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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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How quaint

>> Sunday, March 9, 2014

It is not necessary to recognise a ball-room acquaintance the next day, unless you choose to do so. The introduction is for a dance, and not for future acquaintanceship. To act on it afterwards depends entirely on the will of the lady; and she is not ill-bred if she ignores her partner's existence the next day.
~Daily Duties of a House Mother, 1872

Found this quote in The Age of Innocence: A Portrait of the Film Based on the Novel by Edith Wharton. Don't think you could act like that today.

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2013 Books

>> Saturday, March 1, 2014

Here was my starting point at the beginning of 2013:

Only 13 books finished in 2012. A bit of a disappointment considering that I started the beginning of the year so well. I sped through The Diana Chronicles and then was able to finish that behemoth called Good Calories, Bad Calories. Finished a few other books quite easily in the spring like The Shock Doctrine (another massive book) and Where Men Win Glory. Plodded on through a other few books through the summer and then hardly finished anything after September. Ugh. Only 13 books.

And I had so many that I planned on reading and finishing.
Look at Andre Agassi's face right there in the top, left-hand corner. It's been sitting there for years, saying to me, "Please read!" That and so many other books like Glenn Greenwald's How Would a Patriot Act? I've only had it since it was published, and it's not huge. (sigh) Not getting through books is how my mind reacts to the troubles at work. I have a hard time unwinding and concentrating on books that I'd like to read. It almost feels like a double punishment. 

But I made much more progress in 2013! 25 books read! I think that's a new personal best. Although, once again I did slow down in the last two months of the year and not get as much read as I did in the spring. Seems kind of odd that I wouldn't be able to get much material read when the weather outside isn't great. Go figure.

Anyhow, my accomplishment for 2013 is that the first page of books on my bookshelf is almost entirely made up of books that I read in a single year, which makes me quite happy.


Finally a bookshelf that I'm proud of.

The Operators by Michael Hastings: My Christmas gift for 2012. This was a good read. I missed his original Rolling Stone article that caused Stanley McChrystal to get fired, but I became a subscriber immediately after that. I still think that good journalism needs to be supported. That's exactly what this book is for me. Truth to power; telling it like it is. An important book that may not seem like it. I wish more people would read it since they would probably get a better picture of how the upper echelon of our military operates.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: I found this title in Powell's 2012 staff picks. Would never have heard of it otherwise. This was a good quick read. I finished it in a week. I'd highly recommend it to anyone; although, it's definitely not for kids.

Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me: Not as funny as I hoped. And not entirely about dumping either. Some essays I really enjoyed like Patton Oswalt and Will Forte's. Others were just...boring. I much preferred "Modern Love" over this. I think I'll have an eternal soft spot for Will Forte after reading his essay.

Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill: It was a long slog but well worth it. There's much a that I've read about Blackwater since this book was published. Even still, it was interesting to find out how the company started and gained its influence so quickly. There were several portions that reminded me of "The Shock Doctrine;" although, that doesn't seem to be a coincidence. I'm definitely going to read his next book Dirty Wars sometime after I finish watching the documentary on Netflix. I missed seeing it at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. I started watching it on Netflix on an evening I was too tired to finish it. Will finish it soon.

Radicals in Robes by Cass Sunstein: I think this book was more relevant when it was published back in 2005 than 2012 and 2013 when I read it. I felt like I learned quite a bit about legal philosophies, but was quite bored, partially because I was expecting a different book than I got. It's certainly dated in some sections given what has gone through SCOTUS in the past 5 to 6 years. Not sure I'd recommend it.

The Way of the World  by Ron Suskind

Bottlemania by Elizabeth Royte

How Would a Patriot Act? by Glenn Greenwald: A short book compared to his other books but always worthwhile if not solely for the reason that most of the issues are still ongoing, just under a different administration.

The Lone Samurai by William Scott Wilson: Having read this will definitely make reading "The Book of Five Rings" easier to understand/remember the next time I read it. I may have to read this again in a few years just because Musashi was such a great person. I wish the folks who are trying to make a Wonder Woman movie would examine him as a bit of a template for getting the character right in a movie, but it'll just have to remain a wish.

Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher: Somewhat dated but still very good. Some chapters really dragged for me, while others just flew by. Still a good read but I liked A Guide for the Perplexed better.

Columbine by Dave Cullen: Excellent. Engrossing. Has compassion for all the people involved in the tragedy while telling an extremely detailed story.

