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First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 5 June 7:00pm start

Tuesday 7th August: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

We'll discuss a couple of topics in the news, including the NHS

Manchester book reviews
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Manchester book reviews

The King's English

The King's English by Kingsley Amis

Penguin Modern Classics (ISBN-13: 978-0141194318)

Reviewed by Denis Joe June 2011


At once the 'lie' and the 'elite' of crowds;
Who pass like water filter'd in a tank,
All purged and pious from their native clouds;

(Don Juan By Lord Byron - Canto XIII)

 

This was the first use of the word ‘elite’ in the English language since the mid-15th Century, when it was used to described a Bishop-elect. It was itself a ‘borrowed’ term from the old French eslite (‘selected’ or ‘chosen ones’). Though Byron seems to be indulging in a bit of sarcasm in Don Juan, the term fell into common usage and generally came to describe a group of people who set themselves apart from society through their tastes in the ‘finer things in life’. The term was sometimes used interchangeably with ‘snobs’, but there is a vast difference between the pretentions of snobbery and the rigorous defence of values that was a characteristic of elitism.

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Manchester book reviews

The Cambridge Quintet

The Cambridge Quintet

by John L. Casti

Reviewed by Charles Brickdale April 2011

 

This review article was solicited to form part of some background readings for a discussion on Artificial Intelligence and Human Consciousness organised by the Manchester Salon to coincide with the Manchester Science Festival.

 

The Cambridge Quintet’ by John L. Casti is not about chamber music or yet another batch of undergraduates recruited by the KGB. It concerns one of those slow-burning science stories that has been smouldering quietly away, occasionally flaring up and generating some light and a fair amount of heat, in the backgrounds of our lives for many decades.

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Dog Day Dimp by Peter Clayfield

Dog Day Dimp by Peter Clayfield

Reviewed by Yvonne Cawley April 2011


I’d just finished reading yet another ‘crime’ novel (my favourite genre) and was ready to play detective again, when I spotted a couple of interesting books by Peter Clayfield on Simon’s (my husband’s) desk. I picked up ‘Dog Day Dimp’ as I was intrigued by the cover, I know, I know don’t judge a book and all that, but the book itself looked smaller than a normal sized paperback – I only mention this because I said to Simon that the size felt great for me having small hands and the book felt really easy to handle. It was only then that I read the ‘sleeve/description/synopsis’ and realised that it was about a Dwarf and the thought crossed my mind that this was a deliberate ploy – you know a book for little people. However in fact it is the same size as normal paperbacks, just an optical illusion and one I’m not sure was intended. So basically I snatched this book, before it was passed on to one of the other reviewers around the Salon to do a proper formal review – but here are my ramblings and thoughts and hope you will forgive such an apolitical review!

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Manchester book reviews

Phantom of the Apple

Phantom of the Apple by John Kay

Reviewed by Denis Joe February 2011

One of the greatest challenges for any poet is finding a form which they are comfortable with; one in which they can compose freely and without a feeling of "sameness". It is also a challenge for the reader/listener who is faced with the prospect of becoming too familiar with a work too quickly and could easily get bored.

 

The history of poetry is full of collections in forms. Sonnets are usually the poem of choice. But there have been other forms used.

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Manchester book reviews

Democracy and other neoliberal fantasies

Democracy and other neoliberal fantasies

by Professor Jodi Dean

To be reviewed by Simon Belt April 2011

 

From the back cover:

 

Product Description
"Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies" is an impassioned call for the realization of a progressive left politics in the United States. Through an assessment of the ideologies underlying contemporary political culture, Jodi Dean takes the left to task for its capitulations to conservatives and its failure to take responsibility for the extensive neo-liberalization implemented during the Clinton presidency. She argues that the left's ability to develop and defend a collective vision of equality and solidarity has been undermined by the ascendance of 'communicative capitalism,' a constellation of consumerism, the privileging of the individual self over group interests, and the embrace of the language of victimization. As Dean explains, communicative capitalism is enabled and exacerbated by the Web and other networked communications media, which reduce political energies to the registration of opinion and transmission of feelings.

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Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion

Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion

by George McKay

Being reviewed by Simon Belt August 2011

 

Sowing the seeds of discontent or disconnection?

