Category Archives: Books

Thoughts on The Best Fables of LaFontaine

I love fables. So I picked up The Best Fables of LaFontaine, which translates LaFontaine’s French verse into English verse. The vocabulary was weird at times, but I guess it’s because the book was published in 1965. I wasn’t too enamored with the way the book was written. In general, I think it’s really, really weird to translate poetry. Maybe it was just this version, translated by Francis Duke. Perhaps someone can recommend a better one.

Again, though, I love fables, so I made my way through the entire book anyway. Two stuck out for me this time. I marked up “Rats in Council,” which contains the line “Who’ll bell the cat?” Also, I marked up “The Tortoise and the Two Ducks.” These ducks carry a tortoise up in the air, with the tortoise holding a branch with her mouth. When gawkers yell out what a miracle it is that the tortoise is flying, the tortoise opens her big yap and falls to the ground.

I think now of cable news. Isn’t a mark of wisdom knowing when not to talk? Yet cable news encourages constant chatter. It seems to me a recipe for stupidity.


That was a fun exercise. I didn’t quit finish my marathon of book reviews. I still have one more book that I finished last month. Still, I did 8 book reviews in one day, which is exciting. Well they aren’t really reviews but more like notes for myself. Whatever. I feel much better after putting away that backlog of books I finished in June and July.

Thoughts on The Effective Executive

I have a weakness for the tone of The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker; I really like the way the book is written and enjoy similar books. I’m not quite sure how to describe the tone. It’s very authoritative, as if the author was imparting wisdom. It’s not conversational. And… well, this is going to come off as sexist, but when you say, “Man is not such a creature,” it sounds completely different from “Humans are not such creatures” and I greatly prefer the former. Of course, now I’ve shifted slightly from the tone of Drucker’s book. It’s my weblog, and I retain the right to digress.

The book lists five practices of effective executives. Each of these bullets are comprised of direct quotes from the book:

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes.
  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths — their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates…. They do not build on weakness.
  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first — and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
  5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. … They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.” And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.

My thoughts on each of these is as follows. #1: This is a huge weakness for me. I throw away so much time surfing the internet and watching TV. #2: This is rather intuitive. It reminds me also of The 4-Hour Work Week. Are you working or are you just busy? #3: This also reminds me of The 4-Hour Work Week where you are exhorted to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Note: When you read a lot, you’re encouraged by things showing up in multiple books. It means you’re either onto something that’s incredibly right or horribly wrong. Either one contributes to knowledge more than finding an unsubstantiated, isolated claim. Facts should not be islands. #4: This reminds me of aphorism #268 from The Art of Worldly Wisdom, “A wise man does at once, what a fool does at last.” Prioritizing was something I really focused on when I had a lot of school work. Since then, I don’t remember when’s the last time I made a daily to-do list. Time to get back in that habit. #5: This is a multi-faceted topic. It’s too complex to give a few sentences of thought on it. It’s not something that I will focus on soon. There’s only so much one can do.

There’s a great passage that reminded me of the 80-20 rule, or Pareto Principle:

The great majority of all accidents occur in one or two places in the plant. The great bulk of absenteeism is in one department. … The personnel actions to which dependence on averages will lead — for instance, the typical plantwide safety campaign — will not produce the desired results, may indeed make things worse.

There’s another section on the importance of going out and looking for oneself. Drucker uses the military as an example, that battalion commanders samples the food eaten by his men. He says, “It is that military organizations learned long ago that futility is the lot of most orders and organized the feedback to check on the execution of the order. They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback.” This is confirmed by what I read in Patton’s memoir, where he says 95% of the job is making sure the orders are executed. In addition, there’s a marvelous anecdote where he goes up to a group who are looking over a map trying to figure out how to cross a river. Patton informs them that he just went down to the river, crossed it, and came back. (I most certainly have misremembered this anecdote; damn audiobooks.) Here’s a great quote to sum this all up and add some more insight:

To go and look for oneself is also the best, if not the only, way to test whether the assumptions on which a decision had been made are still valid or whtether they are becoming obsolete and need to be thought through again. And one always has to expect the assumptions to become obsolete sooner or later. Reality never stands still very long.

Here are some additional quotes without any commentary from me:

Effective executives have learned to ask systematically and without coyness: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?” To ask this question, and to ask it without being afraid of the truth, is a mark of the effective executive.

Unless a decision has “degenerated into work” it is not a decision; it is at best a good intention.

Decisions of the kind the executive has to make are not made well by acclamation. They are made well only if based on the clash of conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments. The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

Thoughts on The Art of Speed Reading People

The Art of Speed Reading People by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) personality inventory to sort people. It shows how to quickly identify and communicate with each type, etcetera.

I’m mixed on the book. On one hand, it’s helpful to see how people think differently. On the other hand, it’s really easy to stereotype people and over-generalize. In the book’s defense, it does warn against this, that people aren’t exclusively one way. Yet the advice still mostly tends towards generality.

I guess it was an okay primer on personality types, and I would like to explore the subject further.

Thoughts on 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player

Yes, I read another book by John C. Maxwell. This one is called 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player. It wasn’t the best read, and it didn’t spark any new epiphanies. However, when I read it, the book reminded me of lessons I’d somewhat forgotten. Constantly reminding yourself of things you should already know is another reason to read, read, read, READ LIKE A CRAZED MUTHAFUCKA! If you want to improve yourself, you have to read.

Anyway, I found these qualities particularly helpful as reminders:

  • 14. Self-Improving
  • 16. Solution-Oriented
  • 17. Tenacious

Thoughts on Guns, Germs, and Steel

It took me a long time to get through Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. It not that the material was particularly difficult, but that it was kind of dry. It reminded me of my class on Plato. The subject matter was damn interesting and my professor was informative, but I just couldn’t help but let my mind wander. In fact, sometimes my eyelids would droop. Likewise, I found GGS very interesting, but I still couldn’t help but get bored. And this, all despite the fact that Jared Diamond makes it very accessible for a more popular audience.

