Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz ****

Eve Hardaway is in on vacation on Oaxaca Mexico when, improbably, a rogue al-Queda terrorist, Bashir the Bear, decides that the remote tourist camp is a threat. Don't Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz follows the duel between this seasoned mountain warrior and a Prius-driving, single mother. Though, as a reader the resolution was never in question, the story moved quickly from crisis to crisis.

The opening, where Eve and her fellow eco-tourists arrive at Dias Felices Ecolodge(tm), is a spot-on accurate description of this class of tourist accommodation that has appeared around the globe from tent camps in Africa, to ecotourism resorts in the Brazilian Pantanal. They all combine the appearance of rustic accommodations, with the safety and comfort of home, including flush toilets, hot water, and gourmet menus. Eve observes the primitive local culture and environment juxtaposed to the modern, sanitized and mechanized infrastructure supporting the illusion.

Very effectively, Bashir the Bear's appearance is that much more threatening against this backdrop of control and tourism. Bashir quickly shifts the balance from civilization to the wild. Each of the tourists responds differently to being sudden thrust out of the illusion into the reality.

A few details on the writing. First, I appreciated that the most violent scenes were only presented in summary and as reference to past events. On the other hand, the writing seemed to be as fast as the reading. In one scene, an injured person is placed on a table, but in the next scene a bomb has mysteriously materializes under her. In another case, a crocodile seems to have an endless appetite, whereas most crocodiles require periods from days to months to digest a meal. Also our mountain warrior vacillates between a preference for toughened bare feet to one for boots, in each case remarking on the superiority of the current choice.

Overall, predictable and enjoyable.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Separated@Birth by Bordier & Futerman ****

On November 19, 1987 twin girls were born in South Korea. They had no idea they were twins until Christmas 2012. This fantastic story is told in Separated @ Birth by Bordier and Futerman with help from Lisa Pulitzer, writer of memoirs and biographies. The story of these two young women is an introduction to the 21st century for those of us who were born before the 1980s.

A little background is in order here. Anais Bordier was adopted by a successful family in Paris. As the story opens, she is preparing her graduate fashion show at Central Saint Martins in London. Samantha Futerman was adopted by a successful family in the New Jersey. As the story opens, she is attending the premier of 21 & Over, as one of the stars. Clearly, these are two young ladies who have won the genetic and adoption lottery.

So how does this happen in the 21st century? Facebook, Twitter, IMDB, Instagram, YouTube, and Skye. From a chance viewing on YouTube, they learn so much about each other, that they are pretty convinced that they are twins, even before they first talk to each other.

They tell their story in like modern day Valley Girls with their over-the-top optimism, self-obsession, and all-caps AMAZING. Everything has personal meaning.
The wallpaper in the room was patterned with landmarks of London. How funny is that? Of the thousands of hotels in Korea, we stay at the one with London-themed wallpaper.
Are you wondering what they are doing in Korea? Remember these are the lottery winners. Over the short course of the book, they meet in Korea, Los Angeles, London and Paris.

Stop for a moment. What would be the first thing you might do if you just discovered you had a twin?

Samantha's agent thinks that the TV talk show circuit is the way to go. But Samantha isn't going to waste this on old media. She immediately puts together a production team and selects KickStarter to fund the project. For the entire globe trotting, adventure, the twin are shadowed by the movie crew, and, of course, social media.

This publicity brings in twin researcher Dr Nancy Segal from CSU Fullerton, and, I'm guessing here, ghost writer Lisa Pulitzer.

If you're interested in how fun it can be to be young and affluent in the 21st century, read this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Cool and Lonely Courage by Susan Ottaway ****

World War II opened doors for women. Rosie the Riveter and other stories of women on the home front have been embraced by popular culture, but women were also on the front lines. This book is the story of two sisters, Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne, who were in advance of the front lines, as British spies in occupied France where they supported the French resistance. The were armed, in leadership positions, and even captured and tortured. The only difference between them and the male spies, is that after the war was over, they were not recognized and supported like the men. This was the 1940s and 1950s, did you expect otherwise?

