How did agriculture take hold? Piecemeal seems to be the answer, at first supplementing hunter-gatherers' food, then in favourable conditions replacinHow did agriculture take hold? Piecemeal seems to be the answer, at first supplementing hunter-gatherers' food, then in favourable conditions replacing it. Those conditions were most favourable in the Fertile Crescent, where crops came to provide much of humans' needs. That is to say, subsistence needs; the evidence also points to a marked decline in health and lifespan during this period.
So, how did agriculture start? By chance initially. We selected optimum sources of nutrition and unwittingly spread them, in a natural symbiotic process. Other creatures have done the same since the beginning of life. We had the advantage of observation and reflection and thus the deliberate promulgation of species useful to us. In many cases this meant mutations of species that were incapable of spreading themselves otherwise.
Jared Diamond goes on to observe how Eurasian peoples later managed to dominate the rest of the planet. This brings in the second of our food sources – animals. Large African and European mammals grew up with homo sapiens (where the sapiens is ironic of course) and learned wariness and hence survival. Those in the Americas and Australasia were suddenly confronted by humans and were easy prey. So easy that we wiped them out and they weren't available to feed, and just as important, power civilisations in those places.
Diamond doesn't so well explain the how of animal domestication unless that too were simply inevitable among all the trial and error. The implication here is that we're not likely to domesticate any others. We have been around long enough to have settled on the suitable ones.
This search is often used as motivation for not wiping out species in such places. The more convincing argument lies with the utility already noted about large mammals.
As for germs, they seem to have hitched a ride on the back of domestication. Most of our interesting killers jumped from livestock to us. People who had a head start on building immunity could then, unwittingly in most cases, carry a sort of viral warfare before them.
So, perhaps the book should have been called crops, germs and mammals but that doesn't have the same ring. And guns and steel do seem to be the inevitable sharp end arising from civilisation’s bedrock of crops and mammals.
Failing to finish the Introduction and two opening chapters (anti-time, really?), I felt I was running on less than empty. I certainly wasn't relatingFailing to finish the Introduction and two opening chapters (anti-time, really?), I felt I was running on less than empty. I certainly wasn't relating to the book's subtitle of The Pathology of Civilization, which is what I thought I would be getting. Then a transcript of a speech against technology came along and I could hear Zerzan's authentic voice, minus the knowing and name-dropping. It was readable. And so I gleaned one jaw-dropping thought: the gap between machines and humans is shrinking, but not because machines are becoming more human... Another skippable "composed" piece precedes the author in an easier conversation with Derrick Jensen. Zerzan draws an interesting parallel of the events then (1998) with those leading up to World War I. States were disintegrating and resorted to the well worn fallback of an external war to keep their cohesion. Zerzan claims that we wouldn't stand for that now. Well, 2001 and Bush's war on terror has proved him wrong. Still, he also points out in the same piece that we need a return to something like the Zeitgeist of the 60s if we're to create something other than the deathly system we now inhabit, i.e. the one for war is the ultimate answer. That matches my thesis that the 60s were indeed the Golden Age. It's been all downhill since then. If we could get that back, this time we really won't trust anyone over the age of 30! Pathology does finally rate an explicit mention: from the myriad physical diseases associated with domestication and agriculture; through industrial afflictions like cancer; to mental disorders. Zerzan mentions ADD. I could add ME ("it's not a disease" - Ricky Gervais), depression and alcoholism. Industrial medicine tries to treat them but when the heart and body are screaming one thing and the mind denies it, we have dis-ease. And what is the one thing? That this civilisation is shit. It's sickening and murderous. We all know it deep down. Just a shame that the book couldn't put it in simpler language....more
Written ten years ago, this book challenges the reader to ponder if the climate crises depicted were one-offs or indeed part of global warming. The veWritten ten years ago, this book challenges the reader to ponder if the climate crises depicted were one-offs or indeed part of global warming. The very first example comes down heavily on the latter side. Lynas chronicles the once-in-centuries UK floods of 2000 (which I missed by being in California). Well, we've had the same again in 2007, 2012 and 2014. That sounds like an acceleration.
Likewise for the chapter about hurricanes in the USA: Katrina, Sandy and a few other notables have demonstrated the author's prognosis that they will get more violent if not more frequent. Mind you, the point is also made that they do more damage simply because there's more shit to destroy. We keep building and breeding in these areas.
Moving on to glaciers, a thought occurred to me that if they are melting, cities that rely on them must actually be getting a bonanza. Then Lynas makes just this point, especially about Lima, which should be running out about now.
The book then also runs, downhill, with a boring ending on what the politicians are (not) doing about this. And the "personal action" section. I'm getting pretty fucking tired of these.
Let's face it: 30 years of "saving the planet" has only witnessed an increase in its destruction. Here's a thought game for you: what's the ultimate action you could take to reduce your environmental footprint? How about killing yourself? And would that make the slightest difference?
Nah, it'll just leave more energy – and that's the bottom line drawn under fuel, plastic bags, recycling, water, electricity, the lot – for the exploiters to continue their rape. Surely the subversive thing to do is waste all this energy so they can't use it. Leave taps running, lights on; throw away as much rubbish as possible; buy a gas guzzler. Let's bring this show to a close as soon as we can.
