Book Report: Every Time I Find The Meaning of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein (2015)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I read Klein’s Travels with Epicurus earlier this summer and enjoyed it. So I found myself at a different library branch a couple weeks ago, and I was in the philosophy section, and I saw a book that looked like it was a Klein, but it was a different author with a different spin on it. But a couple letters later, I found an actual book by Klein, this volume, from 2015.

The jumping off point for this book is a collection of quotes that Klein collected during his youth and then later. He had a notebook where he copied “Pithies” as he called them, and he reprints them with a couple pages’ reflection on each. You’ve got your Epicurus, of course, and you’ve got your Neitsche, Russell, Emerson, and whatnot. Each quote he selects is a complete jot of philosophy, a koan of sorts to muse on, and he does so.

It’s an entertaining read, a bit of a stroll through philosophy and modern life. It’s accessible and proper old school philosophy, something you can read and think about. It’s funny as I read philosophy these days, the tiers of books you find. Original sources, especially pre-20th century primary texts, are generally readable and digestible in their original form. But when you get to some stuff in the late 19th century, some of the more self-consciously philosophical in the 20th century, and especially the commentary on primary text from the 20th century written by academics, you get incomprehensible mash-ups of academic speak. Pop philosophy books, which I think are a 21st century inventions (but I could be mistaken), offer a return, almost, to the readable primary texts, but these are commentaries and not primary texts themselves. They’re like written forms of the conversations I had when I was younger (and sometimes still do now that I’m reading and listening to philosophy lectures regularly).

At any rate, I enjoyed most of it, and I didn’t disagree vehemently with any of it. There’s a bit in it where he quotes a philosopher who was born after I was, an ethicist and psychologist who explains how we treat those in our tribe differently from those outside our tribe, and how we should work to bridge the gap between the instinctive, immediate moral judgments placed on our tribe with the reasoned ones applied to others outside the tribe. That is, we should treat everyone as compassionately as we treat those inside our tribe. This is descriptive and not really prescriptive as one who is a deontologist would hope for. A proper deontologist would recognize we’re more instantly forgiving of those like us, but we point out that a standard that we apply to both those like us and unlike us would be an objective standard. Too often in the modern era, the prescription based on this position is to apply a standard of forgiveness and non-judgment to people who would not apply the same standard to ourselves. While this is very Christian (and, indeed, as modern life shows us, also post-Christian), I am not eager to forgive those who would do me harm and to invite them to dinner.

This description, this bit of anthropology, meshes with a modern drive to equate psychology and philosophy that I don’t embrace.

Also, it adds one to my list: Persons I don’t trust immediately if they are younger than I am: Doctors, clergy, and (NEW!) philosophers.

At any rate, I enjoyed it and should probably consider buying one of his books new so he can get paid for my enjoyment instead of me continuing to freeload from the library. I’ll look for his next book (or something off of his backlist) the next time I’m at Barnes and Noble or some other bookstore on vacation.

Oh, and I would be remiss in not bragging about how much the reading of philosophy and whatnot has made me recognize things and the names of the people in the book. To whit: The title is a quote by Reinhold Niebuhr. And in a section riffing on a comment by A.J. Ayer, a British atheist, he mentions that Ayer debated and later consulted with Frederick Copleston, a clergeyman. But the Klein does not mention that Copleston, S.J., wrote a long series of books called The History of Philosophy. I know this because I have the series and actually started on part 1 of Volume I last year. I AM SMAHT!

To Ask A Question While On Vacation Is To Answer It

So I’m reading a philosophy book on the balcony overlooking Lake Hamilton while drinking some sweet tea, and I come to a famous question by Camus from “The Myth of Sisyphus”:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

You know, I’ve tried to read that essay a couple of times, but I find the setup contrived and absurd (in a not Existentialist way, i.e., ridiculous).

Especially when I’m sitting on the lake and reading a good pop philosophy book (Every Time I Find The Meaning Of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein, book report coming forthwith).

You know, I think I could enjoy something like this, reading by the lake, when I retire. First step to retirement: Get a job from which I can retire. No, scratch that. First step to retirement, revised: Invent a time machine and travel back to the mid-to-late twentieth century, when a job from which one retired existed (until the dinosaurs ate them).

