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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

William Saletan doesn't think you've got a pair

William Saletan of Slate Magazine has come to the conclusion that routine body scanning at airports is a lost fight, he may be right.  However this coward seems to go above and beyond in his love for invasion of privacy.
It's time to give up this squeamishness. Forget the etchings and fuzzy negatives. Take the whole picture, TSA: breasts, scrotum, penis, labia, gluteal cleft, whatever. Look at mine so you can look at the next guy's. Because if he's a bomber, that's where you'll find the bomb.

Privacy advocates are fighting to keep the scanners from becoming standard procedure. In today's New York Times, their point man, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, argues, "I don't think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure [an] airplane."

Sorry, Congressman. You're mistaken. Smugglers aren't stupid. They'll use whatever category of passengers you exclude from scrutiny. That's why terrorists and drug traffickers use women and babies. My 9-year-old and 6-year-old are fair game for the scanner. So's your 8-year-old. There were 8-year-olds on the Detroit flight. I'll bet you every parent of every kid on that flight, in retrospect, would gladly have let their children go through the scanner in exchange for Abdulmutallab getting the same scrutiny.

So firstly I want to address his equation of terrorists to drug traffickers.  Saletan can't even get his argument going before he is expanding the purpose of the body scanning beyond it's original purpose, which is to keep people from getting blown out of the sky.  I don't trust the government to limit the use of any law enforcement technology to any kind of small specific purpose, the federal government is quick to expand any powers it is granted.  First it will be terrorists and drug smugglers, but soon it expands to whatever the crook du jour is.  Remember how secret searches were supposed to protect us from death and dismemberment from above?  Well it appears that the government believes that protection from suspected drug dealers is a good enough cause to bring in this big gun.  Since only a few thousand of these warrants have been issued, it's unlikely that the FBI knows what is in your bedside table, but considering how often the government gets it wrong what you stash under your underwear drawer  is not as certain to be your secret as it was before creeps like Saletan started clamoring for absolute safety at the expense of your privacy.

Secondly Saletan assumes that we are all willing to take one for the team in order to provide him a little more sleep in his first class seat to France.
Let go of your fear of nudity. In the age of pubic powdered explosives, we can't let you board a plane without somebody scrutinizing your naked body.

Does Saletan seriously believe that there is no small contingent of people who have phobias about nudity that are not at least as serious as the fear that some people have of dying in an attack on an airplane?   Why do we need to cater to the second group but not the first?  I mean if Saletan wants to hire a government goon to check out my magnificent pair that's fine with me, but I really don't believe that my daughter needs some potential pervert checking her out before the trip to grandma's house.  What are we going to do to make sure that the people doing the job aren't in it for the jollies?  Are we going to have a questionnaire to weed out the perverts too stupid to check the right answers or does he want us to set up government brainwash camps to perform the duty of creating a sexless class of laborers.  Perhaps we retired the tradition of raising eunuch slaves a couple centuries too early for his taste.  However he intends for us to address this, people who have a serious phobia, a religious tradition of modesty or a desire to protect their children from the prying eyes of the TSA aren't going to just "let go".  They're going to have to do some intense therapy before they fly or just stay off the plane.

William Saletan seems to believe that the majority of people have enough of a fear of terrorists that they would willingly subject themselves to this kind of treatment.  I think he's making a huge wrong assumption.  Everyone that gets on a plane engages in much riskier behavior as soon as they get of the plane.  If you follow the reason link in the last sentence you will see that simply walking around the street or driving to the airport puts you at a much greater risk of an unpleasant death than any terrorist and not one person can get onto a plane without doing at least one of the two.  People drive every day without requiring that their road mates take a breathalyzer, let alone that there be a snapshot of their genitals taken before they climb into the station wagon.  I believe that the desire of most people is to travel conveniently with a general assumption of safety.  We don't demand that every trip we take not be our last.  We smoke, we drink, we have sex with people we should have gotten to know better and in most of those activities we prefer that the government stay at arms length.  I myself prefer that they have as little to do with my travel plans as possible.

Somehow Mr. Saletan believes that we can take measures to keep our privacy if we allow body scanning at every airport, but how are any of us supposed to keep an image of ones body completely secret other than to not let another person have it.  A TSA screener with a hidden camera could do a lot of damage in our world of information tracking.  A video of naked bodies going through an airport could easily be linked to an online ticket agency database by someone who had access to both.  How are you going to make sure that the screener doesn't have a buttonhole camera videotaping the images on this screen?  Will he be working naked like the cocaine processors in American Gangster or will she need to go through her own screening every day on the way into the booth?  Can you really make sure that everyone that has access to the equipment down to the janitor doesn't have the wherewithal or the motivation to tap into the video lines going from the camera to the booth and collect the images for use later? Don't even tell me that the government itself won't be collecting and storing this information as soon as they figure out that body parts other than faces can be used by recognition software to identify suspects.  When that happens every underage drinker or shoplifter in the country will have their nude image on file at the local police station.

Does he seriously believe that a video of Brittany, or Madonna, or Lindsey or the underage Miley Cyrus going through a body scanner wouldn't sell for a multiplier of hundreds to thousands of times the salary of a TSA screener?  To avoid corruption completely we would need to pay the screeners CEO sized wages.  You may say that most celebrities that the public would want to see nude are able to fly private planes but I have a feeling that Nick Cage can tell you that private planes aren't always a guarantee.

So William, I'm not going to let this proposal go on without a fight.  I believe that if you want to catch more terrorists and ensure that flying can be an activity free of risk you need to find a less invasive way to do it.  Assuming that all of us are willing to give up liberty for a more complete guarantee of safety on an almost already riskless activity is ludicrous.  You're making the same mistake that the last presidential administration did by telling everyone that they can suck it up or stay home.

I never thought I would say this but since money talks so call your local congressman and see if they agree that our bodies should be our private business.  If they disagree I'd suggest telling them that your next political donation will be to Rep. Jason Chaffetz.  There I spit it out, give money to a republican to wage a campaign for your privacy.  It makes me sick but I'm put in the awkward position of having the party of Dick Cheney being the guardians of my liberty.

I've got another solution for you Saletan, stay home yourself if you can't stand to take infinitesimal risks.  If you seriously think that all of us are willing to show our testicles as the price of catching a flight, well I say that dicks like you have got a lot of balls.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Failure

So originally I was going to read 52 books in 52 weeks, by my count I read 28.  That however is probably more than I would have read if I hadn't started picking up the reading habit again. Oh yes I read plenty outside the printed page, but books grabbed me in a way that they haven't in a while.  In Bookmark Now one of the writers says that what makes a successful writer is fidelity and I would say that the experience of fidelity that a book provides changes the reading experience as well.  Reading online lets me skip over the boring parts and read what I think is interesting, however the very nature of the linked up article makes some forms of writing completely unworkable online.  The carefully crafted Common Sense would have been a miserable failure if it were a blog instead of a book.  By the time a reader read a few lines of the English budged they would have clicked off to TMZ.  I wonder if a revolution can happen in a wired up society?  Lucky for me for now I live in a country where my every material want is provided for with a minimal amount of work.  But what about people who live now and in the future under brutal regimes?  Will they take TMZ as s substitute for hard reading and hard fighting when the time comes that they won't live another day in chains?  Will we see another Ghandi or will the next one just be an interesting two minute on You tube with derogatory comments filling the bottom of the page?

So yes I'm glad that I read, from real books, I'm glad that I remember the smell of new pages.  I'm glad that my library expanded by four times as many books as I read.

Now on to the lists:

Best poem of the year:

The Most Careless Girl in the Class Had the Most Exquisite Body

Best word:

Rime-used in "In the Mosque of Imam Ali"

Worst word:

Cloying-used everywhere, It's like last years visceral and 2007's vicarious (followed by the redundant "through you" which proves that the user is an idiot trying to inflate his vocabulary).   Cloying wins though because now I can say that using the word cloying has become cloying.

Work that changed my life the most:

Believe it or not Solution Selling.  It not only helped me learn how to sell it also taught me how to negotiate and get along better with people.  Good stuff.

Worst book I read:

You would think from the reviews that it was Bob Dancer's catastrophe of an autobiography but it was actually The Five Temptations of a CEO.  I wish someone would finally put an end to the motivational business book.  If I didn't already have motivation to succeed in business I wouldn't be picking up a business book right?  Stop motivating me and teach me something practical.

So failure it was but it was also a spectacular experience to try to read 52 books in 52 weeks.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best American Essays 2007

Here it is, the last book of the year. Unless I read one more just to read one, I don't see myself reading one this week for pleasure, it would be like a school assignment if I did. I would just be hoop jumping. I have one more post to make on the project but for now let's look at another work of non-fiction, the best American essays of 2007.

