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Posts Tagged ‘Recommended Reading’

A couple of weeks ago, Hil and I were watching public television (KQED) and we saw one of their normal infomercials about dieting and getting in better health.  For some reason, the lecturer seemed to make sense to us and we discussed it and decided to buy his book (at a book store, not from KQED) and give it a try.  The next day, I went down to our local Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of the book.
Last night, I completed reading “Eat To Live“, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (2011©), originally published in 2003.  Basically, most of what we “know” about eating “right” is incorrect and based on the marketing of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) who’s main job (historically) has been to help market U.S. agriculture and not necessarily promote health by recommending food based on the science of nutrition.  Dr. Fuhrman tries to correct this food industry sponsored / government supported misinformation with this book.
According to most recent science in the field of nutrition, we are killing ourselves by consuming the food we enjoy instead of the food we need.  Now, the Doctor is not a fanatic about his suggested lifestyle (I hesitate to call it a diet) change, but he makes a pretty convincing argument for eating based on his plan.  His plan is to eat mostly uncooked vegetables and fruit with some nuts thrown in.  He considers “meat” to be any animal (or fish) flesh (beef, pork, fowl or fish) and you should eat no more than 10% of your caloric intake from meat. You can eat as much vegetables and fruit as you can hold and “around” a handful of nuts per day.  No meats, no eggs, no dairy, no oils.
If you follow the plan, he predicts you’ll drop about 15-20 lbs your first month, 10 lbs your second month and 5-8 lbs each month after that until you get to your natural body weight.  He predicts this will be 95 lbs for your first five feet of height and 4 lbs for every inch after that for women and 105 lbs for your first five feet of height and 5 lbs for every inch for men.  At 5’10”, I should weigh about 155 lbs!!  This seems quite light to me, but it is the weight I left Army basic training (back when I was 19 years old).  At 56 years old, I’m not sure I can ever see that size/weight again – or that I would want to.
I am currently about 327 lbs and considered morbidly obese.  About seven weeks ago, I started the P90X exercise program.  Although I’ve lost about two inches from my waist and legs, I had not lost ANY weight until I started Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. It’s been a little over two weeks and one day and I’m down about 8 lbs.  The cover of his book says to give him six weeks and he’ll help you lose 20 lbs, so I’m well on track.  If his long term estimate is correct, in one year, I’ll be 255 lbs, at two years about 200 lbs and about three years from now about 155-160 lbs.
My most successful dieting to date was with the Extreme Fat Smash Diet, which I was on about two years ago (October 2009) for two hard cycles (21 days each) and two moderate cycles (another 21 days each).  After that, it was kind of maintenance mode.  In total, I lost 45 lbs and was down to 292 lbs, but as soon as I went back to “normal” eating, the weight started coming back on.  This diet was extremely hard if followed strictly and although you got to eat frequently, you did not get to eat much.  The result was I was always starving except after the main meal of the day (lunch).  In the end, the Fat Smash Diet is not a lifestyle I choose to live by.  I don’t want to be constantly starving and thinking about my next bit of food.
The interesting thing we (Hil and I) discovered was how much (actually how little) we could get by on for dinner.  Basically, we could be quite full on a half cup of rice, a cup of beans and a cup of green vegetables.  This is essentially, the recommended “diet” of the “Eat To Live” program.  The exception being you are also supposed to have a large salad with your meal.
So far, (like I said one day over two weeks,) I can honestly say I haven’t been hungry once since starting the diet.  That’s not to say I couldn’t eat more if it was there.  Only, that I don’t feel particularly like I’m on a diet at all.  I’m not sure there is a better recommendation anyone can make about a diet.
Back to the book review…  The author is excited about his topic and the enthusiasm comes across in the writing.  The argument (that we are killing ourselves with what we eat) is well laid out and copiously documented in the book’s notes.
I have two real criticisms with the book.  The first is it’s the lack of menu dishes he offers in the book.  The Doctor has his own web site (www.drfuhrman.com), which he charges to subscribe to, so it’s not like he’s in it for charity (or just your health) which supposedly contains over 1,000 recipes.  Alternatively, you can get by with any number of vegan / vegetarian cookbooks – including Dr. Dean Ornish’s (which we’ve also tried and are pretty good).  There are also a host of free recipes on the web at various vegan sites.  I will admit the few Dr. Fuhrman does offer in his book are quite tasty.  We’ve tried many of them.  The second is many of the recipes require elaborate cooking / preparation.  They are NOT something you can throw together while at work (with no kitchen).
