I'll admit I'm astonished that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s shocking book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health has not generated more interest, especially since at the time I first wrote about it, the Kindle version was only $3. It's $15 now, and the hardcover close to $20, but I'd say it's still worth it at that price, especially if you can't get it from your local library. Or you can do what I do: put it on a watch list at eReaderIQ; for a brief time yesterday it was only 99 cents. At that price I would have bought copies for a few friends—if I hadn't been away from home for the whole day. I find the eReaderIQ service worth supporting, by the way: it really helps with playing Amazon's little games.
I understand that people might be skeptical, whether, as in my case, from distrust of the Kennedys in general, or from a reluctance to question authority—especially when questioning authority can get you shoved into a "right-wing extremist conspiracy theorist" bucket. If you have the courage to look around outside of your comfort zone, however, I predict you will find this book worth your while.
Here are two short (about 5 minute) videos from my current favorite Left Coast liberal academic scientists, whose genuinely liberal credentials I don't doubt, albeit they also sometimes find themselves flung into the above-mentioned bucket when their search for truth leads them in certain directions. Both videos contain Bret's and Heather's evaluations of the book, and more importantly, their evaluation of its documentation. The videos do well at double speed if you want to save time. Spoiler alert: Bret and Heather are even more concerned than I am, with better reason and authority.
As I said in my review of the book, if what Kennedy claims, with such extensive documentation, is true, why are Dr. Fauci and a whole lot of other people not in jail? If it's not true, why isn't Fauci suing Kennedy for libel? I expected outrage on all sides, refutation, corroboration, investigation.
I did not expect ... silence. That silence on the part of investigative journalists, academic researchers, and medical professionals almost scares me more than the book.
I understand that people's lives are too busy for them to want to tackle a long, dense non-fiction book, so I don't urge you lightly to read The Real Anthony Fauci. But for your own health, and especially for your children, if you can make time to read this book, or listen to it in audiobook format, it has my strongest recommendation. The story is as riveting as it is frightening, and I was surprised at how quickly I finished it. I do recommend the Kindle version; the primary reason I also bought the hardcover was the knowledge that Amazon can make a Kindle book "disappear" at any moment, even from my physical e-reader. Most of the time I'm more comfortable with physical books, but in this case I actually find the digital version friendlier to the eyes. Don't be put off by the fact that the e-book format appears to double the page count (934 vs. 480).
Those who know me know that I do not like horror stories. Even during my Girl Scout days I was not a fan of ghost stories around the campfire. The Real Anthony Fauci is a horror story par excellence, because most of the others are about situations we are very unlikely to experience, and this one has already happened to us—we just didn't recognize it. Nonetheless, I am, as Bret suggests, hopeful: Information is power, and this book has answered questions that have troubled me for decades.
It's time for another in my series of YouTube channel discoveries. I resent the amount of time it takes to get information out of the video/podcast format, but it's so popular these days that it has become a major source for interesting and helpful information. So I'm unapologetically recommending another video channel: Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying's DarkHorse Podcast. That link is to their podcast website, but I usually watch it via their two YouTube channels: Full Podcasts, and Clips. Full podcasts are long. Very long. They would be great on a car journey, not so much in everyday life, unless you have a lot of work to do that doesn't require much thinking. I can fix dinner while listening to a podcast, but I sure can't write a blog post. Clips, on the other hand, are much shorter (maybe five to twenty minutes). Focussing on clips means I miss good insights, but giving in to Fear of Missing Out is a pathway to madness.
I've mentioned Bret and Heather before, in my Independence Hall Speech post, so it's about time I gave them their due. I must also give due credit to the good friend who introduced me to DarkHorse, as well as to Viva Frei, and remained patient with me even though it was at least a year later before I finally got around to checking them out. Thank you, wise friend. (There's but an infinitesimal chance he'll actually see that, but still, credit where credit is due.)
By way of introduction, the following quotes are from their DarkHorse Podcast website:
In weekly livestreams of the DarkHorse podcast, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying explore a wide range of topics, all investigated with an evolutionary lens. From the evolution of consciousness to the evolution of disease, from cultural critique to the virtues of spending time outside, we have open-ended conversations that reveal not just how to think scientifically, but how to disagree with respect and love.
We are scientists who hope to bring scientific thinking, and its insights, to everyone. Too often, the trappings of science are used to exclude those without credentials, degrees, or authority. But science belongs to us all, and its tools should be shared as widely as possible. DarkHorse is a place where scientific concepts, and a scientific way of thinking, are made accessible, without diminishing their power.
We are politically liberal, former college professors, and evolutionary biologists. Among our audience are conservatives, people without college educations, and religious folk. We treat everyone with respect, and do not look down on those with whom we disagree.
Needless to say, I often disagree with them—sometimes strongly—but more often I find their insights at least reasonable. And it is always interesting to listen in on their conversations. I take great pleasure in hearing smart people interact with each other—assuming they're polite, which Bret and Heather always are. It's also particularly satisfying in the rare circumstances when I find I know something that these highly intelligent people, with much greater knowledge than I, don't. I love living in Florida, at least in its current free-state situation, but I've never gotten over the loss of the intellectual stimulation that came with having the University of Rochester within walking distance.
I find DarkHorse so diverse and absorbing that it's really hard to limit myself to three examples here. But you can always check it out for yourself. Here are a couple of hints: Bret and Heather's speech is measured enough that I can hear it at 1.5x speed, and Porter can manage 2x. I prefer not to speed it up, but it is a time saver. An ever greater help with the full podcasts is that, once the livestream is over and the video is set on YouTube, you can hover your mouse over places along the progress bar and see where a particular subject begins and ends. I sure wish more long videos would provide that information.
Warning: Objectionable language occurs, though rarely, in the DarkHorse Podcasts.
Multi-age education (11 minutes)
When science is not science (9 minutes)
Wikipedia redefines recession (19 minutes)
I'll close with some advice from their website, which makes me smile every time I read it.
Be good to the ones you love,
Eat good food, and
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It takes a lot to get me to watch a 2+ hour movie I'm pretty sure I will not like. One thing I can say about watching V for Vendetta—it was almost as negative an experience as I expected it to be. I put myself through the agony because Brett and Heather, among others, have made the connection between the movie and President Biden's recent Independence Hall speech.
I think we need to take very seriously the fact that not only is there the evidence that these people have fascist inclinations ... but they are now actively playing with the symbolism ... that blood-red background ... the ranting demagogue. What does it allude to? It alludes to V for Vendetta, which is a movie adored by the Left.
I thought it might be worth checking out.
Was it worth two hours of my time? I'm not sure. I'll say flatly: It was an awful movie. As a film, I see nothing to commend it. On the other hand, to know that it was made in 2005 and see the parallels to recent years (including the deadly virus and government—pharmaceutical business—media collusion) does make it somewhat interesting. As dystopias go, however, I think Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was also an unpleasant experience, is more important.
What I find most confusing, however, is why the president's speech writers and stage designers would want his audience to make a connection between the speech and the movie. V for Vendetta can only be "adored by the Left" if you see the demagoge and the tyrannical government as being of the Right—those President Biden insists on calling "MAGA Republicans." Coming to the movie only after having seen the speech, however, I had an entirely different view.
The invocation of V for Vendetta is not accidental, of that I am sure. It's manipulative, certainly. It may also be brilliant. Whether one sees the speech as hateful or hopeful, diabolical or innocent, President Biden's supporters, reminded of the movie, will of course see themselves in the heroic role, and—this is the brilliant part—so will his stated enemies. This is a movie that might have been designed to foment anger, hatred, insurrection, chaos, and above all self-righteousness.
