Review – Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution

Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and Revolution Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and RevolutionLaurie Penny; Bloomsbury 2014WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I liked this book. It was messy, and deeply compassionate, and very sad, and not exactly hopeful. Because in the end, what can I do, what can you do? The whole world is changing, needs to change, but we can’t do much about it either way. And in the meantime, we all suffer, men and women and girls and boys alike. The writing style is informal and vulgar, which I have noticed turned some people off. I think it was a calculated decision. How else can she get you to look beyond what society tells you is proper?

Penny focuses on the lies society is currently telling us about men and women and how we interact. She then follows those lies to their impact on our behavior, on how incredibly difficult it becomes to interact with another human when society has told you they aren’t human. And it’s true both ways. Society tells men that women are empty vessels waiting to be filled and it tells men that women are animalistic balls of rage that will destroy them for disagreeing with a single thing they say. Only that latter thing really does happen, so it’s not exactly equivalent.

Best quote:

Modern do-it-all superwomen are so knackered and seething that they have started backing stacks of silly little biscuits and flouncing around in retro 1950s-print dresses as if doing so might bring back the days when you still had to do the shopping, the cooking, and the squeezing out of babies, but if you were very lucky and very pretty you might be able to persuade a man to cover the finances, because the further away from it some of us get the better that option is starting to look.

Since “freedom and equality” seems to mean that women get to work paid jobs while also doing all of the work they used to do, it is starting to look like a pretty raw deal. But the point is, the revolution isn’t finished, we have more work to do, and we should get back to work.

Review – Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact

Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal ImpactNick Morgan; Harvard Business Review Press 2014WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I have read a lot of body language books in my day. Being a scientist, I have been resistant to leaving things like body language up to chance. I hate the idea that there’s a whole ‘nother conversation going on and I’m not in on it. So I read body language books. But my hatred of oversimplification usually ends up negating anything I would have gained from these books, because apparently what sells body language books is “Do these three exact motions and you will get promoted.” Why those things? Why do you assume I am looking for a promotion? Do I really want to be promoted by people who will be duped by me changing three things that have nothing to do with my job? Maybe I should reevaluate my whole life.

The point is, this book is different. Morgan takes you through the research, what the science says happens non-verbally among groups, and then discusses how you can take advantage of that research. Not only that, he doesn’t mention “power postures” even once, and isn’t interested in tricking people. As far as body language goes, it is an expression of emotion. Most of the books in this area focus on changing the body language without really investigating the emotion, and if they do, they imply that by changing the language you’ll change the emotion. Morgan would rather you bring your body language into alignment with your emotion, and then people aren’t getting conflicting messages from you which would lead to distrust.

The other really good thing about this book is that it actually had information I hadn’t heard before. Part of the reason I read so fast is because I have read so much that all I really need to do is find the 10-20 sentences of new information in any book I read. This one had more than that. There’s the obligatory chapter on your body language, one on reading other people’s body language, then it dives deep into interesting territory: Which part of your vocal range and what kind of tonal quality inspires people to follow you, what makes a compelling story (again, which makes people follow you), and how to welcome and use the subconscious signals you receive from other people’s body language.

Highly recommended.

Review – The Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy

Power to Save the World Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear EnergyGwyneth Cravens; Knopf 2007WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Gwyneth Cravens was a writer who knew next to nothing about nuclear power, and like most people who don’t know very much about it, was against it. Then, she decided to learn as much as she could by touring various facilities and talking to lots of scientists, before finally concluding that nuclear is the only option that allows us to keep using electricity without global warming the planet to death.

Like many books about nuclear power, this one is overlong with too much detail. The problem is that the pro-nuclear camp is making an argument that nobody wants to hear, so they make it very comprehensively. It was also written before Fukushima, which renders it alarmingly out of date. If she thought people didn’t understand the risks and benefits of nuclear power before, that perception has only worsened.

That said, much of it is still true, and I would argue Fukushima doesn’t change the basic arguments all that much. The fossil fuel industry creates orders of magnitude more hazardous waste and is less careful about dealing with it. There are permanent disposal places that are more or less perfectly safe. Especially if we reprocess fuel and only store the truly not useful stuff, we will never run out of space because the volume of the waste is so incredibly small.