Aside from these very minor points this is a VERY informative book and should be read by EVERYONE who is interested in improving their overall health OR losing weight.  Highly recommended!!
I have added a new sub-Category to my blog for anyone wishing to follow my comments / progress on this topic.
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Book Review:
Yesterday, I finished reading: “American Fascists – The Christian Right And The War On America“, by Chris Hedges (2006©).  The book is a call to arms against the takeover of America by right-wing Christian religious fanatics who would seek to impose their religious views on all of America.
(Full disclosure – I am a “yellow-dog Democrat” and a practicing Roman Catholic.  I am a firm believer in God, but I am not one to impose my religious views on others.  I have examined other faiths and find them equally valid “intellectually” but – for me – not spiritually.  Therefore, I remain a practicing Catholic.  I am not a scientist – by training or trade – but I believe in the scientific method.  I do not find this makes me less of a Catholic or person of faith.)
The premise of the book is that there are those on the Christian Right who would destroy America in order to “save” America.  After fifty years of living experience and thirty plus years of hearing the Christian Right on both TV and radio, I would tend to agree with the premise.
America was founded on a belief of religious freedom as one of several core values.  Many of the founders were NOT Christians – although they appear to have been deists (believers in a “universal creator”).  They believed firmly in the separation of church and State and that no one faith should have a place of prominence in American politics or active support by the national government.  For example: George Washington attended a Christian church for many years without receiving communion.  When it was pointed out to him that this was disturbing to some members of his church who felt it might raise questions about his faith, Washington stopped attending church.  Thomas Jefferson “created” his own bible by removing all references to Christ’s miracles – which Jefferson believed to be pure fabrication.  Even those founding fathers who were Christian believed in the separation of church and state.  For an interesting handling of this, read my review of Moral Minority (or better yet, look the book up on line and buy a copy).
This is not deny an obvious truth that religious beliefs have had a profound and pervasive impact on American society and in American history (or world history for that matter).
The author goes down the standard list of liberal objections to the political involvement of the Christian Right – including: Creationism vs. Evolution, Right to Life vs. Right to Choose, and of course, sexual perversion and the threats against Christian marriage.  There is also repeated coverage of the obsession of the ministers of the Christian Right with accumulating wealth – mostly at the expense of their followers.
For the record:
I am not aware of a single shred of evidence that Creationism is fact or truthful.  There is not a single shred of evidence that Evolution is incorrect OR in opposition of Christian beliefs.  In fact, the Catholic Church accepts the theory of Evolution.  I believe there must be a balance between the rights of the unborn and the rights of the mother.  My faith tells me it should be absolute (for the unborn), but my heart says until such time as society is willing to accept and finance the mother and the child through to adulthood, society has no business dictating the mother what to do with her body.  The cycle of poverty is a prison for many women (married and otherwise) and their children.  I admit I am not Christian enough to support all my fellow countrymen in a purely socialist society.  Therefore, abortion for non-rape and non-incest pregnancies should remain a legal option.  I believe for cases of rape and incest, abortion is always an option.  I am opposed to late term abortions except when the pregnancy directly threatens the life of the mother.  By “late term” I mean post-viability.  This will be a moving target as our medical knowledge and skills increase, but fundamentally – life is precious, a gift from God and should be cherished and preserved.  Finally, I believe American politics needs to stay out of America’s bedrooms.  I have been happily married for over 25 years.  How some committed homosexual relationship – legally married or not affects me, is beyond my understanding.  It doesn’t affect me any more or less than a non-married but committed heterosexual relationship does.  What “matters” to me is love in their relationship, but even that does not “affect” me personally because it’s not my relationship.
