|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
This is book 16 of The Dresden Files, and we all know that I will read this book. While I didn't read it immediately when I received it, I did read it all in one day (I know, I know, quelle surprise).
To say I am disappointed in this book is an understatement. To say I am not the only person who feels this way is to scream the truth. This book is, after some consideration, the worst book of the series, and that's lower than the first two books. So let's talk about them, because they are clearly good enough to hook me on the series, yet I'm less of a fan of them than when I originally read them. In the first two books, Butcher hadn't quite found his writing style, found Dresden's voice. As such, the first two books read less well, are more cheesy. Which isn't to say they are bad, they are not, but they are at the bottom of good. The first two books are the Nickelback of Urban Fantasy, the crap of the cream.
So, how could this book be worse than those books? Well...
This book is entirely setup for the next book, Battle Ground, book 17 of The Dresden Files. The plot lacks tension. The characters lack development, no one matures, ponders, overcomes, questions, or decides really to do anything. The one big plot point, an assassination attempt, is so out of character than the first question ANYONE would ask should be, "Why?" Start there, figure out why, and work backwards. But no, no one bothers to ask, let's just blow straight through the thinking part into the panic rescue, and how clever to figure out how to do this without blowing shit up. -ish.
And what the f--- is up with Ebenezer? Hint, hint, hint, rage, rage, rage. Oh, look, this does appear to be Dresden's first rodeo. I mean, come on, no, you don't become the Black Staff by being unable to control your rage. Just doesn't happen.
Yeah, again, this book is all setup. It is unexciting, uneventful, uninspiring. It is the first half of the "oops, I wrote too much, better split the book in half" book, which has the second half arriving at the end of September. If you're reading the Dresden Files, wait until the next book is out before reading this one, and read them both in one go. Don't read this one if you're not reading the series. And if you're listening to the audiobook, forgive Marster's his Mab voice. It is awful.
He shook his head. "Humans are scared of just about everything. Problem is, their first reaction to being scared—"
“Is to kill it,” I said, nodding. I considered my super-nice suit and decided that I didn’t much like suits anyway. I sat down on the ground next to River. “I’m familiar with the problem.”
“Old woman,” Corb taunted. “I remember you as a bawling brat. I remember your pimply face when you rode with the Conqueror. I remember how you wept when Merlin cast you out."
“Tell me,” Corb purred. “If he was yet among the living, do you think he would still love you? Would he be so proud of what you’ve become?”
Okay, when your tribe recommends a book, and an Internet Personality™ who has not failed in his book recommendations for you recommends the same book, well, you kinda have to read said recommendation. This book is that recommendation. This book is worth that recommendation.
Here's the thing, when you are the odd one out, when you are the weird one, your life is more difficult than the lives of those who fit in, who make friends easily, who aren't teased for being who they are, who don't stand out. Khazan understands, having been the weird one. She goes through how it feels to be weird, retells her journey, reviews many others' journeys with being weird, tells us there is strength in our weirdness, and lets us know it gets better. It does.
There's a cadence to this book that is welcoming, like sitting with a friend you've known for decades at a quiet cafe in a small European city and talking for hours. It's a nice feeling. During that conversation, Khazan tells us about the inverse correlations between societies' conformity and freedoms, about how different opinions lead to better decisions, about how being outside is a strength, and about how you have the choice to confirm or stay weird.
I enjoyed this book, and likely would have devoured this when I was 11 years old and crying that I just wanted to be normal, why wasn't I normal? I've found peace in my gracelessness, in my dorkitude, in my being the only girl in a group of "hey guys!" but it took a long, long time to find that peace. I would argue this book many years ago might have helped me accept myself faster. For that, I recommend this book to anyone who is even just a little bit weird. I'd tell them, "It's okay. Here, read this one, and Grit and let's talk."
When you’re locked outside something, it’s hard to know whether it’s because of something about you.
Chapter 1: Weird
One researcher found that lacking social connections is as harmful as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Loneliness is deadlier than obesity, and it increases the risk of dementia.
Chapter 1: Weird
I realized that sometimes my weirdness was someone else’s fault, but sometimes it was actually mine. Sometimes it was no one’s fault, but the wound from all the previous times was still so raw that I reacted three or four or forty times as strongly as I needed to. Later, experts would tell me this is called “inflammation.”
Chapter 1: Weird
There are systemic, horrific problems in our society that the tools of psychology are not equipped to address. The fact that marginalized people have learned to cope with some of them does not mean the fight for equality should ebb.
Chapter 1: Weird
Before the 1800s, weird was more likely to mean supernatural, or fantastical. Shakespeare, for instance, called the witches in Macbeth the “weyard sisters.” Wyrd is the Old English word for “fate,” and by the eighth century, a form of it, wyrde, was used to refer to the three Roman mythical, goddess-like Fates. The first one, Nona, spun the thread of life; the second, Decima, measured it; and the third, Morta, cut it as she saw fit. The three Fates represented the idea that our futures are determined, in part, by our circumstances. In that case, wyrde—weird—could be considered a kind of prediction, a destiny. Much like what psychology suggests, your unusualness is a fabric woven from the thread of your life. Your identity, your environment, and your experiences all combine to make you who you are. But your weirdness is also a hint at what you might live to see and do, at what hidden powers you possess. “Weird,” then, is your potential.
Chapter 1: Weird
All these findings point to roughly the same conclusion: we like to fit in with the group; we like people who fit in with the group; we dislike those who don’t. These norms, or unwritten rules about what we “ought” to be doing, determine what’s weird or isn’t.
Chapter 2: The Realization
In a 2014 study, the psychologist Shinobu Kitayama found the degree to which we uphold cultural norms is related to the type of variation we have on one gene, the dopamine D4 receptor gene. The gene doesn’t change how we behave; instead, it influences how much we endorse the prevailing norms of our environments.
Chapter 2: The Realization
People with borderline personality disorder and certain other conditions, such as autism, have trouble comprehending social norms. People with borderline, or BPD, as it’s abbreviated, struggle with mentalizing, or guessing what other people are thinking. They tend to be hypermentalizers—they interpret people’s intentions in the worst way possible, and they don’t react, well, normally.
Chapter 2: The Realization
social norms can change without people changing their actual attitudes—toward naked butts, in this case. It’s enough simply to plant the idea that something is normal and suggest that it’s the right thing to do. How you, personally, feel about it doesn’t matter; you’ll do it anyway.
Chapter 2: The Realization
Research has consistently shown that instead, in both friendships and romantic relationships, people seek out people who are almost exactly like themselves. Spouses and friends may very well become more similar to each other over time, but they start out resembling each other, too.
Chapter 2: The Realization
Russia’s anti-gay law is an interesting example of the psychological phenomenon in which, when our self-esteem is threatened, we start to desire surroundings that are more homogeneous. The idea is that when all else fails to give us a self-esteem boost, we can shore up our identity through sameness. (In fact, just doing the opposite, reminding people of their own self-worth, can make them more tolerant toward difference. One study found that after people wrote essays about their own positive traits, they were more likely to offer concessions to people who disagreed with them about abortion.)
Chapter 2: The Realization
Within each country, tightness can vary depending on the situation. Privacy is an important value in the U.S., so the normally loose Americans tighten up in that realm—they don’t drop by each other’s homes unannounced. Meanwhile, in the more culturally tight Japan, people crowd into bars after work to let loose—literally.
Chapter 2: The Realization
In psychology, “wanting things to be the way they’ve always been” is called “system justification,”
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Norms trap us in the status quo, even when the status quo is irrational.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
“Most of the time that people do that kind of thing, it’s because they’re afraid, because they don’t understand, they don’t know me, and I’m different, and different scares people,” she told me.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
When the extent of the Nazis’ atrocities was revealed, it was thought that it would take a nation of very disturbed personalities to commit such violence.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Seeing our group win matters, even if the group itself doesn’t matter at all.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
So if this was our past, when did we become so hateful toward outsiders? How did we get from whale party to fascism? Apparently, it was when we started farming, about ten thousand years ago. Farming involved settling on patches of land and interacting less with outside groups
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Women, in particular, were expected to mold themselves to fit their husbands’ expectations, and those who had marriage trouble were asked by therapists if they were keeping themselves attractive enough.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
“Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego,” Edward Podolsky advises wives in his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life. “Don’t bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work…Be a good listener. Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison.”
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Multiple studies and surveys have now shown that it was a fear of losing status to other groups—like immigrants and people of color—that motivated many white Americans’ support for Trump.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
It’s commonly thought that the main reason behind opposition to immigration is a fear that immigrants will take Americans’ jobs, but research on anti-immigrant sentiment suggests that’s not quite true. Instead, what seems most important is how culturally different the immigrants are from the native population. Specifically, what matters is if the immigrants speak English. To wit: more than 90 percent of Americans believe a person “must speak English” to be an American.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
It turns out we don’t want to safeguard our jobs so much as our norms.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
The reason a heavy disease burden dampened the kind of creative thinking required to win a Nobel, Murray found, was because worrying about biological threats made people in those nations more conformist. A history of infectious diseases didn’t make people in those nations dim-witted. But, according to this theory, it helped make them more traditional and avoidant of other people, and thus, less likely to come up with new and interesting ideas.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Our behavioral immune systems predispose us to avoid people who break our social norms because we, subconsciously, fear they might harbor illnesses we are not equipped to fight off.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
Several studies have now shown that when people are more worried about disease, they react more negatively toward foreigners and norm violators.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
One study found that states and countries that are more plagued by infectious diseases tend to have stronger family ties and greater levels of religiosity; the authors interpreted these measures as indicating a preference for sticking with your own kind of people.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
People who are more careful about germs—who, say, open the bathroom door with a paper towel—have less inflammation, which is the way our body typically protects us from pathogens. When you’re taking pains to avoid germs—when your behavioral immune system is revved up—your body realizes there’s less of a need for it to fight infections below the skin, so it turns down the inflammatory activity.
Chapter 3: The Exclusion
“All this freedom” is something we heard a lot. Aren’t you enjoying all this freedom? Texans felt they had given us something that was so dear to them—freedom—and seemed hurt it was not more transformational for us,
Chapter 4: The Sting
But more often than not, people who are expected to feel persistently grateful instead wind up feeling subtly inferior.
Chapter 4: The Sting
Loneliness is not simply introversion. It isn’t the same as preferring to be alone. Rather, it’s a gap between the amount of social interaction a person would like to have and the amount they experience.
Chapter 4: The Sting
But that’s easier said than done: lonely humans have an overactive sense of social threat—a fear that they’ll be rejected if they try to reach out and socialize. Lonely people want to be around others, but they are afraid that if they try, they will be rejected.
Chapter 4: The Sting
People who are chronically lonely tend to withdraw socially because they start to feel like other people aren’t trustworthy. Socially isolated people view their interactions with others more negatively, so they keep their distance, perpetuating a cycle of loneliness.
Chapter 4: The Sting
The problem is that loneliness is not an actual, physical wound, so this inflammatory response is pointless. You could be lonely for days, weeks, months. The entire time, the immune system is gearing up to fight off bacteria that aren’t really there, pumping you full of inflammatory chemicals in the process.
Chapter 4: The Sting
Feeling excluded can be so painful, in fact, that people will turn to terrible alternatives to avoid it. Researchers are increasingly finding that the roots of various kinds of terrorism and radicalization lie in the rather banal sensation of feeling cut off from your social circle.
Chapter 4: The Sting
Exclusion is one of the things that can trigger what the psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls a “significance quest”—a plot to restore your place in society by becoming “somebody” again. You can restore your significance constructively—by, say, volunteering at your mosque, or destructively, by volunteering for ISIS. It all depends on what paths you see available to you, and who your friends are.
Chapter 4: The Sting
This is how social exclusion can become so perverse: it can insert ideas into your head that you don’t even possess. You might not be unusually hateful, but you’re lonely, and that can be enough.
Chapter 4: The Sting
I wanted a past that when I explained it to people, no one asked “why?” about any part of it.
Chapter 5: Creativity
There are a million little signals we get that suggest difference is inherently bad. “Living in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse. Interestingness, according to this bit of apocrypha, is inferior to normalcy. Boringness is tranquility, and divergence will inevitably hurt. For people who are considered interesting, that is often the case. But probe a little deeper, and you find that being weird isn’t always difficult. Even when it is, there are moments of glory amid the turmoil.
Chapter 5: Creativity
But believing that your weirdness is your superpower can also be hugely beneficial. There is evidence that thinking about your circumstances in a different way—a process called cognitive reappraisal—can help you cope with challenges. Perceiving what makes you weird as being what gives you strength can, ultimately, make you happier.
Chapter 5: Creativity
It occurred to me that the rest of my life hinged on performing well the following day. I didn’t have time to be depressed
Chapter 5: Creativity
So there was a relationship between rejection and creativity. But this advantage was only seen among the participants who considered themselves unique—who had an “independent self-concept.” Those who felt like they already weren’t part of any particular group were more creative when they were rejected by an arbitrary collective. There appears to be something about being a weirdo that uncorks your mind and allows new ideas to flow.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Creativity is defined scientifically as a process that results in a “new and useful” product. It doesn’t have to be art—a new assembly-line procedure can be as creative as a painting. And its usefulness doesn’t have to be physical—joy can be as useful as productivity.
Chapter 5: Creativity
people who are on the periphery of all sorts of groups are often freer to innovate and change social norms.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Outsiders are already not concerned with what the in-crowd thinks of them, so they have more leeway to experiment and come up with the next iThing or bestseller.
Chapter 5: Creativity
“The idea behind this is that once you’ve experienced things that violate norms and rules and expectations, you’re more open to more things like that,” Damian told me. “You experienced that the world doesn’t have to work by your rules, so you can break the rules.”
Chapter 5: Creativity
If something too jarring or traumatizing happens to you, just coping with it might use up all your mental capacity.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Your weirdness is attached to you. But rather than a millstone around your neck, it can be a jet pack.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Being unusual doesn’t just make you, yourself, more creative. Dissenting voices can also boost the creativity and decision-making power of the broader group you’re a part of.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Among the more democratic teams, in which all the workers took part in the decisions, the teams that had dissenting opinions in their midst came up with more innovative solutions than the teams in which everyone agreed.
Chapter 5: Creativity
The presence of a person who voices a competing perspective to the predominant one of the group has also been found to reduce our tendency to throw good money after bad. In a phenomenon called the sunk-cost fallacy, people are tempted to see a terrible idea through to the end once they’ve committed to doing it, even if it seems less and less brilliant as the problems pile up. (Those who have stuck with a terrible TV show or relationship because of the time they’ve already invested know this phenomenon well.)
Chapter 5: Creativity
This liberating element of alternate viewpoints has been replicated in other studies, and it underscores the value of having a diverse array of people around to poke holes in the prevailing idea.
Chapter 5: Creativity
The reason why minority views are so potent, according to research on persuasion, is that in certain circumstances, people tend to scrutinize a minority viewpoint more carefully. When we hear a dissenting view, we think more critically about what we’re hearing. Listening to a minority viewpoint prompts, in the listener, a consideration of information about different sides of an issue. Majorities, meanwhile, spur us to think only about data that supports the majority perspective.
Chapter 5: Creativity
Unfortunately, though, when people stop being weird, these benefits go away. When people who were once in the minority become the majority, research shows they become more closed-minded.
