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Some especially interesting books I'll try and review.
9/4/10 (By Travis)
This is Burning Man by Brian Doherty
Fitting, that this book review is written on the night of the burning of the man, taking place now in a remote desert in northern Nevada. 'Burning man' is a 20 year old tradition, a gathering in a desert, where disparate groups of people come together to celebrate extreme tolerance, eccentricity, radical self expression, and ultimately all forms of freedom. It is a place where human creativity and self reliance are celebrated in any form imaginable.
It is the sociological phenoma of twenty thousand people coming together for a week without a government, in fact despite a government, the book is replete with example of the government nearly shutting down the festival multiple times for 'safety concerns' etc... Ultimately the event is only made possible by the large amount of money (bribe) given to the local governments bordering its location and the fact that it takes place about as far as possible from regulating authorities. A fitting testament to the libertarian ideology indeed.
12/1/09 (By Travis)
Unquenchable, by Robert Glennon, a review
Posted 1/1/00 (By Travis)
The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, a review
Posted 3/16/08 ( by Travis)
Destiny Denied, by Kirsten Snyder
This review should have been up a long time ago for a pretty good reason: it is simply the best book I have ever read.
A fictional epic, in the style of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, it delivers a gripping tale of fantasy adventure, as a band of advanced Pylorians, 'wizards' who are able to harness the power of the 'mind sense', fight against an evil menace rising in the east. The nations of Calmer and Zireth take sides as intrigue and treachery ensues and a princess and sorceress fight for country, honor, and love.
It is definitely a family novel. Judeochristian values predominate and the tale is rife with teaching symbolisms. I've read this book 3-4 times, the last few unintentionally because I just couldn't put it down. :)
I'll say no more, but it can be purchased here.
Posted 11/21/07 (By Travis)
Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain
Elio Frattaroli, M.D.
This was a very interesting book, although I'd agree with his editors, various parts were longish, somewhat irrelevant, and a bit out of scope. As the author himself says:
Every time I tried to rewrite a passage or section of the book that was overly academic, I discovered that the reason I had lapsed into academic jargon was that I really didn't know what I was talking about. I hadn't fully worked out the details and implications of whatever theory I was trying to explain, so I felt insecure about the explanation and tried to hide that security under a cloak of big words.
We can respect his honesty here, because there appears few ideas so complex that the basic tenants cannot be explained in simple concise terms over a reasonable amount of time.
Yet in certain areas he may be guilty of violating his own premise. The history of psychotherapy, the philosophy of consciousness and will, and the conflicts between the medical and psychoanalytic model, were three areas heavy on jargon and citations, yet with little substance. In stark contrast, his stories, examples, and analysis of current psychotherapy, how and why it works, and his interpretations of both his patients and himself were absolutely fascinating and the highlight of the book.
An interaction between two human beings has a number of components. First, both human beings are conscious of various feelings and thoughts, and they recognize their particular state is a result (chosen or otherwise) of the interaction with the other individual. Each person also has a particular 'personality' or 'pattern of life', which influences both the input (people's reaction to them) and output (their reaction to others). Of course, the terms are not mutually exclusive, someone who is angry towards others will often receive that anger back, possibly causing even further anger output. This leads to perpetuating cycles, patterns which can be seen throughout a persons life. Dr. Frattaroli really does an excellent job of explaining that there are very fundamental unique energies/emotions or reactions to a life experience which become ingrained deeply enough in our psych to effect nearly every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, these patterns often repeat over and over without our conscious awareness, as they often require indirect reasoning, extrapolation, emotional courage, and the difficult ability to step outside oneself to judge more objectively.
Especially interesting is how widespread and pervasive these patterns become. Say, for instance, one has a conflict with a boss at work. Instead of blaming the boss, it is more instructive to look within oneself and view the conflict with the boss as only one of of many many symbols stemming from a deep underlying problem within oneself. The same issue likely manifests in relationships with friends, one's spouse and family, and every other aspect of life, even perhaps in relatively arcane subsets like eating, sleeping, and sexuality.
