contemporary views on what humanitarian means is equal rights for citizens, an impartial justice system, and equal opportunities.  Traditional Greek ideas about justice appear close to contemporary usage, but Plato was opposed to this usage.  For Plato justice would be what is best for the state.  Which would involve arresting change, and maintaining class division and class rule.  Plato seems to have wanted those within a class to be treated as equals, but not those across classes.  Different classes would get different treatment.  Also, Plato disapproved of democracy because it provided equality to everyone. 

Those who agree with Plato, still claim that rulers are not always good or wise.  Popper would advise to prepare for bad governance and leaders, rather than expect the best.  Which does raise the concern of whom should rule, and how can bad leaders be preventing from damaging decisions.  Plato wanted rulers to be educated, to be philosophers, to be wise.  For succession, a wise ruler would know who the successor should be.  This would mean dependency on uncertain situations that risks threatening the state due to personal decisions.  

 

Aristotle:

Aristotle thought it impossible to demonstrate all knowledge, because each proof needed a preceding premise.  Creating an infinite regression continuously going to the preceding premise.  To avoid the infinite regression, Aristotle used Plato’s essences.  Essences that are basic premises, that need no proof.  What that means, is that the basic premise are definitions. 

 

Hegel:

Plato favored the ideas in the mind, as they were the abstract unchangeable things.  Plato considered them real, while perishable things as unreal.  Kant made a similar reference to ideas of pure reason.  Hegel takes both claims of idea=real and ideas=reason, to yield real=reason.  That equation gave support to maintaining the status quo.  For what is real, must have come about due it being necessary and reasonable. 

 

Karl Marx:

There are those who defend Marx’s views as unassailable no matter if parts of the doctrines were wrong.  Popper sees Marxism as a method, and therefore wrong to deflect all attacks.  Popper advises to judge Marxism method through scientific methodological standards.  Marx would have wanted criticism of Marx’s method.  Marx wanted practical politicians, and for science to yield practical results. 

Marx either forbidden or denounced social technology.  Marx denounced rational planning as Utopian and illegitimate.  This made the successors even less unprepared than the bourgeois economists.  Russian successors were unprepared for social engineering.  Even Lenin acknowledged not to know how to deal with the various problems, as the economics problems were not practically described in their texts.  Lenin’s failure with war-communism, caused Lenin to reintroduced limited and temporary private enterprise.  The New Economic Policy was not part of Marx and Engels policy took kit. 

Marx’s economic research is subservient to historical prophecy.  To Marx, each system contains its own self-destructive forces that will produce the next economic system. 

For Marx, history is class struggle.  Although there have been historical conflicts between the classes, there have been many conflicts within classes.  Conflicts arising from ruling and ruled class is a dangerous simplification.  Issues between rich and poor are important, but not all conflicts are between exploiter and exploited.  Marxism is usually interpreted as all conflicts are between the exploiter and exploited.  Any aggression can be legitimated through the framework of conflicts between those who have and those who do not have. 

Marx saw democracy as a kind of class dictatorship.  Under capitalism, the state is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  Under socialism, the state is a dictatorship of the proletariat.  As the proletariat state loses function, and becomes a classless society, there will be no class-dictatorship, in which case the state disappears. 

Unlimited freedom defeats itself, for that would accept violence as a legitimate way to distribute resources.  The state limits freedom to some extent, to protect everyone’s freedom.  None to be at the mercy of others, but also to be protected by the state.  But physical intimidation is not the only means to coerce others, as there are economic means as well.  Unlimited economic freedom would mean freely accepted servitude to those who have surplus food.  The state can create social institutions to prevent inequitable arrangements under duress of economic ruin.  For freedom to be guarded, non-intervention cannot be a policy.  Which replaced economic freedom with planned economic intervention by the state.   This is what happens under Marx, for the economic system ceases to exist.  

Marxist organizations have been persuasive on humanitarian grounds, but in their efforts, have been very anti-democratic, and anti-humanitarian.  They claim to stand for freedom and against oppression.  Marxist appear harmless, and democratic in trying to obtain a majority.  The problem is that once in power, they intent to entrench themselves.  That they will use the majority vote, to prevent any other from gaining power by regular democratic means.  This created a contradiction, for that means that they legitimate the use of majority power to suppress a minority, which includes them when they are a minority.  These are ambiguities of violence and power-conquest. 

Under capitalism, competitors are forced to accumulate to survive, which leads to higher concentrations of power.  In practice, this means investing in higher productivity of the workers.  And also, wealth becomes concentrated. 

Theory of value is the view that prices are determined by the labor hours needed for production.  Which is a problem, because consumers do not know the labor hours used for production.  Consumers only see the relative prices of products. 