Chapter 5: Creativity
The idea was pioneered by the psychologist Edwin Hollander in the 1950s. By studying the way people interact in groups, Hollander theorized that newcomers to a group are better accepted if they first pay homage to its established values and goals, then start to deviate in small ways. At first, conform; then innovate.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort
Another way my interviewees combated the social anxiety that can arise from standing out was, frankly, by simply not giving a hoot what people thought of them.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort
As much as research tells us that it’s painful not to conform, some studies also hint at a way out: you can, like Asma has, change the way you think about your own nonconformity.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort
“People’s discomfort is theirs and not mine,” she said. The way she sees it, if someone judges you for your choices, it implies they’re the ones who aren’t okay.
Chapter 8: Comfort with Discomfort
Impostor syndrome can manifest in a variety of ways, including procrastination or an inability to accept compliments
Chapter 9: Better Than the Rest
The more Daniel learned about the theories behind societal stereotypes, the easier it seemed to be for him to process people’s mistrust of him. When a suspicious mom treats him unfairly, he could chalk it up to psychological phenomena, rather than making it about himself.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
Daniel has stumbled on a technique psychologists commonly employ to help people maneuver through painful situations: they advise people to view their problems from an outside perspective. It’s a theory called Solomon’s Paradox, after the biblical king of Israel.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
Other studies show it can be beneficial, when thinking about our problems, to refer to ourselves in the third person, rather than using “I.”
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
A major trait that helps in such grueling circumstances, Barrett and Martin write, is “hardiness,” which they define as a commitment to seeing life as meaningful and interesting; a belief that you can influence events; and a tendency to view even negative events as an opportunity to grow.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
Research shows that greater well-being and self-confidence tend to come with these so-called “redemptive” narratives, which are a way of telling yourself more edifying stories about what’s happening to you.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
the kinds of stories you tell yourself matter. There are narratives about yourself in which your life can still get better, and there are those in which it will keep getting worse.
Chapter 10: The Big Picture
Many researchers have now found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality: extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Changing a trait primarily requires acting in ways that embody that trait, just as Curt did, rather than simply thinking about it.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
He thinks it might be that when a person reaches their nadir and realizes they want to change, there’s something beneficial about having a warm, comforting presence there to support them.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
One way to revamp your social life is to simply make more friends.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
“Dunbar’s number” is the amount of individuals that can realistically make up a social group—about 150, in the view of its namesake, the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. That’s roughly how many casual friends, whom you see at least once a year, a person can maintain. But within that are concentric circles of bros, homies, and confidants. The innermost circle is a pack of three to five very best friends and family members. Then there’s a “sympathy group” of about twelve to fifteen, who wouldn’t necessarily give you a kidney, but would give you a lift to the airport.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
For example, if you invited someone to do something one time, and they don’t invite you back for a while, it’s okay to invite them again. In other words, just because you don’t alternate the role of initiator doesn’t mean you aren’t really friends.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
But friendship can be so difficult, and so time-consuming, that maybe this is just what the initial stage looks like: admitting human connection is something you need, like vegetables and water, because it’s good for you. Eventually, you come to like it. Or maybe even to crave it.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
This entire process is codified in what Joyable calls the “three Cs”—catch the thought that’s making you anxious, check that thought, and change the thought to something that’s “more accurate,” which is likely to be something less anxiety-inducing.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
I told Chloe that my boyfriend naturally takes criticism in the Joyable-approved way. “When you criticize him, he seems to say, ‘That’s interesting! I’ll assess your viewpoint along with all the other evidence,’” I said. She laughed again. “That’s rare, though,” she said.
Chapter 11: Change Yourself
This book is on the Best Books of 2020 so far, which is how it came into my awareness. Usually, I shrug off these lists, but this one caught my attention, I don't know why. I do know that it was available at the library and, despite being 7th on my to-read list, I read it over the following two days, zipping through it faster than even I expected.
The Book Riot description is: "Marin Machado had the kind of life other people envied…right up until it became a nightmare. While shopping at Pike Place Market, her son was abducted in the mere seconds it took for her to accept a phone call. A year later, a private investigator rocks Marin’s world with a devastating blow, but it’s not the one she expected: her husband has been cheating. Willing to do whatever it takes to salvage what’s left of her family, Marin goes to dark lengths she never realized she was capable of. Along the way, she discovers her husband might be keeping a bigger secret than his mistress: He might know what happened to their son."
What the description doesn't convey very well is just how well the anguish of losing a child is conveyed. Also not conveyed very well is just how well Hillier demonstrates the slippery slope any of us can slide down when we are in pain, when we are blinded by our biases, when each step isn't that much different than the last until you turn around and see just how far you've fallen.
The book is a fast, good read with a twist that makes you think, "Oh! Didn't see that coming." I was expecting a twist (that (spoiler) J.R. is Justin, he is not (sorry if you're reading this in an RSS feed and that spoiler displayed)), and was amused I was wrong, but delighted about the actual plot twist.
If you like psychological thrillers, this qualifies and is recommended. The suspension wasn't so bad that I skipped to the end, but it was close. If you want a beach book, grab this one. If you want some deep philosophical manifest, look elsewhere, this is brain candy.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can even get angry. We haven’t had sex in two years. Shit, maybe three, I can’t even remember the last time. If I bring it up, he’s gonna deny it. And we’re gonna fight. God, I am so sick of fighting.” “You’re married,” Frances says sharply. “Sex with someone else is never part of the deal, I don’t care how long it’s been.” “Men do have needs, though,” Simon says. “Don’t be a douche.” Frances reaches over and smacks him on the thigh. Marin’s glad she did, because she would have punched him.
Hope lasts only so long, can carry you only so far. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s all you have. It keeps you going when there’s nothing else to hold on to. But hope can also be terrible. It keeps you wanting, waiting, wishing for something that might never happen. It’s like a glass wall between where you are and where you want to be. You can see the life you want, but you can’t have it. You’re a fish in a bowl.
Marin is not going to die today, no matter what this feels like.
Who would have thought that who you love and who you feel safe with might not be the same person?
In the beginning, Kenzie found it exciting. Affairs always are at first.
Married men are exhausting. They have a way of sucking all the oxygen out of the room when you’re with them. You’re always on their schedule, on guard for changes in locations and times to meet. There are only specific places you can go, and only for so long before there’s somewhere else they have to be. Their families are their priorities. And you’re not family. You’re the side piece. You’re the one who’s there to fill in the holes. Your voice is less than.
He understands better than any guy she’s ever known how to apologize properly, and that a good apology involves an acknowledgment of the shitty thing he did, along with a clear understanding of how said shitty thing affected the other person.
This is part of their pattern. He’s insensitive, which makes her feel bad, which then makes him feel bad, which then makes her feel worse, and then she’ll do anything to make him feel better. This is what they do, but she doesn’t know how not to do this with him.
This book has an excerpt from it published a couple months ago about what what really happened when six boys were shipwrecked on a crappy island for years, in the way of The Lord of the Flies. Spoiler alert: they were not the horrible fictional characters of that book, rather, they adapted and were incredibly "civilized," a term that, after reading this book, I'm more than a bit put-off with. Maybe "advanced" or "cultured" would work better? Cultivated? Sophisticated! There we go.
Another spoiler alert: you should read this book.
When I started reading this book, I was somewhat rolling my eyes, thinking it was going to be a remake of Enlightenment Now, which was WAAAAY better than the actively-disliked Rational Optimist, but still a "yeah, yeah, I already read this" book. Except Bregman actively talks about Pinker's earlier work that says humans are awful beings, and then says, "welllllllllll, about that."
Which sets the stage for just about every major study you've heard about that tells us humans are awful creatures. I mean, we are, but.... welllllll, actually....
Take the death of Kitty Genovese in New York City in March of 1964, everyone says it is the abdication of responsibility, that when surrounded by a crowd doing nothing as you're being murdered, call upon one person to take action. Except, the whole story about how 37 neighbors ignored her death wasn't accurate: they didn't hear her. And the one who did actually did his best, and she died in a friend's arms. The newspapers reported the made-up news of uncaring neighbors, because it sold more newspapers.
Take the most famous Stanford Prison Experiment. Turns out, Zimbardo egged on the students. He actually worked to create the results he wanted to have. He set up the whole experiment.
Take Stanley Milgram's shock machine which tells us that people will blindly follow authority. Turns out, the participants who "blindly followed authority" were either bullied, or misled into believing they were doing Good™.
Take the destruction of Easter Island (didn't happen by the war claimed). Take the Lord of the Flies (totally fiction, people actually behave and share in said island tragedies). Take the killer instinct (most soldiers won't fire unless there's 1. serious training or 2. distance).
A couple parts of this book had me near tears, not of relief, but of hope. What if people really are good, and we've been blinded by what sells to believe otherwise? Oh, wait, that is exactly what happened.
Gosh, I want to believe that humans are good. With all the shit in the world right now, this is a book of hope. I strongly recommend this book. If you can't afford a copy, let me know, I will buy you a copy.
True, the disaster in New Orleans was an extreme case. But the dynamic during disasters is almost always the same: adversity strikes and there’s a wave of spontaneous cooperation in response, then the authorities panic and unleash a second disaster.
If you believe something enough, it can become real. If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the nocebo effect, it’s that ideas are never merely ideas. We are what we believe. We find what we go looking for. And what we predict, comes to pass.
Imagine for a moment that a new drug comes on the market. It’s super-addictive, and in no time everyone’s hooked. Scientists investigate and soon conclude that the drug causes, I quote, ‘a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, [and] desensitization’
That drug is the news.
Because the news is about the exceptional, and the more exceptional an event is – be it a terrorist attack, violent uprising, or natural disaster – the bigger its newsworthiness.
Second, to stand up for human goodness is to take a stand against the powers that be. For the powerful, a hopeful view of human nature is downright threatening. Subversive. Seditious. It implies that we’re not selfish beasts that need to be reined in, restrained and regulated. It implies that we need a different kind of leadership. A company with intrinsically motivated employees has no need of managers; a democracy with engaged citizens has no need of career politicians.
Bryan Gibson demonstrated that watching Lord of the Flies-type television can make people more aggressive.25 In children, the correlation between seeing violent images and aggression in adulthood is stronger than the correlation between asbestos and cancer, or between calcium intake and bone mass.2
Cynical stories have an even more marked effect on the way we look at the world
The latest generation of friendly foxes was not only remarkably astute, but also much smarter than their aggressive counterparts.
Up until then the assumption had always been that domestication diminishes brainpower, literally reducing grey matter and in the process sacrificing skills needed to survive in the wild. We all know the clichés. Sly as a fox. Dumb as an ox. But Brian came to a completely different conclusion. ‘If you want a clever fox,’ he says, ‘you don’t select for cleverness. You select for friendliness.’
hunter-gatherers travelled light. They didn’t have much and they didn’t leave much behind. Fortunately for us, there’s an important exception. Cave paintings. If our state of nature was a ‘war of all against all’ à la Hobbes, then you’d expect that someone, at some point in this period, would have painted a picture of it. But that’s never been found. While there are thousands of cave paintings from this time about hunting bison, horses and gazelles, there’s not a single depiction of war.45
Take the following account recorded in 1492 by a traveller on coming ashore in the Bahamas. He was astonished at how peaceful the inhabitants were. ‘They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword … and [they] cut themselves out of ignorance.’ This gave him an idea. ‘They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.’1 Christopher Columbus – the traveller in question – lost no time putting his plan into action
you need to know something about prehistoric politics. Basically, our ancestors were allergic to inequality. Decisions were group affairs requiring long deliberation in which everybody got to have their say. ‘Nomadic foragers,’ established one American anthropologist on the basis of a formidable 339 fieldwork studies, ‘are universally – and all but obsessively – concerned with being free from the authority of others.’3
Settled life exacted an especially heavy toll on women. The rise of private property and farming brought the age of proto-feminism to an end. Sons stayed on the paternal plot to tend the land and livestock, which meant brides now had to be fetched for the family farm. Over centuries, marriageable daughters were reduced to little more than commodities, to be bartered like cows or sheep.29 In their new families, these brides were viewed with suspicion, and only after presenting them with a son did women gain a measure of acceptance. A legitimate son, that is. It’s no accident that female virginity turned into an obsession. Where in prehistory women had been free to come and go as they pleased, now they were being covered up and tethered down. The patriarchy was born.
The very things we hold up today as ‘milestones of civilization’, such as the invention of money, the development of writing, or the birth of legal institutions, started out as instruments of oppression. Take the first coins: we didn’t begin minting money because we thought it would make life easier, but because rulers wanted an efficient way to levy taxes.42 Or think about the earliest written texts: these weren’t books of romantic poetry, but long lists of outstanding debts.
So why is our perception of ‘barbarians’ so negative? Why do we automatically equate a lack of ‘civilisation’ with dark times? History, as we know, is written by the victors. The earliest texts abound with propaganda for states and sovereigns, put out by oppressors seeking to elevate themselves while looking down on everybody else. The word ‘barbarian’ was itself coined as a catch-all for anyone who didn’t speak ancient Greek. That’s how our sense of history gets flipped upside down. Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.
Too many environmental activists underestimate the resilience of humankind. My fear is that their cynicism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy – a nocebo that paralyses us with despair, while temperatures climb unabated.
‘There’s a failure to recognise that not only problems but also solutions can grow exponentially,’ Professor Boersema told me. ‘There’s no guarantee they will. But they can.’
Painstaking analyses of the hundreds of sessions at Milgram’s shock machine furthermore reveal that subjects grew more disobedient the more overbearing the man in the grey coat became. Put differently: Homo puppy did not brainlessly follow the authority’s orders. Turns out we have a downright aversion to bossy behaviour.
When psychologist Don Mixon repeated Milgram’s experiment in the seventies, he arrived at the same conclusion. He later noted, ‘In fact, people go to great lengths, will suffer great distress, to be good. People got caught up in trying to be good …’24 In other words, if you push people hard enough, if you poke and prod, bait and manipulate, many of us are indeed capable of doing evil. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But evil doesn’t live just beneath the surface; it takes immense effort to draw it out. And most importantly, evil has to be disguised as doing good.
The subjects who managed to halt the experiment used three tactics: 1. Talk to the victim. 2. Remind the man in the grey lab coat of his responsibility. 3. Repeatedly refuse to continue. Communication and confrontation, compassion and resistance.
The good news is: these are trainable skills. Resistance just takes practice. ‘What distinguishes Milgram’s heroes,’ Hollander observes, ‘is largely a teachable competency at resisting questionable authority.
Where mighty Germany was doped up on years of racist propaganda, modest Denmark was steeped in humanist spirit. Danish leaders had always insisted on the sanctity of the democratic rule of law. Anybody who sought to pit people against each other was not considered worthy to be called a Dane. There could be no such thing as a ‘Jewish question’. There were only countrymen.
Over the course of history, weaponry has got ever better at overcoming the central problem of all warfare: our fundamental aversion to violence. It’s practically impossible for us to kill someone while looking them in the eyes. Just as most of us would instantly go vegetarian if forced to butcher a cow, most soldiers become conscientious objectors when the enemy gets too close.
Keltner eventually realised what it reminded him of. The medical term is ‘acquired sociopathy’: a non-hereditary antisocial personality disorder, first diagnosed by psychologists in the nineteenth century. It arises after a blow to the head that damages key regions of the brain and can turn the nicest people into the worst kind of Machiavellian. It transpires that people in power display the same tendencies.10 They literally act like someone with brain damage. Not only are they more impulsive, self-centred, reckless, arrogant and rude than average, they are more likely to cheat on their spouses, are less attentive to other people and less interested in others’ perspectives.