Qui bono? Who profits from anger and fear? Who benefits from chaos and division irrespective of party, partisanship, values, and goals? Do you ever feel that someone is pulling our strings and doesn't care a bit whether it's Black Lives Matter or the Ku Klux Klan, as long as hatred and violence reign? What are the odds that this is unrelated to the design of the setting and text of Biden's speech?
As a teenager, I flirted with the Kennedy adulation so common among my peers. I was too young to know much about John F. Kennedy, though I vivdly remember proudly carrying a note from my mother explaining that I was late coming back to school from lunch because I had been watching Kennedy's inauguration on television. (We walked home from school for lunch every day; to some people, that probably makes me seem old enough for it to have been George Washington's inauguration—were it not for the television reference.) I barely even remember JFK's assassination, since I was at the eye doctor's at the time and thus missed the reactions of my classmates. However, I spent hours glued to the television during Robert F. Kennedy's funeral in 1968, and genuinely grieved. But that was then; the subsequent years gradually took the shine off both the Democratic Party and the Kennedy family for me. Our two years of living in the Boston area and hearing from the common people their stories of oppression at the hands of Kennedys sealed the deal.
So why would I choose to read a book by Robert F. Kennedy's own son and namesake? Why would I wade through a book that castigates Republicans and has nothing but admiration for his famous family? Why would I spend my two weeks at the beach reading a book of nearly 1000 pages without even the excuse of it being a Brandon Sanderson novel? (There's a confusing difference in number of pages between the Kindle version and the hardcover, with the former being nearly twice the latter. Whatever—it's long.)
Two reasons, maybe. It was recommended by someone whose opinions I respect, and although the book costs $20 in hardcover, it is only $2.99 in Kindle form.
I'll state upfront that the book is controversial. My first reaction was, "If this is true, why is Dr. Fauci not in jail? If it's not true, why isn't he suing Kennedy for libel?" Speaking of libel, feel free to read Kennedy's Wikipedia entry, which is a pretty good example of the way controversial topics are handled these days. You don't like what someone says? Why bother to refute his arguments when you can brand him a conspiracy theorist, a purveyor of false information, and shut him down? But go ahead, read the accusations. Then read the book.
Despite the seriousness of the subject, it is somewhat amusing and even encouraging to find a die-hard Democrat who is willing to skewer not just Republicans but much of his own party as well (though not the Kennedys themselves), while admitting that the hated Republicans have sometimes been closer to the truth, and revealing that presidents of both parties have been helpless in the hands of the bureaucrats whom they have been forced to trust.
Don't let the number of pages in this book dissuade you. Reading it went surprisingly quickly, not only because it is interesting, but because so much of it is pages and pages and pages of footnotes. If it's misinformation, it's certainly well-documented misinformation.
It did take me a while to get into the book. The first section, which is about COVID-19, is over-long and harder to read than the rest of the book. Perhaps because this problem is new and ongoing, Kennedy is not at his best, sometimes overly polemic. He's still angry in the rest of the book, but handles it better. Maybe I just got used to it. Or maybe I got angry, myself.
This is not a book to take my word for. Much of its value comes in its extensive documentation, its references and endnotes—not that you need to read them all, even if you could, but that you need to know the documentation is there. Kennedy is not just some politician spouting off his baseless opinions. In addition, he makes an effort to update both information and references online.
I will not provide here my usual selection of quotations. (That's not to say I won't produce a few in subsequent posts.) Instead you get my own very brief and inadequate summary, the table of contents, and a subset of the questions swirling in my mind—some I have been asking for decades, others generated through reading The Real Anthony Fauci.
The health and safety of America's people, along with that of much of the rest of the world, has for decades been held hostage by the iron grip of an unholy alliance among the federal agencies charged with that responsibility, the pharmaceutical industry, our research universities, a few quasi-charitable organizations (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), and—come late to the table but enormously powerful—the gate-keepers of information (from CNN to Google). There's no reason to call it a conspiracy; "cartel" and "oligarchy" are the words that spring more readily to mind. The combination of good intentions (to put the best face on it), a great deal of hubris, and the power to acquire and control unimaginably vast sums of money qualifies as a man-made disaster of the highest magnitude. During my five-year tenure as a researcher at a major university medical center, I saw only the tiniest slice of the world of government grants and the network that controls academic publishing, but it was quite enough to make Kennedy's revelations believable.
- Mismanaging a Pandemic
- Arbitrary Decrees: Science-Free Medicine
- Killing Hydroxychloroquine
- Final Solution: Vaccines or Bust
- Pharma Profits over Public Health
- The HIV Pandemic Template for Pharma Profiteering
- The Pandemic Template: AIDS and AZT
- The HIV Heresies
- Burning the HIV Heretics
- Dr. Fauci, Mr. Hyde: NIAID's Barbaric and Illegal Experiments on Children
- White Mischief: Dr. Fauci's African Atrocities
- The White Man's Burden
- More Harm Than Good
- Hyping Phony Epidemics: "Crying Wolf"
- Germ Games
- Why has there been so little attention given to discerning why disorders such as autism, ADHD, asthma and other autoimmune diseases, allergies, and a variety of mental health issues have become so rampant?
- Why are we more concerned with selling highly profitable drug treatments and permanent surgical alterations instead of asking ourselves what might be in our water, our air, our food, our medical treatments, or our society that has caused so many boys to decide they need to be girls, and vice versa?
- Why do we quietly accept the marked deterioration in the health of our people after over a century of astonishing improvement?
- Why are those in our federal government who hold the solemn duty of safeguarding the nation's health allowed to reap huge personal profits (or any profit at all, for that matter) from vaccines and other products of the pharmaceutical industry? How is it not an infernal conflict of interest that the authorities responsible for declaring a new drug "safe and effective" stand to make a great deal of money if they give it their stamp of approval?
- Why was so much effort—and an unimaginable amount of money and other resources—put into developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines, while the most obvious and most important question was ignored: How do we treat this disease?
- In the early months of the pandemic, boots-on-the-ground physicians successfully treated COVID-19 patients by repurposing inexpensive, already-approved drugs. Why were these doctors first ignored, then demonized, and their remedies (legal, with a long record of safety) pulled off the market by underhanded means?
- Why did we repeat with COVID-19 so many of the mistakes we made when struggling with AIDS in the 1980's?
- Why was the AIDS picture so different between America and Africa?
- Why are pharmaceutical companies, and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, allowed to dump on Africa, at significant profit, drugs and vaccines that have been deemed too dangerous for Americans?
- Why does much of our drug and vaccine testing take place in Africa, where the rules of proper research, record keeping, and informed consent can be ignored, and adverse events conveniently buried?
- Malaria used to be prevalent in the United States. Why has so much effort been spent on developing a still-mostly-ineffective malaria vaccine and so little on simple public health measures that might help eradicate it in Africa?
- Why has the United States government been sponsoring the development of biological warfare agents, through a loophole in international treaties?
- Why is our government outsourcing this biological warfare work to China, where regulations are lax and procedures known to be sloppy? Not to mention that China is known for industrial espionage and theft of intellectual property. Whoever imagined that it might be a good thing to avoid America's rules of legitimate research procedures while in all likelihood handing deadly technology over to a powerful country with whom our relations are uncertain at best?
