Books!

The man of noble mind ...

Yeah, I had thought when I finally broke down and got Amazon's Prime service I'd not have to worry about ever nudging order totals toward a minimum number (which is one thing that Dover Thrift Editions are wonderful for), but ever since they've instituted the “add on” listings (which, unfortunately, includes our turtle's favorite food), I'm finding myself once again looking for a way to get an order up a couple of bucks without getting into a full-fledged additional book/garment/doohickey. Of course, the other thing that the D.T.E. books are great for is plugging holes in my education … and that's what's going on here with Confucius' The Analects (what, you read this in school?).

Of course, one of the challenges in trying to review ancient philosophical treatises is that they're hardly formatted with modern sensibilities in mind … not to mention that they're ancient and philosophy. Aside from those factors, this is laid out oddly … each “Chapter” (in the 20 “Books” that are organized in 10 2-Book “Volumes”) runs from 1 to 30 lines, and none taking up more than a single page, with my guess as to the average length being 6 lines (in blocks of text, not set up as “poetry” and/or bullet-points).

Confucius lived from 551 to 479 bce, which puts him well in front of the Big 2 monotheisms (although a few generations after Siddhartha Gautama and a generation or so after Lao-Tzu). There is an odd chronology up front here, which starts with the “semi-mythical first rulers”, Emperor Yao (c 2356 bce), and Emperor Shun (c 2255 bce), probably because Confucius refers to them with some frequency. Then a few historical dynasties, followed by some ancestors and immediate predecessors in Confucius' line. The main portion of this follows through his life, including the various positions he held, the periods he was in exile, and significant losses (his wife, his son, key disciples). The last two entries on the list are his own death, and the life data on Mencius, a century later.

There is also a list of 36 disciples, with some descriptive material … and in most cases at least two names. Obviously, over the centuries the details from Confucius' time have had plenty of opportunity to get hazy, re-interpreted, and subjected to linguistic shifts, so it's not terribly surprising that these names have gotten slippery, but it's confusing throughout this with the name in a particular “Book” appearing one way, and there having to be notation to “clarify” which person (both of the disciples, and various other characters – rulers, etc. – who weave in and out of this) is which … heck, even Confucius himself gets a half dozen other names that seem to be particular forms of address from assorted other speakers. Personally, I would have preferred it had all the players been relegated to “common English forms” of their Chinese names (like Confucius for K’ung-fu-tzu) rather than the “how do you pronounce that?” permutations with linguistic notation that I can't find in the Windows Character Map.

The Analects are set up thematically, with each of the 20 “Books” having a general subject under which the (what I take to be much-later-collected) assorted materials are organized. Some of these are “Concerning Fundamental Principles”, “Concerning the Sage in His Daily Life”, “Concerning Ancient Worthies”, and several that are less specific, such as “Chiefly on the Maintenance and Principles and Character”. Very little here is actually by Confucius, but is set up in blocks of “The Master said:” or bits about his activities … so it is all at second hand, at least.

I was disappointed that I only had a couple of my little bookmarks in this to point to the “good parts” to pass along here … so I'm going to be flipping through and looking for excerpts that seem like good examples of the whole. One of the most telling usages of Confucius is the idea of the Superior Man, who conducts his life appropriately, be this the ruler, or the commoner. There are several points where he is being asked about some seeming luxury (when he was serving at court), and he'd respond to the questioning disciple that there were forms to be followed, and without a robe of office, or a carriage, he'd not be doing the right thing in his activities. Confucius is quite hard on various leaders who he believes were taking rank and privilege that were unearned or not properly bestowed (especially in cases where power had been wrested – violently or otherwise – from the previously established ruler … in these cases he'd have nothing to do with the non-virtuous states).

One might ask, “what is the use of studying 2,500-year-old philosophy?”, well, as I've discovered in other books, the general tenor of the massive modern Chinese government is quite in line with Confucian thought … and the sort of expected relations between rulers and the ruled, states and their neighbors, and functionaries on all levels of bureaucracies as set out by Confucius is very much a template that can be used to gauge what is happening in and with China, as well as giving a guide as to what to expect from the Chinese (I'm certain that the C.I.A. has a number of scholars who know this stuff backwards and forwards on hand to put this sort of perspective into play).

Again, I'm having to snag most of these on the fly, so I'm not going to be telling you much of a “story arc” with broad strokes here … just trying to give you some sense of the book (oh, and the notation accompanying them here is my own extraction of the volume, book, and chapter numbering … and I'm avoiding ones with funky typography, so nearly all of the ones mentioning his disciples, etc., were skipped in the following).

V-I, B-I, C-III:
The Master said: “Artful speech and an ingratiating demeanour rarely accompany virtue.”

V-I, B-II, C-I:
The Master said: “He who governs by his moral excellence may be compared to the pole-star, which abides in its place, while all the stars bow towards it.”

V-II, B-IV, C-XIV:
The Master said: “One should not be concerned at lack of position, but should be concerned about what will fit him to occupy it. One should not be concerned at being unknown, but should seek to be worthy of being known.”

V-V, B-IX, C-XVI:
Once when the Master was standing by a stream he observed: “All is transient, like this! Unceasing day and night!”

V-VII, B-XIII, C-VI:
The Master said: “If a ruler is himself upright, his people will do their duty without orders; but if he himself be not upright, although he may order they will not obey.”

V-VII, B-XIII, C-XIX:
Once when Fan Ch’ih asked about virtue, the Master said: “In private life be courteous, in handling public business be serious, with all men be conscientious. Even though you go among barbarians, you may not relinquish these virtues.”

V-VII, B-XIV, C-IV:
The Master said: “When law and order prevail in the land, a man may be bold in speech and bold in action; but when the land lacks law and order, though he may take bold action, he should lay restraint on his speech.”

V-VII, B-XIV, C-VII:
“There may perhaps be men of the higher type who fail in virtue, but there has never been one of the lower type who possessed virtue.”

V-VII, B-XIV, C-XI:
The Master said: “To be poor and not complain is difficult; to be rich and not arrogant is easy.”

V-VII, B-XIV, C-XXXII:
The Master said: “A wise man is not distressed that people do not know him; he is distressed at his own lack of ability.”

V-VIII, B-XVI, C-IX:
Confucius said: “Those who have innate wisdom take highest rank. Those who acquire it by study rank next. Those who learn despite natural limitations come next. But those who are of limited ability and yet will not learn – these form the lowest class of men.”

V-IX, B-XVII, C-III:
The Master said: “It is only the very wisest and the very stupidest who never change.”

V-X, B-XX, C-III:
1. The Master said: “He who does not know the divine law cannot become a noble man. 2. He who does not know the laws of right conduct cannot form his character. 3. He who does not know the force of words, cannot know men.”
One other thing … as is the case frequently with the Dover Thrift Editions, this is a reprint of a much older book, specifically an edition put out in Scotland in 1910. I went looking for an on-line version to pass along to you, and was surprised to see that the “Volume/Book/Chapter” organization here seems to have disappeared in more recent presentations. Needless to say, I don't have the experience with Chinese texts to be able to figure out if the “chapter” breaks here are as notably separate in the original materials, but from what I saw poking around on the Web, these seem to have gone out of favor, being replaced with simple paragraph breaks (although I think the format here does do a better job of separating individual “stories”, which might tend to blur into a somewhat less coherent – not that this is particularly coherent – narrative).

Anyway, The Analects, being the classic that it is, can no doubt be found pretty much anyplace they have philosophical books … and the Dover Thrift Edition has a whopping $3.50 cover price, so if you want something more tangible than that link above, cost shouldn't be much of a factor. To be honest, I can't say that I really enjoyed reading this, but it was quite interesting, especially as projected to current global politics. Hey, it's cheap, it's a short read (under 130 pages), and it will make you sound smarter than you were going in … what's not to like?


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Books!

Reports from Planet Writer ...

This came to me via the LibraryThing.com “Early Reviewer” program, so has all the lack of foresight and intent that is involved in that channel (clicking a “request” button after reading a few sentences of description about the book). As such, the question “what was I expecting” from the book is somewhat moot – I was expecting to get one of four or five requested books sent to me for review. That being said, I rather enjoyed Joni B. Cole's Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier, although I'm deeply puzzled at how it managed to get 94% 5-star reviews on Amazon, unless Ms. Cole encouraged her writing workshop students to pad the numbers with raves (but, then again, I rarely rate any book higher than a 4 if I am forced to give a star rating).

Frankly, perhaps my biggest gripe with the book is the title … it is, I suspect, yet another “marketing” decision, taking a chapter's (which has to do with sharing one's early drafts with others) title, that is ambiguous in a somewhat titillating way, with hopes that shoppers will pick it off the shelf or click on it, looking for the “naked parts”. For somebody who has spent his entire life in some form of marketing communications or other, I really hate those sorts of ploys. If they wanted to go with a chapter title, a much better one (in terms of conveying the feel of the book) would be “Every. Single. Day.”, which is a quote from a nightmare boss she had in an early job that required her to call people who were late with payments – but turns this into something of a therapy session for writers who have latched onto the idea that they are failures (or vile slackers) if they don't have a predictable writing schedule that rules their lives …

Sometimes we don't write for another reason that is harder to excuse, and that is that we just don't feel like it. … How can it be so hard to make ourselves do something we value so highly is one of those incongruities of human nature that defies explanation. But one thing I do know is that wanting to write, but not wanting to write, can lead to a lot of guilt.
In the way I described Stephen King's On Writing as a workshop on writing, Good Naked is like a series of “coaching sessions” with Ms. Cole … albeit ones that spring from her issues/experiences/challenges rather than (for obvious reasons) the reader's.

Now, I have to admit that I've never taken a writing workshop per se … I had writing classes in college that were something along those lines, but nothing where I've signed up to hobnob with (and expose early drafts to) other writers – no doubt attributable to my one-size-fits-all misanthropy (which has certainly not been tempered with my ever-deeper descent into curmudgeonhood). I have considered these, but never gotten into a place where I moved ahead with the concept. I bring all this up here because, generally speaking, this book is based in the authors workshops, either using the dynamics of these (and their participants) as jumping-off points for discussing particular writing issues, or expressing her own concerns as they arise in these settings. While the book does have a certain structure to it (it's in three parts with 6-7 chapters each), and sort of walks the reader through from “first things” to “endings”, but it isn't much on the linear side, so I'm not going to try to break out the “what” of the twenty chapters. I do, however, have quite a number of my little bookmarks stuck in this, and I'll try to suss out the passages that I was sufficiently enthused about to leave that trail of paper slips when reading it to give you some sense of the book. Unfortunately, Ms. Cole is not crafting bullet points here, and so most of the “good bits” go on into paragraph length … leading me to pass over some that, while excellent, would require quite substantial block quotes to get where they're going, and to selectively edit (love those ellipses) others. Oh, and the author name-checks other writers with quotes all through this, which is interesting in the reading, but a little “meta” in the citing within the review.

In the “Planet Writer” chapter (which has a delightful lead-in, but is a bit long to use for a description here), she gets into looking at happiness in relation to the world of writers, referring to various research that indicates that “positive emotional states” lead to all sorts of good results. This ends up here:

And yet, the myth of the suffering artist and its alleged value to the creative process prevails, and it is not hard to figure out why. Many of the world's most famous writers were as noteworthy for their psychic pain as their literary gifts. Depression. Addiction. Mental illness. Because creative expression is an outlet for pain, this is likely why people who are battling emotional demons, or confronting life's cruelties, often gravitate toward artistic disciplines. … It can demand an enormous amount of courage and stamina to create during these times of trouble and when filled with despair. Thus, all the more reason to credit the person, not his afflictions or circumstances, for his creative work.
In the “In Good Company” chapter, she says to “think of a workshop as a 'social-belonging intervention'”, which I found an interesting concept. She expands on this:

As writers, to be part of a creative community is to sheathe ourselves in white light. That white light stays with us, sometimes long after we return to the solitude that our work demands. It illuminates the vast difference between loneliness and being alone, and within that clarified space this is what often happens: We write more. We write better. And we are happier.
In “The Reverse Curse” chapter, she starts by describing a black magic practice of some Australian aboriginal tribes, called “the bone pointer”, and (cut down a bit) here's how she introduces this concept for writing:

Inside almost every writer's head is a Bone Pointer. Some internal sorcerer, some part of ourselves we have vested with the power of killing our writing dreams. … They have only to sneak up on our psyches … and curse our writing ambitions. From that point forward, fear quickly begins to lay waste to our future. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of exposure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of finishing. Fear of letting go. Whatever form the fear takes, the outcome is the same. …
She goes on to counter this with a recommendation: “One scene after the other, then just slap on some craft.” (which reminds me of the observation made elsewhere that it is mighty hard to edit a blank page), although she notes that this may not be enough if one is letting the Bone Pointer in.