Also, note to would-be burglars and my insurers: Hot Springs was last week, man. I am back in residence, so don’t try it! (Link via).

Also note that a gap of posting for a matter of days does not necessarily indicate a vacation on my part; it might merely be my irregularly scheduled ennui, where I wonder if it’s worth it to work so hard to keep fresh content appearing for up to 10 readers a day (mostly students looking to rip off book reports on The Sire de Maletroit’s Door).

Thank you, that is all.

Book Report: Death Has A Name – The Executioner #96 (December 1986)

Book coverAs I mentioned in my most recent review of an Executioner book (Shock Waves, #81 in the series), the numeric gaps between the series books in my collection grows. This one, #96, skips ahead fifteen from the last one I read (although only twelve from Missouri Deathwatch which I read in 2009, right after I moved to Nogglestead).

The changes between the earlier Bolan books and this one are stark: At almost 250 pages, it’s a third again as long as the earlier work, and the writing style is not as terse. It’s as though the writing has shifted from copying 1960s paperbacks (themselves owing a great debt to the proper pulp stuff of the 1930s and 1940s) and more copying the then-current thrillers of the day. So the writing is a little more flowery and less punchy.

In this book, Bolan is about to kill a Mafia figure at his daughter’s wedding, but holds up because he’s in a church. But an Israeli agent jumps up and starts spraying with an Uzi, and Bolan tries to help her escape only to discover that she’s part of a shadowy Israeli group that is working to break up a Mafia-Palestinian arms connection that will arm the Palestinians with enough weaponry to seriously challenge Israel’s statehood. So Bolan travels to Israel with his brother Johnny and works with the team of Israeli commandoes.

To be honest, I was less than impressed with this outing. In addition to being 50% longer than previous works, it features such bits as describing the baddest of the Palestinians as rich from oil money, poor squad-level tactics, and some gun buffoonery. It also features head scratchers such as the leader of the Israeli commandoes shooting a bad guy as Bolan says “We need him for intelligence” followed not too much later by a reversal where Bolan is going to shoot a bad guy and the commando says “We need him for intelligence,” and this complete reversal is for nothing more than giving the bad guy time to detonate a suicide backpack.

Ay, I am likely to less enjoy these books as they get longer, as the authors will likely just add more of the bad padding parts to the books to make the new page count.

Good Book Hunting, July 22, 2017: Books a Million, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Sorry it has been quiet here of late; I spent a bit of a week on vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where warm water flows freely from the earth but Internet connectivity does not.

Hot Springs does not apparently have any used book stores, either, so when we wanted reading material, we went to Books-a-Million, which is a chain.

I hit the discount rack and bought a couple things for my boys and a couple things for myself.

The books I bought for me include:

  • How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It by James Wesley, Rawles. I don’t know why he puts that comma there, but I know enough about this author to know to include it.
  • Confucius by Meher McArthur.
  • Righteous Indignation by Andrew Breitbart.
  • The Promise by Robert Crais (whose earliest published work, I remind you, I have).
  • We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist.

That’s five books. I read a total of three while on vacation (including a library book). So my library still continues to grow faster than I can read it.

Perhaps I need to take more vacations to locations without Internet and with no book stores in three hours’ drive (as history has proven, a mere hour’s drive won’t stop me).

Book Report: This Old Dump by Laura Jensen Walker (2004)

Book coverThis is a mild little humorous book about renovating or doing projects about your home with your spouse. Basically, the author recounts stories from friends and her own life, sometimes in a manner of paragraphs and sometimes just a sentence or two. The anecdotes are grouped in chapters by renovation and project type, like painting, wallpapering, plumbing, working with contractors, and so on.

The book is amusing, sometimes, but it doesn’t really rise to the level of Erma Bombeck or Jean Kerr. The author must have a following, though, as she mentions once or twice that she had to push off this book because her publisher wanted her to write or collate a couple of other books first. So she’s got that going for her.