It’s a fascinating book, and I learned a lot. The book’s about how the environment determined which societies would end up destroying other societies (like how Eurasia invaded the Americas and not the other way around). It was a good change of pace from a non-fiction book that I read as part of my quest for self-improvement. (This is not to say that learning in and of itself is not self-improvement.) I don’t think I have any lessons I can apply to my life, but I now have new things to say if someone wants to discuss history.

Also, reading this book can spark some wonderful ideas for alternative history. What if some animals in Africa had traits which made them able to be domesticated? Can you imagine rhino cavalry? Or giant mammals from North America? Sweet.

Apparently, the author is a professor at UCLA and I think one of my friends took a class with him. I’d love to meet him some day.

Things I Learned from Patton

I didn’t actually “read” General Patton’s War as I Knew It; I listened to an audiobook. It was an interesting experience listening to an audiobook. At first, I listened while I exercised. Then, I listened on that long car trip to Las Vegas. Towards the end, I had to just sit and listen because I had to return the book soon. It was weird just sitting and listening to an audiobook. I felt very unproductive. Another interesting thing about audiobooks is that I’m too lazy to rewind (and rewind again) to write down an exact quote. Alright, that’s not really an interesting thing about audiobooks, but an uninteresting thing about myself. So, what follows are not exact quotes. Therefore they will be in list form.

  • All walls have fallen — the Maginot Line, the Great Wall, etcetera. Even oceans can’t keep out an ingenious enemy. The only reliable defense is a good offense.
  • Generals create plans to match the circumstances, not the other way around.
  • If General Patton has time to read the Koran before the North Africa campaign, you have time to read in your busy life. (I took this small, relatively unimportant note that Patton read that book, and I used it when I taught my students.)
  • Don’t delay. A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.
  • War is a simple thing. It requires: self-confidence, speed, and audacity.
  • Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
  • On command: 5% of the job = orders/plans, 95% = making sure they’re carried out.
  • Always remind yourself of these two things: 1) In war, nothing is impossible provided you use audacity. 2) Do not take counsel of your fears.
  • Fatigue produces pessimism.
  • There’s a big difference between haste and speed. Haste is like having one hour of preparation and then moving in. It will be bloody and you will move slowly. Speed involves more like 4 hours of preparation, for the equivalent action. You will move quickly and have less time under fire.
  • Visits. Important.

Thoughts on Never Eat Alone

It’s strange how the more I like a book, the less I want to say about it. I really liked Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. It’s all about networking and helping other people. It’s a book I’ll need to revisit over and over, so that I can internalize its lessons.

I’m just going to list some quotes.

I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more that you get.

Ultimately, everyone has to ask himself or herself how they’re going to fail. We all do, you know, so let’s get that out of the way. The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity.

Selling is, reduced to its essence, solving another person’s problems.

When it comes to making an impression, differentiation is the name of the game. Confound expectation. Shake it up. How? There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability — yes, vulnerability — is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today.

For one, I had to begin the journey to change my leadership style. It wasn’t enough to get things done. You had to get things done and make the people around you feel involved, and not just part of the process but part of the leadership.

Thoughts on Speak to Influence

I read Speak to Influence by Susan Berkley and it was just O.K. There were some good practical exercises for warming up vocal chords and tongue twisters to help enunciation. There was also a section on leaving voice messages, which I found particularly helpful. (My favorite: Leave a message just with your name and number and without details, creating a sense of mystery.) Overall, though, I didn’t see anything over and beyond what I learned in my Oral Presentations class. There are no secrets to good public speaking. Learn the basics, such as eliminating fillers. Record yourself and watch yourself. Practice, practice, practice. That’s most of it.

Thoughts on The Difference Maker

As I look back on my notes on John C. Maxwell’s The Difference Maker, I see that at the time, I didn’t find the book all too helpful. Yet with a month’s distance, I find that it touches on a lot of themes that have gained importance in my life. The book itself is about attitude — what it can and can’t do. I don’t even recall the general thesis, but I marked several passages, which still retain their significance.

The best concept I took from the book was “decision management.” Here’s what Maxwell says:

It’s pretty easy to say to yourself, From now on, I’m going to have a great attitude. It’s much harder to actually follow through with it. That’s why I believe one of the best things you can do for yourself is make the daily management of your attitude one of your objectives.”

The concept reappears multiple times in the book and it really stuck in my head.

I used to have this abstract concept of a perfect me and how he would act. I always wanted to be that person one day, but I’ve since realized that I have to be that person everyday. I previously latched onto a concept of habits. But in my head, that concept translated to an active start-up and a passive start-up. You simply can’t be the person you want to be unless you commit and re-commit everyday to it.

Now, this concept of “decision management” has morphed into a concept of my “positivity paradigm,” wherein I commit myself everyday to being a positive, solution-oriented person. The Difference Maker made another significant contribution to the positivity paradigm by giving a tip to change one’s vocabulary. Here’s the tip:

A noted psychiatrist once remarked that the two saddest words in the human vocabulary are “if only.” He believed that people who get trapped in their failures spend their whole lives saying “if only — if only I had tried harder, if only I had been more kind to my kids, if only I had been more truthful, if only…” The way to correct that mind-set is to change your vocabulary by substituting the words “next time” — “next time I will try harder, next time I will be more kind to my kids, next time I will be more truthful.”

Before I read that book, I had already commited myself to something similar. Everytime I thought of a problem, I needed to think: What’s the solution? This simple tip of changing one’s vocabulary has made me significantly more solution-oriented. I am a better person because of it. Change your vocabulary, and you’ll change your life.