In reality, bonobos are an altogether different creature. In Chapter 4 we saw that these apes have domesticated themselves, just like Homo puppy. The female of the species seem to have been key to this process, because, while not as strong as the males, they close ranks any time one of their own gets harassed by the opposite sex. If necessary, they bite his penis in half.19 Thanks to this balance of power, bonobo females can pick and choose their own mates, and the nicest guys usually finish first.
Leadership was temporary among hunter-gatherers and decisions were made as a group. Anyone foolish enough to act as Machiavelli later prescribed was risking their life. The selfish and the greedy would get booted out of the tribe and faced likely starvation. After all, nobody wanted to share food with those who were full of themselves.
We’re fine with a little inequality, psychologists emphasise, if we think it’s justified. As long as things seem fair. If you can convince the masses that you’re smarter or better or holier, then it makes sense that you’re in charge and you won’t have to fear opposition.
With the advent of the first settlements and growth in inequality, chieftains and kings had to start legitimising why they enjoyed more privileges than their subjects. In other words, they began engaging in propaganda.
Just consider: why would people hole up in cages we know as ‘offices’ for forty hours a week in exchange for some bits of metal and paper or a few digits added to their bank account? Is it because
The reason is self-evident. If you ignore a bill or don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined or locked up. If you don’t willingly comply, the authorities will come after you. Money may be a fiction, but it’s enforced by the threat of very real violence.
Most revolutions ultimately fail, though. No sooner is one despot brought down than a new leader stands up and develops an insatiable lust for power. After the French Revolution it was Napoleon. After the Russian Revolution it was Lenin and Stalin.
Rousseau already observed that this form of government is more accurately an ‘elective aristocracy’ because in practice the people are not in power at all. Instead we’re allowed to decide who holds power over us. It’s also important to realise this model was originally designed to exclude society’s rank and file.
Take the American Constitution: historians agree it ‘was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period’.35 It was never the American Founding Fathers’ intention for the general populace to play an active role in politics.
Time and again we hope for better leaders, but all too often those hopes are dashed. The reason, says Professor Keltner, is that power causes people to lose the kindness and modesty that got them elected, or they never possessed those sterling qualities in the first place.
In 1959, the BBC asked Russell what advice he would give future generations. He answered: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts.
But from then on I would be haunted by Russell’s warning: ‘Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe.’
Beliefs we’re devoted to – whether they’re true or imagined – can likewise come to life, effecting very real change in the world. The Pygmalion Effect resembles the placebo effect (which I discussed in Chapter 1), except, instead of benefiting oneself, these are expectations that benefit others.
What’s fascinating is that the two major ideologies of the twentieth century – capitalism and communism – both shared this view of humanity. Both the capitalist and the communist would tell you that there are only two ways to propel people into action: carrots and sticks. The capitalists relied on carrots (read: money), whereas the communists
For all their differences, there was one basic premise on which both sides could agree: People don’t motivate themselves. Now you may be thinking: Oh, it’s not as bad as that. I, for one, am plenty motivated. I’m not going to argue. In fact, I’m sure you’re right. My point is that we tend to think those other people lack motivation. Professor Chip Heath of Stanford University refers to this as our extrinsic incentives bias. That is, we go around assuming other people can be motivated solely by money.
Edward Deci was a young psychologist working on his PhD at a time when the field was in a thrall to behaviourism. This theory held – like Frederick Taylor’s – that people are shiftless creatures. The only thing powerful enough to spur us to action is the promise of a reward or the fear of punishment. Yet Deci had a nagging sense that this theory didn’t stack up. After all, people go around doing all kinds of nutty things that don’t fit the behaviourist view. Like climbing mountains (hard!), volunteering (free!) and having babies (intense!). In fact, we’re continually engaging in activities – of our own free will – that don’t earn us a penny and are downright exhausting. Why?
HELLO, ULTIMATE FRISBEE!
A few years ago, researchers at the University of Massachusetts analysed fifty-one studies on the effects of economic incentives in the workplace. They found ‘overwhelming evidence’ that bonuses can blunt the intrinsic motivation and moral compass of employees.12 And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they also discovered that bonuses and targets can erode creativity. Extrinsic incentives will generally pay out in kind. Pay by the hour and you get more hours. Pay by the publication and you get more publications. Pay by the surgical procedure and you get more surgical procedures.
People do what they are incentivized to do.
Time and again, we assume that others care only about themselves. That, unless there’s a reward in the offing, people much prefer to lounge around. A British study recently found that a vast majority of the population (74 per cent) identify more closely with values such as helpfulness, honesty and justice than with wealth, status and power. But just about as large a share (78 per cent) think others are more self-interested than they really are.
De Blok sums up his philosophy like this: ‘It’s easy to make things hard, but hard to make them easy.’ The record clearly shows that managers prefer the complicated. ‘Because that makes your job more interesting,’ de Blok explains. ‘That lets you say: See, you need me to master that complexity.’ Could it be that’s also driving a big part of our so-called ‘knowledge economy’? That pedigree managers and consultants make simple things as complicated as possible so we will need them to steer us through all the complexity?
Not until the late nineteenth century did children once again have more time to play. Historians call this period the ‘golden age’ of unstructured play, when child labour was banned and parents increasingly left kids to themselves.21 In many neighbourhoods in Europe and North America no one even bothered to keep an eye on them, and kids simply roamed free most of the day. These golden days were short-lived, however, as from the 1980s onward life grew progressively busier, in the workplace and the classroom. Individualism and the culture of achievement gained precedence. Families grew smaller and parents began to worry whether their progeny would make the grade.
Turns out, I keep catching the edge of a lot of good things.
So maybe there’s an even bigger question we should be asking: What’s the purpose of education?
‘The opposite of play is not work,’ the psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith once said. ‘The opposite of play is depression.’41
These days, the way many of us work – with no freedom, no play, no intrinsic motivation – is fuelling an epidemic of depression.
Many citizens of democracies are, at best, permitted to choose their own aristocracy.
On the whole, voters tend to take a fairly dim view of politicians, and vice versa.
Among the most notable findings to come out of contact science is that prejudices can be eliminated only if we retain our own identity.40 We need to realise it’s okay that we’re all different – there’s nothing wrong with that. We can build strong houses for our identities, with sturdy foundations. Then we can throw open the doors.
Having faith in others is as much a rational decision as an emotional one. Of course, seeing where someone else is coming from doesn’t mean you need to see eye to eye. You can understand the mindset of a fascist, a terrorist, or a fan of Love Actually without jumping on the fascist, terrorist, or lover-of-sappy-movies bandwagon. (I have to say, I’m a proud member of that last group.) Understanding the other at a rational level is a skill. It’s a muscle you can train.
Where we need our capacity for reason most of all is to suppress, from time to time, our desire to be nice. Sometimes our sociable instinct gets in the way of truth and of equity. Because consider: haven’t we all seen someone treated unfairly yet kept silent to avoid being disagreeable? Haven’t we all swallowed our words just to keep the peace? Haven’t we all accused those who fight for their rights of rocking the boat?
This is book three of Scalzi's Interdepency and much like the first one in the series, I picked up the book and pretty much read it straight through, with a couple pauses to, oh, you know, work and sleep. In reality, after reading Redshirts, I wanted to keep reading Scalzi, despite having several books going already. That's the way it is sometimes.
So, a few things about this book.
1. Scalzi is taking notes from George R. R. Martin, and I don't like it. I had to read that Martin-esque part over again three, maybe four times, skip to the end, come back, read it again, and, did I mention I don't like it because I'm sure I did. Sure, yes, good plot point, nice foreshadowing, interesting twist, and I don't like it.
2. There is likely a reason the name Kiva and the name Kitt are so fucking similar that you can't fucking help but fucking notice the fucking similarity. You can guess which character's storyline I enjoyed reading the fucking most. And no, my mother does not fucking talk that way, thankfully.
3. I absolutely love how many times in this book in particular, a character would stop and, while being upset at something another character said, recognize that the shit thing that came from the other character (words, gestures, advice, the like) was actually fair. Authors often have verbal tics, words or phrases repeated so frequently in a book that they stand out. I don't recall any of Scalzi's other tics offhand, but this one stood out. I liked it. I rather wish more people were able to separate the message from the messenger and appreciate the feedback being given.
So, basic plot: recognition of the end of the current implementation of human civilization, some political maneuvering, many assassinations, a few foreshadowings, a broken heart, and the good guys win in the end.
The series is a fun read and worth reading, a good science-fiction recommendation. Be unsurprised if you throw this book across the room at some point about 3/4 of the way through, then scurry over to pick it back up so that you can finish it.
Senia Fundapellonan was not wrong about Kiva; Kiva was extremely self-interested. Senia thought that was neither good nor bad, but Kiva was of a different mind about that. She thought it was pretty much the only way to be in a universe that didn’t care about anyone’s life one way or another, and in a civilization that was designed to keep the rich as rich as possible and the poor from actively starving so they wouldn’t think to rise up and behead the rich. An uncaring universe and a fundamentally static civilization would smother anyone who didn’t keep themselves and their own concerns front and center.
Rules are rules, Robinette said, and dubbed her “Karen.”
Marce did not flatter himself into thinking this advantage was a result of his own native ability. There were dozens if not hundreds of Flow physicists more naturally talented than he was,
“What I feel is that there is a pattern,” Marce said. “Not a pattern, exactly. But something not random about it, either.”
Because people love their patterns.
“I’m not suggesting anything,” Rachela said. “I will note that humans are not great at thinking over the long term, and we were no exception to that. Neither are you, for that matter.”
“The families who aren’t here are … sympathetic to your aims. They just want to see which way the wind blows before they commit.”
Nadashe snorted at this. “In other words, they’re cowards.”
“They might say they’re hedging sensibly,” Proster suggested.
The second reason was that the ruling class of the Interdependency, favoring financial and social stability over having the lumpenproletariat trying to rip their heads from their necks at every opportunity, opted to have the Interdependency’s baseline standard of living one where no one starved, or was without shelter, or died of easily preventable diseases or went bankrupt if they had a heart attack or lost a job, or both.
Everyone knew what was coming. Some even prepared and planned. But at the end of it, everyone assumed that something or someone would come along to save the civilization that they lived in and could not conceive of actually disappearing. Something or someone would come along to save them. They would be saved, along with everyone else. It was a nice thought. It wasn’t true. At the very least, not yet.
They both came away from the meeting feeling like they had manipulated the other precisely, which meant it was a good meeting.
"I will say it was a disaster of my own making, which is why I could see it coming from a long way off.”
“If you could see it coming, why couldn’t you avoid it?”
“Because some choices you make, you can’t come back from,” Chenevert said. “And very early on in my reign, when I was pompous and foolish, I made several of those sorts of choices. In rapid succession. Everything proceeded from there."
“Looking back on your life and knowing how much better you could have been is never a great feeling."
“It’s not a great idea to be too in love with your own cleverness.”
“What are you, my mother?”
“If I were your mother, I’d use the word ‘fuck’ more often.”
“It’s a perfectly good word.”
“Sure,” Senia said. “Maybe not as every other word that comes out of your mouth, though.”
“I don’t even hear myself saying it, half the fucking time.”
“Did lying ever backfire for you?”
“Personally or as emperox?”
“Of course,” Rachela said.
“Telling the truth also backfired for me at times as well, in the times where it might have been kinder, easier or more politic to lie. Lies do not in themselves lead to poor outcomes, nor does truth in every circumstance lead to good ones. As with so many things, context matters.”
"Do you know what I plan to do with my body once I am dead?”
“I do not, Countess.”
“Neither do I. I’ll be dead and I won’t give a shit.
Marce and Cardenia might perhaps one day mess up their relationship—people did that, and Marce didn’t delude himself that just because he loved Cardenia it didn’t mean he wouldn’t aggravate the crap out of her sometimes—but they would do it from a state that would encourage constancy and reconciliation as a baseline. Marce was pretty sure he could work with that: every day a new day to start again, building a life together.
“Here it is: I want your support. I want your house’s support.”
“I’m not my house. You’ll have to talk to my mother about that.”
“I did. One of my representatives did, anyway.”
“Yeah? How did that go?”
“She said that we could all fuck ourselves with a rented dick. The same rented dick.”
“That’s my mom,” Kiva said.
Laughed out loud on that one.
Okay, yes, I know that I have said, on numerous occasions, if Scalzi writes it, I will read it. That is just the way it is, no arguing.
Except I hadn't read this book. I had actively chosen not to read this book. Why? Because the reviews said it diverged from the classic science fiction that Scalzi is known for, and if I wanted to read not-science-fiction Scalzi, I'll read his blog. So, I skipped it.
All the way until Rob commented that it was the perfect brain candy and he hadn't laughed this hard in a while (who knows if that while is more than I day, I don't, because getting Rob to laugh is a goal of every conversation), and I have already read it wait I haven't well I should. So, as soon as I was done with The Gates of Fire (which I recommended to Rob), I started Redshirts.
Is not classic Scalzi science fiction.
Yes, the Redshirt phenomenon from Star Trek is the title of the book, and yes, the characters figure this out, but there are more absurdities in the plot, resulting in an internally-consistent and thoroughly-absurd plot twist (time travel back to the authors) that is the cause for the original fanboy uproar that kept me from reading the book. It wasn't so bad. I enjoyed how all the pieced tied up nicely at the end.
Worth reading if you're a Scalzi fan, or a quirky science-fiction fan.
Dahl paused a moment before answering. “Do you know how the rich are different than you or me?” he asked Duvall.
“You mean, besides having more money,” Duvall said.
“Yeah,” Dahl said.
“No,” Duvall said.
“What makes them different—the smart ones, anyway—is that they have a very good sense of why people want to be near them. Whether it’s because they want to be friends, which is not about proximity to money and access and power, or if they want to be part of an entourage, which is. Make sense?”
Hester looked at Hanson admiringly. “I didn’t think you were that cynical,” Hester said.
Hanson shrugged again. “When you’re the heir to the third largest fortune in the history of the universe, you learn to question people’s motivations,” he said.
“Sure, I’ll baby-sit him until he passes out,” Dahl said.
“Man, I owe you a blowjob,” Duvall said.
“What?” Dahl said.
“What?” Hester said.
“Sorry,” Duvall said. “In ground forces, when someone does you a favor you tell them you owe them a sex act. If it’s a little thing, it’s a handjob. Medium, blowjob. Big favor, you owe them a fuck. Force of habit. It’s just an expression.”
“Got it,” Dahl said.
“No actual blowjob forthcoming,” Duvall said. “To be clear.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Dahl said.
I read this and, yes, starting laughing out loud. I'm sure this isn't Caltech specific, but this is an actual conversation I have had.
"But they don’t know why. You do.”
“Maybe I do,” Jenkins said. “But why would it matter?”
“Because if you don’t know why something is the way it is, then you don’t know anything about it at all,” Dahl said. “All the tricks and superstitions aren’t going to do a damn bit of good if you don’t know the reason for them. The conditions could change and then you’re screwed.”
