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an interesting looking book review - ecology

“Tudge's previous books have been radical in their call for change, and his last word in The Secret Life of Trees is, if anything, even more anxious and angry. Without putting aside the question of safeguarding wilderness for its own sake, he sees our last chance in a shift of emphasis away from arable farming to agri-forestry: "if trees had only been taken more seriously, they could have become an enormous food resource." Consumers have to be better informed, he believes, which (short of becoming forest-dwellers) means filling our heads with this sort of book alongside the sensual appreciation of trees themselves. He cites Brazil as the most depressing example of current insanity - cutting down its greatest and most irreplaceable resource to grow cheap soya or to graze sun-stressed cattle for as long as the soil remains fertile (not very long). If we are to avoid meltdown, it seems, we somehow have to wrest power from those who currently hold it - with zoologists and botanists as our think-tank.”

The secret life of trees by Colin Tudge The secret life of trees

by Colin Tudge

Allen Lane, £20

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Energy - beyond fossil fuels at




thomas paine on the fossil media;
by the auroran sunset

The fossil media’s lack of contact with reality or honesty is nothing new. The following was written in 1806:

“The writer of this remembers a remark made to him by Mr. Jefferson concerning the English Newspapers which at that time, 1787, while Mr. Jefferson was Minister at Paris, were most vulgarly abusive. The remark applies with equal force to the Federal papers of America. The remark was, that "the licentiousness of the press produces the same effect as the restraint of the press was intended to do. The restraint, said he, was to prevent things being told, and the licentiousness of the press prevents things being believed when they are told." We have in this state an evidence of the truth of this remark. The number of federal papers in the city and state of New-York are more than five to one to the number of republican papers, yet the majority of the elections go always against the federal papers, which is demonstrative evidence that the licentiousness of those papers are destitute of credit.”

Thomas Paine, Collected Writing, p.429.

I originally bought this collection of Paine’s writing from my interest in American politics and the spread of freedom. However, I could just as easily recommend the book for those who simply want to read beautifully written prose. Thomas Paine sometimes goes over the top on the rhetoric of his cases, but even then he invariably manages to do it prettily.

As for the content, this is a man who sized up the great problem of his day and decided that the most effective way to improve the world was to start writing. Having decided, he then set about pretty much singlehandedly persuading America, first to declare independence [in Common sense], and then to stick to their guns [in The crisis series of public letters], until Britain was defeated and America was free to become the beacon of hope it is today.

Paine’s methods were truly modern: step by logical step he took the arguments of his opponents to pieces, leaving them with nowhere left to stand. He regularly dissected the illogics in the statements of America’s enemies. He also carried out highly competent ‘fisks’ more than two centuries before Fisk began making a fool of himself.

As with any ‘ancient’, it is possible for those who stand on his shoulders to pick holes and mock the ignorance of his age, as seen through his writings. However, without these same writings, our freedom, wealth and knowledge would likely not afford us the latitude to mock. Paine is one of the giants on whose shoulders we all stand.

Amongst Paine’s other achievements is inventing a new way of constructing iron bridges so as to span much larger rivers with much greater ease. With surprising naivety, he was also centrally involved in the early French revolution, prior to the bloodbaths - he almost got himself killed opposing said bloodbaths. He also, in effect, invented a ‘rationalist’ religion whose ideas are still influential today. He campaigned against slavery and capital punishment. He wrote of a citizen’s wage in Agrarian justice.

“The life of an [Red] Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand, it appears to be abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so called, has operated, two ways, to make one part of society more affluent, and the other part more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.

“It is always possible to go from the natural to the civilized state, but it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state. The reason is, that man, in a natural state, subsisting by hunting, requires ten times the quantity of land to range over, to procure himself sustenance, than would support him in a civilized state, where the earth is cultivated. When therefore a country becomes populous by the additional aids of cultivation, arts, and science, there is a necessity of preserving things in that state; because, without it, there cannot be sustenance for more, perhaps, than a tenth part of its inhabitants. The thing therefore now to be done, is, to remedy the evils, and preserve the benefits, that have arisen to society, by passing from the natural to that which is called the civilized state.”

Note that this is precisely the same mechanism which makes it not an option to ignore our fossil fuel problems.

Not bad for a perpetually broke corset-maker cum customs inspector cum drifter from Thetford in Norfolk, England.

This book has 830 pages of Thomas Paine’s writing and a fairly full chronology of his life. It is a properly bound hardback with nice thin pages: the way a book should be. I have not finished reading it yet, but this one definitely goes on my recommendations list.

Collected Writings of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine :
Collected Writings : Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters

Library of America, 1995, hbk, 1883011035

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Einstein defiant - a review
highly recommended - ive GoldenYak (tm) award

I have read a great many such books on this subject, the development of relativity and quantum physics, and this is the best I have found.

My interest in the field is not in the physics, but in the mental set and communications between the prime workers in the field over the past century. For clear description of these aspects, this book is highly recommended, even though the author assumes differences (and so probably do many of the workers) that were more imaginary than real.

The book is foolishly hyped in terms of imagined contentions between workers who, in fact, had considerable mutual respect for each other’s ability. This applies particularly to an essentially false, but fashionable, representation of a near to nonexistent ‘quarrel’ between Einstein and Bohr. As with so much writing, the author irrelevantly waltzes off into the long grass in the last twenty pages of the book. It would have been better to save the paper.

Not withstanding these shortcomings, I must award this book five Golden Yaks (tm) for its enormous usefulness as a coherent source. The author has a much better than usual grasp of the technical aspects of the physics, and the wit and ability to present the developments in clear simple language, without redundant verbiage and pomposity.

It is not well understood that workers in various fields tend to set their minds up according to the technical requirements of their professional interests. A differing mind-set does not indicate better or worse, nor does it indicate contention or quarrel; much more it is a matter of using a spanner to undo a bolt, rather than reaching for a screwdriver. To assemble the complex and impressive structure of modern physics was not, and could not have been, done with just a bunch of spanners. It has required, and will continue to require, a very wide-ranging tool kit with the added invention of new tools as difficulties appear. Competitive and narrow egos may strut and claim their individual road is best; although it may be best for their purposes, those various bests are no universals.

Einstein Defiant: Genius Versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution by Edmund Blair

Einstein Defiant: Genius Versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution by Edmund Blair Bolles, 2004,
Joseph Henry Press,0309089980

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