Active management of my attitude towards positivity has changed my life for the better. Now, I think I need to work on actively managing my life in aspects other than positivity.

I have one last quote I found useful:

Psychiatrist William Glasser says, “If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behavior. In other words, begin to act the part, as well as you can, of the person you would rather be, the person you must want to become. Gradually, the old, fearful person will fade away.”

I believe this is the best path for self-improvement.

Thoughts on Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses!

This book, Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses! bugged me. It kept saying excuses was the overarching problem, and if you eliminated excuses, you also rendered inert a whole host of other problems you’d find in a corporation. I recall various analogies to illustrate this point, but an analogy is not an explanation. Why the hell are excuses to key? Whatever. I ended up skimming most of the book because it was kind of repetitive.

There was one cool anecdote/story I found useful. It was about how a CEO was worried about his company’s flagging sales, and so he went to a workshop, which taught him about the wonders of proactivity for salespersons. He printed out posters that said, “Be proactive,” and wanted to make being proactive part of the company culture. One salesperson, Larry, is very inspired, and works somewhat harder for a while. But overall, nothing is changed. “Since the whole concept was never clearly explained in detailed, practical terms, nor built into his accountabilities in a way that could be measured, Larry was not able to meet the ‘proactive’ expectations of his superiors. ‘Proactivity’ became a precept to belive in, but it had no meaningful behavioral significance.” Because there’s nothing to measure, proactivity becomes a mere abstraction. It has nothing concrete behind it. Larry’s behavior can’t change in any appreciable way; so inertia causes him to work as he did before.

It reminds me of myself and my often abstact New Years’ Resolutions. You can’t actually change how you think or what you do, unless you create concrete, measurable actions to follow. Everything else is just wishful thinking.

You can’t say to yourself, “I should be positive.” You have to make a commitment everyday to be positive. You have to say, “Whenever I find myself in a position to catastrophize, I will focus on solutions rather than the problem.” And, “When I write about myself, I will praise myself for the positive things I’m doing, and not focus on the negative.” I’ve become a more positive person because of specific actions and vocabulary choices, not because of an abstract desire.

Thoughts on The Science of Influence

I didn’t find The Science of Influence, by Kevin Hogan, all that helpful. It’s targeted towards salespeople and while I am interested in learning more about sales, I am not a salesperson by trade. Furthermore, the book doesn’t have enough science to warrant its title. On one level, I appreciate Hogan’s intent to “translate” the content for a non-technical audience. On another level, it feels too dumbed down. After taking my class on cognitive science and religion, I learned that a lot of the scientific articles I read had gaps and the conclusions weren’t completely uncontroversial. I’d like to see more of the caveats, but that would make this a different book. It was just way too simplified for my tastes. At least the book pointed me towards The Paradox of Choice, which I’ll pick up sometime this summer.

Here’s the one part I marked up:

If you are going to use fear in communication in order to foster change or alter behavior — or encourage someone to buy your product, idea, or service — you must also include a step-by-step set of instructions in your message in order for it to be successful.

This reminded me a bit of The Adversity Quotient, where it talked about helping people and you want them to come up with actual actions they can do to start taking control of a situation. Get them to stop catastrophizing and then lead them towards solutions.

It fits with my current obsession with specificity. Goals need to be actions, not abstractions. The more specific my goals are, the more likely I finish them.

Quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning

I borrowed Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, from the library, and now I really wish I had my own copy. This is why I hate the library ;)

It’s an amazing book, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s about Frankl’s experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and the psychological lessons he drew from it.

I decided to pick up this book after seeing it referenced in multiple books and weblogs. Typically, people would reference it along with the lesson that even in such extreme circumstances, such as in a concentration camp, one’s still maintains the power over how one responds to the circumstance. No one can take that away.

Instead of writing a long review, I will write out a bunch of quotes.

I think it was Lessing who once said, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved achieve fulfillment.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a cerain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. What does Spinoza say in his Ethics? … Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.

We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead ot think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.

They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours — a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God — and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly — not miserably — knowing how to die.

It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils.

He became annoyed, gave me an angry look and shouted, “You don’t say! And hasn’t enough been taken from us? My wife and child have been gassed — not to mention everything else — and you would forbid me to tread on a few stalks of oats!”

Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.

[Logotherapy] is a method less retrospective and less introspective. Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. … At the same time, logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and feedback mechanisms which play such a great role in the development of neuroses.

Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. … I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already fro the second time and as if you had acte the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invties him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.

How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?

Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Thoughts on Maus

My sister had the graphic novels Maus I and Maus II sitting on her shelf for the longest time. The cover art always intrigued me. The books were about the Holocaust and the people were drawn as animals — the Jews were mice. I never actually read the books because they were about the Holocaust. I figured they’d be too much of a downer. I mean, I own the movie Hotel Rwanda, and I’ve never watched it. Seriously, I bought that movie 3 years ago.

I finally got over my fear of Holocaust literature after reading Man’s Search for Meaning, which also gave a psychological portrait of life in a concentration camp. The Maus duology was very gripping, but very different from the last few novels I’ve read. The previous books I’ve read were fun stories, but didn’t tell me anything about the human condition. I don’t have that complaint with Maus; I did learn about the human condition.

The main character isn’t someone who lived during the Holocaust. The narrator is the author, Art Spiegelman, and it is his father, Vladek, who lived through the Holocaust. The narrator asks his father to tell his story, so the comic itself switches between the Holocaust and the interaction between Art and his father. It provides a much richer tale than a straight narrative.

One of the main things I gleaned was how complicated people are. Art’s father is kind of a miser and saves every bit of everything. He tries to return his half-eaten cereal box to the store because he doesn’t want it to go to waste. Through Art and his wife, you learn that Vladek can’t be summed up by his experiences in the Holocaust. Other people have lived through the same ordeal as him, but they don’t scrimp the way he does.

