Category Archives: Reading Hurts My Brain

Books and stories and so forth; out of my library into your consciousness.

15 Authors of Influence

Two of my friends have prodded me with this one, so I have given in to the pressure.  I hope you find benefit in my list.  Ask me in ten years and the list may change.  Who can say?

  1. E E Cummings (if ever there were a god made flesh…)
  2. Hemmingway (especially Old Man and the Sea)
  3. Henry Miller (especially Sexus)
  4. Gertrude Stein (especially The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)
  5. Benjamin Franklin (the word autobiography was coined to explain what he’d written)
  6. Walter Kaufmann (premier Nietzscheian scholar and his Critique of Religion and Philosophy is amazing)
  7. Anaïs Nin (especially the five novels in her so-called continuous novel)
  8. Harlan Ellison
  9. Erich Fromm (ostensibly a psychologist; you can start with You Shall Be as Gods)
  10. Charles Bukowski
  11. Edna St Vincent Millay (especially her poem Renascence)
  12. Jean Baudrillard (French phenomenological philosopher)
  13. Donald Barthelme (excellent short story writer)
  14. Woody Allen (he has written many short stories as well as all those screenplays and stage plays)
  15. Stan Lee (nuff said)

Consilience by Edward O Wilson

A good read but probably narrowly of interest to those who read in the area of the history and philosophy of science.  Regardless it would be an important read outside of that sphere.

This quote is taken from page 241 in my copy.

On religion I lean toward deism but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics.  The existence of a cosmological God who created the universe (as envisioned by deism) is possible, and may eventually be settled, perhaps by forms of material evidence not yet imagined.  Or the matter may be forever beyond human reach.  In contrast, and of far greater importance to humanity, the existence of a biological God, one who directs organic evolution and intervenes in human affairs (as envisioned by theism) is increasingly contravened by biology and the brain sciences.

Here are some literary archetypes he lists out from page 223 and 224.

In the beginning, the people are crated by gods, or the mating of giants, or the clash of titans; in any case, they begin as special beings at the center of the world.

The tribe emigrates to a promised land (or Arcadia, or the Secret Valley, or the New World).

The tribe meets the forces of evil in a desperate battle for survival; it triumphs against heavy odds.

The hero descends to hell, or is exiled to wilderness, or experiences an iliad in a distant land; he returns in an odyssey against all odds past fearsome obstacles along the way, to complete his destiny.

The world ends in apocalypse, by flood, fire, alien conquerors, or avenging gods; it is restored by a band of heroic survivors.

A source of great power is found in the tree of life, the river of life, philosopher’s stone, sacred incantations, forbidden ritual, secret formula.

The nurturing woman is apotheosized as the Great Goddess, the Great Mother, Holy Woman, Divine Queen, Mother Earth, Gaia.

The seer has special knowledge and power of mind, available to those worthy to receive it; he is the wise old man or woman, the holy man, the magician, the great shaman.

The virgin has the power of purity, is the vessel of sacred strength, must be protected at all costs, and perhaps surrendered up to propitiate the gods or demonic forces.

Female sexual awakening is bestowed by the unicorn, the gentle beast, the powerful stranger, the magical kiss.

The trickster disturbs established order and liberates passion as the god of wine, king of the carnival, eternal youth, clown, jester, clever fool.

A monster threatens humanity, appearing as the serpent demon (Satan writhing at the bottom of hell), dragon, gorgon, golem, vampire.

And finally this gem from page 290.

Much of the technology required to reach that goal [“the diminishment of the total ecological footprint” of humanity] can be summarized in two concepts.  Decarbonization is the shift from the burning of coal, petroleum, and wood to essentially unlimited, environmentally light energy sources such as fuel cells, nuclear fusion, and solar and wind power.  Dematerialization, the second concept, is the reduction in bulk of hardware and the energy it consumes.  All the microchips in the world, to take the most encouraging contemporary example, can be fitted into the room that housed the Harvard Mark 1 electromagnetic computer at the dawn of the information revolution.



A compelling and poetic paragraph from page 445 of my copy of Cryptonomicon.

The sand at the surf line has been washed flat.  A small child’s footprints wander across it, splaying like gardenia blossoms on thin shafts.  The sand looks like a geometric plane until a sheet of ocean grazes it.  Then small imperfections are betrayed by swirls in the water.  Those swirls in turn carve the sand.  The ocean  is a Turing machine,  the sand is its tape, the water reads the marks in the sand and sometimes erases them and sometimes carves new ones with tiny currents that are themselves a response to the marks.  Plodding through the surf, Waterhouse strikes deep craters in the wet sand that are read by the ocean.  Eventually the ocean erases them, but in the process its state has been changed, the pattern of its swirls has been altered.  Waterhouse imagines that the disturbance might somehow propagate across the Pacific and into some super-secret Niponese surveillance device made of bamboo tubes and chrysanthemum leaves; Nip listeners would know that Waterhouse had walked that way. In turn, the water swirling around Waterhouse’s feet carries information about Nip propeller design and the deployment of their fleets—if only he had the wit to read it.  The chaos of the waves, gravid with encrypted data, mocks him.