The book starts out with a punch to the teeth with an essay called Werner.  A man is caught in a fire and does what it takes to try to save himself and his cat.  I cried.

The book includes three essays on the conduct of the Bush administration during the Iraq war and the "war on terror", Iraq: The war of the imagination is an indictment of the incompetence of the buildup to war and the execution of the post war period, An Orgy of Power is a good overview of the dangers of a society that is willing to engage in torture, and Rules of Engagement is an overview of the ways that the Bush administration broke the laws of war, engaged in wholesale perfidy and has now put us on a path where the rules of warfare no longer apply.

Afternoon of the Sex Children was the hardest piece. It started out like an essay that you find in a college English textbook. I half expected the author to go into a long lecture on semiotics but it pulled right around.  The article was about how the sexual revolution isn't about liberation, it's about how we have sexualized  every aspect of society and about how the sexual revolution won't be complete until people are free to be asexual. Not overtly straight, bisexual or gay  Why couldn't Brittany, Christina, the Jonas brothers and the Twilight crew be talented kids? Why do we need to project an oversexed identity onto teens? It started out obscure but ended up looping into quite the thought provoking piece.

Operation Gommorrah is another WWII memoir  But can we ever get enough? Highlights include screaming Germans kicking Jews out of bomb shelters and mothers wading through asphalt that has turned to liquid because of firebombs trying to save their babies.  Nothing makes you appreciate a nice peaceful day like a WWII story.

All this is topped off by essays on how much a billionaire should give to charity, why California sucks (and this was written in boom times), why actors suffer stage-fright and a like the cherry on top of a delicious sundae the story of an English woman who 200 years ago cut up little bits of paper to make collages of flowers so accurate and intricate that botanists today still use them.

With all that I would say that this book is one of the best reads I have ever had.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Me Talk Pretty One Day

So this was the last of the Sedaris Trilogy, I wish I would have read it second as it bridges the gap between Naked and When You Are Engulfed in Flames pretty well.  It starts out with stories of David's family and the last half is about moving to France and his time there.  The title bridges the gap between the two, there is an essay about him being in speech therapy in the first half and the last half has him spending a lot of time in French classes.

This one I had heard about when it was first published.  It was one that was on the front page of Amazon for about a year and even spent some time on my wishlist.  I did like it but I don't think it was an experience I would call memorable or revelatory.  Maybe you shouldn't read three Sedaris books in a row.  Reading 50 Sedaris essays in a row was like eating egg rolls as a meal.  It tasted good but I'm not so sure that I've been filled up.  I imagine that when someone writes short stories or essays they expect them to be taken in small bites.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When you are Engulfed in Flames

This was the second David Sedaris book that I read.  I'm glad I finished Naked first or I would have wondered what the big deal with this Sedaris guy is and why am I reading this,  fortunately I reached for the other book first and this book made all the more sense.

This book is the most recent of his books, it's about a mature David Sedaris'  life and hobbies and spending time walking around Paris and Normandy with his boyfriend Hugh.  It's not as gut splitting as Naked was, I'd almost say it's slightly inferior.  It doesn't quite ring the same bells as Naked does and I think the reason why could be that I'm a slight bit younger than Sedaris.  Maybe I just enjoyed Naked more because I had a similar misspent youth but in our adulthood our differences shine a bit brighter.  For some reason it didn't seem as universal but without talking to more people who have read both books I fear that what I actually mean is that When you are Engulfed in Flames is in a much more different land than I inhabit.

One great feature of the book was his trip to Japan to quit smoking.  Strangely enough even though I quit smoking regularly a few years ago the parts of the story I loved the most were the cultural differences between here and Japan, not the smoking stories.

I did like this book, I do remember laughing at parts and I do remember not putting it down, but I don't remember the experience being one that evolved me and therefore I can't call this book one of the greats.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Million Dollar Video Poker by Bob Dancer

Since Fyodor Dostoevsky there hasn't been anything written about gambling that can be called literature with a straight face.  This book is no exception.  I have a fairly large collection of gambling books, most of them are about Poker, there was a time in my life when being a professional gambler was my dream job, now I'm old enough to appreciate the benefits of health insurance and the kind of company my corporate job provides, I haven't ruled out playing poker as a serious hobby but overtime when it's available is just much more profitable.

Bob Dancer is a pseudonym, many gambling books are written by people who are fully in kayfabe.  The reasons they describe are firstly because they play a dangerous game with the casinos, they don't want to play with a winning player, and also other players, who don't want to talk to you about how they win if their name is going to be mentioned.  Because of this though the writing falls below any kind of journalistic standard.  This book includes gems like "When I asked several High-Limit players if they were surprised that the Venetian rigged drawings every one of them said they were not suprised at all."  As you can see the writing offered is well below the standards that would be acceptable for publishing outside the gambling world, Bob alludes to having a Phd in economics, or at least he says he did Phd work, but his writing doesn't seem to meet even a minimum community college writing 101 standard.

Now I'm not being tough on Bob, he's published and I'm not, and he's writing in a genre where the bar is set by people who come up with "systems" to beat roulette and craps.  Besides the fact that he's not pouring on the punch you in the face vocabulary of Palahniuk or the careful sourcing of a journalist doesn't mean I hated this book.  All I'm saying is that if you read it be prepared to snicker at time to time at some of the more outrageous statements and the clunky pacing.

So "Bob" tells the story of how he moved to Vegas with $6000 and with a combination of coupon hustling, low stakes blackjack counting and perfect video poker play because the best known video poker writer in Vegas.  He loved and lost, loved and lost and loved again, and all the time kept his bankroll under tight control.  It's a thrilling tale and one of those Las Vegas stories that I love, however it's probably the one that's turned me off of any kind of desire to be a casino gambler on a pro level.  Basically it appears that the best odds and slot clubs are usually found in casinos that need the business, and places that need the business are not the places that you want to take your kids.  My kids love going to Vegas more than anywhere else but now that they're old enough to ask why that man is puking in the garbage can I'm probably past the days when I can stay off the strip and call it a family vacation.

So Bob, thanks for the read and the wake up call, I guess I'll go back to work in my cubicle where I feel like a high roller.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Naked by David Sedaris

For my birthday my lovely sister gave me an Amazon gift certificate.  This was a perfect gift and since my Amazon wish-list is always a mile long on books that I would love to read I used it quickly.  Less than a month later I had finished three books, never have I had such a short amount of time from purchase to final read of so may books since many years ago when I could only afford one book at a time.

I really wanted to read some Sedaris, I half heard one of the stories from this book on NPR one Sunday and I was completely hooked.  Also the essay book Bookmark Now mentioned Sedaris in many of the essays.  If print ever dies Sedaris has ensured he would live on by making his essays readable, as in readable out loud.  Some of the writers in Bookmark Now seemed to be a bit critical of Sedaris because of this but honestly I couldn't tell at all that it was anything other than just literature that I was reading.  The same story I heard on the radio, I Like Guys, was a different experience when I was reading it quietly by myself but I absolutely didn't feel it was a diminished experience nor did the story seem to be missing anything.

Most of the book is about his family and growing up, about the relationship between his parents and about his grandmother coming to stay when she could no longer care for herself at her own home.  It's the kind of story that most everyone has, I mean growing up with a more or less weird but loving family but Sedaris is unflinching in his ability to explain the details of what made his experience unique.  It's actually quite nice, you can tell his family is what we would now call dysfunctional but Sedaris seems to resist that kind of stigma and embrace it as normal and lovable.

The book is pretty much in chronological order, from David's growing up, to teenage years, to college and on to the death of his mother.  The book was named after an excursion he made to a nudist colony.  Naked was my least favorite of the essays because it seemed like he took the trip almost to have something to write about.  Not being a nudist himself it's kind of a gonzo journalism stunt but unfortunately it seemed that by the time he went he was too well put together mentally for a gonzo journalism stunt to be interesting.   Half of what makes Hunter S. Thompson such a thrill to read is that you're wondering if Hunter will end his trip in the psyche ward or in traction.  With Sedaris, while it was funny, it never really felt like he was embracing an experience, just taking a vacation from his normal, which is offbeat to be sure but still I didn't see how this essay fit in with the rest.

