Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Humanity Owes Our Females a Huge Debt




The Gender of Debt: The Last 50,000 Years – Mariano Pavanello (2019)


When I began this book review journey, my wife asked me what I hoped to be a good end-result for this endeavor.  I told her that I wished to create a resource, a website that readers could use to find interesting books to read, and that it would be awesome if writers thought enough of my commentary to seek me out so I could provide a review of their work.  I specifically considered writers of science books, science history, and other such work to be ones I would love to collaborate with and provide reviews of their writing.  Through hard work and diligence, this has indeed come to pass.  I am contacted regularly by book publishers and authors with requests to review their work, which is extremely satisfying.  However, receiving an email from a renowned anthropologist asking if I would consider reviewing their book on my site was a tremendous thrill.  Reading the work, and understanding the implications this book could have on our understanding of human social development, is a privilege.

Mariano Pavanello’s aim with The Gender of Debt is to shed some light on the erroneous assumptions that many anthropologists still hold in regards to the role of labor sharing in early humans, and the motivations that drove the specializations of hunting and food gathering into a sexual division that we still take for granted today.  He seeks to correct the social debt that human males owe to human females, a debt which is never acknowledged in our patriarchal society.

It is currently assumed that what drove humans to develop the society and culture we see around us today was the increase in meat provided by the male hunters of early tribes.  Meat is highly nutritious and full of energy.  The idea was that, as this great resource requires a large expenditure of effort and energy, and came fraught with danger, the risks associated with hunting became more and more a male dominated pursuit, leaving women to tend the camps, care for children and elderly, and gather up other food items such as plants, tubers, honey, and other such food sources as could be collected not too far from their camps.  This, they assume, is what drove the push to patriarchy and male control over women.  Mr. Pavanello goes into great detail explaining why previous researchers and scientists drew these conclusions, and then adroitly points out why these assumptions are dead wrong.  The complexities of human social order do not fall so neatly into the categories our assumptions place them in.

One of the most interesting chapters in this book delves into the scientific literature to explore exactly what we know about how tribal people throughout the world manage to subsist.  Various charts are used to explain the variations between the amount of labor that goes into hunting and the amount of labor that goes into food gathering.  What the data shows, and what is not present in the modern conversation about early man, is that, for the most part, the food gathering side is the crucial one.  It is the side that allows for all other functions of humanity to continue, including long, arduous hunting excursions. Many groups could survive on just food gathering alone, but no one could survive on just hunting alone.  In fact, without the steady, constant work of the food gatherers the hunters would have no sustenance to support their physical work.

Mr. Pavanello posits that, because the hunters realized how much they depended on the gatherers, they began to implement cultural methods by which they would control the females, assuring the hunters of constant food, constant care for their children, and autonomy in the hunting process.  This was not done by coercion or force necessarily, but by the strict codes of societal control, such as food sharing, child care, daughter exchange for marriages, etc.  Most tribal cultures share all food items as a rule.  The gatherers will share their supplies with all in the tribe, while the hunters would divide up the kill for all people to share.  This reciprocity is integral to understanding early human cultures.  It is because of this system that humans thrived in a manner that our Neanderthal and other relative species could not.  Assuring communal survival through food sharing allowed humans to develop free time, to eventually come up with higher social structures such as religion, markets, etc.

What is evident throughout this book is that humanity indeed owes a huge debt of gratitude to the females of our species, for without their abilities, knowledge, and wisdom we humans would have stayed tribal peoples, never developing the complexity and intricacy of our modern human society.  I hope more people read this book, or at least study its conclusions, so that as a society we all accept, understand, and appreciate the achievements of the female of our species, instead of solely focusing on the achievements of male humans in our history.  

This is quite a dense treatise, and explores far more data and ideas than I could possibly cover in this review.  I hope it is a touchstone for scientists and social anthropologists to view the human condition through a new spectrum.  The debt humanity owes to our females is over 50,000 years old, and needs to be addressed sooner than later.  We are all one humanity, with shared goals and shared credit for our successes. 

(This book can be purchased here: Cambridge Scholars Publishing )

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cory Doctorow Writes Stories for the Times We Live In




Radicalized: Cory Doctorow (2019)