Eileen (Didi) Nearne recently died leaving a treasure trove of letters and papers. Detail research based on these letters and declassified documents has for the first time allowed this story to be told in Cool and Lonely Courage by Susan Ottaway.

The was a time when women were in transition, some progress had been made, but much would have to wait for the 1960s and beyond. When Didi was captured by the Gestapo, she assume the role of an ignorant girl. Through this ruse, even though she was tortured, including the now famous waterboarding, she did not give any information to the Gestapo. She was subsequently sent to concentration camps in Germany.
She adopted a puzzled look and said that she didn't know what they meant. Shouting at her now, he told her that she was a very stupid girl...
 Didi was smart enough to take advantage of the prejudices of the time. This was a time when no one was embarrassed to write
The student, though a woman, has definitely got leaders' qualities.
In summary the book tells and interesting and important story. It does suffer from a problem common to much historical writing. The book read more like a excerpts and news reports strung together than a gripping narrative. This is the eternal struggle between history and historical fiction. When reading historical biographies, I often find myself wishing for a little more fiction to bring life to the story.

Personal note: I learned in this book that while the United Nations waited for their iconic building on the east side of Manhattan, they had offices at Sperry Gyroscope in Lake Success, Long Island. Jacqueline work at the U.N. for years. During this same time, my father was working there. Lake Success continued to play a role in my life when years later my mother moved us to Great Neck to attend the well-regarded high school near Lake Success. On a more trivial note, the summer I snuck home a box turtle from camp, it spent a couple of days in our bathtub before being liberated in Lake Success. I think of it and hope if it survived its hundred mile displacement, and even found some more of its kind.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W Bruse Cameron ***

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W Bruce Cameron is a mixture of zany mysteries (Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey) and cozy mysteries (Janet Evanovich or Alexander McCall Smith) and supernatural mysteries (I don't usual read any othese).

Many of the characters are comedic and exaggerated, like Kermit "he was shaped a little like a frog" Kramer, a reincarnation of Mrs Malaprop,
Ya know, if the goose really attacked you, they should euphemize it.
The crimes were more strange than threatening, like a reclaiming a car protected by a goose.

The main mystery was solving a long-ago murder with the aid of the murder victim's ghost. Do you remember Topper?

This combination should be a fun light read. I found it mostly confusing.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Do Fathers Matter? by Paul Raeburn****

Think of a father in popular culture. I'm guessing that that father is comically inept (Homer Simpson, Uncle Vernon Dursley, George McFly, Archie Bunker, Jim Baker in 16 Candles, or Harry Wormwood in Mathilda). A few are downright evil (Darth Vader) and some are excellent (Cliff Huxtable or Mr. Bennet). Do Fathers Matter? by Paul Raeburn opens with how science has neglected the subject of fathers.
[Fathers] were repeatedly being told they were irrelevant, except as the providers of the family income.
The embarrassing back story is that
The record shows that fathers were--and are-- widely overlooked in scientific studies.
Searching PubMed
"Maternal" pulled up 279,519 entries; "paternal called up fewer than one-tenth as many.
This is the reason Raeburn wrote this book, and the reason all (as in both mothers and fathers, but especially fathers) should read it.

Science writing presents two challenges. The first is to translate science for the general public to make it clear, interesting, and relevant. In this, Raeburn finds the Goldilocks middle where the research is presented, but doesn't get bogged down in the mind-numbing detail that is the foundation and structure of all science.

The second challenge is the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge. Science is always moving forward, so what is accepted today, might not be accepted tomorrow. Much of this book is about presenting new research to debunk the accepted wisdom of fatherhood past.

