Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

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.

Post date:

Because of Winn-Dixie

Book Notes

When visiting Mom last week, as I was lying on my bed, she came in to lie down next to me and chat. This is a ritual we do, and I love it. We lie on the bed, talking about life, memories, upcoming plans, and sometimes hard topics. We talk about her mother, and her relationship with her. We talk about family. We talk about what's on our minds.

And sometimes, we can't talk. There's a space between us, an argument gone too far with a dead brother, a reminder of the short time we have, the distance that fluxes.

During one of these times, Mom pulled a book from the bed's headboard bookcase (one must truly love a bed that has a bookcase as a headboard, I know I do), and handed it to me. "This is a good read," she said. I said thanks, and added it to my small pile that I was attempting to read during my week visit.

It was this book. I didn't finish my previous books until today, so this one came up. The book is a Newbery Honor winner, unsure if that's the "winner" or the "finalists list" but, hey, has Newbery associated with it. which makes it a finalist, but not a winner.

The book is about acceptance: accepting losses, accepting people for who they are, accepting loneliness, accepting mistakes, accepting. I struggled a bit with the speech patterns in the book, imagining different races to the characters than what was described, based on the media portrayal of language patterns, and fought the whole book to keep the correct image in my mind of the characters' described race. I did give up and imagine the characters as I saw them, and that made for a better reading for me, even if it wasn't as the author imagined.

It is, as Mom said, a good read. It's short. I recommend reading it with a small person, and getting her take on it. If you don't have a child, niece, nephew, or the like, cuddle up with your five year old self and read to her.

“He just doesn’t want to be left alone,” I told the preacher. “That’s all. Let’s take him with us.” I could understand the way Winn-Dixie felt. Getting left behind probably made his heart feel empty.
Page 31

I finally decided that I was more afraid of losing Winn-Dixie than I was of having to deal with a dog-eating witch, so I went through the gate and into the yard.
Page 62

He was eating something right out of the witch’s hand. She looked up at me. “This dog sure likes peanut butter,” she said. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut butter.”
Page 63

Except all dogs like peanut butter.

She told me she used to love to read stories, but she couldn’t anymore because her eyes were so bad. “Can’t you get some really strong glasses?” I asked her.

“Child,” she said, “they don’t make glasses strong enough for these eyes.”
Page 92

When I grow old and can no longer read, I want someone to read to and for me.

I said, “I don’t know. Why are all those bottles on it?”

“To keep the ghosts away,” Gloria said.

“What ghosts?”

“The ghosts of all the things I done wrong.”

I looked at all the bottles on the tree. “You did that many things wrong?” I asked her.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria. “More than that.”

“But you’re the nicest person I know,” I told her.

“Don’t mean I haven’t done bad things,” she said.
Page 94

“The preacher says that sometimes she couldn’t stop drinking.”

“Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria again. “That’s the way it is for some folks. We get started and we can’t get stopped.”

“Are you one of those people?”

“Yes ma’am. I am. But these days, I don’t drink nothing stronger than coffee.”

“Did the whiskey and beer and wine, did they make you do the bad things that are ghosts now?”

“Some of them,” said Gloria Dump. “Some of them I would’ve done anyway, with alcohol or without it. Before I learned.”

“Learned what?”

“Learned what is the most important thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked her.

“It’s different for everyone,” she said. “You find out on your own. But in the meantime, you got to remember, you can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now."
Page 95

And this was when, while reading the book, I realized why my mom had given me this book to read.

"War,” I told her. “That was the war between the South and the North over slavery.”

“Slavery, yes,” said Miss Franny. “It was also about states’ rights and money."
Page 101

Well, no.

It was about money, yes. It was about money because the slave-owners of the south didn't want to lose the cheap labor they had, so that they could keep their money.

States' rights became a sanitized cause, but wasn't really the point.

“Men and boys always want to fight. They are always looking for a reason to go to war. It is the saddest thing. They have this abiding notion that war is fun. And no history lesson will convince them differently."
Page 105

"He went off to be a hero. But he soon found out the truth.” Miss Franny closed her eyes and shook her head.

“What truth?” I asked her.

“Why, that war is hell,” Miss Franny said with her eyes still closed. “Pure hell.”
Page 105

“There’s a secret ingredient in there,” Miss Franny said.

“I know it,” I told her. “I can taste it. What is it?”

“Sorrow,” Miss Franny said. “Not everybody can taste it. Children, especially, seem to have a hard time knowing it’s there.”

“I taste it,” I said.

“Me, too,” said Amanda.

“Well, then,” Miss Franny said, “you’ve probably both had your share of sadness.”
Page 114

Sometimes, it seemed like everybody in the world was lonely. I thought about my mama. Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot, the spot where I felt like she should be.
Page 132

“There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.”
Page 159

The Wife Between Us

Book Notes

Despite being on a non-fiction reading kick as of late (no, I don't know why either), this book caught my eye when I was wandering a bookstore (people do this, right? Just wander in bookstores. Right?), so I added it to my hold list at the library and pretty much forgot about it until it dropped into my reading list.

Problem was, when I actually started reading the book, I didn't know why I had added this book to my reading list. Then, when I read the book details, the summary and one-line reviews of the book, I was annoyed that they all commented about the O'Henry style plot twists (which, actually, I adore, but not if I see them coming). Don't tell me about the plot twists, because then I'll be all suspect of everything in the book.

Which is why I was surprised when the first one dropped. I was stunned, and went back to reread the part before and after several times. And, thought, "How clever!" And then the book kept going, and, "Oh. Hello."

I can't say I particularly liked the fundamental motivation of the plot, it struck a lot too close to home for me to feel comfortable, but the tale is told delightfully well and the ending, okay, I'm REALLY glad I didn't skip to the end for this one.

The book is a new-release, which is somewhat odd for me to have read, as I tend to read books 1-2 years old, if not 60 years old or more, but this one is a quick, totally O'Henry twist, entertaining book to read.

It wasn’t difficult to dodge questions once you learned the tricks. When someone asked about your childhood, you told them about the tree house your father built for you, and your black cat that thought he was a dog and would sit up and beg for a treat. If college came up, you focused on the football team’s undefeated season and your part-time job at a campus restaurant, where you once started a small fire while making toast and cleared the dining area. Tell colorful, drawn-out stories that deflect attention from the fact that you aren’t actually sharing anything. Avoid specifics that will separate you from the crowd. Be vague about the year you graduated. Lie, but only when completely necessary.
Page 23

Something about their fearlessness, the way her coworkers exposed their hearts and chased their dreams despite the rejection they continually suffered, spoke to a part of Nellie that had been switched off during her last year in Florida. They were like children in that respect, Nellie realized—they possessed an undaunted optimism. A sense that the world and its possibilities lay open to them.
Page 40

I was happy, I think, but I wonder now if my memory is playing tricks on me. If it is giving me the gift of an illusion. We all layer them over our remembrances; the filters through which we want to see our lives.
Page 96

I couldn’t stop thinking about that shoe, or the woman it belonged to. She must have gotten up that morning, gotten dressed, and stepped out of a window into the air. I searched the newspapers the following day, but there was only a tiny mention of the incident. I never knew what had made her commit such a desperate act—if she’d been planning it, or if something inside her had suddenly snapped. I think I’ve figured out the answer, all these years later: It was both.
Page 130

“Lovey, you seem so concerned by what he thinks all the time.”
Page 135

But instead of racing toward my future, I began making plans to run away from my past.
Page 245

In my marriage, there were three truths, three alternate and sometimes competing realities. There was Richard’s truth. There was my truth. And there was the actual truth, which is always the most elusive to recognize. This could be the case in every relationship, that we think we’ve entered into a union with another person when, in fact, we’ve formed a triangle with one point anchored by a silent but all-seeing judge, the arbiter of reality.
Page 248

I’d told myself I’d been partly to blame for Richard’s violence.
Page 281

When Things Fall Apart

Book Notes

I read this book. I am, however, not sure I should mark this as read, because as soon as I finished it, I restarted reading it.

So, maybe I can count this one as read? Maybe? Not sure.

One of the issues I have with this book is that I, and a number of other people I know, have read this book at a hard part in life. Things are difficult, problems are numerous and overwhelming, and this is when we turn to this book for comfort.

Yet, sitting with that discomfort is part of the story, part of the journey to becoming whole and not-whole again.

This is a book that needs to be read, too, when things aren't falling apart, when we can think as clearly as we are able, when we can see the wisdom of the words without the sorrow of our souls.

I strongly recommend this book, with a caveat. Yes, read this book, but experience it again with someone reading to you. Either check out the abridged version of the author reading it, or the unabridged version with another reader, but do listen to the book. The experience is much different, and differently richer.

Everybody Lies

Book Notes

Okay, unlike the last big data book I read, this WAS the big data book I wanted to read. While it does describe the mathematics used in the different ways big-data affects society, it does show how big data, how using small bits of innocent data can reveal surprising truths about who we are and what we really think.

If you start with the assumption that everybody lies on surveys (and this isn't a bad assumption, people mess with surveys all the time, to make themselves look good, to make someone else look bad, to withhold information for ulterior reasons, or really just to f--- with the survey data), then the fundamental data from which theories and beliefs develop is wrong.

But put people in a place where they believe their thoughts are anonymous, truly believe the data they provide will not be traced back to them, then said people become more open and, well, more honest with what they are thinking.

Which is where Stephens-Davidowitz's data research idea came from, to use Google search data as a research source, and where many assumptions about what people are thinking can be debunked.

And the results are fascinating.

Stephens-Davidowitz provides a number of examples of "here's common knowledge, everyone knows this," and shows where, with big data, the "knowledge" is wrong. Either we aren't the same as when the knowledge was first determined, or it was declared as true based on something unknown, or simply accepted as true based on some voice of authority. Regardless of the source, the actual data, the actual numbers, show a different story, and that is the fascinating part.

This book is a good introduction to how powerful big-data can be. It only briefly touches upon how badly big-data warps society, which makes this book a good first book on what big-data can do, and WMD a good follow up on the flip side. Together, they make a good good-side-bad-side story of Big Data™.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I strongly recommend it.

In the previous three elections, the candidate who appeared first in more searches received the most votes. More interesting, the order the candidates were searched was predictive of which way a particular state would go. The order in which candidates are searched also seems to contain information that the polls can miss.
Page 10

But for now it doesn’t matter. Seder is in the prediction business, not the explanation business. And, in the prediction business, you just need to know that something works, not why.
Page 71

Women also like men who express support and sympathy. If a man says, “That’s awesome!” or “That’s really cool,” a woman is significantly more likely to report a connection. Likewise if he uses phrases such as “That’s tough” or “You must be sad.”
Page 82

And as previously noted, a woman is also more likely to report a connection after a date where she talks about herself. Thus it is a great sign, on a first date, if there is substantial discussion about the woman. The woman signals her comfort and probably appreciates that the man is not hogging the conversation.
Page 82

Some of the findings, however, were more interesting. Women use the word “tomorrow” far more often than men do, perhaps because men aren’t so great at thinking ahead.
Page 83

Adding the letter “o” to the word “so” is one of the most feminine linguistic traits. Among the words most disproportionately used by women are “soo,” “sooo,” “soooo,” “sooooo,” and “soooooo.”
Page 83

Maybe it was my childhood exposure to women who weren’t afraid to throw the occasional f-bomb. But I always thought cursing was an equal-opportunity trait. Not so. Among the words used much more frequently by men than women are “fuck,” “shit,” “fucks,” “bullshit,” “fucking,” and “fuckers.”
Page 83

I am a guy. Or as Priyanka says, I was a guy in a previous life. No wait, still am.

Many people, particularly Marxists, have viewed American journalism as controlled by rich people or corporations with the goal of influencing the masses, perhaps to push people toward their political views.

Gentzkow and Shapiro’s paper suggests, however, that this is not the predominant motivation of owners. The owners of the American press, instead, are primarily giving the masses what they want so that the owners can become even richer.
Page 96

These days, a data scientist must not limit herself to a narrow or traditional view of data. These days, photographs of supermarket lines are valuable data. The fullness of supermarket bins is data. The ripeness of apples is data. Photos from outer space are data. The curvature of lips is data. Everything is data! And with all this new data, we can finally see through people’s lies.
Page 104

Men’s top Googled question related to how their body or mind would change as they aged was whether their penis would get smaller.
Page 124

Dying here.

For every search women make about a partner’s phallus, men make roughly 170 searches about their own.
Page 124

More than 40 percent of complaints about a partner’s penis size say that it’s too big.
Page 124

Still cracking up.

In fact, we are all so busy judging our own bodies that there is little energy left over to judge other people’s.
Page 127

There is also probably a connection between two of the big concerns revealed in the sexual searches on Google: lack of sex and an insecurity about one’s sexual attractiveness and performance. Maybe these are related.

Maybe if we worried less about sex, we’d have more of it.
Page 127

Who is more sexually generous, men or women?

Women, duh.
Page 128

And when men do look for tips on how to give oral sex, they are frequently not looking for ways of pleasing another person. Men make as many searches looking for ways to perform oral sex on themselves as they do how to give a woman an orgasm. (This is among my favorite facts in Google search data.)
Page 128

Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same.

Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 28 percent of girls are overweight, while 35 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see—or worry about—overweight girls much more frequently than overweight boys.

Parents are also one and a half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is handsome. And they are nearly three times more likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. (How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.)
Page 136

In general, parents seem more likely to use positive words in questions about sons. They are more apt to ask whether a son is “happy” and less apt to ask whether a son is “depressed.”
Page 136

A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report linked nearly one hundred murders in the past five years to registered Stormfront members.
Page 137

It turns out, some kids make some tragic, and heart-wrenching, searches on Google—such as “my mom beat me” or “my dad hit me.” And these searches present a different—and agonizing—picture of what happened during this time. The number of searches like this shot up during the Great Recession, closely tracking the unemployment rate.

Here’s what I think happened: it was the reporting of child abuse cases that declined, not the child abuse itself. After all, it is estimated that only a small percentage of child abuse cases are reported to authorities anyway. And during a recession, many of the people who tend to report child abuse cases (teachers and police officers, for example) and handle cases (child protective service workers) are more likely to be overworked or out of work.
Page 146

In 2015, in the United States, there were more than 700,000 Google searches looking into self-induced abortions. By comparison, there were some 3.4 million searches for abortion clinics that year.
Page 147

What drives interest in self-induced abortion? The geography and timing of the Google searches point to a likely culprit: when it’s hard to get an official abortion, women look into off-the-books approaches.

Search rates for self-induced abortion were fairly steady from 2004 through 2007. They began to rise in late 2008, coinciding with the financial crisis and the recession that followed. They took a big leap in 2011, jumping 40 percent. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization, singles out 2011 as the beginning of the country’s recent crackdown on abortion; ninety-two state provisions that restrict access to abortion were enacted.
Page 148

We can’t blindly trust government data. The government may tell us that child abuse or abortion has fallen and politicians may celebrate this achievement. But the results we think we’re seeing may be an artifact of flaws in the methods of data collection. The truth may be different—and, sometimes, far darker.
Page 149

Facebook is digital brag-to-my-friends-about-how-good-my-life-is serum.
Page 152

Not exactly cheery stuff. Often, after I give a talk on my research, people come up to me and say, “Seth, it’s all very interesting. But it’s so depressing.” I can’t pretend there isn’t a darkness in some of this data. If people consistently tell us what they think we want to hear, we will generally be told things that are more comforting than the truth.

Digital truth serum, on average, will show us that the world is worse than we have thought.
Page 158

First, there can be comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your insecurities and embarrassing behavior. It can be nice to know others are insecure about their bodies.
Page 158

In fact, I think Big Data can give a twenty-first-century update to a famous self-help quote: “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”
Page 160

The second benefit of digital truth serum is that it alerts us to people who are suffering.
Page 161

The final—and, I think, most powerful—value in this digital truth serum is indeed its ability to lead us from problems to solutions.
Page 162

When we lecture angry people, the search data implies that their fury can grow. But subtly provoking people’s curiosity, giving new information, and offering new images of the group that is stoking their rage may turn their thoughts in different, more positive directions.
Page 162

Noah finds baseball impossibly boring, and his hatred of the sport has long been a core part of his identity.
Page 165

Huh. Can't say "core" is accurate, but I might understand some part of this.

One hypothesis—and this is speculative—was put forth by David Cutler, one of the authors of the study and one of my advisors. Contagious behavior may be driving some of this. There is a large amount of research showing that habits are contagious. So poor people living near rich people may pick up a lot of their habits.
Page 178

In fact, Chetty’s team found even more evidence that knowledge drove this kind of cheating. When Americans moved from an area where this variety of tax fraud was low to an area where it was high, they learned and adopted the trick. Through time, cheating spread from region to region throughout the United States. Like a virus, cheating on taxes is contagious. Now stop for a moment and think about how revealing this study is. It demonstrated that, when it comes to figuring out who will cheat on their taxes, the key isn’t determining who is honest and who is dishonest. It is determining who knows how to cheat and who doesn’t.
Page 180

The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of children born there who go on to notable success. (Take that, Donald Trump!) If two places have similar urban and college populations, the one with more immigrants will produce more prominent Americans. What explains this? A lot of it seems to be directly attributable to the children of immigrants.
Page 184

For better or worse (okay, clearly worse), there is a huge random component to life. Nobody knows for sure what or who is in charge of the universe.
Page 226

For Ahmed Yilmaz, the son of an insurance agent and teacher in Queens, Stuy was “the high school."

...
He still remembers the day he received the envelope with the results. He missed by two questions. I asked him what it felt like. “What does it feel like,” he responded, “to have your world fall apart when you’re in middle school?”
Page 232

How horrible would this be?

More than a decade later, Yilmaz admits that he sometimes wonders how life would have played out had he gone to Stuy. “Everything would be different,” he says. “Literally, everyone I know would be different.”
Page 232

But these what-ifs seem unanswerable. Life is not a video game. You can’t replay it under different scenarios until you get the results you want.
Page 233

The economists found that prisoners assigned to harsher conditions were more likely to commit additional crimes once they left. The tough prison conditions, rather than deterring them from crime, hardened them and made them more violent once they returned to the outside world.
Page 235

People adapt to their experience, and people who are going to be successful find advantages in any situation. The factors that make you successful are your talent and your drive.
Page 237

This book is called Everybody Lies. By this, I mostly mean that people lie—to friends, to surveys, and to themselves—to make themselves look better. But the world also lies to us by presenting us with faulty, misleading data.
Page 239

Huh. Yuuuuuuuup.

The fundamental problem is that they tested too many things. And if you test enough things, just by random chance, one of them will be statistically significant.
Page 248

We can find patterns in ANYTHING.

This time, IGF2r did not correlate with IQ. Plomin — and this is a sign of a good scientist — retracted his claim.
Page 250

This is huge. I applaud Plomin. How hard it is to admit you're wrong. How nearly impossible it is to admit you're wrong with the world knowning? F'ing hard.

I wish we were all good scientists.

