Books Read in 2005, Part II

Tags: 

Part I is here.


Favorite Books Read in 2005:

  1. Wild At Heart by John Eldredge
  2. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  5. A History of Rock Music, 1951-2000 by Piero Scaruffi
  6. America (The Book) by Daily Show writers, et al
  7. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  8. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
  9. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  11. Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson
  12. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
  13. Persepolis & Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
  14. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
  15. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  16. A New Kind of Christian by Brian D. McLaren
  17. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  18. Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos
  19. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  20. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  21. Stiff by Mary Roach
  22. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville



Didn't Finish:


1. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds by Howard Gardner. This very quickly went the way of 'The Power of Intention,' so I dropped it.
2. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science by James Trefil. Everyone 'should' know? Most of this is useless junk, and sometimes not even interesting junk.
3. In Six Days : Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation by John F. Ashton. I flipped through the headings and realized that almost all were about debunking evolution, not supporting 6-day creation - and the headlined 'problems' with evolution had mostly all been explained in my recent evolutionary book readings (some of them written more than a DECADE previous to this book's essays).
4. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. I gave up in frustration. The first 100 pages are excellent, but everything after that is too 'far out' to be worth reading. It's a futile aspiration to explain to laypeople what the world's greatest scientists do not understand at an intuitive level. Worse, nothing in string theory - or much of quantum mechanics - is based on actual evidence. It's all just speculation about possible explanations for natural phenomena. Perhaps that's the best we can do, but it's not good enough for me.
5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. This probably isn't a bad book like my other aborted reads. But it was clearly entertainment literature, and it didn't give me enough reason to read 1000 pages. Had it been 300 pages or if I was in more of a 'novel' mood this year, I probably would've finished and generally enjoyed it.
6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. This was shaping up to be a great book, and probably would've ended up 'Highly Recommended', but I've simply lost all interest in fiction novels.
7. The 247 Best Movie Scenes in Film History by Sanford Levine. I just didn't like the selection. And it's organized boringly by subject rather than the rightly-popular ranking system.
8. Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul by Jack Canfield, et al. I guess this kind of thing tries to rub my cold dead heart back to life too vigorously, so I found it irritating.
9. The Big Picture by William Goldman. In my mid-teens I was quite insane and William Goldman was my favorite screenwriter. Somewhere around the writing of Dreamcatcher, Goldman himself went insane. This collection of essays is remarkably banal and unnecessary and not very interesting. I read a few, skimmed some others, and threw it back down.
10. Edly's Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman. Seems like a good book, but I realized part-way through that there's no point in learning all this if I'm not going to apply it right now because I'll just forget it all. So, I'll hunt this book down again once I'm going to devote myself to making music, which won't be for many years.
11. Art: A Field Guide by Robert Cumming. Great book, but meant as a 'field guide', not a book you can just read and memorize. So, maybe I'll buy it at a later time. It's definitely an 'own' book, not a 'borrow' book.
12. On Flirtation by Adam Phillips. Phillip's definition of flirtation is much broader than what I was interested in. This is a pscyhobabble book, not a useful one. It may be intelligent and original to compare flirtation with a passage of Milton's Paradise Lost but it is not practically useful. If you're looking for a mental gymnastics program, this may intrigue you. I wasn't, and it didn't.
13. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde in the 20th Century by P. Adams Sitney. A very in-depth and intelligent dissection of avant-garde film that engaged me for a while but later I decided I wasn't in the mood to delve quite so deep, at least not right now.
14. How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia : Language, History, Theory by James Monaco. I requested the newer, multimedia edition, but my library sent me the 1977 copy. I scanned over some interesting passages on theory and early film technology, but I'll try to get my hands on the newer copy instead.
15. Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us by John Ratey. Just because I didn't read some chapters doesn't mean I got nothing from it. It's very appealing and sensible to think that nothing is black and white, especially something so complex as mental illness. I'm now quite certain I have mild ADD - and that knoweldge isn't frightening, it's empowering (though it does give me another excuse for failing to live my potential). Naturally, my mild ADD is a reason I didn't read the whole thing. My making it through a book is surely a high compliment to the writer's ability to engage.
16. A Brief History of Time : From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking. I don't know why I grabbed this. I've already read 2 or 3 more recent books on the same subjects this year. Whoops.
17. Desiring God by John Piper. I didn't realize desiring God relied entirely on mental gymnastics and wringing every last drop of possible inference from the deepest pockets of Scripture.
18. Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Everything I read was just the narrator talking about his views on things; no plot. It's a style that can work, just not one I cared for.
19. The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson. A good book, and a decent refresher on social psychology, but it wasn't what I was looking for, so I gave it up.
20. How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman. Wow, I should look people in the eye and smile and imitate their body language and build rapport? Ya think? Gee, thanks for the tips, Nick!


Finished Reads:


31. 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. Highly Recommended.


32. 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. Not Recommended.


33. 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! Highly Recommended.


34. 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, reassuring, and Highly Recommended.


35. 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. Highly Recommended.


36. 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. Not Recommended.


37. 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. Not Recommended.


38. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.
Wonderful. 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. Highly Recommended.


39. 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). Recommended.


40. 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? Recommended.


41. Microsoft Excel Version 2002 Step By Step by Curtis Frye
Still not sure if I should count these, but I will. Recommendation Irrelevant.


42. 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. Highly Recommended.


43. 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. Not Recommended.


44. 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. Not Recommended.


45. 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. Recommended.


46. 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. Highly Recommended.


47. 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. Recommended.


48. Microsoft Outlook Version 2002: Step By Step by Perspection, Inc.
I hate this program. But anyway: Recommendation Irrelevant.


49. 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. Recommended.


50. 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. Recommended.


51. 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. Recommended.


52. 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. Recommended.


53. 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 anything 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. Highly Recommended.


54. 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. Highly Recommended.


55. 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. Recommended.


56. 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. Recommended.

Cloned From: 

I'm loving The Culture of Fear. Watch all those political documentaries if you will, but this is where it's at; a great book about one of the more important topics of our era. With me, it's mostly preaching to the choir, but Glassner is so good that he's managed to change my long-held beliefs about gun control!

He's also my new hero for arguing something I've been shouting for years:

Pg. 89-90: "As recently as a century ago the average age for menarche was sixteen or older, whereas today girls typically have their first menstrual period by age thirteen, and some as early as age nine... whatever the reason, the implications of early menarche are plain. Only lately have girls been called on by society to wait so long from the onset of sexual maturity before having children."

Hell Yes!

This is part of a bigger argument I'm fond of making about how silly our society is for putting such a distance between the age of sexual maturity and the 'acceptible' age of sexual practice. Only in the past few centuries have 'civilized' societies expected people not to marry or, especially in earlier times, have sex before roughly age 18 - a far cry away from the sexual maturity usually arrived at by age 16 or, today, 10-13! (I wonder if male sexual maturity happened at 16 a century ago, or if it has always been achieved near age 13.)

Of course, the people who most vocally complain about sexually active teens and pre-teens are the chief elements that stretch that widening gap: fearful parents, government officials, and deeply religious people. Gotta love irony.

From The Culture of Fear: "Only 1% of the nation's antidrug budget goes to stopping prescription drug abuse" (pg. 132), and yet "the abuse of prescription drugs... sends adolescents to emergency rooms more often than cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and LSD combined" (pg. 146). Wow, just had to quote that.

