Book Review: Sex and War, by Potts and Hayden, is a Fascinating Look at the Biological Bases of War

I have to thank the BenBella Book Publishers for cluing me into this gem of a book. Generally, when we think of gems we think small. Think big. This is a big book. But if I was going to lay out the case for why men are inherently violent at a basic biological level, how empowering women is the solution to world peace, and how we can overcome our genetic predisposition towards outgroup violence, then I would probably need a fair amount of pages too.

Malcolm Potts, an obstetrician and research biologist, and the journalist Thomas Hayden, take up the remarkable challenge of setting out to show the average person, who is not particularly well-versed in the biological bases of behavior, the genetic code, chimpanzee behavior or a million fascinating and germane examples throughout history, how and why men are violent and how we can overcome our natural predispositions. The solution: become aware of them and empower women.

Rather than do this book an injustice by attempting to summarize its intelligent and very well-argued points, I will liken it to Guns, Germs and Steel, the wonderful work by Jared Diamond that set out to demonstrate how the world’s power structure is based on where people started and therefore what technology and weapons they had access to and what diseases they were immune to. In the same way, this book describes the state of our world based on fascinating and uncontrollable factors and has an epic task at hand.

I must admit that the author’s disapproval of President Bush and his actions did shine through as a prominent motif, and though I generally don’t appreciate political opinions intervening in works such as these, if I were writing a book during the presidency of a man who had created so many apt examples then I could hardly deny myself the luxury of using them. If you removed these examples it would actually do the book and the argument an injustice and I believe that their inclusion truly was not politically motivated. That, however, doesn’t necessitate the footnotes of stupid Bush quotes (which were at least funny).

In short, an excellent book and a must read for anyone who loves to see the complex interplay of so many fascinating factors in this world and their results.

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Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are Excellent in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies

As far as I know this hasn’t been a critically acclaimed film. In fact, it’s one among many Hollywood attempts to expose the problematic approach of the United States to the War on Terror. Well, we all know it’s flawed but throwing it in our faces when we’ve paid $10 to be entertained is not the greatest approach.

As it happens, this movie was pretty entertaining. It was, I contend, too long, and quite frankly I don’t understand why almost every movie these days is over 2 hours. I wish I could say I thought they were trying to give us our money’s worth, but when it comes to movies, value is not measured in time. It’s measured in the quality of the product on the screen. Now, it’s not that there were a huge amount of scenes that needed cutting, but generally I find long movies to be a problem with ego or intelligence. Either the director/editor thinks that his material is too good to be cut or (s)he’s not smart enough to figure out how to cut material while making sure the story doesn’t fall apart. It’s an art and it’s difficult, I understand, but that doesn’t mean I need to sit there through 30 minutes of bunk material because you can’t get your cut on.

In any case, this movie was good, if a little long. I’m not generally a big Russell Crowe fan, but he did a good job being a character I wasn’t supposed to like much anyway. Leonardo DiCaprio, as always, was spectacular. I often say that he is one of the premier actors of our generation and I stand by that. He is incredible and this performance was great – not Oscar great and perhaps not Blood Diamond great, but he’s great.

I loved the portrayal of certain aspects of Muslim culture in Jordan, including the difficulties between the Muslim woman and DiCaprio’s character, and I loved the defense of the Middle East and Islamic culture by DiCaprio. The Middle East is a great place with great people and this global struggle that we’ve all become embroiled in makes it rather difficult to realize that. Obviously, that’s what Hollywood, in all its glory, wants us to see, but unfortunately it would rather slam it in our faces than subtly demonstrate the fact. What can you do?

I give Body of Lies 7 chocolate salty balls.

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The Second Part of the Amazing South Park episodes, “Cartoon Wars,” (1004) Teaches About the Power of Terrorism

As you may have read in yesterday’s article about episode 1003 (click HERE), I love these amazing episodes that challenge our ability to understand what the real power of terrorism is.

What this episode teaches us is that terrorism is a mental as much as a physical threat. When threatened with terrorism for broadcasting an episode of Family Guy that depicted an image of Mohammed, FOX networks must decide whether or not to air the image. Deciding not to is a matter of changing our lives and values (free speech, etc.) because we’re scared.

Terrorism hasn’t happened in the sense that no bombs have gone off and no one has died. Terrorism has happened – effectively, I might add – because of the fear that makes us live a different way. When we stop living as we choose because we’re scared that is when terrorism has worked.

This episode, setting aside this interesting point, is amazing for other reasons, including the layers of meaning attached to the inclusion of Family Guy and other animated social commentaries for adults and the fact that Comedy Central actually pusses out and refuses to show the image of Mohammed that in the episode the FOX network president opted to show. Wow.

What did you think of this episode? What do you think of this portrayal of terrorism?

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South Park’s Most Self-Reflective Episode, “Cartoon Wars (1),” Episode 1003, Speak of Muslims, Terrorism and Free Speech

Personally, I think that the two part episode, “Cartoon Wars,” is out-of-this-world amazing. The layers of meaning in these two episodes go beyond almost anything most of us experience on a regular basis as we engage with the satirical media around us.

When Family Guy plans to show an image of Mohammed, the Muslim prophet, on its program, the Muslim world is outraged and the Americans are terrified of offending Muslims, primarily for fear of retribution. In large part the episode is about free speech and defending our American values, but it’s also about so much more than that. I recommend that everyone watch this episode and its sequel which will be on tomorrow night, Thursday.

A great free speech quote from the episode comes from Mr. Stotch, Butters’ dad:

“What we need to do is just the opposite. Freedom of speech is at stake here, don’t you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Muhammad, and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want! Look, people, it’s been real easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades we haven’t had to risk anything to defend it. But those times are going to come! And one of those times is right now. And if we aren’t willing to risk what we have, then we just believe in free speech, but we don’t defend it.”

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I’ve actually written an essay called, “In Defense of South Park,” in which I discuss the importance of these episodes in the context of their genre and satire.

What do you think of this episode? What about free speech and the need to defend it?

The 9/11 Conspiracy is Finally Revealed in “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce,” South Park episode 1009

A lot of people think that 9/11 was not a simple terrorist masterminded plot, but a far more elaborate conspiracy, the extent of which nobody really knows. Personally, I’ve watched Loose Change, a movie about one of these conspiracy theories, and though creepy, I could have used some concrete factual confirmation to support the string of “evidence.” In fact, I felt pretty similarly to the way I did when watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

In any case, this episode mocks those who think that 9/11 was a conspiracy that had anything to do with our government and tries to make them feel foolish, petty and unpatriotic. I can’t say that it’s my favorite episode, but it certainly is making a point. What’s great is Mr. Mackey’s many names for poop since the whole thing starts as a search for who went number 2 in the urinal.

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“The Snuke,” is South Park episode 1104: Eruption in Hilary Clinton

In this episode we learn all about the scary mental threat of Muslim terrorists – perhaps not in the same poignant fashion as we got with “Cartoon Wars,” but it’s still a great episode.

When a new Muslim student, Bahir, joins Mrs. Garrison’s fourth grade class, Cartman immediately suspects him of terrorist activities. With a Hilary Clinton rally happening in town that day (thank goodness America is past having to deal with that), he is sure he’s discovered the target of Bahir’s anarchist plot.

A fascinating twist requires us to confront our prejudice and fears and think about the place of Muslims and Islam in American society.

Did you like this episode? What’s your favorite part? What do you think about America’s fear of terrorism and how life can improve with this seemingly looming threat?

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