How can you overcome the curse of dimensionality? You have to have some humility about your work and not fall in love with your results. You have to put these results through additional tests.

Social scientists call this an “out-of-sample” test. And the more variables you try, the more humble you have to be. The more variables you try, the tougher the out-of-sample test has to be. It is also crucial to keep track of every test you attempt.
Page 250

But it points to a potential problem with people using data to make decisions. Numbers can be seductive. We can grow fixated with them, and in so doing we can lose sight of more important considerations.
Page 253

Consider the twenty-first-century emphasis on testing in American schools—and judging teachers based on how their students score. While the desire for more objective measures of what happens in classrooms is legitimate, there are many things that go on there that can’t readily be captured in numbers.
Page 253

We can measure how students do on multiple-choice questions. We can’t easily measure critical thinking, curiosity, or personal development.
Page 254

It was easy to measure offense and pitching but not fielding, so some organizations ended up underestimating the importance of defense.
Page 254

You might think — or at least hope — that a polite, openly religious person who gives his word would be among the most likely to pay back a loan. But in fact this is not the case. This type of person, the data shows, is less likely than average to make good on their debt.
Page 258

This fact cracks me up.

Hey, guess what, you can be an honest person without the threat of a omniscient, bearded man watching you.

Go figure.

Phrases such as “lower interest rate” or “after-tax” indicate a certain level of financial sophistication on the borrower’s part, so it’s perhaps not surprising they correlate with someone more likely to pay their loan back. In addition, if he or she talks about positive achievements such as being a college “graduate” and being “debt-free,” he or she is also likely to pay their loans.
Page 259

Generally, if someone tells you he will pay you back, he will not pay you back. The more assertive the promise, the more likely he will break it. If someone writes “I promise I will pay back, so help me God,” he is among the least likely to pay you back.
Page 259

Another word that indicates default is “explain,” meaning if people are trying to explain why they are going to be able to pay back a loan, they likely won’t.
Page 259

In sum, according to these researchers, giving a detailed plan of how he can make his payments and mentioning commitments he has kept in the past are evidence someone will pay back a loan. Making promises and appealing to your mercy is a clear sign someone will go into default.
Page 260

Regardless of the reasons—or what it tells us about human nature that making promises is a sure sign someone will, in actuality, not do something — the scholars found the test was an extremely valuable piece of information in predicting default. Someone who mentions God was 2.2 times more likely to default.
Page 260

They found that Facebook likes are frequently correlated with IQ, extraversion, and conscientiousness. For example, people who like Mozart, thunderstorms, and curly fries on Facebook tend to have higher IQs. People who like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the country music group Lady Antebellum, or the page “I Love Being a Mom” tend to have lower IQs. Some of these correlations may be due to the curse of dimensionality. If you test enough things, some will randomly correlate. But some interests may legitimately correlate with IQ.
Page 261

First, it must be acknowledged that there is growing evidence that Google searches related to criminal activity do correlate with criminal activity. Christine Ma-Kellams, Flora Or, Ji Hyun Baek, and Ichiro Kawachi have shown that Google searches related to suicide correlate strongly with state-level suicide rates. In addition,
Page 266

If more people are making searches saying they want to do something, more people are going to do that thing.
Page 267

My phone is filled with emails I forgot to respond to, e-vites I never opened, Bumble messages I ignored.
Page 282

I learned about Bumble only a week or so ago. I wish I had not learned about Bumble.

For example, Leonard Cohen once gave his nephew the following advice for wooing women: “Listen well. Then listen some more. And when you think you are done listening, listen some more.” That seems to be roughly similar to what these scientists found.
Page 340

Ancillary Justice

Book Notes

This is book 1 of the Imperial Radch trilogy

Rob Brackett had recently finished the third book of the Imperial Radch trilogy, and raved about it. Given that Susan also spoke highly of the book, I added the book to my library hold queue, which always sets a deadline for "Read before the loan expires!" So, I read this one curled up on my bed at Mom's, giving her alone time as I had my alone time.

This book confused me until I had read enough of the book to understand the world Leckie built. The lack of gendered pronouns is both fantastic (I love the use of "she" instead of our world's default "he" as the gender-neutral pronoun) and confusing (which gender do I imagine this character?). I worked through a large part of the book trying out the opposite gender that I had originally imagined, which was a great treat. Worth trying.

While I was expecting this book to be mostly brain candy, I was delighted (and in hindsight not surprised) by the social commentary in the book. The world has the dominant class (ruling class, aristocracy, privileged class, rich class, oligarchy, victors, call it what you want), which believes that being born into the class makes them by default superior to everyone else.

How familiar. How... human.

The commentary isn't overt, but it is consistent in the book. The book's plot, the plot's action, and the main character's (Breq's) development all pull the reader along quickly, making this an enjoyable read. That it won Hugo and Nebular and Clarke awards just means I'm late to the reading.

Recommended.

Left to her own devices she would find herself another hit or three of kef, and she would find her way into another place like that grimy tavern and get herself well and truly killed. If that was what she wanted I had no right to prevent her. But if she had wanted to die, why hadn’t she done the thing cleanly, registered her intention and gone to the medic as anyone would?
Page 8

If someone wants to be done, why not let them? Imagine a world where, instead of preventing said death, those arround allows it, and eases that pain.

How is it that this idea is consistent in Utopian and Dystopian futures, and seems impossible in ours?

All wore the jewelry that few Radchaai would ever give up — gifts from friends or lovers, memorials to the dead, marks of family or clientage associations.
Page 14

“I know what Seven Issa, or at least those like them, do to people they find on the wrong side of a dividing line. Five years ago it was noncitizen. In the future, who knows? Perhaps not-citizen-enough?”
Page 18

"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew."

Yeah. That.

Things happen the way they happen because the world is the way it is. Or, as a Radchaai would say, the universe is the shape of the gods.

The smallest, most seemingly insignificant event is part of an intricate whole and to understand why one particular mote of dust falls in one particular path, and lands in one particular location, is to understand the will of Amaat.
Page 33

I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it. Now I could only see in one direction, could only see the vast expanse behind me if I turned my head and blinded myself to what was in front of me.
Page 35

How amazing would this be, to be able to see from twenty different viewpoints? Or even just more than one?

Sometimes even the head priest of Ikkt would come — that god, like Amaat, not demanding that its followers refuse to acknowledge other gods.
Page 44

For I, your god, am a jealous god.

“When you shoot a person, you say why and do it, without excuse. This is how the Radchaai are. But in the upper city, before you came, when they would shoot Orsians, they would always be careful to have an excuse."
Page 49

“And of course,” interjected Jen Taa, oblivious, “they see what we have, and don’t understand that you have to work for that sort of life, and they’re envious and resentful and blame us for not letting them have it, when if they’d only work…”
Page 55

This comment was made by a character in the ruling class, by those who were born into the ruling class, and fed the abused, poor, and lower class the bullshit that work hard and you'll succeed, it's not our fault you are poor, when, actually, yes, the system works to keep the poor poor, the abused from finding help, and the ignorant uneducated.

Hate this line of thinking. Which, I think, is part of what Leckie is trying to say.

"And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”
Page 63

“When you grow up knowing that you deserve to be on top, that the lesser houses exist to serve your house’s glorious destiny, you take such things for granted. You’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are. What happens during annexation — it’s a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.”
Page 63

Yeah.

“Awn, my good friend. Don’t trouble yourself over things you can’t help. Things are as they are. You have nothing to reproach yourself with.”
Page 64

Said one of the lucky-born to another of the lucky-born.

"She’ll come around in time. They all will.”

“And the dead?”

“Are dead. No use fretting over them.”
Page 64

“You are where you are,” I said, in an even tone, “as a result of decisions you made yourself.” Her spine straightened, her shoulders went back.

“You don’t know anything about me, or what decisions I have or haven’t made.” It was enough to make me angry again. I knew something about making decisions, and not making them.

“Ah, I forget. Everything happens as Amaat wills, nothing is your fault.”
Page 72

“Ships have feelings.”

“Yes, of course.” Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s just easier to handle those with emotions."
Page 88

"And then one day someone tells you maybe you were mistaken. And your life won’t be what you imagined it to be.”

“Happens to people all the time,” said Strigan, rising from her seat. “Except most of us don’t delude ourselves that we ever had great destinies.”
Page 103

Not this world. Most people do delude ourselves into that belief.

“I don’t believe in any god,” she said, with a slight vehemence. “Still. Things will happen as they happen.”
Page 108

But the idea of shooting citizens was, in fact, extremely shocking and upsetting. What, after all, was the point of civilization if not the well-being of citizens?
Page 121

She had mostly stayed in her quarters talking to me — Justice of Toren–me, not One Esk–me, but she had asked One Esk to sing for her. I had obliged with a Valskaayan piece. It had been ninety-four years, two months, two weeks, and six days before, shortly after the annexation of Valskaay. I opened my mouth to say so, but instead heard myself say, “Two hundred three years, four months, one week, and one day ago, my lord.”
Page 122

Imagine this emotion. You know the truth, you know the answer, and yet, you answer something else. The torture with this, the puzzlement, the conflict, why did I answer that way when I know the answer is this other?

Information is power. Information is security. Plans made with imperfect information are fatally flawed, will fail or succeed on the toss of a coin.
Page 138

Welcome to Big Data!

If I answered Strigan’s question—if I answered it fully, as she would certainly demand—I would be giving her something she could use against me, a weapon. She would almost certainly hurt herself in the process, but that wasn’t always much of a deterrent, I knew.
Page 138

I know this feeling.

I was left with blind chance, a step into unguessable dark, waiting to live or die on the results of the toss, not knowing what the chances were of any result.
Page 138

“You, and anyone else they found undefended. Lieutenant Awn did what she could to prevent bloodshed last night. It wasn’t her fault she failed.”

“It was.” Her back was still to me. “God forgive her for it. God forbid that I may ever be faced with such a choice.”
Page 144

“People often think they would have made the noblest choice, but when they find themselves actually in such a situation, they discover matters aren’t quite so simple.”
Page 145

The world is not black and white. In the moment, we aren't the heroes of the story that we thought we would be.

“Everything else would have fit, they could ignore that. They’ll ignore anything that doesn’t get them what they want. And what they want is anything they can grab.”
Page 150

If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference, Lieutenant Skaaiat had said, and I had agreed. I still agree. The problem is knowing when what you are about to do will make a difference. I’m not only speaking of the small actions that, cumulatively, over time, or in great numbers, steer the course of events in ways too chaotic or subtle to trace. The single word that directs a person’s fate and ultimately the fates of those she comes in contact with is of course a common subject of entertainments and moralizing stories, but if everyone were to consider all the possible consequences of all one’s possible choices, no one would move a millimeter, or even dare to breathe for fear of the ultimate results.
Page 151

If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference. But absent near-omniscience there’s no way to know when that is. You can only make your best approximate calculation. You can only make your throw and try to puzzle out the results afterward.
Page 153

“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.”
Page 155

“Virtue is not a solitary, uncomplicated thing.” Good necessitates evil and the two sides of that disk are not always clearly marked.

“Virtues may be made to serve whatever end profits you. Still, they exist and will influence your actions. Your choices.” Strigan snorted. “You make me nostalgic for the drunken philosophical conversations of my youth. But these are not abstract things we’re talking about here, this is life and death.”
Page 156

“It bothers you, that the Radchaai don’t have the freedom to destroy their lives, or other citizens’ lives.”
Page 161

"Any doctor could have helped him, if he’d wanted it. But that would mean admitting he had a problem, wouldn’t it? And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
Page 165

Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?
Page 207

It makes the history hard to convey. Because still, “I” was me, unitary, one thing, and yet I acted against myself, contrary to my interests and desires, sometimes secretly, deceiving myself as to what I knew and did. And it’s difficult for me even now to know who performed what actions, or knew which information. Because I was Justice of Toren. Even when I wasn’t. Even if I’m not anymore.
Page 207

“I just think you worry too much about it. Who cares what people like that say?”

“It’s easy not to care when you’re rich, and the social equal of people like that.”

“That sort of thing shouldn’t matter,” Lieutenant Dariet insisted.

“It shouldn’t. But it does.”
Page 210

Holy f--- it matters. Some seriously stupid people have money, and do some seriously stupid things with it.

Speak and your possession of an opinion was plain, clear to anyone. Refrain from speaking and still this was proof of an opinion.
Page 211

She was silent for five seconds. “I’ve been sitting here, thinking. I accused you of hating me because I was better than you.”

“That’s not why I hate you.” She ignored that.

“Amaat’s grace, that fall… it was my own stupid fault, I was sure I was dead, and if it had been the other way around I’d never have jumped to save anyone’s life. You never knelt to get anywhere. You are where you are because you’re fucking capable, and willing to risk everything to do right, and I’ll never be half what you are even if I tried my whole life, and I was walking around thinking I was better than you, even half dead and no use to anyone, because my family is old, because I was born better.”

“That,” I said, “is why I hate you.”
Page 219

“No! I swear I didn’t.”

I didn’t answer.

“You don’t believe me. I don’t blame you. You can check, as soon as your hands are free.”
Page 222

“Nothing quite clarifies your thoughts like thinking you’re about to die.”

“The effect is often temporary.”
Page 223

You’re thinking that any fool knows better than to speak up and criticize a government official for any reason. And you’re thinking that if anyone who speaks up to criticize something obviously evil is punished merely for speaking, civilization will be in a bad way.
Page 231

Unity, I thought, implies the possibility of disunity. Beginnings imply and require endings.
Page 236

Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.
Page 247

Waiting for the airlock to cycle, I felt my aloneness like an impenetrable wall pressing around me. Usually one body’s off-kilter emotion was a minor, easily dismissable thing. Now it was only this one body, nothing beyond to temper my distress.
Page 251

I had been thinking of all the ways things could go wrong, starting now, starting the moment I stepped off the ship and confronted the dock inspectors.
Page 269

How classically Stoic.

“And surely,” added Seivarden with a slight sneer, her mask finally cracking, “it’s always safe to complain about lower houses and provincials.”

“You’d think,” said Rose-and-Azure beside me, mistaking Seivarden’s intent. “But we are sadly changed, Captain, from your day. It used to be you could depend on the aptitudes to send the right citizen to the right assignment. I can’t fathom some of the decisions they make these days. And atheists given privileges.”
Page 315

This conversation is one of the core messages of the book, about privilege and power and being born into a life instead of a level playing field, and arrogance associated with said privilege.

“The point is, it was mutiny. Mutiny winked at, but one can’t make a plain statement of fact about the dangers of promoting the ill-bred and vulgar to positions of authority, or policies that encourage the most vile sort of behavior, and even undermine everything civilization has always stood for, without losing business contacts or promotions.”
Page 317

“I don’t know if that unit leader did the right thing. But I don’t know what the right thing to do would have been. And I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to die for that right thing if I knew what it was. I mean…” She paused. “I mean, I’d like to think I would. There was a time I’d have been sure I would. But I can’t even…”
Page 319

"The noblest, most well-intentioned people in the world can’t make annexations a good thing. Arguing that ancillaries are efficient and convenient is not, to me, a point in favor of using ancillaries. It doesn’t make it better, it only makes it look a little cleaner.”
Page 325

“It’s so easy to go along with things, isn’t it?” Skaaiat said. “Especially when, as you say, it profits you.”
Page 326

The Security officer gestured ambiguity. “I couldn’t say, citizen.”
Page 327

Gestures are mentioned in several sci-fi books I've read recently. We have gestures, shrugs and hand gestures like halt, forward, so-so and the like. I like the idea, however, of having larger, more-defined gestures that could convey entire conversations.

The omen Stillness had flipped, become Movement. And Justice was about to land before me, clear and unambiguous.
Page 328

I was done pretending. It was terrifying, because I knew I couldn’t live long past this, but also, oddly, a relief. A weight gone.
Page 332

The end of struggling brings its own relief.

Anaander Mianaai stopped, turned to look at me. “That wasn’t me. Help me now, I’m fighting that other me even now, I’m quite certain. I wasn’t ready to move openly, but now you’ve forced my hand, help me and I’ll destroy her and remove her utterly from myself.”

“You can’t,” I said. “I know what you are, better than anyone. She’s you and you’re her. You can’t remove her from yourself without destroying yourself. Because she’s you.”
Page 339

“Pain is a warning,” said Anaander Mianaai.
Page 341

“What would happen if you removed all discomfort from your life?”
Page 341

As Seneca commented, “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

“And if I had wings I’d be a sail-pod.” Ifs and would-haves changed nothing.
Page 370

“Half your anger is for yourself.” She ate the last bite of pastry and brushed her small gloved hands together, showering fragments of sugar icing onto the grass. “But it’s such a monumentally enormous anger even half is quite devastating.”
Page 374

“Justice of Toren,” said Mercy of Kalr from the console. The name caught me by surprise, started exhausted tears. I blinked them away. “I’m only One Esk,” I said. And swallowed. “Nineteen.”
Page 382

Black Hole Blues

Book Notes

When I joined the Caltech Alumni Book Club, I didn't realize what the theme of the book club would be. After this book and the last one, I can say with a good level of confidence that the theme is "has to do with Caltech." And really, that's expected and probably in the book club description that I didn't read when I joined ("A book club? SQUEEEEE! Join!"). The book club reads more slowly than I read, which is to say, more slowly than the maximum library checkout time, so I've been finishing these books faster than the book club. Not a great thing when I want to be participating in the book club.

Phew. That all said...

This book is, unsurprisingly, about the gravitational wave experiments, the people involved in it from the beginning, the stumbling blocks, the successes, and the failures. It's a great scientific tale that I enjoyed reading about.

That some of it occurred while I was AT Caltech reminds me of just how f---ing oblivious I was when I was at Tech, as well as how oblivious I must still be about my world. I want to believe I'm more aware, and more appeciative, of things around me. NO IDEA IF I AM.

That this book was published before LIGO succeeded is delightful. That LIGO succeeded is even more delighful. I enjoyed this book, enjoyed reading about people who love science as much as I do, and had the courage to pursue that love.

I recommend this book to anyone who has a slight interest in the biographical information about the LIGO project, black holes in particular, or science in general. Fun read.

“I went to MIT for college—I wanted to learn how to do audio engineering well, because that was all I knew. But I very rapidly realized that I didn’t want to become an engineer. I switched to physics, and I don’t know why…. No, I’ll tell you; it was really stupid. The Physics Department had fewer requirements than the others, and I was totally undisciplined—I didn’t want any requirements.”
Page 11

I understand this.

“Anyway, I was totally gaga, crazy in love. I didn’t think of what the consequences of that would be. Of course, the girl went off with somebody else. You can never fall in love — I mean, you’re not allowed to do that. You know how it is. So I came back."
Page 14

"But I would have stayed a graduate student forever, because it was fun. I could go from one experiment to the other, and I never thought about money or any of that stuff, so I did one experiment after the other. Some of them were pretty zany.”
Page 15

The hasty construction of the Palace reflected an unpreparedness the government intended to amend in the wake of World War II. Roughly shaken out of introversion, the country did not have an army of trained scientists and engineers, and this deficit was believed to hamper military research. Under the pressures of the war, incited by that urgency, technologies were constructed as suddenly as the building, if with higher production value.
Page 19

Which is, sadly, HOW THE UNITED STATES IS BECOMING NOW. Both with its anti-immigration policies and with its attack on science and the truth.

