Book Reviews

Book Review: Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

Amazon Buring coverThis is a debut novel by Victoria Griffith. I look forward to other novels by this author.

Synopsis from the publisher:

When 22-year-old aspiring journalist, Emma Cohen, is forced to flee the comforts of her NYU student life, she maneuvers an internship from her father at his newspaper in Rio de Janeiro. There, Emma is immediately swept into a major news story–and a life-threatening situation–when a famous jungle environmentalist, Milton Silva, is mysteriously murdered.

Emma must now enter the Amazon rainforest with her father to investigate; both awed by the enormity and beauty of the Amazon, and appalled by its reckless destruction. Not only will Emma have to brave the primal world of the Amazon, she must fight to survive the kidnappers, villains, corrupt activists, and indigenous tribes that lay in wait along the ever-twisting trail of the murder case. Stretched to the brink, it’s up to Emma, her father and the dreamy news photographer, Jimmy, to unravel the mystery and live to tell the tale.

I read the whole book in one day, that’s how interesting it was. Amazon Burning is a compelling, entertaining story. The plot line is solid and the main characters are well-developed. And, as for who killed Milton Silva, there is an ironic twist at the end, reminiscent of a good noir-style story. Griffith did a good job spinning her tale.

The book is being promoted as a “Young Adult” suspense story. I was not familiar with that terminology, but it worked for me and I’m only 70 years young.

I looked up the term “Young Adult Fiction” on Wikipedia and was surprised to find this genre is nothing new. It includes such works as The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Oliver Twist (1838), The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Catcher in the Rye (1951, has it really been that long ago?); and Lord of the Flies (1954).

The book is available at Amazon, no pun intended.

Book Review: Just the Fracks, Ma’am The Truth about Hydrofracking and the Next Great American Boom

Just the Fracks coverThis book, by engineer and environmentalist Greg Kozera, debunks some of the myths about hydrofracking.

Kozera pulls no punches in this book. In the introduction he takes on the Movie “Gasland” which featured someone lighting the methane from his water faucet, an act design to scare people. However, methane has been known to be in the water of that area long before there was fracking. In fact, Salt Springs State Park, PA, is there because of the phenomenon, known for 200 years before fracking began.

“Since 1947, more than one million wells have been fracked with few incidents. Hydrofracking has added millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas to our energy reserves. It has allowed us to heat our homes and run our cars. Over 90 percent of
the wells in the United States require fracking to be productive.”

Kozera gives detailed discussions of the five biggest myths, and four others, that are hobbling honest debate in the United States:

Myth #1: Fracking is a drilling technique.
Actually, it’s a method to improve oil and gas production from a well after it’s drilled. From there, the well is evaluated and the geology is reviewed. Production from the well – if there’s any – is monitored with an electric evaluation log that’s run on most vertical wells and is used to help decide if and how a well should be fracked. After the evaluation is complete, then and only then is the decision made to frack a well and how it should be done.

Myth #2: Fracking is new.
Fracking is nothing new; in 1947, the oil and gas industry discovered the method as a way of improving production in the country’s oil wells. In fact, more than 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States have required fracking for gas and oil.

Kozera says, “Without fracturing, we would have no significant domestic oil industry and we’d have to rely on imports for nearly 100 percent for our fuel and transportation.

Myth #3: Fracking is explosive.
The original way that wells were stimulated, going back into the 1800s, involved a process known as “shooting,” wherein explosives were lowered into the well and set off, causing an explosion down the hole that would create a small cavern. Shooting was dangerous, involving a horse-drawn wagon filled with nitroglycerin, which can be very unstable. Hydraulic fracturing replaced shooting because it is safer and far more effective. Fracking is not explosive.

Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. averages more than 1.3 million earthquakes exceeding a magnitude of 2.0 annually based on data gathered from 1900 to 1999. Remember, fracking didn’t begin until 1947. Earthquakes are very common and have occurred within Earth’s crust for as long as there has been a crust.

Myth #5: Fracking contaminates groundwater.
This is a major concern of the public – and understandably so. Clean drinking water is critical to life. However, if fracking contaminates drinking water, it would have done so long before now.