But it’s not especially relatable to me even though I did just (with my beautiful wife) paint our living room (after having bought the paint a year ago for the project–like my sainted mother, I don’t like to rush into anything).

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Am I In The Video Gaming Elite Yet?

Last night, the family and I went to the local arcade, 1984, and played video games.

1984 has an electronic leaderboard of the monthly high scores, and if you get the monthly high score on the video game, you get a free pass for a future visit, your initials in a slideshow that displays on two big monitors, and a button.

So I looked at the monthly leaderboard and picked out a couple of low-hanging fruit:

Spy Hunter and Tapper had the default values, 20000 and 8000 respectively. I played a couple games of Spy Hunter to make sure I surpassed the threshold. The first game of Tapper I played I beat the minimum, which means that not many people have played it. Perhaps because it is a cocktail game, one that you sit at (although a cocktail game about tapping beers seems somehow wrong).

So I got my button and my free pass.

The button, though, represents my second award for a video game high score.

Way back in 1987ish, the Arnold Bowl, where my mother was on a bowling league, had a promotion where they’d award trophies for monthly high scores on some of the machines. As with my later trip to 1984, I cherry-picked and looked for the machine with the lowest high score on it. Strangely enough, this was Pac Man on December 30. Perhaps it was not as popular of a game some seven years after its release. Perhaps someone had unplugged the machine. It was ridiculously low, and I managed to surpass it. My high score held up for a day and a night, so I got a trophy.

A trophy with an engraving error. Funny thing that: My sainted mother won a trophy of her own for being the most improved bowler in the league, and the trophy shop at the bowling alley managed to misspell improved on her trophy. So of the Arnold Bowl trophies our family accumulated, they were 0 of 2.

At any rate, it’s kind of funny. At some point, I stopped really getting into video games. I might have been confused by the complexity of the NES controller. I haven’t really played them that much, and I spent a lot of time in 1984 last night just wandering around. Thirty years ago, playing all you wanted in a video arcade would have been a dream come true, but last night, at least until I decided to try for a high score, it seemed like it was going to be a long slog of a night.

Perhaps it’s the video game selection at 1984. I might have matriculated into the video game scene a little later than its titles skew. If it had a Double Dragon, an Ikari Warriors, or a Heavy Barrel, I’d be on it. Of course, I spent most of my time on the Arkanoid they have, which is sort of silly and embarrassing with how little skill I have at it, since I’ve got one standing here in my office less than four feet away but that I don’t play but a couple times a year.

At any rate, BOW BEFORE MY VIDEO GAME SUPERIORITY! The trophies are only slightly better than participation trophies, BUT THEY ARE SYMBOLS OF MY PROWESS!

In other news, my beautiful wife also got a high score, but hers was for the game Joust which other people play and whose commemorative button represents actual skill and effort.

The Great Philosophical Debates of Nogglestead

So my beautiful wife and I were discussing the nature of aesthetics, in particular the four things from Kant’s Critique of Judgment that make a proclamation or inclination an aesthetic judgment, to whit:

  • The judgment must be free of practical considerations.
  • It must apply in all situations, universally, and not a specific or personal.
  • The object considered must have the properties that cause the pleasure being described.
  • The object must be purposeful, but not for a purpose (see also the first item).

We differed greatly in consideration of the third item. She argued very assertively that the aesthetic judgment lies in the response of the person making the judgement, that something is beautiful because it creates a pleasant reaction in the observer. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that.

Whereas I posited that the beauty lies in the qualities within the object under observation, and that, as Kant said, those qualities exist and will trigger the same feelings of joy and whatnot in any comparable observer. It’s the same argument in epistemology that people have when they say, “Is the apple red? No, you see red, so red is not a property of the apple, but of your interaction with the apple.” Absurd! Anything with similar ocular receptors viewing the apple in the same light would see red because the property that reflects light in that wavelength is IN THE APPLE.

The qualities admired as beauty are in the object, available for anyone to admire. They are not in the admirer.

“You know why I am arguing so strenuously,” I said. “When I tell you you’re beautiful, you say it’s because I love you.”

I am nothing if not consistent. She is beautiful, not because I love her, but because she is.