If you are unfamiliar with Sedaris this is a fantastic entry point.  I'm glad I read it before his other books because it put so much in context for my other reads which will be in posts to come.  So no I won't complain about Naked, it was an extra thrown into a fantastic autobiographical collection and I'd have to say I'm very happy to have read it.  Thanks sis for the present!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Western Civilization

So I've been dragging this textbook around with me for 10 years.  10 years ago in November I married Joanna.  Prior to that date I had a perfect record of getting As in college.  The day we got married I had to skip a class, the class as a childhood development class and that day I skipped was one of the pop quizzes that was 10 percent of our grade.  Because of this I fell one point short of an A grade and the professor who I guess didn't believe in pluses or minuses gave me a straight B.

The next semester was supposed to be my last and I had been working a temporary night job while I went to school.  In mid semester I was offered a permanent job, the downside was that training would be 7 weeks and it would be in the daytime.  I was enrolled for four classes during daytime, I was doing well but it was take a job that I knew I would love or pass it up hoping to finish school and get another offer in the same type of work.  Luckily I took it, I'm still at the same company and I've loved it as much as one can love a job and when I look around and see that everything I have was from working there I know I did the right thing.

Because of that choice though, I had to decide what to do about school.  I'm superman sometimes, but studying for a licensing exam and doing classwork and at the same time trying to learn how to do an actual job was something I couldn't take on all at once.  I got A grades in two of the classes and failed the other two.  One of the two I took a dive in was Modern Western Civilization.  At the end of the semester I went to sell my books but there was a new version of the textbook coming out so there I was, stuck with a book from a class I failed so I decided to do what every reasonable American does, I added it to the horde of stuff that I don't remotely need but somehow gives me comfort late a night when I wonder what I've done with my life.  Well look at this mountain of stuff, I say to myself.  I'm obviously a valuable person!

So after reading Common Sense I realized that my gap in Western History was costing me a bit in understanding the enlightenment era non-fiction that I've become a fan of.  I'm good on America so I was having a hard time reconciling how the Louisiana purchased was made from Napoleon after the French threw off the shackles of despotism for good by executing Louis XIV. I guess it wasn't smooth sailing into democracy and I guess it was Louis XVI that was executed.   That much I now know now thanks to this book.

What I love about Western Civilization is that it's a Civilization of ideas.  In spurts and fits we've come to hold the individual person as a sacred being.  It was very interesting to see how these ideas evolved and how Christianity intertwined with this evolution.  What was interesting is to see how they aren't necessarily parallel ideas, this is contradictory to the conventional wisdom that people seem to accept today but both the omnipresent western philosophy that defines our culture and the Christian religion that is an omnipresent feature of our culture as well have forced each other to evolve into what I think is a fairly tolerable place to be altogether.

So yes I now have most of my dates and places straight.  I can't give you the whole line of English succession or the dates of many battles, after all this was a large broad brushstroke but if you give me a year I can give you a broad overview of what happened in that century, and I guess that's worth 10 years of hauling a book around the country for no apparent reason.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

History of the World in 6 Glasses

When I wanted to start reading more I assumed I would be reading fiction.  When I was Jr. High and High School I read at a pace of about 2 novels a week, it was a good defense against boredom with school and a way to spend my time in isolation without feeling lonely.   When I moved to Las Vegas I resumed the 2 novels a week pace, it was a good defense against poverty and you can buy 2 books a week for the same price that cable TV would cost you, new books even!  All this and you didn't even have to front the price of a TV, a horribly large expense at the time and terrible impractical for someone who moved every 4 months or so and who didn't  have a car.

So now that I'm returning to my reading habit I'm surprised at how much great writing there is on the non-fiction side of the bookstore.  Or well since now I rely on online merchants to feed my habit the non fiction side of the best seller lists.

History of the world in 6 glasses is a review of how beverages have shaped human history.  The beverages are beer, wine, coffee, tea, coke, and distilled spirits.  Before going in I was familiar with what an empire the British forged with their lust for tea but the rest I was fairly unfamiliar with.

I especially loved the chapters on wine.  The book went into great detail as to the rituals surrounding wine drinking in Greek and Roman times, the places wine was grown and it's effect on trade.  Greek and Roman history is one of my favorite topics and this was a subject that was skipped over or lightly covered in history classes, but it was obviously a huge cultural influence, you can't tour any art museum without tripping over Renaissance paintings of a bacchanalia.

After reading the book I watched a documentary about the black sea, they were doing an underwater excavation of a boat and its cargo was a whole bunch of wine urns, just like the book described.  I also went back to the museum of art and in the Egyptian tomb exhibit I saw a display of hundreds of statues of men and women carrying beer and and the deceased even had a model brewery to help him through the afterlife.  I love when I learn new things that add context to future experiences.

So chalk another book up to the long list of valuable reading experiences.  Who needs fiction anyway?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Choke

Ah Chuck Palahniuk, best known as the writer of Fight Club.  Before this book I had never read any of his books, I'm always shy about jumping on bandwagons.  I decided to end the policy of self enforced snobbery and give this one a try.

Choke is not for the kids, let me get that out right now.  The first chapter is about the main character attending his sex addicts anonymous meeting and he tells the stories of all the attendees.  It's a chapter that would make Balzac blush but I laughed out loud the whole way through.

Honestly this was the funniest book I've read in a long time, the back of the book has a reviewer calling Chuck the new Vonnegut.  I disagree with that statement.  Both Palahniuk and Vonnegut use humor against a background of human tragedy, Vonnegut however seemed to be saying that we ourselves are ok, no matter how crazy we are.  Palahniuk makes us enjoy the aberrations of his characters but doesn't try to make a sick society the reason they're not ok, but the best reaction you can have is a little laughter at their expense.

I know this book has been made into a movie and I wanted to read it before I saw it.  I think I'll skip it for a while though, I was worried about the movie ruining the book because it would reveal the plot.  Now I'm worried the movie will ruin what was a good experience.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bookmark Now, Writing in Unreaderly Times

Hooray for essays, essays with an editor, a publisher and ones that you can cart around with you as you stroll around.  Essays that make you think, feel and most of all essays that make you want to write.

This book was actually an odd lot that I picked up at the local surplus house, Building 19.   Building 19 is hard to describe.  It's like a huge collection of goods from container ships that other businesses never bothered to pick up.  It's the type of place where you can find everything you never wanted and nothing you need but just going in to see what's on the shelves this week is worth the trip.   So far my favorite trip was the one with bins full of prison surplus.  I mean they had the whole deal, jumpsuits, shoes, jeans, they only thing missing was a burly, surly cellmate and a guard who would beat you for using too much toilet paper.   I imagined just for fun that I could spend a day cleaning up trash in the park in prison wear but since I have kids now I can't do crazy embarrassing stuff without it possibly affecting them.

All the prison wear is gone now but I do have to imagine who bought it.  Is there a group of nursing home shut ins that is forced to wear it?  I imagine that there are a slew of good New Englanders who are spicing up their marriages with prison fantasy play?  Whatever happened to it all on my next trip it was replaced by a boatload of plastic dishes for a quarter and stacks of Bookmark Now.

Now you can see why I thought this would be a low light of my reading this year, a book that competes for your dollar with 4 plastic cups or plates shouldn't be any good but I just can't pass up anything bound that's cheaper than a newspaper.  That's another reason I love essay collections.  You can always stop after one or two.  It's a low commitment affair and you can stop at any time and move on.  When the essay collection costs you a dollar it's a low risk gamble that paid off this time.  Bookmark now is the royal flush of finds in the poker game of 4 acre discount barns.

Bookmark now is about books and writing.  It's an examination of how we relate to the printed word in our times, what we've lost, what we've gained and philosophy on where we should go next.  I love reading writers who riff on writing, the only comparable stories are written by ex junkies about their drug of choice.  It's even better perhaps because writers never reform.  The worse their life gets, the more solitary and abused they are because of their self indulgent needs the better they get at what they're doing and the more we love what they pour onto their page.

That's right baby, spoken word artists, bloggers, short story MFA prodigies, humorists.  They all get their fix on in this book and tell you what they love about what they do.   Literature isn't dead man, you just need to turn on tune in (to a podcast) and drop out for a while.  It's still there and it's going to be there.  Someday people will feel about books like you and I feel about cuneiform tablets, but we'll still love to spend our solitary time with the printed word.

I highly recommend this book. It's long gone from the discount store, I know because I looked, but if you ever run into it in the library or in a friends e-reader,  just give it a try.  It may start out low commitment but it's so well worth staying for the long run.

So drop me a line, what are you reading and what should I be reading?  I'd love to jam with you a bit about written self expression.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Supercrunchers

Supercrunchers is a book about statistics.  The main premise is that human beings who rely on their judgment can make serious errors simply because we are blind to our own bias.  It's the old story of numbers don't lie.

