Book Report: How to Get Into Debt (2007)

Book coverThis book is a scientifically funny book. You can take a look at it, and you can see the satire within it and the quips and the proven turns-from-reality that make for humor.

However, it is also almost 200 pages of the same gag. Granted, it’s double-spaced and has a lot of sidebars with quotes about debt and financial definitions.

At any rate, the gag itself is that getting into debt is good, all-American, and fun. It talks about how best to get as deeply in debt as you can and how to strategically manage your debt so your credit limits go up without actual default. Until it all does collapse, which might not even be until you’re dead.

It might have made–and probably has–made a humorous essay, but stretching it into a book really thins out the actual funny.

A little bit of wry retrospect, though: the book was published in 2007. A year later, its tenets would become very unfunny indeed.

Unfunnier still are places where I find myself recognizing my own rationalizations and patterns of spending, such as buying expensive coffees and pastries because I was making more than the $20 a day I spent on them.

At any rate, a quick read, but probably not worth your time.

Apparently, this is part of a series of books whose titles are wry satires on self-help books. But I’m not seeking them out.

The Wisdom of Logan

From Alpha Flight #17:

In a lot of ways the death of the dream can be worse than the death of the dreamer.

So, Brian J., how’s that project of reading the remainder of all the comic books you own coming along? you ask, gentle reader.

Well, I am almost through the box of comics I bought at a sale at Edgar Road Elementary School almost ten years ago. I’ve got one Alpha Flight to go and a bunch of New Mutants from the early middle 1980s and a couple of scattered other bits, and then I can get onto consequential goals for 2017, such as Do something meaningful, you layabout.

Something of this bit spoken by Logan/Wolverine reminded me of something from a poem I read 25 or more years ago by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

I remember memorizing that poem after reading a collection of Langston Hughes after reading Black Like Me for the first time (and, gentle reader, I was going to recount a story of my knowledge of Langston Hughes poetry in a class on The Church and Racial Justice, but I see I already did when I revisited the John Griffith book).

Ah, well, where was I?

I dunno. Recognizing the importance of dreams, even when you’re growing older, perhaps. Also, thinking perhaps I should not have given such short shrift to the mutant books in the old days. At least, I hope not: Alpha Flight is not actually a mutant title, although I thought it was back in the day when I was watching the Mr. T cartoon on Saturday mornings.

Book Report: On the Pleasure of Hating by William Hazlitt (2005)

Book coverThis book was in the Bookmarx philosophy section, and I didn’t know why when I started. I bought it because I’ve been reading some philosophical material of late, and this book is pretty thin, so it would be (I hoped) a quick read in that line.

Well, Hazlitt is an English essayist from around the turn of the nineteenth century, and the events rather capture the spirit of the immediate post-American and post-French Revolution era in England.

The book contains six essays:

  • “The Fight” which details a long trip to a boxing match out in the countryside. Hazlitt discusses his friends who like boxing, some of the people he meets, and the spectacle of his first fight. It’s not a very philosophical essay at all, but it does describe the event and the countryside in great detail.
     
  • “Indian Jugglers” which starts off discussing jugglers that he appreciates but then goes into how long it takes to learn things and how certain physical skills–like juggling–will give you immediate, concrete feedback as to whether you’re doing it wrong or not.
     
  • “On the Spirit of the Monarchy” and “What Is ‘The People’?” are both anti-aristocracy pieces. The first focuses on humans who seem to need some leader over them to enjoy the pomp and circumstance, but that the people who end up ruling by hereditary succession are less good than perhaps a random person. The second talks about styles of government (see this The Wisdom of William Hazlitt post for a taste. He’s spot on about how the self-appointed elites react to having power (or just seeking it) and how governors become self-serving, but he lionizes “the people” a bit too much, not recognizing how important it is to restrain their/its passions and mob-potentiality in government (which the structure of the early American Republic did well).
     
  • “On Reason and Imagination” talks about philosophy qua philosophy and takes to task systems built entirely on abstraction and without recognizing the role that passion plays in ethics (as well as a man’s innate sense of right and wrong). He’s retreading some Hume here, but it’s funny that he’s all Good Natured and Frans de Waal in this essay, but….
     
  • The essay whose provocative title, “On the Pleasure of Hating”, is all Dark Nature and Lyall Watson. This essay talks about the innate badness in people and how they like to do bad things and hate on people, especially former friends. It’s a bit of a whip-saw, and I get the sense he was growing disappointed in his fellow man for whom he had such high hopes.

The style is lofty, and the essays are chock full of quotations, some of which I knew but many more of which I did not. He drops them in without attribution, so he expects his contemporaries to get them.

I enjoyed it, even though it was not as quick of a read as I’d expected. I prefer Hazlitt to Montaigne, and I’d be interested in reading more, but I think most of Hazlitt is way out of print (whereas you can find Montaigne easily, especially the Classics Club edition).

