Wednesday, June 7, 2017

POPULAR by Mitch Prinstein

POPULAR by Mitch Prinstein examines why popularity plays such a key role in our development and, ultimately, how it still influences our happiness and success today. In many ways—some even beyond our conscious awareness—those old dynamics of our youth continue to play out in every business meeting, every social gathering, in our personal relationships, and even how we raise our children. Our popularity even affects our DNA, our health, and our mortality in fascinating ways we never previously realized. More than childhood intelligence, family background, or prior psychological issues, research indicates that it’s how popular we were in our early years that predicts how successful and how happy we grow up to be. But it’s not always the conventionally popular people who fare the best, for the simple reason that there is more than one type of popularity—and many of us still long for the wrong one. As children, we strive to be likable, which can offer real benefits not only on the playground but throughout our lives. In adolescence, though, a new form of popularity emerges, and we suddenly begin to care about status, power, influence, and notoriety—research indicates that this type of popularity hurts us more than we realize. Realistically, we can’t ignore our natural human social impulses to be included and well-regarded by others, but we can learn how to manage those impulses in beneficial and gratifying ways. Popular relies on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience to help us make the wisest choices for ourselves and for our children, so we may all pursue more meaningful, satisfying, and rewarding relationships. Review: A must hear for anyone still trying to get over rejection at an early age by peers or parents. The author narrates in a friendly, believable style that doesn't preach or sound like a lecture. He shows why money doesn't equal happiness, and how our culture's obsession with status harms everyone. Depression, and endless cycles of blame, result from bullying to protect one's dominance in whatever group, from gangsters to cheerleaders. Prinstein defines how this proactive aggression plays out on social media, too. Yet only those whose goal is to acquire positive, life-affirming qualities achieve lifelong success. The difference is between judging and accepting (which means speaking out for those who are voiceless.) With high school perceptions affecting one's life forever, including how one interprets future insults, it's vital to understand the entire dynamic to avoid falling into the trap of chasing likes and fake friends as a substitute for happiness. Subtitle: THE POWER OF LIKABILITY IN A STATUS OBSESSED WORLD. Audiobook of the Month.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SEA POWER by Admiral James Stavridis

The Earth is mostly covered by water, and while driving the weather the ocean is the staging area for geopolitical disputes over borders, climate change, fishing, pollution, and nuclear weapons. As former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, Admiral James Stavridis looks at the history of the oceans from the point of view of the military, yet not neglecting the science. In SEA POWER, he shows how the geography of the oceans have shaped the destiny of nations, including our own (with a vast coastline that many nations do not possess.) From the battles of Salamis and Lepanto through to Trafalgar, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the submarine conflicts of the Cold War, he examines piracy and why the Arctic is the next hot spot for dominance, with melting ice giving access to new opportunities for exploitation of natural resources by the Russians. A fascinating overview of history that makes for educational listening. Narrator Marc Cashman is a veteran voice actor whose experience extends from radio, T V, and video games to coaching others on technique. Stavridis has commanded destroyers and a carrier strike group in combat. Currently he is dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE? Most communication is nonverbal. We want to look at the faces of those testifying in Congress and detect lies or deceit. They try to keep their faces blank in order not to telegraph this, but subtle clues or reactions are there in their voices and tone, too. Their pauses, gestures. Alan Alda talks about how the face is judged, not for just beauty or ugliness, but for believability. Why paying attention to people’s reactions or expressions when they talk is most important in understanding WHAT THEY MEAN. Mostly we misunderstand what people say or mean, but by truly listening and observing we have a better chance of connecting (and resolving conflicts too.) Instead of waiting for people to stop speaking so we can make another point, Alda’s point is to LISTEN with all our senses with the objective to UNDERSTAND. Not to “win” an argument by demeaning or defeating anyone (or everyone) seen as an opponent. Great new audiobook upcoming June 6. Preorder HERE. As James Garner once put it: “I don’t act. I react. Give me a reactor over an actor any time. It puts you there in the moment, and you’re less likely to flub the way you read your lines, too.” Alda was in the movies Bridge of Spies, The Aviator, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Crimes & Misdemeanors. On TV’s MASH, and Scientific American Frontiers. He has won 7 Emmys, and is a big fan of science. “At first I think they just wanted a famous face do the introduction, and then narrate off camera, but I wanted to be there and interview the scientists.” He’s read Scientific American magazine since a kid.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why Done-It: A Politically Motivated Lone Wolf Bomber