Back to the book review:
Is it likely that America will turn into a fascist state?  Fundamentally, if you believe a fascist state is one in which the interests of corporations (not business) are promoted by the state to the exclusion of the individual worker, I would argue we are already in a fascist state.  Calvin Coolidge is frequently quoted as saying: “The business of America is business.”  Note – what he actually said was: “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.”  This is not the same thing if you are interested in the public’s rights versus the corporation’s rights.  At this point in history, I would argue in the interest of promoting the people’s interests in business, we have confused these interests with those of the corporations, and because of this, the government is the last defender of the people from those few (the 1% of) Americans who accrue over 20% of our annual national earnings and own over 30% of our national private wealth.  (For a discussion of these figures, please see a report from UC Santa Cruz: “Wealth, Income and Power“)
The author (Hedges) contends these “fascist” interests on the Right are the individuals supporting the conservative think-tanks, Christian universities and Conservative Christian (fundamentalist) churches and their political activity.  Again, I believe this is true.  The problem I have with the author is his flat statements we can no longer tolerate the intolerant within our society and that he offers no legal method for opposing them.  Other than making us aware of the problem – what do you propose to do about it?  Nothing is suggested by the author!
In Hedges defense, I will say, short of passing a Constitutional amendment specifically limiting the political powers of corporations (they are not people and should therefore have limited rights to free speech particularly regarding political support) and enforcing the current laws limiting political speech in churches, I am not sure there is anything which can be done.  A final note on the limits of speech in churches.  To my knowledge, it is not against the law to make political speeches or take political stances in church.  You simply surrender your tax free religious status by doing so.  This (religious tax status) is why the Conservative Right seeks to break down the wall between church and state.  Then they will be able to promote “conservative” (Christian) religious candidates without the loss of the church’s protected tax status.  The assumption is a Conservative religious person (someone on the Christian Right) is the same as someone on the conservative Right.  I would argue they are not – for a true Christian and a modern “corporate” conservative Right – we should always remember Jesus’ words: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
As for the “ministers” of the Christian Right getting rich off the fleecing of their flocks – it has long been true that no one ever lost money betting on the ignorance of the American public.
The book is interesting, but I did not find it an easy read – partly because it tends to be too strident and partly because it seems to cover a lot of different topics without offering resolution (as covered above).  I would recommend the book to all and highly recommend it to anyone seeking a better understanding of a moderate Christian’s view of the Christian / Conservative Right.  It certainly crystallized my understanding of both the Dominionists, the fundamentalists and the dangers of either of them increasing their political power in America.  In the end though, the book will not make any converts for either side – the gulf is too great!
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Yesterday, Hil and I took Mom up to visit with Rebecca in Sacramento.  Friday was Bec’s birthday and we wanted to spend some time with her.  We brought along a little cupcake for each of us and some candles for her to blow out.  After lunch we went out looking for a couch/love seat for Bec’s place.  We didn’t find anything she liked so we ended up sitting around her place and just chatting for a while before heading home.
Book Review:
Today I completed: “Words That Changed The World” by C. Edwin Vilade (2010©).   The book is a compilation of 25 of the greatest speeches of the last century and this past decade.  Many of them I’ve read before, but some I have not.   The power of the written (or spoken) word is incredible in its ability to stir one’s emotions and move one to act.  Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing about some of these speeches and including them (those not already present) on my Poems page.  Those already on the page will be revisited in my future posts and I’ll include the links to the original post.
If you also love the grandeur (both simple words and majestic imagery) of the English language, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.
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Book Review:
Today I finished my second book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”  Again, Dr. Feynman was one of the men who worked on the Manhattan Project.  Feynman’s doctorate is in Physics and he won a Nobel Prize for physics.  This was both a terribly sad and immensely amusing book.  The sad portion dealt with his growing up and the early death of his high school sweet-heart and first wife.  I freely admit to being a big crybaby and her passing and his emotional detachment (temporary) made me break down too.  The majority of the book deals with his work on the Challenger Space Shuttle commission.  There appears to be a fair amount of criticism placed on NASA’s management (which I recall from the time – 1986), but I don’t recall anyone losing their jobs because of the fallout.  The impression of NASA management in the book still rings true about many of the problems we face generally in government and in large businesses today: either management knew of the risks (and they should have) but chose to minimize (i.e. disregard) them and launch anyway; or they knew the risks and lied to the commission about not knowing the risks; or management didn’t know the risks (in which case they were incompetent).