To view the fundamental of what actually is, rather than just what we see ourselves as, can be especially difficult because the subconscious may contain opposite emotions than how we view ourselves, may engage in internal power struggles, and attempt to fulfill unhelpful emotional or sexual desires. An important part of a therapists job is to act as a mirror, as a blank slate, from which the patient is forced to become aware that their negative emotions are coming from inside themselves, and do not originate from an external source. Readers may recall, this sort of idea was the premise of 'Personal Responsibility, Mental Responsibility', regarding the root of all thoughts and emotions. While Frattaroli doesn't go this far; he emphasizes the makeup of the therapist as key; if a therapist is consumed by the constant cauldron of desires, jealousies, and other negative emotions and animal cravings, the therapist and client relationship will soon degenerate into an emotional squabble with no favorable outcome for either party. A common criticism of psychoanalysis, from popular culture and scientific quarters, is its seemingly overemphasis on human sexual natures. While the constant Freudian references to parental and childhood sexual associations is likely very much overplayed, the general idea of unconscious sexual tension between two individuals is surely quite powerful. Sexual desires, attractions, and fantasy's make up such a fundamental portion of human psych (bear in mind it was Buddha who reportedly said, "If there were one more vice as strong as the vice of lust I should never have become enlightened") that it can offer great insight into the aforementioned life patterns and likely plays a huge role in the therapist/client relationship.
A great story Frattaroli tells is one of a young girl from a brothel who comes in to a hospital with all kinds of various sicknesses, refusing to talk and refusing to take medication. The resident attempts to reason with her and politely tries to spoon feed her, but she slaps the medication into his face and he leaves irately, with her glaring at him as he leaves. The chief attending hears the report, assesses, and enters only to have the same thing occur, but this time when she slaps the medicine in his face he just wipes it off, smiles and refills the spoon and tries again. She looks at him in astonishment, and in a rage, slaps the medication even harder back in his face. He again smiles and repeats the action. Suddenly she breaks down in an intense emotional outburst of crying and sadness, but eventually she takes the medication and begins a remarkable recovery process. The key part of the story is when the chief attending did not feed into the cycle she had likely created as a protection from the horrors of the brothel. Through his actions, the chief attending forced her to recognize that he was not the problem, that the interaction between the two of them was negative entirely because of her. He was, in essence, the transparent window, allowing her to view herself objectively. He was only successful because he was able to stymie the intense negative counter reaction he had to her cursing him and splashing the medicine in his face.
Perhaps the best lesson found in this book is Frattaroli's assertion, 'the patient is always right'. In other words, the mind protects itself the best way it is able. There is a reason for peoples' behaviors. In the above example, the girl may have even gotten sick or refused to take her medicine because she didn't want to go back to the brothel; it is perfectly logical, provided one starts from the proper perspective. However, because of the power of the subconscious, the patient himself will often not be able to articulate the reasons for her actions, only a clear and undiluted mind of a therapists relatively free from personal conflict can attempt to piece together these reasonings. This view also allows the therapist to view the patient without judgment.
Another example of this is Frattaroli's postulation that the Schizophrenic brain separates the upper cognitive functions of the frontal cortex from the lower subthalmic emotional and survival neuronal firings. He states the mind undergoes this change as a protection, to shield the higher processes from disturbing emotional pulses, but the result being that a gulf widens between the two and neither function properly thereafter. It has often been stated, perhaps correctly, that psychoanalytic theory collapses when dealing with more serious biologic physiologic illnesses and this Schizophrenic theory is interesting as it puts this to the test. I would have liked to see more psychoanalytic explanations for a wider variety of psychiatric and physiopsychiatric conditions.
I thought his constant references to both his editors and his own personal life were a complimentary addition to his book. It is only fitting after all, that a psychoanalytic book, indeed any book, must be intertwined with the mental psych of the author. I can respect his intimate disclosures and honest attempt to 'bare all' to his audience. His mention of his past political railings did fit with his admittedly similar over passionate zest to crusade against the medical model.
