So true

>> Friday, November 28, 2014

During the eighteenth century, deists rejected traditional Western Christianity largely because it had become so conspicuously cruel and intolerant. The same will hold good today. All too often, conventional believers, who are not fundamentalists, share their aggressive righteousness. They use "God" to prop up their own loves and hates, which they attribute to God himself. But Jews, Christians and Muslims who punctiliously attend divine services yet denigrate people who belong to different ethnic and ideological camps deny one of the basic truths of their religion. It is equally inappropriate for people who call themselves Jews, Christians and Muslims to condone an inequitable social system. The God of historical monotheism demands mercy not sacrifice, compassion rather than decorous liturgy.
~Karen Armstrong, A History of God, p. 392

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Affluenza

>> Thursday, November 27, 2014

How nice it is to finish a book within a week! It's like I can actually remember what I read!

I'm pretty sure I added this book to my reading list after I finished The Hundred-Year Lie, which is kind of an unremarkable collection of health information, about a year and a half ago.  I say "I'm pretty sure" because I know I had heard of this book--and definitely the word 'affluenza'--long before that. Once I started reading, I was surprised to learn that this was a documentary miniseries once upon a time on PBS back in 1999. The publication date on the copy I picked up at a library sale is 2002. (I basically got this book for less than a dollar.)

When reading a book on current events that is almost fifteen years old, it's always interesting to see what still rings true in 2014 and what doesn't. Like having one of your chapters start with a quote by Ted Haggard. Yes, THAT Ted Haggard. I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon it.
There is a tension between materialism and family values. -Ted Haggard, Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs
It's quite unfortunate to be quoting a man who years later is ousted from his church as a fraud and public relations nightmare. I have no doubt it was something that was corrected in the updated edition of this book, Affluenza: Reality Bites Back.

Overall, I think this book still is at least 95% on the mark. I didn't think there were many glaring out-of-date assumptions mentioned until I reached the third section of the book on "treating" affluenza. Much of that is what I would almost describe as overly simplistic optimism that inroads were being made against consumer capitalism and materialism. Sure, the examples they have of some small communities are great, but aside from the one they describe in Portland, Oregon, I had never heard or read about such a community until I read it in this book. (And considering it's in the Portland area, well, it just seems like a Pacific Northwest thing.)

I think my main takeaway from reading this was how much I was in agreement with it. I didn't have any eureka! moments while reading it, but I often thought about two things: one of my friends and Mr. Money Mustache. I thought about one of my friends who just recently completed a trip around the continental U.S. I only thought about her in relation to this book because she had a six-figure income and lived in San Francisco and accrued a bunch of debt because she likes to spend a lot of her money going out to eat and drinking high-quality beer. I've never had a six-figure income like that, and it somewhat enrages me to watch someone piss it all away because she want to enjoy the high life yet can't seem to connect that she wouldn't have accrued so much debt if she would learn to stay home and cook a little more. (Or perhaps have only one expensive beer rather than three when she goes out.) Needless to say, I'm planning on sending her a used copy of Your Money or Your Life for her birthday. (She says she has a library card, but I doubt she ever uses it.) That's a book which receives it's own chapter in Affluenza. It's one chapter in the "treatment" section that is still rock solid.

Which brings me to Mr. Money Mustache. My sister introduced me to him last Christmas, and my life has been better for it. Some of what he does are things I've been working on financially, so his lifestyle doesn't come as a huge shock to me as it does to other people. But he is undoubtedly anti-affluenza and can illustrate the benefits of why easily. He has written about many of the problems noted in this book in a different way. I thought it was particularly timely that he just had a post titled "If You Think This is About Extreme Frugality, You’re Missing The Point." He doesn't use the word "affluenza," but if you know the concept, you can spot it in the post. In fact, if someone didn't want to read Affluenza, I think you could get a lot of the same concepts from just this post and by listening to The Disciplined Investor podcast he links to and refers to in that post. I did just this week, and it made reading this book a little bit better.