The Kensington Runestone by Alice Beck Kehoe: I still believe it's a genuine article.

The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman: I bought this back in Tacoma about 6 years before I read it. Even though this is an edition from 2000, it's still valid considering the times we live in today.

Open by Andre Agassi: Better than I expected and quite the page turner! I let this sit unread for far too long, and once I got into it, it felt like such a huge mistake to let sit around unread. I think I have a much greater appreciation for Andre than I had before as a general tennis fan. I always thought that his sudden marriage to Steffi Graf came out of the blue, but since she is my favorite tennis player of all time, I think it's quite the ultimate pairing. I kept reading waiting for her to appear. Well, that and the tidbit about Pete Sampras being a cheapskate. I remember hearing about it from reading Lainey and had to wait until the very end to read it direct from Andre.

The Family by Jeff Sharlet: I picked this one up based purely on the scandal surrounding that U.S. Senator from Las Vegas who was having an affair with a member of his staff. Can't remember his name 'cause he doesn't really matter anymore. What does matter is the small society of religious freaks who turned the gospel truth of a world-famous, impoverished, pacifist hippie into a cult about war, money, power, and me, Me, ME! Ugh. Never have been more convinced that we need more ethical, egalitarian, pro-union secularists in government than after reading this book.

The Hundred-Year Lie by Randall Fitzgerald: Much of what I read I had heard about before in the various news snippets that much of the book is compiled from. I probably would have enjoyed it more if this book wasn't preaching to my choir. Very well researched though.

The Mayan Prophecies: The Renewal of the World 2012-2072 by Kenneth Johnson: This is an e-book. Probably the simplest and most practical breakdown of "The Mayan Prophecy of 2012" that I've ever read, not that I've read many. I appreciate this book for what it really says about the time period after 2012. That the period between 2012 and 2032 will be a time of have's and have-not's. That the period between 2032 and 2052 will be a bunch of craziness, aka "the world turned upside down." And that between 2052 and 2072 will be when things will finally be a little bit more set right. This makes sense to me given the big conjunctions in Vedic Astrology that happen around 2019-2020. We're still in for a bit of a roller coaster ride for the next six to ten years.

Mansions of the Moon by Kenneth Johnson: Probably the best book I've read about the nakshatras. I particularly enjoyed the second half since it contained information that I hadn't heard about before. I actually wish that last section was longer.

Screwed by Thom Hartmann: Most of this I'd heard before on Hartmann's radio show, but reading some of his elaborations on certain points I really enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong: Definitely a short history, but I'm not sure it was a very interesting one. I definitely understand the differences between Shi'a and Sunni much better, but I feel like she abbreviated so much that she reduced the interesting parts of history to...footnotes?

The Cosmological Origins of Myth and Symbol by Laird Scranton: I had high hopes for this book, but the author seems to me to be overwhelmed with the material. The first few chapters were so boring I almost fell asleep reading them. Then it perked up a bit when he finally got into the actual details. I do not place much faith in his use of Budge's dictionary comparing words from that to known Dogon words and stories. What he uses from the Dogon has context with stories and rituals; taking words out of Budge's dictionary gives no context for the words. Also, he uses the Egyptian word "Neter" over and over again in his Egyptian word section, yet never uses "Netrit." Why? I'll never be able to figure that out since they go together like yin and yang. He has some nice ideas, but he should really look into studying other cultures in full before writing something like this. It mostly appears as if he is trying to overlay what he knows about Dogon culture onto everything else that is ancient.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Very interesting but longer than I thought it would be. I'm already part of the choir that the book is preaching to, but I still learned some new things by reading this book such as heirloom animal breeds. Never knew that there were heirloom breeds before reading this book. I've seen heirloom tomatoes in my grocery store, but never knew there were heirloom breeds that we need to put some work in to make sure they survive.