 

Caveats?

The book is generally difficult to read, and is polarizing.  The book was written during World War 2, to explain the totalitarian philosophical background.  The core of the book is an attack on the various philosophers who were historicists.  Historicism is the use of history to make predictions, which includes raising the status of a few to be above everyone else.  The two main philosophers presented are Plato and Karl Marx.  Their perceived errors are well established, but not their potentially appropriate values.  Logic behind the errors is well established, but often, the resolutions are lacking.  Sometimes, the errors themselves come from misunderstanding concepts.   

Popper acknowledges various limitations of Popper’s criticism.  A recognized limitation is that Popper is a later philosopher with far more historical examples.  Popper has more error corrections and historical experiences to lean on than the earlier philosophers.

Popper also recognized that Popper no doubt misjudged those who were described as they are long past.  This was recognized because Popper’s contemporaries had misjudged Popper. 

Making comparisons between the past and present is difficult.  The earlier philosophers had different social contexts, and relied on different sources.  But Popper shows how there were philosopher’s during Plato’s time who raised alternative views.  Views such as justice, as Popper shows how the general Greek version was similar to contemporary times, but Plato used it to mean something else.  This creates a problem with separating what Plato (and others) have changed in the philosophy that was contrary to their culture, and how much of their philosophy was reflecting the values of the time. 

 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are closed societies?
•What are open societies?
•How much thinking should be delegated to others?
•What is the role of experts?
•How to handle contradictions?
•How should social engineering be handled?
•What is historicism?
•Who makes humanitarian claims? 
•What is the different between natural and normative laws?
•Does history have meaning?
•How did Heraclitus influence historicism? 
•What was Plato’s philosophy?
    •What is the Law of Decay?
    •How can the Law of Decay be broken?
    •How to handle change?
    •What are the Forms (or Idea)?
    •What is Plato’s hierarchy of people?
    •What are the features of the ruling class?
    •Who should rule?
    •Why is the state needed?
    •What is justice?
•What was Aristotle’s philosophy?
•What was Hegel’s philosophy?
•What was Karl Marx philosophy?
    •What practical economic guidance did Marx have?
    •How is historicism tied with Marx’s ideas about society?
    •Do all conflicts occur between classes?
    •What was democracy for Marx?
    •What can happen under unlimited freedom?  Under unlimited economic freedom?
    •What are the ambiguities of violence and power-conquest?

Book Details
Foreword:            George Soros
Introduction:        Alan Ryan
Ancillary:             E.H. Gombrich
Edition:                 One-Volume Edition
Publisher:             Princeton University Press
Edition ISBN:      9780691212067
Pages to read:       601
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           1945
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          3
Overall          3






Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review of Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/04/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The Peoples Of The World (Greece), 



Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“The Greeks did not believe that the gods created the universe.  It was the other way about: the universe created the gods.  Before there were gods heaven and earth had been formed.  They were the first parents.  The Titans were their children, and the gods their grandchildren.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 1: The Gods, Page 24

“For the most part the immortal gods were of little use to human beings and often they were quite the reverse of useful: Zeus a dangerous lover for mortal maidens and completely incalculable in his use of the terrible thunderbolt; Ares the maker of war and a general pest; Hera with no idea of justice when she was jealous as she perpetually was; Athena also a war maker, and wielding the lightning’s sharp lance quite as irresponsibly as Zeus did; Aphrodite using her power chiefly to ensnare and betray.  They were beautiful, radiant company to be sure, and their adventures made excellent stories; but when they were not positively harmful, they were capricious and undependable and in general mortals got on best without them.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 2: The Two Great Gods of Earth, Page 47

“But why Zeus changed his mind and whether Prometheus revealed the secret when he was freed, we do not know.  One thing, however, is certain: in whatever way the two were reconciled, it was not Prometheus who yielded.  His name has stood through all the centuries, from Greek days to our own, as that of the great rebel against injustice and the authority of power.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 3: How The World And Mankind Were Created, Page 73


Review

Overview:

These myths were meant to explain reality, a primordial science.  Stories that were meant to provide a lesson on how to behave.  To provide warnings against making some choices.  The later authors of these myths did not think much of the priests to the gods temples.  For it was the poet who had a connection with the gods.  With the rise of rationality and reason, the gods were made in the image of the people rather than beings with no resemblance of reality.  There were monsters which took on no real shape, as these monsters were meant to provide the challenge for the heroes to overcome. 

