Watch: Guns, Germs and Steel

Posted in Current Events, Entertainment by mcarmen5 on 12/20/2010

My friend and I were lazily flipping through her Netflix “watch-instant” selection when I caught sight of something familiar: the cover image of my one of my favorite books!  I was so excited that it was the first thing I watched when I got home (my friend was not in the mood for “anything serious” at the moment).  The documentary is an adaptation from Jared Diamond‘s phenomenal book, Guns, Germs and Steel.  It has been one of my absolute favorites and most recommended books since I first read it at 17.   This was often the book I’d (very) enthusiastically gush about whenever patrons at the local bookstore I used to work for asked, “What do you recommend?”  I must have sold dozens!

If you’ve ever wondered, like me, why certain civilizations managed to conquer so much of the globe and how the society we know today was shaped, this is a great launch-pad.  I’d highly recommend this for your personal edification or perhaps as a gift for that history buff on your list!

You can watch this even if you don’t have Netflix or can’t wait to see when it’ll air on PBS.  Catch it on Google-Vid here.


Monday Briefing/Read: The Economist — “Progress and Its Perils”

Posted in Current Events by mcarmen5 on 12/21/2009

My Economist arrived in the mail today and I was immediately drawn to this issue’s special report, “Progress and Its Perils.”

I highly recommend picking up their holiday special issue, which I usually like for their number of interesting articles and reports.  A couple years back, it was a feature on “Happiness” that was refreshing in its modern take and economic angle.

Not only is this issue’s cover pretty neat (check out Adam and Eve’s chic green iPod!), but I think it brings a bit of somber introspection to this decade’s challenges at the closing of 2009.

Another great article from this issue is Lexington’s “Bah, Humbug.” Given some of the recent progress in health care reform, readers will find something worth thinking and talking about (just be sure not to bring it up to that politico uncle of yours at Christmas dinner).   It focuses on the case of Christian Science lobbyists who want to make health insurers pay for “faith healing,” or prayers, as Christian Science followers believe illness and cancer can be overcome with prayer.

Economist, 12/19/09

Going to America” is another interesting look at the shifting demographics in the U.S. While nothing entirely new if you’ve been following news and bits on population trends, it offers insight into the reasons why steady immigration may be helping the U.S. sustain growth and to avoid the problems of advanced aging countries like Italy and Japan. The other side of the coin, of course, is never far from such a claim, as the article takes into account the growing tensions in the racial fabric of America.

Filth: the Joy of Dirt

Finally, some light and fun pieces worth skimming: a piece on Politeness and its apparent decline in modern society, a feature on “Filth: The Joy of Dirt,” that looks into our contemporary obsession with soap and cleanliness, and for wine-lovers or history buffs, a piece called “Hedonism and Claret,” on how the 18th & 19th century English bourgeois shaped the wine industry.

Overall, this issue is definitely worth its newsstand price tag, or at least a browse when you’re in line!  That’s the Monday Brief for this week, enjoy!

Read: The Economist, “Stopping Climate Change”

Posted in Current Events by mcarmen5 on 12/11/2009

My initial goal in trying to create some kind of coherent theme was to create a Monday briefing for the week.  It’s now Thursday.  Better late than never?

Read/news brief of the week comes from a special report on climate change in the Economist.  I’m sure you’ve heard enough about global warming and the importance of recycling, but it’s always good to be informed on the issues on why your planet is “kind of” in trouble.

The UN is hosting a climate change conference this month in Copenhagen, and there’s a lot of optimism surrounding it.  Still, I can’t imagine much being accomplished this round — besides finger-pointing and a strong aversion to taking responsibility.  The issue is too complex.

As you’ll pick up, one of the main problems in dealing with an issue like climate change is responsibility.  It’s probably one of the biggest roadblocks to cementing any kind of coherent policy.  How do we measure state responsibility and how do we formulate a “fair” policy that takes in to consideration all the variables and differences in development and industry of each country?  What about enforcement and authority?

Maple leaves against sunlight in May in Helsinki. Photo © 2004 by Ilmari Karonen.

While the Economist’s special report doesn’t offer any answers, it does offer a few insightful pieces like, “Is it worth mitigating climate change,” and why investors are not/may not be supporting “green technology.”  No solutions, but it gets the brain ticking, so when someone happens to bring up climate change, your best answer at the next cocktail party/cafe won’t be, “Um, well I think global warming is bad,” or worse, “I just think we need to be more green.” :)

Here’s an excerpt that captures the Economist‘s main gist:

A hard sell
It’s all about politics. Climate change is the hardest political problem the world has ever had to deal with. It is a prisoner’s dilemma, a free-rider problem and the tragedy of the commons all rolled into one. At issue is the difficulty of allocating the cost of collective action and trusting other parties to bear their share of the burden … Climate change has been a worldwide worry for only a couple of decades. Mankind has no framework for it.” (p. 4, special report)”