The “amusing” parts of the book are little bits in each chapter which are sometimes self-deprecating, but mostly the observations of a man standing outside a system and watching it act irrationally.  Feynman is kind of a cross between Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but with a PhD in Physics.
This is a very fast read and I highly recommend it – for the emotion, the humor and for the science.
Movie Review:
On Monday night, the Giants had the day off for travel so we decided to watch a movie.  Last week, something reminded me of “Driving Miss Daisy“, so I asked Hil if she wanted to watch it.  As it’s one of her favorite movies, I was confident she’d say yes.  To tell the truth, I’ve only seen the movie twice before in its entirety, so I was able to look at it with “fresh” eyes.  Most of it I did not remember at all.  It is a terrific movie!!  Heartwarming and funny, sad and a bit cautionary all rolled into one.  I can see why it won Best Picture that year (1989).
The main storyline is about a wealthy Jewish lady and the twenty five year relationship (friendship) she has with her African-American chauffeur.  Jessica Tandy is the lead and she won Best Actress for the role.  Morgan Freeman plays the chauffeur (Golden Globe Award but not Oscar – he was robbed) and Dan Aykroyd plays the son of Miss Daisy and who is the actual employer of the chauffeur.  Well written, well acted, funny, touching – just a beautiful movie.  Highly recommended!  If you haven’t watched it lately, treat yourself and see it again.
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Book Review:
Today I finished “The Meaning Of It All – Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist“, by Richard P. Feynman (1998©).  The book is a transcript of three lectures Dr. Feynman gave in 1963 at the University of Washington in Seattle.  The lectures are themselves titled: “The Uncertainty of Science“, “The Uncertainty of Values“, and “This Unscientific Age“.  The lectures provide insight into the Dr. Feynman’s (a Nobel laureate in physics) views on the nature and limits of science, religion and politics.
Feynman is one of the men who worked on “The Manhattan Project” which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan which ended the war (WWII) in the Pacific.  Feynman’s name is mentioned frequently whenever someone talks about the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century.  It appears from this book, that he has a terrific way with words to go along with his intellect.  The speeches were fairly informal (even amusing – not quite funny), but still offered much to ponder about – particularly about science and religion.
I particularly like his openly stated views on the limits of science in explaining things – basically, science only applies when you can think of a problem and a method of testing the problem for possible solutions.  Science can’t be applied to faith and therefore not to religion.   He accepts that others can find comfort in faith.  As a believer in God, it is refreshing to not be looked down on by someone who is a scientist.  Having said this, it is, I think, important to state that lots of scientists are also religious.
Anyway, the book is fairly short (about 200 pages) and is a very fast read – although as I said, it is full of things you will find yourself thinking about later (or during) after you’ve finished the book.  I know I will.  And, yes, you’ll be seeing some quotes in the coming days.
Movie Review:
Last night, I re-watched “Percy Jackson & the Olympians“.  I’ve read the book series and saw the movie with my son quite some time back.  He saw it at the theater.  I’ve only seen it on DVD.  Anyway, I watched it again to see what I thought.  I had very mixed reactions.  I was less impressed by the acting and more impressed by the special effects.  The story in the movie was less in sync with the book (as I remember it).  All in all, I’d say it was not as good as “Transformers” and about the same as “I Am Number Four“.  Basically, okay, but not great.  Entertaining, but not “I’ll really look forward to watching that again next year.”
Other bits and bobs:
James hung around for a BBQ this evening (Sunday).  I wanted to go out, but he wanted to eat in so I went and got us a couple of pork steaks.  Hil had a beef steak and Sarah had a couple of dogs.  It was real nice just hanging out with him and chatting.
I was chatting with Hil afterwards and we’re going to miss them when they are all gone and we’re on our own.  That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to it, but time does fly and your kids are all up and grown.
Sarah has started junior college and seems to be enjoying it.  She’ll probably be there for three years with all the cutbacks in classes.  Time passes…
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Today, after work, I went to see the new movie: “Green Lantern“, with my daughter Sarah.  I had read the reviews over the weekend and got James’ (my son) review.  He saw it at the mid-night premiere last Friday morning.  I also got a short review from a guy I know at work who goes to a lot of movies.  Everyone had mixed reactions.  The professional reviews were the harshest.  James said he didn’t think much of the main Green Lantern actor, but thought the rest of the movie was good.  My work friend said it was more of a comedy movie than a super-hero movie.