Hanson said. “When you’re nuts, your reasoning is consistent with your own internal logic, but it’s internal logic, which doesn’t make any sort of sense outside your own head.” He pointed at Jenkins. “His logic is external and reasonable enough.”
“In retrospect, the plan has significant logistical issues,” Finn admitted. “On the other hand, it worked. You can’t argue with success.”
“Sure you can,” Dahl said, “when it’s based on stupidity.”
Also known as a Bold Play™ in ultimate.
“Yes, and I have training dealing with deep, existential questions,” Dahl said. “The way I’m dealing with it right now is this: I don’t care whether I really exist or don’t, whether I’m real or fictional. What I want right now is to be the person who decides my own fate. That’s something I can work on. It’s what I’m working on now.”
I never understood writer’s block before this. You’re a writer and you suddenly can’t write because your girlfriend broke up with you? Shit, dude, that’s the perfect time to write. It’s not like you’re doing anything else with your nights. Having a hard time coming up with the next scene? Have something explode. You’re done.
You don’t win by getting through all your life not having done anything.
“E, don’t you ever wonder about how your life could have been different?” Samantha asks, changing the subject slightly. “Don’t you ever wonder, if things just happened a little differently, you might have a different job, or different husband, or different children? Do you think you would have been happier? And if you could see that other life, how would it make you feel?”
“Did you want to make a confession?” Father Neil asks. Samantha giggles despite herself.
“I don’t think I could confess to you with a straight face,” she says.
“This is the problem of coming to a priest you used to date in high school,” Father Neil says.
“You weren’t a priest then,” Samantha notes.
SAMANTHA WASN'T THE ONLY ONE GIGGLING AT THIS. Take note, Paul. <grins>
This book was recommended in a recent Ryan Holiday's book-reading newsletter. He had read the book 14 years ago, recently reread it, and was impressed with all the nuances of the book. Along with The Road, I picked up the book from the library. Related: I'm pretty sure that I read the Reading List emails faster than most people on the list, as the books Holiday recommends are usually available when I look for them, and have a backlog of holds about a week later. Is amusing to me.
The book is the telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, more commonly known in today's culture as the battle that the 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persian invaders. Now, I am REALLY not a fan of historical fiction, to the point where I might say the movie is better I dislike historical fiction so much, but, well, this causes me to reconsider my stance. The book is written in third person, and not third person omniscient, which means we see the characters' actions, but don't hear their thoughts. I suspect this is why I enjoyed it, it was a story that didn't go too far.
The basic plot of the book is, well, the Battle of Thermopylae. That story has been told many times, in many mediums. I found the surrounding elements of the book engaging. Pressfield gives us many lessons of Stoicism in the book, while wrapping them into the story, without the dryness of a textbook or the boredom of a lecture. He gives us
The parts that I appreciated the most were the elements of reality in the book. The Spartans were well trained, seeming superhuman, but they were still human. They felt despair. They felt misery. They felt heartache and pain. Pressfield gives us these, tells us about them, and shows us how habits and training and acknowledgement and acceptance all work towards becoming the people we want to be. He shows us that being a warrior was a job, and that includes embracing the suck, as Rob told me was a Marine saying. We also read about the camaraderie of the warriors, how adversity binds us, and how there a moments when we become more than just ourselves.
I also appreciated the campfire philosophy sessions, and, well, let's be real, all the shit talk.
As much as Holiday recommended this book, I strongly recommend it, too. Great book. Way worth reading.
She was trying to dispatch the child that might be growing inside her. “She thinks she has given offense to the god Hymen,” Bruxieus explained to me when I broke in upon her one day and she chased me with curses and a hail of stones. “She fears that she may never be a man’s wife now but only a slave or a whore. I have tried to tell her this is foolishness, but she will not hear it, coming from a man.”
This was the first and only time I saw Bruxieus truly, physically angry. He seized me by both shoulders and shook me violently, commanding me to face him. “Listen to me, boy. Only gods and heroes can be brave in isolation. A man may call upon courage only one way, in the ranks with his brothers-in-arms, the line of his tribe and his city. Most piteous of all states under heaven is that of a man alone, bereft of the gods of his home and his polis. A man without a city is not a man. He is a shadow, a shell, a joke and a mockery. That is what you have become now, my poor Xeo. No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home.”
I curled contorted in Diomache’s arms, with Bruxieus’ bulk enwrapping us both for warmth. I called out again and again to the gods but received no whisper in reply. They had abandoned us, it was clear, now that we no longer possessed ourselves or were possessed by our polis.
The roar multiplied threefold, then five, and ten, as the enemy rear ranks and flankers picked the clamor up and contributed their own bluster and bronze-banging. Soon the entire fifty-four hundred were bellowing the war cry. Their commander thrust his spear forward and the mass surged behind him into the advance. The Spartans had neither moved nor made a sound. They waited patiently in their scarlet-cloaked ranks, neither grim nor rigid, but speaking quietly to each other words of encouragement and cheer, securing the final preparation for actions they had rehearsed hundreds of times in training and performed dozens and scores more in battle.
Once, at home when I was a child, Bruxieus and I had helped our neighbor Pierion relocate three of his stacked wooden beehives. As we jockeyed the stack into place upon its new stand, someone’s foot slipped. The stacked hives dropped. From within those stoppered confines yet clutched in our hands arose such an alarum, neither shriek nor cry, growl nor roar, but a thrum from the netherworld, a vibration of rage and murder that ascended not from brain or heart, but from the cells, the atoms of the massed poleis within the hives.
They did not strip the bodies of the slain, as the soldiers of any other city would eagerly and gloatingly do, nor did they erect trophies of vainglory and conceit from the arms of the vanquished. Their austere thank-offering was a single cock, worth less than an obol, not because they disrespected the gods, but because they held them in awe and deemed it dishonorable to overexpress their mortal joy in this triumph that heaven had granted them.
“Let those we spared this day stand beside us in line of battle on that day when we teach the Persian once and for all what valor free men can bring to bear against slaves, no matter how vast their numbers or how fiercely they are driven on by their child-king’s whip.”
Dekton was the first person I had ever met, man or boy, who had absolutely no fear of the gods. He didn’t hate them as some do, or mock their antics as I had heard the impious freethinkers did in Athens and Corinth. Dekton didn’t grant their existence at all. There were no gods, it was as simple as that. This struck me with a kind of awe. I kept watch, waiting for him to be felled by some hideous blow of heaven.
“I saw Dienekes first from behind. Just his bare shoulders and the back of his head. I knew in an instant that I would love him and only him all my life.”
“At last he turned. He was wrestling another boy. Even then, Xeo, Dienekes was unhandsome. You could hardly believe he was his brother’s brother. But to my eyes he appeared eueidestatos, the soul of beauty. The gods could not have crafted a face more open or touching to my heart.
“The gods make us love whom we will not,” the lady declared, “and disrequite whom we will. They slay those who should live and spare those who deserve to die. They give with one hand and take with the other, answerable only to their own unknowable laws.”
“Men’s pain is lightly borne and swiftly over. Our wounds are of the flesh, which is nothing; women’s is of the heart—sorrow unending, far more bitter to bear.”
Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not
merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from them; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.
His Majesty, cognizant of the catastrophic consequence for the Greeks of this betrayal, may marvel at their response in assembly to the timely and fortuitous warning delivered by the noble Tyrrhastiadas. They didn’t believe him. They thought it was a trick. Such an irrational and self-deluding response may be understood only in the light not alone of the exhaustion and despair which had by that hour overwhelmed the allies’ hearts but by the corresponding exaltation and contempt of death, which are, like the mated faces of a coin, their obverse and concomitant.
There is a secret all warriors share, so private that none dare give it voice, save only to those mates drawn dearer than brothers by the shared ordeal of arms. This is the knowledge of the hundred acts of his own cowardice. The little things that no one sees. The comrade who fell and cried for aid. Did I pass him by? Choose my skin over his? That was my crime, of which I accuse myself in the tribunal of my heart and there condemn myself as guilty. All a man wants is to live. This before all: to cling to breath. To survive. Yet even this most primal of instincts, self-preservation, even this necessity of the blood shared by all beneath heaven, beasts as well as man, even this may be worn down by fatigue and excess of horror. A form of courage enters the heart which is not courage but despair and not despair but exaltation.
“When I first came to Lakedaemon and they called me ‘Suicide,’ I hated it. But in time I came to see its wisdom, unintentional as it was. For what can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. Not with a blade in the guts. But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. That, I saw, was the victory you Spartans had gained over yourselves. That was the glue. It was what you had learned and it made me stay, to learn it too.
This book was recommended by Ryan Holiday in his June reading list. It sounded interesting, so I borrowed it from the library, read it, and here we are.
The struggle in this book is man against nature in a post-apocalyptic world which seems to be some sort of ecological disaster that blighted the world. Many scenes include ash and melted roads, along with the two main characters, a father and his son, covering their faces with masks so that they can breathe. The disaster is such that it appears there are very few people left, and the ability to grow crops or feed is pretty much gone. The remaining people are struggling to survive, which includes resorting to anything edible, including other people.
The journey of the father and son is to the ocean. They are moving along with a shopping cart, trying to survive. They appear to have been doing this together for six, eight, maybe ten years, since the boy was born, and the ocean is some level of salvation. Except it really isn't. It is more like "something to do that provides some level of meaning."
I can see where the book would be more emotional if, say, a parent is reading the book and is thinking of their child when reading it. I lack that perspective, so some aspects were perhaps lost on me. What wasn't lost on me was the portrayal of flowing empathy and refused kindness. The boy wants to help, the father knows they can't. The boy is angry the father refused to help some people, the father fears losing his son's love as the father chooses their survival. It's a hard choice, too willfully lose your humanity to keep a loved one alive.
The book is worth reading, but I'm not sure it would be one of my first books to recommend.
He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that. You forget some things, dont you? Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death.
No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.
I cant help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. You say you cant? Then dont do it. That’s all.
A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.
Because I wasn't done reading books I should have read, but didn't, in junior high and high school, nor was I done reading historical war fiction, I picked up this book. Well, that, and because it was recommended as a book that illustrates different aspects of the Civil War (Abe's a babe!). The Killer Angels was also recommended, so both entered into my reading list in the fast track.
The five Aprils of the title are the five Aprils that the Civil War spans. The story opens with an introduction to Jethro Creighton, a white Southern Illinois 9 year old boy who farms a plot of land with his father, brother, three brothers (might have been a cousin in there), and sister. There had been several other siblings in the mix, but death came to at least four that I was paying attention to (illness for three, wagon accident for one). His mother, Ellen, couldn't read, but Jenny, his sister, could. The whole family works the farm in some fashion.
While reading the book, I was struck with how much the book smacks of Early American Stoicism: work needs doing, so do it; life sucks, you carry on; tragedies happen, appreciate the bounties. The book was published in 1964, which makes me wonder if this is more "This is how we think people thought back then," more than "people actually thought this way back then." I had the same question when reading The Little House on the Prairie. Was that really the prevailing mentality? Or are we fictionalizing it the same way Gone with the Wind fictionalized "It was about state's rights!"?
I appreciated how the plot mentioned many of the leaders for both sides in the Civil War. If one has no recollection of the battles fought or the duration of the war, this book is a fine introduction to some of the names. I can't say I recognized very many of the leaders for either side. This book and various animated maps of the troop movements of the American Civil War have helped greatly in reading other American Civil War books. One can appreciate how they all come together.
As the "gentle introduction to the American Civil War," this book is great. It presents, in an easily comprehensible way, the various arguments for the Southern Secession, and puts forth a number of the counter arguments, including the one that f'ing trumps them all: slavery is an abomination that should be wiped from the face of the Earth. The initial character conversations need to be read out loud to be comprehensible, with their being written phonetically instead of being spelled correctly. I argue that contributes to the charm.
Strongly recommended, even if you aren't in junior high school any more.
Of note, when I started reading the book, I couldn't figure out if the main character and his family was white or black. Eventually we learn of hair color, and the cover of the book distinctly shows a white boy. Until then, I was uncertain. I'm guessing I didn't recognize the era properly when I started reading the book.
Jethro was depressed by her somber mood, but not by the imminence of war. He had listened to his brother Tom and their cousin Eb, the two younger of the grown boys in the household, and their excitement had found its way into his blood. Dread of war was a womanly weakness, he had discovered, evidenced by his mother’s melancholy and the tears of Jenny and his brother John’s wife, Nancy.
She had a way of closing her eyes briefly when exasperated as if to reject for at least a second the existence of a folly that she was bound to recognize later.
War meant loud brass music and shining horses ridden by men wearing uniforms finer than any suit in the stores at Newton; it meant men riding like kings, looking neither to the right nor the left, while lesser men in perfect lines strode along with guns across their shoulders, their heads held high like horses with short reins. When the battle thundered and exploded on all sides—well, some men were killed, of course, but the stories of war that Jethro remembered were about the men who had managed to live through the thunder and explosion.
The shot that Travis Burdow fired over Rob Nelson’s team that night was a shot fired at a society that had kicked a boy from childhood on because he bore his grandfather’s name.
“He’s like a man standin’ where two roads meet, Jeth,” she said finally, “and one road is as dark and fearsome as the other; there ain’t a choice between the two, and yet a choice has to be made.” She shook her head. “May the Lord help him,” she whispered. “May the Lord guide his hand.”
Then Ellen’s voice was heard, timid and a little tremulous; farm women didn’t enter often into man-talk of politics or national affairs.
Wilse brought his hand down sharply on the table. “What the South wants is the right to live as it sees fit to live without interference. And it kin live! Do
What about the right and wrong of one man ownin’ the body—and sometimes it looks as if the soul, too—of another man?”
“I’ll say this to you, Cousin John,” he said finally. “I own a few slaves, and if I stood before my Maker alongside one of ’em, I’d hev no way to justify the fact that I was master and he was slave. But leavin’ that final reckonin’ fer the time, let me ask you this: ain’t there been slavery from the beginnin’ of history? Didn’t the men that we give honor to, the men that shaped up the Constitution of our country, didn’t they recognize slavery? Did they see it as a festerin’ hurt?”
“Well then, I’ll ask you this: if tomorrow every slave in the South had his freedom and come up North, would yore abolitionists git the crocodile tears sloshed out of their eyes so they could take the black man by the hand? Would they say, ‘We’ll see that you git good-payin’ work fitted to what you’re able to do—we’ll see that you’re well housed and clothed—we want you to come to our churches and yore children to come to our schools—why, we danged near fergit the difference in the colors of our skins because we air so almighty full of brotherly love!’ Would it be like that in yore northern cities, Cousin John?” “It ain’t like that fer the masses of white people in our northern cities—nor in the southern cities either. And yet, there ain’t a white man, lean-bellied and hopeless as so many of them are, that would change lots with a slave belongin’ to the kindest master in the South.”
“Slavery, I hate. But it is with us, and them that should suffer fer the evil they brought to our shores air long dead. What I want us to answer in this year of 1861 is this, John: does the trouble over slavery come because men’s hearts is purer above the Mason-Dixon line? Or does slavery throw a shadder over greed and keep that greed from showin’ up quite so bare and ugly?” Wilse Graham seemed to leap at Bill’s question. “You’re right, Cousin Bill. It’s greed, not slavery, that’s stirrin’ up this trouble. And as fer human goodness—men’s hearts is jest as black today as in the Roman times
Matt Creighton shook his head. “Human nature ain’t any better one side of a political line than on the
We’re from the South, John; would we want men of their kind tellin’ us how we must live?”
