Audiobooks

Audiobooks Review April 2015 by Jonathan Lowe

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If we’re still not sure what human morality consists of, asks the author of KILL CHAIN, (a Harpers magazine reporter,) how will we be able to determine what morality a robotic drone may possess once it becomes autonomous? The audiobook, which is subtitled The Rise of the High Tech Assassins, traces the history of what led to the present state of clandestine war. Obama decided to wage “smart” war after Bush played it dumb (and expensive), using stealth, spying, and drones. But there has been limited success, and even more budget deficits as the Pentagon plays the President and the taxpayers, asking for hundreds of billions to finance new computers, training facilities, weapons, jets, technologies, bases, ships, and an entire “kill chain” of operators, intelligence analysts and officers charged with the impossible duty of keeping America 100% “safe.” The results have been spotty, with a terrorized general public in places like Pakistan and Yemen, where civilian casualties to drone strikes can come at any time. Imagine being a citizen of Yemen, aware that just talking to the wrong person can get you killed, not just by terrorists but by a missile fired from an unseen Predator–as one bus of pedestrians, including women and children, was when a “Hellfire” missile targeted a nearby car. Why care about this? Because the locals started thinking of themselves as victims of America…and terrorist sympathizers. War is messy, and “military intelligence” an oxymoron when the enemy starts getting smart, and uses Twitter while hiding and disguising. This audiobook, narrated by the always engaging Malcolm Hillgartner, attempts to put some perspective on the complexity of the problem.

killchain

Bill Gifford in SPRING CHICKEN talks about (through narrator Jeremy Arthur) the effectiveness of vitamins and other substances or modalities in staying young forever (obviously an impossible goal except via uploading one’s brain into a computer.) Not only has the anti-oxidant theory of aging been disproven, but calorie restriction, resveratrol, and other things have limited effects. Having researched this subject for my suspense novel The Methuselah Gene, I found this audiobook interesting and informative, with a broad, memoir style approach that includes many personal stories as the author recalls his encounters with both scientists and pseudo-scientists. He ends with a list of things that may help advance age by preventing major diseases, but the ultimate pill is still science fiction (although they are working on it!) And just as my protagionist speculates how people might react to overpopulation and extended lifespans of the rich, who can afford such pills, he presents his case for moderation and wary skepticism.

VITAMANIA by Catherine Price bears the subtitle “Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection,” and comes at a time when Wal Mart and other retailers have gotten into trouble for selling vitamins that do not contain what the label says they do. The FDA decided not to regulate the billion dollar industry, limiting warnings to overdoses of A or D. So, when Adele Davis and Linus Pauling encouraged megadoses of vitamins, the lid was off for companies to make fortunes off gullible people who spent money they (mostly) could have better spent on natural foods with micronutrients in them which the supplements do not contain. Just as the processed (junk) food industry can’t make money from people who eat whole foods, so too the same processed food industry gets more profits by extracting (if not artifically producing) vitamins from grains and other foods, and repackaging those vitamins to consumers. Do we need vitamins? Of course, and many foods are deficient in vitamins. But is the solution to eat poor quality foods and supplement them with pills? Price argues no, since one becomes the pawn of charlatans who are unregulated and tend to make claims which are unproven, working off fear and ignorance. Rather than to buy expensive vitamin pills in a myriad range of confusing formulations (whose prices fluctuate according to popular fads), it is better to find out if there are deficiencies in one’s diet through one’s doctor, and eat better quality food in a wider range. Price, through the guidance of talented narrator Erin Bennett, tells why knowing the facts matter. Listening to this book may save you thousands of dollars over time, while protecting your health in the process.

Finally, Steve Almond grew up in a fighting family. Fist fights among his brothers were as natural as breathing. He says he made up for it vicariously by watching Raiders games, where giant men either symbolically (or in reality) broke their opponents into bone fragments. He reveled in the violence which scientists now say genetically thrusts 4% of young men into hardened criminal adulthood, and another 25% into borderline (mild to actual) aggressive sociopathy. As a mature writer, author of AGAINST FOOTBALL, he still appreciates the attraction to football, but questions some of the uncomfortable realities which have made it America’s sport. The game almost didn’t survive early problems as a hazing ritual, described as two lines of human battering rams, seen as war complete with land and air assaults. But Roosevelt stood up for it, citing it as “manly,” somewhat like the Spartans, who forced their children to fight with swords or die. (Spartans is a popular name for young teams today.) Ever since football began to take advantage of its battle narrative “story” structure and make money, promoters and organizers like the NFL have done everything they can to keep the myth alive that it is good and “wholesome” fun…even as they dismiss accusations to the contrary (or bribe officials to stay silent.) Truth is, pro players live, on average, ten years less than non-players. And there are other tolls not calculated in concussions or other injuries. The “glorious triviality” that is football consumes large chunks of public attention that cannot be spent elsewhere, like fixing the problems that we create faster than anyone can solve. It makes our culture, like that of ancient Rome, accepting of the idea that one must choose sides in all debates, and beat the opposition by brute force of will (rather than reason.) We have made football so important, Almond says, because we are bewildered by the complexity of politics and greed and corruption, but we understand the matchups between teams that stand in for an imperfect and violent world. We want simple answers that feel good, have definitive outcomes, and provide the resolution that life seldom does (except in novels.) Narrated by an always engaging and “manly” Peter Berkrot, the book is a wakeup call to a society that is okay with punishing whistleblowers and encouraging voyeurism in a time when activism, meaning and truth are in short supply.

From the author, regarding my own book audiobook The Umpire Has No Clothes: Diary of a Sports Atheist (which is satire that includes fiction): “I love it! You deserve credit as a major theologian of our age! I agree that sports are radical religions. In this sense, America has become a kind of pan-theistic culture: we worship many Gods. And we all believe that our God is the only pure one. I think that serious fans (of football or any other sport) long to feel the sense of dominion and power that comes with victory over another clan. And I think this need to feel like a winner (even if by proxy) is exaggerated in a hyper-capitalist culture because we’re constantly made to feel like losers who are falling behind. But there are lots of other reasons people love football. Because it re-connects us to the intuitive physical pleasures of childhood. Because it’s incredibly satisfying drama. Because it’s a chance to see athletic greatness on display, etc.”

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