Ian Ayres discusses projects and marketing research that have used statistics to come to conclusions.   He goes over some surprising places that they are used from web design, serving up pages in real time and adjusting to whichever pages get the best responses to statistics programs that can choose winning movie scripts.  Personally I'm skeptical of the last.  If statistics can solve the Napoleon Dynamite problem then I'll be on board. Just for the record I love Napoleon Dynamite, hated I Heart Huckabees and was neutral about Lost in Translation.

When I read this book a couple weeks ago I was completely thrilled about it, I blew through it in a couple of days, even staying up a bit late to read it.  Now that time has passed though I'm not so sure it was worth the time.  I guess I'm just getting burnt on pop-econ and need to give this genre a rest for a while.

What genre is leaving you the most unfulfilled lately?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Best American Short Stories 2008

Who doesn't love a good short story?  A novel is like a marriage, when you get started on something as thick as your wrist you're making a commitment, saying you'll be there to the end, through the slow bits, the overextended dialogue, the what was that scene doing in there anyway moments, all of them.  When you read a novel you're doing it as much so that you have a trophy on your wall, or in our modern world so that you have another post on your blog.

Short stories though, those are like quick dates.  Some are outstanding and life transforming and some are completely forgettable.  No one ever talks about them, unless you're giving a quick weekend update to your coworkers but they still have the power to slowly transform you just a bit from who you were on Friday afternoon.

The Best American series is a series of books that compiles short pieces of writing into several volumes, some of the volumes are essays, sports writing, travel writing and the list goes on and on.  I'm so glad that in our electronic age there is  a place to go to celebrate the short printed word.  Like most e-connected people I do most of my reading online now.  Sadly most of it doesn't even approach literature, it's mostly about staying informed and not about becoming connected with my fellow man.  Strange how reading and writing, activities done in such solitude have are one of the best ways to connect and share.

One of the things that I loved most about the book is that at the end they had interviews with all the authors, some gave up more than others about the origins and process that brought birth to their story, some just had a few sentences, but what they all had in common was the fact that there was a process, some feedback and some major revision that happened before a masterwork short story can be put out into the world.

Yes I liked most of the stories, so much so that I bought the whole series going back to 1990.  From when I graduated from high school to today in literature, stacked up beside my bookshelf.  I plan on supporting this series going forward and would even like to subscribe to a few literary journals.  I hope the tradition of working over 7500 or so words of fiction until they say something true about ourselves never dies.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No More Spam!

So I've eliminated the spam problem with a Wordpress upgrade!

It was quite an experience to get the upgrade done,  I've never done any website administration and it turned into a two day project.

My first step was to download the newest version of Wordpress but I had no idea how to get it onto my site.  I read some web tutorials about FTP servers and uploading to them.  In my mind an FTP server was some server that you loaded your stuff onto and then you somehow transferred it tor your site.  It took me quite a while to figure out that FTP is basically just another way to log into your site that requires a username and password and such and from there with the help of a Firefox plugin I just needed to drag and drop my files.

After I uploaded the new Wordpress I found out that I had 1600 spam comments.  I guess the Russians are really into following my minor life events and seeing what I'm reading.  There were so may spam comments that my browser refused to load the comment screen.  Unfortunately Wordpress doesn't have a delete comments button on the main administration page, you have to load the comments to delete them.  Of course there is another solution which is to load up your Wordpress database and go to town deleting them old school style in SQL.  I found this tutorial on how to proceed.

So of course at 2 AM with nothing better to do I decided to go to town and take on SQL database editing.  The first thing I had to learn was how to access the mysql program.  That was quite an adventure in clicking links all over my hosting sites administration page.  I finally found it in what turns out to be an intuitive location and launched the program.  I had to create a password to get in but as soon as I loaded it up it was pretty easy going from there.  That part of the experience reminded me of my days in community college computer class where one of the modules was on creating and querying databases, something I thought I'd never use and I guess still haven't since I didn't use the query function, I just deleted all the spam comments manually.

So now I'm set, or wait maybe not.  I go to check out my nice new spam free site but I'm getting an error, cannot connect to database.  No problem, it's probably just an issue with me not closing the mySQL program or something so I go play a game of Warcraft III while I wait for it to close on it's own.  After the game ends, two games actually Warcraft III is like the chips that you can't have just one of, I check again and it's still down.  I then try logging into mySQL and logging off and then logging off my admin login but no luck.   So off to another tear through Google and Bing to find the solution.

The first two search pages are full of stories about this same error and about 80 percent of them are about Wordpress.  All the forum answers say it's a hosting issue and to contact your hosting company.  I was a bit suspicious though because so many of them were issues specifically with Wordpress and because I'd just been of course modifying my site.  On the third page I found a helpful post finally that said that the config file needs to have your SQL database password correct for Wordpress to connect.  Ah HA!  Hadn't I changed that password when I logged into the database?  Sure enough that was the problem, after a couple of false starts where I typed an extra apostrophe around the password it's working again, spam free.

To eliminate future spam I've taken the temporary measure of adding a registration requirement for spam prevention, if you want to comment just use the Facebook link in the about me page, I'll have a more permanent solution soon which I'm sure will be another learning adventure like either a captcha login or a question and answer plugin.  I've seen those but it's 5 AM and I'm not up for any more installing right now.  I really do see how programmers pull all nighters now though.  It's fascinating to start a project and I just want to see it all done, if I didn't have a job I have to go to I could spend three days tweaking my blog with barely a few hours of sleep.

If any of you need help installing Wordpress or upgrading an old version  let me know!  I'm a half expert by now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing But the Truth by John Lescroart

I love yard sales.  There was a time in my life when it was new or nothing but now that I have children I've learned the value of a hard earned dollar.  There was a time when money was harder to come by (knock on wood it stays that way for a while) but all my money was mine.  No house payments, no car payment, and especially no kids poking holes in your living room flat screen or slashing holes in your leather couches.

So yes even though there is more money around than before less of it is mine to waste so yard sales provide a great opportunity to pick up some cheap literature.  I especially love those huge grab boxes of who knows what.  Where you can only see a few books on the top and if they look interesting enough it may be worth shelling out $25 to get the whole lot.

One such lot yielded a review copy of Nothing But the Truth.  It appears from Amazon that this book actually ended up published and under this name, it doesn't have too many comments and is way low on the sales ranks so it didn't break any records as far as I can tell.  I'd love to know how a review copy ended up sitting around in a box of books, there were a few others from this author so may this was a fan that wrote a nice Amazon review?  I actually got a couple of review copies of books this way so for your bibliophiles be sure to make your love of your favorite authors known on Amazon!

I read it simply to take a break from my literature and nonfiction streak.  It was nice to take a break from looking up words every couple of pages and having to research European history just to understand what's going on.  It's a simple tale, a lawyer has some family trouble, there is a murder, the lawyer solves the crime.  No it wasn't the greatest book written, and why don't bond traders, housewives, or web designers ever solve crimes?  Don't they have a little more free time than high powered defense attorneys anyway?

Steven King wrote “I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries."  Once in a while I like to say super size it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The 10 Commandments for Business Failure

This was a bargain book I picked up from Amazon.  Either this book is better than the bargain price would indicate or things are slow at work because I've already had two people borrow it.

This book was written by the head of Coca-Cola during the "New Coke" debacle.  Many of the best lessons are from his experience as an executive of the company during that time, it was the time dominated by cola wars, for any who are too young to remember cola advertising was on everything and in an obnoxious way.  Pepsi challenges were the centerpoint of state fairs and you couldn't breathe without knowing whether your oxygen was  sponsored by Coke or Pepsi.

Truthfully I found this book to be pretty light.  All the points about running a business such as don't lose your passion, listen to your customers,  don't send mixed messages to your customers, be willing to change your bureaucracy and so forth are pretty simple and well known.  I'd would have liked to see a more in depth look at the subjects.

For example listening to your customers and being responsive to feedback is a well known business success factor, but what gets in the way of companies doing that?  Cost, and how do you make decisions on when to listen to them and when to lose their business to a competitor?  Cost analysis based on good guesswork.  I would like to see more business books that aren't full of platitudes and more full of case scenarios of decision making.  I guess you don't find much of that outside of business school and more specifically finance school.

Oh well I guess the book serves it's purpose well enough for a feel good four hour read for corporate drones.  Other than that skip it and spend your time elsewhere.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thomas Paine part III: Rights of Man

Rights of man was the lengthiest of the works in the writings of Thomas Paine that I read.  While Common Sense was more of a work on why American should be independent from England, Rights of Man was more an attack on hereditary monarchy itself.  Even though it was written specifically to address the French Revolution and the case for it, the work is directed more towards a perpetual case for man's right to government by consent of the governed and the right to revolution if he is denied this right.