In the “Every. Single. Day.” chapter, she gives examples of a number of famous writers' daily goals … many of whom had targets as meager as 500 words (I used to do a “morning papers” regimen on the 750words.com site, which, unsurprisingly, had me spewing out at least 750 words when I got up every morning), with some running as high as 3,000 words. I find these numbers comforting, as I have often thought of “writing a book” (different from the dozens of titles I have in print, mainly poetry and reviews), and I could certainly make that sort of daily output. She notes:

When I say writers need a bar, however, what I mean is a tangible measure of productivity tailored to each of our creative processes and temperaments. Your bar may be higher or lower than my bar, but the same rules wold apply. If your productivity falls below the level of achievement you have set for yourself, then, and only then, can you feel guilty about your slacker tendencies. Otherwise, give yourself a break. …
Some of this is pretty autobiographical. In the “Drama Queen” chapter she has a bit of a rant that, while long-ish, I'll type up here, as it's a great look into her (and, by extension, lots of other writers') head:

      I straightened a pile of papers of my desk. For confidence, I skimmed a book I had previously written that I still like, though as is often the case when I reread work from my past, I experienced a feeling of disassociation. Who wrote that? I thought, appreciating a passage. That author was so lucky to have the words come out just as she had envisioned them in her head. I want to be an author! I glared at my book jacket photo. Just look at her, smiling, with her hair all combed. Authors have it so much easier than writers. Resentment towards my former self darkened my mood further, even as the same part of my mind was well aware that this previous book had not come any easier than the one I was wrestling with now.
In the “Seeing Blue” chapter, she has a list of “four rational responses to the question, Why does your writing matter?” … these are:

1. Your perspective.
… “every type of experience has been covered, but you will always be the first one to do it through your lens”
2. Your voice.
… “when you do settle into the voice you your story, you will own that material”
3. The future of civilization.
… “neuroscientists … have shown that stories allow us to have surrogate experiences that our brains process almost identically to lived experiences”
4. The color blue.
… “you only have to give them {your writing material} words, and what was absent before becomes visible to you and your readers”
… this last one is based on speculation that at one time people didn't see blue because there was no word for it, and it showed up in ancient Egypt only when they began developing dyes of that shade … and she points out some research on an African tribe that could not pick out a distinctively blue square on a screen with eleven assorted green squares.

In the chapter “A Walk around the Block” (as in writer's), she talks of a lecture she attended by Nobel Prize winning Turkish novelist Orham Pamuk, who spoke about the French Renaissance philosopher and essayist Montaigne, who is

… famously known for his motto, 'Que sais-je?' Translation: What do I know? As a skeptic, Montaigne recognized that he and his fellow philosophers actually understood very little about the world, and therefore he strove instead for self-knowledge, dwelling on his personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
      What do I know? This is the question that confronts all writers sitting alone at their desks, trying to figure out something meaningful or engaging to put on the page. Sometimes we cannot wait to start typing to discover the answer. When we are really on fire, it feels like we are conversing with some remarkably engaging and deeper version of ourselves. … But when we are struggling, what we hear in response to that question is silence, silence, and then a more prolonged, deafening silence.
She follows this up with some tales of times when her or others' blocks got broken in fairly mundane settings, with details (in a more conjectural frame) of how these might play out as a method.

In the “Decluttering” chapter (which does also have to do with tidying up) she gets into a concept about writing that is interesting:

… editing can feel overwhelming if you focus on the whole. This supports another benefit that comes from acknowledging the reality that writing is rewriting 41,000 drafts. It frees us from the expectation that we are supposed to be able to address every issue in our manuscript at once.
Now, “41,000 drafts” sounds like an impossible amount of work, but this is all the bits and pieces … she describes a sample as:

You revise a sentence. Then you delete the revised sentence. Then you press Control Z to restore the revised sentence and revise it again, but it is still not right. Then you take a shower, and the perfect wording comes to you as you are lathering your hair, so you run foam-headed and dripping to your computer and revised the revised, deleted, restored, re-revised sentence one more time.
… she also counts that as at least four drafts!

Anyway, I hope this has given you a sense of how this book proceeds. There's a lot of wandering off down sub-referential alleyways, name-checking of the famous and/or important, and tons of personal anecdotes, but it does attempt to create a logical arc covering the writing process, at least as processed through the sausage-making machinery of writing workshops.

Good Naked just came out in April, so it's relatively new. Oddly, the online big boys don't have it at much of a discount, nor do the new/used guys have it at any much deeper deal … so you might as well go in search of it at the brick-and-mortar book vendors who carry this sort of title. While there wasn't much that was an earth-shattering revelation to me here, I did quite enjoy reading it, and, as I noted up top, it did feel a bit like having private coaching sessions (or a whole series of coffee dates) with the author. If that sounds appealing to you, by all means do pick up a copy.


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Books!

As it is ...

Since I get so many of the books I cover here either as review copies, or from the dollar store, I guess it's worth noting when I pay actual retail (or the on-line discounted version thereof) for a book, and in the case of Revival: Resurrecting the Process Church of the Final Judgement, even pre-ordered it. Yes, you can say “Wow!” … I'll wait. OK, so that's the first thing I needed to mention about this … next is that it's a fiction title. As those of you keeping track at home will realize, fiction has had a vanishingly small presence in my to-be-read piles over the past couple of decades, I'm guessing somewhere south of 1% of what I read. So, this is both a fiction title, and something I shelled out near cover price for … what makes it so special? Well, it's by William Sims Bainbridge, a sociologist, co-director of Cyber-Human Systems at the National Science Foundation, and a prolific author with a couple of dozen (non-fiction) titles to his name, including the remarkable Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult, which arose from his joining the notable Process Church of the Final Judgment, and studying it from within back in the 70's.

Now, I guess I'm going to have to throw in a couple of caveats … number one: this is fiction, and I feel somewhat out of place reviewing this category, as I've observed on the web that most fiction aficionados have various levels of freak-out over “spoilers”, something that I, as a non-fiction reader, have a limited appreciation for … so this is likely to not be a particularly comfortable review for either of us. Number two, and this is a biggie … I almost didn't go to college because I was hanging out with the Process' successor organization, The Foundation, back in the mid-70's. This was the one place I've ever felt I “fit in”, and especially so at their New York HQ, which is a key location in this story. As I've noted in another review, it's very hard to separate my experiences from books on this subject, and so there were several places here where I was alternately getting quite wistful and expectantly excited (until I recalled that it was just fiction). I had been familiar with The Process, and interacted with its members out on the street corners where they were “funding” (exchanging newsletters and magazines for donations), and had even tired to show up at their house up in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood a few times (it was just a couple of blocks from where I lived), but never got an answer at the door. I sort of lost track of them after they moved (down to Wells Street in its counter-cultural prime), which I later discovered was due to “The Schism” when a substantial portion of the organization split from Robert deGrimston (the “Teacher” who wrote all the theological materials), and set off on its own, minus the previous doctrinal underpinnings. The Chicago center had done a rather dramatic “rebranding”, and I, honestly, did not realize that the two were connected until I'd been loitering around the coffee house for months. I ended up opting for college instead of “going in” (and after reading Wyllie's book, that seems to have been a good call), but stayed active as a lay member for many years, even visiting the new HQ out in Kanab, UT back in August 1994 … as I was only on the periphery of both groups, I probably saw all their best, and very little of the worst (well, I was frequently tasked with cleaning out the vegetable bins, and that was typically pretty horrible).

I suppose it probably would be useful to paint the broad strokes on the Process theology here … there were four God patterns, two forming the “Union”, Jehovah and Lucifer, and two forming the “Unity”, Christ and Satan (the main public tenet being The Unity of Christ and Satan) … knowing this up front will make a lot of the book a bit more understandable (although Bainbridge does fill in backstory as needed).

Before I get into the book, I should reiterate that I enjoyed reading it, and found a lot of the stuff in it fascinating, but I really don't connect well with fiction, or (as is often bitched about here) “teaching stories”/parables, and I had numerous things that likely irritated me far more than they would most folks (who, honestly, might not even have registered the dissonance). I do not do well with intimations of what things are, and really like to have things defined, and so much here (and, of course, this is not unique to Bainbridge's book) is sketching out some symbolical representation of what's being addressed, which I, at best, find frustrating, and at worst, miss altogether (with a nagging residual sense that I am, indeed, missing something).

Anyway, to the book. The central character whose point-of-view the story's set in is one Robert Anson head of the “Social Computing” department of the “National Social Science Institute”, clearly based on the author and some of his work at the NSF. The book starts directly with a swerve into fiction, as it opens with Anson getting a delivery from the recently-deceased Colin Stewart, who supposedly had re-started The Process at some point (I don't think that Bainbridge specifies this any closer than “a third of a century” past 1974, placing that in the first decade of the 2000's). This is one of the disconnects I had with the tale, as that would mean that Colin's version of the Process had only been around a decade or so prior to the present day (where the story appears to play out), and it seems to have a lot more of an established base than what one might assume for a short-term re-creation of the old Church.

There are a plethora of characters to try to keep straight, but the core group are four people from the NSSI … aside from Anson, there's Watson Skinner, who's head of psychology program, and the first person that Anson goes to when the box from Colin Stewart arrives, Cora Benedict, director of the anthropology program, who is also an old flame of the narrator's, and Anne Parsons, director of the sociology program. Obviously, each is bringing a useful expertise to the situation, but I can't help but wonder if they're also supposed to be manifesting the various Processean god patterns (although, typically, I wasn't able to suss out any specifics on this in the reading), a likelihood when they eventually drift towards coupling up (as in the Union and the Unity). There is also an ambiguous character going by Jack Grau or John Grey/Gray (a figure in Processean literature), and other names, who appears to be involved with some intelligence service, and is active in one of the Process Chapters.

This is a key divergence from the classic Process model (where people exhibiting the various god patterns were all mixed together): it appears that Colin had opted to develop separate centers for each of the God types. There are two in the Boston area, one “Christian” and one “Satanic”, the big building in New York (which was the HQ of the Foundation in real life) is here the “Jehovian” one, and they eventually discover the “Luciferian” one in a small town in New Hampshire.

There is quite a bit of technology woven through the book, with a bunch of cybersecurity issues raised via the emails from supposed government agencies, my old stomping grounds of SecondLife (which the narrator uses for several “face-to-face” meetings), and a lot of theory about machine-human life extension, centered around what was in the box delivered after Colin Stewart's death. It seems that he had identified Robert Anson (his old school chum) as the one person he felt safe in sending these four cylinders to be passed along to “someone who loves me and may someday have the technical or economic resources to restore me to life” … each of which contains “a sample of my DNA genetic code and a set of computer disks carrying data about my memories, skills and personality”. While the dispensation of these cylinders are a central plot element, there is very little specifically about them, aside from the competing factions which seek to control them. I understand, from communicating with the author, that Revival is intended to be the first of a series of books, so there are several places where plot points are established, but don't really go anywhere, and I guess the situation of the on-going existence of Colin via the materials in the cylinders is one of those that are slated for future installments.

Aside from the technological material in the book, there is also quite a lot of detail on the systems of institutes like where the main characters (and author) work, including what seemed to me a vast lot on the funding of projects, and how those are approved. Perhaps this is something else I'm just “not getting”, but it seemed odd, except as an instance of Bainbridge writing “what he knows” to give a more solid impression of the fictional institute where the characters work.

Of course, the book also features quite a bit of old Processean ritual, chants, song lyrics (some transmitted by the real-world, reasonably recent, group Sabbath Assembly, which is a Process-themed band that has re-worked several old ritual pieces), and even an example of “P-Scope” work. Of course, in the context of the book, these are divided up between the different manifestations, but it's interesting to have a peek into how Bainbridge envisions that.

Sooooo … here's where my lack of fiction reviewing comes into play … I never know what will be considered a “plot synopsis” and what will be held to be “spoilers” (which rarely, if ever, come into play when looking at non-fiction books!). I'll try to not give away specifics in the following, but figure I should at least do a general outline of the story. You have been warned if you're among the spoilerphobic.

The basics are that the narrator gets a box with a letter from his recently-assassinated old friend, entrusting him with these odd cylinders. The narrator shares the info with colleagues, and they form a sort of team to research the situation. They connect with various Process Chapters, and are shadowed by what purports to be a government agency, but might be something else. In the course of interfacing with the assorted Process groups, they are made Processeans (in the sense that the old Church used to say there were “several million Processeans in the world, some of them quite consciously”, I suppose). Some people are killed. Some buildings firebombed. Technology goes missing. Their team sets up a new Processean web hub. They eventually encounter the Luciferian Chapter. And, eventually they “recognized that without benefit of any ritual, our quartet had become Masters of the Process, ready to found a formal chapter in the Washington area”, which they then set out to do. Again, there's a lot of “set up” stuff for subsequent books right at the end … they bring in two other people from the Institute, they buy a run-down motel complex on the outskirts of D.C. to make into a center, they start organizing the remaining folks from the various Chapters, and they design uniforms for their new center, a new symbol, and some new ritual (their theme is “merging science with religion”, and define the new Process “quest” as being to “unite Mind, Body, and Spirit”, as “the combination of science, technology, and religion for human benefit”). At the very end, they see on TV that several other spiritual centers (the Rosicrucians) were under attack … which provides a bit of a cliffhanger.

