Reading Log for 2005, 2006

  1. [Loved] Reimagining Evangelism by Rick Richardson: [thoughts]
  2. [Loved] Life on the Vine by Philip Kenneson: [thoughts]
  3. [Meh] Growing True Disciples by George Barna: [thoughts]
  4. [Meh] Dog Training, Fly Fishing, And Sharing Christ In The 21st Century by Ted Haggard: [thoughts]
  5. [Really Liked] The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence: [thoughts]
  6. [Loved] The Long Tail by Chris Anderson: [thoughts]
  7. [Meh] Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee Camp: I wholeheartedly agree with Camp's argument for "radical" Christianity; that which actually attempts the outrageous, irrational love of Jesus Christ. But, only two of the chapters really grabbed me.
  8. [Liked] Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond: The prologue had me jumping up and down with excitement, and the last two chapters were great. The rest, not so much. Diamond's overall argument is significant, but many particulars are problematic.
  9. [Hmmm] Now, Discover Your Strengths + the online Strengths Finder testby Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton, and Gallup
  10. [Loved] 1984 by George Orwell
  11. [Liked] King Lear by William Shakespeare: Very impressive, though not "tight" like the modern era's best work often is. Why does the fool suddenly disappear? Also, I liked the language of Macbeth a bit better. But I'm not literature critic. I'll bet Lear is one of the most sought-after roles for actors hoping to make a name for themselves.
  12. [Really Liked] Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle: In 2001, cartoonist Guy Delisle supervised animation in North Korea, kept notes, and now tells a compelling story about the most closed, 1984 nation in the world. Oh, it's a graphic novel, so it reads fast.
  13. [Meh] The Tamer Tamed by John Fletcher: Fletcher's sequel to The Taming of the Shrew in which Kate dies and Petrucchio's second wife, Maria, sets out to tame him. It's funny, but holy hell does it ever show how much better Shakespeare was than his contemporaries. I had no idea.
  14. [Liked] The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare: Simpler and funnier than Macbeth, for sure. The Sly wrapper didn't quite work since Shakespeare sorta dropped it half way through. I prefer the interpretation that Kate was really tamed, even though the methods of taming were unlikely to succeed. And since Kate's controversial final speech isn't much different from the Christian principles of marriage outlined by Apostle Paul, I'm not going to complain about it, either.
  15. [Liked] Macbeth by William Shakespeare: I think this is actually the first Shakespeare I've read all the way through. [Actually, I read bertie's useful paraphrase, which nicely preserves most of the language but interjects clarifying words.] I was impressed by the poetry of the language, though I'm sure I'll never grok a good portion of all that is there to be... grokked.
  16. [Really Liked] Seizing Your Divine Moments by Erwin McManus: A triumphant call to a life of danger, risk, insecurity, uncertainty, passion, and authenticity in pursuing Jesus.
  17. [Meh] The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge: Eldredge always beats the same drum: "Live from your heart." But there will still several parts of Journey of Desire I appreciated, in particular a lovely chapter about sex and marriage and the heavenly romance.
  18. [Liked] Intro Stats by Richard De Veaux, Paul Velleman, David Bock: Don't misunderstand me, I don't like statistics. But I can't imagine a less painful way of learning basic statistics methods than this book, which was well organized, used great examples, clearly explained everything, and even made me laugh a few times per chapter. If I liked stats, I probably would've loved this book.
  19. [Terrible] Marriages and Families: Diversity and Change by Mary Schqartz, Barbara Scott: Would've been laughably bad if it wasn't so excruciating. Not only the most useless college textbook I've read, but one of the worst books of any kind I've read in the past few years.
  20. [Liked] Stumbling on Happiness: by Daniel Gilbert: An excellent summary of happiness. I'm just about the happiest 21-year-old I know well (then again, I don't show it, so maybe others are also happier than they appear). But why am I happy, and why aren't so many others? The obvious answer is that I've steered clear of romance so far, while none of my friends have. But that's probably incomplete, so I picked up Stumbling on Happiness to find a fuller answer. (Actually, it was recommended by Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Levitt, and 0dysseus, so I probably would've read the book if it was a statistical analysis of sentence diagrams for a Hungarian opera libretto.) Like the work of those who recommended it, Stumbling on Happiness is well-conceived and counterintuitive; which once again leaves me feeling as though I have a leg-up on most of my peers, who blindly cling to their foolish, common ideas about how the world and its people work. That feeling is why I read. Unfortunately, the book was a bit too wordy and desperate for jokes for my tastes. Fortunately, the book was packed with research. Or, at least, superscripted numbers. I didn't actually check the endnotes because, after all, my experience of intellectual security was more important for my happiness than actual intellectual security.
  21. [Liked] For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn: I read it to further explore gender differences - which I find endlessly beautiful, to help me better understand and love the women in my life, and to facilitate fantasizing about being married to someone I love so deeply. Inside the front cover is a fold-out quick start guide that lists the 6 key principles of the book. The rest of the book is largely (but not completely) filler. I've gotten over my embarrassment that I didn't already know some of these things about how women work and am glad I learned them now and not later. For example, I was speaking with a female friend of mine recently who said she just learned that men need respect more than love. She is 30 and unhappily unmarried and, watching her over the past decade, I don't think the two are unrelated. Now I have to apologize to all the women to whom I thought I was listening well, but was actually listening poorly. I'll paraphrase the two most impacting moments in the book for me. First: "In our culture, women are not being emotionally protected. They are being relentlessly humiliated." Second: "The #1 thing women in our survey wished their man knew was this: 'You are my hero.'"
  22. [Liked] The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive: More great and appropriate animal photos.
  23. [Liked] Dear Mom Thank You For Everything by Bradley Trevor Greive: Sitting on my grandma's coffee table was this tiny photo book. The captions for each animal photo are a continuing thought of appreciation for mom, with awesome and usually hilarious photos of animals in extreme, unexpected poses. Great fun, I thought!
  24. [Liked] Deus Caritas Est by Benedict XVI: The new Pope's encyclical letter on Christian love (charity) is a compact reminder of and encouragement toward the Christian act of love. Clearly, to become Pope, one must be a brilliant thinker, and it shows in the writing. But I always hope for something new to me in everything I read, which I did not find here. Still, just like re-reading the letters of Paul or a personal favorite like The Divine Conspiracy, non-new reading can reinforce and encourage some most important truths.
  25. [Liked] How to Listen to and Understand Great Music by Robert Greenberg: The more-complete history of classical music I craved: a 36-hour long audio lecture (with music clips). Greenberg's tone was a bit deliberate for my tastes, and sometimes he uses too many sentences to say simple things, and takes too long on many tangents. But this is a hugely rich "music appretiation" course that I thoroughly enjoyed. I feel I now know very well what melisma and a billion other terms actually sound like, and can even hear the difference between Desprez and Palestrina. As with Fawkes' history, though, things end with Schoenberg, and the American Mavericks radio series was too sparse to really examine modern music. But that's okay. The past 80 years would require thrice as long to explain as the previous 3500, I imagine. My appreciation for Wagner, and Tristan and Isolde in particular, has especially grown. Check it out.
  26. [Liked] Child Development: Its Nature and Course by Ganie Dehart, et. al: The best factual college textbook I have read so far. Well-rounded, readable, well-developed, interesting, practical. Not 20 pages like Amazon says.
  27. [No] Drugs and Society by Glen Hanson: The worst factual college textbook I have ever read. Contains long lists of mostly irrelevant or poorly stated statistics, buries useful data across dozens of sections, etc.
  28. [Liked] The World's Religions by Huston Smith: Gave me a much fairer, more enthusiastic understanding of the core behind the world's major religions than my jaded Christian high school. Sometimes, I felt Smith was so sympathetic toward each religion that he was simply inaccurate, though.
  29. [Liked] Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Good story, good prose, but one of the greatest novels ever? Maybe its art just went over my head, whereas the art of Catcher in the Rye is plain as a slap in the face. Or maybe Anna Karenina is merely a good book. BTW, I'm not sure what to think of the suddenly very philosophical ending. It does seem a bit incongruous, and maybe it should've been left for A Confession.
  30. [Liked] The Postmodern World: Discerning the Times and the Spirit of Our Age by Millard J. Erickson: Finally, I know what "postmodernism" is. Erickson's survey of the subject is brief but surprisingly fair and balanced. In the later he chapters he relates it to Christianity, how the two worldviews tangle and can work together, and where they do and can not. Useful to me.
  31. [Liked] The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren: a very useful, condensed primer on a Godly perspective for one's life. A few complaints are that it seems to repeat itself by forcing itself into a strict structure of 40 days and topic-specific weeks.
  32. [Liked] Walden by Henry David Thoreau: A rogue social commentary for 1854, containing many memorable quotes beyond "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and many useful ideas still not latched upon, despite the book's enduring popularity.
  33. [Liked] The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within by Erwin McManus: McManus calls Christians to forsake their monotonous, safe, gentlemanly Christianity for a passionate, wild, dangerous, barbaric faith in Jesus. It's a great and important message, but not one well-sustained for 130 pages.
  34. [Loved] Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt, Stephen Dubner: When Malcolm Gladwell writes "Prepare to be dazzled," I'm sold. Thrilling, entertaining, eye-opening, and eventually, useful.
  35. [Loved] How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Don Clifton: A brief, 120 page notice on the incredible power of positivity. Very encouraging and useful. This kind of thing comes naturally to some people: I needed a book like this to convince me.
  36. [Loved] The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis: Lewis seized on Jesus' idea that parable is the most effective way to teach. Shocking truth is more believable and palatable when revealed through story at once familiar and alien. A joy to read.
  37. [Liked] The Skeptics Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis by Dale Hanson Bourke: Fun facts of the day: Already the deadliest epidemic of all time and still uncureable, HIV/AIDS currently infects about 45 million people (60% of that in sub-Saharan Africa, where some countries have 1/3 of their population infected). 8,500 people die every day from AIDS: the equivalent of 20 fully-loaded 747s crashing every single day for a year. HIV is transmittable six months before it is detectable; however, HIV is not always a death sentence if treated quickly and properly (the prime example is Magic Johnson, a U.S. millionaire in top physical condition).
  38. [Liked] 9/11 Comission Report by Thomas Kean, et al: 1. Read this document. 2. Do not listen to Stravinsky's harrowing Rite of Spring while reading the chilling opening chapter. Maybe, try Vivaldi or Haydn.
  39. [Liked] The History of Classical Music by Richard Fawkes: An audiobook spanning the history of western classical music from the earliest musical notation to today (but just barely mentions electronic, minimalist, maximalist, or concrete music, new ensembles & instruments, etc.). The audiobook format allows us to hear the difference between plainsong and polyphony, Beethoven and Berlioz, etc. However, the book does ignore most of the 20th century and poorly elaborates the significance of Beethoven's music. The superior Music Mavericks radio series can fill in the gaps for 20th century art music, and I'd really like to find something similar that covers non-western classical music.
  40. [Loved] Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson: Johnson's argument is not the title, or the subtitle. I'll rudely paraphrase Johnson's actual argument: "Video games encourage mental development more than classrooms, today's television is more morally debased but less intellectually worthless than it was 50 years ago." Understanding this, Johnson's arguments are well-conceived and extremely readable. But my biggest thanks go to Johnson for making me yet more excited about the future. In 40 years not only will we have free, secure software for everything, the ultimate killer app in the (semi-) universal translator, and prevention of hundreds more diseases and disabilities, but also we may not be as mentally atrophied as many critics predict.
  41. [No] The Gospel of Thomas by Didymos Judas Thomas: A non-narrative, highly suspect collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. Some make no sense to me: "Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion will still become human." Some are cool: "I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I'm guarding it until it blazes." Some mirror Biblical quotes: "...what goes into your mouth will not defile you; rather, it's what comes out of your mouth that will defile you." One is hilarious: "Look, I will guide [Mary] to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
  42. [No] The Infancy Gospel of Thomas by Thomas the Israelite: A non-canonical, and quite heretical, account of Jesus' early life, so lacking in canonical gospels. According to it, Jesus of 5 years made clay sparrows and brought them to life, struck another child dead for bumping into him (and blinded his parents for complaining), maimed those who spoke against him, resurrected a kid who fell off a roof, healed a man who had cut his foot with an axe, healed James of snakebite, and more. Of mild interest to few people.
  43. [Nah] Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive by John Eldredge: Seemed too much a rehash of Wild at Heart. Just... didn't do anything for me.
  44. [Loved] The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Doulgas Adams: I couldn't care less about the story, it's the prose! And the dialogue! Hilarious. I can understand, then, why a movie wouldn't work. I listened ot the audiobook edition read by the author, whose vocalizing of the book made it even funnier than otherwise, I think.
  45. [Loved] The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis: A collection of letters from a senior demon to his inexperienced nephew about how best to subtely manipulate the human creature. Densely insightful, painfully confrontive, ravishingly eloquent, intensely practical, uproariously hilarious, adverb adjective.
  46. [Loved] The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God by Dallas Willard: Richard Foster has read hundreds more spiritual books than I have, but we agree on The Divine Conspiracy; it is "a masterpiece and a wonder... the book I have been searching for all my life." In it, Willard examines the longstanding failure of Christianity by carefully integrating centuries of Christian thought with new (to me, anyway) revelations on the relevance of Jesus to our daily lives and the methods of discipleship to Him. The buildup and climax in Chapter 9 of this non-narrative work was as intense and exciting for me as the same in American Beauty or my favorite musical orgasms. Finally, I know why I am failing and why Jesus' way of life has not been alive to me, and I know how to begin pursuing Christlikeness and a rich, rewarding, joyful life! I can barely hold back tears as I write this because thinking of how much this book means to me is overwhelming. This is the greatest modern text I have ever read, and I must read it again immediately.