This was the most challenging and yes, dry, of the pieces in this book.  It was very long going but that was because I was really into understanding what I was reading.  I am very weak on European history,  I'm OK when it comes to knowing the dates and places of American history but to tell you what was going on in Europe at the time is something that I couldn't do.  It's not that I'm totally ignorant to things like the inquisition, Shakespeare, the reformation, the 100 years war and so forth.  I know that all these things happened and in a way what they mean but I really couldn't assign a date to them or put them in order.  This book actually helped, partially because it referenced so much history but partially because I had to spend hours on Wikipedia to understand who the people and places that Thomas Pain referenced were.

Paine discusses the beginning of monarchy, he references Samuel 8.  Go read it, God hates kings, I had no idea.  I guess if I wouldn't have skipped seminary class for two years I may have had a shot at knowing this.  Then after he shows that kings have no moral standing he states that he believes that the first kings of Europe were bands of brigands and ruffians who banded together for self preservation and enslaved the populous.  How can you believe in a divine royalty that is descended from outlaws who enslaved your ancestors?

After Paine made the case for why kings weren't something to revere but something to despise, he goes on to make the case that people could live under a better form of government.  Paine makes the case that government and society are separate institutions.  People seek out other people naturally, we need other people to trade with, to love, to inspire us and interact with.  However because we all have a darker side we need government to keep our worst sides in check.  Government tries to limit the extent that we cheat and rape and kill each other in these interactions but government doesn't have to be of a certain form, and government certainly has room to change as our needs change.  These were radical ideas at the time, even people who supported the American Revolution because it just made sense geographically couldn't see the sense in upsetting the institutions of government that existed in Europe at the time and Paine took them to task, individually and in name.

If Thomas Paine lived today I have a firm belief that he would be an cable news anchor.  Taking the powerful, but wrong opinioned (and if you didn't completely agree with Paine you were wrong opinioned in his eyes) to task was his favorite part of the book.  He even published extensions in his revised editions that berated his opponents.  In one appendix he even said that there were so many dull witted writers creating rebuttals to his work that he wouldn't even bother answering them unless they sold as many copies as he did.  He was like a cocky rock star telling you your music sucked unless you could hit the charts at the same level he was at.

So in these pages I learned to love Paine.  I learned a lot about European history, dates and places and learned a bevy of words that aren't in common use now, I've looked up a few in the thinner dictionaries laying around in office supply stores and they just don't rate. Thanks to Wikipedia and online dictionaries this book really expanded my knowledge base.  How did anyone read anything before the web?

So tell me what are you reading and what should I read next?  I'm getting behind on the writing but I always want more for the reading part.  What are you reading now and where should I go next?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Six Feet Under

So what a sad month to start watching six feet under.  I'm halfway through the first season.  I'd be almost done but Joanna and I are trying to watch it together so I'm limited to episodes that we can watch while we're together, which with work and kids in practicality is 2-3 per week.  It's helped that we've disconnected Direct TV to take advantage of an offer I couldn't refuse on a Comcast package.

It's a sad month because it seems that this August has been marked by death.  No immediate family but still people that I knew and didn't expect would go so soon.

Firstly there was my cousin's husband, Rudolph "Rudy" Mata.  I never knew their family too well and I'm of course feeling regrets.  Joanna misses having extended family around from when she lived in New Zealand.  I was steeped in extended family when I was growing up but never spent as much time with them  as I should have.

Secondly a man I went to school with as a boy, Jason Elwell.  I was never close friends with him but I do have some memories of him.  I remember playing king of the hill with him in the snow and when I cut my hand up on the table saw in Jr. High he was the one who helped me complete my cabinet.  Joanna for some reason loved that thing but I never did, firstly because of the bad memories and secondly because I know that he did so much of the work on it that it could never be truly mine.

Thirdly Angela Rogers.  She was in my LDS ward growing up.  She was younger than me but of course when so much life revolved around church and church activities she was one of those people that was omnipresent in the background.  I remember that I was her home teacher, it was the only church calling that I performed more or less faithfully, not out of any innate desire but because my companion had a burning desire to fulfill the calling of home teacher and of course as companion I had to be there on the next to last Sunday of every month.  That's how you can tell someone is driven to be a great home teacher, when it's done before it's absolutely necessary.  Unfortunately because I was there in body more than spirit I kept sleeping through his lessons that I considered to be preachy and long winded.  It's something that I wish I had recorded so that I could see if I am of the same opinion still.

Lastly an Aunt, Diane Banks.  Again extended family that I've not spent enough time with.  I do have memories of spending time at their house.  I was ill behaved as a young teen, my memories are more of the things I did to embarrass myself rather than fond ones.  Not her fault of course, all mine,  but just the memories I pass through when I think of my time with them.

My heart goes out to all those that have been affected by these losses.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  I hope that's true.
There is still time left in this month.  Five more days that could be filled with tragedy or joy, I guess the wheel keeps spinning and who knows who's number will come up next.  Just a reminder that we're all on borrowed time.  As one of the characters in Six Feet Under said "did you use it well" ?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

To my recent celebrity guests

I just had time to catch up on my comments.  Sorry it took me so long if you had a comment in moderation.

I'd like to welcome my new guests which include Teela Tequela F$(#ing, Brittany Spears Naked and some guy named Juan who appreciated my post on Viagra and wanted to point me to a helpful link.  Juan I couldn't find which post you meant but if I find it I'll be sure to move your comment from the Common Sense post to the appropriate one.  Also Maxim Russia, I appreciate your dedicated readership but I really do have enough information on reasonably priced Vegas vacations, you don't need to send me 10 links a day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Common Sense Rights of Man and others Part II: Common Sense and The American Crisis

This is almost one of America's lost work.  I'm glad to see it's getting a resurgence.  In every history you read about the Revolutionary War this book is mentioned but I don't remember passages being quoted or passages being required reading in any of the history classes I've taken.

I loved reading it because the ideas that we take for granted in America and that permeate our society were once new and fresh and revolutionary.  That men should be free to choose their own executive, that democracy prevents war, that people have a natural propensity and right to form societies and that government actually gets in the way of this natural course of events were fresh and new and somehow dangerous and seductive ideas.

This work was written completely about the American situation at the time.  It gave the case for American to be separate from Great Brittan, it explained why the course was already set and explained why that moment in time was the best time for it to happen.  Looking back at history I was fully convinced that Mr. Paine was right and I'm so grateful that he made his case so well.
Now I'm amazed at what a high level Paine wrote at, this work is a work of populism but Paine certainly didn't  dumb it down like politicians do today.  I like to think that I know a few words, I don't mind using some overpriced words in everyday conversation but I did need to keep a dictionary at hand.  I'm impressed that Paine didn't go with a few cheap easy slogans but laid out a simple case in an intellectual way.  He was not afraid to build up a case for a complex idea slowly and lead the reader by the hand to a complex conclusion.  Along the way he also was able to see things from the viewpoint of someone on the other side and point out why he comes to a different conclusion.  Unfortunately this is a skill that many of our modern leaders either lack or that modern man doesn't respect.

If we had a few more like Mr. Paine around today, or would listen to those that we have, we would have a better world today.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Common Sense Rights of Man and others Part I: Agrarian Justice

I have finally finished the Signet Classics version of Thomas Paine's major writings.  It was five weeks of reading off and on, I do have to say it was one of the most difficult set of writings that I've read this year, partially because Mr. Paine wrote with quite a vocabulary.  I did learn what sinecure means so barring all else I've expanded my knowledge of words.

Let me get this out of the way.  There is a famous conservative commentator who has a book on top of the best seller's list right now called Common Sense.  My mother is a fan of said commentator so I'm very familiar with this commentator's views.  After reading the writings of Thomas Paine I'm curious as to why this individual chose this title and seems to claim in the subtitle of his book that he is carrying on the traditions and views of Thomas Paine.  It even includes a copy of the original work.  Now to be fair I haven't read this modern version.  I have read the two chapters that are provided on Amazon and several of the reviews there so I feel I have a fair view of the proceedings within this book however I don't have a direct knowledge of the contents.  As I said before I'm also very familiar with this individual's other writings and show so I'm familiar with his viewpoints.

So just to be clear Thomas Paine was no conservative, not even by today's standard.  He was Deist.  He rejected Christianity outright, even going so far as to poke a sharp stick in it's eye.  I'll go into that more in my next installment.  Thomas Paine favored a large inheritance tax and wanted to fund a wealth transfer program with it, in fairness the wealth was being transferred from the dead to the living but still it was a liberal wealth transfer.  Thomas Paine was also very anti war.  He was very pro-revolution but partially because he believed that revolution against corrupt government prevented international conflict.