The Culture of Fear is wonderful and important, but sadly, it and books like it have been ineffective. If anything, Americans are more afraid than ever. After a few jets were hijacked and crashed on September 11, we flew less and drove more - even though driving is much safer - and we confiscated nail clippers and tweezers at the gates. When George Bush told us Saddaam had 'weapons of mass destruction', we launched a war that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, even though no weapons were ever found. The biggest contribution of the new Department of Homeland Security is a ratings system that switches between 'Be sort of afriad' and 'Be very afraid' instead of providing any useful information. This book needs a second edition to address the increase in unfounded (or misdirected) American fear since (but not because of) the book's release.

Amen. I think every American should read this book.

I think the ultimate irony of 9/11 in reference to Culture of Fear is that the book gives many examples of things the media tells us we can do to be safer... but what was the mistake of the majority of people who died in 9/11? Going to work. They went to work in the World Trade Center just like every other day. It's not like the media can tell them to stop going to work.

BTW, I think you mean flying is much safer. Other than that, great point!

Ah shit, the time limit for editing posts is up. Maybe this is too insignificant to bother Jim about, but: Jim, would you fix me up? I meant to say that "flying is much safer".

I wonder how much the anomaly of 9/11 spiked the stastics on workplace fatalities for the year 2001?

American (The Book) slays me. I haven't laughed this long or hard since I first say Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Some quotes (but every paragraph is this good):

As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death - all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself.

Vomitoriums aside, Rome's biggest contribution to American government was probably its legal system, which codified key concepts like equal protection, "innocent until pr oven guilty," and the right to confront one's accusers. These very same issues would later form the basis of both the Bill of Rights and a mind-numbing quantity of Law and Order scripts. But by the time of Rome's huge millennium celebration marking the beginning of 0 A.D., the faint light of Roman democracy was all but extinguished. The Republic had given way to Empire. The only voting to speak of took place in the Colosseum and was generally limited to a handful of disembowelment-related issues. In time, the Empire itself fell, as history teaches us all empires inevitably must (except America). Its most enduring legacy: a numerical system that allowed future generations to more easy keep track of Super Bowls.

The Ages of Democracy: A Guide

1. Infancy
Congratulations! You've ended your religious/economic/ethnic repression and thrown off the yoke of your despot/king/ayatollah through a bloody/bloodless war/coup/voluntary exile. Now it's time to choose your first leader. He/she (OK, "he") may have commanded your way effort, but could also be a prominent exile returning home from his villa on the Cote d'Azur. First step: Draft a new constitution. (Use pencil.) Next, hold your first election. Is it fraudulent? Don't worry - everybody's proud of you just for trying! (Tip: Naming a new national capital? Why not call it "[Your Country] City!")

[snip]

2. Middle Age
One day, your democracy will look in the mirror and behold a scary sight: Voter turnout is thinning, your welfare system is bloated, you're completely dominated by corporate interests, and you haven't had a proper election in years. When this happens, a nation may go through a mid-life crisis, seeking solace in superficial "toys," like satellite-based lasers to shoot down missiles or action stars turned politicians. Don't be surprised if old allies decide to leave you and start referring to you as a "once-great" nation. Ultimately, you will have to decide whether to quietly make peace with your declining power, or to go out in a blaze of glory, taking Mideast peace/world fish stocks/the ozone layer with you.

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue...
...and discovered America. Now, some have argued Columbus actually discovered the West Indies, or that Norsemen had discovered America centuries earlier, or that you can't really get credit for discovering a land already populated by indigenous people with a developed civilization. Those people are communists. Columbus discovered America.

Unconvinced film fans: America (The Book) also contains references to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Seventh Seal and Dogme 95.

Man, I suck: look at all those typos! "American" (The Book)? And, 'Middle Age' is stage 4, not stage 2, in the 'Ages of Democracy' guide.

On _America: The Book_. I simply loved it as well. The way the book is set up as one of those old social studies books we loved to hate is great. But other than that, I agree, the book is absolutely funny and hilarious. It would be scary if it were not for the fact that if one looks at how America runs, the authors are not too far off from the truth. Everyone should read this book at one point or another.

Yes, the book is often a direct critique of the current state of affairs.

What I learned from Top Ten of Everything 2005:

Countries with the highest life expectancy are the tiny Andorra and San Marino. Japan is #3 at 81.2. The world average is 64.3 (U.S. at 77.7). Ten nations in Africa have a life expectancy of less than 40, with Botswana bottoming out at 29.4.

AIDS has the 2nd-largest death toll of any epidemic in recorded history, behind Black Death and ahead of the flu outbreak in the late 1910s. The epidemic is ongoing, of course.

Death Valley is the 2nd hottest place on earth. Locations in Libya are 1st and 3rd.

Women marry at 16.6 years of age, on average in Congo. 17.8 in Afganistan. Dozens of nations average under 20 years of age.

Which country has the longest coastline? Canada, then Indonesia and then Russia.

50% of Ugandans are under age 15. There are only 4.61 people per square mile in Mongolia.

The tallest habitable building in 1900 was Park Row Building, at 391 feet. The tallest habitable building now is Petronas Towers at 1,483 feet.

Top 3 bestselling books:
1. The Bible (6 billion)
2. Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-Tung (900K)
3. The Lord of the Rings (100K+)

India produces 1,200 films a year. The US is #2 at 543 (in 2002). But the US spent 14.6 billion in 2002 on film production, and India only 192K (#8).

Luxembourg is the richest country in the world (per capita), US is #2. Africa essentially fills the top 10 poorest countries.

An interesting quote from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

After eons of slow accumulation, human knowledge has snowballed into an era of momentum-fed, multiplicative, monstrous expansion. We now live in a world where most of the information is less than fifteen years old. In certain fields of science alone (for example, physics), knowledge is said to double every eight years... What's more, this rapid growth is likely to continue, since 90 percent of all scientists who have ever lived are working today.

[snip]

Because technology can evolve much faster than we can, our natural capacity to process information is likely to be increasingly inadequate to handle the surfeit of change, choice, and challenge that is characteristic of modern life. More and more frequently, we find outselves in the position of the lower animals - with a mental apparatus that is unequipped to deal thoroughly with the intricacy and richness of the outside environment. Unlike the animals, whose cognitive powers have always been relatively deficient, we have created our own deficiency by constructing a radically more complex world.

The author does not give his sources for those fascinating statistics, but they are fascinating and believable. The contextual point is that we will increasingly have to rely on mental shortcuts to live our lives in an impossibly complex world, and those shortcuts allow us to be manipulated, or allow us to manipulate others.

In his preface to On Fliration, Adam Phillips cites his intention to write for the common man and fails:

Apart from chapter 5, 'Besides Good and Evil', all of these lectures and essays were written originally for non-psychoanalytic audiences; and I have kept them to their occasions, which can be found in the Acknowledgements. This may only be obtrusive, if at all, in the lecture 'On Success', which was written for an audience of student counsellors. All writing, like all flirting, is occasional (though some writing may depend upon concealing its occasions). The few repetitions in the book, of quotations and phrases, indicate preoccupations and so have been left as such.

He's no Malcolm Gladwell. I hope it gets better.

If anyone knows of other great, well-written sociology/psychology investigations like The Tipping Point, The Psychology of Persuasion, and Blink, be sure to recommend them!

What were some of the arguments in the pro-life book that sold you?