- Why have we allowed our medical institutions and research universities to become so completely dependent on federal and industrial funding that their work is controlled and compromised?
- Why and when did we give up on the practice of scientific inquiry that has served so well in the past, and enshrine Science as a religion, wherein disagreement and debate, once necessary to the process, have become unspeakable heresy?
- Why did our COVID response appear to be so experimental and bumbling at the start—I remember saying, "Give them a break; they are doing the best they can with too little data"—when the strategies the government employed had actually been designed, simulated, planned for, and practiced for years, through multiple presidencies?
- And perhaps the most important question of all: Qui bono? How did the COVID-19 pandemic become the vehicle for a record transfer of wealth to the super-rich? Follow the money. Power corrupts; power over money corrupts exponentially.
There's more. Much more. Considering what Kennedy has discovered, the book turns out to be far more logical, documented, and measured than one has a right to expect. It's not everyone who can report rationally on something so shocking. This would be me:
Whatever your party affiliation or lack thereof, you owe it to yourself (and if you have children, especially to them) to invest $2.99 and a few hours in The Real Anthony Fauci. I'm at a loss as to how to confront the problems it reveals, but shedding some ignorance and blind trust is a start.
Turns out I'm admiring a Kennedy again. It only took me half a century.
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This book was recommended by a dear friend who hadn't, at least at the time, read it herself. I reacted badly based on what I understood the idea of the book to be, and for my penance I had to read it.
It turned out to be both better and worse than I expected. The author's style is informal to the fingernails-on-the-blackboard level; it hardly sounds like book-writing at all. Perhaps it would work for a sermon, though even in sermons familiarity can get annoying. He also makes the mistake of thinking he knows what the reader is thinking and feeling, and at least in my case, he's very often wrong.
That said, I'm glad I read the book and I did find something of potentially great value.
The gut reaction that I needed to repent of was set up by a local billboard I'd seen repeatedly, which simply stated, "God is not angry." I couldn't drive by that without thinking, "If God is not angry about the inhumane (if not inhuman) things we do to each other, he's not much of a god." Granted, Brant Hansen is okay with God being angry about such things, but thinks such a reaction is above our human pay grade. Maybe he's right, but I do believe we share the responsibility of fighting against evil. I agree with this line from one of my favorite books, The Green Ember: "If you aren’t angry about the wicked things happening in the world all around, then you don’t have a soul."
It's on the personal level that Hansen's idea shines. In the first paragraph of the first chapter is this line:
You can choose to be "unoffendable."
I'm not sure which of my thoughts about this are from the book, and which are my own musings while reading it. But this is what I came up with.
There may be some debate about how we should respond when someone else is being wronged, but on a personal level, when I'm the victim, I can, indeed, choose not to be offended. I can take my hurt and anger and use them as an opportunity to practice one of the hardest and most important virtues in the Christian life: forgiveness. I can work to assume the person meant better than I think he did, that what I heard was not what she said, or meant to say. I can remember the times I've needed that grace myself.
Yes, we get angry. Can’t avoid it. But I now know that anger can’t live here. I can’t keep it. ... I have to take it to the Cracks of Doom, like, now, and drop that thing. (p. 21)
Yes, the world is broken. But don’t be offended by it. Instead, thank God that He’s intervened in it, and He’s going to restore it to everything it was meant to be. His kingdom is breaking through, bit by bit. Recognize it, and wonder at it.
War is not exceptional; peace is. Worry is not exceptional; trust is. Decay is not exceptional; restoration is. Anger is not exceptional; gratitude is. Selfishness is not exceptional; sacrifice is. Defensiveness is not exceptional; love is.
And judgmentalism is not exceptional...
But grace is.
Recognize our current state, and then replace the shock and anger with gratitude. Someone cuts you off on your commute? Just expect it. No big deal. Let it drop, and then be thankful for the person, that exceptional person, who lets you merge. See the human heart for what it is, adjust expectations, and be grateful, not angry. (pp. 40-41)
One thing that helped me get more from Unoffendable was changing some of his language. He focusses too much on anger, I think. Granted, I do have to deal at times with my own angry reactions, but by far the predominant emotion I associate with being offended is hurt.
No matter, really. If I can choose to set aside anger, I can do the same with hurt. I can't help being hurt, but I can control my reactions.
Easier said than done. But very liberating, whenever I can manage it, even on a very small scale.
The flavor, however, is fantastic! In the past, I was a very modest pepper user; now I find myself grinding this on so many foods and in much greater quantity than before. It's that delicious.
This mix, which in our local Publix is found in the spice section with the pre-filled pepper and salt grinders, includes black peppercorns, coriander, pink peppercorns (which, I understand, aren't actually pepper), white peppercorns, allspice, and green peppercorns.
I highly recommend this spice blend to everyone, except my one friend who is allergic to pepper and my other friend who is allergic to coriander/cilantro. Everyone else—do give it a try.
I've been writing these essays for more than 20 years. As with all writers (and other artists), I often look back on my work and shudder. Sometimes, however, I'm okay with what I've written. But how often does someone see a blog post from 2010? Current events may not be relevant anymore and can reasonably be forgotten, and most people don't care about our everyday lives. But I've also said a lot that I think bears repeating; book reviews, for example, are almost always just as useful now as they were then. So I'm going to start to bring back some of my favorites, not only because I believe they'll be useful to what is mostly a whole new audience, but also because I need to be reminded of the content myself.
I'll begin with the fascinating, and important, idea of neuroplasticity, which I first wrote about on May 18, 2010.
The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge (Penguin, New York, 2007)
The idea that our brains are fixed, hard-wired machines was (and in many cases still is) so deeply entrenched in the scientific establishment that evidence to the contrary was not only suppressed, but often not even seen because the minds of even respectable scientists could not absorb what they were certain was impossible. Having been familiar since the 1960s with the work of Glenn Doman and the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, the idea that the human brain is continually changing itself and can recover from injury in astonishing ways did not surprise me. In fact, the only shock was that in a 400 page book on neuroplasticity and the persecution of its early pioneers I found not one mention of Doman's name. But the stories are none the less astonishing for that.
In Chapter 1 we meet a woman whose vestibular system was destroyed by antibiotic side-effects. She is freed by a sensor held on her tongue and a computerized helmet from the severely disabling feeling that she is falling all the time, even when lying flat. That's the stuff of science fiction, but what's most astounding is that the effect lingers for a few minutes after she removes the apparatus the first time, and after several sessions she no longer needs the device.
Chapter 3, "Redesigning the Brain," on the work of Michael Merzenich, including the ground-breaking Fast ForWord learning program, is worth the cost of the book all by itself.
Sensitive readers may want to steer clear of Chapter 4, "Acquiring Tastes and Loves," or risk being left with unwanted, disturbing mental images. But it is a must read for anyone who wants to believe that pornography is harmless, or that our personal, private mental fantasies do not adversely affect the very structure of our brains.
The book is less impressive when it gets away from hard science and into psychotherapy, as the ideas become more speculative, but the stories are still impressive.
Phantom pain, learning disabilities, autism, stroke recovery, obsessions and compulsions, age-related mental decline, and much more: the discovery of neuroplasticity shatters misconceptions and offers hope. The Brain that Changes Itself is an appetizer plate; bring on the main course!
For those who want a sampling of the appetizer itself, I'm including an extensive quotation section. Even so, it doesn't come close to doing justice to the depth and especially the breadth of the book. I've pulled quotes from all over, so understand that they are out of context, and don't expect them to move smoothly from one section to another.
