Nothing is forever. Every society turns over, just like every empire and religion and being. In Samuel Cohn’s All Societies Die, the idea is to learn what makes that happen at the societal level. For me at least, it doesn’t work.

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The book attempts to list all the many factors that might cause a society to fall, fail or fade away. Cohn talks about the fall of the Roman Empire, which lasted nearly 800 years. It had been defending itself from outsiders and rebellions for centuries, but the rot was likely from within. …

Bellingcat is a lovely invented word that perfectly describes a new discipline- tracking down the hidden truth and lassoing the culprits — the powerful — using open source data. In We Are Bellingcat, founder Eliot Higgins tells the remarkable and always fascinating — when not totally gripping — story of how it came to be, how it found itself front and center on the world stage, and how it achieved its numerous, significant accomplishments. It’s an exciting book, because all of their campaigns will be familiar to all readers. …

True environmentalists don’t buy into The Green New Deal. They think all the encouraging words from other environmentalists are bright green lies. Because at bottom, all the positive noises are simply a sop to industrialized society and the giant industries that run it. And according to Bright Green Lies, the book, it’s all about maintaining the current opulent lifestyle, and continuing to destroy the planet. No sacrifices will be made that might slow the consumer economy.

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This dramatic, sane and passionate book lays out the lies with evidence like simple math and direct observation. It is a straightforward deconstruction of things like “renewable” energy, “sustainable” agriculture and pointless optimism that it is not too late if mankind would just take any kind of action right now. The book is wide-ranging and constantly challenging of common knowledge and perceptions. …

Raunch culture is a self-explanatory term Bernadette Barton uses to describe the decline and fall of the USA in The Pornification of America. It means women are subservient and mere objects, men rule, and they are gauche, vile, rude, crude and cruel about it. Images of naked and near women are everywhere. And under the Trump administration, all this has become uncontroversial, normal, accepted and expected. It is the patriarchy gone wild.

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It makes for a fast-paced, constantly evolving challenge of a book. …

In so many instances, when a company is rotten, the people at the top don’t see or simply refuse to see it, and then claim they know best and everyone below is wrong. Employees who work there are frustrated with the pointless rules, bureaucracy and hypocrisy.

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In the monolithic justice system, the US attorney general certainly seems in no hurry to improve — anything. And yet, there are judges lower in the system, like whistleblowers in other firms, who see the mess for what it is. They see the damage it does to citizens, as well as to the institution and the constitution. In this case, Judge Jed Rakoff, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York continues his efforts to show his understanding of what isn’t working, from his perspective and intensive knowledge of why. It boils down to the Department of Justice is an oxymoron. …

We’ve all heard about the theft of passwords, personal data and the takeover of systems. How ransomware is crippling the budgets of towns across the country. How hospitals and utilities are caught up in it. But Nicole Perlroth, a New York Times reporter whose beat is cybersecurity, shows how they are all tied together. In her remarkable book that reads like a secret agent thriller, she proves it all boils down to a handful of shady players. And most of them are countries, not criminal masterminds.

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In This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends, Perlroth demonstrates with great flair and endless drama that it is Russia, China, Iran and North Korea that are behind almost all the mayhem. And they got all the tools from the United States, which created a market for zero-day exploits, and promptly lost control to the rest of the world. …

Fractals came into my little world long before computers did, through the intense art of MC Escher. His painstaking, extraordinarily detailed woodcuts are a wonder to behold. The word fractal was invented by Benoit Mandelbrot, who pioneered and promoted the mathematical aspects of fractals. He, more than anyone, is identified with the word fractal.

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Jack Cleveland worked in computers, and apparently without knowing the work of Benoit Mandelbrot, leveraged software to produce infinitely repeating patterns — in other words, fractals. His art is very sci-fi looking. A lot of mysterious orbs and highly reflective surfaces. …

Dr. Carl Hart has never met a recreational drug he did not like. All of them have their very positive aspects for him. They reduce stress, raise awareness, and induce respect, co-operation, empathy and intimacy. And then they wear off. He calls for a withdrawal of government from the drug-banning business. His constitutional rights preclude government interference, he says. His book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is the distillation of years of research, plus lectures, speeches and feedback from them. It looks like a solid case.

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Hart was chairman of the Psychiatry Department at Columbia University in New York. This both resulted from and continued to allow him to run studies on all kinds of drugs for all kinds of reasons. He could determine their effects from numerous angles. He found that they are not killers. He found (as many others have) that only 10–30% of drug users qualify as addicts. In his global travels as a respected academic, this has been supported and confirmed by his peers in countless panels and conferences. …

Climate change has evolved its own universe, complete with leading characters, heroes, villains, critics, trolls, bots, character assassins, misinformation, misdirection and backroom plots. It is a world largely unknown to most readers, who probably think of it as an argument among scientists. Michael Mann, arguably at the center of the vortex, tries to explain it in The New Climate War.

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The hockey stick guy

Mann and his co-authors published the paper showing carbon pollution as a hockey stick, rising sharply after centuries of trivial growth. The name stuck and made their finding famous, and infamous. Attacks began soon after, and have continued — for nearly 25 years now. Mann has a thick skin and deals with it all in its turn. …

Is China a nightmare unfolding before our eyes? Dan Blumenthal, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, has put together a complex and thorough compilation of evidence in The China Nightmare. He covers both the external and the internal which present a conflicted picture that means China could be trouble. For itself, and for the world.

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The main point is that China has issues so severe, they could threaten its future as a nation. That would be destabilizing enough, but what with its outreach to nations all across Asia and Africa, it could mean a major reshuffling of the deck. China is in the midst of a nearly global campaign to win friends and buy influence. Huge Chinese infrastructure projects are underway everywhere around the globe, it seems. It has finally obtained an overseas base — in Djibouti — giving its navy the start of the long range it has never had before. It is busy offering to build and manage port facilities everywhere it can. …

About

David Wineberg

Author, The Straight Dope, or What I learned from my first thousand nonfiction reviews. 16 Essays. Free with Prime www.thestraightdope.net

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