“There’s strong feeling throughout the country,” Shadrach continued. “To open fire because provisions are being brought to hungry men...” “Mister, I’d like to git a word in right here.” Wilse Graham’s voice was strident with anger. “This is exactly what Ol’ Abe’s bin waitin’ fer—jest exactly what he wanted. He’s worked it so the Confederates would fire the first round, and he’s fixed it so they fired on hungry men. Well, fine! Now he kin set back and look pious at the states that has been blowin’ hot and cold.”
“I don’t know if anybody ever ‘wins’ a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin’s of this war has been fanned by hate till it’s a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt.
“But the South started it, didn’t they, Bill?” “The South and the North and the East and the West—we all started it. The old slavers of other days and the fact‘ry owners of today that need high tariffs to help ’em git rich, and the cotton growers that need slave labor to help ‘em git rich and the new territories and the wild talk—”
When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it.
“I’m not eager for it either, Jeth, not by a long way. I’ve got a lot of plans for the next forty or fifty years of my life, and being a soldier is not a part of any single one of them.”
“I think a lot of Mr. Lincoln,” he stated in quiet self-defense after a while. “I know you do, Jeth.” “Lots of people don’t. I could name you people in this neighborhood that hate him like poison.” “Not only in this neighborhood—not only in the South, either. It seems that people everywhere are criticizing him. The abolitionists hate him as much as the sympathizers of the South do. People blame him for the mistakes of his generals; and they’re just as bitter about his grammar, his appearance, his family.” Shadrach took a poker and stirred it thoughtfully among the red coals. “I’m not wise enough to measure Mr. Lincoln, Jeth; I just don’t know. But I have a feeling of confidence and faith in him that I can’t always justify. Sometimes I’m angered with him as others are; sometimes I can’t understand him. But somehow my faith in him always comes back.”
[H]e wished with all his heart that he had not meddled in the affairs of a country at war, that he had let Eb work out his own problems, that he, Jethro, were still a sheltered young boy who did the tasks his father set for him and shunned the idea that he dare think for himself.
“But they’re bein’ cheered on, Matt. Congress—the whole country—is happy with ‘em; these boys air goin’ to believe that they be heroes for lootin’ and burnin’, fer laughin’ at distress, fer smashin’ the helpless without pity.
“Don’t expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth,” Ross Milton had warned. “This is a land lying in destruction, physical and spiritual. If the twisted railroads and the burned cities and the fields covered with the bones of dead men— if that were all, we could soon rise out of the destruction. But the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men until they should be in straitjackets rather than in high office—these are the things that may make peace a sorry thing....”
While reading The Killer Angels, I found myself in a fit of "gosh, I want to read fiction right now." I had enjoyed reading Dread Nation, and recalled a sequel was coming out. That thought, along with the so f'ing long overdue recognition of racial inequality in this country, meant reading this book next was a no-brainer.
And it is so very much worth reading, recommended with delight.
Yes, there are zombies in it. Yes, there is heartbreak in it. No, there isn't a happy ending. Yes, there are many, many social commentary digs at both being a woman, and being black. And yes, there were black people in the Wild Wild West, which was a comment that Ireland makes in the author note at the end of the book, though you wouldn't know it from most of the other western fiction books out there.
This book follows immediately after Dread Nation, with Jane, Katherine, and a number of other Summerland residents fleeing the zombie hoard that broke out in town. What we learn in this tale, which alternates between Jane's and Katherine's perspectives (a style I enjoyed very much), is that Gideon Carr, the rich white boy from the previous book, has a significant part to play in this tale, and that one needs friendships (a lot).
As learned in The War for Kindness, fiction is a gateway drug into empathy. I feel this book does a gentle introduction into the crap a woman deals with as second class citizens, and barely starts to introduce the worse crap non-white people have dealt with in this country.
While I recommend this book more than I recommended Dread Nation, the first is needed to understand this one. Read them in order, if you decide to read them.
Adventure is only swell so long as a body is enjoying the trip. After that, it becomes an ordeal.
And even if I do not understand the pain she feels right now, it does not mean I cannot support her through it. That is what friends do.
“You can’t help but get involved in things, even when you know better. How can I depend on a woman who finds it appropriate to run off into the fire instead of away from it? It’s who you are, Jane, and I’ve always loved that about you. But while that may be admirable in a Miss Preston’s girl, it ain’t in a wife. I want someone I know is going to be there, day after day, not off running on some adventure.” “Why is that okay for you and not me? Why is it okay for a man to be out running around and not a woman?” Jackson shakes his head. “I ain’t saying it’s fair, but that’s the kind of woman I want.
He shakes his head, and I can’t help but feel that in all our time together I didn’t know him like I thought I did, not really. He doesn’t want a wife. He wants a doormat.
Hope is deadly,
move.” I force myself deep, deep down into the place in my mind where everything is quiet and cold and my heart ain’t breaking. Luckily it ain’t as hard as a body would think. How does one go on when they’ve lost their heart? By being heartless.
He gives me a polite smile, one that I suppose is meant to be reassuring. Men have been giving me that smile my entire life. I do not return it.
I take a deep breath and let it out. There is no use in yelling at a grown woman about her life choices, even if they are poor.
As Eve got to the part where the ghost led her through the dark woods and west to something like freedom, Aunt Aggie shook her head. “Sometimes, when the world doesn’t make sense, it’s easier to pretend like there are other forces at work. But there ain’t. That’s just life.”
“There ain’t any kind of inoculation against fear and false confidence.”
lap. I suppose when lines are drawn it is easier to go with what one knows than to forge new paths.
I’ve been living so long for the future that I haven’t been focusing on the now. And I ain’t sure I know how to change that.
I was scared, so I stayed.” He shakes his head. “I should have run like my friends, but I didn’t.” I nod, because I understand that feeling. Sometimes it can feel like the unknown is worse than the hardships you’re enduring.
“Betsy was a hero,” I say. “Exactly,” Redfern says, nodding. “Heroes die. But survivors live to tell the story. When the dead got to be too much for us to handle, most of those fools wanted to keep fighting, because that’s what we’d been taught. I was one of the first to cut and run. I knew what the score was. The things you’re taught are only useful if they keep you alive.”
“It’s the American way,” she would say, watching from the porch as another family took up residence at Rose Hill. “You help as much as you can—but no more. You don’t think those founding fathers wrote all those pretty words about independence just to help the poor, do you? The books are right there in the library, Jane. They did it because they didn’t want to pay taxes, to have some king tell them the price of tea. And for that, they went to war, and hundreds of people died.
In a world that is morally gray, I somehow still believe in right and wrong.
I laugh, because that is what you do when a man says something ridiculous.
An ache blossoms in my chest, and I pick up my untouched glass of whiskey and drain it. The liquid tastes as smoky as my memories and burns all the way down. It feels like penance. That is the real reason I do not drink too often: I am afraid that if I find my way to the bottle I will be lost forever.
I smile tightly, but say nothing. He is trying to protect me, in the simple way men are always trying to protect women: by stealing away their freedom.
Don’t let San Francisco fool you. It might seem pretty, but it’s been built on the same volatile mixture of greed and exclusion as the rest of this country.
But more important, it makes me wonder: How can we make the world a better place if we are always at odds with one another for every single kind of reason under the sun?
Unlike so much else in our lives, it felt . . . easy. I guess falling for someone always is. It’s the staying in love that’s hard.
I cannot help but remember the way she had never hesitated to call out some random bit of unfairness or chicanery. (As long as it was not her own, of course.) There is something admirable about being willing to stand up against injustice and name the devil true.
I consider telling them about the feelings between me and Callie, how close we’d grown over the past year, but I decide not to. Some things just ain’t for the telling, and even though Callie is gone, I want to keep the memory of our time together for myself.
face. I know this is a sin, but there are few things I enjoy more than being right.
And that is that. Sometimes the people we love fiercest leave the world like a whisper.
This book was a micro.blog book-recommendation-week recommendation. Many of the recommended books were "hey look, my god is better than your god" books, which are less than remotely interesting to me, and I would say actively off-putting. This one was recommended by a reader who reads a lot and has thoughtful reviews (unlike my reviews here which more more "how I came upon this book and did I like it"), so I picked it up.
The blurb on the back of the book is pretty accurate. Roy Valois is an accomplished artist, finds out he has maybe four months to live, and seeks a peek at his obituary. Apparently obituaries are pre-written for sufficiently famous people (which lends momentum to the idea that maybe everyone should write their own obituaries, see how that works out), and, according to this (fiction) book, the New York Times is sufficiently easy enough to hack into that you can read them.
What follows is the death of a couple people, followed by the not-so-great investigating of said deaths, followed by twists and turns and a very strange ending (that fits, is just ... odd).
I can't tell if this book is an early book by Abrahams (there are three Peter Abrahams authors at quick count, pick one), but I'm not a fan. I didn't like the writing style. Didn't click. I was mostly annoyed at Roy's actions, like he was a little dumb and emotionally stunted. I don't know, maybe it was something else.
If you're trying to read all of Abrahams' works, sure, read this one. Maaaaybe it is desert island material, but not really. Skip it.
Instead he dragged the shiny cone to the center of the floor, not far from Delia, and just looked at it for a while. Sometimes he got ideas that way. Not now. The blurry image of a delicate, attenuated silence that had been in his mind refused to grow clearer. He pulled up a stool, got out his sketch pad and a soft pencil. Nothing happened at first. Roy was used to that, had learned patience in his work. No hurry: that was what he always told himself.
People died on the highway every day, passing from normal life, through terror, to nothing.
He’d always liked shoveling snow—the full-body rhythm, the squeak the blade sometimes made digging in, the shovel loads holding their shapes for brief moments in the air. Some guys did a sloppy job of it, moving just enough snow to free their cars, but not Roy—he always made sure there was no loose snow, left the ground hardpacked, the banks squared at their bases, all angles right angles.
This reminds me of Jonathan.
"And remember Picasso’s warning.”
“What warning was that?”
“Don’t become your own connoisseur.” Wisdom, the kind that actually shifted the mind around at one stroke, revealed what needed revealing: you didn’t come across it.
"You’re thinking Washington and Lincoln,” he said.
“Pretty clear that those days are long gone. We’re in a late Roman phase, just scratching and clawing to hold on.”
“Hold on to what?” Roy said.
“Why, global power, naturally,” said Truesdale. “And the wealth and influence that comes from it.”
At that moment, Roy stopped being afraid of what might happen next. It took no effort at all, simply happened, a sudden ascent into courage, or at least total fearlessness, probably not the same thing.
Roy closed his eyes. Turned out that death didn’t simplify your life. How many people had been in a position to learn that one?
He turned and nodded.
“Hey,” said Freddy.
“This could work.”
“Why not?” Turk said, his eyes full of moonlight. “It’s a classic.”
“How’s that?” said Freddy.
“From Homer,” Turk said.
Freddy shrugged. “Don’t have time for TV.”
Life could be sweet.
I laughed at this. They were going in Trojan Horse, and the not-so-clued-in one thought Homer meant Simpson.
I've had this book on my reading list for a couple months now, checking it out of the library and returning it unread. Finally read it, and am glad I did. If I were in a position of power and influence at a company that has research and product development departments / organizations, I would insist that everyone in those groups also read it.
Okay, so, according to Bahcall (who, let's admit, has more experience than I, and likely you, do), product (anything you do, whether sell a physical object or provide a service, but mostly sell an object) development falls into two categories: incremental improvements on an existing product or an implementation of a revolutionary new idea. How a product makes it to the end user varies. While a revolutionary product can kickstart an organization, you need the improvements people to sustain it. Artists to create and soldiers to sustain.
I loved how various physics models came into play in the telling of different companies' histories. Hello, phase transitions. Hello, emergence.
The book provides a number of growing company pitfalls, and, delightfully, ways to avoid them. How awesome is that?
The appendices of the book are excellent summaries of the book, which, quite honestly, I'm going to be reviewing frequently. If nothing else, reminding myself of the five laws of loonshots from Bahcall's own site. I strongly recommend this book for anyone working to create something new, and state the book is worth reading for everyone.
So many things have broken down inside a cancer cell by the time it starts proliferating that there’s no easy fix.
My resistance to after-the-fact analyses of culture comes from being trained as a physicist.
To liberate those buried drugs and other valuable products and technologies, we need to begin by understanding why good teams, with the best intentions and excellent people, kill great ideas.
There’s no way to analyze just one molecule of water, or one electron in a metal, and explain any of these collective behaviors. The behaviors are something new: phases of matter.
When people organize into a team, a company, or any kind of group with a mission they also create two competing forces—two forms of incentives. We can think of the two competing incentives, loosely, as stake and rank.
When groups are small, for example, everyone’s stake in the outcome of the group project is high.
The perks of rank—job titles or the increase in salary from being promoted—are small compared to those high stakes.
As teams and companies grow larger, the stakes in outcome decrease while the perks of rank increase. When the two cross, the system snaps.
In the high-stakes competition between weapons and counterweapons, the weak link was not the supply of new ideas. It was the transfer of those ideas to the field. Transfer requires trust and respect on both sides. But officers “made it utterly clear that scientists or engineers employed in these laboratories were of a lower caste of society,”
Bush and a handful of other scientific leaders—including James Conant, a chemist and the president of Harvard University—believed war was coming and the US was dangerously unprepared. Both had witnessed the tendency of generals to fight a war with the weapons and tactics of the preceding war.
One molecule can’t transform solid ice into liquid water by yelling at its neighbors to loosen up a little.
The ship’s carpenter, 58 years old, decided he had no chance. “He called out to one of the ship’s officers, ‘Goodbye, Sir. It was a good life while it lasted,’ waved and then calmly ‘walked right into the path of a wave pounding across the afterdeck. It was like a minnow being swallowed by a whale.’”
Rather than champion any individual loonshot, they create an outstanding structure for nurturing many loonshots.
1. SEPARATE THE PHASES:
Separate your artists and soldiers .
People responsible for developing high-risk, early-stage ideas (call them “artists”) need to be sheltered from the “soldiers” responsible for the already-successful, steady-growth part of an organization.
Tailor the tools to the phase.
Efficiency systems such as Six Sigma or Total Quality Management might help franchise projects, but they will suffocate artists.
2. DYNAMIC EQUILIBRIUM
Love your artists and soldiers equally Maintaining balance so that neither phase overwhelms the other requires something that sounds soft and fuzzy but is very real and often overlooked.
A flawed transfer from inventors to the field is not the only danger. Transfer in the other direction is equally important. No product works perfectly the first time. If feedback from the field is ignored by inventors, initial enthusiasm can rapidly fade, and a promising program will be dropped.
Key to that dynamic equilibrium—and Bush’s ability to speak freely to generals—was support from the top.
In the real world, ideas are ridiculed, experiments fail, budgets are cut, and good people are fired for stupid reasons.
Companies fall apart and their best projects remain buried, sometimes forever.
Victors don’t just write history; they rewrite history.
Later, Folkman would say, “You can tell a leader by counting the number of arrows in his ass.”
The negative result in the rat experiment was a False Fail—a result mistakenly attributed to the loonshot but actually a flaw in the test.
People may think of Endo and Folkman as great inventors, but arguably their greatest skill was investigating failure. They learned to separate False Fails from true fails.
Skill in investigating failure not only separates good scientists from great scientists but also good businessmen from great businessmen.