As noted up top, I am quite emotionally connected to the Process, and much of what Bainbridge writes here (especially in terms of the new Process being formed at the end), was incredibly enticing to me. I've tried to convey some sense of Revival without getting into too much “spoiler” material, I've also tried to veer away from over-all quibbles I had with the book, as I'm guessing that most of these are just endemic to fiction, and not necessarily faults with the writing.

This just came out in May, so it's new enough that it has a pretty good chance to be physically present at some of the better-stocked (or metaphysical) book stores. The on-line big boys, however, have it at about a third off of cover, and being as new as it is, that's probably your best bet (with free shipping) at the moment, as the new/used guys have it at about a wash with that once you add in their four bucks to get it to you. Again, I liked the book, wish it was real in a lot of parts, found some of it strange (the stuff about grants, etc.), and was quite excited about where it was going. But, of course, the subject is “special” to me, and if you don't know about the real Process/Foundation, I'm not sure how much this will speak to you … but you maybe should give it a try.


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Books!

The other founder ...

This was a dollar store find … and I might not have picked it up had I known it was a “young adult” book (the info on Amazon says it's targeted for ages 12-17) … however, the only indication of this on the book itself (which I discovered once into reading it) was a /kids in the publisher's URL on the back flap of the dust jacket. Which is, in this case, a good thing, as Albert Marrin's Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty: How One Man's Ideas Helped Form a New Nation is quite a well-crafted look at this seminal American figure. Frankly, it's not a trivial read, and the only real indication within the text that this was a book specifically for kids are notes that explain things like the symbol £ representing “British pounds sterling”.

While I've read nearly all of Paine's major works, I don't believe I've hit something covering the man himself, and this is certainly a good overview on him. Also, being targeted at the audience it is, this is extensively illustrated, with a graphic of some sort (mostly reproductions of revolution-era paintings and press illustrations, with a few photographs thrown in) on nearly every other page … giving a very visual impact of the times and characters. The book (which is just shy of 150 pages before the notes and index), is divided into five sections plus an introduction, the titles of which are: “The Age of Paine”, “Portrait of a Failure”, “The Great American Cause”, “The Peculiar Honor of France”, “The Age of Reason”, and “An Honest and Useful Life”, which pretty much track through his life. Needless to say, it's odd to start off a biographical book with a phrase (from the introduction) like:

      In certain ways, Paine will always be a mystery. Much of what we would like to know about him is unknown and unknowable. The public Paine was a celebrity, his name known to millions. Of his private life, however, we have only the slightest hints.
Marrin notes that all of Paine's papers were destroyed in a fire not long after his death, so “None of Paine's letters remain except the ones kept by their recipients.” ... meaning that, to a very large extent, he was having to work with secondary sources of events around the man.

The book starts off with a survey of British culture at the time of the Enlightenment, and the development of the kingdom from the Middle Ages forward, with looks at the Magna Carta, the execution of Charles I, and exile of James II. There's a rather grim overview of “the rule of law” at the time, with over 250 crimes carrying the death penalty. The state of the government was also very heavily weighted to the aristocracy, with (Paine's home town of) “Thetford, a town of two thousand, had only thirty-one qualified voters.”. Paine's family was fairly low on the totem pole, with his father being a maker of corsets. When he was nineteen, he ran away to London, with the idea of joining the crew of a privateer (a licensed pirate-ish ship serving the Crown). His father, however, followed, and talked him out of this plan (luckily, too, as the ship he intended serving on was bested by a French privateer soon after sailing, losing almost all its crew). Paine opted to remain in London and used his family skills to go to work for a corset maker there. The London of the time was (except for the rich, of course), a vile place, with no sanitation, poor housing, riots, and beggars everywhere … with most of the population drinking gin rather than water (as it was safer). Paine eventually opted to try another privateer, which this time was a great success, with his cut of the booty being more than his father made in a year. Returning to London, he used this money to educate himself, hanging out in bookstores and attending paid lectures. When the money ran out he set himself up as a corset maker, and eventually married the daughter of an exciseman (a tax collector on imported goods), and he switched to that career. His first wife (and child) died a year later, and Paine ended up marrying the daughter of a tobacco dealer, whose business he eventually took over. At this time he began writing for assorted publications. Unfortunately, both the business and the marriage soon failed, and he had to sell off everything to avoid going to debtor's prison. In the wake of this, he returned to London, and was introduced to the already famous Benjamin Franklin, who suggested Paine move to America, and wrote letters of introduction for him, easing his departure in October 1774.

Paine arrived in Philadelphia (which at that time was the second-largest English-speaking city in the world, after London) on November, 30, 1774. The Atlantic crossing was not, as the author puts it for the meek or the weak, and during Paine's trip, five passenger died, plus nearly all were sick with Typhus. Fortunately, due to Franklin's contacts, Paine was whisked away by a doctor, who saw to his recovery over the following weeks. Once on his feet again, Paine found work with the Philadelphia Magazine, writing a wide array of pieces, including ones denouncing slavery, nothing the hypocrisy of those who demand liberty for themselves while denying it to others. One thing that Marrin sketches out here is an economic factor that led up to the Revolution – the British, having won the French and Indian War, were deeply in debt and having to man a new frontier. There were taxes on everything, and the Crown was looking for ways to further squeeze the colonies, including to extending the Stamp Act … which was what was being complained about in the “taxation without representation” slogan. The British eventually backed down on that, but came up with another set of taxes called the Townshend Acts, which included the duty on tea, that led to the “Boston Tea Party”, numerous attacks on tax collectors, the protests that resulted in the “Boston Massacre”, and eventually the conflicts at Lexington and Concord. In the wake of these, Paine was encouraged to generate a pamphlet with his views, the result was Common Sense, in which he built the case for independence. Initially published anonymously, the small book exploded across the colonies, selling 150,000 copies in a matter of weeks, and newspapers in many cities reprinted it for their readers. It was translated into a number of languages, and had reactions coming from as far away as Russia. George Washington was an admirer of it, and ordered it read to the troops (Paine donated all the proceeds of the book to buying supplies for the Continental Army). Nearly all of the Founding Fathers embraced it, and its demand for a “declaration of independence” … John Adams even wrote to Thomas Jefferson that History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine”.

Paine volunteered for the military, but he was ill-suited for combat, and Washington told him that “he needed his pen more than his musket”. The war was going badly for the colonists, and Washington needed a significant victory, and wanted some way to get the troops focused for his attack on the Hessian forces holding Trenton. Paine came up with The American Crisis (that ended up being a series, under the same title, of 13 pamphlets over six and a half years) which starts with the famous phrase “these are the times that try men's souls” … this gripped the imaginations of both the existing troops and a flood of new volunteers.

Paine served in various offices in the war, but was somewhat at loose ends once victory was achieved. He was without any resources, having donated all his publishing royalties to the army, and Washington made several pushes to get some funding for him, eventually succeeding in setting him up reasonably well. Paine had been working on several inventions during the war, one of which was a cast-iron bridge, which could be assembled where needed. Strangely, the States didn't care for it (being more expensive than wooden spans), but Franklin made introductions for him in Britain and France, and he headed back to Europe – thinking it was only to be for a few months, but ending up there for fifteen years.

Unfortunately, Paine's bridge did not sell any better overseas … but he did find that he had become something of a celebrity, even in Britain, where noted reformer Edmund Burke particularly lionized him. While Marrin is generally complimentary about George III, he has little patience with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette … quoting her brother, Austrian emperor Joseph II, as saying “they are a couple of awkward nincompoops”, albeit with power unrestrained by the checks of Britain's constitutional monarchy system. As France's revolution took hold, Burke published Reflections on the Revolution in France which challenged some key concepts of Paine's, leading him to respond with The Rights of Man, which in the following decade “sold over a million and a half copies”. This prompted bans, fines for even owning the book, and a good deal of civil unrest in Britain. With things becoming personally uncomfortable there, Paine opted to sail for France, just barely making it onto a ship (only made possible by a letter from George Washington), which left port a scant 20 minutes before a rider appeared with a warrant for his arrest. Paine was welcomed in France, made an honorary French citizen, and even elected to the National Convention. Unfortunately, his arrival in France corresponded with the start of the “reign of terror” and the noted chaos and bloodshed that that entailed. In the trial of Louis XVI, Paine, while voting that the King had committed treason, also urged that the French eliminate capital punishment, and so argued for the King's imprisonment, and eventual exile (to America). The subsequent ballot on the death penalty was decided by a single vote … leading to the execution of the King and Queen. Unluckily for Paine, his arguing for the King's life ended up putting him under suspicion by the Jacobins, and he was jailed at the end of 1793. Paine had another remarkable escape there … due to an illness he was in a cell that was intermittently kept unsealed for ventilation, with the door open on the outside of the cell … when guards came by chalking the numbers of those going to guillotine, they didn't notice that these marks were going on the inside of that door, so he and his cellmates were not dragged off to their deaths once the door had been closed. Obviously, this error would have soon been rectified, but it was in the next day or so that forces arrested Robespierre and most of his top associates, their executions (four days after Paine's scheduled one) effectively ended the Terror. James Monroe (eventually to be the 5th President) managed to have Paine freed into his custody a few months later, and Paine stayed in Monroe's Paris home (he was the Ambassador) for a year following.

This time was also when Paine composed his last great work, The Age of Reason, finishing the first part of it just hours before his arrest, and writing the second part between his time in prison and while recuperating at Monroe's home.

      Paine blamed the looming disaster not just on fanatical politicians but also on Christianity. Like all organized religions, he argued, it rested on myths, not reason. Supposedly devised by corrupt priests, it aimed at controlling people's minds so the ruling classes might easily exploit them. Thus, Paine wrote The Age of Reason to fight atheism by replacing organized religion with the “true relgion of nature”.
      His ideas were hardly original. They had been around for well over a century. Though formally still Christians, members of the European and American elite were often Deists, from the Latin deus, or “God”. Deists were simply believers in God.
The first part of that book was, largely, a broadside against Christianity in general, and the second was “a book-by-book, chapter-and-verse attack on the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments”. Needless to say, this did not make him popular with large swaths of the population. Despite this, Thomas Jefferson urged him to come back to America, and in 1802 he returned.

Paine arrived in a much different America than he'd left fifteen years earlier. There was a great deal of conflict between Founding Fathers, with Adams in the Federalist camp, and Jefferson in the Republican ranks. Adams had defeated Jefferson to become the 2nd President (Jefferson served as Vice President, and became the 3rd President), and many topics had definite lines of divide between the two sides (Jefferson's Republicans supported the French revolution, while the Federalists supported the British monarchy as a counter-point to the chaos on the continent). When Jefferson became President, he often invited Paine to visit, and Paine became a handy weapon for the Federalists to wield in their attacks.

Paine's later years were spent between his house (provided by Washington) in New Rochelle, NY in the warmer months, and in various rooming houses in New York City in the winter. He descended into an extreme alcoholic state, not bathing or changing clothes for weeks at a time, and showing signs of clinical depression. Much of his despair was in the way the country was shifting from its revolutionary ideals, a discomfort shared with many of the Founders (Marrin comes up with some rather sobering quotes to this end). He died June 8, 1809, and ended up being buried on his upstate property (as his preferred resting place wouldn't have the author of The Age of Reason), with only five people (none notable) attending.

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty concludes with a look at how Paine's writings have inspired movements around the world in the past couple of centuries, from workers' rights movements in industrializing England, to American Socialists, and assorted freedom currents everywhere. His words are spoken by a wide array of politicians, from Eugene Debs to Ronald Reagan, and are always useful for whipping up a patriotic response. As noted up top, despite this being a “youth” book, it doesn't aim too low and is a font of very interesting material, both on Paine and the political situations he found himself in.

While I picked this up at the dollar store, it's a fairly recent release (2014) and is probably still kicking around in the retail channels. The on-line big boys have it (at this writing) at a substantial discount (58% off of the cover price), and, surprisingly, the new/used guys don't have it for cheap (you might save a buck or two). I quite enjoyed this, and learned a lot about the man and his times, and figure that anybody with an interest in liberty, history, or the American experiment will find a lot to recommend this to them as well.


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Books!

Bleeding on the cutting edge ...

Well, here's an interesting book that came to me via LibraryThing.com's “Early Reviewers” program. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting when I put in my request for Brian Patrick Eha's How Money Got Free: Bitcoin and the Fight for the Future of Finance (although I'm pretty sure that I wasn't expecting it to be 500 pages long – sheesh!), but I have some online friends who are big into Bitcoin, and I guess I was hoping to get up to speed on it. I also wasn't expecting this to be a narrative of a number of the major players in the Bitcoin world, their histories, their companies, and their struggles with technology, culture, and (of course) Government. If there's a unifying arc to the book, it's the story of Charlie Shrem (certainly among dozens of others), who went from a bright kid immersed in hacker (and darkweb) culture, to becoming a legit entrepreneur (and for a while spokesman for the industry), and then being brought down in legal complications, jail time, etc.

