Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

NOV 2013
by Jonathan Lowe

First up, every possible aspect of human population undergoes scrutiny in the book Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth by Alan Weisman, and the news is not good for the late 21st Century.

According to the author, although previous dire warnings haven't gone as forecast (due to advances in agricultural science), there are still a million humans being added to Earth every four and a half days, and this is unsustainable. It is the equivalent of added four more Beijings every year. Already taxed by increased demand for energy and clean water, the Earth is losing species by the hundred as the human species replaces them. Trees are being cut, coral reefs are being decimated by increased acidity, and air pollution threatens to change the climate, flooding coastal areas (including cities such as Mumbai and Miami.) Populations on Earth were stable for millennia until the mid 1800s, when better food production began to lift the growth line toward the vertical. With more food, women have more babies, but the overuse and misuse of fertilizer has consequences on the environment.

Likewise, the burning of coal for power, and the dwindling resources of cheap oil (along with the failure of sufficient cheap alternatives) have set the human race on a collision course with a cruel reality.

"All the low hanging fruit has been plucked," says Weisman, "and what remains will be dirtier and more expense in every way." A solution, still unthinkable to most countries, would be to have a one child per family law, which, if it were adopted would "return the Earth to sustainability in less than a hundred years...the same amount of time it took to get us here." Even two children per couple would solve most of the problem. But consider the Niger, where all fertile women are pregnant nearly all of the time. Weisman talks to men there who boast of having 22 children, which are seen as the only assets they own.

When he asks them to remember what their world looked like 22 years previously, they had to admit it was a lot greener. This is a chilling book, considering the implications of inevitable human misery in terms of famine, wars, and diminished standard of living. For the other animals we share the planet with, the forecast is even more grim.

Demand for meat is increasing too, and the only way to meet this demand is to place animals in pens and feed them grain and hormones, resulting in sickly creatures which can easily host diseases. "We tend to think of people as holding jobs," says Weisman, "but only so many houses can be built and maintained, stocked with 'stuff' whose proliferation is somehow always seen as being positive. Growth has become our goal. We refuse to see any limit, which is why Florida planned for half a million more homes right after the mortgage collapse." He adds that the Earth itself will self-correct this delusion, "handing out pink slips to humans." Sound like Avatar? Maybe so. As he told those men in Niger, the future of cutting down trees for a living is coming to an end, while planting them is the only way to live in the future. Adam Grupper narrates.

Another good reason to listen to audiobooks while walking or doing chores (rather than reading books while sitting in a Lazy-Boy) is provided an entire chapter in THE STORY OF THE HUMAN BODY by Daniel E. Lieberman, as read by Sean Runnette. Yes, the features of a Lazy Boy are outlined by Lieberman as he describes how reading comfortably is "dysevolutionary," meaning not in line with how our bodies are designed to function. Beginning with an examination of Paleolithic man as hunter/gatherer, he shows how farming and fire began to radically change the structure of the human body, as chewing and foraging took less and less time. This has been our goal ever since---to extract food energy at less cost to us. Today we have many labor saving devices, and the goal of society is comfort and indulgence. But this is the opposite of what one's body needs for optimum health. Stress, Lieberman argues, is what strengthens bodies and makes us more resilient to fight disease. Stone age man was forced to walk or run for miles daily to acquire less rich foods than we eat today: foods that were more diverse while rendering fewer calories. The opposite is true now. Today we call Dominos and order meat and cheese pizzas with 2 liter bottles of soda, obtaining many times the calories without the attendant effort. We sit and eat, sit and watch TV, sit and read, sit at desks and "work." In addition, we no longer get as diverse a mix of foods, as the many ancient and more nutritious grains like amaranth have been replaced by cheaper-to-grow corn, wheat, and rice. Not only this, but these fewer grains are highly processed to reduce their nutrition even more while increasing their energy content and taste.

This causes us to intake much more energy than we expend, and leads to epidemics of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers---which were far less prevalent in the past. Go to the mall and watch even children using the escalator, standing instead of walking, not knowing that escalators and elevators were originally installed there for use by the handicapped and invalids. Likewise, school physical education programs have been cut by half in favor of voluntary sports programs, something Lieberman decries. Our society focuses its health care on treatment of symptoms rather than on underlying causes or prevention.

This has ballooned the profits of drug companies and for-profit hospitals and junk food manufacturers rather than focusing on the fact that 70% of the $2 Trillion dollars we spend on health care yearly is completely preventable by diet and exercise. For the full story about why this professor of evolutionary biology and biological sciences at Harvard is also in favor of taxing soda (liquid candy) to the same degree as cigarettes, listen to this audiobook while walking.

Preferably in rolling terrain that includes going uphill. Do this three times a week and you've just reduced your chance of dying years earlier by half.

LEAGUE OF DENIAL: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth is written by two ESPN reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into the U.S.
military's reliance on private security contractors.) Private interviews and previously undisclosed documents go into this expos of NFL politics and its war on science. Like the tobacco industry, the NFL makes so much money and has such huge numbers on its side that is doesn't fear lying to fans and players alike, while bribing editors to cover up the facts about what the game does to the human brain---not just in individual incidents where players are stretchered off the field---but in regular and consistent game to game cumulative trauma.