Who Will Feed China? by Lester Russell Brown: Also known as China's huge population is going to cause it a shit load of problems relating to water, food, industrial production of anything, etc. The age of oil has made many things easy, but it has certainly made food production and import/export much easier than it was 100 years ago. People take this for granted, and the author illuminates all the way back in 1995 of why we are set up for a bunch of problems as China ascends the ranks of world industrial powers. I think a few quotes can illustrate this HUGE problem:
Estimating China's future food deficit is a scary exercise. Individuals doing the official grain supply projections at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and within the Chinese government have been spared some of this trauma simply because they have overlooked the heavy loss of cropland that accompanies industrialization in a country that is already densely populated before the process begins. They have thus assumed that production would continue to climb, closely tracking the rise in consumption, leading to only modest future deficits.
Given the likely continuing growth in China's nonagricultural exports, importing 200 million or even 300 million tons of grain at current prices would be within economic range if the country's leaders were willing to use a share of export earnings for this purpose. Of course, this could mean cutting back on capital goods imports and possibly on oil imports, which in turn could diminish the inflow of technology and energy needed to sustain rapid economic growth. The more difficult question posed earlier is, Who could supply grain on this scale? The answer: no one. No one exporting country nor even all of them together can likely expand exports enough to cover more than a small part of this huge additional claim on the world's exportable grain surplus. In the real world, the price of grain would rise, reducing consumption and imports while stimulating production and exports until a new balance was reached.
Concern about food security runs deep in China. The current leaders, remembering all too clearly the Great Famine, are committed to self-sufficiency in food, at least in their public statements. They are also committed to industrialization--getting rich is now glorious. It is hard to imagine a government any more committed to industrialization, yet Beijing faces a dilemma. It cannot continue to industrialize and remain self-sufficient in food.
The Weather of the Future by Heidi Cullen: An interesting book, but one that elaborates on things I've already heard and suspected: that we're screwed when it comes to climate change, aka global warming. She does give a good explanation of how climatologists evaluate and predict climate data. For me the most interesting parts were the individual chapters on how climate change is and would affect changes around the world. I thought she was a little too optimistic in her predictions of societies making changes the help adapt, particularly for New York City and California's Central Valley. Her chapter on California's Central Valley and the San Joaquin Delta stood out for me since I was not aware of the huge levee system that is in place there. I mentioned it to my parents, and my father told me how in the early 80s (I think) that the state had a vote on how to handle the levee/water system and they've never been able to come to a workable decision on anything, which doesn't surprise me given California's political climate. (This is the state of Proposition 13 after all.) I thought this quote was particularly illuminating:
But what the scientists fear most is something called the "Big Gulp." The name itself sums up the scenario. If the levees break, salt water from San Francisco Bay will come rushing in, proving that nature abhors a vacuum. Lund does a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: "It would take as little as twelve hours for the salt water to begin intruding into the Delta.
Yup. California is screwed.

And now for a look to the future, specifically books for 2014.

Plagues and Peoples: I've started this. Kind of. Am going to finish this probably right after I finish the Bepin Behari book. Or after I finish A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered book since I want to sell that one and get rid of it.
Fundamentals of Vedic Astrology (vol. 1) by Bepin Behari: I am ALMOST done with this. I might even finish this weekend. Less than 50 pages to go.