Interestingly (to me, at least), it was Shrem that first introduced me to Bitcoin … in a presentation that he and Anthony Gallippi gave at 2013 Techweek in Chicago, entitled Bitcoin for Beginners: The Currency of Change … when he was there in the role of Vice Chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation. I wish I'd taken action on it at that point (June 29, 2013) as in the intervening four years, the value of one Bitcoin has gone up more than 28x (from $95.08 then to $2,698.60 as I'm writing this). I have some vague idea that they were giving out Bitcoins to those in attendance that day, but at a hundred bucks a pop, I'm guessing I'm misremembering this (I certainly don't recall getting a “wallet” set up for it). Needless to say, 2013 was pretty much the apex of Shrem's career.

I need to confess a few things before we delve into the book … #1, I still don't have a real solid grasp on the whole “Bitcoin thing” – I have an online acquaintance who is pushing systems for “mining” Bitcoin (of some new variety), and I really don't have a mental model on how that fits in to the over-all Bitcoin environment (it was my understanding that the requirements of “mining” – once quite popular in China and other locales – had become so processor-intense that it cost so much to put together a system as to make it unproductive, but there they are) … #2, there is so much happening in this book, that I really feel lost and in need of a “scorecard” (“can't tell the players without a …”) … and #3 (no doubt due to my fiction/teaching-story aversion), I found it difficult sorting out concrete information here – resulting in my having exactly one of my little bookmarks sticking out of this very long volume. Of course, this last point also leaves me having to cherry-pick and paraphrase rather than blocking things out for you … and, given the noted “cast of dozens”, this also means that things might get a bit disjointed and less coherent than I'd like. Sorry about that!

Anyway … Bitcoin hasn't been around that long, but, in terms of tech stuff, it's been around for a considerable while. It was first announced, by its semi-mythic creator (whose true identity, I believe, has still not been discovered – although there are several players covered here who are suggested as likely), Satoshi Nakamoto, on November 1, 2008:

When a famous cryptographer … asked him to provide a detailed explanation of the Bitcoin protocol, complete with algorithms and details of the data structures involved, Satoshi said it would take less time to simply release the first version of the software. … He didn't just want to tell them it could work. He wanted to show them it would.
So, it's been less than a decade since Bitcoin's introduction, and it has been a relatively slow growing phenomena in most settings (there are niches where it's “hot”, but I doubt if one is outside of the tech or financial fields this has had a major presence on one's radar).

This provides a decent segue to a brief digression about the author. Brian Patrick Eha is a technology reporter for the industry magazine American Banker, a contributor to the New Yorker, and was a assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com … which sort of gives you a perspective of where he was coming from on this project … and, perhaps, a clue as to how much of the nitty-gritty of this went right over my head. Now, don't get me wrong, How Money Got Free is an engaging read, intermittently entertaining and informative, but it's more like a rambling fact-based novel (with a Dune-like cast of characters) than a straight-out presentation of the facts on the emergence of Bitcoin. And, this is the work of a journalist (he's got a masters from Columbia's J-school), so it also has that “I'm reading the longest newspaper feature story ever!” vibe going for it, but is coming from within the environment of the story, as the book's Acknowledgments starts off with:

This book would not have been possible without Roger Ver, Charlie Shrem, Nic Cary, Barry Silbert, and other Bitcoin pioneers giving generously of their time during intense and stressful periods of their lives. It's not often one has the chance to document an unfolding revolution from the point of view of its leaders, and for that I'll always be grateful.
I also have to admit that I have now made three attempts to do a detailed review of this, and have simply not been able (especially lacking any of my bookmarks) to make any headway. So, I'm going to try to give you the broad strokes here, perhaps with bits that might jump out at me as I flip around the book. One thing that stands out is that Bitcoin took a very long time to get out of the shadow of the notorious Silk Road darknet marketplace that was launched by Ross Ulbricht in 2011. Seventy percent of what was being sold on Silk Road were drugs of various types, along with other unsavory transactions (supposedly murder-for-hire schemes, etc.), making it an unsurprising target for law enforcement. Silk Road was shut down in 2013, and Silk Road 2 in 2014. It could be argued that Silk Road only existed due to the availability of the Bitcoin system, with its total anonymity matching the Tor routing structure it operated in. Because of the illegality of most (if not all) of the sales on Silk Road, it tainted almost everything in the Bitcoin sphere, as any start-up operating with Bitcoin that supported Silk Road transactions could be seen as part of a criminal conspiracy.

Eha states:

… Bitcoin could actually be a better form of money than any that had previously existed, because it satisfied more than anything else out there some of the cardinal requirements of money: scarcity, portability, and divisibility. Weightless, Bitcoin could be transferred more easily than cash or coins; unregulated, it could be moved anywhere in the world frictionlessly, while dollars, pounds, and euros were subject to banking fees and delays; with its fixed and transparent growth rate, it enjoyed artificial scarcity; divisible to eight decimal places, it could be broken into tiny pieces and used for micropayments.
He later quotes Roger Ver (another major player in the story), an anarcho-capitalist libertarian with no love for governments, saying:

Bitcoin totally strips away the State's control over money … It takes away the vast majority of its power to tax, regulate, or control the economy in any way.
This introduces another key sub-theme of the book … the “rebel” drive of many of the early advocates of Bitcoin who saw it as a way to free money from the control of governmental tentacles. Of course, this was a bit of a pipe dream, as soon governments on every level started to try to control Bitcoin … in fact the book describes how several very useful services folded (or stopped doing business in the U.S.) because they were suddenly faced with different regulations in every state, along with an array of fees and other controls (some as onerous as imposed on the traditional banking industry), requiring compliance across a mind-boggling array of new laws. On the flip side of this, the book (towards its end) sketches out how Wall Street became involved, and even how many governments have looked into blockchain (the key data structure of Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies) for establishing an official cashless future.

Frankly, one of the scarier aspects of Bitcoin and its relatives is that, like cash (but less trackable), it can simply disappear, and the book goes into case after case where somebody managed to hack into one of exchanges (like Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which in 2014 had $450,000,000.00 worth of Bitcoin go missing) and make off with vast sums. Several of these led to further investigations and accusations of assorted financial wrongdoing on the parts of those involved with various Bitcoin services. As I noted up top, I had some vague awareness of possibly having had some Bitcoin from back in 2013, but not having any record of a “wallet” – the on-line container for one's Bitcoin – it's like it never existed (which, of course, in this case is entirely possible), as opposed to, say, sticking a few hundred bucks in an envelope and then forgetting where you put it (where you could eventually find it, as it didn't cease to exist). Four hundred fifty million in cash would likely leave a transit trail, but in the case of Bitcoin, it's just gone. Needless to say, these sorts of security issues are things that will need to be addressed before blockchain-based “currencies” overtake their physical predecessors.

In any case, How Money Got Free is an interesting read. I'm humbled that I was unable to find a way to really convey the substance of it here, but it is a story featuring a constantly shifting web of characters, companies, and conflicts, and I could not find a way to do that without this review running into novella length itself.

As this just came out last month, you are likely to be able to find it in your local brick-and-mortar book stores that feature financial and or tech titles, and, of course, the online big boys have it (at this writing at a 39% discount). While I'm sure this is not “for everybody”, if you have an interest in tech, cryptography, finance, and/or libertarian concepts, I'm sure you'll find a lot of this extensive look at the story arc of Bitcoin quite fascinating.


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Books!

The road to Machu Picchu ...

You know, I don't have a clue how I managed to have not read this book 30 years or so back. My guess is that the Inca (in particular, and South America in general) never got much on my radar when in school, and it was only after graduation that I got interested. My first trip to Peru was back in the early '80s, and I guess that most folks heading down that way were likely to have picked up a copy of Hiram Bingham's Lost City of the Incas in preparation for their journey. Despite Machu Picchu being the centerpiece of the itinerary (what had lured me in to signing up for an “Incan Shamanism” trip, aside from the opportunity to train with prominent Quechuan shamans), I hadn't dug into the literature up front … and this would have been handy to have had while wandering around the site.

Down around Machu Picchu you can hardly miss Bingham's traces … most notably, the (somewhat terrifying) switchback road from the river valley up to the level of the ruins is named for him. He was an interesting figure, having grown up in Hawaii (his father was a missionary to the Kingdom in the mid-1800's), and gotten one of the first degrees in Latin American history, earning his PhD at Harvard, with some cooperation from the faculty at Yale. He spent some time at Princeton, but ended up back at Yale teaching. One of the surprising things (in context of his discoveries in South America) was that he wasn't an archaeologist, or even particularly interested in the field other than how it informed history. It seemed that much of his interest in these expeditions was simply “adventure”, as well as a chance to climb rarely-attempted mountains. He managed to get in as a delegate to the First Pan American Scientific Congress in 1908, and made some key contacts there that helped him organize the Yale Peruvian Expedition in 1911, on which he discovered the late-period Inca cities of Vitcos, and Vilcabamba, key to the post-conquest history of the escaping native rulers, prior to their destruction in 1572, as well as Machu Picchu.

The latter stands out as having never been found/despoiled by the Spanish, and so was in rather remarkable shape, despite centuries of neglect. This, and the “hidden” nature of the site, is what makes it as popular as it has been from the get-go, and when Bingham brought back the first images, he got the National Geographic Society on board to partner with Yale for three more seasons of work. National Geographic in April 1913 published a remarkable review of the ruins, including a 3-page fold-out panorama, which took the world by storm.

Bingham was a professor of both history and politics, and he eventually followed this other path, becoming Lieutenant-Governor of Connecticut in 1923, and being elected more-or-less simultaneously to both the Governorship (where he served one day) and a Senate seat (to serve out the term of a Senator who had died in office) in 1925, being re-elected for a full term in 1926. Oddly, Lost City of the Incas didn't come out until 1952, when Bingham was in his 70's, and was working on firming up his legacy. This from Hugh Thompson's introduction:

Bingham's account also needs to be appreciated within a literary as well as an archaeological context. Conan Doyle published The Lost World in the same year that Bingham excavated at Machu Picchu, and Lost City of the Incas was written with a clear sense of what the public expected from a work of adventure, right down to the similarity in titles.
The book is divided into three roughly equal Parts, “The Builders”, “The Search”, and “Machu Picchu”. I was disappointed to find that I had very few of my little bookmarks in here, and nearly all of them were pointing me to other references that I might want to check out, rather than “key bits” to drop in here. However, we might as well start off as Bingham does, with the introductory lines to the Preface:

Few people realize how much they owe to the ancient Peruvians. Very few appreciate that they gave us the white potato, many varieties of Indian corn, and such useful drugs as quinine and cocaine. Their civilization, which took thousands of years to develop, was marked by inventive genius, artistic ability, and a knowledge of agriculture which has never been surpassed. In the making of beautiful pottery and the weaving of fine textiles they equalled the best that Egypt or Greece could offer.
Frankly, I'm amazed that this came out in the 1952 book (much of the material here was drawn in part from previous publications going back 40 years), aside from the cocaine reference, some of the historical context is a bit off, according to on-going scholarship. The first section of the book is about the history of the Incas, and here too there are some anachronisms. While he cites dates for the first Inca as being c. 1200ce, and “the great Inca Pachacutec” being c. 1450ce, he does posit a much more ancient lineage (the “thousands of years” in the above), based in large part on the development of crops which were unlikely to have been wrested from their native predecessors in just a few centuries, but it could be seen to veer uncomfortably close to the timelines suggested elsewhere. The first chapter looks at the architecture, engineering, irrigation, agriculture, livestock, language, pottery, metalwork, fabrics, as well as some conjecture regarding culture and religion … giving a nice overview of those aspects of the Inca world. The second chapter attempts to make a historic assay of the development of the Incas, a very difficult thing to do accurately due to the lack of written materials (he presents an interesting theory of why they abandoned writing in favor of the knotted-cord records of the quipos … his spelling, usually quipus these days), and the defining brutality of the Spanish/Catholic destruction of conquered people's histories. More detailed is the third chapter of the first section, “The Story of the Last Four Incas”, which is able to draw on materials that did survive via journals kept by the conquistadors and their ecclesiastical accomplices. This starts with Pizarro's execution of Atahualpa, then his son Manco II, his sons Sayri Tupac, Titu Cusi (who left behind a considerable amount of letters and records), and Tupac Amaru … whose family was butchered in front of him before Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo had him decapitated and his head “placed on a pole in the great plaza at Cuzco”, thus ending the line of Incas in 1572.

The middle part of the book is more a telling of how the expedition came about, with a great deal of detail about people/places/events, from assembling his team, contacts made in various locations, materials researched in preparation, etc., and then descriptions of conditions on the trail, sites visited, procedures used, and (as seems to always be the case in travel diaries) bitching about the weather, bugs, and other inconveniences. This part is also in three chapters, one on the general project, and then one each for the pursuit of the lost cities of Vitcos and Vilcapampa. Again, there's a lot of detail here, from notes of connections made at a dinner at the Yale Club to the condition of bones excavated in assorted ruins (interspersed with descriptions of views, flora, geological formations, and locals encountered), in a running narrative that's hard to find anything pithy to extract for an example.

