Books, Books, Books

Ender's Game - Continuing my recent interest in sci-fi novels, I picked up Ender's game because it tops several "all time best" lists and is being made into a movie sometime in 2013.  Very fun read.

The End of Eternity - Another great book by Isaac Asimov. This one was not quite as good as the foundation trilogy, but if you enjoy time travel I highly recommend it.

The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate - Runaway winner for the most pretentious book title ever. Still found some good words, such as these listed below.  Puerto Rico has callipygous autochthons.

autochthon (aw-TOK-then) noun, plural autochthons or autochthones (aw-TOK-the-NEEZ) an aboriginal inhabitant of a place; an earliest known inhabitant of a place.

callipygian (KAL-i-PIJ-ee-en) adjective, also given as callipygous (KAL-i-PI-ges) having shapely buttocks.

dipsomania (DIP-se-MAY-nee-e) noun an uncontrollable craving for alcoholic drink.

Grundyism (GRUN-dee-IZ-em) noun 1. a narrow-minded adherence to conventionality, combining propriety and prudery in matters of personal behavior. 2. grundyism, an instance of such conventionalism.

The Way of Zen - Above average book by Alan Watts, whose writing I enjoy. Favorite passage:

According to convention, I am not simply what I am doing now. I am also what I have done, and my conventionally edited version of my past is made to seem almost more the real “me” than what I am at this moment. For what I am seems so fleeting and intangible, but what I was is fixed and final. It is the firm basis for predictions of what I will be in the future, and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists than with what actually is!

1001 Smartest Things Ever Said - Some very smart/wise quotes were indeed included, notably:

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. -Saint Augustine
Happy the man, and happy he alone, He who can call today his own: He who, secure within, can say, Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today. Be fair or foul or rain or shine The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine. Not Heaven itself upon the past has power, But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour. -Horace
Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. -Susan Ertz
He who angers you conquers you. -Elizabeth Kenny
We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. -Anais Nin


Freedom from the Known

Below are a few favorite passages from the refreshing book "Freedom from the Known" by Krishnamurti.  I really enjoyed this book, and I appreciated Krishnamurti's frankness with the reader.  He can come across as hostile, but I love that he does not mince words and he really challenges the reader to think differently.  Don't say, act.  Don't try, do.  

For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints. We say, ‘Tell me all about it—what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?’ and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty. We are second-hand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment. We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear.
The primary cause of disorder in ourselves is the seeking of reality promised by another; we mechanically follow somebody who will assure us a comfortable spiritual life. It is a most extraordinary thing that although most of us are opposed to political tyranny and dictatorship, we inwardly accept the authority, the tyranny, of another to twist our minds and our way of life. So if we completely reject, not intellectually but actually, all so-called spiritual authority, all ceremonies, rituals and dogmas, it means that we stand alone and are already in conflict with society; we cease to be respectable human beings. A respectable human being cannot possibly come near to that infinite, immeasurable, reality.
The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality, or whatever you like to call it, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers or saviours. Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself and that is why you must know yourself. Immaturity lies only in total ignorance of self. To understand yourself is the beginning of wisdom.

Most of us are not sensitive even physically. We over-eat, we do not bother about the right diet, we oversmoke and drink so that our bodies become gross and insensitive; the quality of attention in the organism itself is made dull. How can there be a very alert, sensitive, clear mind if the organism itself is dull and heavy?
Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person, when we obey because there is fear. So violence isn’t merely organised butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper, and we are inquiring into the very depths of violence. When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.

You say, ‘I will think about it; I will consider whether it is possible to be free from violence or not. I will try to be free.’ That is one of the most dreadful statements you can make, ‘I will try’. There is no trying, no doing your best. Either you do it or you don’t do it. (emphasis mine)

We want to know the truth about reincarnation, we want proof of the survival of the soul, we listen to the assertion of clairvoyants and to the conclusions of psychical research, but we never ask, never, how to live—to live with delight, with enchantment, with beauty every day. We have accepted life as it is with all its agony and despair and have got used to it, and think of death as something to be carefully avoided. But death is extraordinarily like life when we know how to live. You cannot live without dying. You cannot live if you do not die psychologically every minute. This is not an intellectual paradox. To live completely, wholly, every day as if it were a new loveliness, there must be dying to everything of yesterday, otherwise you live mechanically, and a mechanical mind can never know what love is or what freedom is

Sci-Fi Experiment

Needing a break from non-fiction, I decided to experiment a bit by reading two sci-fi series.  

The first, "Wool," is a current phenomenon on Amazon.com. I read books 1-5, and thought they were fairly enjoyable, but not that memorable.  I expected more given the phenomenal average rating the series has on Amazon and Goodreads.  Book 1 is really great, but the rest is just 2.5 star material.

The second series, which I HIGHLY recommend, is the Foundation trilogy by Issac Asimov.  I chose this trilogy because it topped so many "greatest of all time" lists.  Asimov was a prolific writer - he wrote 470 books in 9 of the 10 Dewey Decimal categories.  He began Foundation (book #1) when he was just 21, which is incredible given the depth of language and plot in the book.  Foundation and Empire (book #2) was similar to The Two Towers from the Lord of the Rings trilogy - it was entertaining, but lacked the novelty of the first book and the revelations of Second Foundation (book #3).  Second Foundation was my personal favorite, which several  memorable characters and plot twists.  4/5 stars for the series. 