Although the gods were radiant and immortal, they were not omnipotent.  Their behavior was not righteous.  Their behavior was unscrupulous.  A lack of understanding between right and wrong.  They were fickle with their favor, and used their power arbitrarily.  Few were generally friends of human kind, for they were generally harmful or undependable.  Better for humans to make do without them.  Heroes themselves were generally the offspring of the gods, who had more power than normal humans, but also their own more powerful flaws. 

The stories are usually told about the interactions between the heroes and the gods.  But it was not the gods that created the universe.  The first parents were heaven and earth.  Their children were the Titans.  The gods were the children of the Titans. 

The myths provided are shortened versions of the long stories provided.  The author put in a lot of effort going through various ancient sources, to construct a more consistent version of the stories.

 

Caveats?

The myths are primarily Greek.  As the author notes, the Roman’s lacked their own, and were influenced by Greek culture.  Romans took on the Greek gods into their own pantheon, and changed their names to Roman equivalents.  Romans did add some myths, and also favored different gods than the Greeks. 

There is also very little on Norse mythology, which stands in contrast to the Greek mythology.  As the author claims, not much has survived of the Norse texts.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Which myths, gods, or heroes interested you?
•What are myths?
•What was the purpose of the myths?
•o the myths serve a religion purpose?
•What changes to the gods did the Greeks make?
•What were the Roman gods?
•How did the gods behave? 
•How did the heroes behave? 
•What are themes of the Greek and Roman myths?
•What are themes of the North myths?
•How to choose between the gods? 
•How did people share the myths to others?
•How did the gods come to be?

Book Details
Publisher:             Little, Brown & Company
Edition ISBN:      0451623754
Pages to read:       310
Publication:          1969
1st Edition:           1940
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall          3






Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Novel
Book Club Event = Book List (05/14/2023)

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“I have read so many books… And yet, like most autodidacts, I am never quite sure what I have gained from them.  There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of nowhere, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading – and then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates, and no matter how often I reread the same lines, they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading, and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she’s been attentively reading the menu.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 4: Refusing the Fight, Page 43

“Antoine Pallières looked at me with the expression of someone who wonders if he has really seen what he thinks he has seen.  But as he has been conditioned to imagine that only what must happen does happen, in the way that rich people convince themselves that their lives run along a heavenly track that the power of money has quite naturally laid for them, Antoine decided to believe me.  I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 15: The Rich Man’s Burden, Page 99

“Yes, our eyes may perceive, yet they do not observe; they may believe, yet they do not question; they may receive yet they do not search: they are emptied of desire, with neither hunger not passion.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 18: Flowing Water, Page 293


Review

Overview:

Renée is a concierge at the rue de Grenelle.  A building for the affluent.  Paloma is an occupant.  They are from different generations, and different ways of seeing the world.  Both see a path for their life, and death.  Both are forced to change their minds about how they choose to live.  Finding meaning in life.  For this book has a philosophical theme.  As the characters express their thoughts and critiques on philosophy, and various aspects of life.  They see the façades that people put on, and then proceed to describe the people without the façades.  While others might have illusions about their lives and avoid reality, Renée and Paloma want to engage with reality.  That means many of life’s aspirations will be disillusioned.  But they have intellectual aspirations, to enrich their life.   

 

Caveats?

The philosophy can be a bit random.  Some of the philosophical thoughts and critiques might be more for those who already know the philosophy described and can add their own understanding to the ideas.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Who is Renée Michel?
•Who is Paloma Josse?
•Who is Kakuro Ozu?
•Who is Manuela?  
•How do Renée and Paloma become acquainted?  
•What ideas did Renée and Paloma have for their life?
•What are some philosophical thoughts and critiques?
•What façades do people put on?
•Why believe in illusions?
•What are the benefits and consequences of an autodidact? 

Book Details
Translator:            Alison Anderson
Publisher:             Europa Editions
Edition ISBN:      9781609450137
Pages to read:       308
Publication:          2008
1st Edition:           2006
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall          2






Friday, March 10, 2023

Review of Black Sea by Neal Ascherson

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Intriguing Connections = 1) The Persecuted and The Persecutors


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Peoples who live in communion with other peoples, for a hundred or a thousand years, do not always like them – may, in fact, have always disliked them.  As individuals, ‘the others’ are not strangers but neighbours, often friends.  But my sense of Black Sea life, a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal.” – Neal Ascherson, Introduction, Page 9

“All knowledge about the Scythians, as it accumulates, has undermined the proposition that the peoples of the Black Sea steppe were primitive and barbarous, and the conclusion that nomadism was a backward form of existence.” – Neal Ascherson, Chapter Two, Page 76