The central question for many on the issue of abortion seems to be, "When does life begin?" To me, conception makes the most sense. Before conception, the young individual with unique DNA does not exist. After conception, he/she does. The fertilized egg grows rapidly and develops its own features based on its DNA. After only 9 days the baby's gender can be determined scientifically. Within 42 days, the child's brain controls its muscles and organs independently of the mother. By nine weeks, unborn children have even been known to suck their thumbs. Clearly, the baby is alive. Every surgical abortion stops a beating heart and ceases measurable brain waves; kills a living human.

So why isn't every sperm sacred? As any scientist will tell you, neither egg nor sperm can become anything other than what it is. When they are joined (conception), a new life begins and the cell can seperate a trillion times to form each unique piece of that person, based on its unique DNA.

Furthermore, an unborn child is clearly not just another part of the woman's body. Every cell of their two bodies is different, and carries unique DNA. The mother's body has its own heart and lungs and brain, and so does the child's own body. In some states, a pregnant woman who takes illicit drugs can be prosecuted for 'delivering a controlled substance to a minor.' So, you can't harm the child, but you can kill him/her? Something isn't part of another thing simply for being inside it. I'm not a car when I'm driving and I'm not a bed while sleeping.

The term 'pro-choice' is misleading. Being pro-life doesn't mean you are anti-choice, but it does acknowledge that some choices are illegitimate. We've always had laws to govern the choices we make with our bodies. It's illegal to put controlled substances in them. It's illegal to use them to assault others. And most importantly, it's illegal to use our bodies to kill others. Women should have many choices, but they should not be allowed the choice to kill another living human being. You wouldn't say, "I'm pro choice. That's why I believe every man has the right to rape a woman if that's his choice. We can't tell him what to do with his body."

The right to privacy isn't an absolute right; it's always governed by other rights. A man who beats his wife and abuses his children can't defend himself by saying, "What I do privately in my own house is nobody's business but mine."

Beyond moral and legal arguments, we must consider the negative effects of abortion on a woman's physical and mental health. Statistically, all types of death (especially breast cancer) are higher with women who have had induced abortions. Abortion also increases the likelihood of later premature or underweight births, malformations, and early death. Dozens of studies tie abortion to a rise in sexual dysfunction, aversion to sex, loss of intimacy, unexpected guilt, extramarital affairs, traumatic stress syndrome, grief response, child abuse and neglect, and increases in alcohol and drug abuse.

Many other convincing arguments answer specific arguments made by pro-choicers, so I'll wait to see if they brought up.

If I remember correctly, you are pro-choice. What do you see as the central reasons why you believe as you do?

First of all, even if someone things abortion is wrong, I don't think it makes sense to legalize it. There will still be need for abortions in America - maybe not quite as many, but still plenty will be done in back alleys with clothes hangers. Whatever negative effects you think abortion has now, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, things would be much worse.

In any case, a fetus may be living in some ways, but it relies entirely on its mother to get by. It would not be able to subsist without sucking nutrients out of its mother. It is basically a parasite. When a doctor tries to separate Siamese twins and one of them dies, is he considered a murderer? Of course not - and here he has "killed" a person who is already out of the womb. As a more bizarre analogy, I wonder if you've heard of Judith Jarvis Thompson's famous pro-choice argument. If you don't feel like reading it, I'll sum it up. A famous violinist needs two kidneys to survive, but he has a rare blood type. The Society of Music Lovers finds that you have this blood type. They kidnap you in the night, and you wake up in a hospital bed the next day, hooked up to the violinist so that your kidneys can function for both you and him. The hospital apologizes for performing the operation, saying they never would have done it if they had known you'd been kidnapped. They tell you you can either remove the hooks, causing the violinist to die, or you can live for nine months attached to this violinist (after nine months he'll be cured). Jarvis argues that you would have no moral obligation to choose the latter. Do you feel differently? What if the violinist wouldn't be cured after 9 months - he'd have to stay hooked to you for his whole life in order to survive? It's longer than pregnancy, sure, but that doesn't change the fact that the violinist has a right to life. Would you unhook the violinist if you had to be attached to him for your whole life?

As for your 6th paragraph, I'm surprised to hear this coming from someone who normally puts so little stock in scientific knowledge. For every study that says abortion leads to bad things, I bet there's another that says abortion is perfectly fine. And I bet you there are many more studies showing the negative effects of a mother raising a kid against her will. That can't be good for the kid's self-esteem, eh?

Now from a strictly utilitarian standpoint. Many acknowledge that humanity runs the risk of running out of its resources sometime in the next century or so. America goes through environmental resources like a fat kid through cheese fries. This is always a touchy subject, but we've got to control the population somehow, and what better way than by not giving birth to the babies that no one is able to take care of? Whenever pro-lifers try to dazzle me with statistics about the thousands of fetuses that are aborted every day, I think, wow, think of how many mouths to feed that would be. Imagine the millions more people we would have, chomping away at Earth's resources, if those abortions had never occurred. Obviously, this isn't a moralistic argument, but it's still something that ought to be considered.

Now keep in mind that I don't think abortion is a good thing. I don't go around to pregnant women encouraging them to get rid of that extra weight. But I recognize it as something that is necessary in society. Please - teach abstinence, teach safe sex, but it's not going to reach everyone. People need to be able to get abortions. If you think abortion is evil, I would say it is a necessary evil. And many people are pro-lifers by blanket statement, thinking that rape victims, incest victims, or women who would die if they gave birth shouldn't be allowed to get abortions. Yes, some people would rather kill a pregnant woman than kill an unborn fetus. Guess the word "pro-life" is misleading too.

Erm, I did a search for Judith Jarvis Thompson and clicked the first link I found, not realizing that it's actually a page pointing out the flaws in the argument. True, you could criticize the argument for only applying to rape, since in the example, you were kidnapped against your will. So, here's a more refined analogy, as I plan to outdo Thompson.

Take the violinist story, but add a twist. Before the kidnapping, you had heard a rumor that the Society of Music Lovers planned to kidnap you and hook your kidneys up to the violinist. However, you heard tell of a concert in town where the musician is so amazing that it literally gives you an orgasm. You think that sounds pretty awesome, and even though you suspect Society of Music Lovers would be there, you go to the concert anyway. The concert is great, but that's where you're kidnapped.

There. Now is it wrong to unhook the violinist?

"There will still be need for abortions in America." This is a good point. I think the image of 'back alleys with a clothes hanger' is melodramatic and highly unlikely, though. I'd expect RU-486 and similar drugs to flood the black market and for black market doctors to perform abortions in 'private ORs'. Nevertheless, it's clear that some abortions would still happen, illegally, with less safety than if they were performed legally. I think the most important step, the one pro-lifers should be shooting for right now, is more knowledge for women who want to abort. Right now, abortion clinic 'counsellors' are abortion clinic salesman. As many have testified, they are not even aware of the medical facts or of alternatives like adoption. They never ever recommend a woman keeps the baby or gives it up for adoption, but are trained in selling abortions. As a result, 2/3 of women who abort describe themselves as "forced into abortion" and 84% say they would've kept their babies under better circumstances (more support from friends & family, especially the father, and better knowledge of the risks at the time of abortion). Furthermore, there are more than one million couples waiting to adopt a child, but only 50,000 are put up for adoption each year.

"...a fetus may be living in some ways, but it relies entirely on its mother to get by... it is basically a parasite." Yet those dependent on a respirator and nutrients from an IV drip are alive. They aren't any less alive for being a parasite to the medical equipment.