To Be Read Each Morning

With the help of several other pledge participants, I've complied the below list to be read each and every morning.  I am growing more and more convinced that we can implant ideas like these in our minds, and that thus implanted they can have a significant impact on how we interact with the world.  I believe that to make this work, we must continually remind ourselves of the wisdom contained in these simple ideas. Eknath Easwaran put it best:

Thoughts [are] packets of potential energy, which grow more and more solid when favorable conditions are present and obstacles are removed. They become desires, then habits, then ways of living with physical consequences. Those consequences may look no more like thoughts than an oak tree looks like an acorn, but they are just as intimately related. Just as a seed can grow into only one kind of tree, thoughts can produce effects only of the same nature. 

Some of these are pulled directly from ancient spiritual texts, others made up by my friends and by me.  Other suggestions are encouraged!

  • Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Think accordingly.
  • Be kind, reactions should be measured, not involuntary.
  • Do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.
  • Damyata datta dayadhvam, Be self-controlled, give, be compassionate.
  • Pain in inevitable, but suffering is optional. Pain is what the world does to you; suffering is what you do to yourself. 
  • Complaining does absolutely no good.
  • Harmonize thoughts and actions.
  • Watch how sensory desires drive or control your actions. Do not let the expectations of others drive your actions.
  • Nullius in Verba – “Take no one’s word for it.”  Trust, but verify.
  • Focus on what you are for rather than what you are against.
  • Write down everything you would like to achieve.
  • Premeditate everything.
  • There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
  • Think of one thing for which you are grateful this morning.  
  • Treat those you love as if today is your last.
  • Judgment is useless, empathy is learning.
  • Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
  • If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
  • Don’t waste this day.

Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is an interesting title because having just finished the book, I don’t see any dilemma at all!  Based on the often disturbing realities of the food processing/manufacturing world that are revealed in the book, I will continue to do everything in my power to avoid processed foods and care more than ever about the quality and sustainability of the food that I buy. The passages below are from the book's first and most interesting section.

Commodity Corn:

These days the price of a bushel of corn is about a dollar beneath the true cost of growing it, a boon for everyone but the corn farmer.
 So the plague of cheap corn goes on, impoverishing farmers (both here and in the countries to which we export it), degrading the land, polluting the water, and bleeding the federal treasury, which now spends up to $5 billion a year subsidizing cheap corn. But though those subsidy checks go to the farmer (and represent nearly half of net farm income today), what the Treasury is really subsidizing are the buyers of all that cheap corn. “Agriculture’s always going to be organized by the government; the question is, organized for whose benefit? Now it’s for Cargill.
….
For corn has been exempted from the usual rules of nature and economics, both of which have rough mechanisms to check any such wild, uncontrolled proliferation. In nature, the population of a species explodes until it exhausts its supply of food; then it crashes. In the market, an oversupply of a commodity depresses prices until either the surplus is consumed or it no longer makes sense to produce any more of it. In corn’s case, humans have labored mightily to free it from either constraint, even if that means going broke growing it, and consuming it just as fast as we possibly can.
THE PLACE where most of those kernels wind up—about three of every five—is on the American factory farm, a place that could not exist without them. Here, hundreds of millions of food animals that once lived on family farms and ranches are gathered together in great commissaries, where they consume as much of the mounting pile of surplus corn as they can digest, turning it into meat. Enlisting the cow in this undertaking has required particularly heroic efforts, since the cow is by nature not a corn eater. But Nature abhors a surplus, and the corn must be consumed. Enter the corn-fed American steer.
The economic logic of gathering so many animals together to feed them cheap corn in CAFOs is hard to argue with; it has made meat, which used to be a special occasion in most American homes, so cheap and abundant that many of us now eat it three times a day. Not so compelling is the biological logic behind this cheap meat. Already in their short history CAFOs have produced more than their share of environmental and health problems: polluted water and air, toxic wastes, novel and deadly pathogens. Raising animals on old-fashioned mixed farms such as the Naylors’ used to make simple biological sense: You can feed them the waste products of your crops, and you can feed their waste products to your crops. In fact, when animals live on farms the very idea of waste ceases to exist; what you have instead is a closed ecological loop—what in retrospect you might call a solution. One of the most striking things that animal feedlots do (to paraphrase Wendell Berry) is to take this elegant solution and neatly divide it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm (which must be remedied with chemical fertilizers) and a pollution problem on the feedlot (which seldom is remedied at all). This biological absurdity, characteristic of all CAFOs, is compounded in the cattle feedyard by a second absurdity. Here animals exquisitely adapted by natural selection to live on grass must be adapted by us—at considerable cost to their health, to the health of the land, and ultimately to the health of their eaters—to live on corn, for no other reason than it offers the cheapest calories around and because the great pile must be consumed. This is why I decided to follow the trail of industrial corn through a single steer rather than, say, a chicken or a pig, which can get by just fine on a diet of grain: The short, unhappy life of a corn-fed feedlot steer represents the ultimate triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution.
Bloat is perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn. The fermentation in the rumen produces copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime forms in the rumen that can trap the gas. The rumen inflates like a balloon until it presses against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is taken promptly to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the animal suffocates.
Most of the antibiotics sold in America today end up in animal feed, a practice that, it is now generally acknowledged (except in agriculture), is leading directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
So this is what commodity corn can do to a cow: industrialize the miracle of nature that is a ruminant, taking this sunlight- and prairie grass–powered organism and turning it into the last thing we need: another fossil fuel machine. This one, however, is able to suffer.
Since 1985, an American’s annual consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup has gone from forty-five pounds to sixty-six pounds. You might think that this growth would have been offset by a decline in sugar consumption, since HFCS often replaces sugar, but that didn’t happen: During the same period our consumption of refined sugar actually went up by five pounds. What this means is that we’re eating and drinking all that high-fructose corn syrup on top of the sugars we were already consuming. In fact, since 1985 our consumption of all added sugars—cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, maple syrup, whatever—has climbed from 128 pounds to 158 pounds per person.