Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Spiritual Atheist

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Spiritual Atheist –
Reunite Science & Wisdom to Thrive in Life, Love &
Leadership in the Digital Age.
By Nick Seneca Jankel
Switch On Books – £12.99

Depression is now the single greatest burden on health worldwide. Suicide kills more people than war and natural catastrophes put together, and more US troops die from killing themselves than from conflict. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine across the planet. These numbers are set to double in the next five years.

This is one of those publications that endeavours to combat life, loss and loneliness.
Described as ”a modern-day ‘bible’ for the spiritual not religious exploring how to embrace both cutting-edge science and timeless, love-fuelled wisdom without betraying reason,” it could be considered as being down to the individual as to whether or not it is a good book.

I guess it depends on the degree to which one accepts what’s written within these 246 pages (excluding Introduction, Glossary of Philosophical & Wisdom Words, Notes and Index). On the one hand, if one wants to embrace and believe, then Spiritual Atheist – Reunite Science and Wisdom to Thrive in Life, Love and Leadership in the Digital Age will most probably reach out and resonate with substance. On the other hand, if one doesn’t want to be embrace nor believe, then it won’t.

It’s as simple as that.

Rather like the author, Nick Seneca Jankel’s own words, on the opening page of the Introduction: ”[…] the words of the rabbis fell flat on my ears. The ancient rituals and writings offered in that temple to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, seemed of no use to me as a teenager. They did nothing to assuage my pain or provide me with a galvanizing sense of meaning.”

Personally, I’ve never been one that subscribes to this sort of reading.
I don’t know why.
Seems to me that the depth and clarity of such enormous subjects as spirituality and atheism, are something that one doesn’t necessarily read or write about – although there is indeed, absolutely nothing wrong with reading or writing about them. It’s just that I’ve always believed that spirituality – along with the relative private thinking and experience thereof – is best left within the domain of the self.

But hey, who am I to say?
Why not read this very readable, forthright and altogether commendable book, and decide for yourself?

David Marx

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Chernobyl

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Chernobyl –
History Of A Tragedy
By Serhii Plokhy
Allen Lane – £20.00

Mikhail Gorbachev had little to offer the struggling power plant by way of new funds as the Soviet economy was in free fall, accelerated by declining oil prices on world markets – the main source of hard-currency earnings for the state budget. He placed his hopes for improving Soviet economic performances in market reforms[…]. Inspired by a vision that dated back to the Prague Spring of 1968, when the Czech communists tried to create a communism with a ”human face,” Gorbachev believed that economic reform was impossible without some form of democratization. What Gorbachev saw around him seemed to confirm his view that the two aspects of reform were interdependent. His perestroika initiative undermined the state monopoly on ownership of property and thus the economic foundations of Soviet socialism […].

                                                                                  ‘Nuclear Revolt’

Would it be wrong to surmise that the one positive thing to have emerged from the terrible Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986, was the degree and the speed with which Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms took place?

That his Perestroika initiative would have eventually happened anyway – as so much of the former Eastern block, if not the Western World as a whole, was more than ready for it – is in absolutely no doubt. But it was surely the unquestioning haste of Perestroika and Glasnot’s implementation, that, like Chernobyl itself, caught the world by relative, if not complete surprise.

Hence the hinting, if not the prime substantiation of the opening quote, which, a couple of pages later, is somewhat further enhanced when Serhii Plokhy, the author of Chernobyl – History Of A Tragedy writes: ”Throughout the Soviet Union, the leaders of the new awakened civil society, distressed by economic hardship but encouraged by Gorbachev’s political reforms, turned to eco-activism. It soon took on the features of eco-nationalism, a political movement whose leaders linked concerns about environmental protection with ethno-national agendas, presenting their republics as the principal victims of the centre’s environmental policies.”

As such, there’s no question whatsoever, as to whether or not Mikhail Gorbachev’s political agenda was highly influenced by what took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. Naturally, Ronald Reagan may too have played an intrinsic part, when in Berlin on June 22 the following year (1987), he made his infamous ”tear down this wall” speech.

To be sure, there will be those who might consider this assumption as nothing other than wild conjecture, but I personally think not. There again, if it’s an actual blow by blow account of what actually took place at Chernobyl, then this overtly dramatic, moment-by-moment account of one of the most terrifying events of the Cold War, is most definitely a book for you.

It’s 354 pages (excluding Preface, Notes and Index) literally regale the reader with what happened, along with a technical breakdown as to why it happened:

”The introduction of the control rods with their graphite tips caused a spike in the level of the reaction and a dramatic rise of the core’s temperature. The rise in temperature, in turn, caused the cladding of the fuel rods to fracture. These tubes, less than 14 millimeters, or approximately half an inch, in diameter, have zircaloy walls less than 1 millimeter, or 0.04 inches, thick, making them thinner than a strand of hair. The fractured fuel rods jammed the control rods, which by that time had been inserted to only one-third of their length. The core and the bottom of the reactor’s active zone remained out of reach of the rods, and the reaction there spun completely out of control” (‘Explosion’).