Myth #6: Fracking Is Unregulated.
Fracking is heavily regulated, especially at a state level. We are hearing a lot of demands that fracking needs to be regulated at a federal level by the EPA. State regulators have a far bigger reason to have strong and sensible regulations because they live in the state they regulate. Their families must breathe the air and drink the water.

We simply cannot frack up thousands of feet through solid rock. We know that rock is porous and fracturing fluids leak off into the rock and naturally induced fractures. As fluid leaks off, however, the fracture eventually quits growing in height and length, and ultimately does not reach our water sources.

And my favorite, Myth #7: You can trust the EPA and its science.
“…in recent years it appears the EPA is more concerned about politics than science.” Kozera has much more to say about the EPA.

Myth #8: Fracking causes breast cancer, baldness, homosexuality, stress etc.

Myth #9: We don’t need to frack. Wind and solar power will take care of us.

Chapter Three is a good, detailed explanation of fracking in layman’s terms. “The shale reservoirs we have today have a lot of natural gas trapped in them, but they also have very low porosity and permeability. Fracking is the highway we use to release the natural gas in the shale.” Fracking cracks the rock to provide that highway by pumping a fluid, under pressure into the rock. Typically the fluid is a mixture of water, a foam made from water and nitrogen, and nitrogen gas. Sand is added to keep the cracks open. Chemicals like soap are used to help place the sand by reducing friction. Fracking fluids and produced natural gas are kept separate from groundwater by both distance and by steel pipe and cement.

Besides “just the facts” Kozera puts a personal touch to his narrative derived from his 35-year career in the oil and gas industry and his concern for the environment (he has a master’s degree in environmental engineering). The book is written in plain, non-technical language. It is a quick read that at 103 pages can be completed in one sitting, and is well worth the time.

“The main focus of this book was the truth about hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but the real subject was our future. What will our future look like? That depends on us and how we see it right now.”

The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books.

Book Review – Paleozoic Fossil Plants by Bruce Stinchcomb

Paleozoic fossil plants coverThis book, illustrated with nearly 700 color photographs, traces the history of plant evolution from the tiniest marine algae to large trees that inhabited the Earth between 542 million years ago to 235 million years ago.  The book is written in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner.

The fossil record provides a picture of the first forests in the Devonian Period, some peculiar plants of the Mississippian Period, the coal swamps of the Pennsylvanian Period and the more sparse plants of the Permian, just before a great mass extinction.  The book also examines some peculiar fossils that were first thought to be plants, but are more likely the tracks and burrows of animals, and it also mentions some things that look like they should be fossils but are not.  Stinchcomb points out that plant fossils are rarer than animals fossils because plants don’t have shells or bones and are thus harder to preserve.

Much of the story in this book is told in the photo captions which are in eight-point type, a bit small for the eyes of this old fossil.  I suppose, however, to print the captions in ten-point type would have caused the book to be at least twice as long.

This book can be used as a scientific reference, a reference for collectors, or simply as an introduction to Nature’s art work.  Stinchcomb writes that “This book is for all who are curious about the ancient earth.” I was able to use it to identify a fern fossil I have as Aleothopteris from Pennsylvania.  Stinchcomb provides a value range for many of the fossils he shows, that is, what a collector would pay for a specimen.  He gives a value range for “A grade” specimens at $1,000-$2,000 down to “H grade” specimens at $1-$10 each.

I found it very interesting to browse through this book and see all the various forms fossil plants can take.  It’s not just leaves, seeds and stems are also fossilized. The story takes the reader to some collecting areas in the mid-west.

The author, Bruce L. Stinchcomb, is a retired professor of geology and has collected fossils since he was a child, hence his enthusiasm for the subject.  He has written nine other books on fossils which cover the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras.

Paleozoic Fossil Plants

is published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. of Atglen, PA., WWW.schifferbooks.com.   It is also available at Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.

Book Review: Physics, an Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science

Physics coverTom Jackson has put together another great book on the foundation of science.  This large-format (9″ x 11″) book contains abundant illustrations and concise, to-the-point text explaining scientific principles and how scientific thought developed through the ages.

This book on physics complements Jackson’s book on chemistry which I reviewed earlier (See The Elements an Illustrated History of the Periodic Table).