  47. [Liked] Collected Poems, 1909-1962) by T.S. Eliot: Just the type of poetry I love to read and the kind I wish I could write. Actually, that most of my favorites were in the "minor poems" section reflects my poor taste. I have no idea what it means to "laugh like an irresponsible foetus" (from Mr. Apollinax).
  48. [Liked] Crist by Cynewulf: I started reading this pre-Beowulf Old-English text and couldn't stop. It's fascinating to compare the content of religious writing from 1350 years ago and today. Back then, they were apparently much more wont to praise God in woeful humility and recite his wonderful works ad nauseam. I also observed a few cultural insights, like the lesser status of women, the everyday reality of angels and demons, etc. The more narrative passages made we want to pick of The Silmarillion again (I only ever got half way through). Just one passage for you: "Then heaven and hell shall be filled with the children of heroes, the souls of men. The gulf shall swallow up God's enemies; the hurtling flame shall seize on wicked men mortal transgressor, neither allow them thence to flee away with joy to any refuge. But fire shall bind the fast imprisoned horde and scourge the children of sin. Insolent to me it seemeth that men endowed with spirit will not heed in their hearts what the Ruler layeth on them in His vengeance, upon hostile men. Then life and death shall take their fill of souls; the house of torment shall be open and revealed to faithless men. Men swift to sin shall fill it with their blackened souls. Then to avenge their guilt the wicked horde shall be sundered, the cursed from the holy, unto destroying pain."
  49. [Liked] Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior - Anytime, Anyplace by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius: Much of this book is common sense, but not necessarily common sense I'd have thought up no my own. I wish she gave me easy answers to everything, but the author acknowledges the complexity of reading people. I'm trying out her principles to see if they work.
  50. [Liked] Think Like a Shrink: Solve Your Problems Yourself with Short Term Therapy Techniques by Pat Fogarty, Chris Zois: Not a psychology textbook, but rather a brief, practical primer on the psychology of normal people. To the point and quite a good refresher.
  51. [Loved] Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John Eldredge: I read this last year, and knew I needed to read it again. Truly, truly, I say to thee: no book has ever spoken to me so deeply, directly, and surprisingly - not even any of the books in the Holy Bible. A pastor's kid from a warm, safe, Christian-bubble upbringing, I was raised by parents, teachers, and peers to be... a nice guy. Compassionate. Dutiful. Responsible. Sensetive. Careful. I was thoroughly discontented with life and I wasn't quite sure why. Then Eldredge points out that God made me a man so that I can be... dangerous? Fierce? Wild. "The heart of man is undomesticated, and that is good." American culture, its education system, and most especially The Church, have emasculated men and told them to be women. Fuck that. Now, being a man isn't about macho posturing, but it is about embracing what God has put in the heart of man - a deep longing for adventure, danger, battles, pain, and The Beauty. This is a book about the heart of man, the image of God, the question of a man's heart, the wound of man, the battle for man's heart, the healing of man, the enemy of man, battles, The Beauty, and a grand adventure with her. No book has ever opened so much weeping agony inside me or freed so much joy.
  52. [Loved] A History of Rock Music, 1951-2000 by Piero Scaruffi: This most intellectually influencing book I've read this year. Though some may be turned off by Scaruffi - the ultimate rock snob (who was first a classical music snob) - I was won over by his unparalleled knowledge and analysis. This is an extremely brief history of important "popular" music after 1950. Not music that is important to the record industry or nations and cultures, but music that is important to music: its language and form. For example, Scaruffi argues that The Beatles merely wrapped pop cliches in pseudo-psychidelia, whereas Captain Beefheart wrote a post-Cage study of tonality and provided rock's most important contribution to the history of music in Trout Mask Replica. Don't be too intimidated, though; he loves The Doors. With Scaruffi's rock history, you'll learn the origins of all the major styles (including country, electronica, hip-hop, rap, metal, world music, folk music, etc.). Sometimes, the origins are buried in a rarely-heard recording 20 years ahead of its time. If there's a fault in Scaruffi's stunning work, it's that it's too brief (even at 550+ pages). By trying to cover everything, Scaruffi is limited to a single paragraph on even the most important artists, and doesn't have much time to explain just what the different genres and styles sound like (okay, Scaruffi, what is "post-post-rock" or "jazzcore"?). Nevertheless, Scaruffi's encyclopedic knowledge and unfaltering vision have made me a convert. I'd still rather listen to "Don't Stop Me Now" than "Ant Man Bee", but I now concede that Radiohead haven't contributed much new to rock music; they've merely made it sound more interesting. So yeah, thanks Scaruffi for splitting my musical "favorites" from "bests" just like David Cook did with me and film. The free online version is fully hyperlinked to exhaustive artist profiles. I exhort you to (at the very least) read the preface to understand Scaruffi's vision of artstic rock.
  53. [Nah] PeopleSmart: Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence by Mel Silberman: A well-compressed overview at working with people, but more obvious and shallow than I was looking for - either that, or maybe I'm not as PeopleDumb as I thought I was.
  54. [Liked] God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis: An important book that illuminates important problems for politically-minded Christians and, more importantly, provides lots of potential solutions. Jim Wallis' messages is diluted by more than a dozen multi-page quotes and a misuse of statistics for his cause that matches his opponents' misuse of stastics for their cause. Still, great points (and suggestions) abound.
  55. [Liked] The Urban Christian: Effective Ministry in Today's Urban World by Ray Bakke: As a middle-class, white, suburban Christian, I'm utterly out of touch with urban life and the challenges of urban ministry. Ray Bakke ministered and raised his family in the worst neighborhoods of inner-city Chicago in the 50s, and shares the lessons he has learned about being effective in urban ministry.
  56. [Liked] David Boring by Daniel Clowes: Good characters & story and all that, but I'm not sure why this makes a better comic book than novella - it certainly didn't make use of the form like Box Office Poison or other recent graphic novel favorites of mine.
  57. [Liked] The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg: Don't judge a book by it's title. The working title, "Dallas for Dummies", would've been much better. Some parts ('Training Vs. Trying') are stronger than others ('A Dee Dah Day'), and Ortberg's writing is an uneven balance of insight and whimpering tangent, but his everyman exploration of spiritual disciplines is useful and relevant.
  58. [Loved] Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson: There's an exception to my 'no fiction' rule, and it's comic books. Box Office Poison is a very thorough examination of the scope and limits of sequential art. I can hardly think of a comic art presentation technique that Robinson didn't use. It's also a demonstration of how graphic novels are often superior to film for visual storytelling - especially due to the depth allowed by 600 pages. The characters are more fully drawn (and perhaps more believable) than in any movie I can think of, the dialogue is great, the stylistic touches are effective - this is great stuff.
  59. [Liked] Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things: How to Turn a Penny into a Radio, Make a Flood Alarm with an Aspirin, Change Milk to Plastic, Extract Water and Electricity From Thin Air, Turn on a TV With Your Ring, and Other Amazing Feats by Cy Tymony: How's that for a long book title? Sneaky Uses wasn't as interesting, exhaustive, or useful as I'd hoped (the 'home security' gizmos were especially laughable), but there were some fun tidbits in here. My favorite was making plastic from milk and vinegar, since it was easy and actually worked.
  60. [Nah] Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde by Susan Pack: When criminal psychologists trying to explain my sicko killing spree in 2025 try to pin down the moment I 'went certifiable', I'm sure they'll pick the time I decided to read this book, cover to cover. But actually, it's a pretty interesting read. Susan Pack gives us an introduction on the period, genre, and its posters & poster artists, and gives us a brief introduction to each poster in three languages, as well as a profile of dozens of poster artists from the period. Alas, the 'coolest' poster is the one on the cover, by far.
  61. [No] The Hipster Handbook by Robert Lanham: I'd never heard the word 'hipster' until six months ago, and I've come across it a few times a day since then. So I figured I should figure out what a hipster was. The Hipster Handbook is a lightly amusing read, and is probably as good a guide as any to understanding/being a 'hipster', but it wasn't quite 'there.' If you're in the same boat I was, you're probably just as well off reading the Wikipedia entry.
  62. [Loved] Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman: Sometimes relevant to my pop culture experience, sometimes not, sometimes important, sometimes not, but always engaging and rapturously funny. (Look! I'm quotable!) Chuck's either very smart or very good at sounding smart when he's saying nothing - actually, there's a how-to sheet included in the book on how to do just that. Nearly as much fun as the titular elements themselves.
  63. [Liked] A Century of Films: Derek Malcom's Personal Best by Derek Malcolm: An honest selection of Derek Malcolm's favorite films with insightful analysis and enthusiastic praise for each in brief. A fun read. But I want to know more about the film that this quote refers to: "...Bergman, with whom Fellini was going to collaborate on a film, together with Kurosawa." Huhwaaa?
  64. [Liked] Why Pro-Life? Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers by Randy Alcorn: I stumbled on this book and, because I didn't know the answer to the question on the cover, read it. It's 100 small pages, anyway. The case against abortion is much stronger than I'd anticipated. I suppose I should read a "Why Pro-Choice?" book first, but for now the better arguments in this book have made me feel very comfortable in choosing (just now) to be pro-life (and in arguing the case for life).
  65. [Liked] Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini: Cialdini breaks down the world we live in and shows us why we're taken and how not to be taken. In the process, he shows us how to take others, but he does not recommend this: the mental shortcuts we depend on in this increasingly complicated world must be trustworthy. We should therefore resist their exploitation and not produce it. I haven't read much on the subject before, this feels like the magnum opus on psychological influence.
  66. [No] Top Ten of Everything 2005 by Russell Ash: It's occasionally intersting to see something beyond the #1 of everything as in The Guiness Book of World Records, but usually not. Also, I can barely imagine a more boring selection of Top 10s. Listology oughta release a 'best of Listology top 10s' and put this thing to shame.
  67. [No] A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities by Jan Bondeson: Needed editing badly. The few interesting stories are buried in pages of less interesting, unconvincing trifles. Its conclusions are usually boring (true cases of spontaneous combustion were similar to someone doused with alcohal lighting a cigarette and burning), unconvincing (treating known hoaxes as fact), or duh (yes, I know there are bearded women). It's not even that fun to read.
  68. [Loved] The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by the writers of The Daily Show, et al: Trendy, comically disparaging, packed with great references, hipster friendly, and fucking hilarious - if you like the Daily Show, you'll love America (The Book) (duh). The funniest book I have ever read.
  69. [Loved] The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner: This is a fanastic book and a very important one. It's stuffed with facts and figures that debunk our common fears and redirect them to things that are actually worth worrying about. Eye-opening and reassuring.
  70. [Loved] The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield: This is either the most useful book in the world or a bunch of crap. I'm inclined toward the former, but I have to acknowledge a some deceptions or gloss-overs or incomplete ideas in this book. But, I can see how the absolute truth in those few situations do not make the readers more likely to succeed, so it's probably a good thing!
  71. [No] The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do by Samantha Ettus: Some entries are good, but most of them, like the entire book, give you just enough to irritate you that there isn't more here.
  72. [Loved] Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: Good grief. This is the most jam-packed, fast-paced book ever. I listened to this on audiobook, and I had to track down a copy of the actual book to believe it was truly 'unabridged.' I also had to stop the damn tape every half hour just so I could breathe (which wouldn't be a problem if I'd bothered to read the book, instead). Of course, I still loved it.
  73. [Nah] Mister O by Lewis Trondheim: This book gives me hope that I could make a comic book if I wanted. It involves simple stick figures crossing a small chasm. Mister O always fails. Too bad it's not funny.
  74. [Liked] Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray: I figured this is one of those books everyone will expect you've read. In fact, it was/is so popular that I found I was vaguely aware of many of its precepts without having read the book because they have seeped into our culture so well. But it's amazing how easy it is to forget how the opposite sex thinks in a completely different way than you do. This should probably be on every couple's bedside stand to skim over every other night. I'm not even in a serious romantic relationship, and it's probably the most useful book I've read. And now I'm even angrier at today's education system. Learning about Byzantine history or subatomic particles can be fun but isn't useful to 99% of us. A book like this is incredibly useful several times each day for all of us. Still, I have to hope there's a better-written book that contains some version of all this useful information. John Gray's book is humorless and classroomy, which surprised me in a mega-popular book about relationships with a catchy title.
  75. [Loved] The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: This doesn't 'show off' as a singular artistic triumph like Catcher in the Rye. Instead, it's a marvelous example of artful craft. It's the kind of book that is supremely great, and makes you wonder why all modern novels can't be this good - because the could be, they're just not. BTW, I didn't read this, I was read it, by John Lithgow in a fantastic performance that only helped me appreaciate this book more.
  76. [Liked] Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: Yep, it's long. And I didn't appreciate the extended scientific whale babble. But otherwise, it's much better than I even thought it was going to be. Like everything from that time, it sounds stuffy compared to modern styles, but I can't say it feels aged. A masterpiece of narration, description, commentary and character. The final battle was more epic and exciting than I was expecting. Far too long.
  77. [Loved] The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: I think this is one of the best stories, just below Hamlet and Don Quixote and company. It's even better when you see it in your mind, directed by Carl Dreyer.
  78. [Liked] Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: I must be missing something. It's a decent book, but not an impressively strong one. There's some neat Einsteinian theory and the WWII/sci-fi mix was fun, but I can't figure out why this shows up on 'greatest novels' lists.