So now that I've actually read Thomas Paine I'm confused as to why he's become such a conservative touchstone.  Being a liberal myself though I would say that anything that leads people to read this forgotten father of America is ultimately a good thing.

So Agrarian Justice, it's the shortest of Thomas Paine's major writings and probably the least thought through.  Thomas Paine advocates establishing an inheritance tax and with the proceeds paying a pension to everyone over the age of 21 and a larger pension to everyone over 50.   Now I've often thought of our capitalist system and wondered why there is no minimum standard of living.  Why are there houses, especially now, lying empty while there are homeless people fishing by the river?  Why are there meals going half eaten and supermarket food being thrown out yet there are also hungry people lining up at the food bank?

I'm not sure Mr. Paine had the math right however.  I'm not sure that a modest to severe tax on estates would cover a pension like this.  Now I am for an estate tax but for different reasons than this but I believe Mr. Paine's scheme of a generation transfer tax would not be nearly sufficient to promote a minimum standard of living among the living.  I mean there are a few people living off of inheritances and all of us enjoy the blessings that the preceding generations left to us but work today must be done and it is a rare few that are able to have a minimum standard of living without it.

In our current system if you don't do a certain amount of work (and are unfortunate enough not to be loved by someone who does) you are unable to enjoy the lavish benefits that our large middle class enjoys.  This is incredibly unfair to those that are unfortunate to not be able to do valuable work.  The social choice we have made is that those who don't do this work for the most part go without property, fall victims to predatory practices both from corporations and individuals and in extreme cases to the elements.  I know that often times those that fall victims to these risks are the young, the disabled and to people who for reasons of sanity or intellect or disorder just aren't able to do the work required.  However it does do the trick of putting the whip to the lazy and the would be lazy, and since the world would be much less of a place without their work we are most likely better off altogether.

So Mr. Paine, yes the industrial and agricultural age has robbed us of our birthright of wandering free.  Yes it has created a scheme where some have more than they can use and some have less, but as long as my birthright includes clean clothes, good food and Blu-Ray I'm willing to concede that things are working to some extent, but I am open to a better idea if one comes along.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, and It's All Small Stuff

So this is cheating, writing about a book that I actually read ten years ago.  Still though I've loved this book and it's been a great influence on my life.

Many years ago I had a friend, it was before the days of e-mail so we wrote to each other frequently.  Imagine that.  I don't even spend time writing to my friends now even though the letters would go instantly.  The downside of the web is that when I sit down in front of the computer I spend hours reading useless stuff and not enough time writing to people that I care about.  I'll have to change that.

In that time of writing though she sent me this book.  I devoured it.  Before this book I had read the Tao of Pooh and the Tao Te Ching and this book fit right in with that philosophy.  I love the ideas in the book, see the glass as already broken, see the innocence in other people's behavior, spend time to thank someone today.

I'd say that not only is this book worth a read but it's worth a read and worth time to put into practice.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nine Stores by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger was in the news lately with his lawsuit over a proposed unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye a book I read and reviewed earlier this year.  The stories about him getting crazier and more isolated in his time in New Hampshire have been most fascinating.  Yup that's what this frozen place does to you, but still a small price to pay to avoid income and sales taxes.

Nine Stories was one of the many gifts that the big box of classics from Ebay provided.  The headline story is A Perfect Day for Bananafish which I hated.  After reading this trite clunker I was tempted to write off Mr. Salinger's stories as trite, try too hard literature that was published because of the success of Catcher.  I couldn't have been more wrong, and not only because banana fish predated Catcher by five years.

I especially liked The Laughing Man and Down at the Dinghy which are great stories about when innocent childhood and the adult world mix.  Teddy is a story that has a mystical kind of sci-fi vibe and De Daumier Smith's Blue Period is a hilarious growing up story, if part of your growing up period was a little larcenous and liberal like mine was.  For Esme-With Love and Squalor was one of the best WWII short stories I've read.  For those alone I would recommend this book.
Some of the real gems however are the ones about upper middle class New York. Salinger seems to know what photographers and F. Scott Fitzgerald know.  Poverty makes us look beautiful even when you expect to find unsightliness, while wealth provides a background of opulence that highlights the ugly and tragic parts of ourselves.

poverty ugly

Friday, June 19, 2009

Relax, You're Already Home

When I first started this book I must admit that I started to yawn.  I'm a huge fan of Taoism, it's philosophy and it's values however this book was sounding more like a lecture than a guidebook.

Fortunately  Dr. Barnett toned it down a bit after the introduction.  Just a bit though, you have to be prepared for a bit of didactic content if you make your way through this book.  Dr. Barnett seems to have a lot of musts but I seem to think that the Tao doesn't.

So yes I would recommend this book it was a nice education into Taoism and into Chinese life and I'm glad that I read it.
But anyway, this was a good peek into Chinese life and Taoist philosophy/religion for me.  I had always rejected the religious aspects of Taoism,  I'm not really into pantheons of multiple heavenly hosts myself and I'm a long way from shamanism.  Dr. Barnett did a great job explaining the reasons for the traditions and ways to understand them.  I'm not as much of an objector now.  For example "ancestor worship", it's not as much worship as it is showing respect for people that have come before you, and the worship part is more about trying to harness the energy of those that have come before you.  We have similar traditions here in the US with for example President's day.  I don't see any harm in honoring George Washington and hoping that I can show the same level of humility, restraint, and ability to give up power when it could become corrupting.  I guess I see the wisdom in honoring your ancestors a little more and it actually helped me to want to connect with my ancestry a bit more.

I also liked the chapters on traditions like letting things go in the new year and settling past business.  I think I'll make that a tradition as well.  I'm within striking distance of being out of debt (except for my mortgage dammit), so it would be nice to get a new start by the time Chinese New Year rolls around in a few months.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets

I liked this book.  My job is sales, I'm part of a specialized function where technical knowledge and trading is primary but at the end of the day our evaluations are for how well we do at sales.

I was worried when I started in the sales department.  I was always very good at my service jobs but when it came to sales I was at a loss.  I always associated sales with being able to talk fast and being able to talk people into making decisions they would regret later.

Once I moved over I realized that when you're selling something reputable and beneficial you don't need to be "salesy" at all.  Selling it just having a conversation with a person, being genuine and gaining their trust and then pointing them to something that will benefit them.

This book is an excellent primer into the mechanics of good salesmen and how they do things.

Firstly, this book is aimed at selling to corporations and companies.  The information does apply to selling to individuals but the first half is better for general sales while the second half is based around deep price negotiations and how to determine who the decision makers are in a company.  That's not as useful when you're selling products to individual people or families.  Secondly this author of the book teaches sales seminars, and as is often the case when the author makes more from doing seminars than from selling books,  the book appears to be a companion manual for the seminar.  Because of these two issues I can't recommend this as the only book you should read if you want to learn to sell.

I would suggest it though, it's great for learning the process for making a sale and how to investigate needs.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Discover Your Inner Economist

Yes it's time to get in touch with the inside you, but this inside you is an economist.  This book is subtitled Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting and Motivate Your Dentist.

Now I'm a big fan of Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen's blog.  See it's right over there on the blogroll.  He's probably one of my favorite libertarians and a great modern thinker.
I desperately wanted to love this book and I did make it all the way through but it wasn't the experience I wanted it to be.  I can't even think of a funny metaphor to describe how dissapointed I was.

Firstly, the questions in the subtitle weren't even answered.  How do you use incentives to fall in love?  Well this topic was addressed by stating that it's completely obvious that you use incentives in love and relationships, money isn't the only means of exchange.  Uh yeah, most of us know that already Tyler.  The dentist?  Well you can't motivate a dentist because a person visiting a dentist would evaluate a dentist on how pain free the experience is, not on the long term health benefits that a good dentist will give.  Mr. Cowen states the problem and then throws up his hands and states that you can't solve the problem.  How do you survive meetings?  Have less of them of course, they're all just a big waste of time according to Tyler.

So now why did I make it through?  Because when Tyler isn't lazily asking questions he won't answer and isn't thumping his podium too hard he has some good bits of wisdom.

Things like eat healthily at home and junk when you go out.  Why?  Because you can't make unhealthy food as well as a restaurant can so if you're going to have a good balance between good food and bad you may as well make the bad food as good as it can possibly be.

So Tyler.  Maybe you are a great macro economist and maybe you are a great guy.  Next time though how about you stick to one or the other.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The 5 Temptations of a CEO

Yay, it's story time in the workplace.  I believe this horrible trend was started with the One Minute Manager.  It's reached the pabulum covered goodness with The 5 Temptations of a CEO.