As usual with anthologies it's down to picking favourites and there are some crackers here. Just the second story, Brassworth by Christine Morgan, isAs usual with anthologies it's down to picking favourites and there are some crackers here. Just the second story, Brassworth by Christine Morgan, is a brilliant mimic of Jeeves and Wooster. It has all the Wodehouse touches, even down to the plot. Another honourable mention goes to Cheryl Morgan with her writer's hat on. Something in the Water is a fine blend of historical fact, what-ifness and a ripping yarn. Indeed, ripping yarns seem to be the order of the day with Alleyway Agnes (to abbreviate), a tale in a Holmesian vein but action stylee, by Scott Lewis. Jonathan L Howard's The Sound of Gyroscopes also treads the same boards but with added turns on the conventions of story-telling. You know those strange dashes in Victorian literature? Neatly used here and rounded off by the best punch-line in the book....more
Probably written in 2010: 70% of Iran's science and engineering students are women. That stopped me. Is it still true? Anyway, the book contains this sProbably written in 2010: 70% of Iran's science and engineering students are women. That stopped me. Is it still true? Anyway, the book contains this sort of interesting nugget. This one concludes the second, science, heading of Ferguson's six killer "apps" that fuelled Western dominance over the last 500 years. The first behaviour was, predictably, competition, to which our leaders still pay lip-service. A third is property, which I can also well believe. Consumerism is the fifth of Ferguson's killer apps and he states: “Capitalists understand that workers are also consumers and don't try to grind wages down to subsistence levels.” As the wealth gap now grows, it seems that this too must join the remaining apps of medicine and representation (of course, because governments now only legislate for the rich) as a failing behaviour. How will this pan out? The final paragraph draws a chilling parallel between now and 1938 in Germany. So, not happily then....more
Compelling. And sad too, considering how foul a character the narrator is. The final passage raises the perennial what-if question that we must all haCompelling. And sad too, considering how foul a character the narrator is. The final passage raises the perennial what-if question that we must all have asked about people in our lives. That was the sad part. The rest was horror....more
Not my genre at all so I was reading this because Jo is a friend and guess what? I was totally hooked. She keeps the tale rattling along in a world thNot my genre at all so I was reading this because Jo is a friend and guess what? I was totally hooked. She keeps the tale rattling along in a world that's credible and with enough twists and turns to make you go: "I never saw that coming!" I'm actually looking forward to the second book....more
Disclaimer: I know Emma so you'd expect me to give her five stars. But the book actually deserves them! I kept wanting to know what was going to happeDisclaimer: I know Emma so you'd expect me to give her five stars. But the book actually deserves them! I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next and you can't ask more from a book.
This is almost laughable: it commits so many cardinal writing sins. The point of view is all over the place; the dialogue sounds right out of a text bThis is almost laughable: it commits so many cardinal writing sins. The point of view is all over the place; the dialogue sounds right out of a text book; the author tells us what to feel; it's littered with adverbs. In short, good if written by a 12-year-old but not worth even 77p of an adult's money.
Knowing what a labour of love and a marathon a novel is, I hate to criticise any other writers but when they put their words up for sale......more
I thought I was au fait with viruses since I'm writing a novel about a couple. But early in the book I was going, "Really? They do that? Amazing!" AndI thought I was au fait with viruses since I'm writing a novel about a couple. But early in the book I was going, "Really? They do that? Amazing!" And they are amazing, especially with the tricks they pull, which appeal to the computer programmer in me. One begins to view them in quite another light.
Then I had to skip some of the "humans are too amazing and must be saved" stuff to get back to the enlightenment. Like how trawling Google searches and so on can map the progress of a virus. Just shows how the NSA can operate with similar techniques.
The section on vaccines was fascinating too: frankly I never knew they were also actually viruses - just more benign ones or unable to reproduce – but they kick the immune system into action against the killers.
The book finishes with more techno-wank. We can see how frail is this thinking that organised society will save us with the recent resurgence of polio. You can have all the toys, gadgets and systems you like but if civilisation is breaking down, such as in war zones, you can't use them. And war zones are proliferating.
The diseases will win, largely through our own profligacy....more
Not one of Kate's best but still full of her idiosyncratic characters with their smart observations. The neatest trick she pulls is that all the way tNot one of Kate's best but still full of her idiosyncratic characters with their smart observations. The neatest trick she pulls is that all the way through she keeps telling us the story has no plot and it does seem that way. She even keeps telling us that it's post-modern and therefore isn't a story.
Then the last few pages reveal what was going on and there was indeed a plot....more
A strange choice for me and way beyond the remit of this blog. However this Chick Lit tale does have some bearing on the plight of the world, which isA strange choice for me and way beyond the remit of this blog. However this Chick Lit tale does have some bearing on the plight of the world, which is one of my themes. And I was researching my girlies in Let the Time Come.
Actually this first book of the Shopaholic series is not half bad and if it were a satire on rampant consumerism… For instance, had George Orwell been the author, everyone would have acclaimed its irony and the exposure of capitalism's cynical blandishments. So I rather enjoyed the story in that framework.
The protagonist lives in her own dream world, as the original title of the book suggested. Years of consumer bombardment doubtless built her into this starring role. Sophie Kinsella shows the way that not even reality can change such a mindset; events get reinterpreted to fit the internal model. This explains the behaviour of many, especially the young.
One wonders if Sophie means it this way, but not for long. The ending just has to be a vindication of the greed system or the book wouldn't have been published, far less sold as many as it has. One could view the piece as a fine character study with knowing overtones nonetheless.