A Public Betrayed: I actually have this, so it shouldn't be too hard to pick up once I get around to it...
The Fluoride Deception: I have had this for 10 years. I got about half through it and then stopped. Can't remember why, but it was probably due to reading multiple books at one time. I'll have to start all over again. I'll probably take the dust cover off when I read it at the hospital. Don't need the wary eyes of doctors at me when they see the title.
Nixonland: I firmly intend on reading this after I read the author's Before the Storm book first. Unbeknownst to me when I purchased this, the author's book on Barry Goldwater was published first, and it would probably be best to go in chronological order.
The Poverty of Affluence: I have it. I started it six years ago and didn't get very far. Am going to finish this very soon, probably within the next three or four books I read.
The Hungry Soul: I actually almost finished this back in 2001, but I didn't. Now I'll have to start ALL over..(sigh)
The Lord of the Rings: Twelve years and counting. I'm about in the middle of The Two Towers. I might have to just forget this one since I KNOW what happens anyway.
Dark Age Ahead: Will have to check this out of the library.
The Silmarillion: I've started this years ago, but will probably finish it before I ever finish The Lord of the Rings, which will be made easier since I own it.
Bad Money by Kevin Phillips: I don't think I'll get to this one this year. I am planning on reading a different book of his this year instead.
Wealth and Democracy by Kevin Phillips: This is the book that I'm planning on reading shortly. I own it. It's sitting in my stack begging to be read given all the talk we have of the 1% and income inequality going on these days.
The Age of American Unreason: I actually was reading this last summer and got half way through until I started to read Mansions of the Moon instead. Since it's a library book, I needed to return it. I think I'm going to let this one sit on my list another year so that I can breeze through it when I pick it up next time.
The Bin Ladens: Um, probably next year unless I'm motivated to check it out of the library.
The Pentagon of Power by Lewis Mumford: I bought this at a used book store 15 years ago. I started it and obviously never finished. I actually have book two, so I'm going to find book one before I start on this again.
Regret the Error: Definitely on my mental list for this year.
Thank You For Smoking: Maybe this year.
Bonk by Mary Roach: Definitely this year.
The Elements of Murder: Definitely this year.
Condemned to Repeat?: This year if I can get it through inter-library loan.
The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman: Definitely this year. Made easier that it is sitting in my book stack.
A History of God by Karen Armstrong: Also in my book stack. Likely for this year.
The End of Affluence: Not sure if I'm going to be able to find this through the library.
The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong: Well, I've read one Karen Armstrong book a year for at least the past two years. So it's this or something else.
Muhammad by Karen Armstrong: Sitting at the top of my book stack. I'd rate it a likely read for this year.
Emotional Intelligence: I found this book at work in a stack where someone was giving away their books. The psych major in me thought it was a nice, free pick since I had heard a bunch about the topic in the late 90s but never studied it. I picked up quite the battered edition.
Critical Condition: Maybe.
Dust Bowl: Just so I can read about California's future!
So Much Damn Money: Maybe.
Soul Made Flesh: Maybe.
Team of Rivals: Eh. I'm putting this off for another year, particularly since I don't own it.
The Friend Who Got Away: Definitely this year. It's in my stack.
Your Money or Your Life: Definitely this year. Will have to get it from the library.
Marie Antoinette: Definitely this year. Near the top of my stack. I have it in paperback, which is still a size-able tome of a book.
The Duchess (Georgiana): Definitely this year. Haven't seen the movie though, unlike Marie Antoinette.
The Wilderness Warrior: Would like to get to this one soon. Unfortunately it's huge, and I don't think I'll get to it soon.
Man's Unconquerable Mind: This is small. I should have it finished before June since it's the literal top of my book pile.
The Kid Stays in the Picture: At the bottom of my book pile. It's a maybe for this year.
One Fifth Avenue  by Candace Bushnell: I got this as a gift. I so rarely read fiction. I think I'll have to read this since I've had it for about five years.
The Last Lecture: Another book I got as a gift. It's small, and it's subject matter based on what I've read about it reminds me of email forwards that I used to get ten years ago.
Thomas Paine and the Promise of America: It's somewhere between definitely and likely this year.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: Same.
The Lost City of Z: I really feel like I should read this before the movie comes out. Just because.
Collapse by Jared Diamond: Another big book. But will I get to it this year?
Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing": I really might have to check this out of the library this year.
The Shack: Another gift. I'm actually not looking forward to reading that one, but I want to get rid of it.
Furious Love: I own it. It's in my stack. I am hoping I'll be able to breeze through it since it's about Burton and Taylor.
The Roth Revolution: I'm going to read some finance books this year. This one is on my mental list to check out of the library this spring.
The Panic Virus: Somewhere between likely and maybe.
The Invisible Gorilla: Same.
Kickboxing Geishas: I have it. It's not large. I think I'll be reading this one SOON.
The Management Myth: Because anyone who's ever worked is probably thinking the same thing.
The Great Tax Wars: I have it. It's in my stack. Probably the second half of the year.
Bottled Lighting: This year.
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy: This year.
Before the Storm: I have it in my stack. It's a paperback. It's still huge. I'm thinking summer.
Kate Remembered: I have it ready to start. Hoping to be finished by Easter.
Marley & Me: In my stack and it sounds like a quick read.
Death at SeaWorld: Almost checked it out of the library after I saw Blackfish, which I think makes it a must for this year.
Ninety Percent of Everything: I almost checked this out after watching Captain Phillips. How much we ship by boat over the world has really got to decrease in the next ten years.
Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal: Really intrigued about reading this after listening to an interview with the author on NPR.

I'm aiming to read at least 25 books this year. Would like to make it to 30. We'll see how far I get.

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The Kensington Runestone

>> Saturday, May 11, 2013

I first heard of The Kensington Runestone at a family reunion in 2008. Sitting at a table for lunch, someone brought it up as a hoax and then someone else said it's not a hoax, a good book had just been written about it.