This saddens me beyond belief.

In the quirky climate of the Plywood Palace, the notorious academic pressure to publish or perish also abated, so that Rai could adhere to simple principles and high standards.
Page 20

How wonderful would this be!

Rai was bold and practical and effective but not politically ambitious. He pursued experiments out of raw curiosity, indifferent to his career trajectory. He says, “I didn’t even think of the tenure clock. It was not in my consciousness. I was a professor, they had just hired me, and I was going to try to do the most interesting thing I could think of. The hell with it.” His unfettered attitude let him explore and take risks.
Page 21

Love this. I wish everyone who loved the hard sciences could be like this.

With prerogative and talent as cargo, under obligation to a comprehensible universe, he wandered unfamiliar streets on a trip to the Northeast in the hopes that a brisk constitutional could dislodge an answer to the question, “What am I supposed to be doing with all that I have?”
Page 25

Wheeler turned to relativity as he emerged from the nuclear weapons program. He helped to design and to use the plutonium production reactor in 1942 until the end of the war.
Page 27

The Trinity test of the plutonium fission bomb detonated the mortifying equivalent of 20 kilotons of TNT, lighting up an American desert and inspiring Oppenheimer’s memorable translation of the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Page 27

... despite his friendships with the intellectual émigrés, including his close friendship with Albert Einstein, he found the rumors of German atrocities impossible to believe. He didn’t believe them.
Page 28

It is impossible to see what you do not want to see, and harder to believe.

In his autobiography, Wheeler describes his sympathy for the German state, his conviction that German dominance would translate to European stability, his parents’ chastisement, and the gradual ebbing of his sympathy for Germany as the war progressed. He writes frankly about his error in judgment, which he fully accepted, along with his parents’ assessment, as news of atrocities accumulated. He admits, “It is hard now, more than fifty years later, to recapture my frame of mind at that time…. Even when I was doing everything I could to help defeat Germany, I clung to the belief that people are fundamentally decent everywhere…. By the end of the war I knew better. But not until I visited Auschwitz in 1947 was the full horror of German barbarism brought home to me.”
Page 28

I understand this desire to want to believe people are fundamentally decent.

When challenged on the use of the atomic bomb, he would respond as he did in his autobiography: “One cannot escape the conclusion that an atomic bomb program started a year earlier and concluded a year sooner would have spared 15 million lives, my brother Joe’s among them.”
Page 28

He was not entirely against the anticommunist fervor that purged academics from their ivory-tower ranks for crimes of silence either.
Page 29

Kip was among the first generation of physicists bred on relativity. He had the good fortune to mature in a time of significant unsolved astrophysical problems that awaited relativity for their unlocking, and he had the brilliance to make the most of his good fortune.

...

Kip perceived paranoia and ignorance as driving factors in the Cold War arms race. But Wheeler’s controversial involvement in the escalation of the thermonuclear weapons program was an undeniable part of the intellectual context he offered.
Page 33

Ron cultivated the aura of a scientific Mozart — Rai’s analogy — a childlike spirit attached to a wondrous mind that just seemed to emanate astonishing compositions. Everyone around him was forced to play Salieri, unfairly catalogued as a plodding technician in the shadow of Mozart’s genius. Talented scientists felt miscast by Ron in the lesser role. The laboratory was his private Exploratorium.
Page 50

The atmosphere was good in Scotland, a culture he better understood, that he perceived as more open and collaborative. He felt the scientists, even the students, at Caltech were discouraged from collaboration, were unwilling to work together, were more competitive.
Page 53

I ask Kip, “Was he argumentative?”

Kip laughs. “No, because nobody was arguing with him.”

“I sensed some jealousy on his part,” I say.

Kip concedes, “Oh yes, there was a lot of jealousy. That was a real problem.”

I reply, “There was such paranoia and also real complaints all folded together.” Kip agrees. “That’s how these things always are. All tangled together.”
Page 104

He was advised he could get a $ 10 million allowance in a payoff for the libel, but it would take at least five dedicated years that Joe was not prepared to spend in court. “It’s a question of what you want to do with your life,” Joe says.
Page 105

“I simply cannot understand the vehemence and the professional jealousy, and why each guy has to feel that he has to cut off a pound of my flesh. Ah, it’s a waste of effort. I’m in good health. Boltzmann committed suicide with this sort of treatment. But I just, I don’t have suicidal tendencies, I just, ah, keep wondering what the point of it all is.”
Page 106

Joe: "If you do science the principle reason to do it is because you enjoy it and if you don’t enjoy it you shouldn’t do it, and I enjoy it. And I must say I’m enjoying it.”

Kip: “I agree with that philosophy completely.”

Joe: “That’s the best you can do.”
Page 106

“Oh, it’s terrible. Freeman feeling responsible for encouraging him, he writes Joe a letter imploring him to stand down.”

Kip laughs, clearly stunned, and says, “Wow, he must be a very… ah… a very optimistic person.”
Page 107

"... A great man is not afraid to admit publicly that he has made a mistake and has changed his mind. I know you are a man of integrity. You are strong enough to admit that you are wrong. If you do this, your enemies will rejoice but your friends will rejoice even more. You will save yourself as a scientist, and you will find that those whose respect is worth having will respect you for it. ..."
Page 108

“Science is a self-correcting process, but not necessarily in one’s own lifetime,” she tells me rightly.
Page 108

Twenty-three years her senior, he always insisted she do what she wanted and needed to do.
Page 110

These partners are the best partners to have.

“This takes a lot of patience,” I say, not proud of the obviousness of the statement.

“Are you patient?” I ask, undeterred.

“No, and neither are you,” he says.

“You can tell?”

“Yes. You keep finishing my sentences,” he says, not unpleasantly.

I’m chagrined. He waves away any criticism: “It’s okay. It’s good.”
Page 123

“Ron was very difficult to deal with. At the time, I had a lot of respect for Ron, of a different kind. I began to understand Ron better as a scientist. I also found out why he was impossible to deal with: He doesn’t think the way you or I think; he thinks in pictures. And he doesn’t remember what he thought the day before, so you could never make a decision. You could watch his process. He’d go through the same logic about a decision on how big the laser beam should be or how many mirrors there should be—I don’t know, pick anything in the interferometer. And you would discuss this with him, and you would get to the same point, and he would agree that his viewpoint was not right—or maybe he wouldn’t quite agree—and then the conversation would start all over again the next morning, from exactly the same place. And we’d come to the same conclusion. This would go on day after day; you’d never come to a resolution. That was one of the troubles."
Page 124

How frustrating!

Rai had his own ideas about the instrument, about design implementation. But he had to put his own ego aside, not without some personal suffering, to get the thing done. He worked on site selection, or an industry study, tested mirror coatings, built his own laser.

Even now he’ll work wherever on whatever is needed whenever, sweeping away wasps, walking the tunnels, testing systems, building electronics. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “We better ask Rai.”
Page 125

Despite the prophetic name, Robbie says of himself, “I am well known as a person who detests any authority.”
Page 129

“No one was more insightful and creative than Robbie, no one better at solving a problem. And no one was better at creating one.”
Page 134

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

—MACHIAVELLI, The Prince (1513)
Page 134

The selection of the sites was going to be announced in the Senate Building at a press conference, and he wanted Robbie there to back him up. Robbie relays the exchange: “And I say, ‘Walter, what did you pick?’ He says, ‘You’ll find out when you get here.’ ”
Page 140

I f---ing HATE this. DO NOT tell me to come see, tell me what the f--- you want me to know. YEARGH.

Maine had invested heavily to support the site selection. Mitchell had fought hard for LIGO, but Maine was also scientifically the better site. Vogt eventually learned that the turn was specifically political. The Republican White House made the decision to punish Mitchell, the Democratic majority leader of the Senate.
Page 140

Asshats.

Robbie’s skunkworks management style was motivated by his archetypal hatred of authority. His contempt for executive supervision often drove him. He would accept an administrative job due to this loathing.

Learning of the alternative to his nomination, he would think, “Not that idiot” and begrudgingly accept the position in order to spare everyone. He says, “Whenever I held office I was always convinced that the office above me was an idiot and that I had the most important job. And as I moved up the ladder I found out there was always someone above me that was an idiot.”

To avoid this recurrent problem, Robbie was determined that there be no one above him, not even the NSF. They were to deliver the funds and stay out of the operation. There would be essentially no bureaucracy and no obligation to justify the rolling decisions the scientists made, to the NSF or to anyone else.

“If an authority wants power they have to persuade me I respect them. If they are bureaucrats, I will simply not respect them, and if I don’t respect them I will not cooperate. I have not cooperated since and it has gotten me in a lot of trouble. But it has given me a personal comfort that that’s what I wanted to live like.” Robbie explains, “Anyone who lived under the Nazis should hate authority.”
Page 144

“Incidentally I have always had a prejudice in favor of women because I felt they were not getting equal rights, and not because I was a white knight or a good person. And the reason is my mother had been running a big industrial operation because she had been the only daughter of a man…. And I admired my mother. My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world and the most able woman in the world…. And she took me to her plants, which I understood…. And I had female professors who were very good so I was prejudiced in favor of smart women.”

“It’s a good prejudice to have,” I congratulate him.
Page 144

I do, too.

Many Germans suffered under the Nazis, he wants me to understand. “Other Germans were not victims like the Jews, but life under the Nazis was indescribable,” although he tries. “At that time the Nazis had a very powerful method of discouraging people from opposing them. When they arrested a man they arrested his wife also.” The orphaned children of political prisoners were placed in cadet schools, then sent to fight. A fourteen-year-old could be charged with an entire troop of child soldiers. A child had “a body that could stop a bullet and that’s all they needed.” The children would have no military training. They had pickaxes and shovels. When the invasion happened in 1944 and the British broke through, the German Army issued bazookas and rifles and would send these “kids” into combat. None of them would survive.

Robbie’s rage and deep-rooted contempt for authority surfaces vividly as he describes the atrocities. “The government had power over its citizens and used it ruthlessly.”
Page 145

“I will not be a celebrity or made a hero by anybody. I want to be anonymous.”
Page 146

Kip has heard this before, the accusation of optimism, which he patiently refutes with references, documents, and published graphs.
Page 149

Love this.

“For the record,” says Kip, “I think the bet hung on the wall continuously except for a few days when I took it down to sign my concession.”
Page 154

Jerry was cross that all of the major projects over the past many decades were vetted by the Decadal Survey, but not LIGO. He was upset, as were others, that money was spent on tunnels and not on graduate students. On this issue Kip protests, “A key point is that LIGO was being funded out of the Physics Division of NSF, not the Astronomy Division. The Astronomy Division was never in the loop in any significant way; it was always Physics.
Page 154

Although Kip outgrew the tedious moralizing, the sexism, and the religiosity of his Mormon roots, the suggestion was that he never shed the urge to proselytize for a righteous cause and LIGO was that cause.

Why was LIGO funded despite the staggering cost and the tremendous risk? Because Kip was a very charming and very convincing advocate. He was also very thorough scientifically, clear in his analysis and reviews of the state of the art, and respected for his integrity. Kip could make you believe.
Page 155

In the beginning of Vogt’s term as director, Drever says he was not entirely unhappy, although Vogt did make many organizational changes and, unconcealed, did cart around a difficult temperament. The operation overall became more professional, more effective, and substantially funded. At first Drever thought Vogt was “quite okay,” although he was sore that not all of his technical decisions were implemented immediately.

He complained that it was hard for anyone else on the team to fully understand the status of operations at all levels, Vogt so tightly controlled the flow of information — Ron’s impression, not, for instance, Kip’s.
Page 158

I struggle mightily in environments where this is acceptable behavior, hoarding information that is needed for everyone to do their jobs well (cough, cough, TWITTER, danm, Arnaud, asshats both of them).

Maybe not with the full force of his rancor, but with enough of it, Vogt began to attack Ron in the weekly group meetings. “Particularly he kept accusing me of not using the scientific method. And this hurt me tremendously.”

Ron attributes the techniques he learned in the United Kingdom to Rutherford’s influence. He cut corners without compromising performance, did many experiments very quickly, skipped extraneous details, and moved very fast. His practices should not be misinterpreted as slipshod.

And there is no doubt that Ron invented an impressive collection of ingenious experimental techniques and designed significant original elements still crucial to the machines today. He protests, defensive, that his methods had put them ahead. He could work twice as fast as traditional groups and, always frugal, for less money.

...

“I would take a step that wasn’t obvious, and it would work. Robbie would say, ‘He guessed!’ Well, I didn’t guess. My intuition was very powerful—it is very powerful… but I found it difficult to explain it.”

Ron continues, “But he became more and more against me, and I didn’t know at the time quite why.”
Page 161

Peter Goldreich, professor emeritus at Caltech and Princeton, recounts, “I remember Ron telling me one time, ‘This is awful. This is awful.’ Robbie would be yelling at him. And I’d say, ‘Why don’t you just walk away if he starts yelling at you?’ Ron said, ‘Could I do that?’ And I said, ‘Of course you can do that. You are a professor here.’… I couldn’t believe that Ron was so naïve.”
Page 161

Forbidden by Vogt to do so, he presented anyway.
Page 163

Yeah. Understand this, too.

Maybe Vogt hoped Drever would just resign, go back to Glasgow, as any person with a more conventional and reactive psychology might. Ron’s unconventional mentality could have made him oddly resistant to ordinary manipulation. Push him unremittingly in one direction and he could still move unpredictably in another. Apparently his primary reaction to the pressure was an impassive bewilderment instead of a spiteful resignation. He lived for the work, for the lab, for the implementation of his inspired ideas. LIGO was centered at Caltech. There was nothing else for him and nowhere else to go.
Page 164

“Before Robbie became director, Ron had already alienated most of the members of the LIGO team, and in subsequent years the alienation grew…. Among the factors contributing to the team’s alienation from him were his effort to maintain full and sole control of his group’s research, using other scientists as his assistants and rarely granting any significant responsibility or authority to them.”
Page 166

And that’s, I think, fundamentally what finally happened to them. Ron pushed a button that made Robbie feel like a second-rate person, and Robbie couldn’t deal with that.”
Page 167

Aware that his reputation preceded him, in the fifth hour of our conversation Robbie says, part defense, part confession, “The mistakes I made were because of the information I had at the time.”
Page 169

Jamie says, “It’s a kind of celebrity.” Part of Rana’s charisma is related to the social power of indifference. He’s not generally indifferent, though. He listens to other people sometimes with uninterest, true, and that could be interpreted, wrongly, as diffuse indifference. He might occasionally remark on someone’s contribution to the conversation, usually with mild derision, his voice so smooth and calm you’re expecting consensus, and then the meaning slowly resolves as mockery.

Part of Rana’s social power lies in his seeming indifference specifically to external validation. He doesn’t need for you to like him, self-esteem wise. I doubt this self-assuredness is humanly possible, but the impression, the illusion created is powerful.
Page 173

“All I had to assess was if I thought I could make a difference.”
Page 180

In sum total the apartments say, “I don’t plan on being here forever,” even when the resident unexpectedly stays in that noncommittal arrangement for years. Two or four or five, traveling from that base, never quite settling in, never quite committing.
Page 188

Or my last five years, one could say.

Scientists are like those levers or knobs or those boulders helpfully screwed into a climbing wall. Like the wall is some cemented material made by mixing knowledge, which is a purely human construct, with reality, which we can only access through the filter of our minds. There’s an important pursuit of objectivity in science and nature and mathematics, but still the only way up the wall is through the individual people, and they come in specifics—the French guy, the German guy, the American girl. So the climb is personal, a truly human endeavor, and the real expedition pixelates into individuals, not Platonic forms. In the end it’s personal, as much as we want to believe it’s objective.
Page 189

"It is sad that I’m no longer part of Caltech now…. I’ve had many setbacks but every setback, somehow life compensated me again for it in some way. At the moment I got fired or if I had to step down or… it was very hurtful. It was devastating… but there were always people at the right moment who gave me an assist. Every time there was a change in my life, there was always a human being involved to help me. I was lucky."
Page 197

I am Number Four

Book Notes

After reading four non-fiction books in a row, thereby nearly guaranteeing my goal of "1/3 of my books read this year should be non-fiction," I needed brain candy. I needed a book that was just plain fluff, that wasn't going to be anything but an adventure. I had I am Number Four on my list for a bit, likely some Book Riot recommendation, and had started reading it in Montreal when Snook and Ara were busy catching up on tattoos and such in the local bookstore's Starbucks. I had read up to page 47 in the book, and wanted to continue it. TMI? Possibly, but it wins me brownie points.

My plan was to read this book today (check), and watch the movie tonight (less check). The former I managed, the latter I mostly managed. The book is better. Way better.

Anyway, there are 18 known inhabitable planets in the universe (how they know this in the UNIVERSE and not merely our galaxy, I have no idea, but let's go with it, this is brain candy, not discovering gravitational waves or some such. One of them was destroyed by its own race, which then destroyed a second of them, and is coming for its third, Earth. The previous planet's occupants had some pretty fantastic abilities, and these are what John Smith, the 15 year old protagonist, might developer. Or maybe does develop? Okay, fine he does.

The book was exactly what I needed, brain candy. The movie was an experience in frustration and confusion - why would they change the father-son, guardian-trustee, friendly relationship between Henri and John in the book, and make it adversarial and secretive in the movie? The change did not improve the movie at all.

If you're a fan of science fiction, this is a fast, easy read. If not, skip it, and likely the remaining six books in the series. I'll be skipping the remaining six books myself.

Sarah laughs. She places a new egg in my hand and takes my hand in hers and shows me how to crack it on the rim of the bowl.
Page 89

No, that is a crappy way to break an egg. Breaking an egg along the rim of a bowl shatters the shell, increasing the likelihood of shell in your bowl and your batter (or whatever you have in the bowl).

Crack the egg by knocking it against the countertop to create a broken flat area of shell. Press both thumbs into this broken circle area, and pry apart as if the egg has a hinge on the opposite side of the egg from the broken flat area where you are putting your thumbs.

"She was a late sleeper, and I always woke before she did. I would sit in the den and read the paper, make breakfast, go for a walk. Some mornings I would come back and she would still be sleeping. I was impatient, couldn't wait to start the day together. She made me feel good just to be around her. I would go in and try to rouse her. She would pull the covers over her head and growl at me. Almost every morning, always the same thing."
Page 139

Dis me.

"Hope?" he says. "There is always hope, John. New developments have yet to present themselves. Not all the information is in. No. Don't give up hope just yet. It's the last thing to go. When you have lost hope, you have lost everything. And when you think all is lost, when all is dire and bleak, there is always hope."
Page 148

"Do you think it's possible for us to be loved?" I ask.