“Physics is the foundation of all science.  Without it all of our other knowledge would crumble and collapse.”  Physics covers Nature from the smallest to the largest scales.

The book is structured into 100 chapters, each just a half-page to two pages long, that begin with the very basic concepts and end at the cutting edge of modern physics. These short chapters will probably induce many readers to want to find out more on many subjects.  (See the table of contents in graphics at the end of this review.)

These book reviews  “100 breakthroughs that changed history” and simply explains famous experiments and concepts that led to discoveries. The book also contains a 12-page pullout chart in the back pocket that shows a time line of the history of discovery.  The last few pages of the book give short biographies of famous scientists.  It has a good index so the reader can quickly find subjects of interest.

This book will be valuable to students just beginning their study of science because it puts things in context.  It will also be interesting to adults who are curious about how Nature works and how scientists and philosophers discovered Nature’s ways.  The structure of this entertaining reference work allows readers to quickly focus on subjects of interest to them.

The author, Tom Jackson, is a science writer with over 80 books to his credit. He studied zoology at the University of Bristol, U.K. where he resides.

The book is published by Shelter Harbor Press, New York and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Physics is one of the publisher’s “Ponderables” series. Other books in this series (which I have not seen) are:

An Illustrated History of Numbers. Editor: Tom Jackson

An Illustrated History of Astronomy By Tom Jackson

See other Wryheat book reviews.

The Contents of Physics:

Physics contents 1

Physics contents 2

Book Review – Into the Dustbin – Rajendra Pachauri, the Climate Report & the Nobel Peace Prize, by Donna Laframboise

Into the dustbin coverThis book is a collection of essays about Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), originally published as blog posts between February 2010 and August 2013. It begins with a new essay about the IPCC and the Nobel Peace Prize, “which documents how Pachauri improperly advised IPCC personnel that they were Nobel laureates after that organization was awarded half of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (Al Gore received the other half).”

The collection provides a straight-forward, no-holds-barred, in-their-face assessment of the IPCC and its chairman and shows why the IPCC should not be taken seriously.

Donna LaFramboise is a Canadian journalist, proprietor of the blog No Frakking Consensus and author of the book: The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, an IPCC Exposé which I reviewed here.

Laframboise sets the stage for her story in the introduction as follows:

According to activists, climate change is a planetary emergency. But the more one learns about the man in charge of the United Nations body that examines climate issues, the harder it is to believe that that’s really the case.

It may not be fair to judge a book by its cover, but it’s entirely reasonable to judge an organization by its leader. Rajendra Pachauri has been the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 2002. He also writes fiction and plays cricket. Regrettably, he does only one of those things – the cricket – well.

If our senior political leaders regarded climate change as a genuine threat, someone dramatically different would be leading the IPCC. That person would exude professionalism. Whenever he spoke in public, he’d choose his words carefully. Like a judge at a murder trial, his behavior would be scrupulously even-handed. By word and by deed, he’d invite us to believe in his organization’s neutrality and integrity.

Pachauri fails these tests spectacularly. If I were to cast him as a character in a play, literary critics

would dismiss that character as implausible. They’d say it strained credulity that someone so ill-suited to the task would remain at the helm of such an important international body for so long.  But truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Throughout the book, Laframboise provides links to the original articles which, in turn, provide links to the original source material so that interested readers can check for themselves.

This collection shows that the IPCC is an agenda-driven political organization, not a scientific one.  It and its leader are shown to be corrupt, arrogant, and hypocritical.

And they lie.  Pachauri has claimed that all the IPCC conclusions are based only on peer-reviewed scientific literature, but upon checking the sources, one finds that overall, less than two-thirds of sources come from the scientific literature; in some chapters of the various assessment reports, less than 25 percent of cited sources are peer-reviewed scientific papers.

About the IPCC assessment reports: “The biggest myth of all is that [the assessment reports are] based entirely on impeccable source material that was published in scientific journals beforehand and was therefore rigorously vetted via the academic peer-review process.”