I don’t know what they were all expecting, but I thought it was terrific!!!  It had very good special effects, good comedic moments, a little romance, and some pretty good battle scenes.  I thought the main actor (Ryan Reynolds) carries the movie and is certainly better than many of the actors in the early days of comic-movies – including some more modern actors / roles  like Ben Affleck in Daredevil.  I think the best way to describe it is that it is a kind of comic book / sci-fi / space opera (minus the Italian singing).  Considering Green Lantern has always seemed a third tier super-hero to me, I found the movie to be on a par with the two most recent Batman movies.  I have read rumors there may be a trilogy, and if so, I will definitely go seem them as well.
On Sunday, I finally completed the book: “Microtrends“, by Mark J. Penn (2007©).  The author is a pollster who had his claim to fame in the Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton.  Penn is attributed with the invention of the term “Soccer Moms” and the targeting of them, which is supposedly what pushed Clinton over the top to victory in the election.  The book is a collection of short essays about over seventy microtrends (defined as a trend which is or is soon expected to be at least one percent of the population).  Many of the trends do not “seem” new to me, but one has to remember the book is now over four years old, so some of these trends have now become mainstream.
As usual with many of the books I read, I will be putting some of interesting quotes up in this blog over time.  Again, it’s not so much the newness of the idea as it is the conciseness of the ideas expression which interests me.  More critical and more favorable reviews can be found at the various on-line book sales sites.  I would only note, I tended to agree more with the positive reviews than the negative.  I also find it interesting that some reviewers simply can’t get past the “he worked for the re-election of Clinton”  factor and that seems to completely cloud their judgement (and reviews) to the point of vitriol.  It must be a sad life, not being able to get over something after all this time.
On Sunday, I also completed a very short book from my past: “The Wisdom Of Gibran“, edited by Joseph Sheban (1966©).  I first heard of Kahlil Gibran when I was in high school.  I’m not sure if I read this book or another very much like it, but I remember  being very touched by this “strange” person, who seemed to write as if he were from a fictional, medieval place and time.  Back then, I used to keep a journal and I remember writing quote after quote from Gibran in the journal.  As strange as it may sound, Gibran was like a “Star Wars” Yoda figure to me, speaking honestly to me, but in a funny version of English.  It was only on reading this book yesterday, that the image of Yoda came back to me.  It’s funny how life can go around in circles and create its own chain of links.
A couple of months ago, I bought Gibran’s collected works in a single volume.  This collection of short quotes has reminded me they (the full works) are on the shelf calling to me…
Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.
  —   Kahlil Gibran
From: “Mirrors Of The Soul
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Well, all in all, it’s been an eventful few days…
On Wednesday, Sarah (my youngest) graduated from Concord High School.  We went up to the Concord Pavilion for the ceremony.  The weather was cool during the day and chilly for the evening, so much more pleasant than Rebecca’s and James’ ceremonies (where it was in the 90°s).  It was almost too cool once the sun dropped.  The main thing was how proud we are of them and of ourselves to have gotten all of our kids through high school (as I told a co-worker) with no prisons and no pregnancies.  Of course, it’s great they all seem to have grown up as good people too.  We are looking forward to Sarah continuing to grow up into the beautiful young lady she has already started to become.
Hil and I were both a little sad to see the Concord Band instrument van drive into the school parking lot one last time.  The band (and our travels) has brought us lots of good memories.
On Thursday, Hil, Sarah and I drove down to Los Angeles for the weekend to attend multiple ceremonies for our oldest daughter (Rebecca) graduating from UCLA.  Bec had finished her finals, so we picked her up and took a quick trip over to Santa Monica to see the pier and have dinner down in the shopping district.
