Recent book reviews — September 2011

Title: The Essential Touring Cyclist
Author: Richard A. Lovett
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4 stars

For the purposes of an eventual taiko bike tour, I’ve been reading up on bicycles and camping. The equipment recommendations in The Essential Touring Cyclist are thorough and insightful. After the gear talk, the bulk of the book is devoted to descriptions of touring in various countries, interspersed with personal tour stories. Great stuff!

Title: Freedom of Expression – Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity
Author: Kembrew McLeod
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4 stars

McLeod provides example after example of the frustrating state of copyright and trademark law in the US. At every page I was pleased I’m a copyleft advocate and am now even more convinced that standard copyright is anti-artist and anti-creativity.

“Records like It Takes a Nation of Millions and 3 Feet High and Rising,” Public Enemy’s Harry Allen observes, “they’re kind of like artifacts from an earlier time that couldn’t exist today. They’re just financially untenable, unworkable records… Beasties group member Adam Yauch agreed that “the hectic sampling laws are a bit of a deterrent from sampling.”

When Afrika Bambaataa crafted one of old-school hip-hop’s most important songs, “Planet Rock,” he essentially created a mash-up of two songs by Kraftwerk, a German electronic group.

The director of a sample-clearance house estimated that the clearance fees for the average hip-hop album totalled about thirty thousand dollars in the early 1990’s, and those rates dramatically rose over the decade.”

So if Too Much Joy had agreed to the label’s terms, they would have lost five thousand dollars from royalties that Warner Records owed them, and Warner Video would have received a five-thousand-dollar payment. No one except TimeWarner wins in this scenario, and when we pull back and examine the music industry as a whole, we see that this royalties drain happens on a grand scale. Multiply the samples found on the hundreds of albums released each year, multiplied by tens of thousands of dollars in licensing fees per album, and that’s a lot of money that is deducted from artists’ royalties. The original recording artists see only a fraction of that money, if they’re paid at all.

The idea of the “original genius” comes out of the early-nineteenth-century Romaticist movement, which put forth the notion that the great author creates something totally new from scratch.

Otis Redding — the soul singer who wrote and originally recorded “Respect,” which Aretha Franklin made famous — once mock-complained, “That little girl stole my song.” Popular confusion over its authorship runs so deep that even Prince got his R&B music history wrong. During a rant about why lesser musicians shouldn’t try to remake others’ songs, including his, Prince asserted, “Have some respect, man. If anyone tried to cover ‘Respect,’ by Aretha? I would shoot them myself!”

…Miles Davis applied tape-collage methods to his radical jazz records, particularly In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

“If creativity is a field,” quipped Oswald, “copyright is the fence.”

The friends that corporate marketers desire most are young ones… “You’ll also agree that the youth market spends the majority of each day inside the school house. Now the problem is, how do you reach that market?” Companies have solved that dilemma with creative tactics, such as corporate-subsidized textbooks that contain math problems with Nike logos or that regularly mention Oreo cookies.

Title: Learning OpenCV
Author: Gary Bradski & Adrian Kaehler
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

Learning OpenCV is an exciting introduction to the free (as in freedom) computer vision library. The book provides excellent explanations of the underlying concepts along with step-by-step tutorials for easing into the programming. I’m hoping to use computer vision for face recognition and replacement in a silly project for the Matsuri Research and Development website. More soon!

Title: Small Is Beautiful — Economics as if People Mattered
Author: E. F. Schumacher
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

Small Is Beautiful is apparently a classic in alternative economics but this was my first foray into Schumacher’s writing. The book is challenging and thought-provoking and has deepened my belief that growth should not and cannot be our economy’s foundation. Although Schumacher’s attack on the vaulted status of economics is rooted in a Christian ethic which I don’t share, I strongly agree with most of the essential concepts of Small Is Beautiful; we have assigned economic-value the main measure of our endeavors and we must live more sustainably. Increased technology is not the whole answer; we need to slow down and change our priorities and the measure of our successes. In some cases I got the sense that Schumacher is over-reaching in his criticisms of science — for me, the logical, un-supernatural world-view is in alignment with conservation and simplicity — but I might just be over-protective of science.