“Did I hear ya right?” Gessel asked, leaning forward at last.  “You wanna make plastique?  Ta blast some rocks?”
Calvin put a finger to his lips, and nodded.
Gessel chuckled.  “Sure your wife’s not screwin’ around, an’ you figure to blow her lover all to hell?   You got no ring, but it might be in yer pocket.”
“You wanna check?”
Gessel held up one hand. “Don’t wanna know. Except maybe yer name.”
“It’s Alan.  Alan . . . Cooper.”
They shook hands. Gessel lit a cigarette.
“It’s Alan something, but not Cooper, right?”  Gessel shrugged, then opened the pool case, lifted it, and slid the bills inside. Then he closed it. In three seconds it was done.  “Okay. . .  Plastique for a would-be miner.”  He paused.  “So here it is. I can get ya the ingredients for three more Gs, or I can make it for you for five. Take yer pick.”
Calvin coughed.  “Can you be trusted?”
Gessel thought that one over for one long inhalation and an even longer exhalation.  “It’s yer money,” he said, finally.
“Just so we understand.  I’ll give you three grand if you get me enough materials to make three large charges.”
Gessel blew a smoke ring.  “How large is large?”
Calvin waved the smoke away.  “Enough to shatter a two-ton boulder.  Each, of course.”
“Of course.”  Gessel lowered his voice and leaned closer.  “And why exactly do ya think you can pull this off without getting yer damn head blown off first?”
Calvin didn’t answer.
“I thought so. Been doing some readin’, have ya?  Well, it’s more tricky than ya think.  Let me tell ya, you might be able to make a primitive blasting gelatin with eight percent nitrated sawdust, but it’s the ninety-two percent fuming nitric acid and glycerin you gotta worry about.  You ever worked with that?  You know what it does to soft body parts like arms and legs?  Ya don’t get a second chance, can’t say ‘oops, I’ll be more careful next time, Abdul.’  I say if you’re doing this yourself, you better stick to something less volatile. Get you some ammonium oxalate and nitrate, a stabilizer, and the kinda saltpeter they use to keep prisoners from getting a hard on. Don’t mess with high explosives, kid. You got a better chance of survivin’ with Russian roulette.”
Calvin shook his head.  “It’s gotta be compact.  A small charge with a big bang.”
Gessel tapped his pool cue case.  “You wanna try Nitrogen Tri-iodide?  Want me to get you some a’ that?  A fly lands on it an’ it explodes.  Or hey--maybe you want some trinitrotoluene, otherwise known as TNT.  Use it in grenades and pipe bombs.  Got two million pounds per square inch of power.”
“Sounds good.  What do I need--sulfuric and nitric acids?  Toluene?”
Gessel laughed.  “Yeah. You make it in an ice bath, need a good centigrade thermometer, too. And a crucifix.”
“What’s that for?”
“You keep it around yer neck so yer fuckin’ head stays put.”
Calvin didn’t smile. “I’ve read that paraffin wax is a texturizer used in a lot of plastiques. You really got access to all these chemicals?”
Gessel studied him for a moment, then said, “I can get them if I have to.”  He continued staring.
“So why you looking at me like that, then?”  
“Because I think I’m lookin’ at a dead man.” Gessel looked away.  “Listen, you’ll need sulfuric and nitric, yeah, and dimethyllaniline, too. Keep it in an ice bath, then filter and wash it, boil it in fresh water with baking soda, test it with litmus paper until yer sure it’s free of acid.  Then ya filter that and let it dry.”
“What is it?”
“Tetryl. That’s what ya want. I’ve made it before. The end product is easy to work with, relatively stable. An’ a little blows a long way.”
Calvin nodded.  “You’ll get me the stuff I need to make it?”
“Yeah. For three more grand. An’ good luck. You’ll need it.”
“How do you set it off?”
“Tetryl?  Number a’ ways. Spring action shock is one. I’ve heard of it used in an ordinary fountain pen that way. Abraham depresses the plunger and bammo--he’s lost his hand, maybe his whole arm. Or in a smoking pipe. Rashid lights up an’, well, there’s no public viewing at that funeral in Kabul.  ‘Course you just wanna blast some rocks, though, don’t ya.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Hey, like I said, it’s yer money. An’ yer life.”
Calvin scanned the bar once more, then looked directly into Gessel’s lizard face.  “Would you believe me if I made it five grand for the finished product?”