"When a doctor tries to seperate Siamese twins and one of them dies, [he is not] considered a murderer." If the conjoined twins were going to die, losing one life is better than losing two. Here, the death of one child is a tragic side-effect of a lifesaving effort. If the surgery was performed for convenience reasons and one died of complications during surgery, then this is the same as any other surgery that is meant to improve the quality of life or to save it but imperfect medical procedure or conditions unfortunately ended a life. Neither of these scenarios is the same as willfully killing someone who will otherwise survive.

"Take the violinist story, but add a twist." I started writing my response about how the Judith Thompson's extremely hypothetical scenario is only a parallel for abortion of a child produced by rape before following the link (I still haven't) or reading your twist on the scenario. Though your twist confuses things a bit, the victim is still kidnapped against her will - that's rape. Going to the concert means you're not very smart, like a young, gorgeous white girl walking nude through Harlem. Her stupidity is no excuse for murder, and neither is the crime of the rapist. Dare I add "Two wrongs don't make a right"?

Rape has been estimated as the cause of anywhere from 1% to 0.1% of children who are aborted. Furthermore, becauce conception is not immediate, pregnancy can be prevented in many rape cases by washing away the semen before fertilization. And again, there are a million people in the U.S. ready to adopt that child. Let's punish the rapist, not the child.

"I'm surprised to hear this coming from someone who normally puts so little stock in scientific knowledge." I'm not sure where I misled you about my opinion of scientific knowledge. I think science is great, but that it is inadequate in many situations to which it is applied. For example, science is not capable of articulating the 'big bang', if there was one. Also, science is not the 'final word,' because science is limited to only one facet of the universe: the physical. Furthermore, our minds are always to finite to interpret the information with 100% accuracy. But studies of human behavior by polling are a little different than the type of science I occasionally find suspect. There is always a margin of error, but I've never heard of a study that says abortion is fine (in regards to physical and mental after effects), or actually has positive affects on a woman's mental and physical health. Have you heard of one?

There are many studies showing the negative affects of parents raising children they don't want or don't love. These children, expectedly, perform worse in school and are more likely to abuse drugs. But remember that just because the mother doesn't want a child doesn't mean the child is unwanted. Like I said before, there are a million people in the U.S. alone who do want those children, even disabled ones (for example, those with Down syndrome and spina bifada. And significantly, there has not been a single organization of parents of mentally retarded children to endorse abortion). In fact, there's such a demand that adoption itself has gone black market, where babies are sold for as much as $50,000.

But either way, unwantedness is no excuse for killing a child. When children are unwanted to the point of abuse or neglect, the government often seizes them for foster parent care - we never kill them.

"Now, from a strictly utilitarian standpoint." This eventually comes back to eugenics - is it right to kill innocent people to make this world better for the rest of us, and for future generations? That's an interesting topic, but not immediately relevant to our discussion, I think. We might discuss it as a seperate topic, if you like.

"Guess the word 'pro-life' is misleading too." I'd love to hear a number on how many pro-lifers would rather save the baby than the mother in that extremely rare situation, but I doubt such a number exists. I'm pretty sure the majority of pro-lifers would save whoever can be saved (pro-life about child and woman). Contrary to popular belief, there aren't really cases where if the baby is saved, the mother will die, but if the mother is saved, the baby will die. Usually when it seems one must die for the other to live, it is clear who will die anyway and who can be saved (usually, it is the mother who can be saved). In these rare cases, one life lost is better than two lives lost.

I would be 100% in favor of better abortion information. That 2/3 figure sound rather high to me (of course, I've never attempted to get an abortion or talked to an abortion clinic counsellor), but if it is true, that's a pretty frightening statistic. Definitely, definitely more abortion education.

There's a difference between someone who depends on instruments that are designed to keep them living, and someone who depends on a tube attached to another human being just to be able to subsist. And there's another difference between if the being is an actual person with life experiences, and if the being is a fetus.

About the violinist story - don't think of the kidnapping as the sex, think of it as the impregnating. The analogy is that a woman has become pregnant against her will. The concert is the sex, and you chose to go to the concert. Not very smart? C'mon, with a concert that good, how could you refuse? You took precautions. You wore a special anti-kidnapping coat that prevents kidnapping 85% of the time. There are only a few days out of the month when the Society of Music Lovers is organized enough to kidnap you anyway. And even if the concert was on one of those days, there's no guarantee that the Music Lovers will find you, since it's dark in the symphony and they're all just searching around blindly, even though there are millions of them and only one of you. You have a much, much better chance than a gorgeous naked girl in Harlem. But even though the odds were against it, you got kidnapped anyway. Would you disconnect the violinist?

I was mainly talking about your mantra that our scientific knowledge is completely overturned every few years. But I guess polling is a little different than that. I still say there are probably studies saying abortion is okay, but even if there aren't, I still think women should be allowed to choose the option once they've weighed the considerations.

The parents that are likely to join organizations of parents of mentally retarded children are not ones likely to endorse aborting their children. I would imagine that some parents of disabled children resent that they didn't get the kid aborted and start with a clean slate. Those parents are not the ones who join organizations. In terms of unwanted children, the government doesn't kill foster children because they've already been born. You can't make such drastic comparisons between living human beings with natural rights and self-awareness and free will and reasoning capabilities, and parasitic fetuses. Likewise, I don't think it's right to kill innocent people to make the world better for the rest of us, but I do think it's okay to abort fetuses.

As for adoption, I can think of plenty of reasons why a parent wouldn't want to give away their living baby for adoption. In any case, that is one option. Abortion is - and should be - another one.

"There's a difference between someone who depends on instruments that are designed to keep them living, and someone who depends on a tube attached to another human being just to be able to subsist." I'm pretty sure the mother's body is designed (by God or natural selection, doesn't matter) to keep the baby living - otherwise birth simply wouldn't work the way it does, so I'm not sure I see that difference. How 'bout the infant who is still totally dependent on his mother, who feeds and shelters him? The infant is still alive, and it's not right to kill him because he'd die without his mother (let's put the mother and child on a desert island for this one).

"And there's another difference between if the being is an actual person with life experiences, and if the being is a fetus." If life experiences determine whether someone is alive or dead, I call to mind the human being in a long-term coma who is aquiring no new experiences but is still alive. I also call upon the recent studies that show that babies begin learning their native language while still in the womb.

Also, to many doctors who aren't directly selling abortions, 'fetus' refers to a stage of life just like 'adolescent' or 'infant' - it's not 'fetus' and then 'human.' 'Fetus' is a specific type of human that is in a certain stage in its life, and will (unless he/she is aborted) soon become an 'infant.'

"...don't think of the kidnapping as the sex, think of it as the impregnating." Okay, but going to the concert is different than having sex because everyone knows that having sex is designed to impregnate. It doesn't always happen, but that's its purpose. You can't have sex, find out you are pregnant, and then say the new life inside of you kidnapped you against your will. You can't get drive a car drunk, kill someone, and claim that not everyone who drives drunk kills someone so you aren't liable. But it's not the odds that determine whether or not you are liable for your actions, it's the choice. A woman who chooses to have sex has already chosen the possibility of pregnancy. I think its stupid that the climbers in Touching the Void would climb such a dangerous mountain because it is 'irresistably fun', but they knew they made the choice and put themselves at risk, and they didn't blame the mountain or say someone forced them to climb it when they barely got away with their lives.