Without wanting to give too much away so far as actual drama is concerned, the award-winning writer and historian, Serhii Plokhy (Professor of History at Harvard University), has herein written a book that is as detailed as it is gripping as it is meticulous.

In other words, quite possibly the finest book on the Chernobyl disaster so far.

David Marx

The Right Amount of Panic

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The Right Amount of Panic –
How Women TradeFreedom for Safety
By F.Vera-Gray – £11.99

The silence of women has been a cumulative process. Conceptually and materially excluded from the production of knowledge, their meanings and explanations have been systematically blocked and their invisibility has been compounded.

                                                   Dale Spencer on ‘man-made language’
                                                   ‘It’s all part of growing up.’

I would have to say: a lot of what has been written herein, as well as a lot of the examples used, both confirm and conform to that of the everyday obvious.

Endless examples of clothing – that should or shouldn’t be – worn for example, do after a while, become a tad predictable. Everyone knows that if a women dresses somewhat provocatively, she may (or may not) incur the wrath of wolf-whistles from bone-head-men. Or perhaps worse.

It’s not right, but it’s also not new, which is where The Right Amount of Panic – How Women Trade Freedom for Safety kind of lets itself down.

The book regurgitates so much of what we, as a society, already/instinctively know: ”I do augment my everyday life […] I always check men and watch their behaviour. If I’m on the bus or whatever. It doesn’t happen so much in the daytime, though my minor assault happened in the day so now I’m quite suspicious in the daytime anyway because I realise if it can happen in a fucking takeaway at one in the afternoon on a Sunday in bright daylight and that was just completely, nothing of what you expect I guess, what you expect it’s going to be. But yeah, the things that I do, if I think about my experience of the day, I’m wary of most men. Really, until proven otherwise, if I’m really honest” (‘The right amount of panic’)

As claustrophobic and unpleasant as this example undoubtedly is, it is again, nothing new. Just like the behaviour of certain (ghastly) men is nothing new.

The mere fact that the President of the United States has molested a long trail of women for instance, is, in and of itself, sickening beyond redemption. But, so far as (the ghastly) Donald Trump is concerned, one really does have to consider the degree to which the parameters within the media has nigh extenuated the complicity of American male voters. AND, female voters.

Suffice to say, this may be a somewhat different scenario to that which F.Vera-Gray has addressed within these 156 pages (excluding Participant List, Notes, References and Index), but it is something I believe to be highly pertinent to the subject at hand – as well as an issue that may have made The Right Amount of Panic a little more viable.

If not a little more readable.

David Marx

Youth Culture and Social Change

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Youth Culture and Social Change –
Making a Difference by Making a Noise
Edited by the Subcultures Network
Palgrave Macmillan – £89.99

Now look at it, Simon Cowell and all that nonsense, where they just take the soul out of everything and regurgitate this shit at people, and people want it. Their lives are being narrowed down.

‘Agents of Change, Cultural Materialism –
Post-Punk and the Politics of Popular Music’

Here, Here. And doubly here; for the above opening quote is a sentiment shot straight from both my heart and hip (and then some). For Simon Cowell – to whom many oft refer to as the devil incarnate – is indeed responsible for having taken the soul out of music. Aretha Franklin would no doubt have despised him and everything he stands for.
If not sighed an abundance of mortal resignation at the mere prospect of what Cowell and his ghastly, sickly, conglomorate of fuckers have done to music.

For this reason alone, Youth Culture and Social Change – Making a Difference by Making a Noise is very much a book worth reading.

Although I do have to say, it is on the whole, somewhat disparate and convoluted in its approach. One of the reasons for this being the degree to which the opening chapter ‘Subcultures, Schools and Rituals: A Case Study of the ‘Bristol Riots ‘ (1980) by Roger Ball, goes into considerble depth on said riots; before tengentially heading the reader off and dissecting the degree to which the American hardcore, punk band, Bad Brains, have influneced international, or at least, western youth culture in chapter eight’s ‘How to Forget (and Remember) ‘The Greatest Punk Rock Band in the World’: Bad Brains: Hardcore Punk and Black Popular Culture’ by Tara Martin Lopez and Michael Mills.

Not that there’s anything essentially wrong or uninteresting with either subject; it’s just that on a number of occasions throughout these 283 pages, I found myself trying to make some kind of visceral connection.

