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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thomas Paine IV: The Age of Reason

This is post 100 here at www.wildpokerman.com.  It's been about 4 years since I started the site, it was soon after I moved to New Hampshire.  It's fall right now and the pageantry of foliage is on full display here in Nashua.  The trees are explosions of oranges and yellows.  My favorite tree is the one at the house next door, every year the leaves turn orange but stay green at the very edges.  It was an amazing scene yesterday morning as I pulled out of the garage.  The sun was rising and was a bright orange ball and seeing it through that tree was an experience and a half.  Fall is a time of year that I don't regret moving here.

So onto the post that's been sitting in the unfinished bin for about three years.  Originally I didn't want to put it up because four Thomas Paine posts in a row was too much.  I sat on it for a while after that because I wanted to do some more reading and thinking.  Right now I'm in the middle of God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens so I thought I should finish this post before I write about that book.

Thomas Paine left America as a hero, his pamphlets and articles inspired a nation in it's time of need.  He made the clear case for American independence and then moved back to Europe to continue his work of inspiring men to take destiny into their own hands.  In Europe he wrote Rights of Man, clearly explaining the case for the French revolution and furthering his case for representative democracy.  One of his later works was the Age of Reason and it was his most poorly received works, at least by people without titles of nobility.

Paine starts out with a declaration of his faith in God, and follows shortly after with his declaration that he did not consider himself a believer in any current christian church.  In his preamble he states "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."  Brave words for a man who lived in the 18th century where church and state were one in most of the world.  I don't know how much of his deism was a result of his moral evaluations of the state structures in the world at that time and how much was the result of his examination of the bible but it does appear that he examined the bible closely.

"I have now gone through the bible, as a man would go through a wood with an axe on his shoulder, and fell trees. Here they lie; and the priests, if they can, may replant them. They may, perhaps, stick them in the ground, but they will never make them grow."  he says in part II of The Age of Reason.  He spends  fair portion of his book describing the inconsistencies between what is written in the bible and what he perceived as reality.  According to legend, he lived his latter life in America impoverished and disowned by his former revolutionary colleagues.  Later biographers seem to think that this is a myth and I hope that it is.

Thomas Paine bravely used his pen to speak truth to power without fear of consequence and deserves his place among the cannon of American patriotism and among enlightenment thinkers.  That is a life and spirit worth celebrating with a 100th post.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The British Industrial Revolution an Economic Perspective

Textbooks are crazily expensive.  Beyond an economic explanation there should probably be some kind of societal investigation into the reasoning behind why this book should cost $50.  It's not even a hardback, like they couldn't throw in a decent cover for that price.

Beyond railing about the price of textbooks,the content of this book was dryer than the sands of Arrakis.  Dense doesn't begin to describe the text, the number of facts and figures this book threw at the industrial revolution was amazing but there was no context or conclusion.  Honestly the only section of the book that provided an interesting narrative was the section where Mokyr discusses the societal causes of the Industrial Revolution.  He said that the British society was unique because social classes weren't fixed, a wealthy man who gained wealth through industry or scientific practice or literary arts was just as revered and respected as a member of nobility. That took all of about two paragraphs.

And when that is the most interesting story to tell.  Since I don't expect anyone will read this for fun I'll have to just advise don't, and please buy my used copy at the end of the semester.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Getting Things Done

Ironically this book took me about two years to read.  I would get to the middle of the second chapter and get completely stuck.  Self improvement books are tough to get through because if the author is any good you want to go out and try some ideas right away.

Chapter 1 discusses David Allen's theory of organization.  You must have a system and you must start from the bottom up.  Most systems are top down systems, what that means is that you get down your goals and dreams and then start modifying your life to reach those goals.  A bottom up approach means you get rid of all the meaningless tasks that get in the way of you developing goals and dreams.

Chapter 2 where I always got stuck has you gather every single task that you want to do, have to do, think you might want to do, have committed to do or thought about doing into one place and one system.  Then you start processing them.  If it takes less than two minutes to do you just do it.  I was surprised how much I got done just by getting that far.  There's nothing like getting a few score nagging little tasks that you've been procrastinating out of the way and getting them out of your space and out of your head.  That was where I always got stuck, who has time to gather together everything you ever wanted to get done into one place?  It seemed overwhelming but now that it's done it just makes good common sense.

The subsequent chapters are about organizing your life.  David Allen explains what should go on your calendar, what should be filed, and what items should be reviewed daily, weekly and monthly.  It's a good comprehensive system.  I do have to admit that adopting all of his ideas is still an ongoing process, so far I'm working off a to do list and have an empty e-mail basket at work.  I really feel like I benefited from using it and I feel like I'm getting more done.  I really feel like there's no way I could take on work and school at the same time without it.

If you're looking for an organization book or looking to find a system to manage your life better I would highly recommend this book.