Laframboise notes that the IPCC breaks its own rules whenever those rules are inconvenient.  For instance, the 2007 report (AR4), referenced a British economic report (The Stern Report which came out in Oct. 2006) even though it was not peer-reviewed, it came out 10 months after the IPCC-set deadline, and it was not available for IPCC reviewers to consider.  Pachauri claimed that the 2007 IPCC report (AR4) “was based on scientific studies completed before January 2006, and did not include later studies…”  Yet six papers in Chapter 2 and 17 papers cited by Chapter 11 were published in 2007 rather than before January, 2006.  Also, the IPCC invoked the cut-off date to ignore other papers that would not fit into their agenda.

Into the Dustbin provides many such examples of duplicity by Pachauri and the IPCC.  The articles examine in detail some of the issues the IPCC got spectacularly wrong such as their predictions about Himalayan glaciers, and, despite the IPCCs alleged neutrality, the cozy relationship between Pachauri and radical environmental groups.

In an appendix, LaFramboise discusses media carelessness in reporting IPCC matters with emphasis on the Nobel Prize incident.

All in all, Into the Dustbin, together with her previous book, should disabuse anyone from taking the IPCC seriously. Credulous policy makers would do well to read both.

Into the Dustbin is available from Amazon as a Kindle edition and a paperback here.  Barnes&Noble have a paperback edition here.

See also:

Book Review: The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, an IPCC Exposé

Book Review – Let It Shine, The 6000-year Story of Solar Energy by John Perlin

Let it shine coverPerlin’s history of solar energy use is very interesting.  The book is rich in historical incidents and illustrated with old photos and drawings.

Perlin divides the book into six sections.  He begins Part 1 of his tale by discussing how the ancient Chinese, Greeks, and Romans designed their buildings to take advantage of solar heating in winter and to minimize over-heating in summer.  He discusses “burning mirrors” used to concentrate the sun’s rays to start fires, heat objects, and even as weapons of war.  Some of that evolved to using lenses to concentrate the sun.  The Romans used glass to trap heat, but after the fall of the empire, this was abandoned because hard times required defensible homes and besides the Church frowned on growing exotic plants outside their natural habitat.  However, by the sixteenth Century, the influence of the Church was broken and greenhouses started to be used.  A good thing too, because during the period 1550 to 1850, called the Little Ice Age, growing seasons were very short.  Another technique was to grow plants near a heat-absorbing brick or stone wall.   Perlin discusses various methods of glass-making and greenhouse design.

Part 2 deals with the history of  solar syphons and engines used mainly to pump water. Of course, the problem with most of these contraptions is they didn’t work at night or on cloudy days.  There were, however, a few installations that stored heat during the day to run, or partially run, the motors at night.  However, such installations were much more expensive to build than conventionally fueled plants.  World War I interrupted some grand schemes and cheap oil available after the war caused investors to lose interest.  Perlin also mentions use of solar evaporation to produce salt.

Solar water heating is the subject of Part 3.  “The story of solar water heating begins in the nineteenth century when Europeans and Americans began to bathe on a regular basis.” Perlin first describes conventional, in home systems, then moves on to solar water heaters. He provides many drawings of the devices he describes. Within this section, Perlin has a chapter on the solar still, a device used by downed-airmen to desalinate sea water.

I note here that solar energy provides about 85% of the hot water needs in my home (the rest is from natural gas).

Part 4 deals with the history of using solar energy to heat homes.  In Europe, knowledge of proper house citing to take advantage of the sun was seemingly lost after the fall of the Roman Empire, and cities were built without regard to structural position relative to the sun. But ancient knowledge was revived and improved upon during the “Enlightenment” beginning ca. 1800.  The basic principle is to have large windows facing south-southwest (in the northern hemisphere), to take advantage of the low winter sun angle to heat the house.  During the summer, the high angle of the sun does not penetrate much into the structure.

In America, solar architecture was practiced early on by the Pueblo Indian tribes of the Southwest.  The Spanish colonials also practiced proper solar orientation of structures as did settlers in New England with the “saltbox” style of housing.  There was much experimentation and refinement ( and controversy) with solar architectural techniques.  In this section Perlin discusses various types of solar collectors.

Part 5 deals with the discovery of the photovoltaic effect and the development of photovoltaic solar collectors.