Four stories.  Four explorations of exceedingly plausible near-future realities.  Author, journalist, and all-around bad-ass Cory Doctorow’s new book, Radicalized, has written a quartet of tales that are not only timely and extremely relevant, but engrossing and entertaining.  This is a difficult feat, and the results are quite satisfying.
I first became aware of Mr. Doctorow through his superb articles for various online sites, many of which seek to shed light on aspects of our modern technological life which the normal, everyday consumer is not aware of, especially the obscured and malicious ways that technology is used by companies and governments to stick it to the average individual, oftentimes without their consent.  Through my reading of his essays and articles I became aware of his fiction work, and when I found out that Radicalized was to be released, I requested a review copy from Mr. Doctorow himself, who was kind enough to provide one. 
Science fiction, or as it is referred to these days, speculative fiction, can sometimes concern itself with ideas and themes so vast and deep that the individual human stories are left undeveloped.  This is understandable, and does not reduce the power of works such as these.  Huge, sweeping galactic stories allow a reader to expand their reality-tunnel, to include whole swaths of expansive consideration that would otherwise never occur.  Other science fiction tales revolve around the experience of one person, or a small group of people, and their day-to-day lives as affected by futuristic or speculative technology and science.  The four stories in Radicalized fall in this vein.
Unauthorized Bread, a personal story of a refugee in the near future and the increasingly labyrinthine technology that dictates what a person can or cannot do, even to the smallest detail of their life, starts things off.  Not only is it an affecting tale of honest yet desperate people seeking to make the best of life for themselves and their children, but it is a deeply cautionary tale about the dangers of extending endless “rights” to companies and technology, and removing those “rights” from individual consumers.  It resonated with me, as I rail against the ridiculous idea that companies are trying to force down our throats, that being that digital programs and items are not “owned” by the person that bought them, but “leased” from the corporation who sold it.  All the legal rights are transferred in this manner from the consumer to the producer.  This is evident in the rise of “Right-to-Repair” movements around the world.  In 1960, if you bought a TV, it was yours to fix, alter, customize, etc. because you purchased the item.  If you could not fix it, you could find a clever person, or a certified repairman, who could.  In 2019, if you buy an Apple product, and you choose to try and repair it yourself, the law does not protect you.  It protects Apple and essentially creates a monopoly where they control all access to their machines, repair services, software, etc.  HORROR.  They can essentially force you to purchase new items, and of course those new items will come with even stricter user contracts and restrictions.
Model Minority explores what happens when a superhero wakes up, and begins to understand that he is a tool of a corrupt system.  All it takes is deciding to swoop in and stop a group of policemen who are severely beating an older black man.  The hero’s involvement sets off a chain of events that would be very familiar to anyone who has ever studied what happens when one person, even an exceedingly GOOD person, decides to fight a system that has the ability to control how people see things, and which will lie with impunity to protect its status quo.  It also sheds light on the manner by which people actively ignore the ugly shit around them, as long as it doesn’t happen to them.  People are willing to overlook the most horrible things as long as they feel free to do so.
Radicalized is a story that would resonate with anyone who has lived with or through a loved one’s chronic illness, and had to deal with faceless corporate insurance companies whose job is to make money for their shareholders by withholding expensive treatments from the very people who pay outrageous amounts of their monthly paycheck for Health Insurance.  The rage, the feeling of impotence in the face of corporate anonymity, drives a group on an online forum for survivors to what, to them, is the logical end result.  It is a very gripping story, and sadly all-too familiar.
The Masque of the Red Death, the final story, presents us with a powerful, successful, cut-throat capitalist as he arranges plans for him and a select group of people to hole up and survive what he refers to as “The Event,” meaning the financial and social collapse of the United States.  The story does a great job of presenting the actual thoughts and reasoning behind this man’s decision making, and they shine a bright light on the qualities and traits that are sought and rewarded in the world of finance, a world where no product is created, no service is provided, and the only thing that matters is taking rich people’s money and making more money with it, while taking a fat cut for the broker.  It is a bleak tale, and will hopefully have readers thinking deeply about what truly matters in life.
This has been a good couple of months for me on the science fiction front.  I have found several new writers whose work I will explore, and whose careers I plan on following because their stories are so great.  I look forward to digging into Cory Doctorow’s previous work, and seeing where his ideas take me in the future.  I highly recommend this book.

(This book is available for purchase here: AMAZON )

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Butthole Surfers Regret Not Regretting Anything




Butthole Surfers: What Does Regret Mean? – Aaron Tanner (2019)