You can refuse to attend the concert, no matter how good it is. I've been doing it for years and I'm not even capable of getting pregnant. Buy the CD and listen to it at home if you want to, but you always have a choice.

"Would you disconnect the violinist?" It's such an absurd scenario, I have no idea what I'd do. But I will answer the implied question about what we're really talking about, the question that actually has ramifications for real life: No, I would not kill the baby. If the mother can't or won't take care of him, I know a loving couple in Seattle who is dying to take care of him. (That's another problem with the violinist analogy - there's no alternative for the violinist but there is for the baby.)

As for adoption, I can think of plenty of reasons why a parent wouldn't want to give away their living baby for adoption. In any case, that is one option. Abortion is - and should be - another one." "How could I give my baby away?" Yet you could kill it? I'm all for options, but killing someone shouldn't be one of the options here.

"You can't make such drastic comparisons between living human beings with natural rights and self-awareness and free will and reasoning capabilities, and parasitic fetuses" This and some other side arguments we've made indeed come back to the question of when life begins. If you consider an unborn baby a living human being with the same rights as other living human beings, I doubt you'd condone murder of that living human being simply because it would be inconvenient for the mother, right?

Regardless of what the mother's body is designed to do, I see a difference in depending on inanimate instruments and depending on another living being. Everyone depends on things to live. If we didn't wear clothes in winter, we could freeze to death. If we didn't use a toilet to discard our body's waste, our stomachs could explode. And so on. That's what I'd compare IVs to. But a fetus doesn't depend on a thing, it depends on another living being. It gets its life from sucking it out of its mother.

Okay, forget life experiences. Defining life is a tricky subject anyway.

to many doctors who aren't directly selling abortions, 'fetus' refers to a stage of life just like 'adolescent' or 'infant' - If you want to argue terminology, there's plenty of idiosyncrasies that support pro-choice as well. When you turn 30, you say you're 30 years old, not 30 and 9 months old. Also, "life" has many meanings on dictionary.com, but I think the one that is most appropriate for our purposes is "The interval of time between birth and death." Feel free to argue that point with one of the other 12 definitions there.

sex is designed to impregnate - That's not the only thing it's designed for - it's also designed to give pleasure. Futhermore, contraceptives are designed to stop impregnation, and make it more likely that impregnation won't happen than it will happen. But they're not 100% effective.

You can't have sex, find out you are pregnant, and then say the new life inside of you kidnapped you against your will. - Well, you might get a weird stare for using the term "kidnapped", but other than that, why not? I think it's perfectly reasonable for a woman to claim that she was impregnated against her will. Sure, you can refuse to attend the concert. Or you can weigh the options, decide that the concert sounds so friggin' amazing that you would take the chance, and attend it, still not planning to get kidnapped. And if that happens I think you should be able to unhook the violinist. Rational people weigh consequences and make decisions. Some of them make mistakes. If we can fix those mistakes, why shouldn't we?

"How could I give my baby away?" Yet you could kill it? - But when you're giving it away, it's already born. Beforehand, it's just a bunch of cells that have gone through mitosis many, many times and is feeding off your nutrients.

If you consider an unborn baby a living human being with the same rights as other living human beings - Well, I don't.

"But a fetus doesn't depend on a thing, it depends on another living being." Just like the infant on the desert island with its mother. Just like every young marsupial.

"If you want to argue terminology..." No, I don't. I should have clarified that I didn't mean my point on 'fetus' as another argument for the pro-life position, merely as an aside. That sounds like a cop-out because it is.

"Rational people weigh consequences and make decisions. Some of them make mistakes. If we can fix those mistakes, why shouldn't we?" Because in this singular instance, 'fixing a mistake' means killing someone. That makes it very different from most decisions and mistakes.

"Well, I don't." Typo effect. I meant to say "If you considered..." My scenario was hypoethetical.

"Defining life is a tricky subject anyway." But it seems our debate keeps coming back to that. Would you like to try? I think these probably shouldn't be part of the equation: terminology, life experiences, free will, reasoning capabilities, dependency.

Another way of phrasing the question might be, "What is special about birth that should seperate living from nonliving among humans?

An infant may depend on its mother for food it can chew, but it doesn't physically depend on its mother. It doesn't latch onto its mother's body and suck the food out of her like a tapeworm. Technically, if soft food was on the ground that seemed tasty, there was a comfortable place to sleep, and there was a good place to poop, an infant could probably subsist on a desert island.

As for the young marsupials... well, we can argue the morality of killing a baby kangaroo, if you want. :-)

I still don't see the "fixing a mistake" as equivalent to killing someone, I see it as removing a clump of living cells that is pretty equivalent to bleeding. The only difference is that this clump of living cells could (assuming no complications with birth) become a human being in the future. And if that's what you find problematic, then why isn't every sperm sacred? It could become a human being in the future - all it needs is to combine with an egg. What if scientists develop a way to clone someone from their blood, such that blood is something that could become a human being in the future? Would bleeding then be murder, or would things be different just because it's not a natural way of creating life?

We could go into defining life, but I don't think it's going to get us anywhere, since both of our definitions will just reflect the way we feel about abortion. The things you describe aren't necessarily defining life IMHO, but I do think some of them are important to defining human life.

Finally, I offer a different take on things that may be up your alley. When God created man, He didn't create an embryo, He created a human being. Hence, the 9-month process is just a means of getting to a state of what God created, not a living human being in and of itself.

I answered the question about why every sperm isn't sacred above. Neither egg nor sperm can become anything other than what it is except for the singular event of conception. When the egg and sperm are joined (conception), a new life begins and the cell can seperate a trillion times to form each unique piece of that person, based on its unique DNA. At conception, a 'clump of living cells' with unique DNA and the ability to replicate itself into a body with characteristics seperate from the mother is formed. That seems very significant to me, much more significant than what happens at birth, when the already perfectly formed baby exits the womb and the umbillical cord is cut.

Your argument that brings God's creation into the equation still depends on when life begins. If we assume God first created an adult male (say, age 25 - whatever), then everything from conception through fetus through infant through adolescent was a development toward making another adult male (or female). Most of the development from virtually nothing to adult male actually happens before birth. After that, things just get bigger and smarter, no more.

Sperm and egg have unique DNA too, they just have half of a normal DNA strand. Why get rid of these half-embryos so frivolously?

My point about the creation story is sorta clarified by what you're saying (I think). That is, it's not that I'm saying anyone under Adam's age is insignificant, but the process of aging renders all humans as similar creations. Yes, most of the development happens before birth, but God didn't create something before birth. His creation was already born. Hence, pre-birth is not an end in and of itself, but a means to get to creation.

I still think your creation story argument is insignificant, but why are we drawing the line at birth? Why not say, "Hence, pre-adolescence is not an end in and of itself, but a means to get to creation [adulthood]"?

Sperm and egg have unique DNA, but they do not have a unique set of DNA that can replicate itself and build itself according to that DNA until they join (conception).

I think you answered your own question - we're drawing the line at birth because, in your own words, "Most of the development from virtually nothing to adult male actually happens before birth. After that, things just get bigger and smarter, no more." I agree with that - which is why we should just consider humans that have already been born as equivalent.

BTW, I love how all our arguments start with really long-winded, expansive posts, and are gradually pared down as we stop talking about the points that seem exhausted, until we get these tiny things.

While it's still true that most of human development happens before birth, it's more accurate to say that most of human development happens in the first 4 months - birth isn't a real cutoff point for human development, and that's not the point I was making when I brought it up.