He prodded and poked until the sleeping bear woke.
Listening to the Suck with Curiosity (LSC)—overcoming the urge to defend and dismiss when attacked and instead investigating failure with an open mind.*
It’s hard to hear that no one likes your baby. It’s even harder to keep asking why.
I find it’s when I question the least that I need to worry the most.
Let’s call a surprising breakthrough in product—a technology that was widely dismissed before ultimately triumphing—a P-type loonshot.
Let’s call a surprising breakthrough in strategy—a new way of doing business, or a new application of an existing product, which involves no new technologies—an S-type loonshot.
Years later, Land became known for a saying: “Do not undertake a program unless the goal is manifestly important and its achievement nearly impossible.”
The graveyard of unexplained experiments, as Land would soon show, is a great place to find a False Fail.
The Austro-Germanic school of fatalism (Spengler, Schumpeter) says that decline is inevitable. Empires will always ossify, a David will always rise to slay Goliath, and so it goes.
As eccentric millionaires with one success are inclined to do, Schure concluded he was an expert, a proven filmmaker.
After a bad move costs him a game, however, Kasparov analyzes not just why the move was bad, but how he should change the decision process behind the move.
Analyzing the decision process behind a move I’ll call level 2 strategy, or system mindset.
The weakest teams don’t analyze failures at all. They just keep going. That’s zero strategy.
Teams with an outcome mindset, level 1, analyze why a project or strategy failed.
Teams with a system mindset, level 2, probe the decision-making process behind a failure. How did we arrive at that decision? Should a different mix of people be involved, or involved in a different way? Should we change how we analyze opportunities before making similar decisions in the future? How do the incentives we have in place affect our decision-making? Should those be changed?
System mindset means carefully examining the quality of decisions, not just the quality of outcomes. A failed outcome, for example, does not necessarily mean the decision or decision process behind it was bad. There are good decisions with bad outcomes. Those are intelligent risks, well taken, that didn’t play out.
The stories in part one illustrate the first three Bush-Vail rules:
1. Separate the phases • Separate your artists and soldiers • Tailor the tools to the phase • Watch your blind side: nurture both types of loonshots (product and strategy)
2. Create dynamic equilibrium • Love your artists and soldiers equally • Manage the transfer, not the technology: be a gardener, not a Moses • Appoint, and train, project champions to bridge the divide
3. Spread a system mindset • Keep asking why the organization made the choices that it did • Keep asking how the decision-making process can be improved • Identify teams with outcome mindsets, and help them adopt system mindsets
The practice helped Kraft Foods develop melt-resistant chocolate. Parents can thank open innovation for summers free of sticky chocolate goo.
Leaders well coached on group dynamics are likely to spend more time with their teams. It’s fun working with high-performing teams who appreciate you. It’s less fun to spend time with dysfunctional teams who hate your guts.
Luck and timing always play a role in creativity and invention—the essence of a first-appearance story.
I'm fairly certain that Mom asked me to buy this book for her, because I'm not really a caffeine person the way she is. I have to admit after reading this book, however, that maybe I am and didn't realize it? I'm still unsure about that statement.
One of the unfortunate features of this book is that it isn't available in print, it is an audio book only. It listens more like a conversation with Pollan, who is sitting next to you at a little cafe, casually telling you about all these things that he has learned about caffeine, and isn't that just so interesting?
Yes, yes it is.
As such, I'd recommend giving this book a listen.
The book being an audiobook, I grabbed the bookmarks I had in the book and used some Google Docs transcription process. You can see that, well, it rather sucks, despite a fast internet connection and a slower, book-reading speaking pace. I don't understand why either.
What I do understand is that caffeine is out of my daily activities after noon, and I likely have more caffeine in my white tea than I think I do.
According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight while I was sleeping, during the trough in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day's first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power, its joy, not so much from its euphoric stimulating properties, so much from the fact it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or pharmacodynamics, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of our body so that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday's cup of coffee. Daily caffeine proposes itself is the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates. How brilliant.
For some reason, we never make coffee at home.
This cracked me up, mostly because Jonathan switched to making coffee only at home after he bought his espresso machine.
Humboldt had a parrot named Jacob who could say only one thing, "More coffee."
Over the course of the next few days I definitely began to feel better. The veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself and neither, quite, was the world. By the end of the week I had gotten to the point where I didn't think I could fairly blame caffeine withdrawal for my mental state and disappointing output. And yet in this new normal the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after fraying of consciousness during sleep, that reconsolidation of self, the daily sharpening of the mental pencil, took much longer than usual and never felt quite complete.
I love this description of waking up.
Coffee and tea have their own reasons for producing the caffeine molecule and as is often the case for the so-called secondary metabolites produced by plants, this is for defense against predators. At high doses caffeine is lethal to Insects. Its bitter flavor may also discourage them from chewing on the plants. Caffeine also appears to have herbicidal properties, and may inhibit the germination of competing plants that attempt to grow in the zone where seedlings have taken route, or later drop their leaves. Many of the psychoactive molecules plants produce are toxic, but as Paracelsus famously said, "The dose makes the poison."
What kills at one dose may do something more subtle and interesting at another. The interesting question is why so many of the defense chemicals produced by plants are psychoactive in animals at less than lethal doses. One theory holds that the plant doesn't necessarily want to kill its predator, only disarm it. As the long history of the plant defense chemical vs. insect arms race demonstrates, killing your predator outright isn't necessarily the best move, since it will quickly select for pesticide resistant members of that species, eventually rendering the toxin harmless. Whereas if you succeed in merely discombobulating your enemy, distracting him from his dinner, say, or ruining his appetite, as many psychoactive compounds will do, you might be better off since you will save yourself while preserving the power of your defense toxin. Caffeine does in fact shrink the appetite and discombobulate insect brains.
A Venetian traveler to Constantinople in 1585 noted that the locals quote, "are in the habit of drinking in public, in shops, and in the streets, a black liquid boiling as they can stand it, which is extracted from the seed they called ka-vay, and is said to have the property of keeping a man awake."
The notion of drinking any beverage piping hot was itself exotic, and in fact this proved to be one of the most important gifts of both coffee and tea to humanity. The fact that you needed to boil water to make them, meant that they were the safest thing a person could drink. Before that, it has been alcohol, which was more sanitary than water but not as safe as tea or coffee. The tannins in all these beverages also have antimicrobial properties. The contribution of coffee and tea to public health might help explain why societies that embraced the new hot drinks tended to thrive, as microbial diseases declined.
I gave up editing Google's transcriptions here.
Vibrant meeting places for the news of the day political financial and cultural Pizzazz much the drawers the coffee coffee houses became uniquely Democratic Publix in England they were the only such spaces were men of different classes could met anyone who said anywhere but only men at least in England the fact that led one wag to warn that the popularity of coffee quote put the whole race in danger of extinction women were welcome in French coffee houses compared to taverns coffee houses were also notably civil places where if you started an argument you were expected to buy a round for everyone to call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn't quite do it justice represented a new kind of communications medium one that just happened to be made of brick and mortar rather than electricity and wires these rooms served as the internet of their time londoners went to share and consume news and information as well as rumor and gossip you paid a penny for the coffee but the information in the form of newspapers books magazines in conversation was free coffee houses were often referred to as Penny University's after visiting London coffee houses are French writer wrote that quote you have all manner of news there you have a good firewood you may sit by as long as you please you have a dish of coffee you meet your friends for the transaction of business and all for a penny if you don't care to spend more
You will have it from St James Coffee House Coffee or the coffee house debated the beverages helpfulness fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the
Alpha lesson fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the women's petition against coffee the author's suggested that the end stiebeling liquor robbed men of their sexual energies making them quote as unfruitful as those deserts when's that on happyberry is said to be brought the conversation in London's coffee house is frequently turn to politics in vigorous exercise is a free speech that Disturbed the government especially after the monarchy was restored Charles the second worried plots were being hatched in coffee houses
it's hard to imagine that this sort of political cultural and intellectual ferment that bubbled up in the coffeehouses about France and England if alcohol fuels are Dionysus and tendencies coffee nurtures the apollonian early on people recognize the link between the rising tide of rationalism and the fashionable new beverage Chalet Road bring it to the new kinds of thinking that caffeine help to Foster
Balzac Wrote one of the all-time best descriptions of how it feels to be over caffeinated estate when she said quot produces a kind of Animation that looks like anger one's voice Rises once gestures suggest unhealthy and patience one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas one becomes Brusque ill-tempered about nothing seems that everyone else is equally Lucid a man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public it is one thing to live in a shared culture of caffeine
There are some compensatory benefits I'm sleeping like a teenager again and wake feeling actually refreshed there's an explanation for that I will get to I've discovered an odd and unexpected social benefit as well when I turned down offers of coffee and explain my experiment and abstention I find the people are keenly interested and probably sort of impressed it's a storm not some kind of achievement I could never do that a friend will say or I should really try that I know it would help me sleep but I can't imagine getting through the morning naturally these reactions make me feel as though I've actually done something worthy of admiration I suspect on benefiting from The Echoes of puritanism still reverberating in our culture which Awards points for self discipline and overcoming desire addiction even to a relatively harmless and easily procure drug like caffeine is seen as evidence of weakness of character quote I realized my life was being controlled by caffeine a sleep researcher and caffeine abstainer that I interviewed told me traveling I find myself in an unfamiliar City and could not turn in for bed until I had scoped out where I was going to get my fix in the morning I like to feel in control and realized I wasn't caffeine was controlling me
I recognize drug-seeking behavior when I see it. "Yeah," he agreed that there's "nothing inherently wrong with an addiction if you have a secure supply, no known health risks, and you're not offended by the idea that many of us can't help moralizing addiction." I will confess to indulging in the occasional paying of righteousness through the airport during my months of abstention .
And the freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought how did a psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight consciousness
The freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought cognitive psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight Consciousness which illuminates a single focal point of attention making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which has less focused too many people on psychedelics
Making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which attention is less focused it illuminates a broader field of attention young children tend to exhibit Lantern Consciousness so do many people on psychedelics this more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind-wandering free association in the making of Novel connections, all of which can nurture creativity
Songs for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming
the direct effect of caffeine on the brain the chemical also has several indirect effects including increases and adrenaline serotonin and dopamine the release of dopamine is typical of drugs of abuse and probably accounts for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming caffeine is also a vasodilator and can be mildly diuretic it temporarily raise his blood pressure and relaxes the body smooth muscles which may account for coffee as laxative effect this could explain much of coffees early popularity constipation was a serious matter in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe but what is unique about caffeine is the targeted way in which it interferes with one of the most important of all biological functions sleep everlife of caffeine prove prostate
at the time of our lunch I hadn't yet begun my abstinence experimenting Walker inquired about my caffeine use a cup of 1/2 Caff first thing green tea through the morning and sometimes if I'm swaggin a cappuccino after lunch Walker explained that for most people, the quarter life of is usually about 12 hours meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight.
this is an acquired condition used for an association indeed
Let's face it we've erected a top does psychoactive molecules are just cultures way of dressing up our desire to change Consciousness in the finery of metaphor and Association indeed what really commends these beverages to us is there a sociation now we would smoke or stone fruit but with the experience of well-being of euphoria they reliably kill us it is this experience known as reinforcement which practically guarantees we will
Turn to tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths the Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch no, this is an acquired condition taste preference
Tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch, no, this is an
Acquired condition taste preference when you pair a taste for the reinforcer like alcohol or caffeine you will confer specific preference for that taste caffeine is naturally present in coffee and tea but typically is added two sodas so why would
I had zero expectation of liking this book. It came to me recommended by Melissa Urban, of Whole30 fame, on her Instagram account. Not usually one to take a book recommendation from a celebrity, I checked this book out of the library none-the-less. I appreciate Melissa's no-nonsense approach to Whole30 ("drinking your coffee black is. not. hard."), which meant I would give her book recommendations a cautious try. I vaguely recall Melissa recommending another book that I had read and like, so, okay, let's read this one.
This book comes with a giant caveat labelled, "SOME MIGHT FIND THE SCENES IN THIS BOOK DIFFICULT TO READ." Like the ones of people roasting alive (they came back later). Or the various scenes of mental abuse, or the casual killing of a person, or the stealing of a persons mind. Yes, if you have a vivid imagination and active empathy, these are horrific scenes. If you are able to read a book of fiction as a book of fiction, this is a surprising fast, engaging read.
The book follows Carolyn, as we try to figure out what the situation is (her father has disappeared) and how this world operates (not quite like ours, not quite not like ours). Imagine a family outside of time (if they learn the secret to longevity), able to learn the most intricate knowledge (coming back from death, how to communicate with animals, every warfare strategy ever considered or acted upon and which to use when), give them a history that is shrouded in mystery, and a burning hatred for the current situation. Add in someone who can plan for decades, and you'll have this book.
I enjoyed this book, and while I wouldn't "recommend" it (see the caveat above), I can say I was hooked and read this book very quickly. It was puzzling and gross and beautiful and thought-provoking, and really, that's what any reader could want.
“We should do something,” Carolyn said. Her right index finger trembled, just the tiniest bit. “Rachel could find her son. Even if he’s dead, you could—” Jennifer looked at her, surprised. “That’s kind of you, Carolyn.” She shook her head. “It wouldn’t help, though. It never works out the way you would think. The problem with a heart coal is that the memory always diverges from the actual thing. She remembers an idealized version of her son. She’s forgotten that he was selfish, that he enjoyed giving little offenses.
Erwin heard gunfire, then screams, then a deep, booming laugh. He felt alive in a way he hadn’t since Afghanistan. His veins were thrumming with energy. He got up and went looking for a gun.
“Are you seeing this?” Erwin asked softly. “I think so,” Steve said. “Are you sure about the time?” Ignoring the evidence before his eyes, he was clinging to the notion that maybe this was just a normal sunset.
The cogs of her plan were ticking into final alignment. At first she had rejected this approach out of hand. It was too obviously a ploy. Only after deep study had she considered the idea seriously. Father’s texts were adamant about its effectiveness. As illustrated in any number of footnotes, men are almost always 50 to 60 percent dumber in matters involving their crotch. Close proximity enhances the effect. Now, with clinical approval, she saw that something stirred in the depths of David’s tutu.
Father’s notes were clear on this topic as well—there were several ways to incapacitate men instantly, but striking them in the crotch was not one of them. It would take a second or two before the real pain hit.
“They did experiments,” Erwin said. “Cheney’s guys, trying to figure out what to do with bin Laden. I heard stories. You give somebody a shock like that, it’d be the sum of—well not just every pain you felt, but every pain you possibly could feel. All at once, like.” “Yes.” “And then you froze him? In that moment, exactly?” Steve thought about it for a second, then gave a low whistle. “Why?” Carolyn remembered how the rain ran warm, remembered the salty, coppery taste of Asha’s blood. “Because wazin nyata isn’t enough. Not for him. This, though…I’m pretty sure that it’s the worst thing that ever happened to anyone, anywhere. Ever. I think it’s the worst thing that can happen, the theoretical upper limit of suffering. Despair and agony,” she said. “Absolute. Unending.” “Damn,” Erwin said. “That’s some fucked-up shit.”
“That’s the risk in working to be a dangerous person,” she said. “There’s always the chance you’ll run into someone who’s better at it than you.”