"What are you talking about?"

"By humans. Do you think we can be loved, like, truly be loved by them?"

"I think they can love us the way they love each other, especially if they don't know what we are, but I don't think it's possible to love a human the way you would love a Loric," he says.

"Why?"

"Because deep down we're different from them. And we love differently. One of the gifts our planet gave us is to love completely. Without jealousy or insecurity or fear. Without pettiness. Without anger. You may have strong feelings for Sara, but they aren't what you would feel for a Loric girl."
Page 315

Can you imagine such a love?

"What happens if we try to have children with humans?"

"It's happened many times before. Usually it results in an exceptional and gifted human. Some of the greatest figures in Earth's history were actually the product of humans and the Loric, including Buddha, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, THomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein..."
Page 316

"No more running. No more fighting. Blood from the knife wound runs down my back; my hands and legs are both shaking. The dagger is still tucked into the waistband of my jeans, but what's the point in grabbing it? What faith is there in a four-inch blade against a forty-foot beast? It would be the equivalent of a splinter. It'll only make it angrier. My only hope is to bleed to death before I am killed and eaten.

I close my eyes and accept death. My lights are off. I don'ot want to see what is about to happen."
Page 463

Geez, this kid accepts his death easily. And repeatedly. He kept accepting it, and accepting it, and accepting it, even as everyone around him kept fighting. Maybe Henri should have worked on those grit lessons, too.

Weapons of Math Destruction

Book Notes

Okay, this book has been on my to-read list for a long while. I bought it I don't know when, with the intent of reading it, but it just lingered. When Suzanne said her session of the book club she and Bob are in, is reading it, and that the session would meet the Monday I'm there, well, I pulled out the book and started reading.

It was not what I was expected, which is fine, really, most books aren't quite what I was expecting. This one, however, caught me more off-guard than I was expecting. I thought this was a book describing the mathematics used in the different ways big-data affects society. Instead, it is a book describing the ways mathmatics is used in big data to disadvantage the already disadvantaged.

It is, at its core, a book about the growing unfairness of big-data in our lives. It is about the ways the poor are kept poor, the rich can stay rich, the powerful abuse their power, and society continues to stratify, all with the help of numbers and math and statistics and data.

The first session of the book club summed up the book as, "It reads like a novel, and is mostly about the unfairness of big-data, it's a social justice book." Bob commented, "Yep, we're done, I don't think there's anything else to talk about." I agree. The book was example after example of the ways big-data is problematic. The examples are important to know. I recommend the book.

Math provided a neat refuge from the messiness of the real world.
Page 1

I can understand this desire to leave the messiness for the beauty of mathematics.

There would always be mistakes, however, because models are, by their very nature, simplifications. No model can include all of the real world’s complexity or the nuance of human communication.
Page 20

A model’s blind spots reflect the judgments and priorities of its creators.
Page 21

Here we see that models, despite their reputation for impartiality, reflect goals and ideology.

Our own values and desires influence our choices, from the data we choose to collect to the questions we ask. Models are opinions embedded in mathematics.
Page 21

Racism, at the individual level, can be seen as a predictive model whirring away in billions of human minds around the world. It is built from faulty, incomplete, or generalized data.

Whether it comes from experience or hearsay, the data indicates that certain types of people have behaved badly. That generates a binary prediction that all people of that race will behave that same way. Needless to say, racists don’t spend a lot of time hunting down reliable data to train their twisted models. And once their model morphs into a belief, it becomes hardwired. It generates poisonous assumptions, yet rarely tests them, settling instead for data that seems to confirm and fortify them.

Consequently, racism is the most slovenly of predictive models. It is powered by haphazard data gathering and spurious correlations, reinforced by institutional inequities, and polluted by confirmation bias.
Page 23

The second false assumption was that not many people would default at the same time. This was based on the theory, soon to be disproven, that defaults were largely random and unrelated events. This led to a belief that solid mortgages would offset the losers in each tranche. The risk models were assuming that the future would be no different from the past.
Page 41

I was already blogging as I worked in data science, and I was also getting more involved with the Occupy movement. More and more, I worried about the separation between technical models and real people, and about the moral repercussions of that separation. In fact, I saw the same pattern emerging that I’d witnessed in finance: a false sense of security was leading to widespread use of imperfect models, self-serving definitions of success, and growing feedback loops. Those who objected were regarded as nostalgic Luddites.
Page 48

And this is the a-ha moment, the inception, for this book.

In a system in which cheating is the norm, following the rules amounts to a handicap. The only way to win in such a scenario is to gain an advantage and to make sure that others aren’t getting a bigger one.
Page 63

Emphasis mine. Welcome to human nature.

the University of Phoenix targeted poor people with the bait of upward mobility. Its come-on carried the underlying criticism that the struggling classes weren’t doing enough to improve their lives. And it worked.
Page 70

If it was true during the early dot-com days that “nobody knows you’re a dog,” it’s the exact opposite today. We are ranked, categorized, and scored in hundreds of models, on the basis of our revealed preferences and patterns. This establishes a powerful basis for legitimate ad campaigns, but it also fuels their predatory cousins: ads that pinpoint people in great need and sell them false or overpriced promises. They find inequality and feast on it. The result is that they perpetuate our existing social stratification, with all of its injustices.
Page 70

A 2012 Senate committee report on for-profit colleges described Vatterott’s recruiting manual, which sounds diabolical. It directs recruiters to target “Welfare Mom w/ Kids. Pregnant Ladies. Recent Divorce. Low Self-Esteem. Low Income Jobs. Experienced a Recent Death. Physically/ Mentally Abused. Recent Incarceration. Drug Rehabilitation. Dead-End Jobs—No Future.”

Why, specifically, were they targeting these folks? Vulnerability is worth gold. It always has been.

Once the ignorance is established, the key for the recruiter, just as for the snake-oil merchant, is to locate the most vulnerable people and then use their private information against them. This involves finding where they suffer the most, which is known as the “pain point.”
Page 72

Because there is always someone willing to exploit the less-well-off.

But zero tolerance actually had very little to do with Kelling and Wilson’s “broken-windows” thesis. Their case study focused on what appeared to be a successful policing initiative in Newark, New Jersey. Cops who walked the beat there, according to the program, were supposed to be highly tolerant. Their job was to adjust to the neighborhood’s own standards of order and to help uphold them.

Standards varied from one part of the city to another. In one neighborhood, it might mean that drunks had to keep their bottles in bags and avoid major streets but that side streets were okay. Addicts could sit on stoops but not lie down. The idea was only to make sure the standards didn’t fall.

The cops, in this scheme, were helping a neighborhood maintain its own order but not imposing their own.
Page 88

Huh.

In this sense, PredPol, even with the best of intentions, empowers police departments to zero in on the poor, stopping more of them, arresting a portion of those, and sending a subgroup to prison. And the police chiefs, in many cases, if not most, think that they’re taking the only sensible route to combating crime. That’s where it is, they say, pointing to the highlighted ghetto on the map. And now they have cutting-edge technology (powered by Big Data) reinforcing their position there, while adding precision and “science” to the process. The result is that we criminalize poverty, believing all the while that our tools are not only scientific but fair.
Page 91

While looking at WMDs, we’re often faced with a choice between fairness and efficacy.

Our legal traditions lean strongly toward fairness.

The Constitution, for example, presumes innocence and is engineered to value it. From a modeler’s perspective, the presumption of innocence is a constraint, and the result is that some guilty people go free, especially those who can afford good lawyers. Even those found guilty have the right to appeal their verdict, which chews up time and resources. So the system sacrifices enormous efficiencies for the promise of fairness.

The Constitution’s implicit judgment is that freeing someone who may well have committed a crime, for lack of evidence, poses less of a danger to our society than jailing or executing an innocent person.
Page 95

Back when arguing meant discourse, not bullying or outight lies. Go fig.

They try in vain to measure “friendship” by counting likes and connections on Facebook. And the concept of fairness utterly escapes them. Programmers don’t know how to code for it, and few of their bosses ask them to.
Page 95

The question is whether we as a society are willing to sacrifice a bit of efficiency in the interest of fairness. Should we handicap the models, leaving certain data out?
Page 95

But a crucial part of justice is equality. And that means, among many other things, experiencing criminal justice equally. People who favor policies like stop and frisk should experience it themselves. Justice cannot just be something that one part of society inflicts upon the other.
Page 96

What’s more, for supposedly scientific systems, the recidivism models are logically flawed. The unquestioned assumption is that locking away “high-risk” prisoners for more time makes society safer. It is true, of course, that prisoners don’t commit crimes against society while behind bars. But is it possible that their time in prison has an effect on their behavior once they step out? Is there a chance that years in a brutal environment surrounded by felons might make them more likely, and not less, to commit another crime? Such a finding would undermine the very basis of the recidivism sentencing guidelines. But prison systems, which are awash in data, do not carry out this highly important research. All too often they use data to justify the workings of the system but not to question or improve the system.
Page 97

This was one of the pillars of the original “broken-windows” study. The cops were on foot, talking to people, trying to help them uphold their own community standards. But that objective, in many cases, has been lost, steamrollered by models that equate arrests with safety.
Page 103

Even putting aside the issues of fairness and legality, research suggests that personality tests are poor predictors of job performance.

Frank Schmidt, a business professor at the University of Iowa, analyzed a century of workplace productivity data to measure the predictive value of various selection processes. Personality tests ranked low on the scale—they were only one-third as predictive as cognitive exams, and also far below reference checks.

This is particularly galling because certain personality tests, research shows, can actually help employees gain insight into themselves. They can also be used for team building and for enhancing communication. After all, they create a situation in which people think explicitly about how to work together.

That intention alone might end up creating a better working environment. In other words, if we define the goal as a happier worker, personality tests might end up being a useful tool.

But instead they’re being used as a filter to weed out applicants. “The primary purpose of the test,” said Roland Behm, “is not to find the best employee. It’s to exclude as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.”
Page 109

The practice of using credit scores in hirings and promotions creates a dangerous poverty cycle. After all, if you can’t get a job because of your credit record, that record will likely get worse, making it even harder to land work. It’s not unlike the problem young people face when they look for their first job—and are disqualified for lack of experience. Or the plight of the longtime unemployed, who find that few will hire them because they’ve been without a job for too long.

It’s a spiraling and defeating feedback loop for the unlucky people caught up in it.

Employers, naturally, have little sympathy for this argument. Good credit, they argue, is an attribute of a responsible person, the kind they want to hire. But framing debt as a moral issue is a mistake.

Plenty of hardworking and trustworthy people lose jobs every day as companies fail, cut costs, or move jobs offshore. These numbers climb during recessions. And many of the newly unemployed find themselves without health insurance. At that point, all it takes is an accident or an illness for them to miss a payment on a loan.

Even with the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the ranks of the uninsured, medical expenses remain the single biggest cause of bankruptcies in America.
Page 149

(Wealthy travelers, by contrast, are often able to pay to acquire “trusted traveler” status, which permits them to waltz through security. In effect, they’re spending money to shield themselves from a WMD.)
Page 150

To which, as someone who has been sexually assaulted by a TSA officer, yes, I will pay my government $20 a year not to sexually assault me.

THAT said, I STILL get the "random" checks when I go through the TSA Pre line. "Random" really means, "we will prove we are not racially profiling travellers by always targeting the slender, big boobed, conservatively dressed woman in cords, because hey not a Muslim dude."

Not all WMD backlashes are accurate either.

As we saw in recidivism sentencing models and predatory loan algorithms, the poor are expected to remain poor forever and are treated accordingly—denied opportunities, jailed more often, and gouged for services and loans. It’s inexorable, often hidden and beyond appeal, and unfair.
Page 155

According to a report in Forbes, institutional money now accounts for more than 80 percent of all the activity on peer-to-peer platforms.

For big banks, the new platforms provide a convenient alternative to the tightly regulated banking economy. Working through peer-to-peer systems, a lender can analyze nearly any data it chooses and develop its own e-scores. It can develop risk correlations for neighborhoods, zip codes, and the stores customers shop at — all without having to send them embarrassing letters explaining why.
Page 159

Of course it is. Banks go where the money is.

Quoting this book is becoming tiring, tbh. Might be easier to read the book than all my extracted quotes.

Hoffman’s analysis, like many of the WMDs we’ve been discussing, was statistically flawed. He confused causation with correlation, so that the voluminous data he gathered served only to confirm his thesis: that race was a powerful predictor of life expectancy. Racism was so ingrained in his thinking that he apparently never stopped to consider whether poverty and injustice might have something to do with the death rate of African Americans, whether the lack of decent schools, modern plumbing, safe workplaces, and access to health care might kill them at a younger age.

Nearly a half century later, however, redlining is still with us, though in far more subtle forms. It’s coded into the latest generation of WMDs. Like Hoffman, the creators of these new models confuse correlation with causation. They punish the poor, and especially racial and ethnic minorities.
Page 162

<sarcasm>
What?

How can that be?
</sarcasm>

Mathematicians didn’t pretend to foresee the fate of each individual. That was unknowable. But they could predict the prevalence of accidents, fires, and deaths within large groups of people.
Page 163

... for the first time, the chance to pool their collective risk, protecting individuals when misfortune struck.
Page 163

The move toward the individual, as we’ll see, is embryonic. But already insurers are using data to divide us into smaller tribes, to offer us different products and services at varying prices. Some might call this customized service. The trouble is, it’s not individual. The models place us into groups we cannot see, whose behavior appears to resemble ours. Regardless of the quality of the analysis, its opacity can lead to gouging.
Page 164

In other words, how you manage money can matter more than how you drive a car.

...

And in Florida, adults with clean driving records and poor credit scores paid an average of $ 1,552 more than the same drivers with excellent credit and a drunk driving conviction.
Page 165

Emphasis not mine.

But consider the price optimization algorithm at Allstate, the insurer self-branded as “the Good Hands People.” According to a watchdog group, the Consumer Federation of America, Allstate analyzes consumer and demographic data to determine the likelihood that customers will shop for lower prices. If they aren’t likely to, it makes sense to charge them more.

And that’s just what Allstate does. It gets worse. In a filing to the Wisconsin Department of Insurance, the CFA listed one hundred thousand microsegments in Allstate’s pricing schemes. These pricing tiers are based on how much each group can be expected to pay.
Page 166

The stated goal of this surveillance is to reduce accidents. About seven hundred truckers die on American roads every year. And their crashes also claim the lives of many in other vehicles. In addition to the personal tragedy, this costs lots of money. The average cost of a fatal crash, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is $3.5 million.
Page 168

Wow.

When I talk to most people about black boxes in cars, it’s not the analysis they object to as much as the surveillance itself. People insist to me that they won’t give in to monitors. They don’t want to be tracked or have their information sold to advertisers or handed over to the National Security Agency. Some of these people might succeed in resisting this surveillance. But privacy, increasingly, will come at a cost.
Page 170

Yeah.

At some point, the trackers will likely become the norm. And consumers who want to handle insurance the old-fashioned way, withholding all but the essential from their insurers, will have to pay a premium, and probably a steep one. In the world of WMDs, privacy is increasingly a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.
Page 170

Insurance is an industry, traditionally, that draws on the majority of the community to respond to the needs of an unfortunate minority.
Page 170

In the villages we lived in centuries ago, families, religious groups, and neighbors helped look after each other when fire, accident, or illness struck. In the market economy, we outsource this care to insurance companies, which keep a portion of the money for themselves and call it profit.
Page 171

As insurance companies learn more about us, they’ll be able to pinpoint those who appear to be the riskiest customers and then either drive their rates to the stratosphere or, where legal, deny them coverage. This is a far cry from insurance’s original purpose, which is to help society balance its risk. In a targeted world, we no longer pay the average. Instead, we’re saddled with anticipated costs. Instead of smoothing out life’s bumps, insurance companies will demand payment for those bumps in advance.
Page 171

Once companies amass troves of data on employees’ health, what will stop them from developing health scores and wielding them to sift through job candidates? Much of the proxy data collected, whether step counts or sleeping patterns, is not protected by law, so it would theoretically be perfectly legal.

As we’ve seen, they routinely reject applicants on the basis of credit scores and personality tests. Health scores represent a natural—and frightening—next step.
Page 175

The national drugstore chain CVS announced in 2013 that it would require employees to report their levels of body fat, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol—or pay $ 600 a year.
Page 175

Wow.

It gives companies an excuse to punish people they don’t like to look at—and to remove money from their pockets at the same time.
Page 177

In fact, the greatest savings from wellness programs come from the penalties assessed on the workers. In other words, like scheduling algorithms, they provide corporations with yet another tool to raid their employees’ paychecks.
Page 178

By sprinkling people’s news feeds with “I voted” updates, Facebook was encouraging Americans — more than sixty-one million of them — to carry out their civic duty and make their voices heard.
Page 180

Studies have shown that the quiet satisfaction of carrying out a civic duty is less likely to move people than the possible judgment of friends and neighbors.
Page 180

Of course.

Facebook is more like the Wizard of Oz: we do not see the human beings involved. When we visit the site, we scroll through updates from our friends. The machine appears to be only a neutral go-between. Many people still believe it is.
Page 183

Sadly.

Using linguistic software, Facebook sorted positive (stoked!) and negative (bummed!) updates. They then reduced the volume of downbeat postings in half of the news feeds, while reducing the cheerful quotient in the others. When they studied the users’ subsequent posting behavior, they found evidence that the doctored new feeds had indeed altered their moods.

Their conclusion: “Emotional states can be transferred to others…, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.” In other words, Facebook’s algorithms can affect how millions of people feel, and those people won’t know that it’s happening.
Page 184

The engines they used were programmed to skew the search results, favoring one party over another. Those results, they said, shifted voting preferences by 20 percent. This effect was powerful, in part, because people widely trust search engines. Some 73 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Research report, believe that search results are both accurate and impartial.
Page 184

Trying to please everyone is one reason most political speeches are boring (and Romney’s, even his supporters groused, were especially so).
Page 185

Basking in the company of people he believed to be supportive and like-minded, Romney let loose with his observation that 47 percent of the population were “takers,” living off the largesse of big government. These people would never vote for him, the governor said—which made it especially important to reach out to the other 53 percent.
Page 186

I find it interesting that this incident is in this book, as it is in Dark Money, too. Different spins happening, though.

Modern consumer marketing, however, provides politicians with new pathways to specific voters so that they can tell them what they know they want to hear. Once they do, those voters are likely to accept the information at face value because it confirms their previous beliefs, a phenomenon psychologists call confirmation bias. It is one reason that none of the invited donors at the Romney event questioned his assertion that nearly half of voters were hungry for government handouts. It only bolstered their existing beliefs.
Page 187

In late 2015, the Guardian reported that a political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, had paid academics in the United Kingdom to amass Facebook profiles of US voters, with demographic details and records of each user’s “likes.” They used this information to develop psychographic analyses of more than forty million voters, ranking each on the scale of the “big five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Page 191

MORE HUH.