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How "creation" came to be

Since Newton, creation had been central to much Western understanding of God, and people had lost sight of the fact that the biblical story had never been intended as a literal account of the physical origins of the universe. Indeed, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo had long been problematic and had entered Judaism and Christianity relatively late; in Islam the creation of the world by al-Lah is taken for granted, but there is no detailed discussion of how this happened. Like all other Koranic speech about God, the doctrine of creation is only a "parable," a sign or a symbol. Monotheists in all three religions had regarded the creation as a myth, in the most positive sense of the word: it was a symbolic account which helped men and women to cultivate a particular religious attitude. Some Jews and Muslims had deliberately created imaginative interpretations of the creation story that departed radically from any literal sense. But in the West there had been a tendency to regard the Bible as factually true in every detail. Many people had come to see God as literally and physically responsible for everything that happens on earth, in rather the same way as we ourselves make things or set events in motion.
~Karen Armstrong, A History of God, p. 355

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A History of God

>> Saturday, November 22, 2014

I think I first attempted reading this back in 2000 or 2001. I can't remember which, but I do remember that I checked this out of the Tacoma library, a nice hardcover that I only got perhaps 30 or 50 pages into. Then before I left Tacoma, I bought this used paperback copy at Kings Books. Apparently sometime between then and 2014 I was able to make it to page 130 before I stopped. Which brings me to this past spring, when I started reading it again (from the beginning) until I finished.

My god, I cannot believe how long it took me to finish this book. The first few chapters flew by. I was making progress and destined to finish before the beginning (or was it the middle?) of the summer. And then my crappy work place took over my mind with stress, and I was unable to make any headway on it until this fall when I changed jobs. (I don't think relaxation reading is supposed to work this way.)

Anyhow, there is so much in this book that I don't know how to summarize it. I'm glad I read Karen Armstrong's small book on Islam last year because it definitely helped while reading the couple chapters solely devoted to Islam. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about religion and religious history, and I had a harder time not falling asleep on the chapter--or chapter and a half--that was solely devoted to Islam. It was just harder to follow since I'm not well-versed in its philosophy and doctrines. (But I learned a lot! Most of which I probably won't remember though.)
[Isaac] Newton does not mention the Bible: we know God only by contemplating the world. Hitherto the doctrine of the creation had expressed a spiritual truth: it had entered both Judaism and Christianity late and had always been somewhat problematic. Now the science had moved the creation to center stage and made a literal and mechanical understanding of the doctrine crucial to the conception of God. When people deny the existence of God today they are often rejecting the God of Newton, the origin and sustainer of the universe whom scientists can no longer accommodate. (p. 304)
Now points like these are what I picked this book up for in the first place. How things came to be is why I like reading history. How things are today isn't how they were 3,000 years ago, which most fundamentalists never seem to think about. I've read quite a bit about the history of Christianity, which also tends to involve Judaism, but never as much about Islam. I don't think I could have ever imagined some of the philosophical and doctrinal overlap that Armstrong describes at various points. I had no idea of some of the (crazier) history like the Shabbetai Zevi episode in Judaism. Reading that, it's like, "Holy hell, this actually happened?!?"

But when some of the themes begin to repeat themselves in the history Armstrong is recounting, I was reminded of the Mayan baktuns where certain sections of time are thematically about this or that in addition to things being involved in a cycle where it'll repeat at a certain point in time. Reading about some of the different strains like the Sufis or mystics in general, I feel a bit disappointed since as Armstrong mentions that western Christianity lost its acquaintance with mysticism a long time ago in its emphasis on literal interpretations. I can't help but feel that something like that leaves a real void culturally since either literalists (like fundamentalists) or abstainers only remain.
The mystics have long insisted that God is not an-Other Being; they have claimed that he does not really exist and that it is better to call him Nothing. This God is in tune with the atheistic mood of our secular society, with its distrust of inadequate images of the Absolute. Instead of seeing God as an objective Fact, which can be demonstrated by means of scientific proof, mystics have claimed that he is a subjective experience, mysteriously experienced in the ground of being. This God is to be approached through the imagination and can be seen as a kind of art form, akin to the other great artistic symbols that have expressed the ineffable mystery, beauty and value of life. Mystics have used music, dancing, poetry, fiction, stories, painting, sculpture and architecture to express this Reality that goes beyond concepts. Like all art, however, mysticism requires intelligence, discipline and self-criticism as a safeguard against indulgent emotionalism and projection. (p. 396)

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Interstellar

I would just say don't go in expecting The Dark Knight. Rather, go in expecting The Dark Knight Rises, instead, if you know what I mean.
My sister on seeing Interstellar.

Can't say I disagree with her.  There's a lot of things I liked about Interstellar: the space travel, the photography, the demonstration of relativity, the robots. And hey--let's be honest--TARS is the best character in the movie. In the things-I-didn't-like column, you can definitely put that "ghost" story line right there. Didn't like it nor the portion in the "tesseract" at the end. 'Cause when that happenen in the movie I was like, "Really?!? This moment I just can't buy." It was worse than watching Talia wait around to nuke Gotham.