What? Scandinavians in Minnesota prior to 1492?

My interest was piqued.

My distant relative noted that the Scandinavians really got around since they made it to Istanbul/Constantinople and Baghdad, something that I had heard about.

I noted this book in my book list, and finally got around to reading it recently, almost 5 years later.

I don't believe the stone to be a hoax because as the author noted, "The Runestone doesn't look obviously fake to us, and unlike most offerings of fakes, no one tried to make money from it.” I also have a hard time believing that a Swedish immigrant with less than a high school education would suddenly just come up with the idea to plant a runestone. Seems like a complete stretch to discredit the stone.

The best arguments in favor of the stone are:
  • known Norse settlement (Vinland) in New Foundland (L'Anse aux Meadows)
  • some other archaeological evidence for Norse and English in Arctic Canada
  • geologic tests performed on the stone
  • an increase in tuberculosis around A.D. 1000, which was endemic within Scandinavia
  • the Norse fur trade, which Scandinavians went to great lengths to trade furs even in Europe
As Alice Beck Kehoe notes at the end:
It is a real paradigm shift to believe that the Americas have never been truly isolated. In 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a German geographer created the first globe showing the earth as the planet we know. Also in 1492, Topa Inca Yupanqui was nearing the end of this glorious reign over Tawantinsuyu, "the Land of the Four Quarters," stretching from Ecuador into Chile. His merchants sailed the length of the Pacific coast of South America, trading as far north as Mexico. There, the armies of the Lord of the Mexica, Ahuizotl, extended his power over many nations of Mesoamerica, causing tons of tribute to be delivered annually to the magnificent capital, Tenochtitlan, on its web of green canals. Overland trade routes stretched thousands of miles northwestward, through Paquime on the border of what is now the American Southwest and on through Nevada to San Francisco Bay. The trans-Mexican trade met the great North Pacific Rim trade system touching Alaska, the Aleutians, Kamchatka, Manchuria, Japan, Korea, and on to China, where it merged with the South Pacific system. In eastern North America, the twelfth-century state with its imposing capital at Cahokia had given way to many small kingdoms from the St. Lawrence Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly all these regions were flourishing, gaining population, and improving techniques of mass production and shipping of goods.

A world perspective, rather than the usual Eurocentric perspective, shows that in the fifteenth century there was already a world trading system in the northern hemisphere, carried in commercial sailing ships. From northeastern Canada to Greenland and Iceland to Norway, commerce followed the Atlantic coast of Europe, where in Portugal it could branch off to continue along the Atlantic coast of Africa and by 1487 around Africa, or follow the long-established route from Mediterranean ports, especially Venice and Genoa, across that sea to Egypt, through the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and via Malaysia and Indonesia to the South China Sea, then through the North Pacific Rim system to British Columbia. There was also the Scandinavians' route, in smaller boats, across northern Russia to Turkey, linking into overland Asian trade routes. The principal American trade system covered South and Middle America into California on the west, where the Pacific coastal trade linked British Columbia and California with inland North America via the Gulf of Mexico. Yet another system, that of the South Pacific, like the native American system linked tenuously into the Asian segment of the principal world system. What changed in the late fifteenth century was understanding and increasing use of planetary wind patterns, for very good reason usually termed the trade winds, to power trade across, not just around, the Atlantic and Pacific.

This more anthropological perspective accommodates and extended westward journey inland by Norse whose countrymen had been utilizing the entire North Atlantic for centuries. The Kensington Runestone is in the pattern of runestones erected for fallen comrades by Scandinavians in long-distance fur procurement. It is, in this perspective, not an anomaly. Nor is it anomalous that neither American archaeology nor European history documents this privately funded enterprise that could not compete with traditional Scandinavian exploitation of Russian furs. A few centuries later, the Hudson's Bay Company preferred to hire men from Orkney, islands off northern Scotland that had belonged to Norway. Orkneymen managed well in Canada's forests and waterways. The Kensington Runestone party would have lived in the same cultural tradition, familiar with boats, hunting, hard work, and life apart from families. From the perspective of Scandinavian history, we should expect at least one entrepreneurial effort to explore west from Vinland.