  79. [Loved] The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This is an entirely different sort of 'so bad it's good': unlike Wallflower, Catcher sounds like real speech and real writing. Yet somehow, it's just as riveting and 'devestating' (sorry) as the impeccably edited and refined Wallflower. How Salinger pulled it off is beyond me, but there it is: on every page. And Sweet Merciful Yahweh, how is this still so 'edgy'? Amazing. And, surprisingly timeless - something Wallflower won't quite be. Best line ever: "Get your dirty stinking moron knees off my chest."
  80. [Loved] The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Ah, so this is what critics mean when they call a novel "devestating." This book, a fictional series of anonymous letters telling a teen's high school life, doesn't read like a collection of real letters because real letters are boring, incoherant, unstructured, unpoetic, and often incomprehensible. But this is a great book. It speaks of characters and experiences that we all know - or we know someone who knows them. Also, it's terribly honest on so many subjects where honesty is rare. The other reasons for this book's greatness cannot fit in a 'mini-review.' Had I read this book when I was 12, it probably would've been my 'favorite book ever.' Magically, this is the only great book I've ever read that made me feel better about my own literary potential.
  81. [No] Complete Idiot's Guide to Songwriting by Joel Hirschhorn: This is a waste of time and space with no songwriting instruction whatsoever and lots of insipid tips like 'write with a #2 pencil' and 'numbers are always popular in titles' and 'look upon rewriting as a pleasure, not a chore.' In fact, the entire first chapter and parts of other chapters are devoted to telling you where else to look to learn good songwriting. It's also focused directly on writing a 'perfectly crafted hit song,' and using every popular device possible to write a pop song, with no consideration for artful songwriting. Do people actually buy these kinds of books? If so, I've found my path to fortune. I'll just copy-and-paste a bunch of tips on - oh, who cares - gardening, put cute character icons in the margins, and make a hundred grand.
  82. [Loved] Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: Mary Roach is a funny, fascinating writer, and her subject here could hardly be more... interesting. Yes, it's quite 'gross' at times, but never so much that you don't want to read the next page. Did you know that normal decomposition or even cremation is just as disgusting as dissection, or that human head transplants are quite possible? Of course, Mary Roach doesn't stop there: she even discusses cannibalism. The life of human cadavers is far more varied and interesting than I'd ever have imagined.
  83. [Loved] Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos: I hated virtually every subject in high school. They were all so tedious and inapplicable. Now, thanks to 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' and 'Innumeracy,' subjects like physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology are exciting and relevant. The question that naturally follows is, What the fuck was I being taught in high school? Obviously, I did not lack the ability to appreciate scientific and mathematical education. Rather, the education was lacking. I knew it all along: high school is a waste - at least, the one I had was a waste. Maybe if I'd gone to a state school that offered car repair and carpentry classes, I could've gotten a little something out of it. Well, anyway, I am no longer wholly innumerate! Are you?
  84. [Liked] A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals by Tim F. Flannery, Peter Schouten: After a wonderful but frightening introduction, we are treated with a few dozen gorgeous and anatomically precise illustrations of mammals, birds, and reptiles that have become extinct since the 1500s, starting with the Upland Moa in 1500 and ending with the Atitlan Grebe in 1989. Each illustration is accompanied by a few paragraphs that describe all that is known about the animal, how it went extinct, and what record we have of it. I've done my best to scan some of my favorites for you: the Choiseul Crested-pigeon, the Crescent Nailtail Wallaby, the Cuban Red Macaw, the Desert Rat-kangaroo, and, of course, the Dodo. I would've liked to see more variety, though - half the illustrations were of very similar small birds, large lizards, and long-tailed mice.
  85. [Nah] Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Eugenie C. Scott: If you're looking for a dry but very complete classroom book introduction to the evolution vs. creationism debate, this is for you. If you've already read several evolution books in the past month, like me, you're going to be bored with half of it. Information is even repeated several times within the book itself, though - most notably in the early historical chapters and the later concluding 'legal issues' section. It didn't contain enough new information for me, and didn't answer my questions.
  86. [Loved] Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell: Not even a fever of 102.6 degrees and 53 sleepless hours could keep me from reading this in less than a day. Malcolm Gladwell is the most readable and fascinating author I've read, and with Blink, he's hit another one out of the park. If you want to be entertained, intrigued, and make better, quicker decisions - or any of those - read this now.
  87. [Liked] Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: Some books claim you can read its chapters in any order, but this one means it. Each tiny chapter is a nugget of wisdom for writing often and well. It needs a second edition: "I can imagine using a Macintosh, where the keyboard can be put on my lap, closing my eyes and just typing away. The computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called "wrap-around." You can rap nonstop. You don't have to worry about the typewriter ringing a little bell at the end of a line."
  88. [Loved] A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: Perhaps a reason so many students change their majors several times during their higher education is that nothing excites them - especially in the scientific fields - so they choose a field mostly on the basis of job availability and pay. If schools taught with something like this book (and then filled out the information with details and practical applications), young people would be excited about science. With 'A History of Nearly Everything,' Bryson has done what he intended; he has made science what it rarely is - exciting, fun, and memorable. Had I read something like this in 7th grade, I might be majoring in chemistry or physics right now.
  89. [Nah] Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins: I admire Dawkins for writing this book, and several of the reasons it doesn't work are not his fault. The chapters that describe primitive computer simulations are of little use now, and many of Dawkins' arguments pertain little to climbing Mount Improbable - but that is sometimes because the arguments he's counterpointing are no longer used (perhaps, because of this book?). The biggest problem, though, is that Dawkins has attempted to argue what cannot yet be well argued. Quite simply, most of the book is filled with wild assumptions. Most questions of 'How did this work?' are answered by, 'We really don't know yet. But maaaaaybe...' - and that's not very convincing. For a theory so dependent on scientific evidence, there is little to be found. (For example, the entirety of scientists' 'knowledge' on ape-to-human forms - 300 million years of human development, 2 genera, and more than a dozen species - is based on a mound of fossils that wouldn't fill the bed of a pickup truck and a whole lot of arbitrary assumptions.) I marvel at the faith of evolutionists that their theory is correct despite a nearly complete lack of real evidence - indeed, their faith may surpass that of most Christians who believe in creationism purely through faith. In short, there wasn't enough relevant material (mostly chapters 3, 4, and 10) to make this book worth it. It hasn't aged well.
  90. [Liked] In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman: I had to read this one twice. The first time, I didn't understand everything, but I knew something marvelous was passing before my eyes - a bit like watching Un Chien Andalou. The second time, I understood most of it, and recognized it as a kind of surrealist masterpiece. Unfortunately, the early comics tacked-on at the end do not add to Spiegelman's objectives as he intended, and they seem like filler to an admittedly short book. If you like comics, this is for you. If you don't, you'll just as likely be bewildered as anything else.
  91. [Loved] Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: I heard this on a flash player checked out from the library. The batteries they gave me only lasted a half hour per charge! But I finally made it through. Anyway, the book: I don't read enough sci-fi to know if it's imaginative or not, but I like the color-coded paths and other very practical technologies. And while the writing is fairly pedestrian, stars children, and uses the word 'fart' more times than I care to hear the word in a lifetime, Orson Scott Card has made it very easy to love his novel, and I did.
  92. [Loved] Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi: Oh what a relief, this is just as good as the first one! We follow 'Marji' through her adventures with freedom, drugs, and love in Europe, and then her return to Iran, schooling, and marriage. It's touching, it's fast-paced, it's eye-opening, and it's not to be missed.
  93. [Liked] The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki: Surowiecki's study on group intelligence is a Tipping Point clone - and I mean that in a very good way. Unfortunately, it's not quite as successful because it's messier (perhaps due to the subject matter, perhaps due to failings of the author), less coherent as a whole, and, therefore, less memorable. It reads well, but putting the big pieces together is a bit tricky, and Surowiecki doesn't help us do so as much as he should have. A good book that a couple more rewrites could've made great.
  94. [Loved] Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi: I can't say it better than French magazine Liberation: "A triumph... Like Maus, Persepolis is one of those comic books capable of seducing even those most allergic to the genre." This is the funny and wrenching tale of Satrapi's childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The art style is minimalist, and the story moves quickly, but it's packed with excitement, humor, insight, history, culture, and emotion. (I was moved to tears 3 times in the brief time it took me to read it.) This could also make a great movie.
  95. [Liked] Evolution : The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory by Edward J. Larson: This is probably the best (real) introduction to the theory of evolution I could've had. The history of evolution is an amazing one, and Larson tells it, for the most part, fully and fairly. It's occasionally too technical for it's own good, however; there were a multitude of paragraphs that I had to reread several times to comprehend, as Larson uses terms like 'allopatric speciation' and 'interspecific morphological variation' without explaining them. The book also, regrettably but understandably, does not discuss the last decade of developments (the edition I read was released in 2004), probably because sufficient perspective on them has not yet been attained. I mostly came away with the awareness that modern evolutionary theory is a very new and immature one with fundamentally important refinements still being made - which only waxes my marveling at its popularity.
  96. [Liked] Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Film Writings 1965-1967 by Pauline Kael: Yes, I read every page, cover to cover! Legendary film critic Pauline Kael, like Malcolm Gladwell, is smarter and more well-thought than most of us, but has the sense to write what she knows or feels in a way that makes her work accessible to 'mere mortals.' She's just as readable as Ebert, and far more interesting. As you might imagine, though, some of her essays and reviews are more currently relevant than others.
  97. [No] The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian by Brian D. McLaren: The Sequel to A New Kind of Christian is, on the surface, not so different from its predecessor, and it's failure only makes sense when attributed to several simultaneous factors. In the last book, McLaren embarked on a journey of questions. But in this book, McLaren preaches only answers, through the character Neo, with the other characters immediately praising his genius. McLaren's constant self-congratulation is irritating, especially when I don't agree with his points. I thought I wanted answers, in retrospect I prefer the questions. Furthermore, McLaren has increased the time devoted simply to narrative. Who are you kidding, McLaren? Nobody's reading this for a piece of good fiction (and it's not); this was always a 'spiritual lifestyle' book. And while there are some interesting points within, there is less insight in whole chapters of this book than in one page of A New Kind of Christian.
  98. [Loved] The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell: Wow! What a page-turner! Gladwell writes with refreshing briskness and informality in a book about studies, statistics, experiments, and theory. This book is stuffed with fascinating studies and real-world examples that contradict 'common sense' and show us how social epidemics are triggered, how they spread, and how to start positive social epidemics of our own. While reading, I was struck by how well blogs have illustrated Gladwell's principles and 'characters' (archetypes necessary for a social epidemic). I never would've thought I'd be so engrossed by a 20-page chapter about Sesame Street and Blue's Clues.
  99. [No] The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way by Wayne W. Dyer: I barely made it through this one alive. At least Double Your Dating was short, brisk, and occasionally amusing. This book seems devoted to transforming straightforward, common sense wisdom into confusing semantic babble ("In mathematics, two angles that are said to coincide fit together perfectly. The word coincidence does not describe luck or mistakes. It describes that which fits together perfectly. By combining free will with intention, you harmonize with the universal mind"). Anyway, I've got a shortcut. Step one: Know what you want to do. Step two: Do it. That's all you need to know. If it's not, then what you need certainly is not anywhere in this book.
  100. [No] Double Your Dating by David DeAngelo: At this rate, I'll have 100 books read by next year! Anyway: as you might suspect, this is a poorly-written rehashing of 'girl advice' articles from men's magazines that begs for sales by telling guys what they want to hear: women are easily manipulated, physical attractiveness and money don't matter, women are powerless, etc. Still, the best lie is a half-truth, and a compilation of the truth fragments within would result in a useful, if brief and hole-filled, guide to successful dating. Watch Rodger Dodger instead.
  101. [Loved] A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey by Brian D. McLaren: After the engaging efficiency of The Tipping Point, I was initially irritated by the wandering nature of this book, which follows a fictional conversation about 'Christian postmodernism' over several months. The author has many gems of discovery and wisdom to offer, and he could have presented them as efficiently as Gladwell in The Tipping Point, but instead he buried things in a messy narrative, a string of half-finished dialogues. But this is actually the beauty of the book: Christian postmodernism is an ethereal, mostly undefined concept that rejects the surgical analysis and overconfident intellectualism of 'Christian modernism' (evangelicalism) in favor of a 'living faith.' The result is messy, just like the book (and, not coincidentally, real life), but both offer a wonderful new way to be a Christian - one driven not by by stagnant (but comfortable) boxes and rules, but by a passion for Christ and an 'organic' faith. I know now why the book is presented as "a tale of two friends on a spiritual journey," instead of an all-answers manifesto: McLaren doesn't have all the answers. Instead, he is embarking on a journey with all Christians who are curious about a new kind of Christian (important: not "the new kind of Christian"). The new perspective this book has given me also causes me to grieve over the way I handled some earlier discussions on Listology. If you're not a Christian, this is not for you (yet!); if you are a Christian - of any kind - then I highly recommend it.

