Monday, May 16, 2011

Books I'm Reading 34 - The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

Some of the things that Ronson discusses, like the use of Barney the Dinosaur's song in Iraq and LSD experimentation by the CIA, I've read about previously and pretty much take as fact. That said, I really hope that something in this book is fiction. If I were too take this entire text as fact, I think my brain would explode in a surreal psychotic break from reality ala The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

From depictions of the involvement of psychological operations against the Branch Davidians in Waco through supernatural warfare against Noriega (and why the fuck isn't "Noriega" in my spell check dictionary???), all told through the historical lens of the First Earth Battalion, I find this way too taxing on my sanity if I take it as prima facie truth.

Also, being that I live in Hawaii, I kind of have to ask, what the fuck makes these isolated islands grand central for retired New Age Military? Seriously? I mean look guys, if you've psychically predicted massive Earth-changing catastrophe, whether natural disasters, man-made ecological destruction or alien-assisted Terrarism (pun intended) an island chain with a history of tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes and the ghost stories of multiple races, cultures and generations seems like a bad choice for a retirement community. May I suggest Nebraska? Or maybe Texas. Hell, your particular brand of occult nuttiness may not even stand out much in Texas, especially Austin.

I also read this in part as prep because I saw that he just published a book about psychopaths and at the moment social psychology is something of an interest area of mine. Now that I've read this I'm even more so looking forward to reading The Psychopath Test.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books I'm reading 33 - Unfamiliar fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is probably the most interest-maintaining books about the development of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy that I've ever read.

As part-Hawaiian and living in Hawaii, I grew up learning many these stories in school or as part of the general community knowledge that one just picks up, but I've never had the chance to view this history with the combination of outward objectivity and deep archivists interest that Sarah Vowell has.

It's not surprising that she brings a particular viewpoint to things that slants the story in a particular way; what is surprising is how well she blends a sympathetic and empathic caring for the history of the islands with a sort of comedic self reflection that makes the history of these islands gel into a personal story.

And to be honest, not all of this was stuff that I knew. The relationships between American interests in Hawaii and other imperial ambitions (e.g. the Philippines) was something that I had known in concept without any detailed connecting thread. As a person working in technology who did actually learn Morse Code (albeit briefly and I don't remember much of I now) I also find it amusing that Morse himself has a painting of people who I learned to dislike, hanging in a place that I actually do like.

Much in the same way that Howard Zinn will personalize and make a student reevaluate their own ideas of American history, Sarah Vowell makes it very easy to make me reevaluate those things about Hawaiian History that I though I understood...not well exactly....but with the comprehension of someone who got an A- in Hawaiian History in high school at Kam.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I was just reading this article about the increasing number of women in relationships who make more than men. Personally, I'm all for it. I was dating someone who made more money than me for a while. And her undergrad degree was fucking Sociology. It was just sad. But I dug it, it was nice not having to shell out for her shit too. Oh you want that $600 bag? Go for it. I mean hell, you make more money than me.

Just remember guys, if she pays for dinner and a movie, you better put out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books I'm Reading 32) Last Words by George Carlin

I was a child of the 80's but I came to become a teenager in the 1990's and just as George Carlin was getting into his greatest stride, I learned of his presence. I knew he had been around before (the hippy dippy weatherman), but the 90's was when I learned of him and thus, it's when I knew him best.

Last words was his 'memoir' a word he didn't like as it sounded too much like 'moi'. The interesting thing to me was the pacing of the autobiography and the tone. The entire tone of the book was as I know Carlin from the 90's and early 2000's, deeply thoughtful and self analytical, brutally honest and absurdly whimsical all at the same time. He had that way about his language that could disarm you. Everyone's got some childhood shit, and you get a lot of that for the first part of the book. In a way that it obvious that Carlin's rebel side formed early. You get the painful history of substance abuse as well. But neither of those is the part I really enjoyed.

He's got this section where he talks about becoming Mr. Conductor at Shining Times Station. I have to say, that small bit, above else, that gem of insight into the universal human condition of childhood, is to me the best part of the book.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Books I'm Reading 31) World War Z by Max Brooks

Being published after America's response to Sept. 11, 2001 gives this book a very moder perspective and while I actually got the audio book, not the hardcover, it's an amazing "history" to go through.

While I am a fan of zombie movies, this particular story is great, not because of its zombies but because of the personal (albeit fictional) stories associated with the doomsday zombie war.

While not making direct mention of US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (calling it instead the "last brushfire" war) it's got the full range of human reaction that you would expect of a post second Gulf War America. But it takes it further, going across the world to touch on so many different nations and cultures and exploring with fearful detail, how the world might react to such a global crisis. That to me is the greatest part of all. It's one thing to tell the old Night of The Living Dead story from the point of view of one nation, like in 28 Days Later, but another thing entirely to expand the reaction across the globe to explore how world war of the zombie kind might effect a change of government in Cuba, or turn Honolulu into the new national keystone.

That's not to say it ignores America. Quite the contrary, it takes aim at America's modern consumer culture, the uselessness of the talking heads on 24 hr. cable news networks, our ridiculous national fascination with celebrities (by the way Max, shoudl you read this, thank you very much for killing them) and a host of other aspects that generally annoy the crap out of mean when it comes to today's America.

Plus, they got Alan Alda to read one of the parts, I mean c'mon Alan Fucking Alda, how awesome is that?!?! I mean they had like Mark Hamill in there which is neat on a couple of front (one of which being that his dad was in the Navy) and Henry Rollins which, good on you guys 'cause Rollins is all sorts of awesome in his ow right, but Alan Alda. Woot. As the kids say.

Monday, October 05, 2009

CD I need to go and buy now

Tim Ries Rolling Stones Project is a bunch of covers. A while ago, someone...I think it might have been Coverville's Brian Ibbott...turned me on to a cover of the Stone's Wild Horses sung by Norah Jones. I have no fucking idea where that MP3 is but now I'm kind of jonesing for (pun intended) that track and it bums me out that I can't find it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Books I'm Reading 29 & 30) Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson & Kenneth Blanchard and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Both of these are sort of little stories which I'm hoping will help make me view some work changes in a different light so I read and I'm now writing about them as a pair. They're both good independently but given some of the radical change at my current company, are probably better as a complementary pair.

Who Moved My Cheese is more generally about change and how to look at view change, not as a negative but as an opportunity and therefore a positive. The slightly hokey story about Sniff and Scurry (the mice) and Hem and Haw (the little people) does provide a safe way to reflect upon my own decisions. Even if some parts like seeing the "writing on the wall" just make me feel like I'm being patronized. Don't get me wrong, the book provides some lessons and I probably did gain some from it, if nothing else it did make me take a few minutes to reflect on things, but I don't consider this a worthwhile business book. I mean the lessons in the book and the primary message that "change happens" is something I expect any competent business person and any (even semi) successful professional to know. I find it kind of surprising how many people recommended this book to me. A lot of it seemed very common sense. Of course there are times where I let my frustration get the best of me and at that point sense, common or otherwise, pretty much goes out the window.

The second book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a much more appropriate book given some of the significant changes currently going on at my job and it's a book with both practical information and more conceptual lessons. This is one I would much more recommend for anybody going through change. It doesn't condescend to treat you like a five year old who needs a fairy tale to understand a lesson like "change happens" and it gives you some familiar, though fictional, descriptions of the personalities you're likely to have to deal with. Where Who Moved My Cheese was focused on the individual (and perhaps make sense for the individual sales guy who's trying to hit quota against all the other mice running the maze) Five Dysfunctions, is much more appropriate to business because it focuses on the importance of teamwork and the success of the team rather than the individual.