In conclusion, I think neither the medical nor psychoanalytic model are mutually exclusive, a conclusion Frattaroli also appears to accept, at least in part. Patients may be best served with the ability to choose either one, both, or neither. My only hope is that one day market forces will return to healthcare to truly allow patients their choice of treatment and specialist, at an affordable price. As Frattaroli himself might opine, I think they will choose correctly. :).
Infections and Inequalities by Paul Farmer
I don't recommend this book. This Harvard educated doctor/anthropologist spends a good portion of his time working in clinics in Haiti and dealing with HIV and TB. Is this admirable? Perhaps, if you look at it from a certain angle. But it doesn't make his arguments any less foolish. Dr. Farmer consistently talks about how he searches through medical papers on the causes of disease and never finds the word 'poverty' as a root cause of TB or HIV. Then he blames, capitalism, racism, western greed, and imperialism for causing this poverty. Poverty in Haiti and other countries existed long before the rise of capitalism, equal rule of law, and the respect for private property. Although he is right that 'poverty' is the basic cause of the misery in the third world, what are the causes of poverty? As Jane Jacobs said: Poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes... Poverty can be overcome only if the relevant economic processes are in motion. I'd like to complain about a few words that Farmer doesn't mention in his entire book: corruption, socialism, theft, graft, robbery, thievery. Which, as mentioned throughout this site, is why poor countries are poor and rich countries are rich.
Poor countries are poor because their government are corrupt and socialistic (unbelievably, like John Kerry, he backs Aristide, a corrupt, socialist, dictator) and because an avalanche of Western Aid perpetuates these conditions. For example, Farmer mentions that 264 docs grad from Haiti med school and all but three left the country, mostly for the United States. This reminds me of past post I wrote on Ethiopia - how there are more Ethiopian doctors in the United States than in Ethiopia. First, how can you make a living as a doctor when do-gooder westerners like Farmer are providing free medical services, directly competing with your business. Even more amazing, disturbed by low compliance in treatments (people often didn't finish treatment or return to the clinic for further tests, some completion rates were as low as 11%! And why should they care about it, after all, they weren't paying for it, and so had less incentive to return), Farmer lauds a program where the clinic paid Haitians $30 a month to come in for treatment. Keep in mind that most Haitians live on less than a dollar a day. Low and behold a vast majority of people completed treatment and were cured! This is one of the most repulsive things I have ever read anywhere. What absolute condescension towards the population. You are too stupid to help yourself, so we will pay you to do it! Could you imagine one of these graduating Haitian medical doctors trying to start a practice? "Sorry Dr. X, I'd like to come see you, but the American clinic down the street will pay me to go there." Even worse, if these types of programs are continued, it is only a matter of time till impoverished Haitians are getting sick on purpose, to get the western clinic's money. This is the hell of socialism. A similar phenomenon has already occurred in Canada (people committing crimes to jump the often fatal waitlists of the Canadian health care system).
Farmer describes impoverished villagers blaming government for not providing water, jobs, health care, education, infrastructure, but in the next breath says: Many villagers are involved in projects designed to increase the health of the village. Why do these villagers need government to solve their problems? What are these 'New Deal sounding' projects? Who is paying them? The government? As Ronald Reagan said: Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.
Farmer also makes the interesting statement: Health conditions are more tightly linked to to local inequalities than nationalities. Since we always read in the media how unequal we are here in the US and since the United States, according to leftists like Farmer, is the most unequal countries in the world, then why don't we have much disease here? As mentioned in a previous post, this 'practical inequality' in developing countries is a result of policies opposite those that generate prosperity and 'financial inequality' in western countries.
Farmer also cites an interesting fact that TB rates are 70x higher in welfare recipients than the normal population (low compliance hinders treatments here too). Would these numbers correlate higher with poverty, or being on welfare? Since welfare perpetuates and (largely) causes poverty, such a question might be difficult to answer.