On the Friday was the first of the graduations.  This was for the full senior class.  Sunday’s was for only the Political Science Department (Bec’s major).  The event was in the afternoon, so Hil, Sarah and I went down to Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame.  We took some photos (which I’ll post later) and just hung out then headed back to Drake Stadium for the ceremony.  We were there for the opening, so we pretty much got to sit wherever we wanted, which was way up top so we’d have the best view.  There really wasn’t much to see from the field, because she was one out of several thousand and they don’t call your name – they only ask your department to stand.  That narrowed it down to around 500.  Anyway, they had two big event display screens so you could see the speakers and the view of the campus was beautiful.  We were cautioned (by the school web site) to dress for warm weather, but it was actually quite pleasant – in the high 60’s with a steady breeze.
Afterwards we headed back to Santa Monica for dinner on the street of the shopping district.  We ate outside and the food was pretty good, even if the service wasn’t particularly.
On Saturday, Hil and I went for (about) a two hour stroll around a park near the hotel we were staying at (the Ramada Inn at Marina Del Rey).  The walk was quite pleasant.  It started off a little warm and humid, but then started barely spitting (very light drizzle) which made it perfect for walking – LA sights with SF weather.  We got back to the room and I rested my back and knees for a bit before heading off to pick up the girls and visit the Getty.  (Sarah was spending the nights at Bec’s dorm.)  When we got there, Bec asked if it would be ok to skip the Sunday ceremony and just leave early.  She said she was tired and still had a lot of packing to do and we’d have to skip the Getty as well.
Neither Hil nor I minded skipping both as Bec definitely still needed help with the packing and I preferred to get out of LA before the Sunday mid-day traffic.  And that’s pretty much what happened.  We completed the packing.  We had take-out Thai food for dinner in her dorm and the next morning we were back at 9:00 AM for a quick load of the van and trip home.  We left at 9:30 and managed to get home in great time – by 4:30 – so we were home in time to catch the Giants 4-2 come from behind victory over the Reds.
Re-reading A Classic On Conservatism
Because we were going to be travelling, I wanted a light (weight) book to carry with me to LA.  I took along “The Conscience Of A Conservative“, by Senator Barry Goldwater (1960©).  This is a book I originally read as a college student, because I had heard of it and knew it represented the bedrock of Conservative political theology (oops, I mean theory).  When I originally read it thirty odd years ago, I remember thinking, “Wow!  I didn’t realize how conservative I am!”  I didn’t agree with everything the Senator was saying, but some of it struck deep chords with me.
This time around, although there were still a few (VERY FEW) notes which struck me as well written, my overall  impression was, “Wow!  It’s like reading Peters and Waterman’s “In Search Of Excellence” – almost everything has been proven incorrect by the passage of time.”  As I do with most of these types of works, I began underlining things I intended to quote on this blog and respond to / comment on.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem feasible as almost eighty percent of the book is underlined!  Time and again, what is stated is either factually unsupported (and unsupportable except perhaps anecdotally) or has been proven incorrect by history.  It’s amazing that someone can get it (a prediction for the course of history) so wrong.
Having said this, the book is still definitely worth reading and I highly recommend it – less for it’s predictive value of American freedom and more for its descriptive value of the American Right (Neo-Conservatism / Corporate Capitalism) today.  If you substitute the words “Corporate Capitalism” for “USSR”, “Soviet Union” or “Communism” in Goldwater’s book, you have the current threat to the liberty and freedom of America today.
Other Notes:
The pier and beach at Santa Monica are good full-day visit.  We only spent a couple of hours, but could have easily spent a lot more shopping and wandering around.
The Ramada Inn – doesn’t look like much on its web site and the room was a bit musty smelling, but the location was excellent.  Other than the initial smell, the room itself was quite pleasant – roomy, adequate seating (couch and two chairs) and clean.  The continental breakfast was more than adequate (pastry, fruit, cereal, toast and yogurt) and the staff were friendly.  We would definitely stay there again and, based on the experience, consider Ramada’s in other locations, too.
Marina Del Rey –  looking back, we definitely wish we had more time to explore the area and local restaurants.  We also missed out on the chance to explore Venice Beach.