Part 6 deals with what Perlin calls the post-oil embargo era.  For 30 years after World War II, oil and gas were abundant and inexpensive. The U.S. government was providing encouragement for nuclear power, “atoms for peace” but provided little or nothing for solar energy research.

The modern solar movement may have been born on “Sun Day” in 1978 according to Perlin.  Reports of the time said the solar movement “has some of the attributes of a political movement.”  Solar pool heating made inroads in the 70’s and 80’s.  The counterculture embraced solar energy and solar architecture was rediscovered.

The oil embargo of October, 1973, brought great disruption.  The Arab’s cut back on oil exports as a reaction to U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. This was also the time that “peak oil” predictions began, i.e., concern that we were using oil faster than new reserves were being discovered. (Shale oil and gas and vast new resource discoveries on the continental shelf have put the “peak oilers” out of business.) Nevertheless, at the time, there was more interest in alternative energy sources and solar energy was one of them.  There was much interest and many  schemes for equipping homes and businesses with photovoltaic arrays and solar collectors to produce electricity and heat.  Perlin describes the various programs, public and private, and the development of solar cell technology.

Overall, this is a very interesting book on the development and use of solar energy through the ages.  I was somewhat put off by the Forward to the book, written by Amory Lovins, chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, which struck me as  mainly propaganda that made some questionable claims. For instance, he claimed that renewable energy projects, mainly wind and solar, receive subsidies smaller than nonrenewable energy projects get. That may have been in the early days but CBO data shows that is not true, at least since 2008, see: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43032

Perlin takes a dim view of utility scale solar electricity generation because of its high cost.  He prefers dispersed arrays on individual buildings.  Indeed, the cost of electricity produced by utility-scale arrays is much higher than from conventional generation (see my post “Solar energy cannot economically compete in electricity generation“).   There is also the inconvenient fact that the footprint of solar and wind farms is very large. (See my post “The Scale Problem.)

This book is a recommended read.  It can be found at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble.

Book Review – On Gaia, A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth by Toby Tyrrell

On Gaia coverThe Gaia hypothesis, put forth by James Lovelock in 1972, proposes that planet Earth is regulated by and for the life forms occurring on the planet.  The hypothesis suggests that life has somehow conspired in the regulation of the global environment so as to keep conditions comfortable. In some forms, the Gaia hypothesis suggests that the planet has a “consciousness.”

According to the author, Toby Tyrrell, a professor of Earth system science at the University of Southampton, England, the Gaia hypothesis makes three main assertions:

1. The environment is very well-suited to the organisms that inhabit it. As Tyrrell points out, this assertion is backwards, organisms adapt to the environment; the environment does not adapt to organisms.

2. The Earth’s atmosphere is a biological construct whose composition is far from expectations of (abiotic) chemical equilibrium.

3. The Earth has been a stable environment over time, despite variable external forcings.

Tyrrell also notes two competing hypotheses:

1. The Geologic hypothesis which holds that Earth’s environment is due mainly to geological forces and astronomical processes.

2. The Coevolutionary hypothesis which holds that “life and environment have both changed over time, and that changes in either have had effects on the other.”  The difference between this hypothesis and Gaia is that coevolution “is free of any connotations that, once life had evolved and started to influence climate, the planet was bound to remain habitable thereafter.”

Tyrrell has taken on a big job in a critical examination of the three Gaia assertions and the two alternate hypotheses.  The book is a tour de force that presents physical and philosophical evidence for and against the Gaia hypothesis, which, Tyrrell points out, has some similarities with Intelligent Design.   Fortunately, the book is written in plain language and each of the 10 chapters has introductory paragraphs dealing with what the chapter will cover and a concluding section providing a summary.  Many of the endnotes referenced within the chapters are interesting stories in themselves and provide amplifying evidence for the main points.

The book includes over 50 pages of end notes, suggested reading for each chapter, and 22 pages of references to the scientific literature.

Tyrrell ultimately concludes that “Gaia is a fascinating but a flawed hypothesis.  It is not a correct characterization of planetary maintenance and life’s role therein. Some of Lovelock’s claims…are seen to be dubious when probed more deeply.  Some of the key lines of argument advanced in support of Gaia are insecure, or else give support in equal measure to other hypotheses as well as to Gaia.  There is nothing that can be explained only by Gaia.”  The evidence shows that the Gaia hypothesis fails on assertions 1 and 3.