Author Comments: 

Most recent at the top. Earlier conversations about this list are archived here and here. Earlier books read, since January 2005, are here.

A good list! Each to their own, but how do you feel about reading women authors?

Pity you didn't finish 'Pillars of the Earth' or 'Memoirs of a Geisha', they are two that I particularly enjoyed.

I don't think about the gender of the author, really. I just find a well-reviewed book on a subject I'm interested in and read it. I realize that the ratio of men to women authors for the books I've finished this year is about 5:1, but that's purely coincidental.

Quotes #1, #2, and #3 from what may end up being my favorite and the best book I read this year, Willard's The Divine Conspiracy:

Cuteness, like cleverness, has certain aesthetic possibilities - as do sex and violence - but they are very limited. Picasso is the most familiar and brilliant illustration of how it can be well used, and of how it goes to seed. But... masses of people can be cute, and clever as well, who have no ability or sense of art at all. As creators and consumeres they fill the field of pop culture today, which is an economic enterprise and only by accident occasionally has something to do with art. Art objects are now commonly referred to as "product" by those who handle them and only make news when they are sold for absurdly large sums or are stolen. Art is lost in pop "art" as sport is lost in professional "sport" - which is an oxymoron of the strongest kind. Absurdity reigns, and confusion makes it look good... The presumed absurdity of life that elites previously had to be very brilliant and work very hard to appreciate is mindlessly conveyed to hundreds of millions. It comes to us in Bart and Homer Simpsons and endless sitcoms and soap operas involving doctors, lawyers, and policemen, along with the bizarre selections and juxtapositions imposed by what is called news. You have only to "stay tuned," and you can arrive at a perpetual state of confusion and, ultimately, despair with no effort at all.

"Stand up for your rights" sounds so good. How about "All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten"? And "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty"? And so forth. Such sayings contain a tiny element of truth. But if you try to actually plan your life using them... they will lead you 180 degrees in the wrong direction... But try instead "Stand up for your responsibilities" or "I don't know what I need to know and must now devote my full attention and strength to finding out"... or "Practice routinely purposeful kindnesses and intelligent acts of beauty." Putting these into practice immediately begins to bring truth, goodness, strength, and beauty to our lives. But you will never find them on a greeting card, plaque, or bumper. They aren't thought to be smart. What is truly profound is thought to be stupid and trivial, or worse, boring, while what is actually stupid and trivial is thought to be profound.

Helmut Thielicke points out that we often wonder if celebrities who advertise foods and beverages actually consume what they are selling. He goes on to say that this is the very question most pressing for those of us who speak for Christ. Surely something has gone wrong when moral failures are so massive and widespread among us [Christians]. Perhaps we are not eating what we are selling. More likely, I think, what we are "selling" is irrelevant to our real existence and without power over daily life.

More to come. I'm only 10% of the way through it.

They're not wholly original, and probably weren't in the 70s when they were written, but doesn't anyone else find these arguments provocative and significant?

Well, I was going to post something random and kind, but since that would be "180 degrees in the wrong direction," I guess I won't do that... ;)

That's what I get for excising context. Random kindness won't lead you toward a world-changing discipleship to God like routinely purposeful & intelligent kindness will. It might get a laugh or a smile, though - if that'll do.

Regarding the quotes - I always though "random acts of kindness" was a spoof of the phrase "random acts of violence", and not actually an encouragement for kindness to be random.

I'll be it started that way, but I think at one point it became so popular it seperated itself from its evil twin and became a modern proverb.

Nonetheless, I still think it's just a figure of speech and not a way of emphasizing that the acts of kindness must be random. I don't think the people who tell you to practice random acts of kindness are really thinking about the distinction between random and "routinely purposeful", I think they're just using the phrase.

I think I saw a movie once that strongly advocated random acts of kindness as a way of life. And I guess Pay it Forward advocates something half-random, half-purposeful. But talking alot without thinking what you're saying can be dangerous, too. Not that danger stops me...

O.K., I think I get where this is coming from. To be resigned to the notions that kindness can only be random and beauty can only be senseless is actually a really, really nihilistic way of looking at the world. And it leads to despair, if you think about it long enough. Furthermore, you don't even get to feel profound for having figured that out, because, hey, anybody can flip on the TV and discover that life has no meaning.

Is that a pretty accurate paraphrase?

I don't think Willard assumes that people believe kindness can only be random or beauty only senseless. He's worried that because "Practice random kindness" is catchier and fits better on bumper stickers than "Practice routinely purposeful kindness", people are more likely to think it is profound and devote their thought and willpower to random kindness rather than routinely purposeful kindness. But routinely purposeful kindness is far more efficient and powerful.

I also don't think Willard meant to say that a single statement of pop "wisdom", if applied, will lead to despair. It's a steady diet of pseudo-profound, conflicting, trite nonsense that, if consumed and regularly applied, can lead to despair. Is the world a better place because people put into action what they heard on "Sex and the City", "Friends", and now "The O.C."? How might the world improve if people lived instead by the Ten Commandments?

I think you'd run into the same problems, if people only lived by the 10 Commandments (which may be part of Willard's point, I don't know).