The scoring of individual voters also undermines democracy, making a minority of voters important and the rest little more than a supporting cast. Indeed, looking at the models used in presidential elections, we seem to inhabit a shrunken country. As I write this, the entire voting population that matters lives in a handful of counties in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, and a few other swing states. Within those counties is a small number of voters whose opinions weigh in the balance.
Page 196

Instead of targeting people in order to manipulate them, it could line them up for help. In a mayoral race, for example, a microtargeting campaign might tag certain voters for angry messages about unaffordable rents. But if the candidate knows these voters are angry about rent, how about using the same technology to identify the ones who will most benefit from affordable housing and then help them find it?
Page 197

Because, you know, money.

Change that objective from leeching off people to helping them, and a WMD is disarmed—and can even become a force for good.
Page 197

At the federal level, this problem could be greatly alleviated by abolishing the Electoral College system. It’s the winner-take-all mathematics from state to state that delivers so much power to a relative handful of voters. It’s as if in politics, as in economics, we have a privileged 1 percent. And the money from the financial 1 percent underwrites the microtargeting to secure the votes of the political 1 percent. Without the Electoral College, by contrast, every vote would be worth exactly the same. That would be a step toward democracy.
Page 197

This might need to be my next mission.

Along the way, we’ve witnessed the destruction caused by WMDs. Promising efficiency and fairness, they distort higher education, drive up debt, spur mass incarceration, pummel the poor at nearly every juncture, and undermine democracy. It might seem like the logical response is to disarm these weapons, one by one. The problem is that they’re feeding on each other. Poor people are more likely to have bad credit and live in high-crime neighborhoods, surrounded by other poor people.
Page 198

Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, means “Out of Many, One.” But WMDs reverse the equation. Working in darkness, they carve one into many, while hiding us from the harms they inflict upon our neighbors near and far. And those harms are legion.
Page 198

We cannot count on the free market itself to right these wrongs.
Page 198

Indeed, all too often the poor are blamed for their poverty, their bad schools, and the crime that afflicts their neighborhoods.
Page 198

Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead. Sometimes that will mean putting fairness ahead of profit.
Page 198

Clearly, the free market could not control its excesses. So after journalists like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair exposed these and other problems, the government stepped in. It established safety protocols and health inspections for food, and it outlawed child labor.

These new standards protected companies that didn’t want to exploit workers or sell tainted foods, because their competitors had to follow the same rules. And while they no doubt raised the costs of doing business, they also benefited society as a whole.
Page 198

The government, using tax dollars, attempts to compensate for it, with the hope that food stamp recipients will eventually be able to fully support themselves. But the lead aggregators push them toward needless transactions, leaving a good number of them with larger deficits, and even more dependent on public assistance.
Page 198

And the same is often true of fairness and the common good in mathematical models. They’re concepts that reside only in the human mind, and they resist quantification.

And since humans are in charge of making the models, they rarely go the extra mile or two to even try. It’s just considered too difficult. But we need to impose human values on these systems, even at the cost of efficiency.
Page 198

To disarm WMDs, we also need to measure their impact and conduct algorithmic audits. The first step, before digging into the software code, is to carry out research. We’d begin by treating the WMD as a black box that takes in data and spits out conclusions.
Page 198

There’s no fixing a backward model like the value-added model. The only solution in such a case is to ditch the unfair system.
Page 198

In this case, it’s simply a matter of asking teachers and students alike if the evaluations make sense for them, if they understand and accept the premises behind them. If not, how could they be enhanced? Only when we have an ecosystem with positive feedback loops can we expect to improve teaching using data. Until then it’s just punitive.
Page 198

They predict an individual’s behavior on the basis of the people he knows, his job, and his credit rating—details that would be inadmissible in court. The fairness fix is to throw out that data. But wait, many would say. Are we going to sacrifice the accuracy of the model for fairness? Do we have to dumb down our algorithms? In some cases, yes. If we’re going to be equal before the law, or be treated equally as voters, we cannot stand for systems that drop us into different castes and treat us differently.
Page 198

Movements toward auditing algorithms are already afoot. At Princeton, for example, researchers have launched the Web Transparency and Accountability Project. They create software robots that masquerade online as people of all stripes—rich, poor, male, female, or suffering from mental health issues. By studying the treatment these robots receive, the academics can detect biases in automated systems from search engines to job placement sites.
Page 198

Academic support for these initiatives is crucial. After all, to police the WMDs we need people with the skills to build them. Their research tools can replicate the immense scale of the WMDs and retrieve data sets large enough to reveal the imbalances and injustice embedded in the models. They can also build crowdsourcing campaigns, so that people across society can provide details on the messaging they’re receiving from advertisers or politicians. This could illuminate the practices and strategies of microtargeting campaigns.
Page 198

Auditors face resistance, however, often from the web giants, which are the closest thing we have to information utilities. Google, for example, has prohibited researchers from creating scores of fake profiles in order to map the biases of the search engine.
Page 198

Facebook, too. The social network’s rigorous policy to tie users to their real names severely limits the research outsiders can carry out there.
Page 198

Of course they do. Again, money.

These regulations are not perfect, and they desperately need updating. Consumer complaints are often ignored, and there’s nothing explicitly keeping credit-scoring companies from using zip codes as proxies for race. Still, they offer a good starting point. First, we need to demand transparency. Each of us should have the right to receive an alert when a credit score is being used to judge or vet us. And each of us should have access to the information being used to compute that score. If it is incorrect, we should have the right to challenge and correct it.
Page 198

Next, the regulations should expand to cover new types of credit companies, like Lending Club, which use newfangled e-scores to predict the risk that we’ll default on loans. They should not be allowed to operate in the shadows.
Page 198

If we want to bring out the big guns, we might consider moving toward the European model, which stipulates that any data collected must be approved by the user, as an opt-in. It also prohibits the reuse of data for other purposes. The opt-in condition is all too often bypassed by having a user click on an inscrutable legal box.

But the “not reusable” clause is very strong: it makes it illegal to sell user data. This keeps it from the data brokers whose dossiers feed toxic e-scores and microtargeting campaigns. Thanks to this “not reusable” clause, the data brokers in Europe are much more restricted, assuming they follow the law.
Page 198

I WOULD LOVE THIS.

Finally, models that have a significant impact on our lives, including credit scores and e-scores, should be open and available to the public. Ideally, we could navigate them at the level of an app on our phones. In a tight month, for example, a consumer could use such an app to compare the impact of unpaid phone and electricity bills on her credit score and see how much a lower score would affect her plans to buy a car. The technology already exists. It’s only the will we’re lacking.
Page 198

Dark Money

Book Notes

While I do have a reading goal this year of having one third of the books I read be non-fiction books, I was really planning on reading more science books than politics books. When Bob said this was one of the books he was reading for his local book club, I checked the library and was delighted that it had a short wait time for the book. The next day, I had the book. Unfortunately, I managed to finish it only just before arriving in Pasadena.

Reading this book is like talking with Dad about politics, which was interesting to me because I now understand where he gets the crap he spouts. I had commented to him a couple years ago that he doesn't have any original thought it in head, he parrots back whatever hate he's getting from somewhere without thinking through the unintented (or intended, actually) consequences of his ideas. Well, the political agenda this book chronicles is pretty much what Dad is parroting. Dad is the type of person the conservatives targetted with their hate. This book describes the origins of that hate, not the reasons for it, but how it came to be and how it grew into the abomination that it is.

Abomination? Is that the correct word to use? When you have 27 families in a country of 360,000,000 million people able to stop the government and services of said country, yeah, you have an abomination.

This was a hard book to read, mostly because I kept wanting to throw it against the wall. I wanted to participate in Bob's book club, though, so I kept reading.

It comes down to this: liberals fundamentally believe that everyone can govern themselves, conservatives believe only they can govern and everyone else should bow to them. It's a matter of trust.

What I missed, and what Bob also agreed was missing from the book was what to do about the problem of dary money in the political system. People like my Dead Brother have given up, they are sheep with no will for change. People like Bob have not given up. As such, they, too, seek ways to undo the damage of the abomination.

I didn't like the topic of the book, but the book, wow, way worth reading. Strongly recommended.

The gap between the top 1 percent of earners in America and everyone else had grown so wide by 2007 that the top 1 percent of the population owned 35 percent of the nation’s private assets and was pocketing almost a quarter of all earnings, up from just 9 percent twenty-five years earlier.
Location 410

It is unclear what Fred Koch’s views of Hitler were during the 1930s, beyond his preference for the country’s work ethic in comparison with the nascent welfare state in America.
Location 768

Of a visit home, she wrote, “As soon as we arrived I felt an overwhelming urge to prostrate myself on the floor and eat dirt in order to illustrate how grateful I am for everything they’ve done for me, that I’m not the spoiled monster they warned me I’d become if I wasn’t careful.”

She described “chasing” her father around the house, trying to impress him with her interest in economics, and “staring down that dark well of nothing you do will ever be good enough you privileged waste of flesh.”
Location 866

A generation before, stern admonitions against becoming spoiled had emanated from Fred Koch to his offspring as well. Even as he laid plans to leave huge inheritances to his sons, he wrote a prophetic letter to them in 1936. In it, he warned,

When you are 21, you will receive what now seems like a large sum of money. It will be yours to do what you will. It may be a blessing or a curse.

You can use it as a valuable tool for accomplishment or you can squander it foolishly. If you choose to let this money destroy your initiative and independence, then it will be a curse to you and my action in giving it to you will have been a mistake.

I should regret very much to have you miss the glorious feeling of accomplishment and I know you are not going to let me down. Remember that often adversity is a blessing in disguise and certainly the greatest character builder. Be kind and generous to one another and to your mother.

...

“Never did such good advice fall on such deaf ears.”
Location 878

Ironically, the organization modeled itself on the Communist Party. Stealth and subterfuge were endemic. Membership was kept secret. Fighting “dirty” was justified internally, as necessary to combat the imputed treacherousness of the enemy.
Location 915

Of course. That is the way of people in power when what they do is not honest.

One ploy the group used, he said, was to set up phony front groups “pretending to be other than what they were.”
Location 918

Among those delivering papers on how the fringe movement could obtain genuine power was Charles Koch. The papers are striking in their radicalism, their disdain for the public, and their belief in the necessity of political subterfuge.
Location 1210

It called for the repeal of all campaign-finance laws and the abolition of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It also favored the abolition of all government health-care programs, including Medicaid and Medicare. It attacked Social Security as “virtually bankrupt” and called for its abolition, too. The Libertarians also opposed all income and corporate taxes, including capital gains taxes, and called for an end to the prosecution of tax evaders. Their platform called for the abolition too of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, and the CIA, among other government agencies.

It demanded the abolition of “any laws” impeding employment—by which it meant minimum wage and child labor laws.

And it targeted public schools for abolition too, along with what it termed the “compulsory” education of children. The Libertarians also wanted to get rid of the Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, seat belt laws, and all forms of welfare for the poor.

The platform was, in short, an effort to repeal virtually every major political reform passed during the twentieth century.
Location 1274

Which is what rich people want: more ways to abuse the poor.

Scaife’s great-grandfather Judge Thomas Mellon, the founder of the family fortune, had worried about the corrupting influence that inherited wealth might have on future heirs.
Location 1351

For good reason, apparently.

Surveying his great fortune, however, in 1885, Mellon fretted that “the normal condition of man is hard work, self-denial, acquisition and accumulation; as soon as his descendants are freed from the necessity of exertion they begin to degenerate sooner or later in body and mind.”
Location 1354

Years later, he would nonetheless help fund the social critic Charles Murray, a leading proponent of the theory that a superior work ethic and moral codes account for much of the success among the affluent.
Location 1447

Which is such complete bullshit. Luck plays a much more important role in the success of the affluent. Hell, being born white male in the United States makes you lucky.

In developing regulations, the EPA was directed to weigh only one concern—public health. Costs to industry were explicitly deemed irrelevant.
Location 1580

Income in America during the mid-1970s was as equally distributed as at any time in the country’s history.
Location 1597

Enraged that his own son had become a hippie at the school, he railed during a commencement address against “pleasure-minded parasites… living off the state dole.”
Location 1658

Interestingly enough, the "pleasure-minded parasites" are also found amongst those people who have money from an inheritance.

The hazard, however, was that partisan shills would create “balance” based on fraudulent research and deceive the public about pressing issues in which their sponsors had financial interests.
Location 1737

Yet one former aide to Scaife, James Shuman, told The Washington Post that had Scaife not inherited a huge fortune, “I don’t think he had the intellectual capacity to do very much.”
Location 1759

Cracks me up.

And saddens me.

Scaife’s extraordinary self-financed and largely tax-deductible vendetta against Clinton demonstrated the impact that a single wealthy extremist could have on national affairs, and served as something of a dress rehearsal for the Kochs’ later war against Obama.
Location 1809

Contrary information rarely penetrated it. Instead, Scaife’s family fortune enabled him to build a political bulwark reinforcing his ideology and imposing it on the rest of the country.
Location 1822

Lower taxes, looser regulations, and fewer government programs for the poor and the middle class all corresponded to the Kochs’ accumulation of wealth and power.
Location 1856

Andrew Mellon himself would have been pleased with the succession of hefty tax cuts that Reagan pushed through Congress. He slashed corporate and individual tax rates, particularly helping the wealthy. Between 1981 and 1986, the top income tax rate was cut from 70 percent to 28 percent. Meanwhile, taxes on the bottom four-fifths of earners rose. Economic inequality, which had flatlined, began to climb.
Location 1906

Simon disparaged these “college-educated idealists” who claimed to be working for “the well being of ‘consumers,’ the ‘environment,’ ‘minorities,’ ”and other nonmaterial causes, accusing them of wanting to “expand the police powers of the state over American producers.” He challenged their purity. Noting that they claimed to care little for money, he accused them of being driven by another kind of self-interest. Quoting his colleague Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, he charged that these usurpers wanted “the power to shape our civilization.” That power, he argued, should belong exclusively to “the free market.”
Location 2112

Also known as "the born rich."

Bradley was also a keen supporter of the Manion Forum, whose followers believed that social spending in America was part of a secret Russian plot to bankrupt the United States.
Location 2409

Dying!

“Almost the worst part,” she said, was that “he died thinking he’d let us down financially.” She added, “My husband was the sort of man who truly believed that if you worked hard and did a good job, you would be rewarded.”
Location 2496

How to blackmail the poor, convince them that working hard leads to success, while the system manipulates to keep them in poverty. See also Weapons of Math Destruction.

Even before the new congressional session began, Eric Cantor, a lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, who was about to become the new minority whip in the House, told a handful of trusted allies in a private planning meeting in his Washington condo, “We’re not here to cut deals and get crumbs and stay in the minority for another forty years.” Instead, he argued, the Republicans needed to fight. They needed to unite in opposition to virtually anything Obama proposed in order to deny him a single bipartisan victory.
Location 3443

This is so enraging. That the Republicans don't want to actually lead, they just want to obstruct.

Right, because that's how things get done.

As he flashed through a slide presentation at the Annapolis Inn, he asked his colleagues, “If the Purpose of the Majority is to Govern… What is Our Purpose?” His answer was simple: “The Purpose of the Minority is to become the Majority.” That one goal, he said, was “the entire Conference’s mission.”
Location 3453

I would argue his true answer was "The Purpose of the Minority is to rule the Majority," but you can't really say that out loud, can you?

The Republican leadership, according to an anecdote related by Grunwald, told GOP members of the House that as one of them, Jerry Lewis, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, put it, “We can’t play.”

David Obey, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was incensed at the lack of cooperation. “What they said right from the get-go,” he said, was that “it doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”
Location 3472

Frank argues that “the Tea Party wasn’t subverted,” as some have suggested. “It was born subverted.”

Still, he said, “it’s a major accomplishment for sponsors like the Kochs that they’ve turned corporate self-interest into a movement among people on the streets.”
Location 3614

Fanning the flames were the right-wing radio hosts. “It’s not about saving the planet,” Rush Limbaugh told his audience. “It’s not about anything, folks, other than raising taxes and redistributing wealth.”
Location 4316

Well, he was accurate about that redistributing part, from the poor and middle class to the rich.

In Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, the journalist Chrystia Freeland describes how those with massive financial resources almost universally use them to secure policies beneficial to their interests, often at the expense of the less well-off.
Location 5313

“Wealthy people self-tax,” he argued, by contributing to charities. “It’s a question—do you believe the government should be taking your money and spending it for you, or do you want to spend it for you?”
Location 5659

Dying laughing! What a line of bullshit.

But according to the cultural critic and Jewish scholar Leon Wieseltier, who has taught several university courses on Maimonides, “This is false and tendentious and idiotic.” He explains, “Maimonides did indeed prize the sort of charity that made its recipient more self-reliant, but he believed that the duty of charity is permanent” and that the responsibility to help the poor was “unequivocal and absolute.” In fact, he points out, Maimonides declared that “he who averts his eyes from the obligation of charity is regarded as a villain.”
Location 5665

Cantor later told the real story to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. Blowing up the grand bargain had been his idea. He said it was a “fair assessment” to say that in the critical final moments he had talked Boehner out of accepting the deal for purely political reasons.

Cantor had argued, why give Obama a win? Why aid his reelection campaign by helping him look competent? It would be more advantageous for the Republicans to sabotage the talks, regardless of the mess it left the country in, and wait to see if the next year’s presidential election brought them a Republican president who would give them a better deal.
Location 5845

A political minority, responding to the interests of its extreme sponsors, had succeeded in rendering the most powerful democracy in the world dysfunctional.
Location 5858

The staggeringly lopsided situation made 2012 the starkest test yet of Louis Brandeis’s dictum that the country could have either “democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few,” but not both.
Location 6124

Charles Koch often described his support for slashing taxes as motivated by a concern for the poor. “They’re the ones that suffer” from “bigger government,” he argued in an interview with his hometown paper.
Location 6150

If anyone believes this, they are deceiving themselves. The poor benefit from the help of government.

Obama denounced the “breathtaking greed” that had led to the housing market’s collapse, as well as the Republican Party’s “you’re-on-your-own economics.” He also had some stinging words for big money’s influence on politics. “Inequality distorts our democracy,” he warned. “It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder.”
Location 6259

In an early 2012 meeting in the Roosevelt Room, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, shocked the president by sharing the bad news that they now expected outside Republican spending against him to reach $ 660 million. “How sure are you?” Obama asked. “Very sure,” replied Messina.
Location 6269

As he described them, they were people who were “dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, food, to housing, you name it.”
Location 6316

Gerrymandering was a bipartisan game as old as the Republic. What made it different after Citizens United was that the business of manipulating politics from the ground up was now heavily directed and funded by the unelected rich. To get the job done, they used front groups claiming to be nonpartisan social welfare groups, funded by contributions from some of the world’s largest corporations and wealthy donors like the Kochs.
Location 6523

In theory, redistricting was supposed to reflect the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote.
Location 6538

The legislature slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy while cutting benefits and services for the middle class and the poor. It also gutted environmental programs, sharply limited women’s access to abortion, backed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and legalized concealed guns in bars and on playgrounds and school campuses.