Let me tell you the plot, don't worry I'm not ruining anything for you, a CEO falls asleep on the train, an old man wakes him up and drags him to another car.  Yes the head honcho is traveling around on a train and follows an old man around, how realistic.

Anyway the old man tells the CEO how to run his business, the CEO listens and his business improves and then when the company puts up pictures of the former CEOs the CEO in the story recognized the old man as a former CEO!

If your CEO is taking business advice from old men on the train please for the love Mary hold a shareholder revolt.

Maybe the advice in the book is tolerable but it's overshadowed by the worlds worst attempt to pry $10 out of a businessman's hands that I've ever witnessed.  Pass on this one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Scream Free Parenting (it's not just for women anymore).

Yes a Psychology book.  Bleeeeech.  Shivers run down the spine of any man contemplating reading any kind of psychology book.  Psychology is for women.  We're going to get in touch with our feelings, learn to accept things the way they are and it's all magically get better, whatever.
Well it often works just that way.  Scream free parenting takes you through a process of seeing parenting different from the stressful way that many of us see it and helps you to relax a bit and enjoy it.

It starts out with the premise that you aren't responsible for everything your children do.  They actually have their own personalities and preferences and not all of them are your fault.  I guess in a metaphysical way they are but I guess you can blame your parents for the awful genes they passed on to you.

So that was very helpful, immediately after seeing things that way I calmed down quite a bit.  No I'm still not perfect, the kids still have to touch everything in Home Goods which makes me panic about what I'm going to do if they break the $200 lamp but when they're not around anything breakable I'm much more tolerant than I was.

Secondly the book talks to you about how everyone needs space starting with your children.  They need privacy and a place to keep their things and they tend to function much better if you're not breathing down their neck making sure they behave all day.  I've been trying this and they're actually behaving much better at home.

Lastly the book tells you that you need to take care of yourself because your kids depend on you.  Would you let them stay up all night drinking coffee and playing video games when they have to be up at 6 AM?  No you wouldn't because it's bad for you and it's stupid.   So maybe you should love yourself enough to treat yourself right because a tired, unhealthy, irritable parent is as useless at work and home as a tired unhealthy irritable child would be in school.

So now I'm in touch with my feelings and things are working better and I'm much less stressed out.  Thanks a lot psychology, I guess I'll turn in my man card at the door.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

36 Things I love about Joanna

Joanna turns 36 today, well in America her birthday is tomorrow but since she was born across the dateline it's today.  She's hoping her family gets to call so she can quote the Conchords and tell her mum it's not her birthday.  But since I haven't forgotten here's a list of one thing I love about her for each year she's been alive:

1. Her accent.  How can you beat it?

2. How kind she is to live so far from friends and family just to be with me.

3. How the kids fight over who gets to jump in bed with her in the morning.  It's annoying while it's happening but nice to think about during the day.

4. How she does EVERYTHING around the house and does not complain a bit.

5. That she drives everywhere on my days off.  Well as long as we're not going to a city bigger than Nashua.  Fortunately we rarely do.

6. When she's driving she lets me pick the music.  How can you beat that?

7. She lets me leave the light on to read at night.  Even though she doesn't sleep nearly as well.

8. Whenever I ask if I should buy something her answer is yes you should, you know if we can afford it or not.

9. She lets me watch whatever I want on TV.  Some of this is because we now have a DVR but either way I get the remote whenever I want.

10. The kids are always writing her love notes and drawing pictures for her.  This means she's treating them as well when no one is looking.

11. She lets Sofia steal her perfume.

12. I love how Coleman says he's going to marry her when he grows up.

13. I love her quilts.  She made a very beautiful hand dyed house quilt that is on the wall right by my computer right now.

14. She lets me nap whenever I want.

15. She makes sure Sofia does her homework every night.  If you knew Sofia right now you would know this is a time consuming job.

16. She loves the rain.  Most people here complain about it because they're so used to it but even though she's grew up next to palm trees she still loves it.

17. Other people love her accent.  I've met so many people that wouldn't have a thing to say to me if it weren't for her accent.

18. I love to hear her laugh.

19. I love when Joaquin begs her to read to him.

20. She's so good with money.  I had to force her to spend $300 on clothes last week for herself.  I don't even think she spent it all.  Most wives would not be like that.

21. She doesn't dismiss my half cracked plans without actually weighing the options.

22. She always forgives me.

23. She leaves me alone when I need time by myself, even when she really wants attention.

24. I love how the boys beg to have her tuck them in at night.

25.  She didn't mind marrying me in the county office.

26.  She was so sure I'd get the job I was applying for that she got pregnant before we found out I got it.

27.  She's never complained about a present that I got her.

28. She loves her garden.

29.  I get to sleep in every Saturday.

30.  She absolutely cannot roll her Rs.

31.  Right before we were married she gave me the best birthday I've had with only $5.

32.  She's a very competitive Uno player.  It drives the kids crazy when she wins.

33.  She fixes everything around the house.

34.  She laughs at my constant jokes.

35. Whenever I go on a trip I miss her after a day or two.  I'm even bored when I have free reign in Las Vegas.

36. She's my best friend.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

More Sex is Safer Sex

Surprisingly even with that title, this is a book about economics.  This was probably one of the best books I have read in a long time.

The book title comes from the theory that if people who are not infected with an STD were to have more sex everyone would be safer.  Note that it's not them that would be safer but the population in general.  Therefore since the individual risk is all borne by the person who decides whether or not to have sex, people have less sex and partners than would be "good" for society.

Interesting stuff and just the tip of the iceberg.  I've read Steven Landsberg's columns for years on Slate and some of the chapters in the book are expanded versions of his Slate articles.   Go and read them but do NOT feel like you are getting ripped off.  While many of the ideas were explored in Slate they were not as fleshed out, the math wasn't included and there was not as much exploration of related ideas.

This book was completely mindbending and was so good that I stayed up until 5:30 to finish it.  I didn't quite make it and stopped three pages short but the point is I haven't had a pageturner like this in my lap in months.  Go and read it now you won't be sorry.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Robot

I wanted to read this book before I saw the Will Smith movie.  According to reviews I read about the movie it was totally butchered and had the opposite moral message that the book did.  I haven't seen it and I'm happy that I read the book first.
I've always loved Asimov books.  Since we're past the dates that many are set in it's interesting to see how much the push into space was overrated as the direction technology would take.  In the book there are space stations and mining colonies on far away asteroids, people have developed hyperspace engines with the help of robots but they still wait for the paperboy to get the news.

The book is broken into chapters of the history of robots told by a robot psychologist.  Each chapter is a short story in the world all it's own with the common theme being how robots interact with their pre-programmed laws.  The first law of robotics is that a robot cannot harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to be harmed.  The theme of the book is exploration of how a physically superior being, who also is intellectually superior, robots are supercomputers after all, would interact with humans if they had to follow this law.

Robots become ever more sophisticated through the book, it's told over a 60 year period of technology. Eventually everything in the world is run by robots as they become superior but benevolent creations.  At it's root it's a story of how we interact with technology and how as technology becomes more advanced it interacts with us.

Looking over the past 60 years and all the marvels and miracles and looking forward at the next 60 years this book is still relevant and thought provoking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Goodbye Gall Bladder

Three years ago I started having pain in the upper right portion of my stomach.  It was very sore but I didn't think much of it the first couple of times I had it.

Let me take a step back and give some history.  When I was in 6th grade I had some pain in my upper right abdominal area.  It hurt to eat or drink and I was out of school for probably about 6 weeks or so.  I had test after test in the hospital but the doctors never found anything wrong.  Eventually it was chalked up to stress or poor digestion or something.  I grew out of it and didn't have any pain for years until about three years ago.

This pain was different from what I remember from when I was 11.  The first couple of times I had it I thought it was indigestion.  I used some online symptom checkers and the pain was consistant with gall bladder pain, or cancer, or gas.  That's the problem with the Internet as a diagnostic tool, it doesn't really narrow down your disease it just gives you a range of best and worst case scenarios.

Since I assumed it was either minor gall bladder attacks or indigestion or potentially a whole lot of nothing like the pain from years before I ignored it.  I probably had about one attack per month from then on out.  Eliminating significant amounts of fat from my diet pretty much controlled it so I wasn't too worried about it.  About six months ago the attacks started happening more regularly and were much more severe in duration and severity.  I finally decided to seek medical attention when I was in bed all day on Christmas.  I did want to wait until after the first of the year though because I was out of sick and vacation time, I could of course get FMLA time but it's unpaid so waiting a week made sense.

