Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who follow their dreams and those who ignore them.
But there's another dimension to this that seldom gets attention, if you don't go after your dreams, destiny and fate will take over and could leave you herding sheep or selling glassware instead of sailing the seven seas.
Fate is constantly intervening in our lives and a key theme of this book focuses on how much of our lives are under our control, and how much of our lives ends up being controlled by fate. The old king stated that the world's greatest lie is that "at some point during our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate." But this isn’t a lie and dreams, like anything else in life, have a price. Not living your dreams also has a price.
In a nutshell this is a book about how we all too easily give up on our dreams, which makes The Alchemist more self-help than literature, about how we are compelled from birth to build a personalized mythology for ourselves and how we simply cannot function without it. But the irony is that whatever meaning we find for ourselves is always by necessity going to be illusory, transparent, and ultimately meaningless.
I've never been a big fan of general feel-good aphorisms such as “follow your dreams” they don't ring true most of the time, and are highly oversimplified and do not accurately acknowledge the overall complexity of the human experience.
But is anyone ever really capable of achieving their dreams, of finding their purpose? Do people really have the potential to do what their hearts desire? Or is it a hope based in nothing? I don’t know, but I do know that in order for us to accomplish anything, or to even get through the fucking day, we have to believe that the answer is a resounding yes, otherwise we don’t stand a chance.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: Dangerous

Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Former Breitbart editor and august internet troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, has forcefully presented to the world a book that’s both boring and shallow.
It isn’t offensive, shocking, or thought-provoking, in any way, certainly not in the way the author intended. It’s essentially a 250 page plea written by an amoral actor who likes to play the bad guy for money, someone who happened to be entertaining enough to have duped a publication into showering him with attention because at one time he had a lot of Twitter followers, with the hopes of ingratiating himself back into the fold of anyone who will have him.
But this book wouldn’t exist were it not for the scourge that has come to be known as “Identity Politics.”
Lionel Shriver said, “Membership of a larger group is not an identity. Being Asian is not an identity. Being gay is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity, nor is being economically deprived. These are adjectives. Identity is about who you really are. We should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth. If we embrace narrow group-based identities too fiercely, we cling to the very cages in which others would seek to trap us. We pigeonhole ourselves. We limit our own notion of who we are, and in presenting ourselves as one of a membership, a representative of our type, an ambassador of an amalgam, we ask not to be seen.”
Identity politics was created with good intentions in the 1970s following a series of cultural revolutions in the prior decade, unfortunately, it became institutionalized, and worse yet, it has somehow morphed into a separate ideology unto itself.
You can readily identify this ideology by the Lefts refusal to talk about the science behind transgenderism. The same people who easily accept any reference to science on questions concerning global warming flee all reference to biology when it comes to questions of gender.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece Gerard Alexander wrote, “Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America’s universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye — and are also on the college campuses attended by many people’s children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can’t ignore.
But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are.” Adding, “Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. They regularly annoy and repel and are far more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way.”
This book was originally dropped by Simon & Schuster, before being self published, after an interview with Yiannopoulos surfaced in which he appeared to brush off pedophilia. I myself have listened to that interview and was able to follow his logic without any problems and certainly without concluding that he was advocating for pedophilia. But most people have a difficult time following, let alone arguing, nuanced and emotionally charged topics.
I’m very interested in intellectual freedom and as soon as people began calling for boycotts over Simon & Schusters decision to publish this manuscript, I resolved to read it.
I can’t stand the thoughts of someone telling me what I can and can’t or should or shouldn’t read. That determination is mine and mine alone. I decide what I will or will not read. Not ideologically driven, identity-obsessed, participation award-craving liberals, or anyone else for that matter.
Christopher DeGroot said, “only through ignorance or suppression of the truth that anyone can believe in the leftist worldview, a kind of bad morality play that would be merely amusing were it not so influential.”
I understand that every “movement” inevitably ends up being defined by its own fringe elements, but the Left has done a terrible job at policing itself so as to keep those elements in check.
The Left just isn’t what it used to be.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Night Chills

Night Chills by Dean Koontz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

To the greatest extent possible, I need you, the reader, to appreciate how fantastic this paperback actually smells. These old Berkley-Koontz books have a distinctly woody aroma. Less of a vanilla smell and more of a damp pine scent. Like walking through a Christmas tree farm after a heavy rain.
Koontz is the author you cut your teeth on before moving on to more serious writers. This is more of an observation than an outright criticism of Koontz, but I believe he has been writing and then re-writing the same books since sometime around the mid-eighties.
Which leaves me to wonder: How much of his work did I ever really truly enjoy? It's an intimidating thought.
I’m legitimately apprehensive about going back and re-reading some of his previous novels I enjoyed when I was younger from fear that I will hate them, which is a genuine concern since anytime I’ve read, even his more recent work, I’ve disliked them immensely. Theres also the possibility of being confronted with the idea that maybe I’ve built up a fabricated fandom based on my own subjective edits.
This book is unequivocally middle-ground Koontz. It has everything we love and everything we hate about him. It even has a fairy tale ending, a fairy tale where lives are partially or totally ruined forever and innocent people die, but it all works out in the end and it happens with the literal turn of a page.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People: The Memoirs of the Greatest Gambler Who Ever Lived

Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People: The Memoirs of the Greatest Gambler Who Ever Lived by Amarillo Slim Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legendary gambler Amarillo Slim, who captured the World Series of Poker in 1972 and who has evenhandedly snookered more money out of people than most of us could ever make in a lifetime, shares his tales of daring hustles, outrageous proposition bets, and near-death experiences with both humor and, oddly enough, humility.
This book itself is outrageously entertaining. Each story is more amazing than the next, and the only disappointment comes when the final page is turned. It’s written in a smooth, conversational style that perfectly captures the folksy tone of its subject and I would suspect that anyone with even a passing interest in one of the gambling world's most colorful characters would greatly enjoy it, I know I did.
As one might expect from a professional hustler, he’s particularly sharp when it comes to human psychology. As Slim puts it, “Gambling is a reflection of life. A man’s true character comes out when he’s sitting at the poker table - his strengths and weaknesses, his good traits and his faults. Whenever money is involved, you see the worst in people.”
I myself first heard about Amarillo Slim from the same place most people from my generation probably heard of him, from the 1998 movie Rounders starring Matt Damon, who’s character Mike McDermott quotes throughout the film, spouting such truisms as, “Play the players more than you play the cards.”
"When you put down a sports wager," Slim says, "it helps to know something other people don't know."
It's a principle he's put to use in creative ways. In the 1970s, for example, Slim challenged former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs to a high stakes game of pingpong, insisting only that he be allowed to choose the paddles. Riggs agreed — and was soundly beaten when Slim showed up with two cooking skillets (which the gambler had been secretly practicing with for months).
As Slim said, “It’s your job to triple-check the wording of any bet you make and to inspect the deck yourself, because if you don’t, your opponent has the right to take every angle he can.”
This, in a nutshell, seems to be his whole life’s philosophy and the message he wishes to impart to his readers: kindness and honesty are generally good business, but in the end, it’s get or get gotten and every man has got to look out for himself and his family first. Say what you will about this message, because the author isn’t so much proselytizing as reminiscing, but know that whenever you’re riding shotgun with Amarillo Slim, the getting is always good.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: The Pigeon