Y'know, that bumper sticker is actually a koan. It could be seen as a challenge to relativists: even if you don't believe in right or wrong, why not at least try to promote kindness and beauty? I can't decide if I hate that bumper sticker or if I kind of like it.

The only commandment I can see ever causing a problem is certain strict interpretations of "keep the sabbath holy" - for example if people decided that meant they couldn't work to keep their basement from flooding if there was a Sunday thunderstorm. Which problems did you think might arise from widespread obedience of the Ten Commandments?

Everybody would turn into a self-righteous suck-up or a rebellious punk (or some combination of the two). Rules - love = public school.


Who was it that said you could have everything, even understanding, faith, and prophecy, but without love it's no good? Was he jaded, too?

My apologies for being so unclear. Love is absolutely necessary. More than that, it's the whole point. The Ten Commandments are all about love; not about legalism. That's why they would make such a difference if adhered to.

I have very much enjoyed your exchange(s) to this point... creative and interesting. I think I understand what is being examined.

I don't want to derail (sidetrack?) the conversation BUT...
I'm confused about your thoughts on the Ten Commandments. I don't see where they deal with any kind of emotion... let alone love. (Unless being a "jealous god" means that the Lord is speaking to Moses emotionally. This would confuse me further. I would have a tough time believing that God would summon Moses up a mountain because she was having a bad day.)

The Ten Commandments are a bunch of things you shouldn't do. "Love" (perhaps without the quotation marks) is an affirmative act. It would be a prescription and not a proscription. ("Take two tablets and call me in the morning" rather than "Do not operate heavy machinery".)

A double digit collection of injunctions are, in my opinion, the very definition of "legalism."

I may be giving you an out (or interpreting you more properly) if, by "legalism", you mean the doctrine of justification by works. (A big shout out to OED for letting me sound fancy.) If this is what you mean then I think that you're wandering into Gospel territory and the reinterpretations of the Sermon on the Mount. Which makes me only a little less confused because those still aren't "all about love."
...BUT we could be talking about the Ten Commandments of Barry White. Those are all about love... and how to honour that special lady.

Love is at the heart of each of the Ten Commandments; love for God, love for your fellow person.

1. "You shall have no other gods before me." Love God, forsaking all other masters.
2. "You shall not make yourself an idol... do not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..." This is an extension of the first command to love God and not Mary, Buddha, Caesar, or Michael Jordan. God is jealous because he made his children and loves them and will not tolerate rivalry or unfaithfulness. The verse goes on to say that he punishes "the children for the sin of the fathers" to the fourth generation, but shows love to those who keep his commands for a thousand generations. This could easily be a Hebrew poetry and not an exact predictor of love vs. punishment, but it does communicate God's point that he is jealous for his children but wants to give love far more than punishment.
3. "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord..." If you love God, you will respect him.
4. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy..." God designates "the seventh day" as a day of rest. What a nice guy... I love naptime!
5. "Honor your father and mother..." Love your parents.
6. "You shall not murder." Love your fellow person.
7. "You shall not commit adultery." Love your wife.
8. "You shall not steal." Love your fellow person.
9. "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." Love your fellow person.
10. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house." Love yourself enough not to envy others. Be content that God is in control and provides everything you need. Let him be the source of your happiness.

That's why I think the Ten Commandments are "all about love." If you love God, you'll trust that he knows how to bring the people of the world to contentment and harmony, and you'll obey his commands and expect that result. And if you love God and your fellow person, all but #4 are a natural result of that love; you wouldn't even need this list to follow. The Ten Commandments also communicate God's love for his people. He knows that we'll be closer to peace on earth if his chlidren do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, honor their parents, eliminate busyness from their lives at least once a week, etc.

8 out of 10 commandments are phrased as a "proscription." A mother who tells her child not to touch a hot stove does it in love. God tells us not to commit adultery because he knows it will foster (fester?) pain, disharmony, selfishness, confusion, and much more. Would it have made you happy if God rephrased #8 as "You shall respect the property of others"?

Legalism occurs when people conform to rules for the sake of the rules, not because they adhere their hearts to the intent of the law. It's "following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law." Legalism is being frustrated and saying "Jesus H. Christ!" only in your mind because saying it aloud would be breaking #3. Love is loving and respecting God enough that you wouldn't want to abuse his name that way in the first place. Not having the same respect for false religions, you might shout "Hari H. Krishna!" Or simply "Damn!"

And perhaps the above demonstrates how the Sermon on the Mount might also be "all about love", but that's a whole 'nother discussion.

Hope no one minds if I jump in here... it sounds to me, then, that the Ten Commandments could be about love or legalism depending on how one follows them. You could pretty much apply what you said in your second-to-last paragraph to any commandment - i.e., one could avoid murdering because it's illegal, or one could avoid murdering because they love humanity enough to not want to take another's life. So is it really right to say that the Ten Commandments are about love by design? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say that the world would be significantly improved if people adhered to the Ten Commandments out of love rather than legalism?

The world would be siginficantly improved if pepole adhered to the Ten Commandments out of love, as intended by their design. :-)

Yes, but Nazis. What I mean is, what if some evil entity tries to take advantage of the fact that the rest of the world follows the Ten Commandments? There has to be a higher law that allows you to lie to the Gestapo about your Jewish neighbor being hidden under your dining room table.

I'm sorry to jump to the most extreme example here, but now that Barry White has been introduced into the discussion, I think the gloves might as well come off.

You always have the option to say nothing at all.

The debate about the morality of lying is a tough one, and only barely relevant to our discussion on the Ten Commandments. #9 is "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor", not "You shall not lie", as many people I know assume. I hardly think telling Gestapo that the Jews under your table went "that way" bears false testimony against the Jews!

Does anyone else who has participated in this discussion believe that the world wouldn't be a better place if most people followed the Ten Commandments in love? Penny, do you still think so?

I do think the world would be a better place if everyone loved and respected their parents, their wives, their neighbors, their fellow human beings, and themselves. I also think the world would be a better place if everyone who believed in God loved and respected Him, though I do not necessarily think the world would necessarily be a better or worse place if everyone believed in God. Obedience to the Ten Commandments is secondary to the love and respect for other people, in my opinion, because the latter will lead to the former, but the former will not necessarily lead to the latter.

I dunno. What if my "neighbor" is a Nazi? Can I then bear false testimony against him (or her)?

Part of the problem is that the 10 Commandments have to be in words, although ironically, adding a few more words makes me feel better about it. If we could add all of your caveats, and insist that they be followed in love, then yes...I guess the world would be a better place. Although I think I'd much prefer just "Do as you would be done by."

I’m still having problems seeing how any of the behaviors commanded by the Ten Commandments are either expressed with love, designed to encourage love or have anything to do with love.

You (lukeprog, or any other individual) might choose to “adhere” to the Ten Commandments because of love but I don’t see love as a prerequisite. I don’t even see it on the recommended reading list. (It seems to be a vengeful course packet, not a loving one.)

Obeying the Commandments out of love (for God, for family, for your fellow man) is in my eyes the best motivation for behaving well. But that motivation originates within you. The God of the Ten Commandments doesn’t require it, it isn’t suggested, it isn’t mentioned and it isn’t even alluded to.

In fact, when Moses comes down from his trip he says No worries, the fear of God is what will keep people on the straight and narrow. He doesn’t say that “If you love God, you'll trust that he knows how to bring the people of the world to contentment and harmony” and that is why the Commandments are a good idea (ideas, whatever.)

It’s hard to see how God concerns himself with happiness and harmony here. His opening line says that she brought Moses and his posterity posse out of bondage (the big showoff.) She doesn’t say that one day you’ll get along with those guys. (She also doesn’t say that one day you’ll build a really big fence and accelerate building up other settlements even as you pull out of Gaza.)

I think I now understand what you mean by “legalism” and, while I share your distaste for it, I can find nothing that speaks to intent. It seems to me that God offers little motivation aside from threatening the grandkids.

I like the distinction that AJDaGreat makes about the meaning of the Ten Commandments “depending on how one follows them.” But that lays the onus on us.1 What matters is how we internalize the design and not the design itself. I could follow a speed limit because I’m concerned about conserving energy. I could want to lower driving fatalities. I could have a respect for the law and the fear of tickets. I could also have a beat up fifteen year-old Toyota Tercel which allows for no possibility of exceeding the speed limit.

The law itself and the reasons that they were originally written (which was fuel economy) have no bearing upon why I choose to (or choose not to) obey the law. Perhaps I exist in a state of grace and haven’t made a choice at all. (Honestly, officer, I had no idea how fast I was going.)

Nazis.” It’s always the Nazis, isn’t it? *sigh*
Barry White vs. the Nazis... now that was a great movie. I just wish that the sequel, Barry White vs. Mothra was half as good.2 I think that all of the excellent and helpful caveats come from within us and not from the Ten Commandments themselves (itself?) Which is the point that I was trying to make: I think that we are the ones who have attached the idea of “love” to the Commandments... and not a moment too soon.

I’m not sure how much I’d like the “Do as you would be done by” doctrine. I don’t have a very high opinion of other people’s priorities. (And what would happen if I thought that I deserved a punch in the snoot? Don’t answer that. Or do; it’s a very interesting philosophically horny dilemma.)

Perhaps I’m still having trouble seeing “love” carved into stone. It would be a comfort to understand the call to love in the Ten Commandments. I’d even pay for the call.

1 And if your girlfriend was caught sleeping with one of the stars of That 70s Show it would be “a Topher atop her.”
2 However the movie Abbot and Costello meet the Bride of Isaac Hayes did teach us all a lesson about love. And a profoundly disturbing lesson it was.

Here’s how I paraphrase the intro to the 10 commandments: “You know, I did this amazing thing for you, bringing y’all out of Egypt. Now, I’m warning you, don’t worship other gods, because I get jealous – and I’m a real badass when I’m jealous -- but I’m also really nice if you love me and follow these rules.” He actually uses the word “love” in verse 6. So we are supposed to love and obey. This also implies that God loves us, because otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten so upset and put that language about the “third and fourth generation” in there. As is often observed, four of the 10 commandments are really just about honoring God, and the remaining 6 must be for the Jews. Although God tells them to love him, he doesn’t tell them to love each other, interestingly. Maybe we can assume that they bonded, after have gone through all of that freaky crap together in Egypt.

As for internalizing the rules, don’t people always think about the rules and draw their own conclusions? The explanations you come up with say something about what kind of person you are. You could conclude that the 10 C’s exist because God is trying to trick you (shrewd, maybe paranoid), that God is only trying to help you (generous, maybe naïve), that God is trying to do something you can’t understand (easy-going, maybe lazy), or vacillate among these and a myriad of other conclusions (me, maybe everybody).

“Do as you would be done by” will drive you to drink if you think about it hard enough, which is why we need divine and human help to do it at all well. Barry White sounds like he’d be pretty good at it, and the Nazis pretty terrible. And there you have the essential problem with the 10 commandments: there’s nothing in there that will make you a better lover.

hee hee
"bringing y’all out of Egypt." And then we'se gawnna fix up a mess ah mahtzuh 'n vittles.

Yeah, I'm encouraged by the use of "love" in Ex. 20:6 but returning love with "mercy" (KJV, Geneva kinda troubles me... and then Moses says that fear will motivate you to avoid sinning. (Not help you to behave well, not help you to love.) That's just mean (or scary... unsettling at the least.)
Assuming that you believe in that sorta thing.

