Acting & Listening Advice from Alan Alda

Alan Alda bookMost communication is nonverbal. We want to look at the faces of those testifying in Congress and detect lies or deceit. They try to keep their faces blank in order not to telegraph this, but subtle clues or reactions are there in their voices and tone, too. Their pauses, gestures. Alan Alda talks about how the face is judged, not for just beauty or ugliness, but for believability. Why paying attention to people’s reactions or expressions when they talk is most important in understanding WHAT THEY MEAN. Mostly we misunderstand what people say or mean, but by truly listening and observing we have a better chance of connecting (and resolving conflicts too.) Instead of waiting for people to stop speaking so we can make another point, Alda’s point is to LISTEN with all our senses with the objective to UNDERSTAND. Not to “win” an argument by demeaning or defeating anyone (or everyone) seen as an opponent. Great new audiobook upcoming June 6. Preorder at Tower Review. As James Garner once put it: “I don’t act. I react. Give me a reactor over an actor any time. It puts you there in the moment, and you’re less likely to flub the way you read your lines, too.” Alda was in the movies Bridge of Spies, The Aviator, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Crimes & Misdemeanors. On TV’s MASH, and Scientific American Frontiers. He has won 7 Emmys, and is a big fan of science. “At first I think they just wanted a famous face do the introduction, and then narrate off camera, but I wanted to be there and interview the scientists.” He’s read Scientific American magazine since a kid.

Ariana Grande

Do Food Animals Have Rights?