This is movie is proof that Christopher Nolan just doesn't do fun. The only reason he and his brother could come up with to go on an interstellar space travel mission is because we've trashed the earth so badly we're all going to die. I totally agree with everything that George Monbiot stated, and I'm not going to regurgitate it here.
 
But why couldn't he have done a space travel movie without the pretense of saving the earth? Was it SO hard to conceive of a reason for interstellar travel? I don't find the end result where humans are leaving the earth in mass very satisfying. As Matt Atchity pointed out, leaving the earth wouldn't have solved the blight problem because it would have followed them along into space! Ugh. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "Can't imagine a future where escaping Earth via wormhole is a better plan than just fixing Earth."

Ditto!

Why not conceive a story about fun space explorers who then encounter the emotional after-effects of relativity and etc.? Like, try fitting some substance into something like that and then it might have been a smart movie. Ugh.

I did kind of like the organ music though.

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Gone Girl

>> Sunday, October 12, 2014

I didn't read the book, and for that I'm really glad since I can hardly ever make it through fiction books, but it allowed me to enjoy the movie SO much more easily than if I knew what this whack-a-doodle chick was thinking.

There was a moment--or perhaps a few moments--where I thought that Nick did do it, but then I thought no way since what would be the point of this movie, right? It had to be that she was still alive, somewhere. (I remember hearing faint traces about the plot back when the book was released, but I didn't pay much attention to it since I knew there would be a movie coming out.)

Anyway, I liked the movie; although, it definitely will never be one of my favorites. The best parts are how a certain strain of media is skewered for all the right reasons. I liked watching this movie more than I like thinking about it, and the reason for that is its titular character, Amy.

I'm not so enthralled by Amy as some others are. She's so "Amazing" in pulling off a scam and screwing her husband, but, let's be honest here, why is that supposed to be winning? She doesn't have the balls to walk away from her marriage. She doesn't have the cajones to live on her own. Just saying she's an anti-hero doesn't really cut it for me. Using Walter White, the Joker, Jax Teller, or the Corleones as examples of glorified anti-heroes isn't the same. Those are all men engaging, however ruthlessly, in outside activities. Amy is just ruthless in her marriage. Like, she just can't walk away and leave Nick in the dust. It's too hard. All of that reminded me of the exchange between Anna and Elsa in Frozen:
Anna: "I can't LIVE like this anymore."
Elsa: "Then leave."
Nope, not Amy. She has a marriage she just can't live without. I'm almost to the point of pity for those who admire Amy. I don't understand what they admire. The "cool girl" speech? Plenty of undergrads could have come up with that. I don't know that it's such a novel thought, unless you've been so wrapped up into having a relationship that you can't see where you've done that. (Or I'm lucky in that most--if not all--of my friends aren't like that.)
Nick Dunne: "You fucking cunt!"
Amy Dunne: "I'm the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like. I'm not a quitter, I'm that cunt. I killed for you; who else can say that? You think you'd be happy with a nice Midwestern girl? No way, baby! I'm it."
Nick Dunne: "Fuck. You're delusional. I mean, you're insane, why would you even want this? Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain."
Amy Dunne: "That's marriage."
And there were a bunch of understandable laughs in the theater after that exchange. I can totally understand, even though I'm not married (and have a hard time imagining that I'll ever be). But it made me wonder, what caused those other people to laugh? Were they already married for 50 years? Divorced? Widowed? I grew up not wanting to be married and could never really relate to those who said they couldn't wait to be married with children. Like, why? I could never really understand until I heard this sentence in Princess Mononoke: "You know, that boy wanted to share his life with you."

But then I still think that wanting to be married before who you know you want to be married to is like putting the cart before the horse.

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Record daily highs

>> Thursday, March 20, 2014

Technically, if the Earth's temperature was not increasing, you would expect that the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year should be about even. But that is far from the case. For the period from January 1, 2000, to December 20, 2009, the continental United States set 294,276 record highs and only 145,498 record lows. And if you look back over the past sixty years, that picture is reinforced. The ratio of record daily high to record daily low temperatures was almost one to one in the 1950s but has been rising steadily since the 1980s.
~ The Weather of the Future, Heidi Cullen, p. 274

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Kate Remembered

>> Sunday, March 16, 2014

I bought this shortly after Katharine Hepburn died back in 2003. It was a bit of a shock when she passed because after a while you begin to think that certain people really might live forever. I started this and read certain sections all the way back then, like the Michael Jackson segment. I never finished and only got one-third the way through.

Ten plus years later I finally finished, reading the whole thing in less than one week. The small fact that I was out sick for a day and a half probably helped, but this really is a quick read even though its not far from 400 pages.