It also erected cumbersome new bureaucratic barriers to voting. Like the poll taxes and literacy tests of the segregated past, the new hurdles, critics said, were designed to discourage poor and minority voters, who leaned Democratic. The election law expert Richard Hasen declared, “I’ve never seen a package of what I would call suppressive voting measures like this.”
Location 6615

This segment of the American population tended to believe that liberals cared more about ordinary people like themselves. In contrast, he said, “big business they see as very suspicious… They’re greedy. They don’t care about the underprivileged.” Assuming that he was among friends, Fink readily conceded that these critics weren’t wrong.

“What do people like you say? I grew up with pretty much very little, okay? And I worked my butt off to get what I have. So,” he went on, when he saw people “on the street,” he admitted, his reaction was, “Get off your ass and work hard, like we did!”

Unfortunately, he continued, those in the “middle third” — whose votes they needed — had a different reaction when they saw the poor. They instead felt “guilty.” Instead of being concerned with “opportunity” for themselves, Fink said, this group was concerned about “opportunity for other people.”
Location 6977

Difference between looking up and looking down.

The Kochs’ extensive research had shown that what the American “customer” wanted from politics, alas, was quite different from their business-dominated free-market orthodoxy. It wasn’t just that Americans were interested in opportunity for the many, rather than just for themselves.

It also turned out, Fink acknowledged, that they wanted a clean environment and health and high standards of living, as well as political and religious freedom and peace and security. These objectives would seem to present a problem for a group led by ultrarich industrialists who had almost single-handedly stymied environmentalists’ efforts to protect the planet from climate change.
Location 6994

Again, huh.

These political problems would seem to have been compounded by new statistics showing that the top 1 percent of earners had captured 93 percent of the income gains in the first year of recovery after the recession.
Location 7002

Freedom fighters, as Fink labeled the donors, needed to explain to American voters that their opposition to programs for the poor did not stem from greed, and their opposition to the minimum wage wasn’t based on a desire for cheap labor.
Location 7014

Dying laughing again. OF COURSE IT WAS.

The financially pressed Topeka school system, for instance, signed an agreement with the organization which taught students that, among other things, Franklin Roosevelt didn’t alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government, rather than business, caused the 2008 recession.
Location 7116

So, a bunch of liars.

Flat Broke With Two Goats

Book Notes

This book was a Libby app Big Read, where pretty much every library on Libby (might have been all of them, might have been only five, my sample size is small) offered the book to read or listen to, regardless of the number of copies the library actually had. It was billed as a worldwide book club, with this as The Book.

I thought, uh, okay, sure, why not. I'm trying to have a quarter of my books this year be non-fiction, and this is a memoir, so, okay. I checked it out from the library, then was surprised when it was auto-returned for me less than two weeks later. Turns out, that was a glitch, and the book was back in my reading queue a day later.

I read it today and was entertained. The book is the arc of a woman going from the "typical" American suburban (not really) housewife to a level of acceptance and enlightenment of the world. While there is some level of "ehhhhhhh, how could you not know?" McGaha does comment many times that, yeah, she should have known, should have done this or that, probably this and probably that.

Included in most chapters are recipes related to goats, who don't appear until the end of the book, and there are mreo than two of them, or the topic in the chapter. While most of recipes weren't particularly interesting to me, the presentation and story around them were amusing.

This isn't a book I would normally pick up, and wouldn't have read if it weren't blasted in my face every time I loaded Libby on my phone (which would be blasted in my face 3-4 times a day), but it was a fun read. If you're stuck on a desert island, you could read this one multiple times and still be entertained.

I would think back on those years at the Cape Cod house with a critic’s eye, dissecting every moment, looking for affirmation that I had, in fact, been a decent mother, that my kids had had happy childhoods.
Page 8

Maybe the other kids would be more ambitious than many of our peers had been. Maybe their ambition would rub off on our children.
Page 8

All those years of overspending, of thinking we would pay things off next month, next year, start a savings plan sometime in the future, finally caught up with us.
Page 9

And while what I should have learned from living a relatively privileged childhood was the value of hard work and frugality, what I learned instead was that money was not something with which I needed to be overly concerned.
Page 14

Welcome to America, this is what most people here are like.

It reminded me of my rootedness, of the deep and abiding knowledge that who I was was inextricably tied to where I was.
Page 116

It wasn’t fair, but I was angry, and I needed someone other than myself to blame for my unhappiness.
Page 161

When someone you love dies, that person comes to you in spurts, in bleeps and flashes you never see coming until they are there.
Page 200

If they found anything that met that criteria, they sent in a smaller helicopter, one that could get a closer view. An aerial search, apparently, did not require a warrant...
Page 241

Good to know.

“If you could go back to any age, any age at all,” I asked my grandmother on my forty-fourth birthday, “what age would you choose?”

“Fifty-five,” she said without hesitation. She was ninety years old then, and her answer surprised me then as it did now. Why not seventeen or twenty-five or thirty-two? Why, if you could go back, wouldn’t you go to a time when you had your whole life ahead of you, when you were young enough to alter the course of your future, to make better choices, be a better person?
Page 292

Years ago, we had had a fourteen-year-old corgi, Julie. She was very healthy and happy until a blood-borne disease left her needing repeated transfusions, a process our then-vet had encouraged. Never once did the vet suggest that we let her die peacefully, and never once did I consider that myself.

I had thought it was my duty to keep Julie alive, but the way she had finally died—in a cage at the vet’s office—had haunted me ever since.

After that, I came to believe that my role was not to keep my animals alive but to, when the inevitable time came, let them leave this world quietly and tranquilly, surrounded by people and animals who loved them.

It was, in fact, how I one day hoped to go, the very best death I could imagine.
Page 303

When you have gone through a sort of travesty of your own making, failure begins to feel like part of you. You get used to it. People around you expect you to fail, and you learn to expect it from yourself, to see it as almost comforting in its familiarity. You begin to believe you are destined to make a mess of things. But then there are those unexpected kindnesses, those moments when someone does something to make you believe that perhaps you are more than the sum of everything you have done wrong, that perhaps you are worth more than you think.
Page 309

Of course, we still owed the IRS a staggering amount that seemed no less insurmountable than it had four years ago. It was not cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s, yet it was something we both thought about every day, a bitter, pungent haze that hovered over our lives. We lived through it, around it, in spite of it, but we were always aware of its presence.
Page 331

... still wrestled with feelings of guilt and betrayal. Not one or the other, but both. Grief has a way of doing that — of forcing you to see everything more clearly.
Page 332

NOT "Just Friends"

Book Notes

This is a hard book review to write and a somewhat difficult book to admit to reading. People will make all sorts of assumptions about the book, about the topic, about people who must be involved if someone is reading this book, about me.

To which I would like to comment, you have it all wrong. If you don't believe you have it all wrong, then accept you have about 91% of it wrong, and you'd be 91% closer to being right.

This is a book about affairs, the infidelity kind not the state or paper kind. The book describes how they happen, how we don't recognize the slippery slope of relationships, how affairs differ in our society than they did from a century ago, how to recover from said infidelities, and how a relationship can survive.

The process isn't pretty, it isn't fast, and it isn't easy.

It is, apparently, doable.

I've read this book a couple times now. Please don't read more into the fact that I read it to assume anything. The book is about recognizing the differences between people, setting boundaries, understanding different approaches to relationships, and, let's admit it, accepting losses.

Those losses don't need to be physical object lossses, they can be the loss of youth, the loss of a love, the loss of opportunity for adventures, the loss of a fantasy of the perfect partner, the loss of a dream, the loss of comfort, the loss of trust, the loss of a belief about another person.

So many losses, but also opportunities for a better relationship with a chosen partner.

Emotional infidelity is a big part of this book and is part of affairs. It is nice to have someone who listens, who makes you feel like the most important person in the world. How sad that we don't all have that person, that we can't always be that person for the one we love most.

I recommend this book strongly for anyone who has been betrayed, has betrayed, or helped a betrayal. It provides a good lesson in communication and building trust, even in a relationship that hasn't been completely broken.

In the new infidelity, secret emotional intimacy is the first warning sign of impending betrayal.
Page 2

... if you both genuinely want to heal and are ready to do the serious work of repair.
Page 10

As I tell my clients, the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence only because we don’t have to mow it.
Page 18

Men and women tend to view friendship differently. For women, friendship is being vulnerable, open, self-disclosing, and emotionally supportive. For men, friendship is doing things together, side by side. When women treat men friends like their women friends, the emotional intimacy that is natural for a woman can send her male friend a signal she didn’t intend. Because husbands tend to save their emotional intimacy for their wives, when they do let themselves become open and vulnerable to another woman it is much more likely to jeopardize the marriage.
Page 32

Some people are born serene and nonreactive, whereas others come into this world prickly and hypersensitive.
Page 97

Hello every man I have ever been close to, meet me.

Want to know my type? "Serene and nonreactive."

Unfaithful partners should make it clear that they take responsibility for the injuries they have caused, but they do not have to accept days on end of verbal abuse.
Page 123

Don’t wait for your partner to make the first move. To give up now would be like buying high and selling low.
Page 162

Recount for yourselves examples of productive, caring interactions you’ve had with each other in the past. To make it safe to explore your past together, though, avoid comparing your glorious past with your miserable present: you don’t want remembering to become a chronicle of how much you’ve lost.
Page 165

Look ahead to the future. Think about what your lives together could be like in five years, after you have healed from this trauma.
Page 165

Don’t make the mistake of choosing righteousness over happiness, although the impulse to do so is understandable.
Page 167

Most people give what they wish to receive, rather than what the other person really desires. All this time, you may have been giving not what your partner wants but what you want.
Page 168

Avoidance: You may resist getting into the deep waters of the affair to avoid dealing with painful subjects. Perhaps your usual pattern is to avoid anything that creates conflict. If that’s the case, you can use this crisis to become more assertive by telling the whole story and facing up to your partner’s negative reactions.
Page 200

Before embarking on this exploration, you need to assure your partner that you will not use any new information as a weapon.
Page 202

If you’re worried about how your answers affect your partner, ask him or her “How is this information going to help you to heal?” Then, answer truthfully.
Page 203

It hurts, but you want to understand. The betrayed partner might say, “I know it will take time to get over the loss of the friendship you had with [the affair partner].” The unfaithful partner might say, “I understand that it will take a long time before you will be able to trust me again because of the lies I told you.”
Page 204

Information that quells the obsessive need to know is healing, but information that seems to fuel obsessiveness is retraumatizing and should be avoided.
Page 205

These projections lead to the error of assumed similarity. When we engage in the error of assumed similarity, we assume that something has the same meaning for our partner that it has for us.
Page 207

This is why "Let me repeat that back to you" is so important in these conversations.

The following ten questions will guide your exploration of the circumstances of the infidelity and the meaning behind it.

1. What did you say to yourself that gave you permission to get involved?

2. After the first time you had sex, did you feel guilty? Asking about guilt reveals the internalized values of the unfaithful partner.

3. How could it go on so long if you knew it was wrong?

4. Did you think about me at all?

5. What did you share about us?

6. Did you talk about love or about a future together?

7. What did you see in the affair partner?

8. What did you like about yourself in the affair? How were you different?

9. Were there previous infidelities or opportunities, and how was this time similar or different?

10. Did you have unprotected sex?

.. [some are so] disgusted with themselves after their first extramarital sex that they get together again with the affair partner as soon as possible: another dose of the aphrodisiac offers them a temporary escape from their self-loathing.

Unfaithful spouses often appear to be addicted to their lovers. They fail in their efforts to end the affair time and time again, pulled back by a magnetic force they can’t seem to resist. Only with great determination are they able to break the spell.

If the affair ended abruptly, the attachment will be harder to break than if the affair died a natural death. It’s easier to put a relationship behind you if you’re the one who made the decision to leave.
Page 210

It is less likely that an infidelity will happen again when the involved partner owns up to having been a full participant.
Page 212

In fact, many betrayed partners are astounded to see affair partners looking rather ordinary. The appeal of the affair is frequently in the positive mirroring or the sounding board it provides, rather than in the lover’s charisma.
Page 213

A good question for the involved partner is: “What did you experience about yourself in the affair that you would like to experience in the marriage?”
Page 213

You are learning to be together as two hurting people who care about each other and want to understand each other’s pains and fears.
Page 216

When I ask husbands what they would like to change, they frequently answer, “I just want her to be happy.” Husbands report “We had a great week” because they had no conflict.
Page 221

Reasons for infidelity were linked to the type of marriage: an outlet for hostility in “conflict-habituated” marriages, an outlet for boredom in a “passive-congenial” marriage, or the recapture of lost romance in a “devitalized” marriage.
Page 222

Affairs that develop from friendships are usually influenced by emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry rather than by dissatisfaction with marital sex.
Page 222

One of the most frequent requests by husbands is for their wives to initiate sex. However, the partner who is perpetually pressed for sex before he or she senses any personal desire will never have the opportunity to feel enough desire to initiate lovemaking: “If you keep putting food in front of me whether I’m hungry or not, I will never have a chance to develop my own appetite.”
Page 223

Recreational activities: “Golf widow” is an apt description for wives whose husbands leave them to their own devices while they spend leisure time and weekends away from home. When the wives look for ways to fill up their empty time, their loneliness makes them susceptible to someone who values their companionship.
Page 230

There may have been red flags or warning signs during courtship that were ignored. For example, a relationship may have started with trust issues and jealousy or by cheating on previous partners.
Page 231

A couple facing a family crisis can pull together with renewed dedication or withdraw into separate camps. Some partners need to connect and talk things over, whereas others avoid discussions of upsetting topics by pretending they didn’t happen or dealing with them alone. A relationship can become very fractured when there is no healing communication about heart-rending events.
Page 239

People handle grief and loss in different ways. Those who don’t want to bring up painful memories can become estranged.
Page 239

Ignoring the wound is seldom a healing resolution.
Page 240

Creating a marriage that is intimate and safe takes work, just like any other worthwhile human endeavor.
Page 246

[M]arriage is reflected in a variety of assets and deficits.
Page 246

Some couples are bonded because of a high level of understanding, affection, and companionship. Others are distanced by criticism, disrespect, and a failure to enhance each other’s self-esteem.
Page 246

They are not blithely saying that they didn’t do anything wrong; they are explaining why they did something wrong but are attempting to minimize their wrongdoing by giving a reason for their actions.
Page 252

[Those who believe] that nothing justifies extramarital involvement make a special effort to avoid opportunities — even more so if they are feeling vulnerable.
Page 255

One man told me, “On a good day, when things are going well, I am committed to my wife. On a day when things are just okay, I am committed to my marriage. And on a day when things aren’t so great, I satisfy myself by being committed to my commitment.”
Page 255

After a wrongful act, wallowing in self-recrimination can serve as a way to avoid changing your inappropriate behavior. Allow yourself to feel guilty for five minutes only. Then it’s time to take responsibility for reparation.
Page 256

100 percent of the husbands in my clinical practice who were sexually intimate without having intercourse said they were inhibited from further involvement by devotion to spouse and commitment to marriage. My data indicate that women view any type of sexual intimacy (even kissing) as crossing the line, but men are more apt to view sexual intercourse as the place to draw the line.
Page 257

Others are driven to disregard their own principles because their psychological needs are too consuming for a single relationship to satisfy.
Page 259

Partners often turn to affairs to meet needs that are not being satisfied in their marriages.
Page 259

People who are running on empty may unconsciously seek an adrenaline high as a way to escape from an internal void or external stressors. An affair can provide an oasis in the midst of an arid desert or a refuge in a stormy sea. The quest for extramarital excitement can be an attempt to “fix” an internal problem, such as boredom, low self-esteem, or existential angst.
Page 259

To a great extent, how you cope with transitions in your life depends on how you perceive them. Transitions can be times of reflection or times of loss. Birthdays and anniversaries can be occasions to ask where you want to go or times of regret about where you’ve been.
Page 273

Here is the irony: we live in a culture that professes to value monogamy but at the same time undercuts monogamy significantly by glamorizing illicit love affairs and commercializing sexual titillation. This is analogous to the way our society prizes thinness while it pushes junk food.
Page 279

A woman who is caught in an affair is blamed for having loose morals. A woman whose husband is caught in an affair is blamed for not meeting his needs. In reality, this is the opposite of the truth: men tend to have extramarital sex regardless of their satisfaction with the marriage, but women are unlikely to engage in extramarital sex unless they are unhappy.
Page 290

The basic guidelines for healing are the same for the betrayed spouse and the affair partner: once the affair is over, mourn your losses, understand yourself better in the context of the affair, humanize your rival, and get on with your life. You don’t have to see the affair as a story that is confined to perpetrators and victims.
Page 310

There are no winners in the resolution of extramarital triangles—only survivors.
Page 310

In difficult times, we all need to be reminded that insight and strength are born from pain and struggle. Moving forward means letting go of the anger and suffering that keep you tied to the past.
Page 313

Healing takes time. No matter how many times you hear it, it’s still true.
Page 313

Hope had learned that when she was upset about an intrusive thought, she should bring it up in a gentle way without accusing Harold. She knew it was painful and embarrassing for him to recall his shameful behavior.
Page 322

It’s possible to reach a functional level of recovery without forgiveness, but it’s not possible to achieve final healing of yourself or your relationship without forgiveness.
Page 340

• Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.

• Forgiveness is a choice.

• Forgiveness is a process.

• Forgiveness is letting go of obsessiveness, bitterness, and resentment.

• Forgiveness is built on a sincere desire to let go of anger and resentment and a conscious decision to take positive steps to move on with your life.

• Forgiveness is letting go of the pain.

• Forgiveness is letting go of revenge and the need to punish.

Forgiveness frees you from the tyranny of people and events from the past and decreases the likelihood that you will misdirect your anger in other relationships.
Page 341-342

How good it feels to cast yourself as the master of your own life rather than as the victim of circumstances!
Page 342

Waiting too long to forgive can reinforce your hopelessness and despair.
Page 344

It may be hard to understand why betrayed spouses would want to perpetuate suffering by intentionally probing an open wound. Whenever the wound starts to close, they poke it again, ensuring that it doesn’t heal. These betrayed partners are similar to victims of incest and domestic violence who do not permit their psychic wounds to heal.
Page 347

Needless to say, neither partner is ever justified in inflicting cruelty as a reaction to his or her own injury.
Page 349

Seeking Forgiveness

1. Forgive yourself. Stop chastising yourself and learn from your mistakes. You may be unable to forgive your partner if you have not yet forgiven yourself.
Page 350

2. Identify your transgressions. Enumerate what you wish to be forgiven for. Articulate all of the ways you failed to protect the relationship. This is not a confession, but an assumption of personal responsibility.
Page 350

3. Make a heartfelt apology.

...