Methinks we've had a good go at this, now. Anything else to add?

Nah, I'm spent.

A scene in Pixote agrees with your 'back alleys with clothes hangers' concern (in a quite gruesome way, as you can imagine), though that's in Brazil under different circumstances than we were discussing. Great movie, BTW, if you haven't seen it.

I Need to read more books :-)

Yes, yes you do. And remember: nonfiction!

My answers to just a few of Chuck Klosterman's "twenty-three questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I really love them" (questions abridged, from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs):

A rudimentary magician can do 5 simple tricks, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and making a coin disappear, etc. However, he's doing these things with real magic. It's no illusion: he can actually conjure the rabbit and destroy the matter of the coin with thought alone. However, his magic is limited to the 5 simple tricks. Is this person more impressive than Albert Einsten?

Hell no. Special powers that make performing stupid tricks easier than ever make an individual far less impressive than a math-hating secretary who unlocked the secrets of the universe by pure supposition.

An adult, healthy Clydesdale horse is upright but his hooves and head are shackled securely to the ground. Every political prisoner on earth will be released from captivity if you can kick the horse to death in less than 20 minutes with steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?

No. I'd love to kick a horse to death (quick! Guess why I'm still a virgin), but I'm guessing there are some political prisoners I don't want released, and it'd be too exhuasting to kick a horse whose body is a good 4.5 feet off the ground with heavy steel-toed boots in only 20 minutes. I'd do it if it would cure AIDS and I could use a spiked, titanium baseball bat.

Someone invents a VCR that lets you tape an entire night's worth of your own dreams so you can watch them at your leisure, but you must watch them with your family and closes friends. Would you still tape your dreams?

Sure. My dreams (unfortunately) don't contain any embarrassing scenes, as far as I can remember - just mostly weird and boring ones. But I'd love to know for sure, so yes.

You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractice, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: They are obsessed with The Dark Crystal. You'd have to watch the DVD with him/her once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's 'deeper philosophy.' Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

Fuck no. It'd probably be harder after a while than I'd now anticipate, but that'd be so worth it. Besides, people can change, right? Right?

You have a brain tumor. Though there is no discomfort at the moment, this tumor would unquestionably kill you in six months. However, your life can (and will) be saved by an operation, but the incision will leave you significantly less intelligent, less logical, and with a terrible memory. The surgery is in two weeks. How do you spend the next 14 days?

I have as much sex as possible and put a bullet in my brain the night before surgery. Not kidding, especially if I'm in my 50s already or older.

You have won a prize. Either you can spend a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000 or spend ten minutes on the moon, but not both. Which option do you select?

The moon. Europe would be much, much, much more fun, but I can do that 'anytime.'

Your best friend is napping on the floor of your living room. He/she is going to die unless you kick them as hard as you can in the rip cage. If you don't kick them while they're sleeping, they'll die in their sleep. But you can never explain this to your friend, or they will die instantly. Since you cannot tell your best friend the truth, what excuse do you make for this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

None. "Sorry, man, I just had to do it. Sorry. I won't ever do it again."

Do you love me, Chuck?

Anyone else care to answer those questions, or pose some of your own?

A rudimentary magician can do 5 simple tricks, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and making a coin disappear, etc. However, he's doing these things with real magic. It's no illusion: he can actually conjure the rabbit and destroy the matter of the coin with thought alone. However, his magic is limited to the 5 simple tricks. Is this person more impressive than Albert Einsten?

More impressive, yes. More important, no. But a whole lot could be hiding in that "etc."

An adult, healthy Clydesdale horse is upright but his hooves and head are shackled securely to the ground. Every political prisoner on earth will be released from captivity if you can kick the horse to death in less than 20 minutes with steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?

I strongly suspect the good done by this act would outweigh the bad, so I would do it.

Someone invents a VCR that lets you tape an entire night's worth of your own dreams so you can watch them at your leisure, but you must watch them with your family and closes friends. Would you still tape your dreams?

Nope!

You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractice, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: They are obsessed with The Dark Crystal. You'd have to watch the DVD with him/her once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's 'deeper philosophy.' Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

If this person is that great, I'd probably get obsessed with The Dark Crystal.

You have a brain tumor. Though there is no discomfort at the moment, this tumor would unquestionably kill you in six months. However, your life can (and will) be saved by an operation, but the incision will leave you significantly less intelligent, less logical, and with a terrible memory. The surgery is in two weeks. How do you spend the next 14 days?

The same way I would spend the next six months (if I get a choice in whether to get the operation) -- performing acts of charity and hedonism before my impending death or convalescence.

You have won a prize. Either you can spend a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000 or spend ten minutes on the moon, but not both. Which option do you select?

Probably Europe, but I have to ask: is the $2,000 subject to taxes? If so, how much? Oh, let's face it, I'd probably still choose Europe. No one would ever believe I'd been to the moon anyway, and it's pretty dull as satellites go. Now Io would be another story.

Your best friend is napping on the floor of your living room. He/she is going to die unless you kick them as hard as you can in the rip cage. If you don't kick them while they're sleeping, they'll die in their sleep. But you can never explain this to your friend, or they will die instantly. Since you cannot tell your best friend the truth, what excuse do you make for this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

"Loose wire, tripped."

The $2,000 are not subject to taxes. Any trip to the moon warrants at least some TV time, so people would believe you'd gone. And how long would a trip to Io with our current spaceflight technology take? Probably longer than I'd be willing to deal with zero-gravity and crushing boredom.

Even in this fantasy world of yours in which taxes are temporarily suspended but the laws that govern physics and attention span still adhere, Io still sounds better: sulphuric yellows and reds, geysers, volcanos reaching the hottest recorded temperatures in the solar system (except for the sun), and a great view of Jupiter -- if the ash clouds aren’t too thick that day.

Very entertaining. You should post the rest of these. I'll try my hand at these, though my answers are pretty similar to yours...

Magician / Einstein: The magician may have supernatural powers that no one else has, but very, very few people could achieve what Einstein did too, and Einstein's talents were infinitely more useful.

Horse: I agree with you. I think the releasing of all political prisoners would do as much harm as good (couldn't Saddam Hussein be considered a political prisoner?). If it cured AIDS, I would do it even if I had to use the boots.

VCR: Definitely. I've always wanted to do this, and if anything embarrassing comes up, I think everyone will understand that I can't control my subconscious.

Dark Crystal: Ideal except for a Dark Crystal obsession? That's probably better than I can do on my own. I'd still marry her.

Tumor: I'd spend the first week writing down my memoirs, including as much as I possibly remembered about my life. I'd spend the second week partying, making a complete jackass of myself, knowing that I wouldn't remember all the idiotic things I did.

Prize: First, I'd tell all major news sources about my trip to the moon, hoping that the story of a totally inexperienced, 18-year-old astronaut going into outer space would really catch on. Then I'd spend the 10 minutes on the moon and in the meantime become a media frenzy. Then I'd sell out for some cheesy commercial endorsements making reference to my time on the moon, save up $24,000, and spend a year in Europe.

Best Friend: I would kick him and then dash out of the room. When he woke up and asked me if I just kicked him in the ribs, I would look at him like he was insane. Or if this is cheating, I would say I wasn't wearing my glasses and just tripped.

The default choice for the horse question is to use the boots if you're going to kick the horse. Did you mean "I would do it even if I had to not use the boots"?