A scene I found particularly poignant takes place in the second book. Art is bombarded with questions by the media, asking him what the books means. What was he trying to say with the book? Art grows smaller and smaller (this is a graphic novel remember), looking like a child, and overwhelmed by the enormous questions. I guess the lesson is that you can’t just take one theme away from something like that. Human stories, when properly told, are multi-faceted; they aren’t fables. The books’ complexity is part of why it manages to capture the human condition.

There’s also a theme of randomness. That while some survived in part due to their resourcefulness, there was so much luck involved. It’s hard to draw a lesson when you see how much human life is dictated by outward conditions at times.

The Problogger Book

I feel like I’ve forgotten what I’ve read. This is why I should write about the books as I read them.

The Problogger book by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett had good tips for writing and making money with blogs. The writing tips were especially honed for blogs, specifically. Some lessons I remember: Find a niche, plan posts ahead of time…. All good lessons which I haven’t applied. Geeze.

Well, the lessons haven’t been as urgent because I’m working on my comic strip more than my blog. Moreover, this is my personal blog and I don’t want to make money from this.

Still, I’m probably going to pack this book and bring it with me when I head back to college. I still don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life, and maybe blogging is something I can try out for several years.

Review: Caro’s Book of Poker Tells

I grabbed Caro’s Book of Poker Tells at a store in Las Vegas. The book is a classic piece of poker literature. It teaches the science of tells. In poker, a tell is some type of outward behavior that gives away information about your cards. For example, in the last James Bond movie, Casino Royale, Le Chiffre’s eye supposedly twitches when he’s bluffing. Or, in Rounders the guy eats his cookie a certain way. This book is a lot more sophisticated than that.

It’s very useful right away. The book even provides tons of pictures, which will help you identify the tells when you actually see them. The biggest thing I learned was that strong means weak and weak means strong when someone’s acting.

I have yet to be in a situation where I can utilize the skills I’ve learned, but I already know it’ll improve my game. While reading, I came across some behaviors that intended to trick the opponent. Those were things I’ve fallen for so many times. Now that I’ve learned what those behaviors really mean, I won’t be so gullible.

Review: All Families Are Psychotic

All Families Are Psychotic, by Douglas Coupland, chronicles one adventure of the veritably fucked-up Drummond family. The plot is hard to describe; it veers in many directions. Astronauts, affairs, abortions, AIDS, armed robberies — and that’s just the a’s. Things happen all of a sudden. All in all, it’s an entertaining read, but I didn’t find anything particularly poignant. Nothing really touched me. It was a good piece of escapism, but I didn’t learn anything about the human condition. (No doubt, you’ll hear that exact complaint again and again as I read more books.)

In fact, I found the ending really disappointing. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) Somehow they’re magically cured of AIDS, which really messed with my willing suspension of disbelief. The rest of the plot is wacky, but you can go along with it. In addition, I didn’t really see how the characters really changed. The family seemed closer, but then, why do we need them healed? I didn’t get it.

So: Fun to read, quick to read, but you won’t learn anything new about the human condition.

Short Review: Lost and Found

I breezed through Alan Dean Foster’s Lost and Found, about a man who gets taken hostage by aliens. They are bandits who capture different species and sell them.

I got absorbed by the story pretty quickly. However, I started reading at around chapter 5, instead of at the beginning. The first chapter actually didn’t entrance me as much. In fact, when I jumped back to the first chapter (after I was a few chapters from the end), I noticed that some of it was unnecessarily verbose, which was sometimes distracting. For example, I seem to remember the use of the word “simian” in lieu of person.

Another flaw was that the characters were kind of flat. That’s okay, though. I don’t need complex characters; I enjoy watching sitcoms.

It is interesting to note that after I read this book, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, which talks about the psychology of being in a German concentration camp. After that, I tried to find parallels between that book and Lost and Found. I didn’t really see anything other than “not giving up” is important. This is not surprising, given that I already said the psychology of the characters wasn’t too complex.

Starting to Read About Sales

I decided that sales was a topic that I needed to learn more about. It’s a useful skill for life in general, and I’ll probably need to get better consider I’m going to be selling merchandise for my comic. This was prompted by reading Don’t Send a Resume, which I mentioned in this group of reviews.

My dad gave me a pile of books to take a look at. I started with The 25 Sales Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople by Stephan Schiffman, published back in 1991. It was an easy book to jump into. It lists 25 habits and describes each fairly succintly — a few pages per habit, usually.

I didn’t bother memorizing all 25 because I’m trying to get an overview of things. I got two main points. One, you want to develop a relationship with your client. Two, you want to solve your client’s problem(s) — act like their consultant.

The first point is actually something I wanted to do with Chalkboard Manifesto anyway — that is, develop a relationship with my readers.

The second point puts Don’t Send a Resume in better context. That’s why you show how you’re going to help the company do X, Y, and Z.

One last thing. The habit about taking notes is one I’m going to memorize because I can tie it to a concrete example about how useful it is. Also, I’m about to start a teaching job and I think this will be useful:

Taking notes will encourage the prospect to open up. You may doubt this, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Every time I conduct a seminar, I get further proof of how effective the simple act of writing something down (in this case, on an easel) can be in encouraging communication. When I simply stand in front of an audience and ask, “What was good about the presentation we just heard?” — nothing happens. When I stand in front of an easel and write “GOOD POINTS IN PRESENTATION” across the top, then ask for suggestion — wham! The room comes alive!

Fortune’s Formula

I borrowed Fortune’s Formula by William Poundstone from my brother. It’s a fun read, but has limited real-world utility.