Alight. I'm feeling guilty... and like a hypocrite.

I'm going to try to return to music, movies and more (but less of the more.)

Would you like me to hit your car and then drive off? Well, then...

God has to respond to the Jews in a way that matters to them, so he can't just say "love me, and I'll love you." What does that mean? God is sitting up in heaven having nice fuzzy feelings about people? Well he is, but he has to offer something more concrete, so he says, "I know you're going to screw up because you can't help it, but if you love me, I'll let you off the hook. I'll even work out a way to bend the rules for you."

God would love to have a relationship with everybody as close as the one he had with pre-garden disaster Adam and Eve, or with Enoch. But he gave people free will, and sometimes they just won't respond. "O.K.," God says. "If you won't accept my love, at least accept my mercy." And sometimes, "If you can't understand why you need to follow the rules, I may have to scare you into doing it. Because otherwise, you will run out into the road, and you will get run over." Even if personal safety isn't involved, something equally important is at stake concerning every single sin (although I sometimes have problems seeing what that is).

I think my perspective of the love behind and in the Ten Commandments and what it means to bear false testimony "against" someone comes from my own understanding of, and experience with, God (which is pretty limited, I admit). If you see the Ten Commandments as disabling rather than enabling, or tough love as unloving, or God as a big bully, then I pity those sentiments. I have difficulty seeing the love behind a few of God's commands (written in the Bible or not), but I trust that God loves me and knows what's best because whenever I try something new I usually fuck it up, and whenever I do something he wants me to do, things seem to turn out right and I feel better about myself and about life.

I wouldn't dream of calling myself a serious film critic, but since I seem to hate most new movies other people enjoy, I enjoyed John Ivan Simon's thoughts on the loneliness of the film critic, from Reverse Angle:

The writer's profession, according to the immortal Sam Goldwyn, is a lonely one; but that of the film critic may, for two reasons, be even lonelier. First, the critic is primarily concerned with how much lasting, artistic value there is in a film; the paying customer is principally interested in having a good time. Now, art is a stern taskmistress: few pass the test of excellence that is the prerequisite of permanence, and the serious critic, who aims to preview the judgment of posterity, cannot help being severely selective in his criticism, which is meant to anticipate... the strict eliminations of time. But the paying customer... may well condition himself to like most films... So, the critics apparent negativism sets him off from the happy-go-lucky (or better, eager-to-be-happy) crowd, and make him look intolerant, mean, and deserving of isolation... Let a critic... say that a movie the reader loved is worthless (which, of course, never means more than "worthless to the critic," but somehow always gets misconstrued), and the reader feels insulted and threatened: "This man considers me an idiot"... So, the tough critic ends up being rejected, not merely with indignation or scorn, but actually with hate and fear, which condemn him to greater aloneness. No help for this.

Rather interesting list.But I cannot understand how U blend such various styles in literature for reading.I disagree with U about The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene.
B.Green uses so unordinary images & in the same time He explains rather hard-understanding theory.He gives U picture how deep hole they digges in the exploration of our Universe.
As for me I was delighted with this book.

I'm now watching the PBS program for free online, also hosted by Green. It's making more sense (or just requiring less patience) with the illustrative powers of video over text.

If you put my list and your list together, we make a fairly interesting cross-section of stuff to read. (I've taken a mostly no-nonfiction stance)

I see that you've read a lot about evolution, and I'm curious to know if you've ever read On the Origin of the Species.... (etc) by Darwin. I find the subject interesting, but I can't seem to get through any of the literature (possibly because I'm getting a brief overview in my course).

Nope, never read the founding document. I also feel like I've now read enough on the subject and don't want to spend more time there. Thanks for posting!

What the? Blink (Gladwell's nonfiction examination of the accuracy of instant decisions) is being adapted by Steven Gaghan, starring DiCaprio.

Definitely a WTF moment, but I think that actually sounds really good.

The names Gladwell and Gaghan ensure it will at least be interesting

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. I does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

- The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis

From the entertaining and highly revealing Freakonomics, discussing the results of several experts who mined data from a mainstream dating website to determine what kind of information in personal ads is most desirable, how many people lie, etc.:

Of the many ways to fail on a dating website, not posting a photo of yourself is perhaps the most certain... A low-income, poorly educated, unhappily employed, not-very-attractive, slightly overweight, balding man who posts his photo stands a better chance of gleaning some e-mails than a man who makes $200,00 and is deadly handsome but doesn't post a photo...

...preferences expressed by online daters fit snugly with the most common stereotypes about men and women.

For instance, men who say they want a long-term relationship do much better than men looking for an occasoinal lover. But women looking for an occasoinal lover do great. For men, a woman's looks are of paramount importance. For women, a man's income is terribly important. The richer a man is, the more e-mails he receives. But a woman's income appeal is a bell-shaped curve: men do not want to date low-earning women, but once a woman starts earning too much, they seem to be scared off... In the world of online dating, a headful of blond hair on a woman is worth about the same as having a college degree - and, with a $100 dye job versus a $100,000 tuition bill, an awful lot cheaper.

I love it when the world makes sense.

Most history books are extremely biased to the victors. A People's History of the United States tells US history from the perspective of the Arawaks (tortured and murdered in the millions by Christopher Columbus), blacks, women, etc. The first chapter (of Arawaks) and the last (of the war on terror) were fascinating, but I didn't have time for everything in between. And, author Howard Zinn immediately admits to telling history from an equally biased view (albeit the opposite perspective of most history books).

From The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs:

Progress is hard enough to achieve in the world without being perceived as a danger. One of the ironies of hte recent success stories of India and China is the fear that has engulfed the United States that success in these two countries comes at the expense of the United States. These fears are fundamentally wrong and, even worse, dangerous. They are wrong because the world is not a zero-sum struggle in wihch one country's gain is another's loss, but is rather a positive-sum opportunity in which improving technologies and skills can raise living standards around the world. Not only are the Indian IT workers providing valuable goods and services to United States consumers, but they are also sitting at terminals with Dell computers, using Microsoft and SAP software, Cisco routers, and dozens of other empowering pieces of technology imported from developed countries. As India's economy grows, its consumers opt for a growing array of U.S. and European goods and services for their homes and businesses.

I feel like I'm being such a Grumpy Gus recently...

I have yet to meet anyone from America who makes anything tangible for Dell. Sales reps galore, a distribution gal and a product development/consultant (I think...) In fact, aside from artisans or people who began as artisans, I haven't met a single person who makes something with their hands.

I would be at least mildly surprised if Dell, Cisco, even Microsoft assembled their stuff in the U.S. let alone made it there. If you can make it there, you'll make it a-ny-where... probably Malaysia.

For goodness sakes, even Ikea doesn't make its stuff in country, although it is assembled there. Assembled by low wage workers without health care or retirement accounts. It's my impression that the fastest growing part of the U.S. economy is the service sector. Indians working the late shift aren't going to be wandering into a McDonalds in Nebraska and even if they did Americans wouldn't sell very many Big Macs.

...whoops. Sorry. I'll try to ungrump... but I think you may be zinn for a little trouble. I am grateful that you had time for Malawians. Very grateful. They are certainly not victors.

I encourage you to read the book. At 1/5th of the way through, it has already given me a broader perspective of the past, a clearer vision of the present, and active hope for the future. The points you bring up are well-addressed early in the book (most of them before the paragraph I quoted). Here's my crappy version of it:

According to Sachs, services are already 70% of the U.S. economy. So it's unsurprising that little of the Dell or Cisco physical product is manufactured in the U.S. It's also untroubling. One of the signs of a highly developed economy is a high services/product ratio. Today, "services" usually means technology, aka ideas. Ideas are a highly efficient economical commodity compared to physical products because they do not exhaust natural resources as quickly, transport more easily, are nonrival (one person's use does not diminish another's ability to use it, whatever the lawyers say), etc. The computer products being used in Chennai were manufactured in Malaysia, but the ideas (our main export) came from the U.S., and it's mostly the ideas that are being paid for by Indian IT workers. The components of a USB cable cost less than $1 but according to Best Buy the idea is worth $20.

The Malaysians benefit, too. They are underpaid, lacking benefits, and perhaps even endangered, but their quality of life is better than at a lower step on the ladder of economic development. So, too, for garment factory workers in Bangladesh: "The women often walk two hours each morning... to get to work... They often work with almost no break at all... Leering bosses lean over them, posing a threat of sexual harassment. After a long, difficult, tedious day, the young women trudge back home, when they are again sometimes threatened with physical assault... however, rich-world protesters should support increased numbers of such jobs, albeit under safer working conditions... These young women already have a foothold in the modern economy that is a critical, measurable step up from the villages of Malawi (and more relevant for the women, a step up from the villages of Bangladesh where most of them were born). The sweatshops are the first rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty."

Well, realistically I doubt I'll read it. I don't read much. I'm not even going to try until you're five fifths of the way through. I have a tough time believing that symbolic analysts make up the majority of service workers. I've never met Martha Stewart (and I wouldn't want to) nor Tiger Woods (hmmm) but I have met cashiers at Best Buy and talked to customer service representatives from India (and an American prison, I think.)

Wal-Mart's clear-cutting of small businesses based upon Chinese labour can't be good no matter how cheap that stupid smiley face makes things. Can it? Normally I trust Bono... and you, but I'm baffled how converting Western jobs and resources into Malaysian exploitation of women and $1 USB cables is good for First through Third Worlds. (Is it really Malaysian? 'cause I just made that up.) I think that union shop to sweat shop is a ladder that leads down. And a scary ladder it is.

Keep me posted.

Well, according To Sachs, who has spent 25 years helping third world governments steer their nations out of extreme poverty, the ladder always leads up.

"I don't read much." I'll assume that's a joke...

It was not a joke... but I probably should have said that, "I don't read much any more."

I'd love to learn Sach's perspective on which countries have moved out of extreme poverty (or beyond) and if any have descended into it. I can think of several of Malawi's neighbours who haven't done well in the past quarter century.

I'd say the bertie/AfterHours debate alone qualifies as "much."

As a matter of fact, I just finished reading Chapter 3: "Why Some Countries Fail to Thrive." The question has many answers: lack of saving (can't save if you need more than you make to survive), absence of trade (blocked by violence, monetary chaos, geography), technological stagnation, natural resource decline (for example, a young family cannot afford fertilization, and their parents, lost to AIDS, never had the chance to teach them about nitrogen-fixing trees), population growth.

From 1980 to 2000, per capita GDP failed to grow in former communist (Soviet) territories ("transition recession" - they've been growing since the mid-90s, but from a lower starting point), countries that depend almost exclusively on oil exports (the "real" price of oil fell in the 80s and 90s), Africa (poor food production per capita due to poor irrigation and high fertility), and some of Latin America (the ones with the worst geography and politics).

East Asia is the ultimate success story, moving from extreme poverty to middle-class and some upper-class status in only 20 years. They've had great food production per capita due to good irrigation, dense population (good roads for transporting fertilizer), and drastically falling fertility rates. Sachs concludes the chapter with:

When countries get their foot on the ladder of development, they are generally able to continue the upward climb. All good things tend to move together at each rising rung: higher capital stock, greater specialization, more advanced technology, and lower fertility. If a country is trapped below the ladder, with the first run too high off the ground, the climb does not even get started. The main objective of economi development for the poorest countries is to help these countries to gain a foothold on the ladder. The rich countries do not have ot invest enough to make them rich; they need to invest enough so that these countries can get their foot on the ladder. After that, the tremendous dynamism of self-sustaining economic growth can take hold. Economic development works. It can be successful. It tends to build on itself. But it must get started.