George McKay has written quite widely on alternative culture through music, protest and lifestyle, and as I've always wondered why gardening is taken so seriously in a predominantly urban society, I was intrigued to read his new book entitled 'Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden'. Gardening was something older people did when I was young, though I often copped for a fair bit of it myself, which was ok, especially on a sunny Sunday listening to Radio 2's Sunday love songs whilst I did the weeding. Today though, it seems to have quite a popular resonance with more younger people, along with do-it-yourself and various other craft hobbies, and especially in its urban guerilla form.

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Not a Chimp

Defending human uniqueness in 'Not a Chimp'

by Jeremy Taylor

Simon Belt offered to publish a response to Iain Brassington’s review of my book “Not A Chimp: The Hunt To Find The Genes That Make Us Human”. I provide my response here without, hopefully, descending to the level of pomposity and gratuitous rudeness that attends his review. I shall restrict myself, at outset, to the observation that while Brassington has clearly picked up a smattering of philosophy during his career as a bioethicist, he has been less successful in his understanding of the relationship between genes and cognition and their relationship, in turn, to human culture, which has thrown up phenomena such as morals and the concept of rights.

 

Brassington calls my scholarship into question a number of times and so I feel I must respond, first, by pointing out precisely where he has mis-represented, or simply mis-read or mis-understood, what points I actually make in the book before I try to make clear as succinctly as possible precisely why I believe humans are unique in terms of their cognition and why I believe this explains and supports the idea that concepts of morality and rights should be unique to humans and are inappropriately extended to any other species.

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Mullah Nasruddin in Marrakech

Mullah Nasruddin in Marrakech – by Mansoor Shah

Reviewed by Dave Porter December 2010

 

Despite only being published last month, this slim volume is already garnering attention from some highly-placed quarters. It has been picked up by the likes of the Lonely Planet and our own Asian News based here in Manchester.

 

Manchester author Mansoor Shah has had the clever idea of taking a popular historical figure from the Middle Ages and dropping him into the modern world to see how the two take to each other.

 

Like Don Quixote, Mullah Nasruddin is a comic mix of the absurd and the worldly-wise, his encounters with the people he meets on the streets of Marrakech providing fertile material for semi-philosophical musings.

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Not a Chimp

'NOT A CHIMP: The hunt to find the genes that make us human'
by Jeremy Taylor (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009) xiv+338pp

Reviewed by Iain Brassington

To what extent, if any, do nonhuman animals enjoy a moral status comparable to that of human animals?  Jeremy Taylor’s claim in Not a Chimp is that there is a clear and significant moral gulf between us and them; hence, whatever we may or may not do to nonhuman animals, this is not because they can make the same rights-claims as we.  The basic thrust of the case he makes – I was going to say “argument”, but stopped myself just in time – is simple: much weight has been carried by the idea that humans and their closest nonhuman relatives, chimpanzees, are separated by a mere 1.6% of their genome and that chimps at least should be recognised as having a comparable moral status on that basis; but the genetic story is more complicated than that; therefore the claim about moral status is unsound.

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Ferraris For All

Ferraris For All by Daniel Ben-Ami

Reviewed by Mark Iddon November 2010

‘Ferraris For All’, is a book of bold ambition setting out to defend the idea of economic progress, from those with the presently dominant view who the author refers to as growth sceptics. It is also published at a time when we appear to have been at low point of the worst recession since the 1930’s, following the near collapse of the banking industry. The Labour Party has been recently voted out of office and the ConDem coalition attempts to reduce the national deficit with savage cuts to public spending and the Bank of England expresses deep uncertainty about the future.

 

Now, in complete contrast, Daniel Ben-Ami, a well established journalist specialising in writing on economics and finance for over 20 years, makes a very novel statement suggesting that everyone in the world should own a Ferrari. The title of the book is attributed to WORLDwrite, an education charity committed to global equality, whose slogan is ‘Ferraris For All’. Ben-Ami notes, however, that actually the Ferrari is symbolic, and it is not essential to be restricted to that particular brand, but it is about the aspiration and ambition for everyone to have much more than they actually need.

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