Neuro is for "neuron," the nerve cells in our brains and nervous systems. Plastic is for "changeable, malleable, modifiable." At first many of the scientists didn't dare use the word "neuroplasticity" in their publications, and their peers belittled them for promoting a fanciful notions. Yet they persisted, slowly overturning the doctrine of the unchanging brain. They showed that children are not always stuck with the mental abilities they are born with; that the damaged brain can often reorganize itself so that when one part fails, another can often substitute; that if brain cells die, they can at times be replaced; that many "circuits" and even basic reflexes that we think are hardwired are not. One of these scientists even showed that thinking, learning, and acting can turn our genes on or off, thus shaping our brain anatomy and our behavior—surely one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the twentieth century.
In the course of my travels I met a scientist who enabled people who had been blind since birth to begin to see, another who enabled the deaf to hear; I spoke with people who had had strokes decades before and had been declared incurable, who were helped to recover with neuroplastic treatments; I met people whose learning disorders were cured and whose IQs were raised; I saw evidence that it is possible for eighty-year-olds to sharpen their memories to function the way they did when they were fifty-five. I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas. I spoke with Nobel laureates who were hotly debating how we must re-think our model of the brain now that we know it is ever changing. ... The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and the workings of its basic component, the neuron.
In Chapter 2, Building Herself a Better Brain, a woman with such a severe imbalance of brain function that she was labelled mentally retarded put her own experiences together with the work of other researchers to design brain exercises that fixed the weaknesses in her own brain ... and went on to develop similar diagnostic procedures and exercises for others.
The irony of this new discovery is that for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that children's brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty that strengthened brain functions. Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960s educators dropped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too rigid, boring, and "not relevant." But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. For the rest of us, their disappearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brainpower unfamiliar to us now. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 the debaters would comfortably speak for an hour or more without notes, in extended memorized paragraphs; today many of the most learned among us, raised in our most elite schools since the 1960s, prefer the omnipresent PowerPoint presentation—the ultimate compensation for a weak premotor cortex.
Here are several (but not enough!) from my favorite chapter, "Redesigning the Brain."
[As] they trained an animal at a skill, not only did its neurons fire faster, but because they were faster their signals were clearer. Faster neurons were more likely to fire in sync with each other—becoming better team players—wiring together more and forming groups of neurons that gave off clearer and more powerful signals. This is a crucial point, because a powerful signal has greater impact on the brain. When we want to remember something we have heard we must hear it clearly, because a memory can be only as clear as its original signal.
Paying close attention is essential to long-term plastic change. ... When the animals performed tasks automatically, without paying attention, they changed their brain maps, but the changes did not last. We often praise "the ability to multitask." While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn't lead to abiding change in your brain maps.
Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of preschool children have a language disability that makes it difficult for them to read, write, or even follow instructions. ... [C]hildren with language disabilities have auditory processing problems with common consonant-vowel combinations that are spoken quickly and are called "the fast parts of speech." The children have trouble hearing them accurately and, as a result, reproducing them accurately. Merzenich believed that these children's auditory cortex neurons were firing too slowly, so they couldn't distinguish between two very similar sounds or be certain, if two sounds occurred close together, which was first and which was second. Often they didn't hear the beginnings of syllables or the sound changes within syllables. Normally neurons, after they have processed a sound, are ready to fire again after about a 30-millisecond rest. Eighty percent of language-impaired children took at least three times that long, so that they lost large amounts of language information. When their neuron-firing patterns were examined, the signals weren't clear. ... Improper hearing lead to weaknesses in all the language tasks, so they were weak in vocabulary, comprehension, speech, reading, and writing. Because they spent so much energy decoding words, they tended to use shorter sentences and failed to exercise their memory for longer sentences.
[Five hundred children at 35 sites] were given standardized language tests before and after Fast ForWord training. The study showed that most children's ability to understand language normalized after Fast ForWord. In many cases, their comprehension rose above normal. The average child who took the program moved ahead 1.8 years of language development in six weeks. ... A Stanford group did brain scans of twenty dyslexic children, before and after Fast ForWord. The opening scans showed that the children used different parts of their brains for reading than normal children do. After Fast ForWord new scans showed that their brains had begun to normalize.
Merzenich's team started hearing that Fast ForWord was having a number of spillover effects. Children's handwriting improved. Parents reported that many of the students were starting to show sustained attention and focus. Merzenich thought these surprising benefits were occurring because Fast ForWord led to some general improvements in mental processing.
"You know," [Merzenich] says, "IQ goes up. We used the matrix test, which is a visual-based measurement of IQ—and IQ goes up."
The fact that a visual component of the IQ went up meant that the IQ improvements were not caused simply because Fast ForWord improved the children's ability to read verbal test questions. Their mental processing was being improved in a general way.
This is just a sample of the benefits that made me want to rush right out and buy Fast ForWord, even if it were to cost as much as the insanely-expensive Rosetta Stone German software I'm also tempted to buy. From the description, it sounds like something everyone could benefit from for mental tune-ups. Unfortunately, the makers of Fast ForWord are even worse than the Rosetta Stone folks about keeping tight control over their product: as far as I've been able to determine, you can only use it under the direction of a therapist (making it too expensive for ordinary use), and even then you don't own the software but are only licensed to use it for a short period of time. :( It works, though. We know someone for whom it made all the difference in the world, even late in her school career.
Merzenich began wondering about the role of a new environmental risk factor that might affect everyone but have a more damaging effect on genetically predisposed children: the continuous background noise from machines, sometimes called white noise. White noise consists of many frequencies and is very stimulating to the auditory cortex.
"Infants are reared in continuously more noisy environments. There is always a din," he says. White noise is everywhere now, coming from fans in our electronics, air conditioners, heaters, and car engines.
To test this hypothesis, his group exposed rat pups to pulses of white noise throughout their critical period and found that the pups' cortices were devastated.
Psychologically, middle age is often an appealing time because, all else being equal, it can be a relatively placid period compared with what has come before. ... We still regard ourselves as active, but we have a tendency to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are learning as we were before. We rarely engage in tasks in which we must focus our attention as closely as we did when we were younger. Such activities as reading the newspaper, practicing a profession of many years, and speaking our own language are mostly the replay of mastered skills, not learning. By the time we hit our seventies, we may not have systematically engaged the systems in the brain that regulate plasticity for fifty years.
That's why learning a new language in old age is so good for improving and maintaining the memory generally. Because it requires intense focus, studying a new language turns on the control system for plasticity and keeps it in good shape for laying down sharp memories of all kinds. No doubt Fast ForWord is responsible for so many general improvements in thinking, in part because it stimulates the control system for plasticity to keep up its production of acetylcholine and dopamine. Anything that requires highly focused attention will help that system—learning new physical activities that require concentration, solving challenging puzzles, or making a career change that requires that you master new skills and material. Merzenich himself is an advocate of learning a new language in old age. "You will gradually sharpen everything up again and that will be very highly beneficial to you."
The same applies to mobility. Just doing the dances you learned years ago won't help your brain's motor cortex stay in shape. To keep the mind alive requires learning something truly new with intense focus. That is what will allow you to both lay down new memories and have a system that can easily access and preserve the older ones.