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I'm not an economist

>> Friday, May 3, 2013

but I totally agree with this statement:

The specific set of silly ideas that has laid claim to the name "supply-side economics" is a crank doctrine, which would have little influence if it did not appeal to the prejudices of editors and wealthy men; but over the past few decades there has been a steady drift in emphasis in economic thinking away from the demand side to the supply side of the economy.
~ Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics

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Bottlemania

>> Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some books I feel so eager to read, and then I read them and find out that I pretty much knew most of the information anyway. Bottlemania was this book for me.

Part of this is that by the time I had bought this, a lot of people had already begun feeling like bottled water is a waste. A perfect example of this would be folks who would buy a bottle of water at The Grand Cinema, when I was working as a volunteer, rather than getting a free cup of water or two. After the movie, we'd all find tons of bottles that would have to go into the recycling, because some folks would just throw them into the garbage. A free glass of (tap) water (with ice) or a small bottle of water? Hm. This is why I take my own bottle of water to the movies in my bag.

But there were three quotes in the book I found interesting.
Every time I hear about Coke or Pepsi's elaborate filtration procedure, I sink a little deeper into a funk. Why is there so much stuff to remove from tap water? Because we've neglected our pipes and conduits, I remind myself; we've washed drugs and industrial and agricultural contaminants into our rivers; we've condoned urban sprawl, which sends sediment, upon which bacteria thrive, into our reservoirs; and our efforts at disinfection sometimes make matters worse.

The alternative--bottled water--presents another set of issues. Producing and transporting it burns oil, which contributes to global warming, and the bottles themselves may harm our health by leaching chemicals. As we hurtle into the future, all of our drinking-water choices seem to be problematic. If only we'd taken better care of our resources yesterday, we wouldn't be in this mess today. And while my first instinct is to blame the government for letting agriculture, industry, and developers off the hook, I have to admit it's all of us: it's the way we've come to live. We want convenience, cheap food, a drug for every mood, bigger houses, and faster gadgets. Whether it's building a second home or manufacturing meat, magazines, or mopeds, it all takes a toll on our water. (p. 160-1)
In coastal areas, groundwater pumping by agricultural and industrial interests has allowed salt water to creep into freshwater aquifers from the sea. Elsewhere, overpumping has pulled has pulled heavy metals and other pollutants into drinking water and washed away soil or bedrock to create sinkholes--depressions in the earth's surface sometimes big enough to engulf trucks or houses. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 80 percent of the nation's identified land subsidence, or sinking, is a "consequence of our exploitation of underground water." In Massachusetts, groundwater pumping for municipal supplies converts parts of the Ipswich River, in the summertime, into a shallow canyon of mud. In eastern Michigan and in eastern Texas, commercial extraction of groundwater has dried up neighbors' drinking-water wells, and in other states, reports the Michigan Chronicle, a Detroit weekly, "groundwater pumping has severely diminished lakes, streams and underground aquifers used for drinking water and to irrigate farm fields." (p. 58-9)
Global warming will affect the quality of our water as well as its quantity. In warmer temperatures, more microbes flourish in surface water; if they move into pipes, they could feed biofilms, which include pathogens, in the distribution system. Climatologists agree that global warming will make the earth, on average, wetter. But more rain and snow will fall closer to the poles, and precipitation will fall during sporadic, intense storms, rather than smaller, more frequent ones. A warmer climate will bring more frequent floods, which will increase the flow of sediment and polluted runoff into our water supplies. Floods will damage pipes that move good water in and bad water out. In drier areas, perversely, we'll see more droughts. Not only will there be less water for home consumption, industry, and agriculture, there will be less water to dilute pollutants. (p.202-3)
Yay! I'm so excited!

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The Way of the World

After finishing Blackwater, I was looking through my books for something to read, something that would be much less technical. I came across The Way of the World. I have the cover with the near-panoramic picture of NYC, which is not helpful at all in describing/depicting its subject matter. I bought this four years ago. I couldn't remember what it was about. All I can remember is that it was a well-reviewed book back when I got it for a discount.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Even though Suskind was writing about current events from about 2006 to early 2008,  it still felt like relevant material for today since basically all the same issues are still on going: Pakistan, CIA tracking nuclear terrorism, foreign relations, upheaval in the Middle East, etc.

But George W. Bush is still a dumbass with Dick Cheney as an asshole extraordinaire. The few chapters/sections specifically about them just reminded me how much I had forgotten them being involved in national politics. I think that's still a good thing given all the damaged they caused around the world.

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