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M. A. Plus "Advanced Atheist" (Mayer, Arizona)

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Time Enough for Love
Time Enough for Love
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
73 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Might impress an adolescent boy, March 19 2002
I recall hearing somewhere that the "golden age" of science fiction wasn't during some decade in the middle of the 20th Century. The "golden age" is more like about 12. Science fiction is generally written for an immature, mostly male readership, and Heinlein's novels provide the best illustration of this fact.
While other reviewers draw attention to the allegedly sexually radical aspects of _Time Enough for Love_ (which seem pretty tame in the age of Jerry Springer, Internet porn and "Girls Gone Wild" videos advertised on television), I'm struck by just how little verisimilitude this novel displays. Heinlein made most of it out of his own imagination, and it amuses me that people who seem to lack a sense of irony read all sorts of "wisdom" into Heinlein's sex- and Social-Darwinist power fantasies.
I'm not holding it against Heinlein that he didn't live for centuries, fly on spaceships, break the sod on other planets or travel backwards in time. How could he have? That's why it's called "science fiction."
But I do find it odd that Heinlein set himself up as an authority about all sorts of things he knew nothing about from his own experience. Keep in mind that he had to take up writing as a career because his chronic ill health kept him from pursuing the active life he would have preferred. (Contrast Heinlein with his contemporary Ernest Hemingway, who did engage in the kinds of dangerous physical experiences he was able to incorporate into his fiction.) To the best of my knowledge, Heinlein never killed anyone, had children, fought in a war or lived in a group marriage. That didn't stop him from writing about such activities as if he had actually done them, but these aspects of his novels seem to me like the fantasies of a physically frustrated man. Heinlein's emphasis on the importance of baby-making seems especially curious in light of his simultaneous belief in Malthusian catastrophes.
Reading a Heinlein novel is usually a better way to pass your time than watching television, but I wouldn't confuse his characters' curmudgeonly philosophies with advice that could work in the real world.

The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat
The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat
by Loren Cordain
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 16.04

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politically incorrect enough to offend almost everyone, March 16 2002
The Paleo dietary theory is looking better and better as time passes. I've been successfully losing weight by following principles similar to Cordain's, even before I read his book. Cordain should be commended for defending a thesis that is politically incorrect on many levels.
The Paleo theory offends Creationists, because it assumes an evolutionary explanation for human origins and why our bodies seem to thrive better on hunter-gatherer foods than on "our daily bread."
It offends free-market zealots, because it implies a criticism of the way American capitalism produces the toxic waste it calls "food."
It offends the charlatans in the weight-loss industry, who offer the simplistic explanation that Americans are getting obese because they are "eating too much," instead of scientifically looking at the consequences of WHAT they are eating.
It offends the American medical and pharmaceutical industries, because it argues that a proper diet to prevent cancer, "Syndrome X," and other degenerative diseases makes more sense than developing exorbitantly expensive (i.e., profitable) therapies and drugs to treat them after the fact.
It offends the social-engineering goody-goods (mostly on the Left) who had the government dictate carbohydrate-heavy nutritional guidelines to us which have proved disastrous in practice.
It offends vegans, because it argues that humans need to eat animals for optimum health.
It offends technological cornucopians of the Julian L. Simon school, because it challenges common beliefs about "progress," and whether our planet can produce enough of the proper sorts of foods for human well-being. Cordain points out that with current technology, only about ten percent of the world's population could be adequately sustained on a Paleo-compatible diet. Unfortunately, the world's impoverished billions have to take their chances with their suboptimal grain-based diet.
In light of this, about the only ideologues this theory doesn't offend are the neo-Malthusians who have been arguing all along that the world is way over-populated. It's not often that a diet book presents a worldview radically at odds with the usual range of beliefs in our society. Cordain's message deserves a wide and thoughtful hearing, for what is more important than our health and the food we eat?