Not only is Farmer incorrect in nearly all his arguments, his anthropological case studies are boring, repetitive and poorly written. A typical entry is:
Darelene Johnson's experiences are all too commonplace among African American women living in poverty. As a heroin user, a habit clearly tied to a poverty structured by racism, her chances of avoiding HIV were slime.
Farmer talks about a revolution over CEO pay, 'racist capitalism' (yes he uses this exact term), and completely ignores the true cause of poverty and thus the high rates of morality for these diseases.
Just like Jesse Jackson was actually correct when he attempted to 'tweak' what Bill Cosby was saying, Farmer is somewhat correct, but the racism is the implicit racism bubbling from the cauldrons of the Democratic party, economic liberalism, and Farmer's own mouth.
"Of Two Minds: The Growing Disorder in American Psychiatry" by TM Luhrmann
Excellent book! Dr. Luhrmann is an Anthropologist who spends years traipsing around various branches of Psychiatry and different treatment centers. As you might guess, the 'two minds' she speaks of is the psychoanalytic, versus biomedical approaches. Very, very well written, she is a very intelligent and thoughtful woman and I found myself agreeing with her on nearly everything she said and respecting the way she said it. She sides more with the biomedical approach (which is displacing the psychoanalytic crowd), although she recognizes that the best approach to mental illness is normally biomedical mixed with counseling. An interesting point (again illustrating the risk adverseness of present day American society) is her observation that psychiatrists not taught to become great psychiatrists, but rather to minimize egregious errors. I imagine this is quite common in medical professions and professions in general. I could not tell her political angle, which is quite unusual and a tribute to her fairness and accuracy.
A rare political angle arose when a women's group went to the (as always) sycophant media and was 'outraged' over psychiatrist claims that menopause was effecting moods of women (the woman's group argued woman and men were equal etc..). Also, in the 1970s the APA (American Psychiatric Association) conventions constantly parroted resolutions against 'nuclear war' and other liberal causes (just like the teacher's unions etc.. today). She also covers the argument that psychiatry is a dying science because psychology (talk therapy) and neurology (brain biology) will displace it. She concludes, tentatively, that there is still a place for Psychiatry in medicine. A friend of mine made the comment that the psychiatric 'nitch' generally involves emotional and behavior problems (often genetic), where neurology is more associated with with physical damage to the brain (environment).
Very fair analysis of HMOs: doctors generally upset and many problems exist, but a good number of wasteful practices eliminated and cost cutting benefited consumers. Medicine was overall made more efficient, although consequences in individual situations and the rigid flexibility imposed by the cost cutters occasionally resulted in inferior care.
The last chapter is great as it discusses society's view of patients with mental disorders and how they view themselves. She contrasts with this the root of culture in religion and eventually what we consider 'free will'. I like this comparison. Psychoanalyst Psychiatrist believe that self knowledge and free will can lift people out of a mental disorder. While this might be true sometimes and in a limited way, it ignores the biological and heritable roots of mental illness and has the indirect effect of stigmatizing all those with mental illness, as it becomes a matter of will. This is often the view taken by some religions. On the opposing side lie the biomedical Psychiatrists, some of whom believe that disorders are only a result of physiological processes in the brain. As Luhrmann says, "When Psychiatric illness is thought of as only a disease then a patient can loose the will to struggle." So, a perspective of duality is probably the correct way to view mental illness. For more thoughts on free will see, "A Theory of God". I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in entering the mental health field.
"Meditation and Mantras" by Swami Vishnu-devananda
Interesting. General philosophy of mind and meditation. Recommended earplugs for meditation to minimize distraction, which makes sense, might try this. Says of a meditator, "If he neglects it [meditation] for even a day he becomes restless." Regarding hurtful words, he says you give the words the value of hurt, not those using them against you. This is true and he says it eloquently. Says, "The Supreme is not an individual entity. God is an experience realized on a particular wavelength." Also a lot of seemingly far fetched stuff in here.