Tyrrell favors the coevolution hypothesis which, he says, “is fully compatible with what we know.”  “There are no natural phenomena that either Gaia or the geological hypothesis is uniquely able to explain.”  While I’m sad to see that geology can’t explain absolutely everything (I’m a geologist), I must agree with Tyrrell.

How he gets to his conclusions is a fascinating story illustrated by many interesting examples.  The book is well-written and easy to read.  Some of his perceptions may give you a different perspective on things.  I particularly like a sentence in Chapter Two: “Nature is a mixture of apparent cruelty and kindness, of economy and waste, of competition and cooperation.” (That’s so Dickensian: It was the best of times….)  It sets the tone of Tyrrell’s critical analysis.  Tyrrell’s story is very informative and the reader will learn many fascinating things along the way.

The book is published by Princeton University Press and available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble..

P.S. In an interview with MSNBC, on March 17, 2009, James Lovelock admitted that he had been a climate alarmist and had been “extrapolating too far.”

Book Review – Louisiana Fever by D.J. Donaldson

Louisiana Fever coverThis medical mystery holds your attention.

The main characters are Andrew Broussard “the ‘Plump and Proud’ New Orleans medical examiner,” a wizard at forensic science, observation, and logic, and “his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn.”  The main villain, Roy, is also quite a study.

The story premise: Kit has been getting a daily yellow rose from a stranger, the last with an invitation to meet at a restaurant. Kit goes to the meeting, but does not recognize the person.  As he gets up to greet her, he collapses and dies.  The body winds up in the morgue.  Chapter two is a very detailed description of the autopsy where there are some surprises, both medical and otherwise.  The man had no identification, his wallet contained wads of money, no credit cards, and a photograph of Kit and her parents from many years ago.

That sets the mystery.  Who was this man, what caused his death, and what is his connection to Kit?  There was a strange killer on the loose and the bodies begin to pile up.  Broussard investigates this medical mystery which gets very close to home.

The main characters are well-developed and there are some interesting, quirky sub-characters.  The story follows two parallel plots, the medical mystery of what is killing people off and the kidnapping of Kit and why.  Both suspenseful threads keep the reader eager to read the next page.  Donaldson weaves and resolves the story lines with skill.  And there are some surprising twists at the end.

Mystery fans will enjoy this book which is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Astor+Blue.

About the author: D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology.  His entire academic career was spent at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound-healing and where he taught microscopic anatomy to thousands of medical and dental students.  He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers.

Book Review – Sagebrush Rebel by William Perry Pendley

Sagebrush Rebel coverMr. Pendley, currently president and chief legal officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation, served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals in the Department of the Interior. That experience gave him an insider’s view to write about “Reagan’s battle with environmental extremists and why it matters today,” the book’s subtitle.

This is a well-written, very detailed, and meticulously-documented book that shows how Reagan’s policies brought America out of the economic disaster of the Carter administration. Sadly for America, presidents after Ronald Reagan did not follow his policies.

To give you the flavor of this book, I will start with a quote from the last chapter:

“When President Reagan took office, he faced the worst economy since the Great Depression. What was the economy like when Barack Obama became president? Was it worse than the one Reagan faced, or not as bad? That is irrelevant. What matters is what each man did and the results. Reagan slashed federal expenditures, cut taxes, and reduced regulation, including opening federal lands to the private sector to discover and develop energy. The economy boomed. Obama launched a trillion-dollar ‘stimulus,’ unleashed federal lawyers and regulators, and increased taxes. The economy bombed.”

Ronald Reagan was an environmentalist, but he knew the difference between pragmatic conservation and mindless preservation. He also knew that conservation of the environment was best done when the economy is strong.

Pendley begins in Chapter One by recounting how President Carter’s “War on the West” incited the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” Reagan intended to quell the rebellion by opening up federal land, particularly the Outer Continental Shelf, for oil and gas exploration and development. That theme continues in Chapters Two and Three. Reagan instituted a “good neighbor policy” toward the states. In his first inaugural address Reagan said, “It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people.”