And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: Triz, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: Triz, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
by G. Altshuller
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 43.05
26 used & new from CDN$ 19.56

4.0 out of 5 stars What could TRIZ do in a free, efficient society?, Jan. 27 2002
I became intrigued by Genrich Altshuller and TRIZ after reading about him in a couple years ago. This introduction to his ideas is well worth the money. I just find it ironic that Altshuller developed his theory in a society stereotyped by Western conservative and libertarian intellectuals (e.g., Ayn Rand) as totally lacking incentives for intellectually demanding productive achievements. Altshuller's empirically rigorous inquiry into the real nature of inventive problem solving, based on the Soviet-era equivalent of patents (which shouldn't even have existed, according to some Westerners), discredits the view that the communist system destroyed human initiative.
Too bad Altshuller had to spend his life in such a bureaucratic and inefficient society. If he had been able to introduce TRIZ effectively into the United States back in the 1950's, perhaps we wouldn't be facing some of the technological nuisances we're dealing with now. As it is, some of his dedicated followers have migrated to the West, and are introducing TRIZ into American technical and engineering education. Altshuller's book, unlike how-to-invent books written by Americans, isn't burdened with discussions about the patent process and using one's inventions to make money, which wouldn't have made sense in the Soviet context any way. Instead it's full of real-life examples showing how the principles he discovered can be applied to the real world.
One major drawback in the book, however, is Altshuller's assumption that the reader is better educated than is usually the case in the United States. His comments about what high-school students are supposed to know about physics reveal that the Soviet school system, unlike America's democratically-meddled-with counterpart, didn't dumb down the science curriculum in response to political pressures.

21 Success Secrets Of Self-Made Millionaires: How to Achieve Financial Independence Faster and Easier Than You Ever Thought Possible
21 Success Secrets Of Self-Made Millionaires: How to Achieve Financial Independence Faster and Easier Than You Ever Thought Possible
by Brian Tracy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.29
34 used & new from CDN$ 1.94

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sounds good, but contradictory and impractical, Jan. 27 2002
I'm not wealthy, but I've worked long enough in business to see that Tracy's advice leaves a few things to be desired.
For one thing, his "secrets" sometimes come into confict. For example, Number 6, "Work Longer and Harder," conflicts with Number 7, "Dedicate Yourself to Lifelong Learning" and Number 18, "Take Excellent Care of Your Physical Health." Time management is a zero-sum situation, so devoting more time to work subtracts from time that could be used for studying, relaxation, sleep or exercise. It's no coincidence that financially successful people tend to be unlettered and unhealthy.
As for impracticality, Number 11, "Be Absolutely Honest with Yourself and Others," is generally good advice for dealing with people who provide you with value and with whom you need to trade on a regular basis. But in the real world, after years of hard experience I have found that I frequently have to lie to get rid of potential customers who are too irrational or stupid to listen to reason -- that is, to do things my way instead of causing me trouble. It's better not to form the business relationship in the first place if the costs are likely to exceed benefits.
And as for Number 4, "Do What You Love to Do," again it sounds inspirational. But in the real world, how many of us are able to make a living doing what we REALLY want to do?
On the whole, the book offers some good advice. But Tracy's reality must be somewhat different from mine.

Beyond Humanity
Beyond Humanity
by Paul & Cox
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 4.94

