Book Report: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Classics Club Edition)

This book collects a large number of Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts about life as a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius, for those of you who don’t know, was Roman Emperor in the middle portion of the Empire. He might sound a little familiar because Joaquin Phoenix killed him in Gladiator.

The book reads like a set of Stoic tweets or fortune cookies. There is no flow to them, really, aside from a couple that seem to follow stream of consciousness style. When my children removed my bookmark from the book, I was quite in a spot, since you really cannot remember where you were based on context, because many of the things are repetitive and restate the same things only slightly differently. So this book took me a while to slog through.

I’m not a fan of Aurelius’ Stoicism; it is a philosophy of emperors and slaves (Aurelius’ mentor, Epicetus, was a slave, and I have his collection to get through sometime but not soon). It urges you to bear up under your life, as its course is determined outside of you, and to do right and live according to the tenets of Stoicism, which seems to include noticing that you’re not in control of your life and it really doesn’t mean much anyway since you will be forgotten.

As this is a Classics Club edition, it also includes other material, including:

  • Several chapters of a novel entitled Marius the Epicurean which imagines and presents a fictional but descriptive portrait of Aurelius in his times (and a Christian ceremony at the time).
  • Two satires by Lucian that make fun of Stoicism.
  • A couple of pieces by Justin, including a dialog discussing his conversion to Christianity and an apology for Christianity (not an “I’m Sorry” kind of apology, but more an explanation of it) written with Aurelius in mind. These bits are very interesting in their own right (and rite) in that they very seriously compare the mysteries of Jesus Christ with various elements and deities in the Roman pantheon, saying these guys you worship did this, why is it so seditious that we believe Christ did this.

Overall, the most I derive out of this book is that I can say I read it. The philosophy within did not inspire me to something more, nor did it add anything to my credos. The pieces by Justin were interesting and helped provide me with some insight into early Christianity. The whole of it helped fill some historical gaps in my knowledge, I suppose, but I prefer Cicero to Marcus Aurelius when it comes to talking about Stoicism. This sort of Stoicism offers me no comfort since I prefer to believe in Free Will.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Jem by Frederik Pohl (1979)

This is not a book about the action figure. Unfortunately.

It’s a 1979 dark novel about power politics and national and bloc-level conflict. However, in this future, although people are still flying Trans World Airlines, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are part of a larger bloc called the Food Bloc which squares off against oil-producing countries (including Great Britain) and the populous countries (such as China and Pakistan). When astronomers discover a habitable planet with three sentient species on it, the three blocs send expeditions and the international tensions continue to rise until a shooting war breaks out on Earth and on the planet Jem.

The book spends about eighty percent of the book introducing a number of characters of the different blocs and the different species, then about fifteen percent of the book killing those characters pretty offhandedly, and then ends with a small epilogue from some six generations later when the survivors on Jem have evolved into a new civilization that incorporates the species from the planet and a whole lot of proto-Gaiaist loving of Mother Jem.

A pretty grim book, and unsatisfying. I think I’ll have to cleanse my science-fiction reading palate with some rocket-jockeying Heinlein.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Darwin Awards II by Wendy Northcutt (2000)

It’s been five years since I read the next volume in the series (The Darwin Awards 3, wherein the numbering went Arabic instead of Roman. You know, what I said about that book also applies to this book, really. It’s a digest of Web site postings. The essays that introduce each chapter still annoyed me.

But five years later, I’m less amused by the anecdotes of creative deaths. Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I’m moping through the first holiday season without my mother, but I’m just not as into the concept as I had been five years ago or when I first sat in my TALXware training session in 1998 and read the site after finishing up an easy exercise in writing an IVR script.