“This is a dilemma as old as the social sciences – which are not very old, but already battle-scarred.  It sounds like a dispute over professional ethics, but it is really an argument about cognition.  One side defends the idea that “facts speak,” and that the scholar must therefore listen to them in impartial silence.  The other side retorts that facts say almost anything the investigator wants, and that what he hears in the silence is no more than the mutter of his own unacknowledged prejudices.” – Neal Ascherson, Chapter Seven, Page 207


Review

Overview:

The Black Sea is not just a composition of various cultures, but has a character of its own.  Although overfished, the Black Sea was abundant in fish, which provided wealth for the communities that used it.  The Black Sea has many rivers draining into it, and with so much fresh water, that the bacterial biochemical process creates a deadly residual gas.  The Black Sea witnessed the rise and fall of many peoples, and empires.  Witnessed how they would treat each other.  How they mistreated each other.  These were diverse people, diverse neighbors.  Saw each other as different.  Saw the differences as inferiorities.  Stories passed down claimed their own superiority over the others.  But as archaeological evidence is gathered, the information threatens the inferiority claims.  For whether the society was deemed civilized or barbarous, settled or nomadic, they were able to develop wealth and military capabilities. 

 

Caveats?

The writing can be a little difficult.  The writing quickly moves between different peoples and eras.  This is a diverse history, representing many different people.  But there is not much on each society.  This is an introduction to many peoples, but to get an understanding of their culture would require more research.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the characteristics of the Black Sea?
•Who used the Back Sea?
•What peoples and empires used the land around the Black Sea?
•How the did the people see each other’s differences?

Book Details
Edition:                 First American
Publisher:             Hill and Wang {Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Edition ISBN:      9780809015931
Pages to read:       283
Publication:          1995
1st Edition:           1995
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          1
Overall          2






Monday, March 6, 2023

Review of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Intriguing Connections = 1) Why Conflict Occurs And How To Resolve Them?

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“The Duma Committee itself, that semi-reluctant power, was split as to what it wanted.  It included those still aspiring to a constitutional monarchy; those for whom history had removed that possibility, whether it had been once preferable or not; and those who considered a republic not only necessary but desirable.” – China Miéville, Chapter 2: February: Joyful Tears, Page 63

“The middle classes in particular were in a panic – they felt more vulnerable than the rich, who could afford protection, or those in the tight-knit working-class areas, where workers’ militias were more effective than was the city’s own.” – China Miéville, Chapter 5: May: Collaboration, Page 132

“In September, the upward trajectory of the peasant war did not slow.  In growing numbers, villagers sacked more estates, more violently, often with fire, often side by side with soldiers and deserters.” – China Miéville, Chapter 9: September: Compromise and Its Discontents, Page 243


Review

Overview:

Russia’s Tsarist regime mismanaged economic, political, civilian, and military affairs.  Authorities abused their power against peasants, and then workers.  Under pressure, rights were given to the lower classes, but where not enough to compensate for their mistreatment.  The people rioted and rebelled.  Various worker representatives gather and formed a soviet.  Soviet means council.  Culminating in the abdication of the Tsar in 1917.  This is the story of a revolution from the lower classes, during WW1. 

Very quickly, the Provisional Government gained international credibility and support, but did not have as much power as the international community thought.  The Soviet held the power, and decided what the Provisional Government was supposed to do.  Under Soviet pressure, the Provisional Government provided various social and legal rights to the people.  Those who took power, had imperial intentions.  Wanting to export the revolution abroad.  The Provisional Government dismantled many political agencies and enforces, such as the police department.  This led to mob justice, violence, and looting.  A general state of social unrest, with different political powers competing for power.  Military forces were demoralized, and disorganized.  Many were deserting.  Some regions sought sovereignty. 


What Happened Before the Revolution?

From the 1860s, the Tsar gave people rights they did not have, under pressure from peasant actions and exigent circumstances.  The state was under armed threat, while peasants were rioting and rebelling in response to authoritative abuses.  The rights given were enough to stall a revolutionary tide, but not enough to prevent it. 

From the 1890s, the workers gain a movement and momentum, and are dissatisfied with their treatment.  By 1904, Russian leaders believe a war was needed to stem a revolution, but the war they initiated turned into a catastrophe for Russia.  The workers demanded changes to their working life, and political freedoms such as freedom of assembly and the press.  Protestors gathered, and are met with violence, an even that has become known as Bloody Sunday.  An event that accelerated the revolution.  A Duma is formed, more rights were granted, but with so many political violations, the people remain unappeased.  Even with forthcoming Dumas. 

Before and during the revolution, the policies enacted discriminated based on race, sex, and religion.  Seeing others as less then.  Even when the policies that were trying to be inclusive, in practice, they were not.