Los Angeles driving – believe it or not, it was not that bad.  I believe we were fortunate not to get in any accident related stop-n-go situations and we were also fairly lucky in being able to find parking (even – shock of shock – around the UCLA campus)!  Hil and I actually felt like we knew how to get around a bit from Bec’s apartment (in Westwood) to our hotel (in Marina Del Rey).  Only one negative comment: the gas prices were extremely variable.  On I-5, the price was $4.40/gallon; at Westwood $4.30; about half-way between there and the hotel, we filled up for $3.95 per gallon; and about 400 yards down the street from our hotel it was $3.90!!!!
In-N-Out – Hil and I had our first experience with “In-N-Out”, which we visited twice for lunches – once on the drive down (off I-5) and once in Westwood.  The I-5 was superb!  We got there at 10:00 AM, just as they were opening and we were customer number 1!!  Needless to say, everything was fresh and hot.  The Westwood – not so bad.  NOT McDonald’s average, but nowhere near as good as the first time.  In any case, we would visit them again if they ever open a place up here in Concord, CA.  (Hint, hint…)
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Today I finished “Who’s Afraid Of A Large Black Man?“, by Charles Barkley (edited by Michael Wilbon) (2005©).  This is a book about racism in America.  More specifically, it’s a book about asking successful people to discuss their experiences and views about racism in America.
Charles Barkley is a famous former professional athlete.  In this book, he interviews thirteen people to open a discussion about race and racism in America.  The list includes: Tiger Woods, former President Bill Clinton, former Senator (current President) Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, and George Lopez.  Each of the interviewees brings their perspective to the issue.  All say essentially the same thing: we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a ways to go.
I found the book a fascinating (and very quick) read.  My own view is, of course, mixed with my personal experience – racism exists and is a powerful force for division in the country I love.  I have seen it face to face, experienced it, seen people look away, and seen people rise up to the challenge of it.
I believe racism in America is about fear and economic opportunity.  The fear is the fear of “others”.  Those not like us.  Those not from around here.  Them.  I believe there is a natural tendency in humans to bond with those we are near and associate with.  Call it localism, nationalism, tribalism or some other kind of “groupism” and it still results in the same thing – “us” against “them”.  This tendency is played upon and magnified by those who seek to “control” the majority of Americans – the majority who just want to get on with their lives, get ahead a little financially and raise a family.  The tactic is to divide and conquer and, as I mentioned previously, race is one easy way of dividing people who might otherwise find common cause.
There is a perception in modern society that we can’t ALL have great jobs – whatever “great jobs” means.  That may be correct.  But, we should all be able to work hard for a living wage.  Note, I said “living wage”, not “minimum wage”.  “Work hard” means more than just showing up, although that is a very important part of working hard.  It also means giving your best effort during the time you are working. It normally means using your brains as well as your muscles.
I question this perception / belief / assumption.  I believe we can all earn a living wage. We are not all going to be “rich”, but I believe our nation is unique in its ability to fund equal opportunity.  I’m not sure we always had this ability, but I certainly believe we do now.  I believe we are moving into a post-industrial (post-standardized, post-mass produced) world where the benefits of industrial scaling are beginning to decrease and the benefits of limited, customized, specialized manufacturing are starting to dominate.  On top of that, we are now better able to use technology to make very specific (small scale) manufacturing cost effective for the majority of products.  And finally, a significant portion of the economy is now purely digital, meaning: it isn’t consumed by use.
There is a saying that a smile is something you can give away freely and never have less of.  This is what we are approaching with an economy based on digital use without consumption.  The trick will be the distribution of wealth and opportunity for economic advancement.  It will be a disgrace to see race rather than ability as the determinant factor in distribution.
The book is a terrific thought provoking read and I highly recommend it!
Finding this book was pure serendipity.  A co-worker is also an avid reader and she brings in books and just leaves them for anyone who wants to take and read them.  I was walking along the bookself and there it was…
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This book review is a bit late because life has gotten in the way…
Last Sunday (8 May 2011), I completed the book: “A Band of Misfits“, by Andrew Baggarly (2011©).  Baggarly is a sports columnist (and SF Giants beat reporter) for a local Bay Area newspaper.  The book is a collection of stories which follow the championship season (2010) of the San Francisco Giants.  The book is a fast, fun read.  The stories add a sense of humanity to the players which rarely comes out of a shorter form of writing – like a daily column.  You may get the same picture if you follow the column every day, but I’m not sure how many folks still do this.  To be honest, I’ve never done this (follow a columnist) until about a year ago, when I began regularly reading a pro-football columnist (Peter King) in Sports Illustrated.  Since I don’t get the paper or read Baggarly’s column on-line, I can’t comment on if the book is a mashup of his columns or if the stories are extra material that never quite made the column.  Either way, they are stories worth reading.