This work opens up the possibility of high-speed learning later in life. The nucleus basalis [always on for young children, but in adulthood only with sustained, close attention] could be turned on by an electrode, by microinjections of certain chemicals, or by drugs. It is hard to imagine that people will not ... be drawn to a technology that would make it relatively effortless to master the facts of science, history, or a profession, merely by being exposed to them briefly. ... Such techniques would no doubt be used by high school and university students in their studies and in competitive entrance exams. (Already many students who do not have attention deficit disorder use stimulants to study.) Of course, such aggressive interventions might have unanticipated, adverse effects on the brain—not to mention our ability to discipline ourselves—but they would likely be pioneered in cases of dire medical need, where people are willing to take the risk. Turning on the nucleus basalis might help brain-injured patients, so many of whom cannot relearn the lost functions of reading, writing, speaking, or walking because they can't pay close enough attention.
[Gross motor control is] a function that declines as we age, leading to loss of balance, the tendency to fall, and difficulties with mobility. Aside from the failure of vestibular processing, this decline is caused by the decrease in sensory feedback from our feet. According to Merzenich, shoes, worn for decades, limit the sensory feedback from our feet to our brain. If we went barefoot, our brains would receive many different kinds of input as we went over uneven surfaces. Shoes are a relatively flat platform that spreads out the stimuli, and the surfaces we walk on are increasingly artificial and perfectly flat. This leads us to dedifferentiate the maps for the soles of our feet and limit how touch guides our foot control. Then we may start to use canes, walkers, or crutches or rely on other senses to steady ourselves. By resorting to these compensations instead of exercising our failing brain systems, we hasten their decline.
As we age, we want to look down at our feet while walking down stairs or on slightly challenging terrain, because we're not getting much information from our feet. As Merzenich escorted his mother-in-law down the stairs of the villa, he urged her to stop looking down and start feeling her way, so that she would maintain, and develop, the sensory map for her foot, rather than letting it waste away.
Brain plasticity and psychological disorders:
Each time [people with obsessive-compulsive disorder] try to shift gears, they begin ... growing new circuits and altering the caudate. By refocusing the patient is learning not to get sucked in by the content of an obsession but to work around it. I suggest to my patients that they think of the use-it-or-lose-it principle. Each moment they spend thinking of the symptom ... they deepen the obsessive circuit. By bypassing it, they are on the road to losing it. With obsessions and compulsions, the more you do it, the more you want to do it; the less you do it, the less you want to do it ... [I]t is not what you feel while applying the technique that counts, it is what you do. "The struggle is not to make the feeling go away; the struggle is not to give in to the feeling"—by acting out a compulsion, or thinking about the obsession. This technique won't give immediate relief because lasting neuroplastic change takes time, but it does lay the groundwork for change by exercising the brain in a new way. ... The goal is to "change the channel" to some new activity for fifteen to thirty minutes when one has an OCD symptom. (If one can't resist that long, any time spent resisting is beneficial, even if it is only for a minute. That resistance, that effort, is what appears to lay down new circuits.)
Mental practice with physical results:
Pascual-Leone taught two groups of people, who had never studied piano, a sequence of notes, showing them which fingers to move and letting them hear the notes as they were played. Then members of one group, the "mental practice" group, sat in front of an electric piano keyboard, two hours a day, for five days, and imagined both playing the sequence and hearing it played. A second "physical practice" group actually played the music two hours a day for five days. Both groups had their brains mapped before the experiment, each day during it, and afterward. Then both groups were asked to play the sequence, and a computer measured the accuracy of their performances.
Pascual-Leoone found that both groups learned to play the sequence, and both showed similar brain map changes. Remarkably, mental practice alone produced the same physical changes in the motor system as actually playing the piece. By the end of the fifth day, the changes in motor signals to the muscles were the same in both groups, and the imagining players were as accurate as the actual players were on their third day.
The level of improvement at five days in the mental practice group, however substantial, was not as great as in those who did physical practice. But when the mental practice group finished its mental training and was given a single two-hour physical practice session, its overall performance improved to the level of the physical practice group's performance at five days. Clearly mental practice is an effective way to prepare for learning a physical skill with minimal physical practice.
In an experiment that is as hard to believe as it is simple, Drs. Guang Yue and Kelly Cole showed that imagining one is using one's muscles actually strengthens them. The study looked at two groups, one that did physical exercise and one that imagined doing exercise. ... At the end of the study the subjects who had done physical exercise increased their muscular strength by 30 percent, as one might expect. Those who only imagined doing the exercise, for the same period, increased their muscle strength by 22 percent. The explanation lies in the motor neurons of the brain that "program" movements. During these imaginary contractions, the neurons responsible for stringing together sequences of instructions for movements are activated and strengthened, resulting in increased strength when the muscles are contracted.
Talk about unbelievable.
The Sea Gypsies are nomadic people who live in a cluster of tropical islands in the Burmese archipelago and off the west coast of Thailand. A wandering water tribe, they learn to swim before they learn to walk and live over half their lives in boats on the open sea. ... Their children dive down, often thirty feet beneath the water's surface, and pluck up their food ... and have done so for centuries. By learning to lower their heart rate, they can stay under water twice as long as most swimmers. They do this without any diving equipment.
But what distinguishes these children, for our purposes, is that they can see clearly at these great depths, without goggles. Most human beings cannot see clearly under water because as sunlight passes through water, it is bent ... so that light doesn't land where it should on the retina.
Anna Gislén, a Swedish researcher, studied the Sea Gypsies' ability to read placards under water and found that they were more than twice as skillful as European children. The Gypsies learned to control the shape of their lenses and, more significantly, to control the size of their pupils, constricting them 22 percent. This is a remarkable finding, because human pupils reflexively get larger under water, and pupil adjustment has been thought to be a fixed, innate reflex, controlled by the brain and nervous system.
This ability of the Sea Gypsies to see under water isn't the product of a unique genetic endowment. Gislén has since taught Swedish children to constrict their pupils to see under water.
The fact that cultures differ in perception is not proof that one perceptual act is a good as the next, or that "everything is relative" when it comes to perception. Clearly some contexts call for a more narrow angle of view, and some for more wide-angle, holistic perception. The Sea Gypsies have survived using a combination of their experience of the sea and holistic perception. So attuned are they to the moods of the sea that when the tsunami of December 26, 2004, hit the Indian Ocean, killing hundreds of thousands, they all survived. They saw that the sea had begun to recede in a strange way, and this drawing back was followed by an unusually small wave; they saw dolphins begin to swim for deeper water, while the elephants started stampeding to higher ground, and they heard the cicadas fall silent. ... Long before modern science put this all together, they had either fled the sea to the shore, seeking the highest ground, or gone into very deep waters, where they also survived.
Music makes extraordinary demands on the brain. A pianist performing the eleventh variation of the Sixth Paganini etude by Franz Liszt must play a staggering eighteen hundred notes per minute. Studies by Taub and others of musicians who play stringed instruments have shown that the more these musicians practice, the larger the brain maps for their active left hands become, and the neurons and maps that respond to string timbres increase; in trumpeters the neurons and maps that respond to "brassy" sounds enlarge. Brain imaging shows that musicians have several areas of their brains—the motor cortex and the cerebellum, among others—that differ from those of nonmusicians. Imaging also shows that musicians who begin playing before the age of seven have larger brain areas connecting the two hemispheres.
It is not just "highly cultured" activities that rewire the brain. Brain scans of London taxi drivers show that the more years a cabbie spends navigating London streets, the larger the volume of his hippocampus, that part of the brain that stores spatial representations. Even leisure activities change our brain; meditators and meditation teachers have a thicker insula, a part of the cortex activated by paying close attention.