 

Caveats?

This book is a narrative of what happened during the revolution, following those competing for power.  There is a lack of systematic analysis on the claims made during the revolution.  And a lack of background information on the ideas, policies, and groups that were in competition.  Various details about revolution are expressed, but to understand what they mean would require more research.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Why was there a revolution?
•Who were responsible for the revolution?
•Why did the Tsar abdicate?
•What political power did Lenin have?
•What is Bloody Sunday?
•What were the political and economic conditions before the revolution?  What were they after the revolution?
•What is a Soviet?
•What is a Duma?
•Who are the Cossacks and how were they involved in the revolution?
•How did the Provisional Government handle affairs?
•Which groups were competing for power? 
•How did society react to the revolution?
•What was the military situation?
•For those who took power, what was there intent going forward? 

Book Details
Publisher:             Verso {New Left Books]
Edition ISBN:      9781784782788
Pages to read:       320
Publication:          2018
1st Edition:           2017
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          2



Thursday, March 2, 2023

Review of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/21/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Ways To Help Oneself and Life Lessons

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Death, of course, is not a failure.  Death is normal.  Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things.” – Atul Gawande, Introduction, Page 8

“Still, there are costs to averting our eyes from the realities.  We put off dealing with the adaptations that we need to make as a society.  And we blind ourselves to the opportunities that exist to change the individual experience of aging for the better.” – Atul Gawande, Chapter 2: Things Fall Apart, Page 35

“The terror of sickness and old age is not merely the terror of the losses one is forced to endure but also the terror of the isolation.  As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much.  They do not seek more riches.  They do not seek more power.  They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world – to make choices and sustain connections to others according to their own priorities.” – Atul Gawande, Chapter 5: A Better Life, Page 146-47


Review

Overview:

The medical profession is generally trained to resolve problems, to fix problems.  But age is a normal function that continuously makes life more difficult.  Age cannot be fixed.  The medical profession can patch the body, but always temporarily and usually with other consequences.  Even if a person does everything right, they will still accumulates problem and end with death.  Making more correct health choices over a life time can reduce the chances of many age-related symptoms, but death cannot be overcome.  Not thinking about the aging process, prevents individuals from adapting to the differences.  Only by accepting the fragility of life, can an individual change to make the aging experience better. 

The problems of age are a recent human phenomenon.  Historically, old age was rare, as people did not survive to experience the ravages of age.  Medicine made many previously fatal events, not mortally threatening, therefore prolonging life.  Medicine has even slowed down many mortal threats.  Slowed down their progression, but not cure them.  Death is still the final outcome.  There are those who do not fear death, but fear what happens before death.  The loss of function, and friends.  Perspective changes when primed by age.  Perspective that reorients priorities away from vanities, power, and achievements, and towards appreciating everyday pleasures, and connecting with others.

As people age, they become more dependent on others, but they do still want to live at home and be independent.  Nursing homes tend to relieve family members of the burden of taking care of the elderly, not of making life worth living for those people.  There are facilities that enable elders to live as well as they can, by bringing to them things that make life worth living. 

For the elderly, choosing freedom does not mean that health is sacrificed.  Research showed that those who had more independence, had better physical, cognitive, and mental health.  Better outcomes, at lower costs. 

There are people, are can be very active in old age.  But that is a rarity.  Biological luck.  Making everyone else feel like a failure.  Distracting everyone else from adapting to their situations.  For most, the fragile body will continue to weaken. 

 

Caveats?

This is a very emotionally jarring book.  The reader must come prepared emotionally to handle the topic.  Without even much prompting, the book forces the reader to reflect on one’s own life.  One’s own mortality.  One’s own inevitabilities.  This reflection, the acknowledged finite time of one’s life, can make individual’s change the choices that they make.

This book uses many examples to highlight the problems with how the society deals with aging.  Sometimes, the author gets lost in the examples, which distracts from the problem that needs correcting.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does the medical profession think about age?
•What are the consequences of age?
•How do people think about death?
•How do people adapt to aging?
•Why is age a problem?
•How did the medical profession prolong life?
•What do people fear?
•How do priorities change with age?
•What do people want when they age?
•What are nursing homes / assisted living?
•How does independence effect people’s wellbeing?
•Is it possible to be very active in old age? 
•What is assisted suicide?  
•How did thinking about age change? 

Book Details
Edition:                 First Edition
Publisher:             Metropolitan Books [Henry Holt and Company]
Edition ISBN:      9780805095159
Pages to read:       293
Publication:          2014
1st Edition:           2014
Format:                 Hardcover 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5