2014 Books

>> Sunday, January 18, 2015

It really feels like the above group of books never changes...
Another year gone and too few books read. *sigh*

I had hoped to be able to put images side by side in this post. However, with my move to a Mac, all my image manipulation experience in MS Paint is useless. Still trying to figure out using Preview on my Mac. Maybe there is another app I should be using instead? I have no idea.

Anyway, the above image is where I started the year in terms of my future book list.

Right below is everything I had finished reading by January 1st, 2014.

Finished by December 31, 2013.
I got so far in 2013 with reading books. I got NOWHERE in 2014. I solely blame the stress of my job and having to work with a complete idiot. Let me clarify, I worked with a complete idiot and a lazy idiot for a supervisor. All my stress came from working with TWO idiots, not one.

So this is what my finished book list looks like today:
I have finished reading all of these as of December 31, 2014.
Only 12 books read. One a month but nowhere near as many as I had hoped I would get through.
I endeavor to get at least 12 books read in the first 6 months of this year before I move. I'm doing pretty well so far since it looks like I'll finally finish reading The Lord of the Rings this month. All I need to do is finish a chapter a day, and it'll be done. Of course, I totally plan on reading while I'm at work because I can. I have no remorse about that because my work is ALWAYS done, so I literally only read because I have nothing else to do. There is only so much surfing the internet that I can do. (Although, I really should write a few emails to my friends.)

Here's my current pending list of books:
I actually am reading The Lord of the Rings right now!
  • The Lord of the Rings is almost done.
  • The Key of Life is about half done. I'll have to make a concerted effort to read that on my iPad on the way home one the bus after I finish LoTR. I don't think I ever want to read another book on my iPad or a digital reader ever again. I don't care if I had a regular Kindle. A physical book or bust!
  • Plagues and Peoples. I'll have to restart that after I finish LoTR.
Here's my future list of books (part 1):
Future Books (page 1)
I feel like there were SO many that I almost picked up, but the mental duress of working at The Island of Misfit Toys was just too burdensome. I think that after I finish Plagues and Peoples that I might pick up The Silmarillion, but I don't want to declare something too early. That and I think I jinxed myself last year.

But here's page two of my future book list:
Future Books (page 2)
I'm hoping that I'll at least get to Marie Antoinette. I know my sister might want to read it. But I am hoping that some of these on page two will make it to page one finally since they've been sitting in the same place for so long.


The Hungry Soul

>> Saturday, December 27, 2014

I look at some books and think of how I came to read them. Or the information they contained. Or things that happened while I was reading it.

But not this book.

No, when I look at the cover of this book, all I can think about how long it took me to try and finish this thing, which included multiple attempts. I can't think of when a book has ever taken so long and so many attempts for me to finish it.

If I remember correctly, I bought this book twelve--almost thirteen--years ago after I finished reading The Fat Fallacy.  I was intrigued by what the author of that book had mentioned about this one, so I ordered a copy and began reading it. I actually got pretty far, more than half way. And then I stopped. Can't remember why. It might have been because I was reading another book at the time, and I couldn't successfully read more than one at a time even though I tried.  So I shelved it.

I tried reading it again a few years afterwards and got nowhere. I tried again last year starting all the way back at the beginning because, hey, I could hardly remember anything that I had read ten years ago. I didn't get very far, just ten, fifteen, or perhaps twenty pages in. Gave up again and then started to read something else more interesting.

I started again later this fall. I didn't get very far until I was stuck sitting in my chair at work the day after Thanksgiving with nothing to do but read. I got pretty far, more than half way. When the only saving grace of reading a particular book is that it kept you from complete and total boredom for eight hours--and that includes deleting old emails and surfing the internet--it doesn't make for a great recommendation. Because after reading so many pages, I was actually getting into it, yet never compelled to continue and finish.

The subtitle of this book is "Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature." I think it should be reworded as "A Day Trip Through Meaningless Minutia." 'Meaningless minutia' is probably the most key phrase for this book. Yes, it's well written and argued, but for a collection of essays, I could never make out what the author was driving at. I was left at a bunch of "yeah, that's interesting but what of it?" The only real bit of information I thought was interesting was when the author was pointing out some moments from Homer's Odyssey and how they related to a philosophy of eating. Then it was back to more meaningless minutia.

And I never even finished this. Last week I put this up for sale on Amazon because I didn't want to keep it. I even gave myself one week to finish it before I allowed my listing to become active. I figured if I was ever going to finish it, then it would be when I had an actual deadline. Nope. Still had at least 40 pages left to read when it sold yesterday. But I didn't hesitate to put it in the mail.

I am so relieved that book is out of my life.


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



>> 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.


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


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)



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."


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.


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.


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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