Kant, Sammy Kershaw, and I agree. And you can’t argue with a panel of experts on aesthetics like that.

How Far Into The Elite Are David Brooks and the New York Times

In a column decrying the how the elite are ruining America and destroying the Middle Class entitled How We Are Ruining America, he says:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Forget the parochialism in thinking his friend was freaked out by the high class vittles (the text does not mention that he asked her if she was put off by the offerings or, mayhap, the erm, exuberant pricing for such fare or whether it just wasn’t to her taste–he assumes it’s because she’s uneducated).

He says, and no editor corrects, high school degree.

That’s not what we call it out here in the middle class hinterlands.

(Link via Instapundit.)

Not The Store I Hoped For

So I saw the Battery Outfitters on Campbell the other day, and as I needed some supplies, I stopped in.

I was greatly disappointed! I hoped to pick up some 105mm shells for my M119A3 and some 150mm shells for my Paladin (well, what kind of mobile artillery did you think I would own?), but all this store had was small power cells.

It’s back to the black market for me, I guess, and grizzled guys named Sergei and Michal.

But it takes a lot of concentrated fire to keep Japanese beetles off of my peach trees. Also, for keeping peaches, leaves, branches, and limbs off of my peach trees.

I’ve Marked My Calendar

Herb Alpert, Lani Hall will perform in Springfield:

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall will perform at Gillioz Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m. Reserved seating tickets start at $36.50 and go on sale Friday, July 14, at 10 a.m. Gillioz Club members will have a presale opportunity on July 13 from 10 – 10.

You know what I am doing on Friday morning: Burning up the Internet.

It crossed my mind to try to get him to autograph on of my LPs. But which one? Rise? The Lonely Bull? Whipped Cream and Other Delights? I could try to get Lani Hall to autograph one of my Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 CDs. I’ve got a bunch of their CDs as well, including recent work like Steppin’ Out and I Feel You, but, come on, a signed CD is not as demonstrably cool as a signed LP.

I probably won’t do that, but I am surely going to that concert.

Book Report: The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (2014)

Book coverI picked up this book at the Fair Grove branch of the Springfield-Greene County Library. You’re saying to yourself, “Hey, has he run out of books to read in his own library and the more local branches of his local library so that he has to drive almost an hour to find something new?” No, gentle reader; this summer, my boys and I are trying to visit each branch of the Springfield-Greene County library, and when we got to the Fair Grove branch (a small room off of the Fair Grove City Hall), I spotted this book in the one shelf of philosophy/religion/magick whilst my children were picking out books of their own. As I’m interested in learning more about how the Bible was compiled over time, I thought it would be a great place to start.

The book starts out pretty scholarly (but eminently readable). It talks about the history of Jerusalem around the time of Christ with some mention of the various tensions between Rome and the peoples of that area, including the Syrians and the Jews. It then talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they might mean and the intersection of those texts with the Bible. It talks about the Septuagint, why it was created, and the intersection between its texts and what later appears in the Bible. It discusses Josephus, a scholar that documented history of Judea around the time of Christ and where that intersects with the Bible.

Then the book takes a turn toward parables. Well, not parables; the book recounts apocryphoral stories such as Adam and Eve after their banishment from Eden; the apocalypse of Abraham, which is a bit of a prequel to his portion of Genesis and some visions he had; and the books of Enoch, father of Noah and a bit of an interesting but underreported figure in the Bible. He mentions very briefly the source text of these stories, and then spends their respective chapters telling the stories and a bit of what we can learn from each story as a lesson. He then wraps up with a short chapter trying to tie it all together with a message about Biblical and related textual scholarship.

I enjoyed the first chapters the most and got a bit from the last of it–particularly a familiarity of some of the Apocrypha–but the shift in its focus sort of turned from what I wanted to learn to something else.

At any rate, it’s a readable bit of popular Biblical scholarship. The author has written a number of other titles of the sort, and if I run across them (perhaps an hour away at the library branch in Strafford), I’ll give them a read. It’s the sense I got from the author of the pop philosophy book Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein–I’ll pick them up if I see them, but I’ll not actively seek them out.