3.0 out of 5 stars Right about religion, but too much rides on their scenario, Jan. 25 2002
This review is from: Beyond Humanity (Paperback)
The idea that robots could supplant humanity has been around at least since the 1920's, when Karel Capek anglicized the Czech word "robota" and introduced it into the English language through his play "Rossum's Universal Robots." Lately the idea has taken on new life because of a possibly misplaced emphasis on Moore's Law and the growing power of computer networks. But a couple years ago I read where a real-world robotics engineer joked that if the robots are going to take over, they'd better act quickly because the batteries we give them only last for about a half-hour or so.
Nonetheless, this book covers ground that should be familiar to people who have already been exposed to similar scenarios popularized in books by Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil, Kevin Warwick, Damien Broderick and others. It's pretty much plain-vanilla Transhumanist wishful thinking, though livened up by a discussion of the faults of traditional religious belief systems.
My main problem with it is that Paul and Cox's scenario requires about as many critical assumptions as the Drake Equation to turn out just so. Social acceptance of new technologies isn't as straightforward as the authors assume. Why, for example, don't we have technologically doable videophones (a science-fictional cliché about life in the 21st Century), while we do have those obnoxious and unreliable cellphones everywhere these days? Apart from the technical considerations, the lack of demand for the former suggests that we probably don't value having to confront and interpret one another's body language as much as you would have predicted from the characterization of our species as social primates. For similar reasons, the authors' assumption that most people will readily upload into cyber-bodies can't be substantiated until something like that really becomes available. Although we should have learned by now that there are usually unintended consequences to what we do, I haven't seen evidence for emergent and unforeseen AI-like behavior coming from software written by humans for human purposes. There is nothing analogous to Moore's Law for the evolution of software. And even if there are powerful economic incentives to create software with such behavior, it doesn't necessarily have to happen on a short time scale if it turns out to be really hard.
Paul and Cox are more on target in their discussion of the perverse backwardness of traditional religious worldviews in response to current and foreseeable progress. Christians should realize that something is wrong with their story when virgins can now routinely give birth via modern reproductive medicine, and soon without even genetic contributions from men. When Rush Limbaugh went deaf, he didn't pray to some deity to restore his hearing -- he got a cochlear implant, which seems to be working well enough to save his radio career. Advocates of the creationist "Intelligent Design" theory have a problem they don't even realize yet: Humans are intelligently designing and producing things of ever greater complexity, especially computers, yet they are totally unlike things found in nature. No theist ever thought of attributing to his deity the ability to create a computer, which suggests that humans are able to do things that the postulated deity can't! (That's why bio-engineering is denounced as "playing god," while computer engineering isn't.) As the authors say on page 410, "As much as they may hate to admit it, the religious and the mystical know that science and technology do not just make promises that never quite seem to come to pass, or claim miracles that cannot be separated from illusion. They deliver the goods. They make pretend magic real." When "SciTech" gets to the point where it can reverse human aging and resuscitate "dead" people from cryonic suspension, the whole rationale for religion will be thrown into question. Paul and Cox are a little too hard on Buddhism, however, for Buddhists were way ahead of the curve when they developed the insight centuries ago, now substantiated by modern cognitive neuroscience, that the perception of selfhood is illusory. (However I find it ironic that certain Transhumanists want to deny selfhood to people while attributing it to "spiritual machines"!)
Paul and Cox finally go astray by putting too much of the burden of conquering aging and death on their predicted cyber "future minds." While they emphasize the importance of funding scientific education and research now, so that the breakthrough they are predicting will come sooner and save more human lives, they don't seem to realize that there are plenty of things we can be doing with current human intelligence to improve our survival chances. For one thing, there are some as yet unreported breakthroughs in the cryopreservation of the human brain that could enable people dying now a chance to be resuscitated by future medicine. For another, the genetic mechanisms of aging are quickly being discovered, allowing scientists to design drugs that could give us the anti-aging effects of calorie restriction without some of the drawbacks.

On the whole this book gives an overdetermined version of Transhumanist thinking. Better to read it in conjunction with several others, along with related Web texts, to get a better sense of what Transhumanism is all about.

Metal and Flesh: The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over
Metal and Flesh: The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over
by Ollivier Dyens
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.10
26 used & new from CDN$ 3.23