The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I recently “celebrated” my three year anniversary at my place of employment. When I first started this job it was only ever going to be a short term measure before moving on to something brighter and better but I still haven’t and suddenly its been three years later.
With the passing of this anniversary I have been thinking about the drudgery of my job, or work in general, the monotony and repetition and just how quickly three years has come up. So when I picked up this book and started to read it there was something about this strange and unsettling little story that resonated with me deeply.
The Pigeon focuses on a single day in the life of Jonathan Noel, a Parisian bank guard, who has finally attained a measure of happiness after years of personal strife. Totally satisfied with his job and the isolation he secures in his small apartment, Noel finds his serenity abruptly interrupted when a pigeon lands on his doorstep and remains there for the rest of the day. The event is so unnerving for Noel that he goes to sleep vowing to kill himself in the morning.
The story takes place in the span of one day, and follows how this seemingly insignificant event compounds to threaten Noel's sanity.
The titular pigeon can be seen as a symbol for disorder intruding on the protagonist's meticulously organized existence, and is obviously in ironic intertextual dialogue with Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem The Raven, which features its titular bird perched over its protagonist's door. But I prefer to see it as a symbol of liberation from the burden of what Andrew Taggart, practical philosopher and writer, might label as, “total work.”
‘Total work’, a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after the Second World War in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948), is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers and nothing else. By this means, work will ultimately become total, when there remains no further dimension to life beyond work; when humans fully believe that we were born only to work. We are on the verge of total work’s realization. What is so disturbing about total work is not just that it causes needless human suffering but also that it eradicates the forms of playful contemplation concerned with our asking, pondering and answering the most basic questions of existence. What is lost in a world of total work is the very possibility of our experiencing meaning. What is lost is seeking why we’re here.
The irrational, the pigeon, once introduced into Noel’s life, infects his very being and what we witness is this infection running its course. And there can only be two outcomes: it can kill him or it can cure him.
Jonathan assiduously avoided irrationality throughout his entire life. But devoting himself to ‘work’ as a means to gain control over himself and his life was the greatest irrationality he could have committed.
The fear of a wasted life haunts all of us and our protagonist is certainly no exception. The transient he observes across the street makes him feel both resentful and nauseated. But why feel resentment? Because even though he may be derelict he is free in a way that our protagonist is not.
Bukowski said it best, “it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse… not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left … so be careful when you bend over.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thomas Sowell, one of America's foremost black conservative intellectuals and Hoover Institute Fellow, has given us a collection of contrarian essays, first published in 2005, arguing that the “internal” cultural habits of industriousness, thriftiness, family solidarity and reverence for education often play a greater role in the success of ethnic minorities than do civil-rights laws or majority prejudices.
Most people tend to think of the history of Black people as the history of White peoples treatment of Black people but this type of misconception concerning the history of an entire group of people often cuts them off from the truth about some of the internal causes of their own problems, making a solution for what ails them that much more remote.
The title essay posits a "Black Redneck" culture inherited from the White redneck culture of the South and characterized by violent machismo, shiftlessness and disdain for schooling. Sowell points out that much of what passes for Black identity today is a modern version of the self-defeating culture slaves inherited from poor redneck Whites who came from the poor sections of Britain and settled in southern states. Many aspects of Southern life that some observers have attributed to race or racism, or to slavery, were common to Southern Blacks and Whites alike — and were common in those parts of Britain from which Southern Whites came, where there were no slaves and where most people had never seen anyone Black. White liberals, gangsta-rap aficionados and others who lionize its ghetto remnants as an authentic Black identity, Sowell contends, have their history wrong and help perpetuate cultural pathologies that only serve to hold Blacks back.
The author also defends Western culture itself against charges that it was uniquely culpable for slavery; in fact, he contends, Western culture was uniquely responsible for eradicating slavery and these vigorously argued essays present a stimulating challenge to the conventional wisdom espoused today in many universities across America and especially in today’s polarizing media landscape.
Some of the supporting research that Sowell draws from is a study that indicated that most of the Black alumni of Harvard were from either the West Indies or Africa or were the children of West Indian or African immigrants. "These people are the same race as American Blacks, which greatly outnumber either or both. If this disparity is not due to race, it is equally hard to explain by racism. To a racist, one Black is pretty much the same as another. But, even if a racist somehow let his racism stop at the water's edge, how could he tell which student was the son or daughter or someone born in the West Indies or in Africa, especially since their American-born off-spring probably do not even have a foreign accent? What then could explain such large disparities in demographic "representation" among these three groups? Perhaps they have different patterns of behavior and different cultures and values behind their behavior. Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American Blacks and West Indian Blacks living in the United States, because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?" Sowell's answer is culture.
Poor White communities are often blamed for whatever troubles them, but the poor Black communities are all too often told it’s not their fault for whatever troubles them.
As Eric Hoffer put it: “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
Christopher DeGroot, writing in Taki magazine, had this to say about leftist ideology, “What leftists—and people shaped by leftists—generally don’t understand is that life is hard for most people, and always has been. They act as if the whole material edifice of civilization just naturally exists. They don’t think of poverty (i.e., an absence) as a natural fact (as absence is everywhere in nature) and with this point of view it’s only a step to the belief that other people are to blame for what you don’t have. And indeed, the sufferer wants to believe this, for it not only gives him someone to punish, it absolves him from facing up to his own failure. Since the former is enjoyable, and the latter is painful, on such occasions the will to delusion is quite strong.” Adding, “It is tragic to see how easily and frequently the young are now warped by such bad ideas, their natural good impulses applied to pernicious ends. Case in point: 17-year-old David Hogg. About mass shootings recently said: “There is a lot of racial disparity in the way that this is covered. If this happened in a place of a lower socio-economic status or a place like a black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don’t think the media would cover it the same…. We have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the voices—all of the people that have died as a result of this and haven’t been covered the same—can now be heard. It’s sad, but it’s true.”
A sincere and well-meaning young man, to be sure. And yet, look at what the media has done to his mind. Black men are killing themselves (and others) every day on the streets of America’s inner cities. From Baltimore to L.A., “the black community” is singularly violent. Still, to expect Blacks to be accountable, just as Whites are supposed to be, is unacceptable in polite (read: cowardly) society. Between Black resentment on the one hand and decadent White guilt on the other, such social justice is far out of reach.”
The very word “racism” has even been redefined to exclude groups without “power,” even though power had never been a prerequisite for defining racism before. By this logic however the Ku Klux Klan today can not be called racist because they have lost most of the power they once had.
The final essay in this collection, “History Versus Visions,” is a takedown of multiculturalism. Sowell says, “Few things attract less attention than the achievements of the West.” He continues, ‘‘Multiculturalism’ has not meant warts-and-all portraits of different societies around the world. For many, it has meant virtually a warts-only portrait of the West and a no-warts portrait of non-Western peoples.”
This book should be required reading at every educational institution in America, as most Americans today seem to have largely, and to an even greater extent willfully, forgotten that history is always going to be infinitely more complex and infinitely more nuanced than some bumper sticker slogan could ever capture.