(This also goes for young kids playing tackle football.) There is no violence without victims, and contact sports like football are violent, especially on the brain, which is jostled by every tackle regardless of helmet protection. The NFL has been in denial about it for decades. The money is just too good. Like boxing and cage fighting, the fans demand it. So will anything change? Narrated by David H. Lawrence, this audiobook is a well told earful of stats and case studies, including players who thought they'd become announcers in retirement only to face life in a wheelchair or on a slab at the morgue, some the result of suicide after losing memory and/or motor control. Powerful and shocking, the Fainarus show, once again, that no matter how big and popular a thing is, it can still be dead wrong about the costs. (Random House Audio)

The history of science is a record of traditional conceits and perspectives being altered by new findings. In the new book WHO DISCOVERED AMERICA---The Untold History of the Peopling of the Americas by Gavin Menzies and Ian Hudson there's an astonishing and ironic twist to the economic reality today involving the Chinese owning a sizable chunk of our country's debt and assets. Evidence now shows that long before Columbus the Chinese have been visiting the Americas in fleets of junks much larger than European ships at the time. The implications of linguistic, calligraphic, flora/fauna, artifact, historical account, and DNA evidence can no longer be ignored, says the author. The evidence is overwhelming that the Chinese have been sailing the great oceans for thousands of years.

When a volcanic eruption in 1450 BC destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete, Chinese shipbuilding gained supremacy, leading to the exploration and even habitation of both North and South America. A base camp for mining and smelting was established in Nova Scotia long before any Spanish arrivals, leaving behind paved roads suggesting a population exceeding ten thousand. DNA evidence shows that native American Indians, along with the Mayan, have Chinese ancestry mingled with other later European traits. Chinese anchors, coins, pottery, and medallions with Chinese symbols have been found either along the coasts or inland. Sighting of junks that would have dwarfed the Santa Maria were seen by native Americans on both continents (Indian, Maya, Inca), as evidenced by drawings and folklore. And their bloodlines were partly Asian due to earlier visits! But the conquering Spanish armadas, with their language and wars, rewrote this history, and imposed their own language, customs, and DNA into the mix. The controversial findings of this fascinating book, if true, are conception-shattering. Why didn't the Chinese build cities in America, but rather abandoned any settlements they made when resources were depleted? The answer is that they were not empire builders by nature, as were the Europeans. They were not expansionist like they might have been (and which helped the English colonize in India, southeast Asia and elsewhere.) Gildart Jackson narrates.

Finally, another author, best known for Fast Food Nation, examines the history and shocking risks of SAC and the Atomic Energy Commission from World War 2 into the Cold War and beyond. Narrated by Scott Brick in often grave but lilting tones, COMMAND AND CONTROL by Eric Schlosser bears the subtitle Nuclear Weapons, the Damacus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.

Damascus, Arkansas was the site of an accident at a Titan 2 missile silo, which escalated to disaster when an operator dropped a tool between the missile and silo wall, and it rebounded and caused a fuel leak. The leak lowered the pressure in the tank, which led to fuel mixing with oxidizer, resulting in an explosion. Schlosser uses the fictional device of leaving his subject at critical times to provide background history, knowing he's got your attention. That's a useful tool in itself, given that there is much history to cover running the gamut of nuclear development, deployment, politics, technical information, and a series of other near accidents, including, at one point, a mistaken Russian missile attack on par with the movie War Games, in which NORAD misstook the full moon rising over Norway as evidence of a launch. (What stopped the panic was finding out Nikita Khrushchev was visiting the UN in New York, and so it wasn't likely, the Pentagon reasoned, that the other team would sacrifice their star quarterback.) The gamesmanship of the arms race is evident throughout the book (big boys like their billion dollar toys), and although President Eisenhower decried the military/industrial complex for having its own agenda, he couldn't make the handling and deployment of nuclear weapons completely safe.

Schlosser is good at laying out the big picture, and punctuating it with closeups of the players---from bombardiers and test engineers to politicians and service crews. Given the massive stockpiles of superbombs out there, enough to raze the Earth several times over, is it still possible, as it was during the Cold War, for a dropped or shot down nuke to go off? Is it possible for a Dr. Strangelove scenario to occur, resulting from the theft of such a city killer? The answer is yes. And that makes this one scary book. Because, as we all know, there is no shortage of nut jobs and religious fanatics wanting Armageddon to happen in their lifetime, too. (About missile silos, I once explored an abandoned one in research for the climax of my first novel, Postmarked for Death, and also wrote a short story for Easyriders magazine about a man who buys an old Titan silo south of Tucson for his retirement, then discovers the Air Force forgot to take out one of the missiles...and he has an itch for revenge. Is this fiction any less believable than what nearly happened in reality, as two hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped in North Carolina in 1961 after the bomber carrying them failed to refuel and went into an uncontrolled spin? One of them was armed, and only missed one of four failsafe circuits from going off!)

2013 Past Columns