For instance, in the book’s Introduction, the editors write: ”The post-war generation came to be defined by their refusal to reap the rewards of the post-war settlement in simple terms. Instead they took new popular cultural spaces like cinema, clubs and concert halls, and used them to build new collective identities. For example, young girls’ sexuality and romantic desires worked against the fault-lines of the prescriptive literature they read. They were being sold the dream of the happy-ever-after ending, but in the process they became aware of themselves as sexual agents. It was apparent that young people did not necessarily want to do as they were told and sought to make a difference by making a noise.”

Absolutely fine.
So far so good.
Especially the line: ”and sought to make a difference by making a noise.”
But where on earth is the correlation between the above and the Tory MP, Oliver Letwin’s comment in the final chapter, ‘Silence is Virtual’: Youth Violence, Belonging, Death and Mourning’ by William ‘Lez’ Henry and Sireita Mullings-Lawrence, which reads: ”The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation,’ or the lack of a middle class… Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.”

Again, in and of itself, this is absolutely fine – not that I necessarily agree with what Letwin is saying. As are the many other subjects addressed throughout Youth Culture and Social Change. Be it the aforementioned Simon Cowell, Bristol Riots or Bad Brains; gang girl sexuality, underground music within the realm of the UK Riots or Easterhouse and ‘The Politics of Representation in the Glasgow Gang Phenomenon.’

They are, suffice to say, all mighty interesting issues in their own right; but do they all belong in the same book?

David Marx

The Germany Illusion

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The Germany Illusion –
Between Economic Euphoria and Despair
By Marcel Fratzscher
Oxford University Press – £25.49

Merkel’s declaration ”Wir schaffen das” is likely to be the sentence that defines her chancellorship historically. Her mindset and attitude became even clearer in fall 2015, when under attack from German critics who wanted her to be much tougher in rhetoric and action, she stated, ”if we now have to start excusing ourselves for showing a friendly face in an emergency situation, then this is not my country.”

     ‘The Refugee Crisis’

What I rather like about this book is the fact that it traverses a number of very pertinent issues facing today’s Germany.

As Marcel Fratzscher makes clear in the Introduction: ”In particular, I focus on the roles of economic and social issues, where they have succeeded and where they have failed. I highlight Germany’s impressive economic successes, but I also try to puncture some of the myths about Germany’s economic might and identify the key economic and social challenges for Germany in the years ahead.”

To be sure, Fratzscher succeeds in most coherently doing just that throughout, even if on occasion, he does occasionally fall into a staid trap of slight repetition. There again, given some of the dry density of the subject matter, this is understandable.

Admittedly, not the most inspired title in the world, The Germany Illusion, does nevertheless, shed an abundance of new light on the much mis-perceived perception of Germany being the so-called economic powerhouse of Europe. Hence the secondary title, Between Economic Euphoria and Despair, upon which the author further deliberates: ”The central argument of the book is that Germany suffers from two illusions. The first is the perception that Germany’s economic policy is impeccable and that the future for Germany is bright – thanks to its strong industrial base, its successful export sectors, and its flexible economy […]. The second illusion is the widespread belief in Germany that what is good for Europe is bad for Germany. This illusion is shared by many other European nations, where bashing Europe, the euro, and EU institutions has become a popular sport.”

So popular in fact, that the deplorable rise in populism has nigh taken over the whole shebang of Europe’s questionably faltering future. One need only surmise the disastrous fork-in-the-road that the United Kingdom has chosen to take with Brexit; not to mention Le Pen in France and the most hideous rise of populism in such countries as Hungary and Turkey. The latter especially, which really is responsible for some of the most fraught, economic repercussions throughout Germany as a whole. Berlin in particular.

Perhaps all the more reason to come to terms with the German illusion.

Let’s face it: what economically effects Germany today, will fundamentally effect the rest of Europe tomorrow. Something Fratzscher endeavours to clarify throughout these 183 pages, as substantiated by Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator with The Financial Times: Marcel Fratzscher has written a book that is both excellent and important. It provides an analytically-balanced and historically-informed account of the remarkable strengths and significant weaknesses of the German economy. But it is also an effective plea for Germany to abandon resentments and play the role it alone can play, in leading Europe on the essential path of reform and revitalization.”

Essentially written with succinct, clear clarity by someone who obviously knows (as well as cares about) their stuff, The Germany Illusion – Between Economic Euphoria and Despair, is as Wolf has said, an important book.

The probable outcome of which, will, to some degree or another, effect us all.

David Marx

Semi-Detached

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Semi-Detached –
The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens
By John Plotz
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Music proceeds from sensations to determinate ideas, the visual arts from determinate ideas to sensations…. [Painting] can penetrate much further into the region of ideas, and in conformity with them can also expand the realm of intuition more than the other visual arts can do.