I wanted to post the entire list from the book, but I do have some respect for his copyright. We can make our own anyway:

You have met and happily married your soulmate. Early one morning before work you discover an unfamiliar leather jacket draped over a couch. You don't wish to wake your sleeping spouse, and you feel oddly compelled to try it on, so you do and it fits. You wear it to work. With the jacket on, every desirable member of your preferred sex finds you terribly attractive and openly flirts with you. You take it off and the effect immediately passes, so you put it back on and everyone you could possibly want wants you. You go home early to sort things out and discover your soulmate sick in bed. You take off the jacket and he/she instantly feels better. You haven't yet told him/her about the powers of the jacket. Do you use the jacket to get everything and everyone you've always wanted.

Yeah, I posed the question and I can't even answer it. Sheesh. I'd like to think I'd burn the jacket or ship it to some guy in Brazil, but I honestly think I'd turn to the dark side at this point and wear it all the time.

You wake up in the year 1995. You must exercise a sudden ability to extend one of three person's productive lives by 30 years. The three people are Mother Teresa, Stanley Kubrick, and your best friend. Whom do you choose?

Any choice but Mother Teresa is a little like killing or harrassing thousands of poor, innocent people over 30 years, but I'd be very tempted to choose film artist Kubrick. Sorry, best friend; you can enjoy your years just like I do. Final answer? Ummm.... ummmm... damn it, Kubrick. &#$! me.

Heh, there are probably whole websites with these kind of questions on them, too.

No, I meant I would kick the horse instead of using an aluminum spiked bat if it would cure AIDS. You set up an alternate scenario, I was just saying I'd do it even if it weren't so extreme.

Jacket - If she was really my soulmate, I'd have a solid percentage of everything I'd ever wanted. And if she was really my soulmate, she'd understand if I broke out the jacket every once in a while to get what I wanted.

1995 - I think this question is a little too targeted towards you. Keep in mind that in the 30 years before 1995, Kubrick only made 6 movies. And of the last three he made, one was certainly the worst of his most acclaimed films, one was only half-good, and one I haven't seen but got middling reviews. I haven't seen Barry Lyndon, but in 1995, the last film Kubrick made that I loved would have been 24 years ago. I'm not going to leave Mother Teresa dead so that a past-his-prime director can make six more movies.

Here's a question inspired by the kicking in the ribs question. Imagine you firmly believe you live in a world without a magician who performs stupid tricks through real magic and without people who will die if you tell them why they were kicked in the ribs. Let's say you were in a store with a good friend and you saw a newly-released CD that you were very excited for, and it's for a really good price. You pick it up, but suddenly your friend gets really serious, more serious than you've ever seen him/her get, and says, "Please don't buy this CD, ever. I can't tell you why, but please, please trust me. Never buy this CD." What would you do?

Let's say there was an injection that completely reversed how foods are broken down into your body. Really fattening, greasy food (especially fast food) tastes just as it always has, but it's really healthy for you and contain plenty of vitamins, but lighter fare (including all fruits and vegetables) can pretty much cause you to die if you eat them in anything more than the smallest doses. You can eat all the fattening food you want, but if you ever get sick of it, you can't eat anything light. Would you take the injection?

As for my answers: My friends joke around pretty much all the time, so if one of my friends got that serious, I'd think he was kidding. If he really stayed that serious and persisted, I'd probably get freaked out and not buy it. I'd ask him if I could download the music though. As for the injection, I probably wouldn't take it, since I get sick of that stuff pretty easily.

Yeah, perhaps I like Kubrick more than most people, but some people are bigger Mother Teresa fans than others (actually, maybe that's just me, too).

CD: It would depend on which friend and what I know of them. Assuming this isn't a magical universe where buying this CD would unleash an unstoppable evil or give me eyeball cancer, I'd probably buy the CD anyway (or download it).

Injection: Nope, I wouldn't take it.

Quotes from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:

No woman will ever satisfy me. I know that now, and I would never try to deny it. But this is actually okay, because I will never satisfy a woman, either.

Should I be writing such thoughts? Perhaps not. Perhaps it's a bad idea. I can definitely foresee a scenario where that first paragraph would come back to haunt me, especially if I somehow became marginally famous. If I become marginally famous, I will undoubtedly be interviewed by someone in the media, and the interviewer will inevitably ask, "Fifteen years ago, you wrote that no woman could ever satisfy you. Now that you've been married for almost five years, are those words still true?" And I will have to say, "Oh, God no. Those were the words of an enirely different person - a person whom I can't even relate to anymore. Honestly, I can't imagine an existence without _____. She satisfies me in ways that I never even considered. She saved my life, really."

Now, I will be lying. I won't really feel that way. But I'll certainly say those words, and I'll deliver them with the utmost sincerity, even though those sentiments will not be there. So then the interviewer will undoubtedly quote lines from this particular paragraph, thereby reminding me that I swore I would publicly deny my true feelings, and I'll chuckle and say, "Come on, Mr. Rose. That was a literary device. You know I never really believed that."

But here's the thing: I do believe that... [what follows is a fantastic analysis of why most people will never be truly satisfied with romance in the real world and why John Cusak is to blame]

[snip]

For just about everyone else in the idiom of rock, being cool is pretty much the whole job description. It's difficult to think of rock artists who are great without being cool, since that's precisely why we need them to exist. There have been countless bands in rock history - T. Rex, Jane's Addiction, the White Stripes, et al. - who I will always classify as 'great' even though they're really just spine-crushingly 'cool.' What they are is more important than what they do. And this is not a criticism of coolness; by and large, the musical component of rock isn't nearly as important as the iconography and the posturing and the idea of what we're supposed to be experiencing. If given the choice between hearing a great band and seeing a cool band, I'll take the latter every single time; this is why the Eagles suck. But it's the constraints of that very relationship that give Billy Joel his subterranean fabulousity, and it's why he's unassumingly superior to all his mainstream seventies peers who got far more credit (James Taylor, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, etc.). Joel is the only rock star I've ever loved who I never wanted to be (not even when he was sleeping with Christie Brinkley). Every one of Joel's important songs - including the happy ones - are ultimately about loneliness. And it's not 'clever lonely' (like Morrissey) or 'interesting lonely' (like Radiohead); it's 'lonely lonely', like the way it feels when you're being hugged by someone and it somehow makes you sadder.

[snip]

When sociologists and journalists started writing about the sensibilities that drove Gen Xers, the inevitably used words like angst-ridden and disenfranchised and lost... All those original pundits were dead-on; for once, the media managed to define an entire demographic of Americans with absolute accuracy... Twenty-somethings in the nineties rejected the traditional working-class American lifestyle because (a) they were smart enough to realize that those values were unsatisfying, and (b> they were totally fucking lazy. Twenty-somethings in the nineties embraced a record like Nirvana's Nevermind because (a) it was a sociocultural affront to the vapidity of the Reagan-era paradigm, and (b) it fucking rocked... There are no myths about Generation X. It's all true.

This being the case, it's clear that Luke Skywalker was the original Gen Xer. For one thing, he was incessantly whiny. For another, he was exhaustively educated - via Yoda - about things that had little practical value (i.e., how to stand on one's head while lifting a rock telekinetically)... Luke's only romantic aspirations are directed toward a woman who (literally) looks at him like a brother. His dad is on his case to join the family business. Most significantly, all the problems in his life can be directly blamed on the generation that came before him.