But, to say something nice about it, it’s as good as any other in the series as I’ve read. There’s some faint praise for it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: "One Moment, Sir!" Cartoons from the Saturday Evening Post selected by Marione R. Nickles (1957)

Well, I’ve read another book of cartoons to make my annual total more impressive. Also, it’s a handy book to read when you’re watching a football game, as you can read a cartoon or two between plays. So that explains why I spent some time on a fifty year old book of cartoons designated for the sophisticate reading a magazine founded by Ben Franklin. Back in the 50s, it was more a general interest magazine; now, it’s a medical-themed magazine angled for the oldsters who still subscribe to it. And to me, since I subscribe to it.

For the most part, the cartoons are more clever than what you get from Heathcliff or Family Circus, but they don’t have to work in a cat or a series character and they don’t have the crutch of hitting common series tropes. On the other hand, the merchandising money is far less. So it’s a slightly better read than a book in those series, but it’s also less likely to connect you nostalgically with things you read when you were younger.

Unless, I guess, you’re about 30 years older than I am and your parents subscribed to this magazine.

Books mentioned in this review:

How Will That Play To The Tea Party Crowd?

You know the tea party people, the ones who take off of work to travel to Washington, D.C., to protest? The ones who skip lunches to march in front of their Congressional representatives offices? The ones who show up on Saturday because they don’t like health control reform?

How do you think they’ll like it that the Senate Republican leadership gave in a little early so everyone could go home early for Christmas?

The Senate will still be in session Christmas Eve day, but Democrats and Republicans have agreed to give health care reform a final vote starting at 8 a.m. — 11 hours earlier than originally scheduled. Majority Leader Harry’s Reid’s announcement means that the Senate will be able to finish its business in time for many senators and staffers to get home for the Christmas holiday.

Do you think that will endear the GOP leaders who like their jobs and their perks and their chances to go home early with people who want to fight this thing tooth and nail, all the way?

I think not.

More at Ace of Spades HQ.

The GOP leadership better start thinking about how to show the tea party people that they, too, are serious about principles.

A Is A: The Law of Identity

Things act according to their natures. The scorpion and the frog. Anyone familiar with these could have foreseen this:

One of the biggest challenges to ending the foreclosure crisis is this: A surprising number of homeowners who get their monthly payments reduced fall behind again within a year.

When borrowers get into financial trouble, lenders have several ways to help. They can offer grace periods, longer repayment schedules, lower interest rates or reduced balances.

Sadly, the problem does not seem to be merely a 20% difference in loan amounts.

Unless the people and their circumstances change, too, the problem of not having enough to pay the mortgage will continue.

Book Report: When’s Later, Daddy? by Bil Keane (1974)

Yes, I did read another book of 1960s and 1970s cartoons to make my annual quota of 100 books. Well, what would you do?

I guess some Family Circus cartoons are amusing. I certainly empathize with them now that I have Jeffy and PJ of my own. But they do seem to be relics of a bygone era of straight nuclear family cartoons. Although the pages of this paperback are yellowed with age, in my mind’s eye they were all printed on green paper as part of the Milwaukee Journal‘s Green Sheet.

I guess it’s worth your time if you’re a fan of these sorts of books, as I seem to be, or you need to make quota, which I often need to do. A good, quick, mindless short evening’s reading.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: TV Babylon by Jeff Rovin (1984)

Consider this book to be the antidote to the little elementary school books about 1980s television stars that I’ve read before (TV Superstars ’82, TV Superstars ’83, TV Close-ups). In it, the author recounts suicides, crimes, breakdowns, scandals, and all sorts of shenanigans that take place in Hollywood to television stars.

Oddly enough, the book covers some of the same stars as the books mentioned above, including Freddie Prinze, John Schneider, Tom Wopat, and Gary Burghoff.

So it’s a bit of a quick tabloid read that’s only relevant if you were alive and sentient prior to the publication date. You might learn something or learn some stories you weren’t familiar with before, such as the Jack Paar/Johnny Carson spat and who Ernie Kovacs was. However, you probably won’t come out of it like Tobey Maguire’s character from Wonder Boys. Mostly because James Leer dealt with movie stars.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Only Girl in the Game by John D. MacDonald (1960)

This might be one of MacDonald’s darkest pieces. Set in Las Vegas, it focuses on a hotel manager who tries not to get involved in the mob doings on with the hotel or the casino. He falls for a singer who’s been with the hotel for a long time (a couple of years), and he dreams of taking her away when he makes enough to buy himself a hotel of his own in Florida. She, however, is blackmailed by the casino owners into spending nights with high rollers who win to encourage them to stay in Vegas and lose their winnings, so she suspects it’s a pipe dream.