I've known the general gist of her life before this book from tv interviews and magazine pieces when she was alive. I don't know that this book does more than that since it is partly an autobiography of A. Scott Berg as well. But I did get a better sense of who she was in her later years when the author knew her. I think it's a little bit hard knowing that we don't really have an equivalent celebrity of her stature in the public eye. The closest I can think of offhand is Meryl Streep.

Knowing she's gone, I miss her calling-it-as-it-is statements that were my favorite moments in the book, such as this one:
That night, as rain pelted the windows at Fenwick, I asked Miss Hepburn if she regretted not having children of her own. "I would have been a terrible mother," she said point-blank, "because I'm basically a very selfish human being. Not that that has stopped most people from going off and having children."
Too true! And a statement I can totally relate too!

And then she totally calls out those actors who are just whiners.
While she sought the limelight all her life, Hepburn believed actors received too much attention and respect. "Let's face it," she said once, "we're prostitutes. I've spent my life selling myself--my face, my body, the way I walk and talk. Actors say, 'You can look at me, but you must pay me for it.'" I said that may be true, but actors also offer a unique service--the best of them please by inspiring, by becoming the agents for our emotional catharses. "It's no small thing to move people," I said, "and perhaps to get people to think differently, maybe even behave differently." I pointed out to Hepburn that she had used her celebrity over the years for numerous causes--whether it was marching in parades for women's equality or campaigning for Roosevelt, speaking out against McCarthyism, or supporting Planned Parenthood. "Not much, really," Kate said. "I could've done more. A lot more....It really doesn't take all that much to show up for a dinner with the President or to accept an award from an organization so it can receive some publicity. Oh, the hardship! Oh, the inconvenience! Oh, honestly!"
And when I finished reading that paragraph, I have to admit that my first thought was that Angelina Jolie is probably the only celebrity of our time that, at least that I can think of, who may be up to Hepburn's standards. I certainly wouldn't consider Mia Farrow a possibility.
"I never really cared for Frank (Sinatra)," Kate later told me, "and you must never ask me about the girl." I later learned that she considered Mia Farrow's father, an Australian-born writer-director named John, so "depraved" that there was "no way that girl could have any moral structure to her life."
Besides all that, I think her attitude as a working woman is still--and probably always--one to emulate.
Hepburn never completely understood why there were so few women directing; there were, after all, many women writing scenarios and editing film. For that, she did not blame the men who ran the studios so much as the women who chose not to challenge them. "It never occurred to me that I was a second-class citizen in Hollywood," Hepburn later recounted, "--nor that women had to be."

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So Good They Can't Ignore You

>> Saturday, March 15, 2014

I can't remember where I first came across this book. I think I came across it via the author's Study Hacks blog while I was looking at his books, thinking I might find a good Christmas gift for two of my nephews. I probably did find a good gift for them; I just didn't buy it for them this year. I should probably send them each a paperback copy of this for Christmas 2014.

I did find this to be a good book even for me. Still feeling like a rut in my current job, I kept thinking about this book and decided to check it out of my local library. I kind of admit that I feel fortunate they even had this book since another book I'd like to read they don't have, which means I'll have to fill out an inter-library loan request.

Anyhow, I found this to be such a simple and easy-to-read book that I'd recommend it to anyone. It made me realize why I hate my current job, even though I've never really liked it to begin with, and what to look for in another job while I bide my time in this state. One of the most salient points he makes is in the point that Steve Jobs never followed his passion right out of school. If he had, he likely wouldn't have ever founded Apple Computer.
I shared the details of Steve Jobs's story, because when it comes to finding fulfilling work, the details matter. If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center's most popular teachers. But he didn't follow this simple advice. Apple Computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break--a "small-time" scheme that unexpectedly took off. (p.10)
I'd probably summarize the book this way:
  1. Keep an open mind
  2. Always work on your skills
  3. Find ways to track your improvements, which include your skills
  4. Find ways to have some control over your work
  5. Find work that has some meaning for you
I say the above because not everyone is going to end up doing "great work" of some distinction. But this book is very helpful in eliminating the "follow your passion" advice that permeates our current culture.

I particularly took note of one list of his that made me realize how I could quantify my dislike with my current job.
...I ended up devising a list of three traits that disqualify a job as providing a good foundation for building work you love:
1. The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
2. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
3. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
My current job definitely has numbers 1 and 3 down pat. Ugh.

I still think I'll try and re-read this in a year or two, just to see if I absorbed everything I wanted to absorb.

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