"The Best American Science and Nature Writing", by Steve Pinker (And editors)
Very good series of 100 top science articles, which is then broken down to the top 20 by a guest, in this case, Steve Pinker. Especially interesting is the medical ethics cases in the life of a surgeon Dr. Francis Moore (title: Desperate Measures). I'm looking for an Internet copy that I can send people... The small pox vaccine was initiated in Boston by a Clergyman and a doctors son with no Medical training. Ordinary people can do great things. The author writes, of Moore, "The fundamental act of medical care is assumption of responsibility... complete responsibility for the welfare of the patient", Moore wrote on the first page of his textbook. A good doctor, he went on , "employs any effective means available." And if there is no effective means available? Then you must try to come up with one. Death, he argued, must never be seen as acceptable. Confronted with dying patients, he did not hesitate to consider the most outrageous proposal. Many of his patients did die; in the beginning of his experiments, Moore often had 100% morality rates. Of course, the patients were dying anyway, so this is a moot point, and over time he pioneered some of the most amazing advances in surgery, especially organ transplant. The author contrasts this to the risk aversion today (fear of lawsuits?) that lead to the halt of gene therapy trials in humans after just one death. I didn't mean to just focus on just one of the 20 articles; all well written and are politically neutral, or in some cases lean slightly Conservative, although this is difficult to pick up since the writing is about science... I happen to know Steve Pinker is slightly Conservative in nature and have enjoyed a few of his other books. Oh and there was also an interesting story on Iraq describing how Arab cultural models based on clan is hampering efforts to rebuild the country. For example, someone who is in government is assumed by his clan to provide them with favors. Contrasting this with the United States where we are more individualistic. This cultural difference may play an important role in our superior political structure.
"Unlimited Wealth" by Paul Jane Pitzer
Great book on how wealth is created and technology drive it. Talks about the the value of tax cuts and the innovations and turnabout in the Reagan years. A good amount is spent analyzing the relationship between us and Japan. Especially interesting is how at one point some Japanese companies were reimporting their own exports from the USA because they were cheaper here (due to BIG government rules and regulations in Japan). Good explanation of why illegal immigration is good (and should be legal) and why our public schools need reform. I don't quite agree entirely with his charter school solution (I like this one better), although its better than what we have. Although he is a Regan Administration economist and quite a famous Conservative thinker, I was disturbed by some of his socialistic ideas such as subsidizing income of those earning minimum wage with government money. His drug solution, to impose huge fines and confiscate the cars of dealers and users is laughable. I can't find the rest of my notes on this there were a number of other points I wanted to make.
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", by Robert M. Pirsig
I listened to this on tape, so it's a bit different from reading it. Fairly good, not overly exceptional. Offers a good history of how the ancient Greek system of reason came to become the standard of western knowledge. The best part is Pirsig's ruminations on quality, how it can't be really be defined in the traditional sense. Pirisig slams traditional education (rightly in my view), but is politically liberal - this is just something you sort of subtly pick up, he actually stays away from politics. Also offers another interesting view on how the insane may be the most sane. Great twists at the end as well. Most curious is his description of the enlightenment process. Compared with other books on meditation, it seems fairly accurate, yet also has strange twists to it, which make me wonder. Negatives are the strangeness and depressiveness of the main character and the excessive time spent analyzing and depicting the various 'scholarly' texts.
"Collapse", by Jared Diamond
I don't think I'd recommend this book, although there were some interesting facts in it. His first book, "Guns, Germs, and steel", was a great, great read. It was a scientific study that mostly dealt with how civilizations, present and past, were sculpted by their geography (and animal and plant life). This was a political hit piece, in which he seemed to try to fit the evidence to his pre-formed views (as he somewhat admits in the introduction!). The premise is that environmental collapse resulted in societal collapse of ancient societies and that today we are on the same path. He sent his manuscript to be read by Paul Elrich (I've read his 'Human Natures', ok, but not too good and very political), the same Paul Elrich that claimed that we were going to use up all our resources, which would preclude economic collapse by 2000. Here is a fun read on the bet he made (and lost). It was obvious why he associates with this crowd.