            As a teenager, bored with hard rock and heavy metal for the most part, I sought out music that scared and excited and confused me because I was just so sick of the crap that MTV, radio, and the “norms” thought was good music.  I wanted the transgressive, the avant-garde, music that is so fresh and new and different that most people would hate it for years, until their feeble ears and brains could slowly catch up.  The first bands that sent me down this awesome spiral of skronk and freak-out were Jane’s Addiction and Sonic Youth.  Both were loud, rocking, and aggressive in completely different ways, and both sounded nothing like the formulaic heavy metal and thrash that had been rattling in my ears.  One band that was always mentioned alongside these two faves of mine was the Butthole Surfers.  
           My friends and I would drive into town in one of our parent’s cars on a Saturday and hit up the cool record stores.  At Sound Exchange, I would peruse the used cassette section, and every time I picked up one of the Butthole Surfers' albums, I would get a queasy feeling based purely on the visual aesthetic of their releases.  It was just SO WEIRD.  They did not list the band member’s names or song titles all that often, but what I did see is still burned into my mind.  I was too young and naïve to understand that an artist’s image is mostly a fabrication.  I was also too young and naïve to understand that the Butthole Surfer’s image was not in the least a fabrication, and that they were fully the weirdest single group of musicians I would ever have the fortune to listen to and love.
            Sometime in my first year of study at the University of Houston, my friend Barnaby Struve kept playing Butthole Surfers vinyl for me.  At one point he made me a 120 minute compilation cassette (remember when you could record 60 minutes of music on each side of a Memorex cassette?) of what he described as “the choice cuts.”  It was a revelation.  Even without any of the art, liner notes, or bizarre imagery, the music itself blew my teeny little mind.  I grew to LOVE these songs, to understand and relate to the insanity within, to see the undeniable beauty contained within, and to appreciate the balls it took for this band to stay true to their demented idea of themselves.  I played that cassette so many times.  I dubbed it for at least 5 different friends.  At parties, I would commandeer the stereo and play this Butthole Surfers compilation repeatedly (some people were not too happy about this).  The music was like instant intoxication, if that intoxication actually exposed the ugliest sides of ourselves.
            That was in 1991-1994.  The Butthole Surfers had been taking cares biz-nass since 1981.  Never during that time period would anyone even remotely aware of the Butthole Surfers consider that in 2019 a lavish, expensive, and downright beautiful coffee table art book would be released based mostly on the imagery the Butthole Surfers used in the promotional material, records, and merchandise.  Before the internet, the main way you found out about bands was from word-of-mouth, or lucking into seeing them as they opened up for someone you liked, or seeing a cool t-shirt on someone and striking up a conversation.  The Butthole Surfers were a band whose fandom grew in this manner, because everyone that witnessed a live show could not stop talking about it.  There was no other band like them.  There will never be another band like them.
            This book is like a deep time-slip dive into our collective Butthole Surfer past.  I cannot emphasize how often my shit-eating grin would appear on my face as I read this book.  Whether this was because of the many amazing images and fliers and promo materials, all presented like a DIY ‘zine, or because the commentary and remembrances sprinkled throughout brought me back to those times.  I was too young to see the Buttholes perform their insanity at small clubs in Texas, but I did get to see them perform many times, including at Lollapalooza where singer Gibby Haynes used a shotgun loaded with blanks to shoot at the crowd.  That shit was scary.  This book is scary.  The Butthole Surfers are scary.  They have to be.  I would not have it any other way.
            Aaron Tanner’s goal with this book was not to write a history, even though it is constructed sequentially.  He sought to share with the world just how individual and amazing the visual component of the Butthole Surfers’ myth was, from promo materials, to zines, to album notes, and personal photographs.  He has created something that I will treasure all the days of my life.  To top it all off, a flexi-disc is included with the book, containing a track that was to be used as a B-Side during the Independent Worm Saloon era.  Such cool stuff.  For a die-hard fanatic like myself, it is pure joy.

(BTW, I have played my wife 5 different Butthole Surfers songs over the past 8 or so years.  Each and every time she hears a new one, she tells me that it is "the single worst song she has ever heard."  This makes me laugh with glee and appreciation.)

(The Regular edition is sold out.  The Deluxe Edition is still available here: Melodic Virtue )

A Great Debut from a New Science-Fiction Talent!




Big Red – Damien Larkin (2019)


The life of a reader contains many bittersweet moments.  For me, one of the worst is discovering a writer that is new to me, but that I later find out has already passed, and will no longer be writing new work.  This always fills me with an odd sadness, as if I missed the boat somehow, knowing all I can do is catch up on what I already missed.  The exact opposite situation has occurred as I read Big Red, the debut science fiction novel from author Damien Larkin.  I was hooked in from the very start of this book, and my interest and enjoyment grew with each chapter I read.  Damien Larkin crafted a tight, increasingly suspenseful, and altogether satisfying bit of science fiction. 
Big Red begins with our narrator waking up, unable to explain where he is, who he is, or what has happened to him.  It is obvious he is involved in some sort of military operation, from the people he sees around him.  As we move into the story, the protagonist is grilled by doctors and commanding officers, essentially forced to try to remember what has happened to him.  Mr. Larkin’s cleverness as a writer comes through in the manner by which he divided up the threads of the story as separate chapters, allowing the reader to follow a story that, in a lesser writer’s hands, could have easily become confusing. 
Early on, our hero discovers what we readers have gathered from the novel’s title, the fact that he is not on Earth, but on Mars.  What he felt was to be a straightforward term of service is instantly complicated.  The problem with finding oneself caught in a web of bureaucratic, military, and government obfuscation is that to find the truth, you have to fight through so many layers of LIES that it becomes nearly impossible to know who to trust, and what exactly is happening to you.  As our hero grows in experience and knowledge, so the reader become aware that something is terribly wrong on Mars, creating a real sense of dread for what will happen to our narrator as the story gets bigger and bigger. 
I do not want to go further into the plot points of Big Red.  I leave that for you to find out yourself.  It is an engrossing book, building steam page by page.  I read the last 100 pages in a mad fit of excited reading.  I was completely satisfied.  I love a story that invests me in all the characters, not just the main hero, and that is self-consistent in its world-building.  One of the main thoughts I came away with after reading Big Red is that, for all the speculation, what is being described is so close to what our reality is now that it should serve as a warning to all the people that faceless military and government organizations look to recruit, use up, and throw away.  If you love action-packed science fiction, speculative ideas, and the exploration of one man’s challenge as he faces up against a giant web of tyranny, you will find a lot to dig into in Big Red.  What an exciting debut novel.  I look forward to Damien Larkin’s development, and his future work.