Here's something completely different, and frightening.
[T]otalitarian regimes seem to have an intuitive awareness that it becomes hard for people to change after a certain age, which is why so much effort is made to indoctrinate the young from an early age. For instance, North Korea, the most thoroughgoing totalitarian regime in existence, places children in school from ages two and a half to four years; they spend almost every waking hour being immersed in a cult of adoration for dictator Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung. They can see their parents only on weekends. Practically every story read to them is about the leader. Forty percent of the primary school textbooks are devoted wholly to describing the two Kims. This continues all the way through school. Hatred of the enemy is drilled in with massed practice as well, so that a brain circuit forms linking the perception of "the enemy" with negative emotions automatically. A typical math quiz asks, "Three soldiers from the Korean People's Army killed thirty American soldiers. How many American soldiers were killed by each of them, if they all killed an equal number of enemy soldiers?" Such perceptual emotional networks, once established in an indoctrinated people, do not lead only to mere "differences of opinion" between them and their adversaries, but to plasticity-based anatomical differences, which are much harder to bridge or overcome than ordinary persuasion.
Think the North Koreans are the only ones whose brains are being re-programed?
"The Internet is just one of those things that contemporary humans can spend millions of 'practice' events at, that the average human a thousand years ago had absolutely no exposure to. Our brains are massively remodeled by this exposure—but so, too, by reading, by television, by video games, by modern electronics, by contemporary music, by contemporary 'tools,' etc." — Michael Merzenich, 2005
Erica Michael and Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University did a brain scan study to test whether the medium is indeed the message. They showed that different brain areas are involved in hearing speech and reading it, and different comprehension centers in hearing words and reading them. As Just put it, "The brain constructs the message ... differently for reading and listening. ... Listening to an audio book leaves a different set of memories than reading does. A newscast heard on the radio is processed differently from the same words read in a newspaper." This finding refutes the conventional theory of comprehension, which argues that a single center in the brain understands words, and it doesn't really matter how ... information enters the brain.
Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium—cuts, edits, zooms, pans, and sudden noises—that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the "orienting response," which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. ... Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can't keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orientating responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult.
All electronic devices rewire the brain. People who write on a computer are often at a loss when they have to write by hand or dictate, because their brains are not wired to translate thoughts into cursive writing or speech at high speed. When computers crash and people have mini-nervous breakdowns, there is more than a little truth in their cry, "I feel like I've lost my mind!" As we use an electronic medium, our nervous system extends outward, and the medium extends inward.
"Use it or lose it" is a common refrain in The Brain that Changes Itself, whether talking about specific knowledge and abilities, or the capacity for learning and the very plasticity of the brain itself. (There is some hope given, however, that knowledge apparently lost is recoverable, even if its brain "map" has subsequently been taken over for another use.) Do you worry, as I did, that these new discoveries mean that it really is possible to learn too much, that we need to save our brains for that which is most important? That learning German will drive away what little I know of French? Relax; that doesn't need to happen, although I must be sure to keep the French fresh in my mind or it will get shelved.
As the scientist Gerald Edelman has pointed out, the human cortex alone has 30 billion neurons and is capable of making 1 million billion synaptic connections. Edelman writes, "If we considered the number of possible neural circuits, we would be dealing with hyper-astronomical numbers: 10 followed by at least a million zeros. (There are 10 followed by 79 zeros, give or take a few, of particles in the known universe.)" These staggering numbers explain why the human brain can be described as the most complex known object in the universe, and why it is capable of ongoing, massive microstructural change, and capable of performing so many different mental functions and behaviors.
I'm tired of typing. Get the book.
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[This post was originally entitled, "Camouflage"; I've now changed that to make it part of my "YouTube Channel Discoveries" series.]
Here's another YouTube channel we've been enjoying: Chris Cappy's Task and Purpose. How on earth could I enjoy videos about military tactics, strategy, history, and weapons? Here's a quote from the channel's About section:
Chris Cappy the host is a former us army infantryman and Iraq Veteran. This YouTube channel is a forum for all things military. From historical information to the latest news on weapons programs. We discuss all these details from the veteran's perspective. The first priority with our videos is to be entertaining.
I guess it's the last sentence. Chris Cappy is knowledgeable and entertaining. He may bill himself as "your average infantryman," but he's not your average military college professor droning on in the front of an auditorium filled with bored students.
The video that hooked me is the one below, How Camouflage Evolved (15 minutes). I'm certain we have grandchildren who would find it as enjoyable as I did.
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Porter has been doing yeoman's work sorting through the information, misinformation, and distorted information available to us about the war in the Ukraine. I don't have the patience. But it is amusing, when it's not depressing, to listen to him watching the nightly news: "They're reporting as new something I heard about yesterday," and "that video is at least three days old."
In the process, he discovered Chris Cappy. He's an Iraq vet with an informative and entertaining style that goes so far as to make military history, weapons, strategy, and tactics interesting even to me. His updates on the war are—as far as in my ignorance I can tell—knowledgeable and fair, with a minimum of emotion and propaganda.
The following video (24 minutes) is a good example, which not only gives an update on the war (as of March 15), but makes a good case for why Big Tech's shutdown of Russian sources on social media is dangerous as well as insulting.
Here Shall I Die Ashore: Stephen Hopkins—Bermuda Castaway, Jamestown Survivor, and Mayflower Pilgrim by Caleb Johnson (Xlibris 2007)
I discovered Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History website while researching for Porter's application for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Of the three Mayflower ancestors Porter's family lore put forth as candidates, I chose to pursue Stephan Hopkins soley because that line appeared to be the easiest to document.
MayflowerHistory.com was one of the most interesting sources I found. After some initial skepticism—the value of genealogical information that can be found online ranges from fantastic to abysmal—I recognized Johnson as an authoritative source and entertaining to boot. After proving Porter's descent from Stephen Hopkins to the satisfaction of the Mayflower Society, I gave him Here Shall I Die Ashore for Christmas.
Even before reading the book, I posted a brief summary of Hopkins' life that will give you the gist of his story. But the book is ever so much more than that, a story better told and with more history, context, and detail. I learned a lot I didn't know about the early days of the Jamestown colony in Virginia, and Plymouth in Massachusetts, as well as about Stephen himself.
We all know the Native Americans did not get what they were hoping for out of the arrival of the colonists from England. What I hadn't realized is that nobody involved in these expeditions did. And nobody had a clue how bad the colonists' situations were and how much worse they were going to get. Just when a colony began to (just barely) get a grip on providing food for itself, the folks back in England, frustrated by failed promises of return on their investments, kept sending, not badly-needed supplies, but more hungry mouths to feed. (A number of my own ancestors were on those ships that followed the Mayflower.)
You can't build a healthy colony without women, but women didn't do the kind of work that produced trade goods, so investors were reluctant to allow them to take up space on their ships. It's easy to see the financial backers as heartless, but I'm quite sure most of them were merely clueless. Even in these days of instant communication and near-instant travel, how many of us know what our financial investments—and our charitable contributions—are really doing? And who wouldn't be upset with tenants who don't take care of the property and refuse to pay rent?