Diamond admits that present environmental policies are out of wack - even his friends in Montana and elsewhere admit as much. This chapter on Montana is especially biased, he insults the libertarian nature of it's people and doesn't mention the reason that Montana is being swamped with people: they are fleeing tax happy, regulation happy, California. It seems much of the problem with environmental destruction occurs when people don't own the land. In Australia and China for example the government leases farms land. He makes good points about bloated farm subsidies contributing to environmental problems.
In Japan, he describes how the population takes good care of the land as they own it, but seems to put more emphasis on government policies. He describes how villagers in Indonesia will run and plant valuable plants along the sites of future roads and industrial projects so the western companies have to pay them more. Interestingly, he describes how westerners working for companies in the third world are much more cautious of the environment than the people they employ in those countries!
In almost all of his ancient historical examples it seems that natural weather conditions played a greater role then any environmental degradation (as he sometimes admits). The worst part was his characterization of the 2000 elections. He has apparently fallen for the myth that the Supreme Court decided the Florida fiasco. Pretty amazing coming from such an 'educated' guy.
Another interesting part is his contrasting the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Haiti shunned foreign investment and yet received 7x the USAID fund that the Dominican Republic did. The Haitians flee socialism and tyranny and work the underclass jobs in the Dominican Republic. Haiti has also destroyed their environment the most. A fact that Diamond doesn't seem to equate with their socialism and corruption and the relative 'capitalism' of the Dominican Republic. This fits my worldview of many charities and my view of the 'causes of poverty in developing nations'. Diamond equates the 'racist' Dominican attitude towards the Haitians to the US view of Mexicans, an incorrect and typically pessimistic view of the United States. I wrote down a lot more on this book, but can't find the notebook...
"Superconscious Meditation", by Daniel R. Condron
I actually bought the wrong book, but read this one anyway. Ok, wouldn't recommend it. Interesting bit on 'creators' compares people 'creating' to God 'creating'. Says when we are creating we are doing Gods work. Much of it seems fairly far fetched. I bet he looses much of his audience with his fantastic claims early on. There were a few other things I liked as well.
"Superconscious Meditation", by Pandit Dr. Usharbudh Arya
The book I meant to buy before. Very excellent read. A calm, soothing, and wise iteration of meditative principles. I wrote down many lessons and sayings from this book. It is not complicated and not overly 'existential' as some meditative books are. One of the most important lessons in this is his belief that as one advances in meditation one will be tempted to believe wild and superstitious thoughts that are generated not from any supernatural source, but from the subconscious. This tempered insight was expressed in a coherent and illuminating way. Indicates that meditative advancements are achieved through steady practice, little forced expectation, and an open and disciplined mind.
"Beyond Biofeedback", by Elmer and Alyce Green
Interesting read describing how eastern practice mixes with western science. Familiar with some of this from the 'mind and life' series (Dahlia Lama). Describes experiments that clients were able to gain control over a single motor neuron. Talks about a monk who was sealed with minimal air for hours, yet was able to breath. They were unable to get any blood sample from him because his blood had withdrawn to his vital organs. The monk quit after some hours and claimed he was shocked by their equipment. Describes a seemingly fantastic event in which a monk was able to set a piece of metal spinning... not sure if I believe this or not, although, of course, it's best to have an open mind, some things question the limits of credibility. Also details their experiences with meditation etc.. generally pretty good. Interested in the one on one meditation sessions with a teacher Alyce experienced. They may go into a bit of what Pandit Dr. Usharbudh Arya (above) warned about (although he (Pandit) also mentions Swami Rama (the guy who moved metal)). I don't think I'd recommend this one, although I'm glad I read it as it it an older book and constantly referenced.
I finished "Atlas Shrugged", by Ayn Rand a month or two ago, so won't include it on here, but it is one of the best books I've ever read and highly recommend it for you politicos.
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