But when her father dies–the person to whom her seductions would have been outed as the threat of the blackmail–the singer decides to break free. The mob has other ideas. And then it’s up to the hotel manager and the millionaire oil man who befriended the singer to exact revenge.

It’s dark, and it’s cynical, and then the ending comes very quickly. For that reason alone I was a little disappointed. But I still think MacDonald can write anything.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Growing Up in the Bend by E.M. Bray (1998)

This book is a set of reminiscences about growing up in the bend of the Gasconade River in rural Missouri in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The author is the son of a small farmer in the region who attends the local one room elementary school at the time and occasionally takes in a film in a nearby town. Strangely, the stories seem more from the time of The Great Brain series (Utah 1898) than a more modern era. When you compare the films of the era, often set in urban areas and New York in particular with the life of a rural person (no heat, no electricity, and some people still travelling by wagon), you get a stunning juxtaposition and a reminder of just how much change some people saw in the 20th Century.

The book isn’t too long, but the narrative is a little disjointed, as each chapter is a discrete piece that relates stories or circumstances in the Bend in the year the author talks about. But it makes for some slow reading as each piece doesn’t lead to the next.

Still, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot from it. Mostly, I learned how little a city boy like me knows of rural skills, such as hunting, butchering, growing, and gathering. It makes me what sort of city boy skills I have taking their place in my palette of experience. Running a backwater blog for over half a decade might be it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Crossroads by John D. MacDonald (1959)

This is a shorter of MacDonald’s works, it seems, and it combines two of his themes: business and crime.

In it, the oldest brother of a family runs a business empire built on a Florida highway at an interchange. Businesses include a truck stop, a hotel, a motel, a couple restaurants, and a strip mall. His father, who bought all the land, has retired and lives on a hill overlooking his family work. The whole clan, including the numbers-mad but indecisive brother, the alert sister, and the playboy youngest son, work in the group. The book touches on the affairs and marriages of the characters and culminates in a robbery that goes awry.

A good bit of reading, combining a slice of life vignette with the planning, commission, and aftermath of the crime.

And the ending is mostly upbeat, too, which is better than The Only Girl in the Game.

Books mentioned in this review:

Democratic Party Barking at Shadows

The Missouri State Democratic Party intends to file an ethics complaint because a Congressman explained his vote to his constituents:

The Missouri Democratic Party is crying foul over a mailer U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt’s office sent to 7th District residents addressing his vote against cap and trade legislation that aims to reduce greenhouse gases.

The League of Conservation Voters has spent more than $500,000 in November and December, airing a television ad throughout Missouri, targeting Blunt for his vote against the legislation last summer.

Blunt’s office mailed a four-page glossy pamphlet to constituents this week — at taxpayer expense — to explain why he voted against the legislation, which he says would lead to a national energy tax on coal and raise the price of electricity and goods.

A Congressman communicating with his constituents? Heaven forfend! One might see why the Democratic Party thinks elected officials should not communicate with the people who elected those officials since Democratic congressmen can often only offer the argument “Nancy Pelosi told me to” or “Nancy Pelosi gave me earmarks to” for their votes.

As a bonus, now Robin “The Ghostwriter” Carnahan can say that Roy Blunt is under an ethical cloud–filed by her own party over a pretty obviously manufactured incident.

More Dangerous Right Wing American Tea Party Protestors

Taking to the streets, smashing things up:

Police have forced back hundreds of protesters who tried to break through a perimeter fence at the UN climate summit venue in Copenhagen.

The Bella Centre, where the conference is taking place, has now been shut off, says the BBC’s Sarah Mukherjee.