Gessel blinked at him like an old cash register ringing up a sale.
(Excerpt from POSTMARKED FOR DEATH, a serial bomber suspense novel originally in hardcover, award winner on audio, now an ebook. While police hunt for the wrong man for blowing up a shipment of government debit cards and food stamps for newly inducted immigrants in Tucson, Calvin Beach continues his personal campaign to make an extremist statement with package bombs. Only one new postal inspector suspects him, and another female inspector is being held hostage in an abandoned Titan missile the dark. When Vic finally meets him, watch Calvin go postal.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

DEEP THINKING by Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov has written another book. Titled DEEP THINKING, it is mainly about the history (including his own history) with computers playing chess. Detailed accounts of his matches are augmented by ruminations on the nature of machine intelligence. The subtitle is “Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.” Kasparov has a genius IQ, and due to his association with Deep Blue and other computer programs has an interest in the subject (which has become popular due to movies and books about robots taking over.) He discusses various scientific views, including those related by Ray Kurzweil (How to Create a Mind) and Nick Bostrom. He doesn’t believe that hard A.I. (the singularity of self-aware, conscious computers) will happen anytime soon, but agrees that the days of humans beating computers at chess is over. Having heard those other books on the subject (including writing a novella about hard A.I.) I do agree, although no one knows for sure what may happen. Predicting the future will always be a flawed enterprise, since we don’t know what we don’t know. Einstein imagined a new way to look at time (that it wasn’t absolute), and until that moment everyone accepted long held beliefs about the nature of reality…which were proved to be wrong. Not only did he win a Nobel Prize for a different paper, but also became Time magazine’s only Person of the Century. The next such Person may be the one who creates a hard A.I., (if we survive the process.) There is no valid reason to believe that a hard A.I. would have the same (or any) values which we possess (including a desire to conquer or kill opponents) unless there is a way to instill them. So the “singularity” is unlikely to happen (except by accident) until we understand human consciousness (also a mystery.) The path to it is unknown, and only by traveling the correct path can it be achieved. Kasparov reads the introduction on the audiobook, which is then taken up by voice actor Bob Brown. A chess fan’s “must listen.”

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke

THE JEALOUS KIND by James Lee Burke is a coming of age story set in Texas during the Korean war. Summary: When Aaron spots the beautiful and gifted Valerie Epstein fighting with her boyfriend, Grady Harrelson, at a Galveston drive-in, he inadvertently challenges the power of the Mob and one of the richest families in Texas. He also discovers he must find the courage his father had found as an American soldier in the Great War. One of the telling quotes from the novel is in describing the nature of young thug sociopaths with whom the protagonist contends: “They believed power over people was achievement, and violence a badge of courage.” Burke is one of the finest writers alive, and rarely uses clich├ęs in favor of making his own. His genius sometimes crosses over to imbue the dialogue of thugs with more colorful and inventive quips and observations than they would likely be expected to display. Violent, inexperienced and mostly uneducated teens can be smart, however, and so if you grant that caveat, you are in store for more intelligent confrontations than is found in a typical Jack Reacher movie. Poetic and atmospheric, the novel evolves into something more than just fighting and one-upsmanship, and the reader or listener is left contemplating human nature, and thinking about how young men are educated and instilled with morality (or lack thereof.) By contrast, the Ray Bradbury novel Dandelion Wine is probably as opposite a view of growing up as one can imagine. That novel was about the magic of feeling alive, as part of nature. Any magic of leaving childhood here is in overcoming the constant assaults on ego made by competing criminals and gangster wannabes. Not nature itself, but the unfortunate nature of humans seeking advantage and shortcuts in order to "win" over others by degrading them, using them, and stealing everything they own (including their dignity.) Narrator Will Patton (a character actor in many movies and television series) is once again spot-on with his accents and portrayals of characters in what has to be the best coupling of writer and narrator out there. If you haven’t heard Patton read Burke, you simply do not know the greatness you are missing.