The last part of the book is about Machu Picchu. Frankly, the discovery of the site was about as close to being “by accident” as anything:

The morning of July 24th dawned in a cold drizzle. {The guide} shivered and seemed inclined to stay in his hut. I offered to pay him well if he would show me the ruins. He demurred and said it was too hard a climb for such a wet day. But when he found that I was willing to pay him a sol (a Peruvian silver dollar, 50 cents, gold), three or four times the ordinary daily wage in this vicinity, he finally agreed to go. When asked just where the ruins were, he pointed straight up to the top of the mountain. No one supposed that they would be particularly interesting. And no one cared go with me. … Anyhow it was my job to investigate all reports of ruins and try to find the Inca capital.
After describing the climb, they arrive at the top and are welcomed by a couple of locals who are living and farming up on the ridge (so much for actually “discovering” the site), who offer them cold water and baked sweet potato. Here again they almost don't press on along the ridge to the ruins, as:

… the view was simply enchanting. Tremendous green precipices fell away to the white rapids of the Urubamba below. Immediately in front, on the north side of the valley, was a great granite cliff rising 2,000 feet sheer. To the left was the solitary peak of Huayna Picchu, surrounded by seemingly inaccessible precipices. On all sides were rocky cliffs. Beyond them cloud-capped, snow-covered mountains rose thousands of feet above us.
His note about Huayna Picchu is quite apt, as I've passed on scaling the peak (and seeing the ruins at its top) when I've been there, given that the route up is a very narrow stairway hewn out of the living rock, with a slick wall of stone on one side and a 2-3 thousand foot drop on the other. They do continue, however, now being led by a local kid, eager to show the exotic visitors (Bingham stood 6'4" and many Peruvians are under 5' tall) the area sights:

Then the little boy urged us to climb up a steep hill over what seemed to be a flight of stone steps. Surprise followed surprise in bewildering succession. We came to a great stairway of large granite blocks. … Suddenly we found ourselves standing in front of the ruins of two of the finest and most interesting structures in ancient America. Made of beautiful white granite, the walls contained blocks of Cyclopean size, higher than a man. The sight held me spellbound.
There are a few chapters here that go into the clearing, exploring, and detailing of ruins, including a number of graphics of the lay-out of assorted parts of the site (and photographs – there are two inserts in the book with pictures from the original reports). There is also a chapter where Bingham tries to tie the site into his presupposition that this was “Vilcapampa the Old”, a capitol and/or home to the “Chosen Women of the Sun”, concepts that have been supplanted by the general theory that this was a “summer retreat” for the Incas, which only survived as well as it did due to its inaccessibility. I found the penultimate chapter “The Search for Inca Roads Leading to Machu Picchu” fascinating, as on my second visit to Machu Picchu we'd taken the “Inca Road” through the mountains to get there, and many of the minor sites he notes here are places that I'd been through or camped in on the way (including Runkuraqay where I nearly fell off the mountain looking for a place to relieve myself).

Now, needless to say, I probably was more enthusiastic about Lost City of the Incas, having a familiarity with much of what's described, than others might be, but it is a fascinating read, not only for the sheer adventure of Bingham's explorations, but also for the somewhat archaic setting of the age. Admittedly (as noted above), much of his vision of what these sites meant has been shown to be likely incorrect by later research, but the process of finding the ruins is a great tale.

The copy I have (yeah, I actually got this one “at retail”, or at least Amazon's discounted version thereof) is the “Centenary Edition”, which came out in 2011 (100 years after the discovery, and, obviously, not of the initial 1952 publication), and is still in print, so could well be found at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor. However, the on-line big boys presently have it at very nearly half off, and you could maybe save another buck or two going with the new/used guys. Anybody with an interest in archaeology, the Incas, history, or adventure would no doubt get quite a lot out of reading this, so it's pretty much an “all and sundry” recommendation from me.


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Books!

Nine ways to do it ...

Ah, yes, another dollar store find … it's a good thing that I'm as omnivorous in my (non-fiction) reading tastes as I am, as there's a lot of stuff that gets into my hands that way that I probably would not have gone out to get without it sitting there on the shelf for a buck. Certainly, Daniel Roberts' Fortune Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career is among those. Now, having been looking for “my next real job” for a soul-crushing eight years at this point, my career doesn't need supercharging as much as it needs CPR … but the promise of the sub-title was enough to get it into my shopping cart.

Unfortunately, there is nearly nothing in this that deals with the reader's career, except arguably in some “monkey-see-monkey-do” sense, as it consists primarily of mini-bios of thirty-three assorted hot shots' careers (up through the book's publication date of 2013). As regular readers of these reviews know, I have a long battle going with “marketing” subtitles, and this is one of those misdirection efforts. I would have known more what I was getting into if they'd had the descriptive copy (used elsewhere) “Exclusive Insights from Fortune's 40 Under 40” as the subtitle, as that would have told the reader exactly what they were going to be presented.

If there was any supercharging of one's career here it would be in implementing the nine chapter headings under which the various folks being covered were grouped. These are the sort of things that other career/business advice books are based on, but here only serve as thematic organization for the tales of the individual paths taken by these people. I guess it might be useful to lay these out before getting into the details:

            – Challenge Goliath
            – Get In Over Your Head
            – Start A Cult
            – Follow Your First Love
            – Find A Problem
            – Do One Thing Well
            – Stand By Your Company
            – Think Of Others
            – Bounce Back

Nothing earth-shaking on that list, right? So, the meat of the book is in the stories of the individuals profiled, but given there are 33 covered in about 200 pages, none of those looks are particularly in-depth, averaging about 6 pages each. Now, those profiles are not all the material that's in here, there's an interesting Foreword by Marc Andreessen, a section “In Their Own Words” with mini-interviews with the folks profiled (in case you wanted to know what their hobbies were), and a listing of all the 40-under-40 alumni for the years 2009-2012. Oh, there are also little “How to Zoom” sidebars sprinkled through this where action points like “Quick damage control is key to bouncing back.” (OK, with additional illustrative copy – but only a few dozen words) are presented … feel supercharged yet?

Unfortunately, I also don't have a bunch of my little bookmarks in here, which would have pointed me to “choice bits” to pass along to you. In fact, there's only one, and it's in the Andreessen piece up front:

      After all, building a business is hard. Crazy hard. Things always go horribly wrong. And most companies fail. Only a very few win big. In venture capital, for instance, just 10 to 15 companies funded a year are responsible for 97% of the returns. We glorify the ones that create new products and industries, but startups are really more like sausage factories. People love eating sausage, but no one wants to watch sausage get made. Even the most glorious startups suffer crisis after crisis after crisis. The individuals profiled here aren't afraid to share that side of their stories: the mistakes, the missteps, the madness.
Needless to say, aside from the themes detailed above, there's not much of an overall “story arc” here, just the individual examples.

The first theme here is “Challenge Goliath”, and the author defines that as “Taking on Goliath means entering an industry that already has one or two dominant market leaders.” There are three figures profiled here, Kevin Plank of Under Armor, Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and John Janick of Interscope Geffen A&M. Each of these went up against market leaders (Nike, Godiva, and the big three Universal, Warner, and Sony, respectively – although Janick's label is now part of Universal), and succeeded to various degrees. Obviously, Janick, who'd started his own label (Fueled by Ramen) when he was 17, ended up not conquering his Goliath, but job-hopping through the complex inner workings of the music biz to stake out a chunk of its territory. I wonder if Ms. Markoff's business ended up succeeding, as five years past the book's publication, I've never heard of any of her brands – although, admittedly, gourmet chocolates are not something that I interface with much, so it might be going gangbusters but just not getting onto my radar. Of these three, then, Kevin Plank's Under Armor is (to me) the most notable. However, it's somewhat hard to generalize his company's development to something applicable to businesses across the board. It started with his dislike of the undergarments that were typically used beneath the football uniform he wore at University of Maryland, and came up with an alternative that he then manufactured and talked up to other players, then other college teams, and eventually the pros … before branching out into many other sports products.

Next is “Get In Over Your Head”, where the introductory material notes: “Risk is scary and uncertain, but it's also where inspiration can come to you, and it's where, if your skill matches your ambition, you can succeed.” This looks at Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer, financial iconoclast Meredith Whitney, and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk … and of the three, I was certainly familiar with Musk and Mayer, but was only vaguely aware of Whitney. I don't know how people are expected to emulate this crew, as Mayer was “the youngest chief executive of a Fortune 500 company {at 37} and the first person ever to move into the top job with a baby on the way”, Musk was a multi-billionaire by his early 40's, and Whitney was the first to call out the dire state of the banks (specifically Citigroup) in 2007, accurately forecasting the financial meltdown (before going on to found her own research firm). Pretty much the only applicable (to us mere mortals) bits here come from Mayer's profile, where it talks of how she not only strives to surround herself with very smart people, but also works at developing those beneath her on the organizational chart.

The third one here is “Start A Cult” (and don't think I haven't considered that - heh!), this is framed thusly: “happier employees can mean more productive ones … it means establishing a strong culture and engaging work environment from day one.” This section looks at Zappos' Tony Hsieh, Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Method's (a “maker of eco-friendly cleaning products” that I don't think I'd ever heard of) Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry. Now, “Cult” here might be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek spin off of “culture”, although each of these organizations does seem somewhat idiosyncratic, with Google being famed for its “idyllic and stimulating environment” (as well as being very hard to get hired there), and Zappos is notable for their offer to pay would-be hires $2,000 to quit – just to make sure they really are interested in the job. Part of the process of getting a job at Method is giving a presentation on “How will you keep Method weird?” – weird being an attribute that I wish a whole lot more companies valued! They have an interesting list of “five core values”: Collaborate, Innovate, Care, What Would MacGyver Do?, and Keep Method Weird. Again, most of what's discussed here might be hard to scale to a smaller operation, but the general outlines are probably reasonably useful to consider (especially “weird”, my career prospects would be a lot better with more appreciation of weird out there).

The fourth theme is “Follow Your First Love”, which in this context is a lot less like stalking than it initially sounds, being set up as “turning … childhood passion into a full-time career”, and suggesting that you “Put your early passion first, and let work follow.” (however, I'm not sure how many pro baseball card collectors the market would support, or how could I make a living on building model airplanes). Profiled here are chef David Chang, Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios, and comedian Seth MacFarlane. Frankly, Chang's story is not much different than any number of other successful Chef/Restauranteurs, except perhaps for his going off to learn noodle making from some masters. Oddly his biggest claim to fame here seems to be having selecting a name for his places which (while being “an homage to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen”) is clearly provocative to English speaking audiences. Conversely, the story of Kevin Feige is that of one very lucky geek who went from being a comic book fan to being a production intern, to various postings on the way up the ladder to being studio head at Marvel. For the tens of thousands of superhero enthusiasts out there, only a handful will ever end up in the sort of a dream job like Feige did. MacFarlane's tale is more like Chang's, in that there are lots of routes into comedy. He went from doing student animation projects, to a gig at Hanna-Barbera, working “on Cartoon Network shows like Dexter's Laboratory, and eventually one of his side projects became the hit animated feature Family Guy. Again, not a whole lot stuff one could implement (aside, of course, from implementing the theme, if possible) in this.

Fifth on the list is “Find A Problem”, presented as “Some of the best business ideas aren't earth-shattering inventions but simply clever ways to fill a need in society … identify a gap and come up with just the right thing to fill it”. Needless to say, this is a whole lot easier said than done, and I suspect that the vast majority of failed companies were ones that had some solution that never caught on with the buying public … these are just some of the lucky ones. Covered in this are Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss of Rent the Runway; Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler of Kickstarter; and Brian Chesky of Airbnb. The first of these is a company that allows gals to rent designer dresses rather than buy them, and was seeded by Hyman visiting her sister who had just bought a $1,600 dress to attend a wedding … she had a whole closet full of similarly pricey gear, but “she had already been photographed in all of them and pictures from the wedding would go all over Facebook, and she couldn't stand to repeat an outfit” (yeah, I know: boo-hoo-hoo). The founders figured a way to make the business work (in their early 20's) and eventually got through the initial resistance from designers, and had a success on their hands. Of these three companies, I'm guessing that Kickstarter is the best known (I've been involved in a couple of these efforts over the years), but was surprised that it had started out by Chen trying to figure out how to sell event tickets to a show that might or might not happen, depending if enough tickets got sold to cover the costs. At the time the book came out only 35 projects had raised a million dollars, and 77% were for less than $10,000 … and, unlike some other platforms, one has to make one's target to get the money – meaning that there are lots that never get funded. Airbnb sort of came about by kismet (at least initially) when its founders “blew up three air mattresses and quickly set up a rudimentary website to list their apartment as a rental for visitors attending” a major conference in San Francisco. Again, it's great if it works … but not a real solid bet for most.