It tells the story of the Kelly criterion. This involves romps through gambling, the stock market, mathematics, and the mob. The connections to the underworld are exciting, and I was really sucked into the story towards the middle of the book, but the beginning starts off very choppy. It jumps from person to person, place to place, and you don’t understand where you are, or where you’re going. You might want to start in the middle, and then read the beginning later.

The book reminded me of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. (Of course, the history of the Kelly criterion is much shorter than the history of zero.) Fortune’s Formula was a story about a concept. It explains that concept, the Kelly formula, in a way that’s pretty easy to grasp, but if you want to know how to apply the Kelly criterion, one would have to purchase a book that goes more in-depth. For example, it says the company Long-Term Capital Management was making tons of small bets, but they weren’t really diversified, so it was like making a few huge bets. How do you know what counts as diversified?

Another good tip one can glean is “Don’t Overbet,” but this must be applied while using the Kelly criterion. This means you must do math. This tip isn’t quite as useful in its general form, as I put it.

This is not a criticism of the book, but a note to those who would purchase the book. If you’re looking for a good story, then read this book. If you’re looking to make money, then do some more research on the Kelly criterion.

I wanted to make one final note. I recently read Why Most Things Fail, which also looks at the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management. The two books diagnose the failures differently, but I don’t think the approaches are necessarily mutually exclusive. Fortune’s Formula says LTCM was guilty of overbetting, and wasn’t able to avoid ruin because of that. Why Most Things Fail showed why the type of dip seen isn’t as unlikely as traditionally calculated. These shocks are endogenous to the system, not one in a million events. The odds weren’t calculated right. But this is just all the more reason not to overbet, and to be conservative, because it’s easy to miscalculate the odds.

Mini Reviews

I am like 5 books behind, and I’m less than 50 pages away from being 6 books behind. Since I’m about to go on vacation, I need to do something so I don’t get too far behind. I’m going to write mini reviews for 3 books I’ve read. While I’d rather give each book I read a full treatment, I don’t think that will be manageable considering the pace I’m going to be devouring books this summer.

I enjoyed Why Most Things Fail because Paul Ormerod, the author, levels some harsh criticisms of traditional economics. I find traditional economics to be lacking because it assumes that man is rational — agh, I can’t even write that without becoming philosophically flabbergasted. Yet as much as I love digging into economics, I find some of Ormerod’s comments distracting, like when he said that economics purged certain facts from its textbooks and said that Stalin would approve.

Ormerod presents the insight that big things don’t necessarily have big causes as if it is amazingly profound, but I don’t think it says much. He cites how residential segregation can occur merely from the sum of small preferences among many individuals. That was interesting, but the generality he drew from it was banal. It gets better when he gets more specific and says that business extinctions are primarily caused by endogenous causes rather than external shocks. The agents are very close to zero-information, but even a small amount of information can confer a great advantage. Eh, it makes sense when you’ve read the book. It’s convincing and he doesn’t delve too much into the math. This is good if you’re someone like me with almost no background in economics (aside from a college class and a high school class), but it is probably frustrating if you’re more of an expert. Then again, you could just read his papers.

This book really gets weak in the last chapter or so. His solution to surviving is to innovate but everything in the last chapters is less supported by facts than in previous chapters. He carefully presents a case for why things fail, but then what you can do about it seems tacked on, rushed. It’s an interesting read, but not very practical for someone who wants to use it to get ahead in business.

The main lesson I pulled from Don’t Send a Resume by Jeffrey J. Fox was to sell yourself to the company. Do your research, look for their needs, and convince them that you can solve their problems. This book purports to be contrarian, but much of it is translating job search stuff into sales jargon. It has concrete tips, but it would be even more useful if I had some background in sales. I’m going to read more books on selling.

I read Adversity Quotient by Paul G. Stoltz. In my view, it’s kind of a dissection of the virtue of resilience. Resiliency is a habit and it can be learned and improved. He even goes into some science. Glad to see science confirms what Aristotle figured out thousands of years ago.

Don’t catastrophize is a good tip of his and he presents some ways on how to get out of that mode of thinking. I’ve already been working on reframing things in my head. At the end of every complaint, I force myself to think, “Now, what’s the solution.” I’ve been forcing myself to be more positive. Thus, I didn’t really use the tips in the book. But I like to think that this means I’m on the right path.

The chapter on increasing the “adversity quotient” of others was really good. It teaches you not to lecture, but to ask questions. More importantly, it tells you which questions to ask. When people come up with their own answers they’re more empowered than when you tell them what to do. I think Stoltz’s techniques will be rather useful.

I like to criticize, but I enjoyed all three books much more than you probably can infer from this posting. I hope to improve my book reviewing skills as I do more book reviews.

The Most Salient Aphorisms From The Art of Worldly Wisdom

In lieu of a normal book report, I’m listing a collection of quotes. These are the most salient passages for me, at this time in my life. I plan on re-reading this book many times, and I’m sure different passages will jump out as more important at those times.

6. A man at his best. You are not so born: strive daily to develop yourself in your person, in your calling, until perfection is attained: the fullness of your every gift, of your every faculty. You will know it in the improvement of your taste, in the clarification of your thinking, in the maturity of your judgment, in the control of your will. Some never attain the perfect, something always being lacking, and others are late in coming to themselves. The man complete, wise in speech, wise in action, is admitted, yea, he is welcomed into that rare fellowship of those who understand.

17. Change your style; not always in the same fashion, in order to divert the attention, and especially if you are being rivalled. Not always directly, or they will know your course, anticipate you, and frustrate even your intent. It is easy to kill the bird on the wing that flies straight; not that which turns. Nor always indirectly, for that trick is learned after the second feint. Malice is ever alert and much thought is necessary to outwit her; a gambler does not play the card which his opponent expects much less that which he desires.