I went through January with no attacks and had one around Valentine's day.  I finally decided to call the doctor and get whatever it was taken care of.  My physician just suggested that I go into the emergency room because they would do testing right away so I did that.  The sonogram showed stones and my blood tests were normal but my gall bladder wasn't inflamed so they didn't operate right away and suggested I see a surgeon ASAP.

I went to see the surgeon the next week, he reviewed the charts and said that my pain was "consistent" with gall bladder symptoms and suggested I get it removed sometime.  He suggested I lose some weight and come back in 2 to three months but that it could be done sooner if I needed it.  The day after I saw him I had my worst attack ever, it lasted for three days.  It was time to get it out.

Thursday I went into the hospital to get it taken out.  I was super worried as to whether or not I'd be able to have it taken out with open surgery or with the laproscopic method .  I felt good when I woke up from surgery.  Better than I'd felt in months.  My blood pressure had been super high whenever I'd had it checked in the months before the surgery but when I came to it was normal.  I felt a whole good sense of well being and I'm sure I made the right choice.

So now I'm at home recovering.  I'm still on pain pills and from time to time I feel crazily high.  I went off them last night for a few hours and the pain got pretty severe.  However I'm up and walking, I even did a shopping trip with the family to Wal Mart today so I'm feeling much better than I feared I would and even somewhat better than I expected I would.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cannery Row

Man I love Steinbeck, love him!

This book was not a disappointment.  It wasn't as much of a novel as a group of short stories with a thin novel thread running through it.  It's like the Canterbury Tales on steroids.

The characters are all so interesting, almost each one has a chapter or two devoted to them.  You could probably read the stories in any order, they're arranged chronologically but you could probably put them in a deck and shuffle them and come out with something unique and powerful.

This book is written about the period right after the depression but right before WWII, this time period was still considered to be in the depression but the economy was past the low point.  Things weren't as bad as they were but they certainly hadn't picked up.

So I say yes yes yes read this book.  it's a rewarding experience.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Uncle Tom's Children

I was excited when I cracked open this book.  It came in the big box of classics that I bought for a very reasonable price from E-bay that is still paying dividends.

The publication date for my copy was 1965.  It was underlined in places which means at some point someone actually read it.  I wonder if that copy of the book influenced history somehow?

The book is a series of 5 stories of southern black people.  It was originally written in 1935 and includes an essay by the author about growing up in the south.  Now the book while a classic piece of history is no modern piece of work.

Firstly the white characters are brutes who exist only to brutalize black people.  Now I know that all the violence, hatred and evil that are portrayed in the book went on.  I know that the southern black man had a horrible existence.  However there is no character development whatsoever of the white men.

Secondly Communism is the political movement of choice of the main characters.  I wonder how historically accurate this is and I'd like to read more about how this affected the black political movements of the South.  Most of the time you see Communism mixed up with the equal rights movement it's in relation to Martin Luther King and it's portrayed as an attempted smear on him by his opponents.  I wonder how much the acts and writings of Communist sympathizers in the civil rights movement affected things in the 60s.

I'd say this book was an OK read.  it was nice to see a piece of history but I wouldn't put it in  he necessary category for black history reading.  If you have the good fortune to get it in a big box from E-bay or see it in your local library pick it up.  Otherwise read Martin Luther King's speeches or the autobiography of Malcolm X instead.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Are Men Necessary?

So Are they?  Maureen Down promises to answer this question or at least ask it in her book but falls a little short.  The title comes from a miscellaneous sub chapter that lasts 10 pages and does a little background work on the Y chromosome.  I'm not bitter, I've read quite a few books that take their title from a throwaway line in the book that really has little to do with the overall story that you're reading.  I'm looking at you Catcher in the Rye.

Ms. Dowd starts off slowly, the first third of the book was a detailed listing of the woes of dating in New York.  Nothing is as tortured and self serving as a long drawn out list of complaints about how hard it is to date in New York.  I thought I may gain some sympathy for this type of thing since I'm geographically closer to New York than I was growing up, I know some New Yorkers and have been to the city.  Unfortunately I haven't developed the sympathy that Ms. Dowd craves.  If you move to a place where you have to make more than the average American in order to afford a one room studio chances are that the people you meet aren't going to be family oriented.  I won't criticize Ms. Dowd too roundly however, since Sex and the City lasted for untold seasons, inspired a movie and is now going into sequels there is obviously a market for this type of lament, it just isn't me.

Things do manage to get interesting through the second half.  Ms. Dowd puts her pulitzer prize winning skills to work and detail the political history of women in politics.  It's a fascinating read.  The political arena is the place where women's struggle to gain equal footing with men becomes public and it's a fascinating place to see how that is working out.  She interweaves this tale with the tale of modern women who seeks Barbification.  This book was written a bit before the Clinton Campaign but how do you reconcile a culture where you can see Hillary Clinton almost becoming the most powerful person in the free world on one channel and then flip over to see the Real Housewives of Orange County spend fortunes on Botox and breast implants?

If you want to be a hit at your next cocktail party I would recommend this book.  If you don't live in New York and want to skip the first half though I won't tell anyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Tightwad Gazette

The Tightwad Gazette is an old and out of print book.  The Gazette was originally a newsletter and the book is compiled of articles from the newsletter.
It was originally published in 1991 in the midst of the early 90s housing correction and recession and the Author was a fairly popular guest on game shows, news shows and the like.

Now that economy is back in style I thought I'd give it a read.  The main thing that's up to date is the philosophy, economy is a way of life, not because you are forced into it but because you want to live more financialy free.  Also economy is good for the environment.  Learning to use things creatively and wisely saves energy and materials.

Much of the information is out of date, several of the articles are how to write to companies to get information on products or services that can help you spend less.  Now that the Internet is everywhere it would be easy to find things like bulk pasta and lists of child safety recalls.

I got the book used on Amazon for less than three dollars so the author should be proud of the method.  I also saw that it had a thrift store sticker on it for $2.25 so maybe someone bought it and sold it to me at a quarter or so profit?  I would recommend the book, it's good to touch base with a philosophy that owning a bunch of crap that you work 60 hours a week for isn't the only way to live and it gives me some ideas of things I can do to live better for less money.  If you see it in your local used bookstore or in a thrift shop pick it up!  Now that I've read it I may be donating it so keep your eyes open for it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Innovation and Entrepreneurship By Peter Drucker

Amazon suggested this book to me because I had purchased a couple of books on management.  This is the first Peter Drucker book I've read and according to his bio on the back cover he is quite a management guru.

Two things tipped me off about this baby though, the first was that all the quotes of praise on the covers are about Peter as an author, not one of them mentioned this book.  That's usually a tip off that the book you are about to read is a sub par knock off from an otherwise decent author.  The Second tip off was that in the introduction he states "this is not a how to book".  Why am I reading this again?  That's right because I want to learn how to be more entrepreneurial.  The fact that this isn't a how to means that I've got the wrong book.

I did pay my money and I'm was too lazy to return it to Amazon so I did the only practical thing and read it.  The first parts where the history of entrepreneurship in the world and in American culture.  It was a fascinating read to an extent but still it was like reading a business class textbook.  That is if your business class textbooks ranted on about tax policy, preached woe to those who disagree with your ideas for business and also didn't go in depth enough with the case studies to allow you to try to duplicate them in a real business.

The most value I got from this book was the last chapter titled Conclusion.   This was an essay that had some suggestions for government that I agree with (get rid of irrelevant agencies), a suggestion for tax policy that I disagree with (stop taxing people), and career advice for professionals to stay educated and stay flexible that by now should be self evident.

So Amazon, thanks for the suggestion but I'm picking my own books from now on.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Catcher in the Rye

I don't know how I missed this for so many years.  My parents even had a copy floating around when I was little but I ignored it like all the other books they had sitting around from when they went to college.

I really did enjoy this one.  The tone was fantastic and the first person viewpoint is hard to pull off for most writers.  The dismissive attitude of the protagonist could have easily been overdone but it was just the perfect amount.  In chapter 14 when I just started to notice it Holden has his meltdown and everything starts to come together.

So yes I am glad I read this book and look forward to more, it was nice to sit in Starbucks on Sunday afternoon and have a nice Venti Drip and listen to my iPod.  The tables turned over 3 times during the hour I was there so I'm hopeful that the economic end of society isn't here yet.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks

This will be where I post about my 52 books in 52 weeks.  There are a few others from www.quartertothree.com who will be participating, the official thread is in the books, comics, TV and Music Forum.

My first book is Catcher in the Rye and I'm halfway finished with it so I'm actually on pace with a resolution!

If you want to join in  just message me on Facebook, Q23 or comment here and I'll add your blog to my Bloglines page.