Next is one that gets my hackles up a bit (being a generalist/polymath), “Do One Thing Well”, the recommendation for which is: “To focus your energy and your identity, do one thing and do it well”. Featured are Jess Lee of Polyvore, Kevin Systrom of Instagram, and Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter. I'd never even heard of the first of these, Polyvore (and just pulled up the site to see if it still existed) … it's described as a “website that allowed users to create sharable collages of clothing and interior designs”, and had been Ms. Lee's favorite way of spending time after her days as a Google Product manager. She'd communicated with the founders (who had been at Yahoo) with suggestions on how to improve the site, which they implemented, and one thing led to another and she was brought on board, and eventually made CEO. Nice work if you can get it. Kevin Systrom was another Google alum, and his initial project was a Foursquare-like location platform … because of the lead of the other company, his team opted to strip their product down to just the photo sharing (with filters, etc.) and go with that. As most people know, the resulting company, Instagram, was bought up by Facebook for a billion dollars (again, nice work if you can get it). Twitter, of course, is an interesting tale … Williams, Dorsey, and Stone were working on various other projects (Williams had developed Blogger, later acquired by Google), but Jack Dorsey came up with the idea of a messaging service, which was at first being used internally at Odeo (where they all worked), before being publicly launched. TechCrunch featured a story on the company, highlighting Twitter, however, the company's investors were less than enthused. Williams ended up buying out the investors, and re-focused on Twitter … which exploded as the hot introduction at 2007's South by Southwest conference.

Seventh on the list is “Stand By Your Company” (cue Tammy Wynette?), which considers the opposite of the typical 18-month bounce of so many Millennials: folks who stay with their company for the long haul. This chapter looks at Dolf van den Brink of Heineken, Rob Goldstein of BlackRock Solutions, and Aditya Mittal of ArcelorMittal. Aside from Heineken, this gets somewhat obscure … and none of these tales are particularly applicable, except in a “stay put, move up” sense of the theme … van den Brink went with the beer company (after finding that banks were not overly pleased with his second degree in philosophy) right out of college, and bounced around the globe, from St. Maarten in the Caribbean, back to the Netherlands, to the Congo, to being the head of Heineken's U.S. Operations. Goldstein also went to his company right out of college, ending up at BlackRock (which was at the time not the “money-managing behemoth it is today” … with $2.4 trillion in business), largely due to his school, SUNY Binghampton, not being a prime target for recruiting. He was a “numbers geek” in the right place and time, and moved on up over time. You may have noted the similarity of the third person profiled here with his company … as it's his father's (largest in the world) steel company. While Aditya Mittal didn't join the company right out of college (he'd done M&A work at Credit Suisse first), by age 28 he was CFO at the massive (built from a whole string of, well, mergers and acquisitions, which he was spearheading) steel manufacturer.

The penultimate section, “Think Of Others”, which gets set up with the comment “if you're truly doing good, you're not launching a charity or philanthropic division just for the PR benefit; you've baked it into the core of your business”, and features some pretty high-profile do-gooders: Scott Harrison of charity:water, Ben Rattray of change.org, and Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes (whose book I reviewed a number of years ago). The stories of these guys are interesting … Harrison was deep into the underground music scene and event promotion in NewYork, and was off on a debauch of a vacation trip to Uruguay when he had a “conversion experience” of sorts and decided to make a change in his life, with him ending up being ship photographer with an organization called Mercy Ships (which were sort of floating clinics). He did that for a couple of years before returning to New York, and eventually founding charity:water. Rattray had been a “Gordon Gekko in training” growing up, and landed as a political consultant in D.C. … he was headed to law school when he encountered Facbook, and “envisioned a way to mobilize people easily and cheaply” … he started pitching the first iteration of change.org to non-profits, and amazingly, “seventy-five of the first 90 organizations he approached signed on". TOMS (which was shortened from “Tomorrow's”) is famous for its policy of donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair they sell. Mycoskie had been a competitor on The Amazing Race TV show, and had encountered a particular soft canvas shoe in Argentina, the alpargatas, and adapted the design for the U.S. market.

The last themed chapter is “Bounce Back”, which looks at electronics pioneer Hosain Rahman, hedge fund whiz Boaz Weinstein, and, oddly, LeBron James, all of whom “rose quickly, took a spectacular fall, and handled it with grace and skill”. Rahman was one of the designers of the UP band by Jawbone (a “wearable technology” company), which shipped in time for Black Friday in 2011, selling out right away … unfortunately, a large number of the units quickly died in use. Realizing that it was going to take a very long time to figure out definitively what had gone wrong with the device, he took the rather dramatic (expensive) step of offering a full refund to all users. Remarkably almost all of the company's investors supported him and “customer messages went from vitriolic to gushing”, putting a halt to the potential disastrous PR situation. They eventually did find out the problem, fixed it, did extreme additional stress-testing on the new units, and had these ready to go by the 2012 holiday season. The financial melt-down of 2008 was Boaz Weinstein's fall, having “lost billions of dollars at Deutsche Bank”, and much of the profile here deals with his arc to being in that job, and some fairly technical financial stuff about the things he developed after the crash … which is how he “came back”. As for LeBron, his stumble was the ill-conceived “Decision” presentation when he abandoned Cleveland for Miami (and a championship), and the profile deals with his career up to that point and his eventual rehabilitation (the book came out before his return to Cleveland and successes there).

The rest of Fortune Zoom is a section of quotes by the profilees, a “where are they now” section, and a listing of all the folks who'd appeared on the “40 under 40” list up to the book's publication. As I noted, there is very little material here that would “supercharge your career”, so is guilty of that “subtitle bait-and-switch”, but the book is quite interesting reading if you're open to getting examples of the various “themes” involved.

This is apparently still in print, with the on-line big boys presently having it at a whopping 76% off of cover price. Oddly, given that it's floated into the dollar store channel, the new/used guys don't have this at a price point that would make getting it from them (with the $3.99 shipping) much better than ordering it. Again, this hardly is what it promised to be, but is a worthwhile read nonetheless … you might like it. I'm just glad I got my copy for a buck.


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Books!

Toil and trouble ...

This was another dollar store find, so was picked up without a lot of context or expectation. However, Robert D. Kaplan's Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific is an impressive volume, with its author being on Foreign Policy magazine's “Top 100 Global Thinkers” list, and the book itself being named “one of the best books of the year” (2014) by the Financial Times. Needless to say, a book so highly thought of, and of sufficiently recent vintage, is also a shining example of how that dollar store channel works … as it had no doubt been sitting on a Walmart shelf a few weeks before I found it, but had gone past its “rotate out” date there. A sure win for me!

Again, I had no idea (well, except for the general concept that is suggested by the book's title/subtitle) what I was getting into when I decided that this would be a good add to my active reading mix. I wish I had more of my little bookmarks in here to string together some pithy quotes to give you a sense of the book, but the few I have in there aren't “speaking to me” at the moment (probably things that were significant in context), and I can't even fall back on a chapter listing here, as while most deal with a single country bordering the South China Sea, they're more “evocatively” named, and not really descriptive. Sooo … I guess I'm going to be walking you through a more general description of this on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

Of course, a book dealing with the South China Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and geopolitics means there's a lot of focus on naval issues, and that's sort of the unifying thread here … how China (am I giving away too much?) is presently the “800lb gorilla” in the area, and will eventually be fielding a bigger navy than the U.S. – and one that will only be interested in controlling its neighboring waters, and not the whole globe's like the U.S. (and Britain before it). Now, as much as I regret the fact, I realize that most folks out there (not the ones who read these reviews, certainly) are pretty geographically illiterate (I once worked with a person who could not understand why we had two files for Virginia, Carolina, and Dakota … and why we didn't have separate files for the “old” states), and might have a challenge picking out the South China Sea on a globe (despite it having as much a mystery about it as when the Fourth of July appears on the calendar), so I was very happy to find that there was an online version of this fascinating map, which I was constantly referring back to while going through the book (and, frankly, this version is a bit more useful, having the assorted different claim lines in color). Another useful map in the book is one that covers more of Asia in general, and here's similar map which puts the area in wider context.

The book starts out (in the Prologue) with the author visiting museums in Vietnam, and considering the remnants of the Champa culture which had been to Vietnam what the Khmer culture was to Cambodia. This serves to set up one of the variables in the region … the Cham had been in place for nearly two thousand years, and were in conflict with China for much of that time … while several of the other players in the region were largely cobbled together from the detritus of European colonial entities. The main text (in Ch.1 - “The Humanist Dilemma”, which mainly sets up the geopolitical setting for the rest of the book) starts out with a great quote:

Europe is a landscape; East Asia is a seascape. Therein lies a crucial difference between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
While Kaplan notes that “the South China Sea is so important … that it is on the way to becoming the most contested body of water in the world” he also points out that “… the whole of East Asia simply offers little for humanists. For there is no philosophical enemy to confront. The fact is that East Asia is all about trade and business.” and “There are no philosophical questions to ponder in this new and somewhat sterile landscape of the twenty-first century. It is all about power; the balance of power mainly.” To put China in context he offers:

The Chinese regime demonstrates a low-calorie version of authoritarianism, with a capitalist economy and little governing ideology to speak of. Moreover, China is likely to become more open rather than closed as a society in future years. China's leaders are competent engineers and regional governors, dedicated to an improving and balanced economy, who abide by mandatory retirement ages. {which he contrasts to the “decadent, calcified leaders of the Arab world”}
Kaplan sets up an interesting historical parallel between China's intents in the region and the U.S.'s own road to global influence:

China's position vis-à-vis the South China Sea is akin to America's position vis-à-vis the Caribbean Sea in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The United States recognized the presence and claims of European powers in the Caribbean, but sought to dominate the region, nevertheless. … Moreover, it was domination of the Greater Caribbean Basin that gave the United States effective control of the Western Hemisphere, which, in turn, allowed it to affect the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere.
In the chapter specifically dealing with the implications of these similarities, the author presents fairly detailed looks at the Chinese military, with obvious focus on naval operations, and compares that with what the U.S. can extend into the region, and points out that China only spends around 2% of their GDP on defense, while we spend nearly 5% of ours on the military, clearly suggesting that “China is in better shape to keep increasing its military budgets”.

The first country that the book looks at is Vietnam. Again, I had no idea that there was such a long tradition of an independent state there, and it's pointed out that despite the war (and the sorry demographic details of same are sketched out here), the Vietnamese didn't have the psychic scars over it that we do, quoting a journalist's report that “schoolchildren studied it {the war} as only a brief page in their country's 2,500-year history”. Where America has been marginal to the Vietnamese past, China has been a constant … having invaded the country seventeen times, regarding which a Vietnamese diplomat is quoted as comparing how China is viewed in Vietnam to the U.S.'s relationships with Canada and Mexico … “think of how touchy {they} are about America, now imagine if America had repeatedly sent troops {across the border}”. The author goes into an overview of cultural, political, and economic realities in Vietnam, and the comes up with a great line (especially combined with the surprising move to open old U.S. Naval bases to the U.S. Navy again): “Nothing better illustrates the Vietnamese desire to be a major player in the region than their purchase of six state-of-the-art Kilo-class submarines from Russia.” despite having the ability to train crews and maintain these weapons being “a generational undertaking”.

The next country considered is Malaysia, starting with Kuala Lumpur, which, despite the majority Muslim population, offers malls that “raise consumerism to the status of an ideology”. The country is quite mixed, with about 60% being Muslim, 23% Chinese, and 9% Tamils from southeastern India. The political and economic growth of both China and India is welcomed by those demographics, which, in turn, appears to be pushing the Muslim population towards identifying with Islamic globalism. Kaplan posits a “diffuse, unfocused sense of national identity” in Malaysia, which he notes “was not united even under the British”. Among the historical background presented, there is a fairly detailed look at Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, and who the author credits with being the driving force behind the “economic and technological dynamism” of modern Malaysia. However:

Mahathir's rise in politics is ascribed to his ability to capture Malay resentment toward the other, more advantaged ethnic groups. Unlike the Chinese and the Indians, who had vast homelands to which to return, the Malays had nowhere else to go, and yet {they} felt dispossessed in their own land …
And, the author, discussing the work of another writer, notes that with Mahathir “the sharp dichotomy between 'democracy' and 'authoritarianism' does not seem to apply”, where his regime became at once “more repressive and more responsive” to people's needs, solving problems even as it clamped down on dissent. His model is much studied in the Middle East, as a way of creating a modern thriving country while still being heavily Islamic. However, because of the cultural/racial issues, Malaysia is a solid U.S. ally against China, and gets visits from our navy as often as fifty times a year (up from six in 2003).