27. Rate the intensive above the extensive. The perfect does not lie in quantity, but in quality. All that is best is always scant, and rare, for mass in anything cheapens it. Even among men the giants have often been true pygmies. Some judge books by their thickness, as though they had been written to exercise the arms, instead of the mind. Bigness, alone, never gets beyond the mediocre, and it is the curse of the universal man, that in trying to be everything, he is nothing. It is quality that bestows distinction, and in heroic proportions if the substance is sublime.

50. Do nothing to make you lose respect for yourself, or to cheapen yourself in your own eyes: let your own integrity be the standard of rectitude, and let your own dictates be stricter than the precepts of any law. Forego the unseemly, more because of this fear of yourself, than for fear of the sternness of outer authority: learn this fear of yourself; and there will be no need for that imaginary monitor of Seneca.

129. Never cry about your woes. To make lamentation only discredits you; to better purpose, to be an example of boldness against passion, than one of timidity under compassion; to lament is to open the way to the listener, to the very thing of which you complain, and by giving notice of a first insult, making excuse for a second; many a man with his complaint of injustices past, has invited more, and by crying for help, or for pity, has merely gained sufferance; or even contempt: better politics, to laud the generosity of one, thus to lay obligations upon antoher; for to recite the favors done by those absent, is to compel them from your present, for this is to sell the esteem in which you are held by the one, to the other; and so a man of sense will never publish abroad either the slights, or the wrongs he may have suffered, but only the honor in which he is held, for it will serve better to constrain his friends, and to restrain his enemies

194. A proper conceit of yourself, and of your aims, especially at the start of life. All have a high opinion of themselves, particularly those with the least reason; each dreams himself a fortune, and imagines himself a prodigy: hope wildly promises everything, and time then fulfills nothing: these things torment the spiriit, as the imagined gives way before the truth, wherefore let the man of judgment correct his blunders, and even though hoping for the best, always expect the worst, in order to be able to accept with equanimity whatever comes. It is well, of course, to aim somewhat high, in order to near the mark; but not so high the you miss altogether a starting upon your life’s job; to make this proper estimate of yourself is absolutely necessary, for without experience it is very easy to confuse the conjectured with the fact; there is no greater panacea against all that is foolish, than understanding; wherefore let every man know what is the sphere of his abilities, and his place, and thus be able to make the picture of himself coincide with the actual.

197. Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice retrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

204. Approach the easy as though it were difficult, and the difficult, as though it were easy; the first lest overconfidence make you careless, and the second, lest faint-heartedness make you afraid; nothing more is required in order to do nothing, than to think it done; to go at the job, on the other hand, accomplishes the impossible; but the greatest undertakings should not be overly pondered, les contemplation of difficulties too clearly foreseen appall you.

245. Talk always about the uncommon, and forego the common, for it makes the better head; do not hold in too high opinion the man who never opposes you, for that is not a token of love for you, but of love for himself: do not allow yourself to be deceived through flattery, or be pleased by it, but cast it from you; always hold it to your credit that some men speak against you, especially if it be those who speak ill of all that is best; let that man pity himself whose ways please everybody, for it is a sign that they are of no value, for the excellent is of the few.

246. Never make explanation unless asked, and even when asked, it is a species of crime, if overdone: to excuse yourself before occasion demands, is to accuse yourself; and to allow yourself to be bled in health, is to make eyes at disease, and at malice; to explain in advance is to awaken slumbering doubt; a man of sense will never show notice of another’s suspicion, for that is to go hunting for trouble; then is the time to give it the lie through what is the uprightness of your whole way of life.

262. Know how to forget, even though it’s more luck than art. Matters best forgotten, are those best remembered, for memory plays the villain by forsaking us when we need her most, and the clown, by appearing when we would see her least; in all that gives pain she is most lavish, and in all that might give joy, most niggardly; at times the only remedy for an evil lies in forgetting it, and to be able to forget is the remedy; wherefore, train your memory to these comfortable manners, for she can bring you heaven, or hell: those self-satisfied are of course excepted, for in their state of innocence, they are already rejoicing in the happy state of feeble-mindedness.

268. A wise man does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times, the first in season, and the second out. He who starts by putting on his understanding wrong side to, must continue in this style ever afterwards, wearing about his feet what he should have placed upon his head, making left of what is right, and so proceeding in everything he does: there is only one good way to bring him to account, and that is to make him do by compulsion what he should have done through desire: but the man of sense sees at once, what sooner or later, must be, and does it to his joy, and to his credit.

287. Do nothing in passion, or everything goes wrong. He cannot work for himself, who is not in command of himself and passion invariably banishes reason. Here have recourse to another more prudent, who may be anyone, provided impassioned. They who look on always see more, than those who are in the play, for they are not excited. As quickly as you discover yourself roused, let intelligence blow the retreat, for the blood has hardly rushed into the head, before all you do shows blood, and in one brief moment is spewed forht the substance of many days of shame for you, and of slander for another.

In addition to these aphorisms, here are some passages I highlighted from the text:

… it is worse to be busy about the trivial, than to do nothing….

Continuous luck is always suspect….

Choose an occupation that brings distinction.

… it is reflection, and foresight that assure freedom to life.

Rest in accomplishment, and leave talk to others.

Virtue alone is sufficient unto itself: and it, only, makes a man worth loving in life, and in death, worth remembering.

I Saved My Life For $1.00

I found A.M. Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. It was priced at $1.00 and seemed like the kind of book I would like, so I grabbed it. Plus, saving my life for a buck? Good deal.

It’s about this guy, Richard Novak, who was living a life cut-off from the outside world. Every morning he puts on these noise-cancelling headphones, which seemed to underscore the point of him cocooned from the outside world. He is “functionally dead,” as the book jacket describes him. After a few crises, including a bout of intense pain that sends him to the hospital, he starts opening himself up to people, making new friends in a startlingly (for the reader) easy manner.