(This book is being released on May 14, 2019)

(This book can be pre-ordered/purchased here: AMAZON )

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Upcoming International Book Fairs!

In order to support the practice of reading and the beauty of books, RXTT's Intellectual Journey has partnered with KOTOBE (https://www.kotobee.com ) in order to share this amazing compendium of world-wide Book Fairs taking place in the next 12 months.

https://www.kotobee.com/blog/international-book-fairs-2019/

The URL above will take you to a comprehensive and exhaustively researched list of International Book Fairs, sorted by date.  Wonderful stuff!

The good people at KOTOBEE specialize in helping writers, businesses, and organizations create ebooks.  It is a worthy effort.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

We all live in Seinfeldia now....




Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything – Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (2016)

            Ahhhh, Seinfeld.  I must admit that, upon my first viewing of Seinfeld, I did not like it.  I found the characters insufferable from the start, each one a horror of humanity, shallow and self-absorbed to a level I did not find funny.  It took my friends' love of the show, and me watching it with them, to understand that this was a different show to the sitcoms I grew up with.  Seinfeld was intentionally a show about despicable people and the ways they ruin each other’s lives, over and over again.  It was not an insipid gag-reel of bad puns, sexual misunderstandings, and physical comedy, like Three’s Company.  It was not a thoughtful exploration of family and the raising of children like the Cosby Show.  It was not a workplace comedy like WKRP in Cincinnati, or Cheers.  This was a new creature. In the intervening decades, I have come to adore Seinfeld as the first in a new wave of American television humor.  It created something bigger than just a show, and this is the topic that Seinfeldia explores.
            The term Seinfeldia refers to the fictional universe that the TV show Seinfeld exists in, and the real-world results of this universe.  The author describes the initial stages that resulted in Seinfeld becoming a TV show.  The first ¼ of this book is like a gold mine for Seinfeld fanatics, as Ms. Armstrong details the efforts made by co-creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to bring the show to fruition.    All of the players are introduced, and we get to meet the people behind the scenes, many of them contributing greatly to the hilarity that became Seinfeld’s calling card.  From the beginning Jerry and Larry sought to maintain a level of honesty and rigor with their scripts.  There were rules created to keep Seinfeld from devolving into another network sitcom copycat.  The characters would never hug it out, as in many shows.  They would not soliloquize moral lessons.  Each joke must come from a place of honesty, honesty towards the show’s goals, and to the characters themselves.  These ideas have been carried on to many other shows.
            We are introduced to the writers that made these shows so funny.  Seinfeld and Larry David both would replace most of the writers after every season, to allow for fresh ideas and new talent.  Endless inventiveness ensued.  The show was a sleeper for a few years and then, with the 4th season, blew up in the mass consciousness.  Seinfeld became HUGE.  It was a linchpin for NBC’s Thursday Night Lineup for years.  The creators and actors all became hugely famous, even people who had small bit parts were being recognized on the street.  It is a very rare thing that a show which the network execs initially labeled as “too Jewish,” and “too New York” caught the minds of mainstream America.  In fact, the show was such a huge hit that it helped create the imaginary nation of Seinfeldia!  TV fans have long had massive obsessions over genre shows such as the Twilight Zone, or Star Trek.  To have such fandom arise for a half hour sitcom?  Unheard of, but that is what has happened.
            Seinfeld lives on in syndication, and will likely do so for as long as I Love Lucy or the Honeymooners.  It is a torchbearer for the kind of smart, caustic, and insightful comedy that can be created in a network setting.  Anyone who loves the show would get a kick out of this book.  There are many behind-the-scenes stories, details, and photographs to explore, and I feel the book only enhances my enjoyment of Seinfeld the TV show.  That is a great thing!

(This book can be purchased here:  AMAZON  )