3.0 out of 5 stars When the over-educated write about Transhumanism...., Jan. 20 2002
A "cyborg," for those of you who don't know, is defined by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as "a human being who is linked ... to one or more mechanical devices upon which some of his vital physiological functions depend."
On pages 82-83 of the book under review, Dyens writes that:
"The cyborg is nothing but a fusion between biology and culture, and, as such, it marks the end of living beings as defined by our current conceptions. The cyborg is a semantic transformation of the body; it is a living being whose identity, history, and presence are formulated by technology and defined by culture. It is a body free of dualities, guilt, sexual repression, and frustration.... [T]he cyborg is a sexless living being, man, woman, and machine all at once. The cyborg is the obliteration of the biological."
Consider that in recent months Vice President Dick Cheney had a defibrillator implanted into his chest to help along his damaged heart, and talkshow host Rush Limbaugh has gotten a cochlear implant to try to correct his hearing loss. Do their workaday borg implants mean that their bodies are now "free of dualities, guilt, sexual repression, and frustration"? Have they experienced "the obliteration of the biological"?
Of course not. What foolishness. Only an over-educated literary intellectual could have written nonsense like this. Not that long ago, humanist brainiacs like Dyens were writing similar things about test-tube babies. Then such babies came along, healthy, cute and cooing, and all talk about their dehumanized status has disappeared. Today the prospect of cloned human babies generates similar over-heated rhetoric, which will sound silly when a real human clone comes along and seems perfectly normal.
Dyens doesn't fall into the "repugnantist" camp headed by Leon Kass, however. He writes sympathetically about where the convergence of computing, communications, biotechnology and the whole information paradigm seems to be taking us. He understands that something very important is happening to the a "human condition" once thought to be essentially inalterable. Only his bookish relationship to these ideas blinds him to the realities of the people who are trying to instantiate them into their lives, not to make some arcane philosophical point, necessarily, but rather to try to survive. Perhaps he should get out of academia once in awhile and go meet some cryonicists and immortalists, who are quite ordinary people seeking physically possible futuristic technologies to save their lives.

Living Well on Practically Nothing
Living Well on Practically Nothing
by Edward H. Romney
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.87
25 used & new from CDN$ 17.87

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shows a practical alternative to the American affluence scam, Jan. 18 2002
Thanks in part to Ed Romney, I've come to the realization in my 40's that the "affluence" model of life in this country is a scam perpetuated by our socio-economic institutions to keep us servile, docile and dependent on our bosses' good will for our continued subsistence. Competing amongst ourselves for a per capita GDP of only $35,000 or so a year (not a lot of money, if you think about it), most Americans really can't afford the lifestyle presented to us as normative by advertising, movies and television shows, regardless of how much in wages we might earn. Many try to compensate for a nonexistent wealth base by running up consumer debts, with predictably disastrous results when you fall behind on your payments or suffer a loss of income. The only way to escape from this trap is to adopt the sort of obsessively thrifty lifestyle advocated by Romney, save and invest every available penny, and hope that your health holds out until you can become financially independent.
I have reservations about some of Romney's advice, however. A cheap diet based on potatoes, grains and beans might save you money in the short run, but unless you engage in manual labor for a living, eating foods with such high glycemic indices may eventually cause the sorts of metabolic problems leading to obesity, heart disease and Type II diabetes -- the constellation of health problems you most certainly want to avoid. An approximation to a hunter-gatherer diet would be better, but also more expensive.
I could also have done without Romney's gratuitous swipes at "liberals" and "liberalism" as the source of Americans' financial problems. Recent events demonstrate that conservative businessmen are just as willing to swindle investors as liberal politicians are willing to raise taxes, so there is plenty of blame to go around for the systematic destitution underway in this country.
Nonetheless, Romney offers some practical advice for living a financially realistic life, and I'm glad he's been able to update his book.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Anger at Ehrenreich reveals our own financial anxieties, Jan. 15 2002
Back in the late 1960's, social critic Ferdinand Lundberg in his book _The Rich and the Super-Rich_ pointed out that wealth is not a function of wages, but rather of owning property that produces a sufficient amount of income to provide for some minimally acceptable standard of living. Your property, unlike an employer, can't fire you, much less exploit, sexually harass, surveil or otherwise humiliate you the way a boss can.
By this definition, tens of millions of even "well-paid" Americans with little or no net worth are not that far removed from the plight of the lumpen service workers Ehrenreich profiles in her book. I suspect this uncomfortable awareness in the back of our minds explains why some of the reviews direct anger towards Ehrenreich's audacity in suggesting that we have a structural problem in this country when it comes to wages versus the costs of living. Unless you are already financially independent and flush with savings for medical emergencies, I wouldn't feel too cocky about my security if I were you. By showing how service workers are regimented and disciplined by the "free" market, she contributes to the growing realization that the "abundance" and "affluence" in this country are somehow illusory.