CORRECTION: Originally, this post referred to the Ash Grove branch of the library. Silly me! The Ash Grove branch is a shotgun shack of a two-room library in downtown Ash Grove right off of the train tracks. The boys and I were there earlier in the year. I got this book at the Fair Grove branch. Fortunately for me, Fair Play is in Polk County, and I won’t be able to confuse it with anything.

“Do You Have Any Health Conditions?” The Coach Asked

True fact: When I was taking a triathlon class preparing for my first indoor triathlon this winter, the coach did ask me if I have any health conditions that would impede my performance. He asked this after watching me flail about in the swimming pool for thirty minutes. (I have previously related the story.)

But medical professionals have helped me uncover the thing that will keep me from becoming a top-flight performance athlete: I am fundamentally lazy I have an underlying heart condition.

My heart is three sizes too small.

Actually, it is not, and I have no heart condition that I know of (but if I continue with these foolish mid-life athletic futilities, who knows what I might learn?).

I just have a ready-made quip for any occasion related to my athletic performance or lack of endurance.

Not only am I fundamentally lazy inclined to reserving energy, I am also full of excuses capable of reasoned, logical explanations for accomplishments of sub-optimal level.

My Print Credit For 2017

So I’m in the acknowledgements section of a political science/women’s studies/social movements book this summer:

To be honest, I don’t settle for just as critical. My goal is to always be more critical.

The book is Empowered By Design: Decentralization and the Gender Policy Trifecta by Meg Rincker if you’re a political scientist and are interested.

That’s the only time my name has appeared in print this year, so far. I’d better hop on my own writing sometime soon to rectify that.

Probably not a political science/women’s studies/social movements book, though.

An Ode To Automatic Paper Towel Dispensers

So I’ve done my business and washed my hands like a good fellow, and I’m standing before the paper towel dispenser. It’s an automatic one. With the manual paper towel dispensers with the spring-loaded rollers where, if you can’t just pull the exposed paper towel to get it, you can push the bar or turn the reel on the side to get one. But not automatic ones. You have to discover, like in a video game, the angle at which the sensor points and the distance that the sensor can detect.

I’m all like:

But no paper towel presents itself. I spent what seemed to be twenty minutes pleading with SkyNet to give me a couple square inchdes of paper. In truth, it was probably only a minute. Either I lacked the proper thieves’ hand signals to steal something to rip off a towel or the device was not functional.

I left with wet hands.

Again.

That’s A Bold Email Subject Line, Cotton

An email touting a Webinar:

“Kaspersky-KSV -How a Light Agent Gives You More Capabilities.” I dunno, putting “Kaspersky” and “agent” in the same sentence when marketing Kaspersky seems a little risky given recent news headlines that do the same, such as Documents could link Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky to FSB spy agency.

But who knows? Maybe any publicity is good publicity, and marketing people who might find themselves out of work soon can disavow any particular email subject line in five seconds.

Poetry Pro-Tip

When finishing your slam-bang sonnet up with a couplet that rhymes Josephus with Bocephus, remember you have to add another syllable at the end, as the stress on each is on the middle syllable (JoeSEEfus, BoSEEfus).

Although, to be honest, I probably won’t use this particular tip myself, as I’m not comfortable or natively familiar with the pronunciation of either. I mean, although it’s spelled Joseph-us, apparently it’s not pronounced that way (my beautiful wife and Wikipedia agree), and the only time I’ve heard Bocephus spoken aloud was in the song “Redneck Woman”.

Given that the song is entitled “Redneck Woman”, the pronunciation is suspect.

So it’s back to rhyming “love” with “dove” for me.

I Don’t Want To Make You Feel Old, Old Man

but the song “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins (or is it THE Smashing Pumpkins like they say THE Ohio University?) was released 17 years after the actual year 1979.

But 1996 was 21 years ago now.

Chin up, laddie: The song “1985” is still closer to today that the title year. For a little while yet.

But most of you are far behind the ages mentioned in “It Was A Very Good Year” if I’m not mistaken. Probably past the age the narrator calls “the autumn of my life,” too.