[snip]

...you can't really learn much about a person based on what kind of music they happen to like... However, there is at least one thing you can learn: The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music 'except country.' People who say that are boorish and pretentious at the same time. All it means is that they've managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop sociology; they know that hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in sound, and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational matter. Hipsters hate it because they hate Midwesterners, and they hate Southerners, and they hate people with real jobs.

Shadow Syndromes has pegged me as one of "the 'eyeores' of life, A. A. Mine's sad-sack donkey friend to Pooh; they are the people who see the glass as half empty - and who are put off by people who observe that it is equally half full. Committed depressives often dislike cheerful people, seeing them as vapid, superficial, and dull. They can be critical and deflating; they puncture people's balloons... they may be prone to everyday Freudianisms, always probing beneath the surface to discover the dark realities below. They believe that the depths of character are inevitably dark and dire; they dismiss all surface shine as illusion. They are the people who never say yes. Instead, they say maybe."

Actually, I'm happy to say that was me six months ago. I still tend to probe deep more often than necessary and assume it's dark and rank underneath, but I'm no sad-sack ass and I finally have respect for shiny happy people. And now that I'm aware of 'the situation,' I can more consciously effect change.

This is why I read.

Okay, time for me to tap into the Listology Book Recommendation Service! I need a good book on reading other people. I'm terrible at discerning personality types and estimating how other people would respond to certain events or dialogue, etc. I need to learn to discern as much as I can about a person through casual interaction, and then extrapolate that data to make educated guesses about their past, likes & dislikes, personality, deeper motivations, weaknesses, and strengths, etc.

Any suggestions? Thanks, guys!

There's always Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to Temperament - 2.0 by Linda V. Berens. It's a quick and dirty read (fifty pages?) It's based upon the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and if you believe those things then Berens has a whole series of books. I must warn you that I took the MBTI and it was infuriatingly correct and accurate... at least in my eyes. And my mom's... but what does she know.

If you want something slightly older and much longer then I'd try The Art of Speed Reading People : How To Size People Up and Speak Their Language by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger (which I'm going to pretend that I've read.)

I still say that Shadow Syndromes is the best and most direct path to becoming socially suave. Once you comprehend your own forme fruste and the type of stumbling blocks that other people face it is a lot easier to negotiate the social landscape. On second thought, considering how badly I still get lost, Shadow Syndromes may be pointless for you.

Thanks so much! They're both now on their way, and I've also got Reading People and Think Like a Shrink coming. And I did prod my lazy-ass mind through a solid portion of Shadow Syndromes. It's not much of a mind, but I'm sort of attached to it.

Reading this and thinking about George Costanza's preoccupation with all things toilet reminded me... How 'bout that Shadow Syndromes deconstruction of Seinfeld ?

Now you're just trying to make me track down the book again... I must've missed (or forgotten) the piece on the brilliant Seinfeld.

I doubt that it's worth retracing your steps. It was in the chapter on attention surplus disorders ("The Hidden Epidemic") that dealt with OCD, addiction and anxiety. Good (and brief) stuff about the realm of shame, nipples, nose-picking, social-scanners and a marble rye.

Well, you might be right about having mild ADD ("Prisoners of the Present")... although I admit that my money was on hypomanic ("The Pathology of Elation".) So I remain unruffled if something that Ratey & Johnson (or I) wrote managed to escape your ravenous attention.

Oh, I definitely consumed all that, I just don't retain it. I should read a book on memory retension. Actually, I'm pretty sure I have, I just don't remember it...

As a politically conscious Christian, this is why I'm reading God's Politics:

Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich, and pro-Republican? And since when did promoting and pursuing a progressive social agenda with a concern for economic security, health care, and educational opportunity mean you had to put faith in God aside?

We are not single-issue voters.

We believe that poverty - caring for the poor and vulnerable - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries?

We believe that the environment - caring for God's earth - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it?

We believe that war - and our call to be peacemakers - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to global threats?

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies?

We believe that human rights - respecting the image of God in every person - is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners?

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never our own policies?

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS - and other pandemics - and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life?

It is indeed time to take back our faith.

Take back our faith from whom? To be honest, the confusion comes from many sources. From religious right-wingers who claim to know God's political views on every issue, then ignore the subjects that God seems to care the most about. From pedophile priests and cover-up bishops who destroy lives and shame the church. From television preachers whose extravagant lifestyles and crass fund-raising tactics embarrass more Christians than they know. From liberal secularists who want to banish faith from public life and deny spiritual values to the soul of politics. And even from liberal theologians whose cultural conformity and creedal modernity serve to erode the foundations of historic biblical faith. From New Age philosophers who want to make Jesus into a nonthreatening spiritual guru. And from politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies.

*pumps fist in the air*

And more:

...many people in the world may not be mad at us for "our values," as the Bush White House continues to say, but for "our policies." But the US policies that anger most people around the world are generally unknown to most Americans - and therein lies the problem of talking about the issue.

...The truth that most of the world knows is that the US government has far too often supported military dictators in Latin and Central America, Asia, and Africa who have murdered as many or more innocent people as Saddaam Hussein. The truth is that the United States has not been an honest broker for Middle East peace and has not sought the proper balance between Israeli security and Palestinian human rights. Teh truth is that American and Western appetites for oil have led to a corrupt and corrupting relationship with despicable Arab regimes. The truth is that the United States sits atop and is the leader of a global economy in which half of God's children still live on less than two dollars a day, and the United States will be blamed around teh world for the structures of injustice that such a global economy daily enforces.

That book sounds pretty brilliant. I'm surprised that it didn't bring up our environmental policies in the latter paragraph, though; we're so bad at controlling our carbon emissions, and I thought that was really pissing off the rest of the world.

Good point! He does discuss environmental issues later, but it would've made sense to include it there, too.

From The Spirit of the Disciplines, a great encapsulation of the constant dilemma of strict Biblical exegesis:

It was a Bible study at a large Midwestern university in the early sixties. We were mainly graduate students of evangelical background, who met weekly to discuss selected New Testament passages. On this particular occasion we were struggling with 1 John 3:9-10: "No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God... Whoever does not do right is not of God, nor does he who does not love his brother" (RSV).

A straightforward reading of the passage seemed to leave this choice: either one is free from sin or one is not a child of God. A very difficult option! But a well-known "saving interpretation" was offered by one of the more sophisticated members of the group. According to it, the form of the Greek verb (poiei) translated as "commits" indicates a continuous action. Hence, the real meaning had to be that the one who is born of God does not sin all the time or continuously. A short moment of triumph ensued.

But these were bright people, or they would not have been where they were. It was quickly pointed out that even the very ungodly do not sin all the time. They have their good moments. How could merely not sinning continuously suffice to distinguish the child of God from them? Will the one born of God not sin on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday but not sin on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? Couldn't you kill someone every ten years and still meet the condition of not sinning continuously? Maybe even every five years - or every five weeks?

Further, would it not introduce chaos into the New Testament teachings if we were to add "continuously" in the translation of every present indicative active verb? Experimenting with a few test passages showed that it would. But if it is not to be added in every case, why should it be added just in this case - except to relieve the tension between this text and our lives?

Things were beginning to heat up. People began to take sides. Those who thought there must be some important sense in which the child of God might e and should be free from sin were accused of "perfectionism." Someone finally exploded: "Well, are you perfect?" But no one assented.

This scene has been played out many times with many variations...