“Exactly. But here’s the difference. Suffering—normal suffering—is transient. What we perceive as emotion is just a quick connection between three-dimensional space and one of the higher physical planes—rage, joy, pleasure, whatever. The repercussions can echo for years, but the actual link usually only lasts for a fraction of a second.”
This is book 8 of the Peter Grant series, and I'm once again only pretty sure I have that order correct.
I have to say, the opening of this book was REALLY confusing, along with the first couple chapters. After the background started filling in, with conversations and flashbacks, the book began to make more sense, and my general discomfort of being confused dissipated.
Here we start out with Peter, having gotten in a row with the uppers at work, starting off as a security inspector for an interesting computer company working on AI. Not out of the realm of possibility, unusual, but not unreasonable as a character development. Then backstory and flashbacks and, oh, okay.
I really enjoyed how much of the computer stuff was accurate. None of the "hook up a small LED monitor to two wires outside of a bank vault pin-pad, and let them cycle until they have the password" kind of BS one normally sees in computer portrayals. I mean, if I'm already suspending disbelief with the whole magic thing, don't jar me out of reality with bad computer talk. Turns out, Aaronovitch didn't, and I appreciate it.
The storyline had a nice balance between home life, current plot, flashbacks, and history.
I recommend reading the books in order, definitely worth reading if you're committed to the series already. I don't recommend starting with this one. It wouldn't be as delightful as an introduction to Peter Grant.
"Nobody’s going to fall for this," I said.
"Of course they will," said Silver. "They fall for Nigerian princes all the time."
"Stupid people do," I said.
"Wrong," said Silver. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a leading astrophysicist or thicker than a bag full of bricks. Whether the mark falls for a scam depends on experience, knowledge and how much they want it to be true."
"I’ve got to ask," said Stacy. "Peter’s a nice enough lad. But, be honest, what is it in him that attracts you?"
Beverley gave me a sly smile. "He’s a world - class shagger," she said. Stacy grinned and Oliver looked at me wide-eyed. "No, I mean it," said Beverley. "Olympic standard shagging. Morning, noon and night. I knew it as soon as I saw him the first time. That man, I thought, will go like a dredger at high tide."
"Is he hung?" asked Keira.
"Like a —"
"Hey," I said quickly.
I giggled at this exchange.
As the one whose delicate brown body was in the firing line, I was a little bit more cautious. People are often short-sighted and stupid, right up to the point where they’re fucking perceptive — that point usually being the most inconvenient moment possible. And people don’t like to think they’ve been taken — and they tend to express their displeasure forcibly.
"He quoted Vasily Zhukovsky at me," said Beverley.
"Who’s he?" I asked.
"Russian Romantic poet," she said, and admitted that she’d had to look him up afterward. He’d quoted in Russian, too, but Beverley reckoned she’d got the gist. "Something about accepting your destiny."
"Do you love me?" she asked, and I felt a sudden unexpected rush of panic at the question.
It took me so by surprise that I practically stuttered the answer. "Yes," I managed.
Because pheromones, because beauty, because laughter and joy when she was near and loss and emptiness when she was gone. Because of shouting at unicorns and braving faeries. The way her brow furrowed when she was reading something tricky in a textbook. The smell and feel of her skin. The warmth of her body, the sunshine of her smile and the thrilling depths of her eyes.
Sunday morning by instant tradition was study morning so, after I’d oiled the Bulge — which always made Beverley giggle — I cracked open my Blackstone’s manuals, bought second - hand for economy, while she lay on her back in the living room and read papers off her Kindle. Every so often, one or other of us would sigh and decide it was time for yet another cup of coffee.
Yes, a delightful morning.
There were no council CCTV cameras covering the High Street and, quelle surprise, all of the privately owned cameras that might have had the Print Shop in view were inoperable or didn’t keep their image data for more than a week.
Having confirmed the presence of the Mary Engine and the Rose Jars, it was time for my sudden but inevitable betrayal.
Oh, so giggling at the Firefly reference! Joy!
I paused to make sure she was following my logic. You can be too clever during an interview and a common tactic for interviewees is to zone out and stop listening.
The other day, Kris and I were watching Free Solo, a movie that Mom and Eric STRONGLY recommended I watch after I gushed about my first rock climbing class back in January. In the movie, Alex Honnold is signing books in a bookstore. The book he is signing is this one. So, here we are, reading Alone on the Wall.
The book is written in two voices, Alex's and, one presumes, David's, first and third person respectively. The book is Alex's story, how he became interested in climbing, how he became interested in free soloing (an amusing tale, he was shy), and his biography nominally up to 2014.
The book was a delightful read. It tells much of Alex's story that was told in Free Solo. Similar to when I watched the movie, many times my thoughts were, "Nope. Nope nope nope," with some of the things he does. I am grateful for Alex and his adventures, even if I never meet him. I enjoyed the book a lot, worth reading.
Again and again, whenever he speaks in public, Alex is asked the same two questions by everyone from little kids to graybeards. Indeed, they are the fundamental questions about what he’s doing on rock. They are: Aren’t you afraid you’re going to die? Why do you do this?
In a sense, those questions are unanswerable. They lie in the realm of George Leigh Mallory’s throwaway response in 1923 to the umpteenth journalist who asked him why he wanted to climb Everest: "Because it is there." (Though intended as an irritable jab by a man fed up with the question, Mallory’s quip has become the most famous quotation in mountaineering history.)
But then I had to shift from stemming to liebacking. Now I grabbed the edge of the crack with both hands, leaned back to the left, and walked my feet up the opposite wall till the soles of my shoes were only two feet below my lower hand. Liebacking feels somewhat unnatural.
"Somewhat unnatural" Uh huh.
It’s bad form to brag about a climb before you do it. And I didn’t want my good buddies to get too alarmed — then I might start worrying about them worrying about me ! I guess I was just trying to reassure them: Hey, guys, I think I can handle this. I’ll be safe.
A lot of the Stonemasters, though, were into drugs. Some of them even bragged about doing serious climbs in Yosemite while they were tripping their brains out on LSD. Their style was part of the counterculture movement of the day, but I just couldn’t relate to it. I’ve never done drugs, and though I’ve tasted alcohol, I’ve never had a whole drink. I don’t even drink coffee. I had a small cup once — it was like drinking battery acid. I had to poop all morning. I once had a sniff of Scotch. I thought, I should be cleaning my sink with this stuff. It’s not some moral objection — drugs and booze and caffeine just have no appeal to me.
Yeaaaaaaaah, I can understand this.
He was asked, "If you don’t believe in God or an after - life, doesn’t that make this life all the more precious?"
Alex responded: "I suppose so, but just because something is precious doesn’t mean you have to baby it. Just like suburbanites who have a shiny new SUV that they are afraid to dent. What’s the point in having an amazing vehicle if you’re afraid to drive it? " I’m trying to take my vehicle to new and interesting places. And I try my very best not to crash, but at least I take it out."
I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me, the crucial question is not how to climb without fear — that’s impossible — but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.
It’s not necessarily suicidal. It’s about a guy suddenly losing the love of his life, caring a little less about danger, and so finally doing something that he’s always kept tucked in the back of his mind.
For example, I can’t tell you how many people over the years have pressured me to drink alcohol. We’ll be at a party, and somebody will taunt me, "Alex, just try this beer, it’s not gonna hurt you to take a sip." I’ve never given in. Booze doesn’t interest me.
This delights me so much. I am grateful that the pressure for me to drink alcohol disappeared the first time I said no in college. Thus far, when I drink, it has been of my choice. I am lucky.
Climbing in the dark is quieter and lonelier than in the daylight. In some ways, there’s no exposure. You’re inside this little bubble with your headlamp. A fifteen - foot beam of light is the whole universe. There was no danger I’d get off - route, since I knew the sequences so well by now. And yet, you still sense that there’s this void below you, somewhere in the darkness. It’s like swimming in the ocean and realizing there’s a bottomless abyss below you.
That abyss is terrifying when it is in the Southern Ocean, btw.
One of my favorite aspects of soloing is the way that pain ceases to exist.
I’ve tried to approach environmentalism the same way I do my climbing: by setting small, concrete goals that build on each other.
Logan asks, "Do you get an adreneline rush?"
Alex responds, "There is no adreneline rush. If I get an adreneline rush, it means something has gone horribly wrong."
The piece uses John Long as the Yosemite veteran and talking head. Logan asks long what he considers Alex's greatest achievement. Long answers, "That he's still alive."
So, there is talk about the Post Office going private. This is a horrible idea, put forth by Cheetoh, who has it out for Bezos and Amazon. The Post Office gives Amazon a sweet deal for delivering the last mile of many Amazon deliveries, so Cheetoh wants to privatize the Post Office to ruin this sweetheart deal. There's a hope the man could not be in power much longer (God, let that happen), but in the meantime, privatizing the United States Postal Service is a terrible idea.
But don't take my word for it. Read this book.
Recommended in the XOXOfest slack by Andy McMillian, who has read this book three times already, How the Post Office Created America is a history of the Postal Service, its origins, its stumbles, its glories, and its part in creating what America is today. We, as United States citizens, take much for granted. The post office is, alas, one very big part of what we take for granted. And this is a very very sad thing.
A large number of people who complain about big government are benefactors of said government, but don't realize or won't recognize it. Would be great if said people actually understand how functioning societies work. Alas.
This is a great history book, a small segment of the times that begat and shaped America. I feel this book would make a fantastic high school history book, take two weeks to read and discuss the book, and maybe everyone in the class would have a better connection to the roots of America.
The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647, wonderfully known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” made the case for education on moral grounds: It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures . . . It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read.
As much as he loved London’s social and intellectual tumult, however, he had grown increasingly disenchanted with Britain’s corrupt politics and egregious socioeconomic inequities.
Like France, England intercepted mail and searched it for seditious content; indeed, surveillance had been one of Henry VIII’s motivations for establishing a state-run post in the first place.
Indeed, until the Civil War officially settled the matter, many Americans would say “the United States are” rather than “is.” (For the same reason, many modern historians prefer to speak of the “union” or “republic” rather than the “nation” when referring to the country during the antebellum era, on the grounds that although America was a state, a self-governing political entity, it was not yet a nation, a tightly knit people who embrace a common culture.)
For thousands of years, both knowledge of state affairs and mail networks had been privileges of a chosen few. The infant United States, however, was based on an idea that was anathema to history’s great powers: if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on.
If service was deemed warranted, he authorized a new post office, and Congress, responding to the direct will of the local people, determined the route by which the mail would reach it.
Nevertheless, Americans had objective proof of their national government’s responsiveness to their direct input, which not only brought them mail but also turned clusters of cabins in the middle of nowhere into villages with names, and rutted trails through dense forests into roads on a map.
Just seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin became America’s first postmaster general, the Post Office Act utterly transformed his modest mail network. He would have been flabbergasted by the speed at which the post would become the federal government’s biggest, most important department and prime the United States to become the world’s most literate, best-informed country within two generations—surely one of the most significant, least appreciated developments in American history.
Worse, they routinely tweaked the mail coaches’ schedules to please their passengers, who liked to depart in the morning and arrive in the evening—the opposite of the timing preferred by the post’s lucrative business customers. The highly principled, devoutly Presbyterian Hazard was outraged by the crafty proprietors’ unpatriotic duplicity. If the post were to subsidize the stage system, he reasoned, the department had the right to make the rules and set the schedules for mail coaches.
The government, like any buyer, wanted to pay less for more service than the seller had in mind, particularly considering that the transportation in question was underwritten by passengers’ fares. The post also wanted to control the scheduling of mail trains, as it had finally been able to do with mail coaches.
In a typical observation, Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s traveling companion, wrote of their trip from Louisville to Memphis: “Frightful roads. Perpendicular descents. Way not banked; the route is but a passage made through the forest. The trunks of badly cut trees form as it were so many guard-stones against which one is always bumping. Only ten leagues a day.” The Frenchmen were ruefully amused by Americans’ seeming indifference to such conditions. Beaumont recounts one example of the natives’ sangfroid: “‘You have some very bad roads in France, haven’t you?’ an American says to me. ‘Yes, Sir, and you have some really fine ones in America, haven’t you?’ He doesn’t understand me. American conceit.”
Speed is the hallmark of good postal service, and McLean was remarkably successful in accelerating the mail. Indeed, he even foresaw that the telegraph, although then only the optical sort employed in France and Sweden, was a logical extension of paper mail: “If it were possible to communicate by telegraph all articles of intelligence to every neighborhood in the Union,” it would be “proper to do so.”
For nearly a century and a half, the government would effectively underwrite much of the country’s politics by enabling the camp that won the White House to reward tens of thousands of its supporters with postal jobs (although, as Lincoln would later observe, there were always too many pigs for the tits).
An early abolitionist, Benjamin Rush surely would have experienced mixed emotions had he lived to see the information network meant to unite Americans across borders also become the means of publicizing the political divide that would tear the United States apart.
Congress’s bias toward smaller newspapers was not just a benign effort to help the little guy. The official explanation was that a robust civic life required the circulation of local as well as national and international news and opinions. That sounds reasonable enough, as does the desire to help small enterprises stay competitive. However, the rural papers were often highly partisan supporters of the local congressmen, who could be counted on to represent in Washington their constituents’ deep suspicion of city slickers and their supposedly radical politics and immoral ways.
(That said, precocious fifteen-year-old Carrie Deppen, who worked as a telegrapher, was neither windy nor sentimental. A collection of her correspondence includes flirtatious notes that she mailed to male colleagues down the line and a letter to her supervisor asking for a raise on the grounds that she was paid less than other workers, particularly the men. Her boss responded that Deppen was lucky to have a job at all and that she received a modest salary because she still lived at home.)
Middle- and upper-class Victorian women were in most ways far more restricted than their mothers and grandmothers had been in terms of the freedom to choose their own pursuits and move about in the world. Particularly in big cities, architects struggled to find ways for women to appear in public places without impropriety—an effort that among other things popularized the new department stores, which offered ladies’ restrooms and restaurants for dainty luncheons safe from the male gaze.
The San Francisco post office took delicacy to the nth degree by installing a separate window for men who were picking up mail addressed to women—an “amenity” that also encouraged keeping them sequestered at home and their correspondence under male supervision.
Many were simply mean or sarcastic: Hey, Lover Boy, the place for you Is home upon the shelf ’Cause the only one who’d kiss you Is a jackass like yourself!
Country people generally bought only what they couldn’t grow, shoot, catch, or make themselves, so the shelves of the Headsville store would have been stocked with coffee, spices, and tobacco, as well as boots, patent medicines, tools, and sewing notions.
Despite the barriers, a few other women managed to become postmasters during the Early Republic. Feisty Sarah Decrow, who was appointed to serve in Hertford, North Carolina, in 1792, was reprimanded for daring to protest her inadequate salary. As Assistant Postmaster General Charles Burrall put it: “I am sensible that the emolument of the office cannot be much inducement to you to keep it [the postmastership], nor to any Gentleman to accept of it, yet I flatter myself some one may be found willing to do the business, rather than the town and its neighbourhood should be deprived of the business of a Post Office.” Decrow’s position was soon filled by such a gentleman.
He replied that it “has not been the practice of the Department to appoint females . . . at the larger offices; the duties required of them are many and important and often of a character that ladies could not be expected to perform.” Johnson took pains to point out that his opposition was by no means personal but extended to all women.