This is from People Magazine: “American’s bacon craze is far from over. During the bacon-obsession boom we have been blessed with bacon pop tarts and bacon boxers, and we now know what happens to your body when you eat too much bacon: cancer. But the trend will never die. Maybe that’s a good thing, though, because it’s given us yet another way to celebrate this hallowed breakfast meat: Camp Bacon.”
This is from Food & Wine: “Bacon Explosion is a football-size, bacon-wrapped cake made of bacon-stuffed sausage. We brag about eating bacon. Bacon may not be a controlled substance, but it is pure pleasure, sensual to its core, a concentrated wave of ecstasy. Nothing brings the bliss like bacon: a sudden rush of saltiness and sweetness and fat and smoke, and no fewer than six types of umami. A bite of bacon is candy and cream and sizzling steak and smoky barbecue, all at once. It is, in a word, explosive, and it’s an explosion that will only stop when its fuel—our appetite for it—runs out. Which is to say, never.”
This is from PIG TALES: “Pigs can’t even turn around in factory farm pens, and develop raw wounds rubbing against their bars. If the ventilation system failed they would die by suffocation from the noxious gases. Farmers are not required to treat the vast amounts of waste, and they spray it onto fields where it is washed into waterways. 97% of hogs are raised on factory farms, forbidden to be filmed by the press. They are fed a continuous dosage of antibiotics that leads to the development of drug resistant superbugs that sicken or kill thousands of humans each year. Pigs have their tails and testicles removed without anesthesia, and are often dipped alive into scalding water. USDA inspectors who report such things are disciplined or transferred.”
Having done research on hogs for my novel THE METHUSELAH GENE, I know them to be intelligent creatures that are used to grow human organs due to their being similar to us genetically. But whenever you challenge belief systems you run into criticism. This happens on all levels, especially in a culture of confrontation and “my opinion is as good as yours.” In the case of animal rights, there are the opposing views that food animals have no rights (mostly the meat industry) versus the vegan argument that animals are not property (and all consumption of them is morally unjustified.) There is a third view in which largely vegetarians argue that factory farms abuse animals, and so they point to consuming only grass fed or free range animals in small amounts, if at all. The first two sides are adamant and unlikely to change. The third gets attacked by both sides. What I would argue is this third view. Why? Here are some reasons to contemplate.
1) A law of logic states that “differences in degree constitute differences in kind.” Of course it would be great if everyone stopped eating meat. Beef production is bad for the environment, and grain fed beef is bad for both the animals and the people who eat them. Cows were not meant to eat grain, and when they are fed grain in crowded environments (with or without hormones) they get sick and are slaughtered just before collapsing, many of them. If one focuses on the idea of diminishing the amount of meat eaten (highest of all in the USA, which also has the highest cardiovascular and cancer cases, shown to partly be a result of eating red meat), along with the kind of meat eaten, fewer animals would suffer. Sticking with the first two stances (wrong or right) is quite simply illogical and uncompromising. Both end up preaching to their respective choirs, pounding their podiums and inspiring yawns (or ridicule from the other side.) Like the Trump philosophy versus the EPA. (He loves to eat pork.)
2) To convince people to eat less meat, science stands ready. Read HOW NOT TO DIE, and PIG TALES, among other books. Diseases and hormones are less prevalent on free range farms than in factory farms. Healthy animals are healthier to eat. This obvious fact is ignored by the other two sides. Also ignored is the fact that the animals live better lives. Is healthy not better than unhealthy? Is it not less cruel to let animals run free than to keep them in pens above their own feces, never seeing the light of day? Their waste pollutes the environment, and few report on it or investigate it. The meat lobby sued Oprah just for saying she was afraid to eat burgers (for a while.) Finally, in the book THE MIND SPAN DIET the director of genetics studies at Harvard shows that dementia is the result of too much iron in the diet. The worse type of iron comes from red meat, while Americans already get 100 times the amount of iron than they need, “and the dosage is toxic.” Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and iron: there is a link. Only in America is iron added to all flour products, labeled as “enriched,” too. In countries which don’t do this, (and which eat less meat) the rates of dementia is far lower. Big Pharma sells more drugs due to diseases caused by eating cheap meat advertised 24/7 on TV. This fact too is not mentioned by either of the first two sides in this argument. So the latest science says eating less meat is healthier, but the vegans pounding their podiums never mention it. What if they did? Would not fewer animals suffer as a result?
3) In a recent Pig Trial in Canada a woman was arrested and judged for giving water to pigs en route to slaughterhouses. She would get out at stoplights to water the hot, panting dehydrated pigs. Her lawyer argued that she did not impede the progress of the company, or cost them money. She won the case, but the hog industry actually won because it is now on the record that as long as they water their pigs they cannot be sued for exploiting them in other ways. In short, her lawyer had agreed that the company “owned” the pigs, as property. See how tricky the system is? In America the lobby for meat is very strong. Or as Trump would put it, “very, very strong.” There are lobbyists for Big Pharma too. Is there a connection? You bet. These CEOs know each other on a first-name basis. As the author of THE BLACK SWAN and ANTIFRAGILE put it, “They don’t make money if you eat vegetables grown in your own garden, or run on rocks barefoot without a cell phone.” Not that everyone should get off the grid permanently, but he makes a good point: Less is more. Small business is better than big business, both for the environment and for consumers. “Artisans make wine, giant corporations make soda and other things that clog up your body’s signaling system. Then they argue that they employ many thousands of people, so they get favors from the government in getting taxpayers to clean up their messes.” No one in the traditional media ever states the true cost of eating a burger at a fast food chain, including the health costs borne by increased premiums due to ER emergency procedures from uninsured poor people targeted by junk food ads featuring grain-fed cheap meat. (Read MEATONOMICS.) Why don’t they cover it? Those ads pay their salaries. Meanwhile the public is hooked, duped, and the dogs in America eat better than kids do. (Many dog food products are “100% Grain Free, Grass Fed Beef, with Added Vitamins and Minerals.”)
4) Speaking of dogs, the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China is history. That’s good news, and cause for celebration. Dogs stolen in the countryside were tortured under the belief that the more cruel you were to them, the better the meat tasted. Some were torched alive, their muzzles wired shut. Those people deserve prison, but in China even human rights are violated, so animal rights are “back burner.” This sad tradition continues elsewhere in Asia, including Korea. It’s a different culture. In India cows are sacred. One man’s pet is another man’s dinner. All animals deserve better. Turn on the TV, though, and you are bombarded with ads for the “Baconator” (like the Terminator) from Wendy’s or with Arby’s “We have the Meats!”
5) There is also a religious aspect to it neither side talks about. Take Chick-Fil-A for example. Closed on Sunday, they are proud of Christian beliefs, and advertise that their chickens are hormone free. This does not mean that the birds are treated humanely, however. (A recent article in Scientific American showed that chickens are smarter and more aware of their surroundings than most people believe.) Most Chick-Fil-A chickens are not free range, and come from Tyson. What do they believe? That humans are not animals, but above all animals, created in the image of God. With Jesus returning soon to build a better world, in which “the lion shall lay down with the lamb” it follows that trying to save the environment is futile. Nationalist philosophy amplifies this hubris with a self-validating conceit, but everyone’s beliefs are certainly reinforced by social media filter bubbles, which feed back to consumers exactly the things they already believe (keeping them from seeing other viewpoints. Read THE FILTER BUBBLE.) To “win at all cost” is the goal of ISIS, which sees Earth solely as battleground for paradise in the next. Should it also be a Christian’s goal? Did not Jesus reject hubris and ego, siding with the poor by saying, “Except a man humble himself as a little child, he shall not see the Kingdom of God”? Certainly no Buddhist feels such pride or wears a bomb and attacks crowds of innocent people. They are more likely to be vegetarian, too. Neither is the NFL gridiron (temple for prayers and religion in itself) a major attraction to peaceful people. Patriots QB Tom Brady is considered the pinnacle of achievement in America, yet his wife Gisele recently revealed that he had a concussion in 2016 that went unreported by the NFL. The NFL denied it, but who should you more likely believe: his wife, or an organization with billions in revenue to defend, including from fast food and soda purveyors? Gisele is now involved in charity and environmental concerns, as was Kendall Jenner for a time. (Of course Kim & Kanye wear furs, too.)
    People can change. Changing minds involves changing viewpoints, and speaking out against injustice. Seeing things through other people’s eyes. Including animal eyes.       