Following the initial financial difficulties, long-time Leiden church member and Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton was appointed to return to England, to start negotiations with the London shareholders and other financial backers. In November 1626, an agreement was reached. The Plymouth colonist-shareholders would purchase the outstanding shares of the company from all the remaining English investors...and assume the colony's debt. The overall adventure was a substantial loss to the London investors—most only got back about a third of their original investment—but the forty-two remaining London shareholders were happy to get out with whatever they could, as most now expected they would eventually lose everything. (pp. 123-124)
Plymouth fared better than Jamestown, thanks to having a population experienced in self-discipline and hard work. Too many of Jamestown's people were of a class accustomed to being served, and whose skills were a very bad mismatch with what the colony needed to survive.
One very important lesson was learned at Plymouth after the ship Anne arrived in 1623, bringing much-longed-for wives, children, and single women.
Up until the Anne's arrival, the Plymouth colonists had worked and farmed collectively; all the crops were brought into a collective company storehouse and then rationed back out to everyone (the employees) in equal allotments. But Governor Bradford and the others soon realized this was not working out as well as had been intended—the productive individuals were getting allotted the same amount as the lazy do-nothings of the colony, and this was killing morale. Bradford's solution: allot everyone their own lots of land, for their own benefit and subsistence. Every person (man, woman and child) received an acre of land, which were logically combined together into larger family plots. (p. 121)
Credit the women, credit free enterprise, or credit finally being out from under the thumbs of clueless managers, but Plymouth finally began to thrive. And so did the Hopkins family.
Most readers will happily stop halfway through the book, where the story of Stephen Hopkins ends. But 115 pages of appendices include much of interest to genealogists and historians, including scholarly articles on the identity and origin of Stephen Hopkins, his descendants to the first three generations, three original-source documents covering Bermuda, Jamestown, and Plymouth, and Stephen's will and estate inventory.
Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher (Sentinel, September 2020)
My previous book having been Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer, this book's 256 pages might have made it seem like a beach read.
Not by a long shot.
I was struck by how much Live Not by Lies reminded me of The Fall of Heaven, although they are two very different books with very different subjects. The latter details Iran at the time of the 1978 revolution, while this book is largely based on stories from the survivors of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. What do they have in common? The warning that it CAN happen here. America is not so far off from totalitarianism as we naïvely think.
There always is this fallacious belief: “It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.” Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth. — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
This was certainly the fallacy I believed in.
When I was a child, Nazi Germany was a very near memory for my parents, and the horrors of Communism an ever-present reality. But I knew for certain that it couldn't happen here and it couldn't happen now, because America was free and the democracies had grown beyond all that totalitarian stuff. True, I was forced in school to read 1984 and Brave New World, but such situations were as alien to me as the farthest galaxies. Ah, the optimism of youth.
Did I say youth? If you'd asked me five years ago I would have pretty much felt the same way. But the last few years have shown just how quickly radical change can happen.
Enter Live Not by Lies. Dreher was inspired by the stories and concerns of those who escaped totalitarian societies (largely from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union) only to see frighteningly similar patterns in present-day America. He is careful to distinguish what he calls "hard totalitarianism" with its secret police, gulags, and material deprivation, and the sneaky, but effective, "soft totalitarianism" that threatens us today. He comes down very hard on the Left, but neither does he spare the Right. Evil is most effective when it uses both halves of the nutcracker.
As indicated in the title, Live Not by Lies is written for Christians. But it would be a great mistake for others to pass it up for that reason. The most effective resistance to the hard totalitarianism of Nazism and Communism came from diverse coalitions of dissidents, and that's just as important now. These are dangers that affect us all.
It's not a totally satisfying book, the second half being less powerful than the first—at least if I judge by the relative number of passages I highlighted. I could include a great number of quotations in this review, but I'm not going to. Live Not by Lies is only $4.99 in Kindle form. Give up one fast food meal and get a book that just might open your eyes and strengthen your spine.
The following, rather long, excerpt from the introduction explains well the form and scope of the book.
Part one of this book makes the case that despite its superficial permissiveness, liberal democracy is degenerating into something resembling the totalitarianism over which it triumphed in the Cold War. It explores the sources of totalitarianism, revealing the troubling parallels between contemporary society and the ones that gave birth to twentieth-century totalitarianism. It will also examine two particular factors that define the rising soft totalitarianism: the ideology of “social justice,” which dominates academia and other major institutions, and surveillance technology, which has become ubiquitous not from government decree but through the persuasiveness of consumer capitalism. This section ends with a look at the key role intellectuals played in the Bolshevik Revolution and why we cannot afford to laugh off the ideological excesses of our own politically correct intelligentsia.
Part two examines in greater detail forms, methods, and sources of resistance to soft totalitarianism’s lies. Why is religion and the hope it gives at the core of effective resistance? What does the willingness to suffer have to do with living in truth? Why is the family the most important cell of opposition? How does faithful fellowship provide resilience in the face of persecution? How can we learn to recognize totalitarianism’s false messaging and fight its deceit?
How did these oppressed believers get through it? How did they protect themselves and their families? How did they keep their faith, their integrity, even their sanity? Why are they so anxious about the West’s future? Are we capable of hearing them, or will we continue to rest easy in the delusion that it can’t happen here?
A Soviet-born émigré who teaches in a university deep in the US heartland stresses the urgency of Americans taking people like her seriously. “You will not be able to predict what will be held against you tomorrow,” she warns. “You have no idea what completely normal thing you do today, or say today, will be used against you to destroy you. This is what people in the Soviet Union saw. We know how this works.”
On the other hand, my Czech émigré friend advised me not to waste time writing this book. “People will have to live through it first to understand,” he says cynically. “Any time I try to explain current events and their meaning to my friends or acquaintances, I am met with blank stares or downright nonsense.”
Maybe he is right. But for the sake of his children and mine, I wrote this book to prove him wrong. (pp. xiv-xvi)
I'll let Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have the last word.
After the publication of his Gulag Archipelago exposed the rottenness of Soviet totalitarianism and made Solzhenitsyn a global hero, Moscow finally expelled him to the West. On the eve of his forced exile, Solzhenitsyn published a final message to the Russian people, titled “Live Not by Lies!” In the essay, Solzhenitsyn challenged the claim that the totalitarian system was so powerful that the ordinary man and woman cannot change it. Nonsense, he said. The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!” (pp. xii-xiv)
It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.
- Total books: 85
- Fiction: 66
- Non-fiction: 19
- Months with most books: a tie between July and September (12)
- Month with fewest books: April (2)
- Most frequent authors: Randall Garrett (19), Lois Lenski (16), Tony Hillerman (10), Brandon Sanderson (7). Hillerman is the only author to make the top four both last year and this, as his excellent Leaphorn & Chee books spanned the two years. Garrett and Lenski made such a strong showing because they were each the subject of a particular focus, and their books are generally short. Sanderson, on the other hand, though he's only represented by seven books, is the runaway leader in number of pages.