I enjoyed the book’s message, about re-connecting with the world around you, but I think my enjoyment can be explained by two factors: my current status in life and the fact that the book only cost me $1.00. One of my roommates had just left for the rest of the semester, so I was busy reacting to that, closing myself off. The feeling of getting a good bargain for the book made me appreciate the book more. So this book may not be as fun or meaningful if you’re not somewhat depressed and disconnected, and you paid too much for the book.

I’m still confused about the book’s title. Was it meant ironically or unironically? Is there a wink there at the end of the title? If it’s meant seriously, I said I enjoyed the book’s message, but it wasn’t as profound as Aristotle. If it’s meant not so seriously, I have failed to find the bite that makes it funny. In fact, while I found the absurd events in the book funny, I found them funny because they were absurd. I did not find them funny because of any satirical edge.

I marked two passages in the book. They were both passages where things didn’t go as planned, and it wasn’t so easy making a new connection. I found them more… poignant, I guess is the word, although I use that with less of a degree than it deserves.

In the first passage, Richard has just paid for a homeless man’s meal:

“Have a nice day,” Richard calls after him, annoyed that the guy didn’t say thank you.

The man turns around. “Have a nice day. I’m homeless. What does that mean, ‘Have a nice day’? Go fuck yourself.”

“You can’t change the rules overnight,” Anhil says.

It’s a hilarious passage, but that’s the end of Richard’s interactions with the homeless.

The second passage is about his neighbor. She lives below him, and he sees her swimming every morning. Richard goes to her party uninvited and finally meets her.

… Finally he spots a familiar gesture, the turn of her head, the flicking of her hair.

He goes to her. “I just wanted to say hello.”

The minute she turns toward him he wishes he hadn’t come; she’s different in person — her eyes are brown when he was expecting blue, and there’s a harshness that leaves him with a sinking sensation. She’s not who he thought she would be. He feels out of place, and he’s got a cashew stuck in his throat. He coughs. “I’m your neighbor, up the hill.”

“Are we being too loud?” she asks.

“No, no. I heard the party and I just wanted to say hello. I see you swimming every morning. I’m up early.”

“Which house?”

He points up the hill — from here his house looks good. “The one with the sinkhole. Last week a horse fell in and Tad Ford [the actor] came and got him with a helicopter — that was a big adventure. Maybe you saw it on TV?” She shakes her head no. “Well, hopefully, the house won’t slide down the hill; then we’d really be neighbors.” He laughs. She doesn’t. “Anyway, I just wanted to say hello, to introduce myslef.” He’s talking as he’s backing towards the door. “I’m Richard. I see you every morning, I stand at the glass, I watch you doing your laps.” He meant it as a compliment: she was his inspiration, his muse, his mermaid. He goes home wishing he’d left it as it was — in his mind’s eye.

I guess this passage illustrates what bugs me about the book. This is an isolated event; otherwise, it’s easy for him to go around making new friends. Shouldn’t there be more disconnected people just like he used to be? Shouldn’t they not give a shit about him? Shouldn’t they be harder to reach out to?

So I didn’t really save my life for $1.00. Despite my criticisms, it’s a really fun book to read. It’s underlying message about reaching out to people around you is good, but the book’s just not one you’ll re-read for insight about life.

Examining the Problem of Evil

If you asked me why I don’t believe in God, I could give you a myriad of answers. Among the more convincing answers (in my mind) would be the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil asks why there can be evil in the world if God is all-powerful and all-good. Would he not eradicate evil? When I think of all the pain and suffering, I truly do find the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being to be absurd.

I recently read Alvin Plantinga’s book God, Freedom, and Evil. My edition was published in 1977 and reprinted in 1983. I was referred to the book by my professor for my class Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Our topic for the class was religion. We’d read Plantinga’s “Theism, Atheism, and Rationality” for class. I read God, Freedom, and Evil because I needed it to write my final paper.

The book’s divided into two parts: 1) Natural Atheology, and 2) Natural Theology. The bulk of the book is devoted to the Problem of Evil. It also addresses the compatibility between freedom and omniscience. The second part quickly touches on the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and then spends most of its time on the ontological argument. The Problem of Evil was most relevant to my paper topic and, coincidentally, the part I found most interesting.

Plantinga uses what he calls the Free Will Defense to escape the Problem of Evil. This must be distinguished from a project of theodicy. Theodicy tries to explain why God created evil. For example, Milton’s Paradise Lost could be said to give an account of evil in the world. The Free Will Defense does not purport to know the mind of God. Plantinga’s goal is just to show that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good and Evil exists are logically consistent.

It’s a complicated and long argument. The summary in my essay was already inadequate and a blog entry will surely compress it more. The main things to understand are the limits on omnipotence and transworld depravity. God does not have the power to make 2+2=5 (according to Plantinga); God can do only what is logically possible. So God’s ability to eliminate evil is subject to logical constraints. If by removing one evil he were to create more evil, then he could not remove that evil.

Transworld depravity. Goodness, I had to read that passage a bajillion times in order to understand it. I’m not sure I can summarize it in a way that makes sense to anyone without some background in philosophy. I’ll do my best. Someone suffers from transworld depravity if there’s some moral action where he’ll always make the morally wrong decision. If God created a world where the person has to make a choice, the person will do something morally wrong. If God makes the person make the right choice, then he has removed free will. So if we assume that all people would suffer from transworld depravity then there’s no way God could have made a universe where people are free but there’s no evil.

Still with me? Well, what about volcanoes and tsunamis one may ask. Surely there’s no free will involved there. Plantinga says perhaps there are nonhuman persons who cause these natural disasters. It’s a preposterous claim, but he’s not purporting the truth of it. He’s just showing that God and the existence of evil aren’t logically inconsistent.