If you cannot apologize for having the affair because you view it as a special event in your life, you can apologize for the anguish that your adventure caused your spouse.
Page 351

4. Make a formal request to be forgiven: “Please forgive me.”
Page 351

5. Offer some tangible action to back up your words.
Page 351

Granting Forgiveness

It’s easier to forgive if your partner feels your pain, doesn’t want to hurt you again, and follows words of apology with actions.
Page 352

1. Acknowledge your own pain and express your emotions clearly without yelling or attacking.
Page 352

2. Understand the personal weaknesses and emotional vulnerabilities of your partner.
Page 352

3. Be specific about what you expect and what you cannot tolerate.
Page 352

4. Be specific about what you are forgiving your partner for.
Page 352

5. Perform an overt act of forgiveness verbally, physically, or in writing.
Page 352

6. Stop blaming and start living.
Page 352

One of the greatest fears couples have is that “things will never be the same again.” The reality is that things will never be the same again—no matter how spectacular the recovery and how sincere the apologies. The knots of infidelity are now woven within the threads of your marital quilt.
Page 354

The following checklist will allow you to validate your positive resources and how hard you have worked to get to this point.

• You both have increased clarity about appropriate thresholds in friendships.
• You make sure that all of your friends are friends of the marriage.
• You agree on what commitment and exclusivity mean.
• You can talk together about individual vulnerabilities and danger signs without defensiveness.
• You recognize problems in the marriage that could threaten your commitment.
• You show understanding for each other in everyday interactions.
• Your relationship is a priority that comes before everything and everyone else. If you feel comfortable right now that your partner is not violating your trust, don’t sacrifice the pleasure of today because of what might happen tomorrow.
Page 355

You may have been dealt a hand you didn’t choose.
Page 356

Almost everyone has been scarred to some degree by people and events that have treated them roughly, or even unjustly. The question is: What are you going to do now? Is the memory of your wound going to poison you, or are you going to find a way to use your painful memories to grow beyond the boundaries of your injuries?
Page 356

Betrayed partners who are left behind are often ready to forgive and work through the problems but have no say in the matter. They were powerless to stop the affair, and they end up being powerless to preserve the marriage. Many are abandoned against their wishes and against their values.
Page 357

You miss the physical presence of someone warming up the bed. If you don’t mourn the loss of your mate as a person, you mourn the loss of your dreams of growing old together. You grapple with the loss of identity and self-concept that being married represents.
Page 363

Individuals with a strong commitment to marriage and family can feel embarrassed to present themselves publicly as divorced.
Page 364

In the beginning it’s important to feel whatever anger, bitterness, despondency, or hopelessness there is. But after a while, it’s equally important to ask: Do I want to remain stuck in these events? If I stay stuck in the rage, I become angry and embittered. If I stay stuck in the punishment, I punish myself. If I stay stuck in the hurt, I let my partner continue to control my feelings. By letting that happen, I allow someone else’s offense to become a permanent part of who I am. I limit my own options if I allow myself to wallow in self-pity.
Page 365

As the poet Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Page 378

The Book of Dust

Book Notes

I hadn't realized Philip Pullman had a new book out until I, quite by accident, listened to his interview on NPR. I haven't been listening to NPR much recently, so catching the interview was quite delightful. In it, Pullman mentioned that he had felt the story wanting to come out (or some variation of that feeling), after he had finished Lyra's tale.

Well, I enjoyed the His Dark Materials series, so purchased this book and was delighted when it came up on my reading queue. I had set it back down again a while ago, but picked it back up this week and zipped through it.

I enjoyed Malcolm's story. I enjoyed how one can read the foreshadowing from this book for events happening in His Dark Materials. I enjoyed the subtle character development.

I didn't really enjoy the Deux ex Machina moments, nor some of the more exaggerated plot elements, but I can see how they might be necessary in order to introduce certain characters or provide motivations in later books. I'm speaking of the sewer rescue in particular here.

I don't know if this book stands on its own, as I've read it after His Dark Materials. I did, however, enjoy it, so recommended if you're a Pullman fan.

“Those parcels. How d’you make ’em so neat?”

“Neatly, Malcolm.”

He didn’t mind; this was a sort of game they had. “I thought ‘neat’ was all right,” he said.

“It depends on whether you want the idea of neatness to modify the act of tying the parcel, or the parcel itself, once tied.”
Location 121

There were two or three commercial subscription libraries in Oxford, but no free public library, and Malcolm wouldn’t be the only young person whose hunger for books had to go unsatisfied.
Location 1266

How awful, a world without free access to books.

“It shouldn’t be about how we feel — guilty, feeble —”

“No, and it isn’t. It’s about wrong and less wrong. Bad and less bad. This is about as good a cover as anyone could find. Leave it at that.”
Location 1278

He hadn’t changed much, of course, and Malcolm found that if he asked the right questions, Eric would tell him things that were supposed to be secret, because the pleasure of knowing secrets was doubled by telling them to people.
Location 1956

“Did you seriously think for one moment,” she said, sounding fierce now, “that I would let this little baby, who has been given into our care, be taken away by three strangers on the strength of a single piece of paper?

Three men who practically forced their way into this holy building without any invitation? Who frightened the oldest and the least well of us with threats and weapons—yes, weapons—waving your guns in her face? Who do you think you are? What do you think this place is? The sisters have been giving care and hospitality here for eight hundred years.

Think what that means. Am I going to abandon all our holy obligations because three bullies in uniform come shouldering their way in and try to frighten us? And for a helpless baby not six months old? Now go. Get out and don’t come back.”
Location 2153

Yeeeee-haw, Tiger Nun!

And it was very slowly getting bigger. It wasn’t a spot anymore. It was a line: a curved line, like a loosely scribbled letter C, and it was sparkling and flickering in a zigzag pattern of blacks and whites and silvers.
Location 2196

When I read this, my first thought was, "Welcome to migraines, kid." Turns out, slightly later in the book, I was right. What I don't know, however, is why this was brought into the story.

The steamy, noisy kitchen was the safest place in the world, it seemed to him. Safety had never been anything to think about before; it was something you took for granted, like his mother’s endless, effortless, generous food, and the fact that there would always be hot plates ready to serve it on.
Location 2402

He sat back, feeling slightly dizzy. Her familiar room was warm, the chair was comfortable, the plate of biscuits was to hand. He felt as if this was the place where he was truly at home, more so than his mother’s kitchen or his own bedroom, and he knew he would never say that to anyone but Asta.
Location 2675

Again with the comfort of mothers. Universal.

He stopped. The circle in the diagram, divided into its little sections, reminded him of something.

“There’s what?”

“It’s sort of like something I saw….” He described the spangled ring that he’d seen on the night Lord Asriel had come to the Trout. She was interested at once.

“That sounds like a migraine aura,” she said. “Do you have bad headaches?”

“No, never.”

"Just the aura, then. You’ll probably see it again sometime."
Location 2689

Yep, migraines.

“Are the gyptians against the CCD, then?”

“We’re not all the same, Malcolm. Some are, and some aren’t.”
Location 2761

In the increasingly tribal society we stratify into, remembering this is important.

He sat there happily with his parents, thinking of nothing, content with the warmth and the smell of frying food.
Location 2908

"This is a deep and uncomfortable paradox, which will not have escaped you: we can only defend democracy by being undemocratic."
Location 3187

“Yes, it is,” he said. “War asks many people to do unreasonable things. And make no mistake, we are at war.
Location 3223

Asta sleepily nipped Malcolm’s ear, and he came awake like someone struggling to swim to the surface of a lake of laudanum, where the strongest delights were the deepest and there was nothing above but cold and fear and duty.
Location 5008

This describes waking pretty well to me. Another really good description of waking up is in Pet Sematary, where waking up is an effort to claw oneself up from being six feet under to reach the air.

“What? Where is she?”

“By the fire. Just come quietly. Don’t make a noise.”
Location 5752

I CANNOT STAND THIS BEHAVIOR. Don't tell met to come look at something, just fucking tell me what is going on.

“Just dizzy. What’s she doing?”

“I can’t… But you gotta come and look.”
Location 5755

CANNOT STAND It.

“What’s the matter? Why are you angry?”

“Everything. What d’you think?”

He shrugged. There was nothing he could do about everything. He didn’t want to argue.
Location 6435

He could still do simple, everyday things, then. He hadn’t lost the power to live from second to second and to take pleasure, even, in the warm yellow light that filled the canoe.
Location 6509

The Twentieth Wife

Book Notes

Along with a couple other books, I picked this book up from the library because it was listed in an Audible "First Book In A Series" sale. Yay for libraries, saving me $25!

I wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like this book. The book is a fictionalized retelling of the story of India's emperor Jahangir's twentieth wife, Nur Jahan. I'm not really giving away the ending by mentioning that part, as the title of the book, and every history book that discusses her, gives away the ending.

I did not particularly enjoy this book. The fictionalized story part I don't mind, and can overlook. The perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect man swooning of Mehrunnisa / Mehr-Un-Nisa for Salim, however, I do mind.

That and the sudden insertion of elaborate descriptions of the foods being placed in front of the Prince, without context or lead-in just BOOM let's talk food! was too jarring to read easily.

I liked the exposure of a new part of Indian / Pakistani history. I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole for a while, which I appreciate this book for the introduction. The book itself, however, not a fan. If you're a fan of swooning, Indian history, and historical fiction, sure, this book is a good one to add to your list. Otherwise, skip it.

Ghias would not even think of her, not even by name. What use was it, when someone else would look after her?
Page 7

Imagine the internal devastation resulting from the knowledge that you couldn't take care of your own child?

Ghias stared at him, unable to believe what he had just heard. After so much trouble, when one problem seemed to come at the heel of the other, here was a gift from Allah.
Page 10

“Ghias, we must be careful not to teach the girls too much. How will they ever find husbands if they are too learned? The less they know, the less they will want of the outside world. Mehrunnisa already insists that she should be allowed to go out with you.”

Ghias smiled slowly. “I know. She asks why a woman has to stay in the house when a man can go and come as he pleases.”
Page 48

Yeaaaaaaah. :glare:

The older she became — she was now fourteen — the more Bapa and Maji imposed restrictions on her. Do not go out too much; keep your voice down; pull your veil over your head when a strange man, one not of the family, comes to visit. These restrictions would be part of her life from now on, for she was a woman.
Page 51

Grrrrrrrr...

He had been content until now to be heir to the throne. But during the last few months, his courtiers had pointed out, quite rightly, Akbar’s extreme injustice in remaining steadfastly alive while Prince Salim was mature enough to take over the duties of state.
Page 55

More glaring from me. As if a parent owes anything to a child upon death.

He had everything he could want: handsome looks; virility, which had been proved twice by the birth of two sons; several wives; and an equal number of concubines. Yet, he had nothing without the crown. He should rebel, as Mahabat Khan and the others had suggested.
Page 55

What a burden the crown was, he thought. Kings had always fought brothers and fathers and sons for it.
Page 64

“Listen and learn, Mehrunnisa,” she said. “A woman must not be completely reliant on a man, either for money or for love.”
Page 67

"We have decided to honor him, Ghias. And what better way to do so than to give him the hand of your daughter in marriage? It will be a good alliance."
Page 76

Okay, this was completely rage-inducing. I know it is a pervading belief, that daughters are property of their fathers, but it is so completely and totally wrong.

"But daughters belong to someone else, right from their birth. We are only temporary guardians of girl children, beta,” Asmat said. “They grow up; they marry. They go to their real homes. They have children of their own.”
Page 112

See above. Rage. Inducing.

“When you go home tomorrow, you must tell Ali Quli. He should have been the first to know. There must be no sense of impropriety in what you do, Nisa. No one should be able to point a finger and say that what you did was wrong. Appearances must be maintained at all costs.” Mehrunnisa sighed.

There were always strictures in society: how one must live, eat, even what to talk about and what to keep silent on. When she had been younger it had been easier, sheltered as she was under Bapa and Maji. But now, as a married woman, she came under very close scrutiny.
Page 116

When her hands and her mind were busy, she did not have time to think — of what might have been.
Page 116

Maji had always been practical. There was too much else to do to spend hours in idle contemplation of how life could have turned out, if not for this or for that.
Page 117

Now she would no longer have to watch other women with their children and feel as though the ache would consume her. She too would have a child, so she could grow old and fretful and have that child indulge her whims. Mehrunnisa laughed.
Page 118

When they reached the house, Mehrunnisa saw most of the servants gathered in a crowd in the front courtyard, their faces hostile. Some of these women were mothers themselves. Surely they would have more knowledge of childbirth and birthing than she did? Why did they not go to help Yasmin?

It was nothing but prejudice and sloth and a small kind of meanness. Yasmin was an orphan with no protector, pregnant without being married. They had ostracized her for the last six months.

And Mehrunnisa had allowed them to, angry herself, in a deep deep pain that this woman should carry her husband’s child, while she could not keep one within her for more than a few months.
Page 148

For Akbar taught him also that kings always kept their appointments and followed orders. If one did not know how to follow orders, one would not know how to give them.
Page 165

Now, with his desire for a son, Mehrunnisa was tormented. What if she did not give him a son?
Page 215

Deep breath. Deep breath.

“Maji...” Mehrunnisa whispered over and over again, wanting the cool comfort of her mother’s hand on her brow, wanting to tell her of the fears that ambushed her.
Page 216

For most, there is no safer place in this world than in a mother's arms.

The initial euphoria of being an Emperor had worn off, and the enormity of his obligations now came crashing on Jahangir. Millions of people depended on him.
Page 218

Chapter Twelve

“I want it now. It is rightfully mine; my father has no right to rule. Even Emperor Akbar wished it.”
Page 222

Yeah. Power, the great corruptor.

Life at court was this unending circle of give and take. You took from one person and gave something back — to that person, or another.
Page 282

His was one of the greatest minds in the empire, but even he was fallible... and human.
Page 285

Ghias watched her in silence, forcing back his own tears. What good would crying do? Ease the heartache for a few hours, perhaps, but the worry would always be there.
Page 301

Why Allah, why did trouble come to ambush when one was already down?
Page 301

“There is only one way.” Nuruddin glanced back again to assure himself that the guards were out of earshot.
Page 308

No. There is rarely "only one way," especially in the games of power.

The zenana was always thus: prying eyes everywhere, whispered conversations in the air. To try and escape it was futile. The only thing to do was to live with it as best as one could—alert, vigilant, for ignoring it was also dangerous.
Page 333

There was already talk about her wiles in capturing the Emperor’s interest and holding it for so long. She was a sorceress; she had cast a spell on him. These rumors were hurtful and mean, but they came from mouths that were otherwise filled with envy.
Page 345

The Cruel Prince

Book Notes

This is book one of the Folk of the Air series, which has only this book published so far. I had seen this book on multiple recommendation lists on Book Riot, so reserved it at the library and read it this week when it dropped into my book queue.

I wanted to like this book more than I actually liked it after reading it.

I wanted the main character to have some sort of growth, some sort of conflict from which she learns and grows, and then I wanted to see the application of said growth.

Instead, it was mostly a couple weeks of teenage angst in Fairy Land, a bunch of world building, and a twin who isn't anything like her copy.

I enjoyed thinking about the similar characters in this book (Mab, Red Hat) and their portrayals in The Dresden Files. But, well, I am not enamoured of the characters in this book, and am, thus, not likely to continue reading the series.

If you're a fan of The Mortal Instruments, say, well, the author is, too, so you'll have a similar read to those books. And, if you're a fan of fiction set in Faerie, this is an enjoyable read.

Sadly for this book, I am neither.

I don't think he realizes just how angry I am or how good it feels, for once, to give up on regrets.
Page 79

"I think we could both bear it better if no one else had to see," she says, then takes a long pull of her tea.
Page 81

"So what do you want me to do?" I ask.

"I want you to fix things with him," she says. "Prince Cardan's got all the power. There's no winning against him. No matter how brave or clever or even cruel you are, Jude. End this, before you get really hurt."
Page 81

"Desire is an odd thing. As soon as it's sated, it transmutes. If we receive golden thread, we desire the golden needle..."
Page 97

"No, nothing bad," I tell her. "I don't know exactly what he came for, but he kissed my hand. It was nice, like out of a storybook."

"Nice things don't happen in storybooks," Taryn says. "Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it."
Page 150

"You don't need to believe me. There are a dozen more rumors just as terrible. When there is a lot of power concentrated in one place, there are plenty of scraps to fight over. If the Court isn't busy drinking poison, then it's drinking bile."
Page 217

This is part of my training - probably the aspect the Ghost thinks is most essential, after slyfooting. He has told me again and again that most of being a killer and a thief is waiting. The hardest thing, according to him, is not letting your mind drift to other things. He seems to be right.
Page 226 - 227

But we all want stupid things. That doesn't mean we should have them.
Page 231

"Its maker called it Nightfell, but of course you are welcome to call it anything you like or nothing at all. It's said to bring the wielder luck, but everyone says that about swords, don't they?"
Page 234

Most often what I failed to do was accurately anticipate his next moves. I had a great stratgey for me, but not for the game I was in.
Page 341

Somehow, Balekin has drawn Cardan into his convesation with Severin. Cardan laughs at something Balekin said, looking as comfortably arrogant as I've ever seen him. I am shocked by the recognition - if you live your life always afraid, always with danger on your heels, it is not so difficult to pretend away more danter.
Page 359

Outmaneuvering Madoc wasn't nearly as satisfying as I wanted it to be, especially since I was able to do it because he never thought of me as someone who would betray him.
Page 366

"Think of being here with Vivi as an apprenticeship. You learn what you need to know, and then you come home."

"How will I know when I've learned it, since I don't know it now?" he asks.

The question sounds like a riddle. "Come back when returning feels like a hard choice instead of an easy one," I finally answer.
Page 377

It's Even Worse Than You Think

Book Notes

Before I started reading this book, my thought was, "I'm pretty sure this book is going to thoroughly piss me off. Reading anyway."

Post reading, yep, this book is rage-inducing.

It is also, at the end, hysterical, because of the absurdity of the whole thing. That someone so incredibly incompetent even thinks he is remotely competent makes me realize just how thankful I am that most smart people are essentially good. Had Trump actually been smart and this psychopathic, we'd all be in far, far worse trouble than we are in now.

Found out yesterday that if you signed up for the Trump campaign emails, they send out “buy this trump stuff” emails now. What I REALLY want to happen is that the Emoluments Clause to trigger a billion dollar tax bill on Trump when he leaves office, to pay back all his gains during his tenure. Then have it all go to education.

That would be sweet, sweet justice.

Or impeachment now. That would be okay, too.

The book is worth reading, even if the subject matter is the step-by-step dismantling of American Democracy. It's a painful story to read, so read fast or borrow the audiobook from your library (before even those are defunded). I just wish that the people not blind to rational thinking but who had voted for Trump "for a political change," read the book. That would be great. I'm not holding my breath for it, though.