medical thriller    

Summer Reads

New releases May 2017

What makes for a good summer read? Regardless of whether you enjoy suspense, mystery, romance, biography, or non-fiction, one great option is to try an audiobook version of the book. No eye strain at the beach, or you can watch the scenery go by as you travel instead of having your nose in a print book.

nook books

Or you may prefer a print book nonetheless. Or an ebook reader. Your best choice should depend on where you are, and how much time you have. No matter what, smart people make time for books. 

Scarlette Johansson

Dark Ages or Eckhart Tolle’s New Age?


No one can see the future, despite what fortune tellers say. If psychics could really predict the future (or see the past other than via memories and associations in dreams,) they would win the lottery. No one on Wall Street knows which way the market will go, either. If a real, hard AI were to arise tomorrow, not even IT could see the future, although IT would make better predictions than humans. The future will be a shock to many. Especially those who resist change. The Dark Ages should be behind us, not in front of us. ISIS and the anti-science movement are both on the same side in that regard. Belief in God should not be belief in a dogma that forces itself on others, making itself right by insisting all others are wrong (and need to die.) That’s madness and static thinking that have led to religious wars in the past. Many times such people come to rule over citizen slaves as despots, as in North Korea or Syria. If you don’t vote in lock step with them, you are gassed or sent to prison to be beaten. Despite the title of this post, there is usually more than just two choices to things. America seems polarized, in a rut, thinking everything is either good or evil, with no in between or compromise possible, now. “Now” is even a dirty word. We prefer to extend solutions (and debt) to future generations, if they even exist. Truth is, only critical thinking and willingness to change and learn can ensure any positive future. A new show on NatGeo is “Genius,” produced by Ron Howard, based on the Einstein biography. The Nazis hated Jews, and Einstein had to leave, but not before saying, “Nationalism is the measles of humanity.” Being identified with a cause or country or team is most satisfying for the ego, but ego is illusion. “A most persistent myth,” said one neuroscientist I once interviewed. Eckhart Tolle once said that the ego lives for the past or the future, never the present, (although the present is all we “own.”) So anyone obsessed with the past or the future overlooks and abuses those “in their path” to some imagined state of glory when they will have “arrived.” Yet when the future comes, it will be the present. The Bible: “Time shall be no more.” Physicist Sean Carroll: “Time stops at the singularity of a black hole.” We imagine living forever, and fear death, too, which promises to take away everything we “own.” (Eternal life vs life extension?) Amazingly, Ron Howard also produces the Breakthroughs series, and in the second season this month there is a program in which a deactivated HIV virus is being used to treat cancer. One killer versus another. This was the premise of my suspense novel on longevity science The Methuselah Gene, except I used HIV to fight aging by bypassing the blood/brain barrier to deposit a longevity gene taken from a bristlecone pine tree, the longest living plant. (There is a “Satan bug” mentioned, and an ISIS-like twist too.) And in the first season of Breakthroughs Ron Howard talked about longevity science. Yup. It’s a big universe, but also “it’s a small world, after all.”

Book Haul

New releases this month. See one you’d like to review?

