" /> I write: May 2008
Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?
May 25, 2008

Good Germs, Bad Germs

Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Jessica Snyder Sachs – ISBN – 9780809050635
(due out in paperback in September)

Sounds deep and dreary, but hers is an incredibly informative book written in such a manner that laymen can easily understand it. The operational observation is that this is, and has always been a bacterial world--they being the oldest inhabitants of the planet--while the rest of us have to deal with them.

Nonetheless, most bacteria “inhabiting” the human body are either of the saprophytic variety, or actually function in ways which are beneficial to us and to them. Man’s ancestors evolved with bacteria, as they in turn have evolved within required parameters for their own existence. Indeed, it is becoming very apparent that much of our RNA is viral particles incorporated into our genome millions of years ago.

An increasing number of microbiologists now appreciate the often profound importance of these facts, and studies are now in hot pursuit of finding other means of controlling the “bad germs” which get out of hand and produce severe illnesses: those debilitating—or even fatal.

By now we’ve all developed a conversational knowledge of bacterial resistance--immunity to newer, heavy-duty antibiotics colloquially known as gorillacillins. These agents, in addition to killing everything in reach, are noted to regularly have serious side effects, too. The time has come to seriously look for other approaches: re-colonization with beneficial bugs, developing “attack” bugs, implementing dietary augmentation and the like. Further, it is time to assess the net effect of raising our food stock (animals and some vegetables) by using antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, since this exposes us to the antibiotic as well as the more resistant microbes which are sub-cultured by such use.

In prior times we all lived in a more “dirty” environment, from which we acquired a resistance to various bugs in much the same way as vaccines produce immunity to minor variants of lethal bugs. Now, there is nothing wrong with cleanliness, but in our ever-so-clean modern environment we are depriving ourselves, and more importantly our children, of exposure to these bugs, which leaves us extremely vulnerable. Further, there is evidence that numerous allergies, asthma, diabetes, varietal inflammatory diseases, and a host of other ailments including Alzheimer’s are in part produced by this environmental manipulation. It is becoming more apparent that even anxiety and depression may be related to these same phenomena. It ain’t that good to kill all the bugs, a naïve concept in the first place, since we can’t! They have survived for billions of years in environments more hostile than any we can create. G-d has provided animals, including man, with the ability to cope with such exposure.

Sachs elaborates upon the immunological result of our “clean fetish,” and explains how this is seriously altering our quality of life. We need to begin paying serious attention. She delves into these varietal conundrums in such a way that she maintains interest as she patiently explains the problems.

“Since the dawn of civilization, the demon of pestilence has been a part of our lives and fears. Sanitation and antibiotics gave us our first powerful weapons against this great foe . . . [and] we have wielded them crudely, without appreciation either for the role that bacteria play in maintaining our health or for their infinite capacity to adapt to whatever poisons we throw at them.”

“As naïve as it may sound in a day when killer superbugs dominate our headlines, a growing scientific consensus is forming that it’s time to move beyond our escalating war on microbes and look for ways to foster a truce in what will always be a bacterial world.”

Posted by respeto at 11:33 AM

May 21, 2008

The Napoleon of Crime

Ben Macintyre – ISBN – 9780374218994 (1997)

I have previously reviewed Macintyre’s most recent book: The Man Who Would be King (March, 2005). This fascinating book caused me to search for others he had written, and I discovered several which are no longer in print but well worth the trouble to purchase, used. I recommend both and will shortly review The Englishman’s Daughter.

As with “the man,” this book is extraordinarily well researched. It chronicles the life, times and activities of (probably) the most important, and clearly the cleverest thief of the late 19th century. This was an American who spent much of his time in Europe living “like a prince.” He orchestrated extraordinarily brilliant crimes from Turkey to London, and not occasionally in the U.S. Additionally it explores the ethics of the Victorian world, which is a subject worth revisiting.

I wholeheartedly agree with a reviewer quoted on the jacket: “I wish, from this day forward, that everything I learn about history could be channeled through Ben Macintyre’s brilliant sensibility and elegant voice. [His books are] a joy to read. Please, Mr. Macintyre, write more quickly.”

Adam Worth, master thief and the Napoleon of crime, was a gentleman of sorts--if a thief can be so considered; widely respected by law enforcement (including the Pinkertons and Scotland Yard) for his cunning and charity for his confederates and others. Mr. Pinkerton himself observed that “anybody with whom he had a speaking acquaintance could always come to him and receive assistance when he had the power to give it.”

He was almost never present at the scene, but planned robberies and employed diverse types of people for them. The yield over his life was multiple millions of dollars of “merchandise,” which he divided fairly, living profligately on his share.

He neither used, nor permitted to be used, weapons of any kind in the commission of the crimes he authored. The one which made him famous, and “most wanted,” was the theft of one of the more valuable paintings in the world: Gainsborough’s The Duchess of Devonshire; that from a heavily guarded gallery immediately prior to its pending sale to Pierpont Morgan. He kept the painting for decades, sequestered amongst his private things, furtively took it with him on occasion, and finally “surrendered it,” with the help of the Pinkertons, to the original buyer for a fee which was negotiated by them.

It is an engrossing story about the life and times of this man, the times in which he lived, the thrills and travails he experienced. Prophetically, he died penniless, but “what a ride” he had. That excursion is well and authentically told, and certainly worth the read for anyone interested.

Posted by respeto at 1:05 PM