At several points in the Malaysia chapter it's mentioned that their military is frequently trying to keep up with Singapore … which seems odd, given the relative sizes of the two. Here's a description from the start of the chapter on Singapore, that I think sort of give the “broad strokes” of the nature of the place:

Pragmatism carried to the furthest degree may not inspire the Western humanist mind, but it has been the only way for Singapore to survive as a physical speck of a city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula … Singapore occupies a natural, deep-water port at the narrowest point of the funnel that is the Strait of Malacca – the most important maritime choke point in the world … It was thrown out of a Malay-dominated federation in the 1960's because Singapore's leaders insisted on a multiethnic meritocracy.
Singapore, in some ways modeling on Israel, depends on a formidable military. With only 3.3 million citizens, it has an air force the same size as Australia's, plus an impressive naval presence. Obviously, they aren't interested in sliding backwards to the way things were: “in three decades, Singapore has gone from a malarial hellhole of overpowering smells and polluted, life-threatening monsoon drains to a global economic dynamo”. This chapter is entitled “The Good Autocrat”, and the person in that role is introduced here:

In the early 1960s, Singapore was as poor as many countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by the 1990s, this city-state, one fifth the size of Rhode Island, had a standard of living higher than Australia's. Credit for the miracle went to one man: an English-educated ethnic Chinese barrister, Harry Lee {who later changed his name back to the non-Anglicized Lee Kuan Yew}
Lee tempered the Japanese fascist penchant for order with the lawful rule of the British to achieve a developmental miracle on this small island that comprises 214 square miles at low tide.
Kaplan highly recommends Lee's memoirs, The Singapore Story, which is something that I'll need to check out. He obviously is a fan, and notes that he's constantly asked “influential figures in the Arab and ex-communist worlds”, as well as a who's who of heads of state, what person they felt was greatest second-tier (not a Churchill or Roosevelt) leader, and Lee's name came up again and again, with many, frankly, holding him in awe (Lady Thatcher had read all of his speeches).

In looking at the changes that Lee brought to Singapore, Kaplan pulls in a lot of threads, from geopolitics to Machiavelli, to quotes from John Stewart Mill on Marcus Aurelius. While the specifics of the laws of the land there seem bizarre out of context (being arrested for chewing gum), they're part of a matrix, some elements of which we'd be well to emulate: “Corruption would not be a problem as in other Third World countries. Lee would attack it by simplifying procedures, establishing clear and precise guidelines in business, and making living beyond one's means corroborative evidence in court for taking bribes.” … when one thinks of all the bureaucrats in D.C. who have, on low six-figure salaries, amassed tens of millions of dollars in inexplicable wealth, this sounds like a good plan for “draining the swamp”! Perhaps more than anywhere else in here, the philosophical questions are addressed, with the South Asian autocrats like Lee being compared with regimes elsewhere, especially in the Arab world (the likes of Assad, etc.), but also looking at how the geography of a place like Singapore lends itself to “control”, as opposed to a sprawling entity like China.

The next place dealt with is the Philippines, in a chapter titled “America's Colonial Burden”. I found the following quite telling about the underlying issues:

… the Philippines are not only burdened with hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism, which, with its heavy, pre-Reformation Roman Catholic overtones, brought less dynamism than the British, Dutch, and Japanese varieties experienced elsewhere in the First Island Chain, but they are doubly burdened by the imprint of Mexican colonizers, who represented even a lower standard of modern institutional consciousness than those of Spain.
Kaplan follows this with a rendition of the gleaming, soaring, and “buzzing” capitals of the other countries discussed up to this point in the book, and saying that “the cityscape of … Manila is, by comparison, one of aesthetic and material devastation”, as well as being “somnolent and purposeless”, and quotes an economist as saying that “this is still a bad Latin American economy”, and cites a number of things (down to the details like how private security guard uniforms look) which remind him of Mexico. Of course, the U.S. has been in the Philippines since 1898, and won control of it in the Spanish American War. Many leading lights of the American military over the past century got their skills there, from the obvious of Douglas MacArthur, to the surprising (to me) of Dwight Eisenhower … and its location is extremely important for maintaining American influence in the area.

And yet, despite a century's worth of vast annual outlays of American aid, the Philippines has remained among the most corrupt, dysfunctional, intractable, and poverty-stricken societies in maritime Asia, with Africa-like slums and Latin America-style fatalism and class divides.
Of course, the name Ferdinand Marcos comes up immediately when looking at the condition of his country … the author says that Marcos “manifestly represents the inverse of Lee Kuan Yew”, and (in comparison with the other leaders discussed who “left behind functioning states with largely clean institutions”) “left behind bribery, cronyism, and ruin”. The comparisons of what went right elsewhere and what went wrong here are delved into quite a bit in this chapter, plus a bit more about the military (given the U.S.'s large presence) and territorial conflicts in the region (see the map referenced up top).

The penultimate chapter is tantalizingly named “Asia's Berlin”, and deals with Taiwan. What's probably most fascinating in this is the fight for every tiny bit of coral sticking up out of the ocean (which come with oil and gas reserves on the sea floor), and territorial claims that go back thousands of years. Kaplan writes of a visit to the tiny Pratas island, on which Taiwan maintains a runway, a tour of which took under an hour … leading to his comment that land claims such as this are largely “nationalistic posturing”. Of course, in the case of Taiwan vis-à-vis the PRC, this is no small matter … the author describes Taiwan as “that stubborn, inconvenient fact disturbing the peace of Asia” … with both countries' governments claiming to be the legitimate government of all of China, and both (to differing ends) being steeped in many centuries of common history. The figure of Chiang Kai-shek is looked into in detail, of course, with assorted historians' views of the man, and notes on the wartime realities that led to the formation of Taiwan. A bit of military theorizing is thrown out there, with questions on how Taiwan could or couldn't be taken by China … with some Taiwanese officials insisting that the narrow (yet 5x the width of the English Channel) Taiwan Strait would serve as a very effective barrier, both to “Finlandization” (in that there's no land border) and outright invasion (the example of island battles like Iwo Jima is raised). There's also a thought put forward that these days the leading cities in China look more like Taipei than communism, and there's a sense that the longer they can maintain the status quo, the less likely things will get to a war setting.

The final chapter takes a look at China itself, with the complexities involved in running such a large and populous (and diverse despite the “central control”) country. The sense here is that they've given up the economic concept of communism, but not the control aspects, and the author describes meetings with various entities in assorted levels of government, some of which he has enthusiasm for, some less so. I found one bit here amusing: “Though China ratified the Law of the Sea treaty in 1996, it does not really adhere to it; whereas the United States adheres to it, but hasn't ratified it.”, such, I suppose, is international politics. This, of course, is a key issue in the South China Sea (again, note that map), with claims from all parties being all over the place. There's more “philosophy” gone into here, some military projections, and a look at some reasonably recent negotiations … generally, much of this sums up other elements presented earlier in the book.

Asia's Cauldron closes with an Epilogue looking at Borneo … where Kaplan pulls together many of the threads of the book. There's not much of a “conclusion”, however “because different futures are possible, all that I have written is a mere period piece: I have focused on the central drama of the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, that of China's military rise in the area where the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean intersect”.

Despite my finding it at the dollar store this is certainly still available, in hardcover, paperback, ebook, audio format, etc., with the online big boys offering both the print versions at nearly 60% off. Oddly, even with the dollar store channel being in play, the new/used guys don't have this for particularly cheap, with prices (combined with shipping) not being much less than the discount price. Given the accolades this has had, it should likely still be easy enough to find at the brick-and-mortar vendors as well.

Will you like this? Hard to say … it's one of those that if you're into particular genres, you'll love it, but if you're not, it is likely to be less attractive. It hit a lot of my interests, so I quite enjoyed it.


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Books!

Let the images in ...

Here's another title that found its way to me via the “Early Reviewer” program over at LibraryThing.com … and it is one of the rarer books (as regular readers will know from my frequent bitching) from LTER in that it did not disappoint at all … which is good because I ended up requesting it four months in a row (I guess the publisher kept making it available), before “winning” it. That said, Damion Searls' The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing is a bit of an odd mix of genres, as it's both a biography of Rorschach and a survey of the history of the inkblots within the larger psychology/psychiatry context, plus a look at their legacy in popular culture.

On this latter point, I'm guessing that nearly everybody has some familiarity with – if only by name – the “Rorschach test”, as the phrase has filtered into the language as generally denoting something open to individual interpretation. Of course, there may be some who only know “Rorschach” as a character from the “Watchmen” comics and movie, whose mask is a constantly shifting pattern that recalls the symmetric figures on the test cards.

The test itself has an interesting historical arc … while still being used (with a fairly recent system for interpretation of responses which seems to greatly improve analytic value), it has largely fallen out of favor based on over-extension and applications that were ill-suited for its dynamics. The core set of 10 9x6” cards are key to the effective use of the test, and there have been alternate sets put out by other therapists which have not proved as useful as the originals developed by Rorschach. As well known as the test bearing his name has been, Hermann Rorschach himself is far less known, certainly in comparison to the likes of Freud and Jung … something quite likely due to his untimely death at age 37 in 1922. Additionally, the shift from intensively working with a highly-trained therapist (the Freudian model, for instance) and into the realms of psychopharmacology (where a psychiatrist might see a patient for 5-10 minutes to check on how their meds are working) made the classic Rorschach Test expensive, as it's designed to involve a therapist interacting in real time with a patient in a fairly open-ended session with the cards.

I feel like I need to apologize in advance if this review is a bit rambling … while I quite enjoyed the book, and have maybe a dozen of my little bookmarks in it, I'm finding that most are highlighting “I did not know that!” factoids rather that particularly to-the-point blocks of exposition that lend themselves to quoting here … so I think this is going to be long on the paraphrasing short on definitive block quotes.

A prime example of this is at the very start of the text, where a story is presented of a candidate for a somewhat sensitive position, who is being given a battery of assorted psychological tests, including the MMPI and TAT, which had come back reasonably normal, and the Rorschach test was the next one up. In the following I'll be pulling out the personal references and the “context” (the specific job) and trying to let this stand as a description of the nature of the test:

{the therapist} asked {the subject} to move from the desk to a low chair near the couch in her office. She pulled her chair in front of his, took out a yellow legal pad and a thick folder, and handed him, one by one, a series of ten cardboard cards from the folder, each with a symmetrical blot on it. As she handed him each card, she said: “What might this be?” or “What do you see?”.
      Five of the cards were in black and white, two also had red shapes, and three were multicolored. Here
{the subject} was asked not to tell a story, not to say what he felt, but simply to state what he saw. No time limit, no instructions about how many responses he should give. {The therapist} stayed out of the picture as much as possible, letting {the subject} reveal not just what he saw in the inkblots but how he approached the task. …

     
{the subject's} answers were shocking {deeply inappropriate responses in relation to the position he was being considered for}. … She systematically assigned {the subject's} responses the various codes of the standard method and categorized his answers as typical or unusual using the long lists in the manual. She then calculated the formulas that would turn all those scores into psychological judgment: dominant personality style, Egocentricity Index, Flexibility of Thinking, the Suicide Constellation. As {the therapist} expected, her calculations showed {the subject's} scores to as extreme as his answers.
      If nothing else, the Rorschach had prompted
{the subject} to show a side of himself he didn't otherwise let show. He was perfectly aware that he was undergoing an evaluation, for a job he wanted. He knew how he wanted to come across in interviews and what kind of harmless answers to give on other tests. On the Rorschach, his persona broke down. Even more revealing than the specific things he had seen in the inkblots was the fact that he had felt free to say them.
      This is why
{the therapist} used the Rorschach. It's a strange and open-ended task, where it is not at all clear what the inkblots are supposed to be or how you're expected to respond to them. Crucially, it's a visual task, so it gets around your defenses and conscious strategies of self-presentation. ...
Obviously, the test is not an inexpensive option – as it requires full involvement from the therapist for as long as it takes to get through the cards (often in multiple passes) plus the assessment process – which is likely why it has fallen out of favor, despite (as later noted):

When somebody is faking health or sickness, or intentionally or unintentionally suppressing other sides of their personality, the Rorschach might be the only assessment to raise a red flag.
As famous and familiar as the cards are, the author opted to only reproduce two of the ten images in the book. There is still a belief that knowing the images before taking the test weakens the response. Needless to say, there's a spectrum of usages, from the “classic” mode as described in the above to the “Group Rorschach Technique” (which was developed for the OSS in WW2) where auditoriums of hundreds were shown slides of the inkblots and asked to put in their closest take on them on a 10-item multiple-choice list for each, to versions (a further simplification of this) you can find on the internet. Searls does note that his reserve in putting out the images is something of a moot point, as the inkblot pictures can easily be found on the web, and you can get a set of the cards (if non-standard in size, thickness, and background color) on-line.

Hermann Rorschach was from Zurich, Switzerland, his father was a very talented artist (some of his sketch work is shown in the book), and art was a constant feature in his early upbringing. As one might get from the second part of the subtitle, “The Power of Seeing”, the visual sense was quite important to Rorschach, and there are significant parts of the book which deal with these modes of perception. While he did not come up with the inkblot method, it was something he was very interested in from an early age. There was a thing called Klecksography which had become popular in some art circles which was based on the method of dripping ink on a page and then folding it over to create a mirrored image. The young Rorschach evidently was enthusiastic enough about this process that his school nickname was “Klex”. Oddly, he was not the first to suggest the use of these images in psychology, but the first to substantially attempt to systematize the approach.