For example, it has long been assumed it would be possible the combine the genetic material from two women to produce a viable fetus. The story always included the detail that since women had two x-chromosomes, the child would necessarily have two x-chromosomes, and thus be female. As reported by Raeburn, this parthenogenesis turns out to be impossible. Recent science has shown that both males and females contribute unique and vital genetic material, so a new life is not possible with contributions from both sexes.

On the other hand, Raeburn repeats that story about children needing years of post-natal support because no bigger head could pass through the birth canal, and if the birth canal was any bigger women would not be able to walk properly. You've probably heard this story yourself. However, recent research finds that women can walk fine (thank you) even with broader hips. This research suggests that the baby is born at the point where the mother can no longer eat enough to supports the baby's energy requirements.

Science marches forward, and even the best science writers have difficulty keeping up with all the research.

Raeburn delivers a comprehensive survey on the subject of fatherhood. He starts with evolutionary biology and the history of fatherhood prior to homo sapiens sapiens. Then he presents the scientific data for paternal contributions: pre-conception, conception, during pregnancy, and during the various post-natal stages.

Fortunately for all concerned that last 50 years has seen a surge in fatherhood research, so there is plenty of material and many unintuitive conclusions. I can easily recommend this book to those thinking about becoming parents, parents of all ages, and even grand parents.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler ****

Amy Poehler? Let me start by asserting that I've never seen Parks and Rec and have not watched SNL in decades, definitely not in Amy Poehler's demographic. That said, I loved Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

This is a show business memoir with the required name dropping (mostly of people I've barely heard of), congratulations and admirations (again those same supposedly famous folks), fulfilled prophesies, and love-at-first-sight friends-for-life. Between all this self indulgence, Poehler is funny and an insightful observer about real things like children and marriage.

Sex advice:
Don't let the kids sleep in your bed.
The worst part of being nominated for any award is that despite your best efforts, you start to want ...
People are very bad and very good. A little love goes a long way.

This is a very fast, very fun read, with color illustrations throughout. These illustrations seem to have required that heavy paper usually only used for fine art coffee table books. The resulting book is a contradiction: the physical book is very heavy, but the content is light and fluffy. I recommend the eBook for those with carpal tunnel or arthritis.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser *****

Consider the following sequence:
1. Sterile Stomach: Until the 20th century, the stomach was considered too acidic to support life. No microbes could survive there.
2. Evil Stomach: Helicobacter pylori live in the stomach and cause ulcers and gastritis. A Nobel prize was awarded for this discovery in 2005.
3. Good Stomach: H pylori have coevolved with homo sapiens and protect us from obesity, asthma, heartburn, and possibly ASD, peanut allergies, celiac disease, diabetes, and several sudden death scenarios.

Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser heralds phase three in this sequence and describes the latest research and speculations in science's quest to better health. As Blaser is exploring health problems that impact people of all ages and social/economic classes, one might expect him to be a medical super star, but this has not happened...
We published these ideas and the supporting evidence in ... a well-respected journal, but the article received very little attention--another big yawn.
This book and The Pied Pipers of Autism: How Television,Video and Toys cause ASD share a public health approach. They place more emphasis on how to prevent disease than how to cure it. Thus, the large number of people who are living with these problems find little hope or direction, thus the "big yawn."

Both books are really addressed to policy makers with suggestions to reduce the use of antibiotics or personal electronics. A hard sell for sure, and with the primary impacted people "yawning," the authors can't fail to let some of their frustration show in their writing.

Still, an educated public should take the time to read both books.

Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser explores the health impacts of (overuse of) antibiotics. Blaser's research goes beyond the issues of antibiotic resistant "super" bugs. His research makes a convincing connection between antibiotics and obesity, asthma and heartburn. He does this both through controlled experiments, and elucidation of disease mechanisms to explain the experimental results.

Blaser is also clear that there is no simple answer to the issues he raises. One one hand antibiotics have saved countless lives since the wide-spread use of penicillin began over 70 years ago. However, over these years we seem to have exchanged one set of health problems for another.

Anyone interested in either the health of their children or the children across the world should read this book.