In Chapter Four: “We print what we know – so we print lies,” Pendley discusses the press and especially their attack on Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. “What environmentalists find so infuriating about Watt is not just that he disagrees with them, but that he challenges their most deeply held convictions…”

In Chapter Five: “Modern day Luddites,” Pendley details the clash between radical environmentalists and James Watt. It was “a battle between two competing systems of government: between big and powerful New Deal-style government run by progressives and technocrats, … and a limited government that emphasized individual and economic freedom.” And “Reagan was about to present the first presidential challenge to the moral authority of the environmental establishment…”

Chapter Six deals with “The pit bull of environmental laws,” the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Reagan said, “Since the beginning of life on this planet thousands of species…have disappeared…as part of the evolutionary process in an ever changing world….shouldn’t we now and then remember nature’s part in the elimination of some species and separate the serious from the silly in our own policy?”

Pendley recounts the history of ESA and its predecessors. Reagan changed the emphasis from mainly just listing species to trying to actually recover species. This change in policy and procedure is what saved the California Condor. About environment groups, Pendley notes “litigation is their business, and business is good.” Pendley also notes that what is wrong with ESA “is how it has been implemented by the FWS [Fish & Wildlife Service], enforced by environmental groups, and interpreted by federal courts.” “Today, lawsuits by environmental groups are driving nearly everything the FWS does regarding the ESA.”

By the way, did you know the ESA has a sunset clause and that it must be reauthorized periodically by Congress? Congress has failed to reauthorize ESA since 1992. But like a zombie, it survives on yearly appropriations of funds, sometimes hiding as a rider in another bill.

Chapter Seven, “If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined,” deals with America developing its mineral resources, especially strategic minerals, something the Carter administration was indifferent about.
“Reagan’s plan emphasized ensuring the availability of federally owned land for mineral prospecting and development so as to ‘achieve proper balance between wilderness and mineral needs of the American people.’” That plan was, of course, opposed by environmental groups.

Chapter Eight deals with federal land grabs and the growth of the National Park Service. Chapter Nine, “Inside the beltway” recounts how Reagan set about to tame the federal bureaucracy. Chapter Ten deals with America’s great coal resources and Obama’s war on coal. Chapter Eleven, “A department of miscellany” deals with many smaller issues.

In Chapter Twelve, Pendley sums up the state of the Union and Reagan’s philosophy: “…as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours…”

Pendley does a good job with this book as both an inside look at history and political philosophy, and as a cautionary tale.

This book will be officially released July 8 and will be available from the publisher, Regnery Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble as well as book stores.

[This review was originally published in the Arizona Daily Independent]

“Journey of the Universe” and “Journey of the Universe Conversations” – DVD Review

Journey_of_the_Universe_Conversations_coverJourney of the Universe” is an hour-long documentary, previously aired on PBS, tracing, as the title implies, the history of the Universe. It begins at the “big bang” and tells the story of evolution of the universe, our planet, life, and human development. Throughout the documentary, host Brian Thomas Swimme, an “evolutionary philosopher,” (see bio here) projects a sense of awe and enthusiasm in relating the story. You can get a taste in a three-minute trailer here. This is an interesting documentary that gives an overview of this amazing journey. Unfortunately, near its end, the mood is shattered when Swimme devolves into doom-and-gloom environmental propaganda. This DVD serves as an introduction to the next.

Journey_of_the_Universe_Conversations_coverJourney of the Universe Conversations” is a four-DVD set containing 10 hours of interviews hosted by Mary Evelyn Tucker, an historian of religions (see bio here). There are 20 interviews. Interviews on the first two DVDs are those of scientists who relate, in more detail, the “Journey” of the documentary. DVDs three and four are populated mainly by non-scientist activists who are heavily into sustainable development and utopian environmental schemes. Most of the ideas expressed by these people have long been explored over the last 60 years or so in dystopian science fiction stories and found wanting. One interesting exception I found among this latter group, was Dr. David Begay, a physicist at Northern Arizona University, who related the way Navajos thought of the universe and related their “sense of place.”

These DVDs will be released on June 4, 2013 from most vendors. You can pre-order at Amazon here and here.