From Huston Smith's The World's Religions, describing the idea behind India's caste system, before it became the destructive thing it is today*:

...with respect to the ways they can best contribute to society and develop their own personalities, people fall into four groups. (1) The first group India calls brahmins or seers. Reflective, with a passion to understand and a keen intuitive grasp of the values that matter most in human life, these are civilization's intellectual and spiritual leaders. Into their province fall the functions... distributed among philosophers, artists, religious leaders, and teachers... (2) The second group, the kshatriyas, are born administrators, with a genius for orchestrating people and projects in ways that makes the most of available human talents. (3) Others find their vocation as producers; they are artisans and farmers, skillful in creating the material things on which life depends. These are the vaishyas. (4) Finally, shrudas... unskilled laborers... These are people who, if they had to carve out a career for themselves, commit themselves to long periods of training, or go into business for themselves, would founder. Their attention spans are relatively short, which makes them unwilling to sacrifice a great deal in the way of present gains for the sake of future rewards. Under supervision, however, they are capable of hard work and devoted service. Such people are better off, and actually happier, working for others than being on their own. We, with our democratic and egalitarian sentiments, do not like to admit that there are such people, to which the orthodox Hindu replies: What you would like is not the point. The question is what people actually are.

* Does nothing work out like it ought? Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, communism, democracy, Chinese Democracy...

I would consult a second opinion on this. Yes, that is the explanation many adherents give for the caste system and its purpose, but history seems to tell of a time of a people riding into India, defeating the natives, and creating a system to sharply divide the rulers from the ruled. That system developed in complexity but was most likely the true root of the Caste system.

To a very large extent, it did work as it was originally intended to work for hundreds of years...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

It could be argued that the fact that the Aryans were able to, in some way, conquer the region and the natives, the Dasas, that they are the superior class, so to speak. It should be noted that while there was some resistance to the Aryan invasion, there was widespread imitation of Aryan social and political customs in the region. The Aryans came in, settled, and the land just became theirs.

Source: A History of the World's Religions: 11th Edition by David Noss

So, following the same logic, would one argue that American slavery was a meritocracy as opposed to simply a racist institution, since the whites were able to conquer the others and thus were, it could be argued using these lines, the superior class?

Caste seems to be to a racist division keeping the conquered people separated rather than a utopian system where everybody found their proper place.

Plus, the alternate assumption gives too much weight to eugenics for my taste - your father was best suited to farm the land, so you will be as well, regardless of what your natural talent or inclination seems to point at...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I think the case could be made, but we would first have to step outside of our Western, Judeo-Christian morals to be able to make it. If we accept the egalitarian precepts of Western thought as fact, then there's no possibility for human hierarchy and the subjugation of one people over another is inherently wrong. If we step outside of this, I think something could be said for the ability of one group to overcome another, but we begin to approach a rather cold view of humanity, as you point out.

The thing to remember is that the Hindu culture is considerably different than Western culture. These are not a people that necessarily believe in free will. After all, the physical position in the world is an illusion (Maya) and the ultimate goal is detachment (or release) from the physical realm. The caste system suited the rather deterministic culture. I imagine today, as India gets more involved in the global market, many of the Hindu ideas are going to fall out of favour and perhaps the caste system will weaken, but I'm willing to bet the Aryan descendents will continue to rule the upper class in much the way that even after slavery, America is still run mostly by white males and African Americans are still low on the socioeconomic ladder.

I'm not trying to overlay my morals on the system. I originally tried to distinguish between a meritocracy and a system based on race, and with my last post, I was trying to see if I undrestood your logic about the two being the same.

It is very difficult to play the chicken and the egg game with pre-Aryan Indian history. Did the people hold such Quietist beliefs before the Aryan conquest, or were they overlaid after the fact? If after the fact, where they natural developments along extant religious and philosophical lines, or were they conveniently spread by people who would benefit from them?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Smith does write that the caste system was developing when the Aryans invaded, who conquered India and perverted the caste system to reinforce their rule.

I think that is his opinion and speculation. I've never seen any proof for that aside from some vague signs that a loose system of what we might call guilds may have existed.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Flash/splash/trash research does seem to indicate that by far the dominant theory is that caste arrived with the Aryans. I should be wary of Smith. By trying to show the absolute best of each religion (so he names his purpose in the preface), he may be painting many things good that simply cannot be.

Which group do you see as most like yourself?

What's wrong with "Chinese Democracy"?

I am still finding new strengths and weaknesses in myself monthly. I am probably not an administrator or producer. I am very reflective, and can see myself as a philosopher, artist, religious leader, or teacher easier than I can see myself as an unskilled laborer ...despite the fact that I have spent a great deal of time as an unskilled laborer and almost no time as one of the others. A complete lack of responsibility is very attractive to me, but I am continually building my habits of deferred satisfaction. What a surprise that one who often uses elitist language sees himself as a brahmin.

All this is not to say I fully agree with this Hindu perspective. The Hinduism chapter in Smith's book has taught me a lot about my own faith, though.

Will you share your own self-assessment?

I am bipolar. Self-assessment is a notable weakness for those with manic-depression. I am fairly certain that I can't/haven't created anything tangible... outside of the spirit of The Lanyard. I've acted as an administrator but I was/am no genius. I think that being a kshatriya might be the most satisfying, rewarding and enobling role.

As for myself, what I know with the surety of glacial stones is a passion to understand. I may neither have nor want a single other brahmin characteristic but I do have a drive to understand. It is difficult for me to fit my philosophy into this frame. I am much more Rawlsian in aspiration and I'm not sure I understand the import of Mr. Smith's perspective.

I understand and admire that you are "still finding new strengths and weaknesses in" yourself but, for someone who has self-assessed a deficit of attention and intuition, I'm a little bemused that you don't self-identify as a shruda. Have you spent time as an unskilled labourer because it is what others have decided you should do? I suppose I should rephrase that as: Have other people allowed/encouraged you to spend "time as one of the others"?

I spend nearly all my time learning and reflecting and abstracting, but much of the part-time work I did before age 19 was lawnmowing, brush hauling, shelf stocking, etc. My two attempts as a 15-year-old to start my own business failed (I am not a salesman, I discovered - despite finding later employment as a salesman), so I had to get a job. I hated those jobs and was not satisfied doing the same thing over and over and having no responsibility or expectation of innovation.

I currently work as a computer tech and have never enjoyed a job more than when I took it upon myself to switch 70% of the computers I work with from Windows to Linux, and am now researching, developing, and deploying custom Linux software solutions that will work for my employer's technology needs. But I anticipate being even more fulfilled by psychology, my current study major. All that makes me think of brahmin, and now some of vaishya.

I haven't read Rawls. Smith was writing about castes from this perspective to challenge the forgiveably negative perception most people have of the caste system, and to explain its original intent.

Where are the untouchables in that description?

That caste was added much later, after "the perversion", and not with an honest appraisal of the types of people there are in mind.

I see, thanks!

... "according to Smith."

My own summary and interpretation of Greenberg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music:

Western music is about constant stylistic change, unlike other musical traditions wherein music is for ceremony and tradition and therefore mostly static. Western music's change accelerated greatly starting with the turn of the 20th century.

Saying "music is like math" belittles both and is like saying "humans are like $5 of chemicals and some water", which says nothing of the intelligence, wit, feeling, soul, ambition, glory, or anguish of human experience - all qualities, also, of music.

Music is not like science or math: it doesn't "get better", it simply changes as the environment (culture, politics, technology, etc.) of the composer changes.

Minoans had flush multi-story apartments, indoor heating, and flush toilets in 1600 BCE, technology lost for millenia with the volcanic eruption of Thera. And how much cutting-edge medical knowledge was lost for centuries with the library at Alexandria? So, we must consider how many Bachs, Beethovens, Brahms, and Stravinskys are lost to history. Our understanding of music is limited to that very little that has survived.

The music of ancient Greece was humanistic. The music of the Dark ages was religious, for it was preserved by the Christian Church. Music developed slowly in plainsong. When European technology and society began to recover and develop more quickly, music change also accelerated. For example with the invention of polyphony near 900 CE, which pressed the need for notation (you can't teach 4 simultaneous parts orally) and the concept of composition rather than improvisation (you can't improvise 4 simulatenous parts well; until about 1950 CE), which in turn pushed the notion of ego in writing, of self-expression, which is the force of constant stylistic change to be seen in all musical periods to follow.

Organum is the most basic form of polyphony, reaching its peak between 1190-1300 CE, wherein a plainsong melody with much melisma (syllables being stretched across many, many notes like Whitney Houston) is embellished floridly by a second voice. Champion: Léonin.

In the 14th century, the Church's dominance waned, and secular music arises. Further polyphonic complexity and isorhythms (rhythms repeat at a difference pace than melody) erupt. Music became simultaneously more individually expressive and more deliberately structured. Champion: Guillaume Machault.

Renaissance composers sought greater expression. The first solution was better articulation of what the music was about; the words. So, rhythms followed the rhythms of the words, rather than melisma or unnatural isorhythms. A rediscovery of Pythagoras' sonic ratios led to better understanding and uses of tuning, scales, harmony, consonance and dissonance. This is homophony, and it is gorgeous. Champion: Josquin Desprez.

However, complex homophony interfered with clear articulation, and it was Palestrina who figured out how to write complex music with clear words - as demanded by counter-reformation edicts at that time - by giving room to each voice as it articulates important syllables. In this way, Palestrina saved Church music, and his work remains the template for Catholic Mass to this day.

Madrigals were secular chamber pieces, often mixed polyphony and homophony, and intended their tone of music to mimic the lyrical content, even to the specific phrase. Champion: Gesualdo.

The Baroque period was characterized by a great multiplication of notes, driving rhythm, and a fussiness over structure. Music was finally interesting enough by itself to be heard without words, and instrumental music exploded, as did instruments besides the human voice. Rhythm, tuning, and major/minor scales were codified. Champion: J.S. Bach.

The rise of vernacular affected music profoundly. Italian inherited Latin's vocal music of long vowels, but German and therefore German music is guttural and explosive. Opera was the most important invention of the Baroque period, and her master was Monteverdi.

Greenberg dissected many forms and processes so one may recognize them: fugue, passacaglia, variations, sonata-allegro, rondo, concerto, symphony, lied, etc. This makes up about half the lecture series.

Music of the Classical Era was above all, "nice." Unlike Baroque music, it was non-intellectual, non-national, more relaxing, less motoric, more dynamically expressive, decorative, more tuneful and accessible. It achieved narrative through cadences. Champion: Mozart.

Beethoven's monumental Eroica invented Romantic music, characterized by emotionally turbulent, picture-painting music of a personal style (and often a national style), not a period style. Greenberg walked through specific works like Beethoven's 5th and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Romantic music is extreme music in every sense. Programmatic music tells a story with instrumental music, for example Beethoven's "Storm" movement of his 6th symphony, or Wagner's leitmotifs.

Beethoven's tenets of extreme self-expression and continual originality are still our artistic tenets today. Eventually, the need for self-expression outstripped the tonal language's ability to describe (for example, when Mahler writes his own heart attack into his 9th symphony).