How To Tell What Song Just Came On Brian’s iPod At The Gym (X)

Watch closely when I’m working out at the gym, singing along silently to the music on my iPod. You can tell what I’m listening to by what I do.

For example, if it looks like I’m having flashbacks to popular media depictions of ‘Nam, it could be one of two songs.

“Paint It Black” from the television show Tour of Duty:

My father, who worked nights in the 1980s and almost as much of the 1990s as he had left to him, recorded this program on videocassette so he could watch it later, and over the summers, he would watch the program with my brother and I (and people think binge watching was invented in the 21st century). As I mentioned, when my father got out of boot camp, his troop was lined up, and the officer asked the first couple of guys if they knew their alphabet. My father and the others selected probably said, “Sir, yes, sir!” And they went to Okinawa instead of Vietnam. My father, I think, felt guilty about that the rest of his life.

Of course, it could be “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which is used in the film Forrest Gump:

Of course, I have the whole songs, which sound like this respectively:


Frankly, I think both of the songs rock and I like the thematic material, but because of their born-on dates, they’re associated with the Vietnam War in popular culture.

Well, the popular culture of twenty-five or thirty years ago, anyway.

Not only would I have to explain the music to some of the kids at the gym, I’d also have to explain the Vietnam War. Best I just put the earbuds in and turn the music up.

The Wisdom of William Hazlitt

From his essay “What Is The People” (1817):

That Government is instituted for the benefit of the governed, there can be little doubt; but the interests of the Government (when once it becomes absolute and independent of the people) must be directly at variance with those of the governed. The interests of the one are common and equal rights: of the other, exclusive and invidious privileges. The essence of the first is to be shared alike by all, and to benefit the community in proportion as they are spread: the essence of the last is to be destroyed by communication, and to subsist only–in the wrong of the people. Rights and privileges are a contradiction in terms: for if one has more than his right, others must have less. The latter are the deadly nightshade of the commonwwealth, near which no wholesome plant can thrive,–the ivy clinging round the trunk of the British oak, blighting its verdure, drying up its sap, and oppressing its stately growth. The insufficient checks and balances opposed to the overbearing influence of hereditary rank and power in our own Constitution, and in every Government which retains the least trace of freedom, are so many illustrations of this principle, if it need any. The tendency in arbitrary power to encroach upon the liberties and comforts of the people, and to convert the public good into a stalking horse to its own pride and avarice, has never (that we know) been denied by any one but ‘the professional gentleman’, who writes in The Day and New Times. The great and powerful, in order to be what they aspire to be, and what this gentleman would have them, perfectly independent of the will of the people, ought also to be perfectly independent of the assistance of the people. To be formally invested with the attributes of Gods upon earth, they ought first to be raised above its petty wants and appetites: they ought to give proofs of the beneficence and wisdom of Gods, before they can be trusted with the power. When we find them seated above the world, sympathizing with the welfare, but not feeling the passions of men, receiving neither good nor hurt, neither tilth nor tithe from them, but bestowing their benefits as free gifts on all, they may then be expected, but not till then, to rule over use like another Providence.

He’s a little hoppy with the revolutionary spirit of his times, but he seems to have a solid grasp on how an aristocracy sees its relative position, a lesson which is sadly too familiar to twenty-first century readers.

The Old School Hardware Discount

So I was looking for Cage the Elephant’s song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” to add to my iPod for workouts because I haven’t added anything in like six months.

And I couldn’t find it as a single song on Amazon, so I thought I’d order the CD. Amazon defaults, when searching for music, to its unlimited streaming feature, but it offered to let me buy the whole album in MP3 form for $9.99.

Or the CD form for $6.99.

Buying the CD, of course, comes with a free AutoRip MP3 version of the album, so I don’t have to wait the couple days to get the song onto my iPod.

Still, when Amazon even if Amazon discontinued the AutoRip, I’d still take the cheaper CD version of the album and rip it myself. Because I’m old school that way.

It seems like a lot of things are cheaper on physical media these days than digital versions. Especially if you’re buying them used in stores, book sales, or garage sales. Having patience and my own playback equipment saves me a bundle.

I’ve Had This Decal On Every Car I Have Owned

My kids asked me about the decal in the back of my pickup truck window.

As you might expect, my pickup truck’s rear graphicature represents the stereotypical country dweller in Southwest Missouri. I’ve got an old bumper sticker from around the turn of the century that says “I’m proud Bush is our President”. I’ve got an American flag so faded that you can’t tell it’s an American flag unless you’re really close. I’ve got the logo of a professional football team–the Green Bay Packers, the only team that matters and not the Kansas City Chiefs, the closest team to this corner of the state and therefore the preferred one for most of the locals.