Here's the list, grouped by author; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. The ratings (★) and warnings (☢) are on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest/mildest. Warnings, like the ratings, are highly subjective and reflect context, perceived intended audience, and my own biases. Nor are they completely consistent. They may be for sexual content, language, violence, worldview, or anything else that I find objectionable. Your mileage may vary.
|Matthew Wolfe 2: The Adventures Begin||Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone)||★★★ ☢|
|Matthew Wolfe 3: Revelations||Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone)||★★★|
|The Art of Evil||Blair Bancroft (Grace Kone)||★★★★ ☢|
|Mistborn 1: The Final Empire||Brandon Sanderson||★★★|
|Mistborn 2: The Well of Ascension||Brandon Sanderson||★★★|
|Mistborn 3: The Hero of Ages||Brandon Sanderson||★★★|
|Stormlight 1: The Way of Kings||Brandon Sanderson||★★★|
|Stormlight 2: Words of Radiance||Brandon Sanderson||★★★★|
|Stormlight 2.5: Edgedancer||Brandon Sanderson||★★★★★|
|Deep Work||Cal Newport||★★★★★|
|So Good They Can't Ignore You||Cal Newport||★★★★★|
|Rosefire||Carolyn Clare Givens||★★★|
|A Child's History of England||Charles Dickens||★★★ ☢|
|The Light in the Forest||Conrad Richter||★★|
|Just David (aka North to Freedom)||Eleanor Porter||★★★★|
|Just David (read a second time to check for differences between the original and the modern editions)||Eleanor Porter||★★★★|
|Brian's Saga 1: Hatchet||Gary Paulsen||★★★ ☢|
|Brian's Saga 2: The River||Gary Paulsen||★★★ ☢|
|Brian's Saga 3: Brian's Winter||Gary Paulsen||★★★ ☢|
|Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Hunt||Gary Paulsen||★★ ☢☢|
|Brian's Saga 4: Brian's Return||Gary Paulsen||★★ ☢|
|Why Good Arguments Often Fail||James W. Sire||★★★★|
|Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual||Jocko Willink||★|
|Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook||Joetta Handrich Schlabach||★★|
|Greenglass House||Kate Milford||★★★|
|Kisses from Katie||Katie Davis with Beth Clark||★★★|
|Bayou Suzette||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Blue Ridge Billy||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Boom Town Boy||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Coal Camp Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Corn Farm Boy||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Deer Valley Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★|
|Flood Friday||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Houseboat Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Indian Captive||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Judy's Journey||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Mama Hattie's Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Prairie School||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|San Francisco Boy||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Shoo-Fly Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★|
|Strawberry Girl||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Texas Tomboy||Lois Lenski||★★★★|
|Out of This World||Lowell Thomas, Jr.||★★★★|
|Talking to Strangers||Malcolm Gladwell||★★★★|
|Humble Pi||Matt Parker||★★★★|
|In the Heart of the Sea||Nathaniel Philbrick||★★★ ☢|
|The Wild Robot||Peter Brown||★★★★|
|The Wild Robot Escapes||Peter Brown||★★★★|
|A Spaceship Named McGuire||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Anything You Can Do||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|But, I Don't Think||Randall Garrett||★|
|By Proxy||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Cum Grano Salis||Randall Garrett||★★★★|
|Damned If You Don't||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Despoilers of the Golden Empire||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|His Master's Voice||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Nor Iron Bars a Cage||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Or Your Money Back||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Pagan Passions||Randall Garrett||★★ ☢☢|
|Psi-Power 1: Brain Twister||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Psi-Power 2: The Impossibles||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|Psi-Power 3: Supermind||Randall Garrett||★★|
|Quest of the Golden Ape||Randall Garrett||★★|
|The Eyes Have It||Randall Garrett||★★★★|
|The Foreign Hand-Tie||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|The Highest Treason||Randall Garrett||★★★|
|The Penal Cluster||Randall Garrett||★★|
|Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics||Stanley F. Schmidt||★★★★|
|Life of Fred: Australia||Stanley F. Schmidt||★★★★|
|Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics||Stanley F. Schmidt||★★★★|
|Life of Fred: Trigonometry Expanded Edition||Stanley F. Schmidt||★★★★|
|Coyote Waits||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|Hunting Badger||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|Sacred Clowns||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|Skeleton Man||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The Dark Wind||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The Ghostway||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The People of Darkness||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The Shape Shifter||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The Wailing Wind||Tony Hillerman||★★★|
|The Bible (English Standard Version, canonical)||★★★★★|
|The New Testament (King James Version, canonical)||★★★★★|
It's amazing how uplifting a little light and beauty can be when the world has gone mad. Take a few minutes and get 2022 off to a pleasant start with the latest two episodes of Chateau Love.
The December 27 episode (21 minutes) features a private tour of the Christmas decorations at Château Gaillard Amboise (not to be confused with the Château Gaillard built by Richard the Lionheart). This castle is historical as well as beautiful, and I felt as if I were walking through a famous European museum. Unfortunately, YouTube is not allowing me to embed this video, but you can watch it directly on YouTube here.
For New Year's Eve, the show is twice as long (41 minutes) but much more personal, including a flashback visit to Tuscany, with a guest appearance of Vivienne's sister Ashley. Visit a magical European Christmas market and accompany Vivienne and Simon as they shop, create, and decorate in preparation for Christmas at their own château. Best of all, Vivienne's amazing artistry shines in this episode. Christmas decorations from citrus slices. Stunning hand-painted bird plates. Amazing food, artistic table settings, and indescribably beautiful decorations gilding an already beautiful home.
I was swept right back to our own magical Easter visit, nearly 15 years ago, to Simon and Vivienne's previous French château.
I hope you enjoy this delightful break from all the troubles of the world, and head into 2022 with a lighter heart.
Out of This World: Across the Himalayas to Forbidden Tibet by Lowell Thomas, Jr. (Greystone Press, 1950)
This book is a legacy from cleaning out Porter's father's house. Through no fault of its own, it was a bit of a struggle to read, as its mustiness survived my attempts to clean it and reading took its toll on my upper respiratory system.
It was worth the effort.
Written in 1949 by Lowell Thomas, Jr., it is the story of his trek with his more famous father to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in a time when that country was almost completely closed off to foreign visitors. Arduous is not an adequate word to describe this expedition, which left me astonished at the courage and endurance of these men, not to mention the local people—and animals—who went along as translators, guides, and bearers.
The Thomases' rare admission to Tibet and almost-unheard-of admission to Lhasa were born out of desperation on the part of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan officials. The people of Tibet, who only wanted to be left alone, were being threatened by a Chinese takeover, and they were hoping that the Thomases and their stories would raise Western awareness and get them some help. Sadly, we know how that turned out.
Nonetheless, the story is of much value, not only for their adventures, but even more for the historical and cultural insights (both Western and Tibetan).
What was happening at the beginning of the 1960's?
I've long been a fan of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books, so when I found the Kindle version of Randall Garrett: The Ultimate Collection for 99 cents, I leapt at the chance to read some of his other stories. Nothing so far has come close to the Lord Darcy books in quality, but they've mostly been fun to read.
Recently I read The Highest Treason. It's short, under 23,000 words, and was originally published in the January 1961 issue of the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction. You can find a public domain version at Project Gutenberg.
The Highest Treason deals with a subject familiar to me, one I first encountered in Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, first published in October 1961, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That one is much shorter, only 2200 words, and can be found here in pdf form.
C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Proposes a Toast was next—and my favorite. You can read it here, in the December 19, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I don't have a word count, but it is also quite short.
December 1959, January 1961, October 1961. Three stories written as the 1950's passed into the 1960's.
All three have as their premise the consequences of a culture of mediocrity, in which excellence in anything—beauty, art, sport, thinking, work, character—is abolished for the sake of making everyone "equal." There must have been something going on at that time period to make it a concern for at least three such varied authors.
What would they think today? From the demise of ability grouping in elementary schools, to "participation trophies," to branding as racist and unacceptable the idea that employment and leadership positions should be awarded on the basis of merit and accomplishment, we have come a long way down this path since 1960.
Here's hoping it doesn't take near-annihilation by space aliens—or the flames of hell—to wake us up.
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