In the 20th century, knowledge, technology, and culture changed much faster than we could perceive them, and technology, too. Debussy made tone and timbre his musical themes, not musical substance. He predicted the century's emphasis on sound over music (notes). Stravinsky drove his music with asymetrical rhythms, predicting rock's emphasis on rhythm over music (notes). Schoenberg rewrote the craft of polyphony with free melody, assuming no harmonic rules that had arisen since the Renaissance. That is where Greenberg ends, though many profoundly important composers would follow.

Greenberg's lecture series gave me a thought. Somebody should start a music appreciation wiki. There could eventually be a page for Eroica, for Tristan and Isolde, for Ives' Symphony No. 4, for Trout Mask Replica, for Gesang der Junglinge, for La Pasion Segun San Marcos, etc. Each page would explain how the piece of music works, what is important about it, how it reflects the past and influences the future, what it says about the artist, etc. Wikipedia's pages for most musical works do a very poor job of this (because it is not their purpose).

Thanks for this summary. I'd love to take Greenberg's course, but I begrudge the time it would take. As I get older my interests - or would-be interests - expand as the time I foresee being available to me contracts.

One point I want to take issue with. It does no harm, really, to say music is like math. If Greenberg says it does then he has merely set up a straw-man to knock down. There's a difference - a huge difference - between, on the one hand, drawing analogies between X and Y, and, on the other hand, saying that X reduces (boils down) to Y. Drawing the analogies between music and math would indeed be absurd and pitiable if the drawer went on to conclude that music reduces to math. What a pretty baby would be thrown out with *that* bathwater. Nobody with any sense is in danger of doing it.

Here's a terrible and terribly brief summary of Stumbling on Happiness for my benefit, so I can remember the main points. If you have any interest in reading the book, don't spoil it for yourself.
We live to benefit our future selves, who are usually ungrateful. The mistakes we make when we try to imagine our personal futures are lawful and regular. Squirrels store nuts by instinct, and dogs can learn that rolling over precludes a tasty treat, but only humans think about the future, and we do it constantly. Daydreaming is pleasurable, and anticipating unpleasant eents can minimize their impact, or our "fearcasts" can motivate us to avoid future problems. Most importantly, making choices (or believing we are in control) is more important for happiness than where we actually end up.

There are semantic confusions over happiness ("I'm not happy, but I'm happy you're happy"). More fundamentally, confusion arises because each person's experience of anything is probably different than another's, even if we've been trained to use the same language to describe our different experiences. And, we cannot truly compare how we feel about an experience now to how we feel about a similar experience that happened before (when we were a different person). Even worse, we can be wrong about what we are feeling.

We do not remember the past; we construct it based on a stored skeleton. We take the same shortcut when perceiving the present and imagining the future. When imagining a future event, we fill in details and leave many out. And, we fill in with a material called "today", so our predictions of the distant future look too much like the present. Likewise, how we feel now impacts how we imagine feeling in the future, and we compare the present to the past rather than to the possible (a $100 speaker set compared to last week's sale price of $50, rather than to what other satisfaction might be had for $100). We still make mistakes when comparing to the possible (the $100 speaker set looks great next to the $2000 set.) To accurately predict how we'll feel about a possible future, we should consider what kind of comparison we'll be making in the future, not what comparison we're making now (we won't be comparing the acoustic quality of the $200, boxy speaker set side-by-side with the $150, small and elegant speaker set next week when the boxy speakers are ruining our decor).

The brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, and the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants. We think we will regret actions more than inactions, but in the future we almost always regret inactions more. When expeience crosses a threshold of unhappiness, our psychological immune system cooks facts and shifts blame to allow us a more positive view, but it doesn't do this for small annoyances that don't cross the threshold. That's why repeated instances of stubbed toes and dirty socks on the staircase can be more psychologically damaging than a job loss.

We tend to remember the most uncommon times, and think they are representative. So, we predict the worst or best futures, and ignore the most likely. Easily perpetuated beliefs also affect our expectations of happiness ("money [over $30K] brings happiness", "children bring happiness", even though neither appear to be true). So how can we be happy? We could make choices based on probability*utility (for happiness), but we are so poor at predicting utility.

I do take issue with something Mr. Gilbert used to illustrate a later point. He wrote that "genes tend to be transmitted when the make us do the things that transmit genes." This may be true for animals, but with self-aware humans, especially self-aware human who have effective means of birth control, things work differently. Animals continue to evolve via natural selection - except when humans interfere, which is a lot - but humans no longer procreate based on superior genes. Social, economic, and religious circumstances are infinitely more important. Natural selection doesn't work on humans.

Once again, when I want to wonder aloud, I do it in front of my friends at Listology.

One key principle stated in For Men Only was something like "Emotional security is far more important to a woman in a relationship than financial security." A few female friend confirmed this, and I'm still skeptical. There seems to be too much statistical and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

A study of online dating showed that money was by far the quality most likely to score men date offers. And money is regularly cited with "good sense of humor" as a top attractor for women, neither of which indicate emotional security in the least.

Finally, among the people I observe, it is very common for women to be attracted to men with money, and also very common for women to be attracted to men who will clearly never provide any emotional security. It appears to me that many of the most-desired men I know are distant and, indeed, have only ever had relationships that are emotionally insecure and volatile (esp. for the woman involved).

I've also seen women attracted to men whose qualities predict emotional security for the woman, but they seem relegated to a certain section of uber-religious people (to which I belong, actually).

Most of my evidence is narrow and anecdotal, but they are strong enough for me that I remain confused about whether women truly prefer emotional security to financial security. And so, I'm highly curious. Will anyone enlighten me?

I'm not sure how enlightening (or enlightened) this off-the-top-of-my-head response will be but I think that...

Emotional security in a relationship (for a woman) insures financial security at least to the ability of the man to provide. The man won't be spending (his time, attention, money, whatever) elsewhere. "Financial" security means nothing if a partner is spending resources on others... no matter how much money is involved. To cliché away: a well-kept mistress, no matter how big a stipend she gets, is still coming in second (or third or more) to someone else. There is always the threat that the financial "security" (notice how the quotation marks shift) will be taken away and spent on someone else.

Online dating is not a relationship... really. No matter how many emoticons are used "attractiveness" has to be based on something quantifiable. I'm not sure where I've read this but I believe that no matter what your profile says you are more likely to get dates online if you post a picture of yourself. (You like Blink. There has to be something to "blink" about.) In the absence of other evidence then money implies all kinds of things beyond wealth. I'd also argue that "good sense of humor" is a place holder for emotional connectedness. You laugh with those you find simpatico.

"Relationships that are emotionally insecure and volatile." Aye, there's the rub (and the rubbing.) Keep in mind that people in those kinds of relationships are much flashier than happy and stable relationships. Those tempestuous relationships also skew younger which might explain your anecdotal evidence. Married couples have more sex than unmarried people. You've probably heard another cliché: "All the good men are taken." It's true. All of the "good men" are in stable relationships What's left in the dating pool are the stability-challenged. If you can't get what you need emotionally then the second best strategy might be going for the money. (Then there's the third best strategy... fourth, etc.)

I'd say that religion (possibly with a capital 'R') is an indicator of stability... not in the beliefs themselves but in terms of ties to the community, social investment and so on.

"[Your] evidence is narrow and anecdotal" which is probably appropriate. But remember that anecdotal evidence is still evidence... and like any evidence it must be weighed against other evidence. But this is all just a first draft and quite a breeze at that.

Keep in mind that all of my relationships have been failed ones.

"Keep in mind that people in those kinds of relationships are much flashier than happy and stable relationships." Thank you. That's a very important point I'd forgotten even though I just read Stumbling on Happiness, which pointed out similar perception problems many times.

If I join eHarmony, I want a profile question for "likelihood of providing emotional security."

If you don't mind going back a decade to the time of Netscape Navigator 3.0 there is some good evidence from personal ads, the online dating of the day, that "emotional security" is of paramount importance to women. I'm not sure if the article refutes your statistical evidence but it does touch on the question of "whether women truly prefer emotional security to financial security." It also provides some helpful advice on how to get a date.

To prove they have what it takes to tackle this child-care job, both male and female humans hunting for potential mates have developed a wide range of advertising strategies. During Homo sapiens's earlier, less civilized era, a male looking for a partner would do what he could to exhibit size, strength, and access to baby-rearing resources like food and territory, all of which would give offspring he sired a greater chance of surviving. In twentieth-century urban centers, a man who strips off his shirt, stands on top of a rock in the middle of a plot of land, and begins pant-hooting at passersby is not going to attract many takers. But if the same man's homestead is in Greenwich, Connecticut, and includes a Tudor house and a three-car garage, he might actually turn some heads.
You might not accept the intellectual foundation but you've previously expressed an interest in Bateman's principle, Robin Dunbar and Wonderbras... make of that what you will.

On a more musical note there has been a previous discussion of Robin Dunbar, dating and finger length ratios. There's also some gratuitous slandering of oboists which is always good fun.

Thanks for that article. I read most of it. And it makes sense now that financial security, together with some other qualities, may predict emotional security. After all, more money means less stress, less conflict, less crime, more romantic meals at Jean Georges' and less at McDonald's.

I know that the exerpt above could appear to be making that case (which might very possibly be true) but I don't think that was the author's intent. I think Dunbar and Waynforth would say that they provided evidence that the promise of shared parental investment, "emotional security" in other words, is increasingly the key element of a relationship... especially for women.

Waynforth and Dunbar also suspected that both men and women in lower income brackets would be less demanding than people in higher ones, on the theory that these people did not have as many resources to offer and could therefore not be especially picky in return. This prediction, however, was also disproved, and Dunbar believes he knows why. In a postindustrial society in which job opportunities for both sexes have more or less equalized, parenting skills are increasingly being measured less by material possessions than by a willingness to invest the time necessary to bring children up well. On its face, this conclusion would seem self-evident ("Male, 35, with absolutely no child-rearing skills but a truly bitchin' Lexus, seeks mate"), but Dunbar was happy to see it confirmed anyway.

"More and more," he says, "people are saying to one another, 'Listen, I don't want your money--what I need from you is something much more important: the commitment to participate in raising a child.' " But then again I'm rather wary about drawing conclusions from exerpts and/or incomplete articles.

My earlier post was my own supposition. But I don't hear many women, especially young women, talking about looking for a good father as much as they gab about other qualities. Then again, I always get more looks when I'm cradling a baby in my arms.

0dysseus talking about volatile relationships skewing younger reminded me of a theory that my friend has. He said that in terms of how they act around women, there are three types of men in the world: the asshole/rebel type, the stable husband type, and the really lucky ones. For a while women are attracted to the first type, but there comes a time at some point in their lives, around mid-20s, when they start becoming attracted to the second type. The third type, then, is the guy who starts off as the asshole but then matures into the husband. Does this theory explain your anecdotal evidence at all? I'm tempted to believe 0dysseus's point that with the husband type, emotional and financial security both go with the territory.

I'm having a hard time thinking of assholes that matured into good husbands. But I know a narrow spectrum of people.

OT: I fail to reject the hypotheses that volatile relationships skew younger, and that the elevated divorce rate in the Bible Belt may be explained by its pressures to marry young, due to its prohibition of premarital sex.