How would we even begin to disarm greed and envy? Perhaps by being much less greedy and envious ourselves; perhaps by resisting the temptation of letting our luxuries become needs; and perhaps by even scrutinising our needs to see if they cannot be simplified and reduced. If we do not have the strength to do any of this, could we perhaps stop applauding the type of economic “progress” which palpably lacks the basis of permanence and give what modest support we can to those who, unafraid of being denounced as cranks, work for non-violence: as conservationists, ecologists, protectors of wildlife, promoters of organic agriculture, distributists, cottage producers, and so forth? An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.

In a sense, the market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non-responsibility. Neither buyer or seller is responsible for anything but himself.

To press non-economic values into the framework of the economic calculus, economists use the method of cost/benefit analysis. … All it can do is lead to self-deception or the deception of others; for to undertake to measure the immeasurable is absurd and constitutes but an elaborate method of moving from preconceived notions to foregone conclusions… The logical absurdity, however, is not the greatest fault of the undertaking: what is worse, and destructive of civilisation, is the pretense that everything has a price or, in other words, that money is the highest of all values.

… growth of GNP must be a good thing, irrespective of what has grown and who, if anyone, has benefited.

… let us take some fundamentals and see what they look like when viewed by a modern economist and a Buddhist economist. … Hence the idea from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment. … The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness…, and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. … to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

A new “dimension” is given also by the fact that while man can now — and does — create radioactive elements, there is nothing he can do to reduce their radioactivity once he has created them. No chemical reaction, no physical interference, only the passage of time reduces the intensity of radiation once it has been set going. … No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages.

The amount of real leisure a society enjoys tends to be in inverse proportion to the amount of labour-saving machinery it employs.

… Leo Tolstoy… wrote, “I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”

We shrink back from the truth if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be “brought under control” simply by mobilising more resources — of wealth, education, and research — to fight pollution, to preserve wildlife, to discover new sources of energy, and to arrive at more effective agreements on peaceful coexistence. Needless to say, wealth, education, research, and many other things are needed for any civilisation, but what is most needed today is a revision of the ends which these means are meant to serve. And this implies, above all else, the development of a life-style which accords to material things their proper, legitimate place, which is secondary and not primary.

Title: The Warrior Diet
Author: Ori Hofmekler
Source: LAPL
Interest: 2 stars

The Warrior Diet describes Mr Hofmekler’s unique approach to eating; controlled fasting during the day followed by a large dinner. In fact, at dinner one can eat as much as desired. He recommends light snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables during the day, offers a list of healthy foods for the main meal, and has general health tips for better eating and effective exercise. I agree with much of the Warrior Diet approach – a focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and the importance of a personal system for limiting consumption. However, I think the scientific justifications given for the system are weak. One of the fundamental concepts, for example, is that this method takes humans back to a more natural way of eating in alignment with how we have evolved. This “natural” argument is often touted but doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Does the fact that we live twice or three times as long as our ancestors derive from our diet? Or is it despite our diet? Sunblock would not pass the evolution test but is clearly good for our health. “Natural” does not always equal “healthy”.

The weak science is not particularly egregious in this book. I see it as a function of the immense difficulty of understanding the human body. Thus Hofmekler’s own positive experience with the diet is a far stronger recommendation for me. And while the “warrior” concept seems misguided and some of the book’s particular recommendations seem dubious, it’s definitely worth giving the diet a try. Once Hiro and I are done with our “no food Fridays” experiment, maybe we’ll give it a shot!

2 Responses to “Recent book reviews — September 2011”

  1. Brandon Martin says:

    I just wanted to weigh in and say that (1) I love Ori Hefmekler and (2) your review is spot-on accurate. I’ll also add that I think that the “scientific” justification theme that runs throughout the book might have been chosen for marketing purposes, and on those grounds it was brilliant. The same idea — that humans should eat the same diet that their ancestors bodies evolved and adapted to consume over many years — has become the justification of the uber-popular “Paleo Diet,” which has spawned many, many top-selling books. The “warrior” aspect of the book may also have been attributed to Ori’s early attempts to partner with Dragon Door for sales and distribution of the book. If I were to repackage the concept, I’d call it a “mental clarity” diet. Ori was/is a professional artist and freelance writer and the diet was helpful to him in performing in those arenas — rather than in the arena of battle…

  2. Brent says:

    Kris, keep me posted on the ‘eventual taiko bike tour’. This would make a great documentary – just sayin ;). I’m sure there’s a fairly easy DIY way to use the bike power from each day’s travels to charge things like camera batteries and other film related electronic equipment… hmm

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