As this is primarily a biography of Hermann Rorschach, there's quite a lot of detail of the who/what/where of his life, from things about his family to friends he had at various points in time (like some of the Russians he hung out with in Dijon, France, one of whom he eventually wrote to Leo Tolstoy – who had been a mentor to his friend – to re-connect with some years after losing touch). Russia is a significant influence in his life … he was much enamored with (pre-Revolution) Russia, and ended up marrying a Russian lady, Olga Stempelin, and for a while lived there … the book notes that the Futurists, among other cultural groups in Russia, “showed him how closely psychological explorations could be tied to art”. There's a thread here which was a constant challenge to the Rorschachs, his getting appropriate approval/licensing to practice in a full role at various postings (this had been an issue in Russia), and most of these seemed to be less-than-ideal situations that were “settled on”. It's also remarkable that his inkblot test got as widely known as it did, as his book, Psychodiagnostics only came out a few months prior to his death, and was “not only preliminary but already a year out of date” (Rorschach having advanced some of the systems – anticipating some recent revisions – in the year or so since the book had started in the publishing process). In the late days of March, 1922, Rorschach was ill with severe stomach pains; Olga was of the opinion that it was simply a return of nicotine poisoning (Rorschach smoked constantly), and told everybody that “it was nothing”, and Rorschach was avoiding the medical staff. On April 1, he died “of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix”. The material on his life takes things up to about half-way into the book. The rest is a fairly convoluted tale of how his test spread around the world.

Obviously, without Rorschach around to steer his test's development and implementation, it almost immediately got assorted “flavors”, as different psychologists/psychiatrists began using it in according to their own views. One interesting thing was that a number tried to develop alternate sets of cards, but found Rorschach's ten inkblots far more predictive … evidently, the work that he put into finding key images was significant in sorting down to a usable test. As noted in the large block quote up top, there is a vast lot of data that has been amassed on the results of tests, and this has led to a handful of approaches that have sought to systematize the analysis of the subject responses. Notable of these is Dr. John E. Exner, whose scoring system (based partially on earlier work done by Bruno Klopfer – whose 1942 manual had been “taken up as the Bible of psychological testers” in the war years and beyond - and S. J. Beck) was published in 1969. However, due to issues with his estate, this was unable to be changed (much like, I suppose, Rorschach's 10 inkblots), and a new system, the Rorschach performance assessment system (R-PAS), was developed.

The Rorschach test is used at different levels in different countries, and there is notable variation how people from assorted cultures react to the images. In 1997 the R-PAS was normatized across an international data set, making it more diagnostically useful in this later manifestation, despite being less utilized than it had been from the 40's through the 80's (what the author describes as “the free-for-all of midcentury uses and abuses of the inkblots”). There's also some interesting data presented on how much it is applied in different countries, and in various contexts. Again, there's a lot of historical info here, from the use of the test for military/industrial manpower screening to one researcher from the Rorschach Institute (Douglas Kelly, who'd co-authored Klopfer's manual) that served as the “prison psychiatrist” for the Nuremberg Trials, having full access to the prisoners (along with “morale officer” Gustave Gilbert who assisted in the tests). This has some fascinating bits (especially for those interested in military history) looking at the analysis that Kelly and Gilbert provided about the Nazi leaders, especially focused on Hermann Göring.

Obviously, the book primarily looks at Rorschach's life and ideas, and how the inkblot test developed over time, but there is quite a bit of material (as noted up top) in the “I did not know that!” zone. Rather than leaving that as a tease, I figured I'd close out with one of these ...

      It is pretty shocking to realize that empathy is barely a hundred years old, about the same age as X-rays and lie-detector tests. Talk of an “empathy gene” feels exciting because of the friction between timeless aspects of the human condition and cutting-edge science, but in fact, “empathy” is the newfangled part of the term: genes were discovered first. What the word empathy described was not new, of course, and the ideas of “sympathy” and “sensibility” had long and closely related histories, but “empathy” recast the relationship between self and world in a new way. It also comes as a surprise that the term was invented, not to talk about altruism of acts of kindness, but to explain how we can enjoy a sonata or a sunset. ...
Much of this sort of thing is within context of other research than Rorschach's (although there's a good bit of his own synesthetic perceptions offered up), but it provided a lot of places for me to pop in my little bookmarks, if on passages that wouldn't be exactly to the point in this review.

Anyway, The Inkblots just came out in February, so you have a pretty good shot of getting a copy at the better-stocked brick-and-mortar book vendors. The on-line big boys, however, at this writing are offering the hardcover for nearly half-off, making it quite reasonable. The new/used guys do have copies, but not at any super deals.

I really liked this book, as it combined a lot of things that I have interest in. As noted, it's a bit of a mixed bag, with half being a biography of the man and the other half sort of being a biography of the test, both of which come with a rich mix of related materials fascinating in their own right. Needless to say, you'd need to have at least a general interest in psychology to really be enthused by this, but it might be touching enough bases that it would hold the interest of “all and sundry”.


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Books!

A special relationship with what?

This was a book I got via the LibraryThing.com's “Early Reviewer” program … which is almost always a bit of a “pig in a poke” situation in that one puts in requests for books based on a paragraph or so of copy from the publisher, and pretty much have to go with “sounds good” or not. Frankly, I had anticipated a more “general” or “global” look at the subject. However, Rabbi Donniel Hartman's Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself stays fairly tightly bound to a Jewish context, making it far more parochial than I expected (and/or hoped). Once again, I suspect that what “faked me out” was a subtitle foisted on the book by the marketing department, a complaint that regular readers of this space are all too familiar with my airing when the book I wanted to read was what the subtitle promised.

This starts out well enough, early in the introduction (“Religion's Autoimmune Disease”, which takes up 10% of the pagecount) Hartman namechecks (if in a context of arguments that are unlikely “to move the person of faith”) Dawkins' The God Delusion and Hitchens' God Is Not Great (which also appear as 2 of the 16 listed reference works he cites), and comes up with some pretty solid salvos at religion, such as:

… As these religions entered the world stage, alongside their charge to love God and love humanity, they began to wage war with those who preceded or followed them. Wherever monotheism developed, it was accompanied by the belief that the one God could be truly represented or correctly understood by only one faith community. Love of God, or more accurately being loved by God, was perceived to be a zero-sum game – the more one was loved, the less another could be.
      And so, together with the love of neighbor came the hatred of the other. Together with kindness to those in need came the murder of those who disagreed. Monotheism became a mixed blessing and a double-edged sword.
I have to admit that three of the key concepts that the author posits in the book sort of flew by me … while they're defined in the text, they just didn't have enough connection (to my mind) to really serve as useful models. The first of these is that “autoimmune disease” from the introduction's title. While he specifically addresses this a paragraph or two on (in terms of individual believers), I think the following is better at summing up this idea:

The central argument of this book is that religion's (and religions') spotty moral track record cannot be written off to either a core corruption in human nature or an inherently corrupt scripture. Rather it is my contention that a life of faith, while obligating moral sensitivity, also very often activates a critical flaw that supports and encourages immoral impulses. These impulses, given free rein to flourish under the cloak of religious piety, undermine the ultimate moral agendas of religions and the types of communities and societies they aspire to build.
The other two are “God Intoxication” and “God Manipulation” … which I'll get to in a bit. None of these three coinages of the author particularly grabbed me as solid representations of the related concepts (especially when the book delves deeply into Jewish extra-biblical sources), and suggest that he'd come up with them, thought they'd be popular/useful, and tried to make them fit the details. As is often the case, this may “just be me”, but it's my review, and you're getting my take on things.

Again, I wish they'd have been more upfront about the angle of the book … as this isn't a book about or advocating non-belief (which, obviously, was what I was hoping I was getting into), and it is firmly embedded in the deep and ancient traditions of the Jewish faith. Hartman proposes Judaism as an “ideal patient” to study his posited “autoimmune disease”, and gives his rational for this (which would have been helpful in the promotional material in LTER) here:

… my choice of Judaism as a case study does not stem merely from proficiency therein, nor from my belief that traditions are best critiqued by their insiders. I chose Judaism because as a member of this faith, I have a personal investment in exposing its shortcomings for the sake of attempting to heal them – offering a narrative of what my tradition can and ought to stand for. In truth, I am trying to save my own religion from itself.
Now, as a religion major, I certainly found the journey through the texts here interesting, but, honestly, taking Judaism as the “model patient” for the failings of the major monotheisms (à la this) is sort of like studying the Dalai Lama when what you're really addressing is the sort of Asian head of state like Pol Pot or Hirohito. While the Palestinians may disagree, the Jews are by far the least aggressive of the monotheistic faiths … at least in the post-biblical millennia (there is, of course, a great deal of bloodshed and carnage in the Old Testament, and the author presents a long litany of these at one point – but I'm sparing you the blockquote).

The problem here is that most of the book is dealing with the finer details of Jewish faith/philosophy, with only a general gesture to making the arguments framed in those texts and traditions applicable to the far more prone-to-violence religions. On the positive side, there is a lot of material here that I found fascinating … assorted rules that have long centuries of debate and adjustments, plus tales of some the leading lights of Jewish thought over the ages … and there are some fascinating personal reminiscences from the author's life – including being a religious student in Israel and serving as a tank commander in the IDF. I'd love to spew out a bunch of this stuff here, but it doesn't seem much to the point (given the narrow scope), so I'm going to focus on what got a bookmark while reading this, and trying to covey those key points noted above.

I really had to dig to get even reasonably straight-forward definitions of Hartman's “God Intoxication” and “God Manipulation” … he has chapters in this which give a vague description and then launch into examples from the tradition or his experiences, which is probably why these seem so hazy to me. However, there are two chapters that deal with “theological remedies” for these, and their introductory paragraphs have about as concise looks at these concepts as I was able to find …

God Intoxication, as we have learned, distorts monotheistic religion by defining religious piety exclusively in terms of immersion in God-centered ritual and consciousness. This consuming focus on a God who demands exclusive attention at all times and at all costs extracts a heavy price in the sphere of the ethical. God Intoxication devalues the human enterprise and consequently the significance of human ethical responsibility.
In terms of a “global” focus, this next bit certainly is the theme of way too many headlines these days … if more to-the-point for Christianity and Islam than Judaism:

… a primary cause of the spiritual autoimmune disease that can plague monotheistic religions comes directly from the potential for God and religion to be manipulated in a way that quiets the voices of moral conscience, draping self-interest in a cloak of pious devotion and stripping those defined as “other” of moral status. God Manipulation, the condition that sanctions such self-interest with the stamp of divine and religious approval, has proven a pervasive and perilous symptom of monotheism throughout the history of human social life. To protect humanity from this perversion of God's image, and immunize religion from itself, is an existential need of the utmost urgency.
As noted, there is a goodly amount of text/tradition support for the various aspects of these … but not presented in a way that lends itself to easy extraction here. There is one piece that I do want to pass on, and it's discussed in the delightfully titled chapter “When Scripture Is the Problem”, although more fully detailed in an earlier chapter. This deals with Hillel the Elder (who taught in the first century BCE), who was approached by a person who wished to convert, but only if he can be converted “while standing on one foot” – that is, in a short period of time. Hillel consents and comes up with one of the great phrasings in all of religious history:

      Judaism's hundreds of biblical commandments and thousands of rabbinic interpretations result in a sea of rules and norms in which it is easy for core religious priorities and goals to get lost. From this perspective, the convert's question reflects a legitimate spiritual desire to know the essential principles and values informing and animating the intricate structures of religious life. For without this essence, religion is just that, a set of empty structures devoid of any underlying meaning or truth.
      Hillel's answer, in any event, provides the potential convert, and all subsequent rabbinic tradition, with an encapsulation of Judaism's core values. “What is hateful to you,” Hillel states, “do not do to your neighbor; this is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary [upon this principle]; go and learn it.”
Needless to say, Hillel's encapsulation is an excellent place to start for finding a religious expression which is not dependent on all the vileness exhibited by religion in general, and the major monotheisms in particular (be that expressed in Christians trying to ban contraceptives or “gay cakes”, or Muslims cutting off heads on video or burning children alive). And, of course, I would have liked to have much more of that “post religion” thinking (heck, like this) than the in-tradition navel-gazing.

To reiterate, I was (among other things) a comparative religion major, so the trek through the philosophical history of Judaism (and if nothing else, this could be seen as an easy introduction to all of that) was no doubt more engaging for me than it would have been for many others (especially if they came to this thinking it was going to be an anti-religion broadside). While being frustrated that Putting God Second wasn't the book I thought it was when putting in the request for an LTER review copy, I found it interesting in its own right. As far recommending it, this is deep into that “your mileage may vary” territory … it certainly would be more useful for “believers” than the agnostic/atheist crowd!

This just came out a few months ago, so should be available generally (if possibly needing to be ordered in by the brick-and-mortar book vendors), and the online big boys presently have it at about a third off of cover price. If questions of religion (and the Jewish tradition in particular) are of interest to you, this will be a nice addition to your library.


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