This puts me about half way through what has proven to be a wonderful novel.

My copy has a large number of typographical errors prompting me to ponder if they are not purposely inserted cryptographic messages of some design.  It’s a book that encourages this sort of thinking.

See you on the other side.


A Wise Guy Gets Wise

I have long been a fan of George Carlin.  I went to see him when I was maybe 13; my mother took my brother and I to the Paramount to see him.  I think it may have been for my birthday.  Anyway… long-time fan, first-time reader.

I discovered that he had a book called Napalm & Silly Putty recently and though it was quite old by then I bought a used copy and had a go at it.

Napalm & Silly Putty
Napalm & Silly Putty

If you are acquainted with his stand-up material you are going to see a lot here that’s familiar territory.  No harm there.  Intersperced between the familiar you will also find some novel bits and I’d like to share one of those for you now.

It’s not comedy, just pure political philosophy.  It’s titled Don’t Blame the Leaders (You, the People) (p 234).

In the midst of all my bitching, you might’ve noticed that I never complain about politicians.  I leave that to others.  And there’s no shortage of volunteers; everyone complains about politicians.  Everyone says they suck.

But where do people think these politicians come from?  They don’t fall out of the sky; they don’t pass through membrane from a separate reality.  They come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, and American businesses.  And they’re elected by American voters.  This is what our system produces, folks.  This is the best we can do.  Let’s face it, we have very little to work with.  Garbage in, garbage out.

Ignorant citizens elect ignorant leaders, it’s as simple as that.  And term limits don’t help.  All you do is get a brand new bunch of ignorant leaders.

So maybe it’s not the politicians who suck; maybe it’s something else.  Like the public.  That would be a nice realistic campaign slogan for somebody: “The public sucks.  Elect me.”  Put the blame where it belongs: on the people.

Because if everything is really the fault of politicians, where are all the bright, honest, intelligent Americans who are ready to step in and replace them?  Where are these people hiding?  The truth is, we don’t have people like that.  Everyone’s at the mall, scratching his balls and buying speakers with lights on them.  And complaining about the politicians.

That’s it. That’s your cheery thought for the day.


A Nudge in the Right Direction

This has been on my list of things to do for a while now, and I’m sorry to have made you wait so long. You may or may not have already seen the video for the poem called “How to Be Alone”.  It has nearly 2 million hits on YouTube.

Not bad for a poet, eh?

The poem is by Tanya Davis and you can find her Web site here.  (The video is a collaberation with independent filmmaker Andrea Dorfman and you can find her site here.)

If you find you’d like to get some of Tanya’s material on CD (or download), you can visit Tanya’s page at Sand Bar Music.

I wish Tanya all the best and I hope you enjoy her as I have.


How to Be Eaten by a Bear

If you are looking for some fresh comic perspective on bear hunting, you could either try my new sport or read Help! A Bear Is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen.  The choice is yours and I don’t want to influence your decision either way.

Help! A Bear Is Eating Me!
Help! A Bear Is Eating Me!

My new sport is fun filled and a lot like catch-and-release fishing, except with bears.  Catch-and-release allows fishermin to demonstrate their prowess without removing a breeding candidate from the waterways.  In this kind of bear hunting hunters shoot bears without removing a breeding candidate from the forests.  You basically get to hunt bears, just like fishing catch-and-release you get to fish; but then you don’t actually kill the bear, just like you don’t actually kill the fish.  No eating; no trophying.

How, you ask, can I hunt a bear without killing it?

Excellent question.  This new kind of hunting is called Splat-and-run hunting, and you hunt the bear with paint guns.  And try not to get eaten like Marv Pushkin, the protagonist in agony of Help! A Bear Is Eating Me!

Marv was not hunting with paint guns.  He had an arsenal of real and powerful hunting rifles.  But then again Marv is a bit of an asshole and an idiot.

Oh, but you haven’t read the book yet.  Look, it’s only 129 pages long and it’s really good.  You could get through it in a day while camping and smoking weed and drinking beer.  Technically the camping isn’t required, though it’s a nice outdoorsy book which takes place in Alaska so the fire helps round out the experience.

You might be thinking that a book about a guy being eaten by a bear isn’t funny.  C’mon.  You probably once thought that a movie about creatures of the undead eating brains couldn’t be funny.  You don’t think that way any more.  It’s time to let your prejudices go.  Let them go far away.

Happy camping.