The couple also complained that Trump was in violation of the sixty - year lease of the Old Post Office , which was owned by the federal government. Section 37.19 of the lease“ specifically forbids ”any federal employee from receiving any gain or benefit from the lease."
Page 18

“The Foreign Emoluments Clause was forged of the Framers’ hard - won wisdom. It is no relic of a bygone era , but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the essential preconditions of self-governance.
Page 27

The next day the Daily Stormer “Summer of Hate edition” described the murder victim as a “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut.” Heather Heyer should have been killed, the article argued: “Most people are glad she is dead, as she is the definition of uselessness. A 32-year-old woman without children is a burden on society and has no value.”
Page: 236

Franklin’s point was that self-governance requires people to accept the burdens as well as the benefits of freedom. It means they are responsible for their fate and cannot just blame a crazy king or an uncaring despot or anyone else. They must, to be free, take personal responsibility and be actively engaged in shaping the policies that will affect not only their lives, but those of generations to come.
Page: 262

Under our Constitution we determine our political fate. If we wish to turn in our citizenship responsibilities and outsource the work to power mongers, we can do so.
Page: 262

Democracies do not die dramatically. They slowly fade away.
Page: 262

Two Kinds of Truth

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, Book 22, by my count, which, again, is inaccurate, but we're still going with it.

YEEHAW, I am, once again, all caught up in Bosch's world, having read these last three books. Yeah, the Lincoln Lawyer is in these books, but that's kinda unsurprising to anyone who is growing older: the older you are, the more you want your family around, for whatever definition of family works for you. Why would a fictional detective be any different? Answer: he wouldn't be.

So, yeah, I'm caught up. And Harry (this Harry, anyway, there are four you know) seems to have found his place: a department where he's respected and wanted and, most of all, believed when the shit hits the fan.

Slight spoiler alert (but only slight, since I'm spoiling only the first chapter, so I don't think it really counts), but an old case is reopened when a guy Bosch put away thirty years before is petitioning for release on the grounds of false imprisonment based on new DNA data. The question becomes where did this new DNA that was tested come from.

I know, I know, you're thinking TUNNELS! and BAD COPS! but it actually wasn't (I'm shocked, too), AND I didn't get the "how was this new DNA placed in a sealed box" technique quite right. My solution would have worked, but it was far too elaborate for what actually happened. Dammit.

If you're a Bosch fan, these last three books have been fun. I've been sick, so they have been fun reads during my "I really can't do anything but lie here" convalescence. If you're not yet a Bosch fan, go ahead and start at the beginning, most of the books are fun.

He knew that there were two kinds of truth in this world, the truth that was the unalterable bedrock of one's life and mission; and the other malleable truth [that] a politician's charlatan's, corrupt lawyer's, and their clients, bent in order to serve whatever purpose was at hand.
Chapter 13

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, Book 21, by my count, which is apparently inaccurate, but that's my count, so let's go with it.

Fast on the finishing of The Crossing, I kept going on the Bosch books. I can think of no fictional person to keep me better company when sick than a guy named Harry, with this being one of the last three books about Harry {Dresden, Potter, Hole, Bosch} that I haven't read yet. Now that I think about it, there was that other Harry series with a surprise new book. Hmmmmmm....

As with the last one, I enjoyed this one, too. It is far more contemporary, and we have Harry less internally twisted about working on a defense case, and more with him solving a bad-guy case as well as a not-so-bad-guy-but-still-bad-guy case. The two separate cases, however, work well together, with just enough internal strife to keep them plausible as happening at the same time.

What cracked me up, no it didn't crack me up, was, however, and I really wish I could say I was spoiling this book for you by saying this, but I'm really not if you've read any of my other reviews, the book is classic Bosch: someone dies, a bad cop did it, tunnels.

Okay, okay, okay, not really. But a bad guy did do it. And there were tunnel references!

Anyway, I enjoyed this book, too. I, on my sick bed, immediately started the next one upon finishing this one.

The Crossing

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, Book 20 by my count, which I've been informed is inaccurate, but whatevs.

A group of my friends were recently ranting about how they have to go through a number of pages, IF NOT DOZENS to get to the meat of the article they are trying to read, or the recipe they are trying to find, and how frustrating this is. Given my book reviews really are just my discovery of the book, and not really reviews, per se, hell, you could call these blog posts that I write when I finish a book, even, I'm good with my lack of book-reviewing-book-reviews.

What does that have to do with this latest Bosch book? Absolutely nothing.

I've been sick the last five days. Today, I read this book, start to finish, because doing anything else required too much effort. That said, I enjoyed this book. Yeah, it was a crossover with the lawyer dude, which is where I think my book count is off, with the books that have the half-brother in them, but the book is mostly Bosch, and it was a good detective adventure.

Unsurprisingly, BAD COPS! No tunnels, though. Odd that.

If you're a fan of Bosch or happen, like me, to have all twenty something books available and you're reading them, keep going. This was fun.

All of the patients Bosch saw leaving were women, all of them middle aged or older, all of them by themselves.

All of them probably trying to hold onto an image of youth, pushing back that moment they feared when men would stop looking at them. It was a rough and tough world out there.

This was the only part in the book that caught my attention. I was reminded about how much we need love, need attention, are willing to subjugate ourselves for the approval of another, how much we are willing to mutilate ourselves physically emotionally mentally for the illusion of a perfect love.

Conspiracy

Book Notes

Okay, so, this was not the book I was expecting.

It is, however, the book I needed.

I knew vaguely about the outrage over Thiel's backing of Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. I knew vaguely that Gawker was a piece-of-shit website. I knew vaguely that Thiel was an asshat who backed Cheetoh. What I didn't know was all three were involved in a modern-day Machiavellian Power Struggle™.

I am very glad that Ryan Holiday wrote this book. I am very glad I read this book. The book won't change anyone's life, but this book is an incredible tale about power, conspiracy, and the brilliant long-term maneuvering of someone Doing The Right Thing™.

Before this book, I pretty much thought Thiel was the Bad Guy™. He's not, by the way.

Like the ™s? Me, too.

Yeah.

This book reads like Machiavellian case study. It is brilliant in its telling. Yes, one side was arrogant. Yes, one side messed up. Yes, one side was Wrong™. Yes, one side was whatever. Yes, yes, yes. But is it really ever "one side"? The brilliant, illustrative nature of this tale cannot be understated. I understand why Holiday had to write this book. I'm glad he did.

I strongly recommend this book. It may or may not change your life, but is far far far worth reading.

Our tendency to shy away from this truth creates a profound ignorance of how things really work, and what it means to be strategic, to be powerful, and to try to shape events rather than simply be shaped by them.
Location: 51

Seneca is the author you read when your life’s work has been destroyed,
Location: 131

The question of justice is beside the point; every conqueror believes their cause just and righteous—a thought that makes the fruits taste sweeter.
Location: 151

The existentialists spoke of ressentiment, or the way that resentment creates frustration which fuels more resentment. Philosophers might have said this feeling was pointless, but they knew it was a fearful force.
Location: 233

There is an old Scottish motto: nemo me impune lacessit. No one attacks me with impunity. Plots of revenge and justice plots both begin, in their own way, with a transgression, against a person or the whole. And then someone deciding that they aren’t going to take it.
Location: 381

They think someone should do something, but never them. Not me. It’s a classic collective action problem: we know things are bad, but they only affect each of us a little bit. So who is going to take care of it for us? Plenty of people believe in the theory of so-called great men of history, but who believes I am that great man?
Location: 437

Gawker reminded Thiel of the self-righteous people he had been railing against since he was a conservative polemicist in college: the people who claim the moral high ground, who claim to be about freedom of choice, but who bully everyone who doesn’t choose their way of freedom.
Location: 481

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Thucydides would say that the three strongest motives for men were “fear, honor, and self-interest.” Fear. Honor. Self-interest. All covered.
Location: 555

Eddie sees that Thiel’s main problem isn’t a legal one, it’s that he’s an outsider: not only does Thiel not like playing the game, he doesn’t even understand the game.
Location: 580

At eight, he has the look of someone who has already seen enough of the world to know what bullshit is, and to know that he’s smarter than most of the people he has met, including the adults.
Location: 633

Girard’s theory of mimetic desire holds that people have no idea what they want, or what they value, so
Location: 639

are drawn to what other people want. They want what other people have. They covet. It’s this, Girard says, that is the source of almost all the conflict in the world.
Location: 639

Or perhaps it was simply the traditional arc of the bully who becomes empowered the more he picks on others, grows to like the feeling it creates, and the longer he goes unchallenged, the more he comes to convince himself the status quo is tolerable for everyone involved.
Location: 647

One will come upon situations in life where it becomes increasingly clear that the normal
Location: 685

playbook will not work. No working out of differences. No backroom deals. We reach the point where we believe that the normal remedies will not be enough. Where we are significantly outmatched or unsympathetic. We reach a point where even the out-of-the-ordinary remedies will not suffice.
Location: 686

“Anyone who is threatened and is forced by necessity either to act or to suffer,” writes Machiavelli, “becomes a very dangerous man to the prince.”
Location: 697

The strategic benefit of adding a new coconspirator comes at the cost of substantially increasing the chance of getting caught.
Location: 801

While it’s dangerous to conspire with people who have a lot to lose, you can’t conspire without someone who is afraid to bet on themselves, who isn’t willing to take a big stake on something that very well
Location: 869

could fail. Where these two traits overlap there is often a sweet spot: the man or woman who has something to prove and something to protect, the strong sense of self-belief coupled with that killer instinct.
Location: 870

A start-up is, in Peter’s definition, “a small group of people that you’ve convinced of a truth that nobody else believes in.”
Location: 882

Just because you decide to operate along a line of interior ethics, however, doesn’t mean you’re stupid about it. You don’t have to disclose your intentions, for instance. No one said the fight needs to be fair, or that punches should be pulled.
Location: 959

Maginot Line.
Location: 1,000

The great strategist B. H. Liddell Hart would say that all great victories come along “the line of least resistance and the line of least expectation.”
Location: 1,005

No one knew if it
Location: 1,083

was actually impossible to beat Gawker in court. Gawker had taken this uncertainty to mean something else, too: that no one ever would challenge them, and that if someone did, the challenger was destined to lose.
Location: 1,083

and public
Location: 1,100

It has been the great collective self-deception of Silicon Valley, and perhaps of our age, that a person can engage in aggressive “disruption” of existing industries while pretending that they are not at least similar to the ruthless capitalist barons of the previous century, that there is not a drop of Carnegie or Rockefeller or Vanderbilt DNA in the whole business.
Location: 1,133

When someone categorizes something evil, as Sherman did, as Peter and Mr. A repeatedly did, he implicitly gives himself permission to do what needs to be done to destroy it.
Location: 1,207

choose your enemies wisely, he had been told, because you become just like them—but
Location: 1,240

No, fate sends to the conspirators of the world the best of its Murphy’s Law and entropy and crises of confidence.
Location: 1,690

Nick Denton is an inherently curious person, the kind of person who though he might not seek out such opportunities, when given the chance for a conversation with people who have radically different opinions from his own, he at least
Location: 1,836

likes to take advantage of it.
Location: 1,838

A few dopamine-filled seconds of catharsis turned into fingerprints that ruined his chances of a clean getaway.
Location: 2,113

Most conspiracies are not found out. They are betrayed. Or they collapse from within, a betrayal of the cause itself.
Location: 2,425

And though we’d like to think that planning and resources—or righteousness and worthiness—determine who wins and who loses, they don’t.
Location: 2,830

I have heard Peter Thiel say over and over again that in the trial, Gawker argued the law while Hogan’s case argued the facts. “You argue the law to show how much you know about the
Location: 3,155

law,” he would say, “but it’s not how you win a case in front of a jury.”
Location: 3,156

He had proven that “nothing you can do about it” is just what people who don’t want to do anything about it like to say to make
Location: 3,371

themselves feel better about their inaction.
Location: 3,372

Machiavelli warns conspirators that the most dangerous time is after the deed is done.
Location: 3,479

Loss inherently makes the loser sympathetic.
Location: 3,483

But like so many conspirators, they seem not to have stopped to ask, Okay, then what?
Location: 3,502

Cunning and resources might win the war, but it’s the stories and the myths afterward that will determine who deserved to win it.
Location: 3,526

The people who actually had to do the cleaning up, who needed to fight the war to a close, knew that this kind of language would only make the job harder. It had deprived Germany of a way to end the war earlier, it had united a collapsing enemy in desperation. Without a way out, tensions only increase and combatants have no choice but to fight on.
Location: 3,648

They worried that people would be less free to say what they think and feel for fear of being held accountable for it.
Location: 3,714

It would be a little more elegant if the reading public recognized their own contribution, that they get precisely the media that they click on and talk about.”
Location: 3,826

The Book of Joan

Book Notes

Warren Ellis has a weekly newsletter, in which he talks about writing, reading, and things of interest to him. In last week's episode, we found our intrepid hero talking about The Book Of Joan in a way that sounded fairly interesting, so I looked for it in the library.

And there it was!

Well, if this isn't the world telling me to read this book, I don't know what is. Okay, maybe the world is telling me this book isn't in high demand, or that it was at one point and the library has excess copies.

Anyway. Ellis' book description is much better than I would have done. It reads differently than I expected the book to read, but his description is spot on. The way Yuknavitch weaves history into the story (uses history as a template?) is just wonderful.

Trying to figure out where I put it on my scale, it's definitely "fan" or above, but would I recommend it to a friend? It was interesting, so I'd have to say it is worth reading.

How’s that for a cosmic joke of the ruling class? The meek really did inherit the Earth. And the wealthy suck at it like a tit. There’s no telling how many meek are left.
Page 6

And anyway, I’ve got that gnawing human compulsion to tell what happened.
Page 9

No one on Earth was ever literally white. But that construct kept race and class wars and myths alive.
Page 11

Everything in a life has more than one story layer. Like skin does: epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous or hypodermis. My history has a subtext.
Page 12

We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power. Our existence makes my eyes hurt.
Page 14

People are forever thinking that the unthinkable can’t happen. If it doesn’t exist in thought, then it can’t exist in life. And then, in the blink of an eye, in a moment of danger, a figure who takes power from our weak desires and failures emerges like a rib from sand.
Page 14

We consume and become exactly what we create. In all times.
Page 14

Men are among the loneliest creatures. They lose their mothers and cannot carry children, and have nothing to comfort themselves with but their vestigial cockular appendages.
Page 17

This is perhaps the reason they move ever warward when they are not moving fuckward.
Page 18

But people will make belief out of anything, especially if it comes with a good story, and despite my cynicism and age, I want to believe in her. Like the way old people on Earth used to turn to a story we made called god.
Page 19

But not all legend becomes history, and not all literature deserves to become legend.
Page 20

His voice and words make my whole body ring. He makes me laugh. Sometimes I think that’s the deepest love of all.
Page 30

There is no place to hide or run to in a closed system.
Page 34

I don’t care which careful slice of history you choose to cling to, there is no part of being human that does not include the death spectacle: the resort to killing, through war or “justice” or revenge.
Page 41

The fastest way to drive living beings mad, then as today, is to confine them to a small, stimulus-less place and deprive them of any interaction with their species.
Page 42

Maybe we were always meant to come to this part of our own story, where the things we thought we created were revealed to have been within us all along, our brains simply waiting for us to recognize the corresponding forms of space and technology “out there” that we dumbly misread as distinctly human organs.
Page 44

Joan took her T-shirt off. Her jeans. “You’re gonna freeze your ass off!” Her brother laughed, but his clothes came off, too. They were siblings, after all.
Page 58

Siblings.

There wasn’t time to educate the children. As in medieval times, and during other world wars, children simply had to learn to live within the miasma of violence. Pick up this weapon. Don’t think. Act.
Page 74

When the first nuclear drone attacks erupted, for a while, and counterpart drones returned fire, the War was waged almost without soldiers. But all agon eventually reduces itself to human violence. It was almost as if humans couldn’t bear their distance from the killing. The drama. The theater of war.
Page 76

The rhetoric of protecting children from war, shielding those most vulnerable from our most horrific truths, was always a hypocrisy designed to protect the illusions that adults carry that we care more about our children than we do about ourselves, until finally that pretense, too, fell.
Page 76

To be human, the film suggested, was to step into the full flurry and motion of all humanity: to bear the weight of circumstances without flinching, to surrender to the crucible—to admit that history was not something in the past but something you consciously step into. Living a life meant knowing you might be killed instantly, like one who wanders into the path of a runaway train.
Page 82

Inside of war, or dream, or memory, a warrior emerges.
Page 83

If we look at history—those of us who study it, who can remember it—we understand the reason why those who come to power swiftly, amid extreme national crises, are so dangerous: during such crises, we all turn into children aching for a good father. And the truth is, in our fear and despair, we’ll take any father. Even if his furor is dangerous. It’s as if humans can’t understand how to function without a father.
Page 99

But Joan knew one thing we never learned: to end war meant to end its maker, to marry creation and destruction rather than hold them in false opposition.
Page 105

Terrorists, she thought, laughing inside. When they own languages, she thought, we are terrorists. When we own them, we are revolutionaries. People who turn over the earth.
Page 107

On his side, there lived a hatred for what humanity represented with its diversities and differences, and his pathological desire to abandon the planet, to re-create humankind in a different image. His own.
Page 108

On her side, there was a hatred there, too, if she was being honest with herself: for what we had made of ourselves, for the fictions we consistently chose that forced our own undoing; for our fear of otherness; for our inability to conquer ego, our seemingly tsunami-like thirst for never-ending consumption at the price of the planet.
Page 108

Once there was a girl from France. She heard a song and became a warrior for her country, but her country lost its shape and aim in the Wars, as all countries did, and then there were just combatants and civilians, and then just civilians gone brutal against one another, endless violence. Then the girl made a choice.
Page 116

In the dark, a person’s shadow is nothing. Like the past losing its light.
Page 121

She didn’t believe him, but she did believe in letting him have his story. To have a story was to have a self.
Page 128

In death, adults reveal some of their childhood selves. The eyes and cheek muscles going slack, back in time to a face without history.
Page 178

It isn’t that love died. It’s that we storied it poorly. We tried too hard to contain it and make it something to have and to hold.
Page 192

Love was never meant to be less than electrical impulse and the energy of matter, but that was no small thing.
Page 192

The stuff of life itself. Life in the universe, cosmic or as small as an atom. But we wanted it to be ours. Between us. For us. We made it small and private so that we’d be above all other living things.
Page 192

At the heart of torture there is a brutality beyond inflicting pain. It is the brutality of stealing an identity, a sense of self, a soul. The pain-wracked body is only a symbol of a deeper struggle that is bodiless. It is the struggle to be. Not just to cling to consciousness, but a kind of radical compassion to exist as a self in relation to others. The torturer attempts to murder that desire for compassionate relationship. To erase even its possibility. The tortured body is the opposite of the newborn. Instead of a will toward life and the stretch to bond with an other, there is a brutal will toward death and the end of that longing. When torture succeeds, that is.
ree > Page

To be human. What if being human did not mean to discover, to conquer. What if it meant rejoining everything we are made from.
x > Page

"One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are, and to live without belief—that is a fate more terrible than dying."
ven > Page

I’m weeping again.
o > Page

Always crying. It has become a state of being rather than an emotionally isolated experience.
o > Page

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