                                                                                 Immanuel Kant
                                                                                 (Critique of Judgement)

But poets should
Exert a double vision, should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensively
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things as intimately deep
As if they touched them.

                                                                                  Elizabeth Barrat Browning
                                                                                  (Aurora Leigh)

So begins the third chapter, ‘Visual Interlude I – Double Visions: Pre-Raphaelite Objectivity and Its Pitfalls,’ of this highly reflective, and altogether dense assimilation of the idea of two-minded, subliminal design. A book, which in all honesty, could be deemed to be several different books in one. That of the philosophical and the artistic; also that of the political and scientific.

Not to mention a literary contextualization of what binds these very varying strands together. Or, from the stand-point of being two-minded, not together.

Hence, Immanuel Kant’s nigh cut and dry assertion of there being an acute, artistic polarity betwixt music and the visual arts (music proceeds from sensations to determinate ideas, the visual arts from determinate ideas to sensations). The actual journey between one and the other – or at least the thinking that may inadvertently take place within said journey – is the fundamental premise upon which Semi-Detached – The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens is quintessentially based.

Beginning with the decline of romanticism and the inevitable rise of realism, along with John Stuart Mill’s ideas with regards social interaction and subjective perception, author John Plotz goes on to re-evaluate Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which embrace semi-detached states of the attention span as their (prime) subject.

In so doing, he wholeheartedly brings to bear that which takes place between one mind-set of compartmentalization and another.

Ho also discusses how realist writers such as Charles Dickens (hence the book’s sub-title), George Eliot and Henry James show how consciousness can be in more than one place at a time; how the work of William Morris demonstrates the shifting forms of semi-detachment in print and visual media. Yet if that weren’t enough, how Willa Cather created a form of modernism that connected aesthetic dreaming and reality!

So in all, these 243 pages (excluding a List of Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) certainly bequeath the reader with an abundance of metaphorical things to both think about and ponder over. The following being a most pertinent example: ”The innovative and unexpected ways that translucency (visual overlay of two realities on one another) and overtones (a form of aural overlay) structure both characters’ and readers’ experiences with Cather’s novel suggest […] a general property of fiction might also be understood as a curious development that overtakes and transforms late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century novels […]. Making the case for Cather as a writer fascinated by moments or states of partial absorption means tracing her complex literary genealogy. Paradoxes abound […] (‘Overtones and Empty Rooms: Willa Cather’s Layers’).

As previously mentioned, Semi-Detached is akin to reading perhaps three books at the same time. As such, one needs to fully assimilate one aspect or argument before being intrepid enough to move onto the next. There again, we are talking about the aesthetic encounter with the likes of Cather and Dickens, Caravaggio and Kant.

Semi-Detached – The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens is surprisingly confident, and given the subject matter, never, (n)ever dull. John Plotz has herein investigated a subject matter that surely warrants further investigation – of which this fine book is surely at the vanguard.

David Marx

Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts

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Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings By Trevor Hamilton

Imprint Academic – £14.95

As noted in this book’s Introduction: ”Why Arthur Balfour’s ghosts and why link his name with the cross-correspondence automatic writings? He is known in the twenty-first century, if at all, as an aristocratic politician of a century ago, and some people may well link him with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Yet, during his long political career, the intimate involvement of his family in the interpretation and construction of the cross-correspondences has not yet been fully explored […].”

Until now that is.

Indeed, these nineteen chapters traverse a psychical playing field that could well be described as standing relatively alone. Or, in the words of Tom Ruffles, Communications Officer with The Society for Psychical Research (SPR):”Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts will be essential reading for anyone wishing to study this most intriguing aspect of psychical research.”

In two Parts (The Development of the Cross-Correspondences from 1901-1936 and Assessing the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings), Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings makes for surprisingly open and communicative reading.

Given the potential complexity of the actual subject matter itself, it does need to be said that these 279 pages (excluding Preface and Acknowledgements, Appendix, Select Bibliography and References and Index) inadvertently allure the reader into wanting to read more. This might admittedly be because the book’s prime focus is Arthur Balfour – arguably one of the leading Conservative politicians of the early 20th century – and the fact that he was driven to try and communicate with the afterlife. This being the case, due to the death of the love of his life; which, given the fact that Balfour, was in his day, considered something of a rather cold, wet-fish, does lend the book a certain attractive romanticism.

With this invariably in mind, Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts’ further asks if there is any serious evidence of there actually being life after death?

Written by Trevor Hamilton – one of the world’s leading experts on the cross-correspondences that are generally considered the most ”puzzling and for some convincing evidence for life after death” – it does need to be emphasised that this book is thoroughly evaluated from a prime promise and premise of scientific manner.

Whether or not said manner truly makes sense, and in so doing, makes (perfect) sense, is of course, wide open to serried deliberation.

David Marx