Another interesting point that I’d have liked to see discussed in light of Fukushima is all of the natural disasters that nuclear plants have survived. Three operating power reactors were hit by Katrina with no problems, according to this book. I’d like to see someone talk about others. And natural disasters will only get worse as the climate gets more unstable, which is precisely the thing relying more on nuclear power, at least as a transitional technology, is intended to prevent.

But in the end, although she was ideally suited to discuss the public misperceptions and what can be done about them, she was still applying the same technique scientists have been for years. Show the public lots of data and they will understand. I was hoping she would have written something a little less technical and a little more emotional.

Review: Rich Food, Poor Food

Jayson Calton and Mira Calton – Rich Food, Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS): Shop Smart, Shop Healthy, Save Time, Save Money ….. Avoid Hype and Harmful Ingredients

Man, I hate nutrition books. It’s even less fun for someone who has to be in the room with me while I’m reading them. There’s a lot of cries of frustration, hair pulling, and exclamations of, “That’s not how chemistry works! UGH!”

Let me give you an example. During their discussion of “Banned Bad Boys,” because who can take an author seriously if they don’t use alliteration, they tell you how terrible brominated vegetable oil and potassium bromate are, because bromine is bad. Let me show you some pictures.

This is what potassium bromate looks like:

File:Bromičnan draselný.JPG

This is what bromine looks like:

File:Bromine 25ml.jpg

Did you notice something? Perhaps the fact that they look nothing alike? That is because, in chemistry, typically compounds act absolutely nothing like their elemental forms. Sodium and potassium, both (in ionic form) micronutrients without which you would die, in their elemental forms literally explode when they touch water.

I couldn’t find any pictures of brominated vegetable oil, just a bunch of pictures of nutrition labels, bromine, and poison symbols, but that is probably because it probably looks exactly like ordinary vegetable oil.

So, I’d forgive them for being confused, except that they really hammer the point in. Let me quote: Brominated vegetable oil “is composed mainly of bromine, a poisonous chemical whose vapors are considered both corrosive and toxic.” And yes, bromine is a huge jerk. I have worked with it, and it’s fucking evil. You’re pouring it and these terrifying dark red gasses are flying up into the air, and you’re wearing a mask and the sash on the fume hood is all the way down and you’re still a little freaked out because it looks like you’re in a bad mad science movie. But once it’s in a compound, it no longer gives off vapors. I promise. And “mainly”? Define “mainly”, because I am pretty sure it is “mainly” vegetable oil.

But I mean, seriously. I’m not even arguing about whether BVO is bad for you. It probably is. It’s banned in a bunch of other countries. That’s good enough for me. But why the bad chemistry facts? This guy has a PhD in nutrition, and he doesn’t know how chemistry works? And it didn’t even occur to him to maybe CHECK THE INTERNET before publishing this garbage? How am I supposed to believe a single other thing he says?

I have a lot more to say about how nutrition books are bad in general and this one specifically, but I’m tired and I want to go home.

Review: The End of Leadership

Barbara Kellerman – The End of Leadership

This was a really cool book. She talks about how technology is changing the world and making us completely unleadable. She also questions the business of teaching leadership, which is clearly not working, as leaders lose more and more powerful the more educated (as a group) they get. I’m not saying it as well as she did, so you should read the book.

Review: Forecast

Mark Buchanan – Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology, and the Natural Sciences, Can Teach Us About Economics

I have a request, plz. More physicists write more books about things that are not physics. Please and thank you. I want to hug him, because he brings out new science metaphors. Not the same old ones we’ve all heard before, but brand new ones. Hugs. If he wants them, of course.

This guy is pretty smart, and he has some smart things to say about economics. Specifically, that most of economic theory is stupid, and that economists keep throwing good money after bad (see what I did there?).

Specifically: The belief that markets reach equilibrium and return to equilibrium when perturbed is bullshit. Markets are chaotic, unpredictable, and tiny perturbations can make them explode. Like the weather. And market predictions fail for the same reason that meteorological ones always used to, before meteorologists accepted that they even if they had 100% of all the information about all the mosquitos in the world, they were still not going to be able to predict the weather perfectly.

So, the book has some tools for prediction that actually work, and talks about how one would go about making additional tools. It also spends many, many words whining about how dumb social scientists are. If you’re a hard scientist, you’re used to that and it feels like home, but everyone else might find it a little off-putting.

I like and approve of this book.