Are Souls Real?
Are Souls Real?
by Jerome W. Elbert
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 1.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Americans need the science lesson -- good and hard, Jan. 14 2002
This review is from: Are Souls Real? (Hardcover)
In our age charlatans can make fortunes from the ignorant and credulous by selling books and hosting television shows about "talking with the dead," or else frightening them about missing the "rapture." It's refreshing to read a scientifically enlightened critique of this primitive muddle about the "supernatural soul" and its alleged condition after death.
Elbert is not likely to reach more than a few hundred readers with his hard but necessary message, but he should be commended for integrating into one volume a lot of what modern science has discovered about reality, especially about how human consciousness apparently works. His emphasis that our conscious awareness is ignorant of what most of the brain is doing helps to explain why we can experience moral ought-thoughts that seem mysterious in origin, but in fact just drop into working memory from unconscious mental processes, like an unsolicited memory of some event from long ago. Christian apologists (e.g., C.S. Lewis) argue that the moral sense has to derive from some supernatural source, but the findings of modern cognitive neuroscience suggests that materialistic explanations are sufficient. Definitely worth reading, though like most Prometheus hardcovers I think it's a bit overpriced.

Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for the New Millennium
Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for the New Millennium
14 used & new from CDN$ 7.27

3.0 out of 5 stars Why bother with Bucky now?, Jan. 12 2002
On page 242 of this anthology, in an excerpt from Fuller's second book on "Synergetics," Fuller writes,
"The epistemography of synergetics discovers operationally, experientially, and experimentally that the most primitive of the conceptual systems to be divided or isolated from nonunitarily and nonsimultaneously conceptual Scenario Universe most inherently consist of the simplest minimum considerability none of whose components can exist independently of one another."
Passages in Fuller's writings like this, which sound like schizophrenic word-salads, make me wonder why Fuller still has the cult following he does. Although he was capable of writing reasonably clear explanations of his ideas and discoveries, more often than not he managed to sabotage his efforts at communication by cranking out arcane assertions like the one above. How was he able to get books full of such obscure rhetoric commercially published in the first place? At least technical textbooks are usually written in ways that can be assimilated into the existing context of knowledge. Fuller was writing way outside of the conceptual box, and many of his "ideas," if they could be called that, are still essentially homeless.
This anthology doesn't really demonstrate to my satisfaction why we should continue to study Fuller's legacy nearly two decades after his death. The geodesic dome fad has passed; few people these days advocate providing for "100% of humanity" through some conjectural "design science" based on Fuller's ideas, and doing so now sounds hopelessly naive and utopian; and we're just as burdened with having to "make a living" as ever, despite all the propaganda about the "affluence" and "abundance" in our society. (Just look at the proliferation of nonproductive and low-paying "service" jobs in the U.S. economy. For example, refer to Barbara Ehrenreich's book _Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America_.) Fuller's prediction (on page 212) that we'd have "sustainable abundance for all" by 1985 sounds ridiculous now.
The contrasting posthumous reputations of Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright demonstrate how our culture's priorities have changed since Fuller's heyday in the idealistic 1960's. Wright is still considered a living presence in American architecture, mainly because he built innovative structures for wealthy, paying clients. Fuller has fallen into relative obscurity in part because he tried to design cheap, efficient housing for the world's lumpen-people, like the ones in Muslim countries who view America as their enemy. Our choices in architectural heroes reflect the current belief that financially successful people are better than the rest of us. Fuller advocated a social philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with early 21st Century American ideals. I don't see how his thinking can be re-integrated into the current set of allowable social proposals.

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