Things go a bit awry with the Webster Groves Historical Society decal, as I’m no longer in Old Trees itself (but I maintained memberships in the historical society and the friends of the library until they stopped sending me things because I moved away).

No, the boys were asking about the Reason – Individual Rights – Capitalism decal:

It’s a little worse for wear, but it has been on the truck for longer than the Bush bumper sticker. I most likely put the decal on right away, as I have affixed a similar decal in every car I’ve owned.

The decal came from an Objectivist-themed outfit called RIC Trading. Back in the last century, I was a big-O Objectivist. I read a lot of Ayn Rand in college, of course, and I even read Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff. I subscribed to a magazine called The Intellectual Activist (which employed a much younger Robert Tracinski, if I am not mistaken). The magazine turned me down when I offered to write for it, but to be honest and as reasoning writers of today will tell you, I’m a little lightweight for serious philosophical diatribes. I think I saw an ad for RIC Trading in the back of the magazine, though, and I got one for my first car, a Nissan Pulsar.

Well, I bought my cars cheap and high mileage in those days, and I put ten or fifteen thousand miles a year on them, so I turned them over pretty quick. When I couldn’t find RIC Trading around for another order, I bought a bunch of them on eBay (and got a free lapel pin to boot).

As I have aged, my cars’ prices have gone up, but they’ve lasted longer as demonstrated by the current pickup truck that I’ve been driving for sixteen years and change.

But never fear: When I get my next car, I’ll have a RIC decal for it. As I’ve got a couple left, I might have enough to cover all the cars I’ll ever own.

I explained what each meant for my children. Although I’m no longer a capital O Objectivist (I don’t recognize the infallibility of Ayn Rand), I still believe in Reason, Individual Rights, and Capitalism.

Book Report: We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist (2014)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I picked up this book last week in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The books are all jumbled together on the discount shelves/carts, so I did not realize this was a young adult book until I looked at the back flap and the book’s publisher URL is a youth imprint.

I did look at the front flap before I bought it, and the content there didn’t indicate it was for young people. The author, at all of 25 years old, determines he has never had a girl friend, so he’s going to go back and talk to girls he was interested in from middle school through college and see why they were not interested in him. As a fellow who was also a little thin on the girlfriend department in my youth, I thought it might be an interesting read.

The flap alludes to it obliquely, but the author has only one leg. In the text of the book, he’s very upfront about it, telling the story of his bout with cancer at age 9 and losing a leg from the hip down. I bring it up here not because I want to diminish the author in any way–hey, my best friend lost an eye to an aggressive cancer in his early adulthood before later succombing to a recurrence when he was in his 40s, so I know cancer sucks and it leaves challenges for its survivors–but because it was a bit of a surprise in the book (since I didn’t read the back flap and did not know the author’s story) and, sadly, because early on in the book, I thought that it could easily explain his difficulties in finding girlfriends. I mean, kids and young people and older people can be shallow and not see beyond that. But.

As he starts recounting his youth, and the girls he met and was interested in, it became clear it wasn’t they were nice girls who weren’t (at least in the recounting) put off by his disability. He spends a lot of time with some of them, getting pretty close as friends, but never really becoming girlfriend/boyfriend. As such, I looked past his disability and thought that it was because he was unsure of himself and inexperienced with girls, a bit of a ditherer when it comes to making a move on girls who might be interested in it. So I understood. My problem, in addition to being unsure of myself, was that I would focus on inattainable girls so much that I’d not see other girls who were interested in me.

At any rate, I was very sympatico with the author’s story until toward the very end. He has reached out to these young ladies, and they told him years later that they were actually interested in him back then, and the author breaks down and says that he never got the nerve to press the issue because he was unsure of himself because of his disability.

I don’t know–I certainly didn’t have that disability, and I’m sure a number of young people today who might read the book only have their own uncertainties and insecurities to deal with. Somehow, circling back to it at the end of the book kinda weakened the message, which I assume is that everyone has self-doubt in relating to others, especially girls. However, if you’re lacking in self-confidence to go talk to that pretty girl who is really nice, finding someone else worse off than you are also has a problem with being unsure of one’s self, it might not boost your confidence.

I dunno. I think it could have been a better message without the last bit focusing again on the loss of the author’s leg.

So it was very readable (it is addressed at young adults, after all), and it’s chock full of hand-drawn humorous (that is, not statistically or scientifically supported) graphs –the influence of modern children’s books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid on the canon, no doubt. I liked it, but not as much as I might have.

Jeez, I feel like I’m picking on the author for his missing leg, but I hope it doesn’t come across quite like that. I’m trying to discuss it dispassionately as part of the book, but I’m never sure how this sort of thing comes across. Which is another thing that kept me from really wowing the ladies: I have a tendency to come across as a jerk when I’m not intending to be offensive.