Some were driven by the exigencies imposed by the great financial Panic of 1837, others by the American tradition of moving on if life in one place fails to meet expectations, and still others by the stirring rhetoric of the imprecise, emotionally charged principle of Manifest Destiny. This theory of American exceptionalism proposed that the United States was a unique, divinely favored country that had a moral duty to spread its enlightened values and government from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The prospect of getting rich quick caused thousands of Americans to mortgage their homes or spend their life savings to try their luck in the Sacramento Valley’s streams.
Creswell’s view reflected his larger conviction that certain resources belonged to the people and should not be privatized. In one memorable example, he described electricity as “that most subtle and universal of God’s mysterious agents”; as to using it to generate private profit, he said, “As well might a charter be granted for the exclusive use of air, light, or water.”
Thus, the hardheaded merchant whose government office had a direct telegraph line to his business headquarters nevertheless insisted that the post office had a higher purpose than merely making money: “I do not think it essential, and do not know why we should be self-supporting any more than the Interior and other Departments.”
They would have insisted that the mandate to bind the nation was as readily adaptable to passwords and PINs as it had been to physical addresses, and that the post must take the lead in connecting Americans with electronic media, just as it had done with the delivery of newspapers, market data, affordable personal correspondence, and consumer goods. They would have marshaled the arguments once made for a postal telegraph on behalf of a postal Internet, maintaining that the obligation to unite the people with information and communications required making the new resource a public service rather than ceding it to private companies for their own profit.
A private company would simply close the unprofitable retail facilities—a logical move for any revenue-driven enterprise. Indeed, the USPS management has already shut down half of its major distribution centers, with consequent delays in mail delivery that are particularly noticeable in rural states.
Those who dispute the government’s right to monopolize a service that business could provide want to privatize it. They observe that the nation is increasingly bound by commercially supplied electronic communications, and they assert that the post should simply close down and cede any traditional mail operations that can turn a profit to the independent carriers.
The national delivery system has evolved over time, and though it might not be the Platonic ideal, it works pretty well. The independent carriers and the post both benefit from their symbiotic relationship, as do consumers, because the post’s lower rates keep the private companies’ prices in check.
The book, from 2007 so I'm quite late to reading it, follows Clarissa Iverton, whose father has just died, on her journey to find her biological father. Said journey started after Clarissa discovers the man who just died, Richard, is not actually her father as she was led to believe her entire life. When she finds out her fiancé knew that Richard wasn't her father, Clarissa table flips her life and does a runner, just as her mother had done fourteen years before.
I enjoyed the realism of Clarissa's actions, I know of few people who haven't wanted to walk away from everything during incredibly stressful times, even as the serendipity of the plot was a bit too neat. The book reads like a verbal montage of the let-me-track-down-my-dad adventure, which is an interesting writing style that works very well.
I enjoyed the book. It's a fast read, even if the subject isn't light.
Recently, everything around me felt familiar yet amiss, like the first time you ride in the back seat of your own car.
The cold on my ears was sudden and burning. I pulled up the hood of my parka. It was, like all hats and hoods, too big for my small head. I had no peripheral vision.
Two young women without coats ran out of a parked car and into a bar. Their arms were crossed over their chests, at nipple line.
Travel is made for liars. Or liars are made by travel. I had
I’m sorry for you,” Eero said. I studied his face. I was unaccustomed to sympathy without judgment, sympathy without condescension.
“So what’s your number?” he said.
“Yeah, how many countries have you been to?”
I tried to suppress a laugh. “Counting America, one.” He had asked me the question so I would ask him. He was waiting. “And you?” I said. “What’s your—” I paused—“number?”
“Sixteen,” he said. “But I’ve only been to four continents. So far.”
21 and 7.
Whom did Henrik remind me of? No one. He seemed familiar because I wanted to know him.
I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. I wanted so much that what I wanted most was not to want.
"Okay,” Henrik said. “Why don’t you come to the bar tonight with me and my friends. Everyone in the town will be there.”
I read this and thought, "Nooooooooooooo! Cooooovid!" before realizing, wait, no, 2007, it's fine.
Seeing men’s wallets made me sad. They were either too thick or too thin, too old or too new. They always looked wrong.
I put everything in my suitcase and sat on it to close it. I wanted it to break. To be angry about it breaking. To be angry about something small and ultimately fixable.
After lamenting I wasn't going to be able to achieve my year goal of "read 100 books" if I also go for my goal of "read the entire Wheel of Time" (14 books that are the equivalent of 36+ "normal" books, given the length of each WoT book), Kris said, "Read a bunch of short books!" While, yes, that would work, reading short books for the sake of achieving a "read 100 books this year" goal feels somewhat like cheating. Book length is typically not a factor in my book selection process. I hemmed for a bit, causing Kris to jump up, and grab this book from his shelf. "Here, I think you'll like this one. You can read it in an evening."
Which was mostly accurate, I could have read it in an evening. I had another two (okay, four) books going, so it actually took me two treadmill walks and a curl in my reading chair to finish it, so maybe a 3 hour read? Which is to say, this is a fun, cute, fast read.
The book opens with Meg Finn making a choice, which pretty much sets the theme for the book: choices have consequences. Some choices, while not bad, don't results in a life we want. Some choices made in fear set the tone for a life.
Meg's initial choice cascades into her dying (in the first chapter of the book, so not much of a spoiler). Her soul is exactly neutral between good and evil, so she is sent back to mend the last wrong she committed before she died, which was also helping the last person she harmed before she died. Enter Lowrie.
Lowrie's been lonely for the last few years, after his alcoholic, abusive wife died. In his isolation, he made a Wish List, tasks to do before he died to correct the choices he made that lead to his disappointing life. The rest of the story is about the four items on his Wish List, Meg's helping Lowrie complete the list, and how sometimes the choices we make don't have the consequences we thought they might.
It was a fun, easy, fast read. If you are an Artemis Fowl fan, definitely worth reading.
Meg bristled. "I'm not afraid of anything, Belch Brennan!"
Belch chuckled nastily. "Prove it."
He was manipulating her, and she knew it. But Meg Finn could never resist a dare.
This wasn't real. It couldn't be happending to her. Fourteen-year-olds didn't die; they went through a troublesome phase and grew out of it.
Lowrie had spent so much time mulling over these particular questions that he had managed to isolate a few key moments in his past. Ones where he had a choice to make, and made the wrong one. A litany of mistakes . A list of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves. Not that there was any point in thinking about it. It wasn't as if he could change anything now.
"No, You're right. What life? What's what I've been trying to tell you." Lowrie's eyes were lost in past memories. "If only..."
He shook himself back to the present. "To late for if onlys. Time to do something about it."
"But these? I mean, what's the point? It's crazy."
Lowrie nodded. "To you, maybe. To everyone else on the planet. But these were my greatest failures . Now I have a chance to put them right, even if no one cares but me."
Meg was running out of arguments. "But what will it chance, running around the country like a crazy man?"
"Nothing," Lowrie admitted. "Except my opinion of myself. And that, young Meg, becomes very important to a person as they grow older."
"Lowrie, you should be in a hospital," she said gently, alighting from the fence top.
"No," snapped the old man, a sheen of cold sweat shining on his forehead. "What can I do in a bed? The same as I've done all my life. Nothing! Now are you going to help me or not?"
Like all intellectuals, he could nto resist the impulse to explain the procedure.
I laughed out loud at that line.
"This is your last chance, too, Myishi. You do know that, don't you?"
Myishi nodded weakly. Funny how a man's smugness deserts him in a face of oblivion.
Twelve months a year, the small town was hopping with Americans looking for their roots, Dutch tourists looking for hills, and New Age mystics searching for leprechauns. In this company a man talking to himself seemed the epitome of normality.
Except during a worldwide lockdown.
Every breath could be his last. It felt worse now, somehow. Now that he had rediscovered himself. There was more to lose.
Everyone deserved an equal shot at redemption. Even the Man Himself agreed with that.
This book wasn't recommended, per se, by MNS, but it was his current read, and I appreciated his recommendation of Call Sign Chaos, so picked up the book.
The one sentence summary of the book, "It is a history of the CIA," sums up the book perfectly.
Is it an impartial history of the CIA? No idea.
Is it a complete history of the CIA? Not by a long shot.
Is it a good read? Absolutely.
I enjoyed reading the book, cringed at parts of history where the CIA either chose or executed poorly, and appreciated the parts where the CIA did well. Many parts of the book were annoying in the arrogance of the agents, and frustrating in the need for the agency's actions. People. Here we are.
I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history books. This appears to be a good overview of its history (again, it can't be a complete history, just a public one). One can appreciate modern history books, given most high school history education ends sometime around World War Two.
Killing a leader or prominent person at the behest of the president is legal under Title 50 of the U.S. Code.
The CIA did not create the Latin American propensity for assassination. Long before the Central Intelligence Agency existed, targeting killing was a well-established political tool throughout the region. These were the rules of the game for authoritarian regimes that ruled by force and corruption, not laws.
Those pronounced guilty were lined up against the prison wall and executed by firing squad. In the days that followed the revolution, more than one hundred and fifty pro-Batista Cubans were shot dead. When asked by the foreign press about the summary executions, Che fired back, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary.” Besides, he said, the concept of justice was a hypocritical creation of Western capitalists. “These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail,” Che insisted, “this is a revolution.… A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine, motivated by pure hate.”
Further news was repressed, not surprising given Che Guevara’s views of the press. “Newspapers are instruments of the oligarchy,” he told the Cuban people. “We must eliminate all newspapers; we cannot make a revolution with free press.”
The flight attendants began to serve lunch, Merletti recalls. “They put a meal in front of me and then they said to Mike, ‘We’ll get you a meal in a minute.’” Five or so minutes passed before the flight attendant returned. “She says, ‘We’re really sorry, but we don’t have any meals left. But here’s a little voucher so the next time you fly, you’ll get an upgrade or something like that.’” Mike Kuropas looked at the voucher. “He looks at me,” remembers Merletti, “and he says, ‘You know this is a bad omen,’ and I say, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘I’m not coming back.’ I say, ‘Mike, don’t say that. Don’t say that at all.’ I said, ‘You know, we all have those thoughts, but don’t go there, just don’t do it.’” Mike Kuropas looked squarely at Lew Merletti and said, “No, I know I’m not coming back.
“Standing there, I became overwhelmed with emotion,” he recalls. “The reality set in. I thought about Mike and I still think about all the guys who died in Vietnam. Each one of them. They were alive one moment and then they got shot. There’s no anesthesia on the battlefield. You get shot. It’s incredibly painful to get shot. You bleed out before you die,” Merletti says. Standing in front of Mike Kuropas’s name, Merletti made a vow. “I wanted to try to live up to certain expectations of myself, for him. For Mike.” Merletti vowed that moving forward in his life, were he to perceive something in front of himself as difficult, he would stop and think of Mike Kuropas. He would acknowledge that whatever problem he was having, he was having the problem because he was alive. Mike Kuropas would not have the luxury of problems. Mike Kuropas, age just twenty-two, was dead.
When, in 1973, Qaddafi learned of a coup being plotted against him, his grip tightened. He created a militia “to protect the revolution” and began a systematic purge of the educated class. Death squads terrorized the population. Political parties were outlawed. Under the draconian Law 75, dissent became illegal. The state took control of the press. There were no legal codes or a legal system; justice was arbitrary.
In the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, thousands of these young children were sent to their deaths by the ayatollah as suicide bombers—ordered to clear land mines with their own bodies so as to make way for Iranian infantry troops and advance Iran’s front line into Iraq. Years later, New York Times reporter Terence Smith interviewed survivors of these human-wave assaults, and learned of frightened Iranian children being drugged with an opiate drink called “martyr’s syrup,” bound together in groups of twenty with machine guns at their back, ordered to keep moving forward, to walk to their deaths. Across their child-sized uniforms a message had been stenciled: “I have the special permission of the Imam to enter heaven.
With bin Laden were a group of friends and colleagues, Afghan mujahedin. This group had spent the past decade fighting Russian infantry forces following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It was a classic irregular-warfare scenario. A much smaller rebel force, the mujahedin, had managed to defeat one of the largest armies in the world, the Russians, using guerrilla warfare tactics. Training, weapons, and funding for the mujahedin came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, England, Pakistan, and China. In 1989 the Russians left, defeated. At the CIA, analysts called it Russia’s Vietnam.
To Lew Merletti’s eye, presidential protection was contingent on three fundamentals that never changed. The world is a dangerous place; it doesn’t matter who’s to blame, only that you defend against it; the U.S. Secret Service must never appear weak. An attack could come from anywhere, including a lone wolf, a terrorist organization, or a foreign government.
The pretense of virtue attached to killing someone from a distance is curious. Perhaps dangerous as well. The current laws of war prohibit treacherous killing, and that includes assassination. It is also considered treacherous to shoot the enemy while he is taking a bath. But covert action occurs in the in-between, governed by Title 50 of the national-security code. It is undertaken at the behest of the president and is to remain hidden from the public eye. Do the laws of war need to be updated for guerrilla warfare, seeing as it is the only kind of war America has engaged in since World War II? Can terrorism be defeated by gentleman’s rules? War is wicked, violent, and treacherous. A horror of chaos, anarchy, and revenge.
talented and courageous.” The discrepancy in opinion between the covert-action operators on the ground and the top brass at the CIA is puzzling. According to Faddis, “Washington wanted the Iraqi Jedburgh story.” What they got “was an unmitigated disaster.
“Assassination,” said Hayden, is defined as forbidden lethal acts “against political enemies.” Terrorists are not political leaders. They do not run sovereign states. “U. S. targeted killings against Al-Qaeda are against members of an opposing armed enemy force,” Hayden clarified. “This is war. This [targeted killing of Mugniyah] is under the laws of armed conflict.”
The Taliban government that boasted piety, incorruptibility, and bravery left behind in its wake one of the most immoral, corrupt, criminal, debauched societies the modern world has ever
known. Civil order had been destroyed. “Adults [left] traumatized and brutalized,” writes Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, in Taliban. “Children rootless without identity or reason to live except to fight.” In the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, a former United Nations diplomat, “We are dealing with a failed state which looks like an infected wound. You don’t even know where to begin cleaning it.”
Just war theory tells us not to rejoice in the battlefield deaths of others; that there is no place for vengeance or bloodlust. But what is man, if not flawed?
Obama succeeded in making Americans comfortable with drone strikes,” says former administration official and drone scholar Micah Zenko, “as they are generally supported by the American public and wildly popular in Congress.” There is subtext here: if Congress can’t fight a battle on political lines, it acts as if it is not a battle worth fighting for. How did we end up here, with assassination—but not called assassination—normalized, mechanized, and industrialized?
One day in the summer of 1928, war became outlawed. Representatives of fifteen nations led by the United States and France gathered inside the French Foreign Ministry in Paris and signed a pact declaring war illegal. The General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, or the Kellogg-Briand Pact, came a decade after World War I, considered the war to end all wars.
To wage war was now a crime.
The closest the world ever came to nuclear war was during the Cuban missile crisis. It was Che Guevara, more so than Fidel Castro, who advocated for nuclear war. “If the people [of Cuba] should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names,” Che told the First Latin American Youth Congress in 1960, “they will feel completely happy and fulfilled.” This rhetoric likely contributed to President Johnson’s granting the CIA the authority to oversee Che’s killing.