When conservatives take to the streets, Democrats in office characterize them as violent mobs. When leftists take to the streets, they are violent mobs.

But as long as Democrats think that television makes the reality, the cognitive dissonance will ring.

The Saddest Search Hit of All

I am the first hit on Yahoo! Answers for brian bought a used bike for $25 less than its original . he paid a total of $ 88 for the bike , what was the original price of the bike.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, I cannot but feel nothing but desolate sadness that some poor, stupid product of public education could not help but try Yahoo! answers for a simple word problem.

Can’t these damn kids even find the calculator application these days? Seriously.

I remember when freaking calculator watches were the end of schoolage civilization as it were. Oh, those heady, innocent times!

You Will Keep Doing It Until You Do It Right

Another electoral defeat for a tax increase just leads to a sequel, as the Christian County Library Board reanimates the undead and tries to get it on the next ballot:

The Christian County Library Board is expected to decide this month whether to send a proposed property tax increase back to voters.

If approved, it would help build three libraries.

Library Director Mabel Phillips said the board met Nov. 20 to discuss the possibility of putting the issue on the April ballot.

It was the board’s first meeting since 52 percent of voters rejected a proposed property tax increase during the Nov. 3 election.

Hey, you know what worked for the Webster Groves Public Library? Getting the tax increase on a February ballot, where most people wouldn’t know it was an election and those who did might decide not to brave 15 degree weather to vote.

Book Report: Dead Low Tide by John D. MacDonald (1953)

This John D. MacDonald paperback original, written over 50 years ago, centers on a man working for a construction company whose boss commits suicide with a harpoon gun. The protagonist’s harpoon gun. And it doesn’t look like suicide after all. Circumstances and the individual plots of the individual people have hemmed him in as the suspect, though. But when the woman friend who the protagonist discovers too late he loves is found in a canal, the police have to turn him loose. For vengeance.

I hoped for a bit of bloodshed at the end, but there’s no burst of gun violence. It wouldn’t suit the characters, of course. MacDonald created another interesting little town with its own people, problems, and story. I like MacDonald. A lot. I was recently saddened to realize I will eventually have read all of his books.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Homegoing by Frederik Pohl (1989)

I’m reviewing these books out of order; I read this book when I went through a recent sci-fi set including Solaris and Lovelock. So apparently it was not only a sci-fi set, but also a single word title sci-fi set.

This book centers on the return of a human rescued in space by the Haklh’hi. The young man was raised from infancy by the herd-like aliens. As they return him, they behave a little suspiciously, sending him into a civilization that has slipped after global warming and nuclear wars to determine how warlike the survivors remain. Unfortunately, the aliens have only prepared the boy by showing him old television shows, so the reconnaissance fails. And the Haklh’hi plans are not as benign as they’ve let on.

An interesting read, something to keep you puzzling what the final twist will be. At which time, you will say, “But of course.”

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Wildtrack by Bernard Cornwell (1988)

This is a very early thriller from a very young (from the book jacket photo) Cornwell. Probably precedes his success with historical novels, but this very book could be a historical novel of sorts since it deals with a veteran of the Falkland Islands War.

A disabled veteran, winner of the Victoria Cross, finds that his boat–the one thing he missed most–has been beached during his absence and stripped of gear. The probably culprit: a roughneck employed by the television personality who purchased the veteran’s father’s home. The guy is drawn into the television man’s circle when the television man wants to produce a documentary about the veteran’s heroism. The whole thing turns complicated when agents of the television man’s former father-in-law look for revenge against the television guy for the accidental death of his wife in a yacht race. The television guy is going to race again and eventually the veteran gets involved.

It’s a convoluted plot with a meandering pace. The book includes a lot of nautical detail, which sort of gummed it up since I was not that interested in it much. Perhaps the historical novels have similar pacing issues except that I’m interested in the details.

It’s clear to see why Cornwell ended up in the genre where he did. Historical novels suit him better than straight ahead thrillers.

Books mentioned in this review: