Friday, May 23, 2008

Darkening Peaks and Retreating Glaciers

As impact of global warming spreads around the world, scientists like Ben Orlove, Ellen Wiegandt, and Brian H. Luckman, are trying to help us understand just how bad it is in books like their edited anthology, Darkening Peaks: Glacier Retreat, Science, and Society. These three scholars are trying to tell us that the impressive and seemingly eternal glaciers we know ad love are trying to teach us a lesson at the beginning of the twenty-first century: just how vulnerable the earth is to the impact of human beings. The book shows the reader, through the extensive and complex observations, that clearly an environmental and cultural disaster is taking place. Rating: five out of five stars.

Bohemian Los Angeles and Identity Construction

Daniel Hurewitz, in his book, Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics, raises an intriguing point: that even those who belong to bohemias and artistic movements have a political presence, even though they may position themselves in what Soja deemed a "thirdspace". These participants are "usually". he says, viewed more in terms of their "creative impulses and judged for their resistance to larger societal mores," but the space where they position themselves at the margins of society can "be adopted as a site for contesting power. . .[to construct] new identities, actions, and opportunities." Like Greenwich Village in New York, Edendale in Los Angeles served, from the 1910s to 1950s, as a place for identity construction for men and women like Harry Hay, Miriam Brooks Sherman, Dorothy Healey, Paul Landacre, and others whose efforts, Hurewitz argues, "altered American culture and changed precisely the perceptions people had of their own lives." rating: four out of five.

Robots in Space

Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy think that it's "almost inevitable" that humankind will one day find a planet "that appears to be much like Earth." In their book, Robots in Space: Tecnology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel, they look at the underlying questions that interplanetary travel evokes. Will we be up to the task? How successful will expeditions be, given our limited resources, biological constraints, and the "general hostility of space"? This is a very provocative book based on rigorous scholarship that poses concepts like looking at human spaceflight as Utopia" and developing "closed-loop life support systems." Plus, what does the future hold for humans in a "postbioogical universe"? Stay tuned (or, should we say, zoned?), perhaps we'll know more in a million years, or so. Rating: four stars out of five (especially for an audacious imaginative approach).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

When is a mother's work really done?

Neil Gilbert, in his book, A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market, and Policy Shape Life, has joined a lively debate that comprises both lifestyle and policy issues. The previous discussions have addressed the psychological, social, and economic dimensions, but Gilbert questions the how and why these questions are framed--and who benefits from the answers. Furthermore, he asks how the choices women make are influenced by the culture of capitalism, feminist expectations, and the social policies of the welfare state. Does it "pay" to have children? What is the "cost" of the search for unprecedented material benefits and a higher standard of life? And if a woman select a pro-family, what happens then? A useful discussion on a difficult topic. Rating: four stars out of five.

Regardless of our ages, we'll owe our children

Andrew L. Yarrow's book has a title that says it all: Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility. Why? Because hopefully you've been totaling up the economic train wreck that's taking place in the United States. How bad is it? Yarrow claims that by Election Day this November, the U.S. national debt will be $10 trillion (yes, that's with a "t"). Worse yet, he says that if current trends persist, "that number will continue to grow at an alarming rate, compounded by an active to retired worker ratio for Social Security that is dropping from 44:1 to 2:1--and that's without factoring in the outrageous gas prices. Who's going to pay for this insanity? Our children, their children, and their children's children. A must-buy. A must-read. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.