Has this shaken my belief in the Problem of Evil? To be honest, it has shown me that the Problem of Evil is not as ironclad as I thought. I have heard versions of a free will defense from theists before, but never from anyone well-versed in philosophy. Their versions made no sense, and this one does.

The Problem of Evil still appeals to me on a visceral, non-rational level. I’m still perplexed when I see death on a massive scale (from afar) and people insist that a perfect God exists. (If you believe in an imperfect God, I will be less perplexed at your belief.) There are other versions of the Problem of Evil, and it would be interesting to study those.

If I were to embark on a critique of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, I would be tempted to go in many directions. When I think about it, though, I would have to concentrate on one thing. I think free will is a nonsensical concept because of the way I think our minds work (which is strongly influenced by Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop). Typically, free will is envisioned as some last minute mechanism in our brain. We get all the inputs, and then this mysterious “free will” thing takes over right before the decision is made. There’s some sort of gap. I don’t think there is. That’s not to say that we’re all mindless automata. Far from it. Decision-making is so much more complex and wonderful than this magical free will concept.

Can Plantinga’s defense not theodicy strategy work here? No, because if free will is not a logical phrase, then God could not have created it. Ergo, a free will defense cannot be used.

Of course, this kind of criticism is beyond the scope of this weblog entry. I am, furthermore, ill-equipped to embark on such a project at this time.

After reading this book, if someone were to ask me to articulate the Problem of Evil, I would recognize that I couldn’t do it in a way that I could not refute myself. I’ve learned that something I thought was a sure thing isn’t such a sure thing. After this book, I have less certainty, but more knowledge. That’s enough to make the book worth the read.

Book Reports and Updating the Blog Roll

I’ve decided that I’m not reading right. So, I’ve made it a rule that after I finish reading a book, I have to do a book report of sorts. I’ll post it on the blog. It may be a summary, writing what I’ve learned, connecting it to something, listing my favorite quotes, or some combination of the above.

I also need to update the blogroll. I’m going to list all the new links and why I read them.

Return to Literature

I used to read a lot of science fiction, but after one particularly bad book, I’ve hardly read any science fiction at all. For the past few years, I’ve almost exclusively read non-fiction. There are some exceptions: The Brothers Karamazov (which I read on my own), various books I read for my Introductiont to Fiction and Poetry classes, and a few Harry Turtledove alternate history books. Hence, why I said almost.

But right at this moment, I feel like the lack of literature in my life is a particularly bad thing. Non-fiction contains facts, but if you really want to learn something about human nature, it’s best to read a novel. (Of course, non-fiction in narrative form can also teach a lot.)

In addition, I’m reading too many blogs and not enough novels. I’ve taken a bit of time to examine how I spend my time and feel that much of the time I spend on the computer would be better spent on literature.

I’m about to read Dostoevsky’s The Underground. That’s just one book, though. I want to ask anybody out there for suggestions, but I don’t want just any suggestions. In fact, I don’t even want your absolute favorite novel.

If anyone wants to make a suggestion, you have to suggest a novel that deeply, profoundly affected you and changed the way you think.

Today’s Two Things

I spent most of today doing two things.

One: Fixing some old permalinks. All the stuff in the form “archives/200x_xx_xx.html” should now redirect to the proper place. I was getting a lot of 404 errors. After that, I just need to find some old pics and then individually fix some entries. It took a lot longer than I expected because the PHP explode() function wasn’t working as I hoped it would, and I had to figure out a way around it.

Two: Reading Fiasco by Mr. Ricks. I’m only slowly making my way through it because it is so painful to read. I can’t get past a couple pages without having to put the book aside and let my anger cool down a bit. One thing that’s particularly eye-opening is how the administration’s line still hasn’t change — we’re still making Remarkable Progress.

Thomas Paine and Taxes

I forgot to write about this back when I finished Rights of Man… Thomas Paine really ripped on taxes, portraying them as a form of oppression. It seemed interesting only because he was a radical leftist and nowadays it’s the conservatives who hate taxes.

Reevaluating Tom Paine

I am currently reading Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. Since his Common Sense was critical to the American Revolution, he was someone I thought I admired. Rights of Man, though, is an answer to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. I got a little box on the left hand side that says Edmund Burke is my hero. I picked up Thomas Paine last summer and didn’t get around to reading it until now, which was before I discovered Edmund Burke.

I think it’s important to read people you disagree with, so you can widen your horizons. And every once in a while, they actually have a good idea. This book is getting the gears turning in my mind, and is leading to many thoughts that will end up in my discourse I’m working on. (Most of which will be in contradiction to Paine’s principles, I think.)

From the back cover, this also got me riled up: “Thomas Paine was the first international revolutionary… He generated one of the first blueprints for a welfare state, combining a liberal order of civil rights with egalitarian constraints.” International revolutionary? Welfare state? Blech.

Book Recommendations

I really enjoyed Lawless World by Philippe Sands. It presents an… well, I don’t want to say unpartisan, because it is partisan, but very much so in the case for international law. What it isn’t is knee-jerk Bush-bashing. It doesn’t only talk about Iraq, though, as it covers the WTO and investor’s rights and whatnot. Anyway, I’m slightly tired and there’s no way I’ll do it justice right now in a short synopsis. Basically, if you want to be informed about some aspects of international law and how it relates to the post-9/11 situation in the US, read this book. It certainly was an eye-opener for me.

The Prince by Machiavelli is a classic. I just finished it for my Political Philosophy class. Machiavelli can be laugh out loud hilarious at times, if you read him closely with the right frame of mind.

Finally, I’ll recommend The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. I’m not done with it yet, and I haven’t passed judgment on his policy ideas. However, he does a good job of informing the uninformed about globalization. That’s called journalism.