Happiness Just Might Be a Warm Cup of Coffee

Rocky Raccoon may have been satisfied reading that book placed by the Gideons in his hotel room, but I have something better for your reading list.  I read this book  a while back and am just now reminded to say something about it with all this hubbub about Starbucks and guns.

The book (by John R. Lott, Jr.) is called More Guns Less Crime (Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws).  It is the most comprehensive analysis of crime statistics I have ever seen.

More Guns Less Crime
More Guns Less Crime

The gist of his argument is that when a certain kind of liberal concealed carry law is implemented there will be an associated reduction in the rates of violent crimes (both locally and in neighboring areas).  The statistics seem to uphold this theory and provide especial insight into the relationships between these same laws and the protections afforded to women and minorities.

I think folks on either side of this issue (as well as anyone on the fence) will benefit from reading this book.  I make no bones: he is writing (even if from the compulsion of reason) in support of the laws he finds protect us best.  Whether you are swayed by the power of reason is up to you, but you will find much within the pages to respect.

Of course the Starbucks issue is really a non-issue.  It is both opposing groups attempting to get a corporation to sponsor their petty debate.  This is not an issue for a corporate board room decision.  This is an issue for legislation.

I think we have great legislation in Washington state (very much in line with what Lott suggests provides the safest social sphere), so I’m not going to get all up in arms (what?) if cowboys start spinning their spurs while waiting on their capuccini.

I’d rather see Starbucks fix their grammar in whatever language they are under the impression they use.

Lock and load, baby-doll.


Light Reading and a Seminal Seminar

I am currently reading a book by Lee Smolin called The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.  I am nearly done with it and feel confident in recommending it to anyone with an interest in the problems presently facing theoretical physicists or anyone with a more general interest in the philosophy of science.

He raises a number of intriguing questions concerning what qualifies as a theory and about theory acceptance.  Additionally he delves into what it means to do science and specifically how certain current theoretical avenues are threatening to impinge on the claims to truth that science as traditionally held.  All of this is accomplished within a framework of a host of interrelated concepts, conjectures, and theoretical candidates now under scrutiny in physics, especially particle physics.

I found the reading material quite accessible and would guess that most readers who have come this far through my review would be able to manage the concepts under discussion.  Having a backgroud in physics (even having taken a class in college) would be useful in terms of managing the vocabulary, but again I don’t think this is required to get through and to enjoy the material presented.

On a related note, he includes a citation for a seminar which took place in Canada’s Perimiter Institute a few years back.  Happily there are audio recordings of this seminar available through their site (the audio page is here).  Again, excellent brain yum-yums for the philosophical minded.  The seminar concerns whether the physical laws are fixed or whether they might change over time (so, has the gravitational constant been constant always?).

In short, read the book; listen to the seminar recordings; think and talk like a philosopher of science (so I don’t feel so awkward at parties).

Happy hunting.

An Honest Look at a Clown

I have just finished reading Born Standing Up (A Comic’s Life) by Steve Martin.  Yep, that’s the same Steve Martin of an-arrow-through-the-head and The Jerk fame.  I really expected this to be a funny book.  I am pleased to report that, aside from the occasional quip or reference to an old bit, it is a serious look at the rise and turbulence of his comedic life.

In fact about two-thirds of the book is driven by a sadness that settles in like the universal background radiation.  You know it’s there, you can sense it, it’s mostly harmless, and it brings information about the past.

I suppose it’s important to mention that I was enjoying Martin’s comedy as it was happening, during what he describes as his funniest period (say, from 1977-1979).  So I was rather in the thick of it, at least as a consumer.  I remember my neighbor and my childhood best-friend Corey Cartwright would put on his parents’ Steve Martin albums much to our young delights.  But this period only accounts for perhaps a third of the book.

He sets up his early life through the first half.  This gives the reader a clear and intimate picture of him as a person, as well as offering a vivid account of the path by which he came to comedy and rose into the clouds.

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of this biographical work.  I recommend it highly and I thank my brother for the gift of this book.

Go make someone laugh, kids.  We’ll make the world a better place.

Poke a Liar

If you have been wondering what happened to the financial markets of late, or even if you have been wondering what has caused them to fall so hard thrice since the late 1980’s, there is an excellent guide in Liar’s Poker: Rising through the Wreckage on Wall Street.

I spent eight years in banking (WaMu and Seafirst/BofA).  But you needn’t be an ex-banker to follow the succinct thread Michael Lewis draws in this tour of the financial debacle of the late 80’s (Salomon Brothers downward spiral, the bond market flop, and the eventual stock market crash).  He speaks with an insider’s knowledge but an outsider’s perspective.  His story-telling is keen and engaging.

In the end I found his account very insightful both in historical terms and as a guide to understanding our current fiasco.

I can highly recommend this book.