Lee Child


The Night the Sky Caught Fire

Command and ControlPBS aired a documentary based on the book Command & Control by Eric Schlosser. Scary history, to say the least. A missile silo in Damascus Arkansas exploded, after a wrench socket fell and ruptured the fuel tank on the rocket. Denials preceded the near detonation of the most massive H Bomb in the arsenal. They didn’t even know where the warhead was, and wouldn’t even confirm the warhead existed. People died, and they wouldn’t say, even to the authorities wondering if people should evacuate. In another earlier incident an H Bomb was accidentally dropped on Goldsboro NC, from a B52 that broke up in mid air. The bomb hit the ground and sent a detonation signal. A simple on/off switch in the off position prevented it from blowing up. It passed the other four safeguards. Today, the silos are in need of repair that will cost billions. How safe are the missiles now? Who knows for sure?


The Future of Happiness

Brad Pitt

What kind of future does happiness have in an anti-science culture? 

In The Future of Happiness, author Amy Blankson, cofounder of the global positive psychology consulting firm GoodThink, unveils five strategies that successful individuals can use to not just survive but to actually thrive in the Digital Age:

  • Stay grounded to focus and channel your energy with intention
  • Know thyself through app-driven data to strive toward your potential
  • Train your brain to develop and sustain an optimistic mindset
  • Create a habitat for happiness to maximize the spaces and places in which you live, work, and learn
  • Be a conscious innovator to actively shape your future beyond social media obsession and distraction

By rethinking when, where, why and how you use technology, you will not only able to influence your own well-being, but also help shape the future of your community. Discover how futuristic technologies can transform the idea of “I’ll be happy when …” to your way of being now.

Speaking of a habitat for happiness, what constitutes a sense of place, and how is that sense forged in homes and neighborhoods and cities in order to meld function with style and beauty? What is beauty, anyway? In THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS author Alain de Botton delves into the philosophy and psychology of art and architecture, describing how art affects our emotions and leads us to a higher understanding of ourselves and our desire for the pursuit of ideals. More a collection of essays than a textbook, it provokes reflection on where we have come from, and where we may be going. Narrated by Simon Vance, the audiobook shows that all the arts are mysterious and cannot be defined or owned, and so are more like pointers toward a higher goodness represented by perfection and ultimate truth. Yet art is only real when felt by and within the heart. An interesting and literate philosophical journey. Brad Pitt has long been a fan of architecture. Outside of making movies, it is his passion. My interview with Alain is HERE.


The How of Happiness

Sonja LyubomirskyIt’s a 2008 book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research—on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness—was honored with a Science of Generosity grant, a John Templeton Foundation grant, a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize, and a million-dollar grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. The How of Happiness has been translated into nineteen languages. If you missed it, it’s worth a look. It is “a comprehensive guide to understanding the elements of happiness based on years of groundbreaking scientific research. It is also a practical, empowering, and easy-to-follow workbook, incorporating happiness strategies, exercises in new ways of thinking, and quizzes for understanding our individuality, all in an effort to help us realize our innate potential for joy and ways to sustain it in our lives. Drawing upon years of pioneering research with thousands of men and women, The How of Happiness is both a powerful contribution to the field of positive psychology and a gift to people who have sought to take their happiness into their own hands.” Regarding the other books on the video below, the Flat Earth people have gone viral on Youtube (one of the reasons for this blog: to inspire literacy there. Read previous post for interview with the author of THE WAR ON SCIENCE.) One of the best science books to debunk this is THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY. Consider this: most of the Flat Earth believers (over 100,000 videos preaching it) are lucky to have a GED or high school diploma. Richard Feynman (clip seen in video) was a Physicist, a graduate of MIT and Princeton, and taught at Cornell and CIT. He was the recipient of the Albert Einstein Award, the Nobel Prize, the Oersted Medal, and the National Medal of Science. Question: who is MORE likely to arrive at an explanation for how science works: someone who doesn’t know how science works, or a genius who spent his entire life studying science? …Someone who believes we are at the end of science, or someone who believes we are nearer the beginning? Someone who looks backward to the Dark Ages, or someone who looks to the future? “We are not at the end of new knowledge,” said David Deutsch, a pioneer in quantum computing, in THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY. “The search for better explanations has infinite reach.” Past static societies wanted to have what we enjoy today, but they didn’t because they did not create new knowledge or use science as a tool. They were mired in dogma, and it never occurred to them to think differently. When, by accident or idea, they discovered new things, they progressed. But it was always an uphill push against the forces of ignorance. Einstein said that, “Nationalism is the measles of humanity,” and “ignorance and violence go hand in hand.” Which path will YOU choose? Despair, greed, and narcissism…or literacy, hope, and love? Be a BAWSE…and not just with makeup. 

Lilly Singh