Anyway, as one of the many old-time baseball fans who jumped on the Giants bandwagon last year, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the book and reading about the lives and foibles of  some of the players.  I heartily recommend this book to any recently returning baseball fan!
Superman
Yesterday, Donnie and I went up to Fairfield to visit my brother Sean.  While there, we watched a movie titled: “Ip Man“.  The movie is a semi-autobiographical (dramatized) accounting of a famous martial artist from the early 1900’s.  Ip Man was a proponent (and master) of the Wing Chun (“Eternal Spring”) form of Kung Fu.  In later years, he was a sifu / instructor to Bruce Lee.
Some martial arts movies are great for martial arts and terrible movies.  This is not one of those movies.  This has both great fights and a great story presentation in movie form.  The acting is very good for a foreign film.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense for “foreign” films.  I mean it in the sense that, I don’t have the cultural background to relate to the nuances of most non-American films.  For example, there are multiple instances in the film where someone says the southern style of Kung Fu is for women.  Unless you know Ip Man himself taught the form was derived from a legend of a female who defeats a local warlord in battle, the comments appear to be a fairly common sexual slur.  I did not realize this until I did a bit of research about Ip Man and Wing Chun on the internet after viewing the movie.
If you like great martial arts flicks or if you’re interested in a small window of Chinese culture, this is a very enjoyable movie!  Check it out!
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Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.
  —  James Madison
(From “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments“)
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Today I finished reading: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is: “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.
What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.
The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile/history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want.
The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.
The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.
I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.
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Yesterday, I developed a bad sore throat.  I made it through the work day, but it was getting progressively worse.  I woke up around 2:30am with difficulty breathing, unable to swallow, and what felt like sandpaper at the back  of my throat and a walnut under each of my jaws.  This morning I went to the doctor’s office and was told it’s viral not bacterial, so all I can do is continue to gargle and hang in there (lots of fluids and rest) for a few days and it’ll go away.
So today I completed “Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers“, written by Brooke Allen (2006©).  The book is about the religious beliefs of six of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States of America (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams).  If you’ll pardon the pun, the book has been a revelation to me!!
I had always assumed our Founding Fathers were highly religious (Protestant) Christians.  It seems this is mostly (but not entirely) untrue.  For example, Washington was an occasional church attendee, but he never participated in communion.  In fact, when communion was about to begin, he would stand and leave the service.  When confronted about this behaviour, he admitted he never considered it to be distracting to others attending the service.  Although he continued to occasionally attend services, he never attended another service where communion was to be offered.  The rest, although raised in Christian faith, appear to be mostly Deists.  The exception being Hamilton, who seems to have re-discovered Christianity late in life – but not early enough to have had it significantly affect his politics.
In any case, all were stridently against the mixture of Church and State, and so it seems strange to me to think the Religious Right in today’s America hold up the Founding Fathers as the guides in returning the United States to our religious and political roots.  It seems they (the Religious Right) either don’t read (or refuse to understand / believe) the history of our country.  Well, what else is new?
After presenting a chapter on each of the six Founding Fathers, the book concludes with two chapters describing the world which produces the Founding Fathers and some of the turmoil and issues since 1787.  Both chapters are excellent overviews of the religious / political worlds before and after our Constitution and are worth the price of the book themselves.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American History, Politics or the specific issue of the separation of Church and State.  Rest assured you will see numerous quotes from this book over the next few months…
And lest I forget to mention, this is one of the two books I purchased with the gift certificate my daughter Rebecca gave me for my birthday.  Thanks Bec, this book has brought me hours of enjoyable reading and reflective thought!!
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We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth.  Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.
  —   Dan Ariely
From his book:  “Predictably Irrational
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By the time we comprehend and digest information, it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality.  Instead, it is our representation of reality, and this is the input we base our decisions on.  In essence we are limited to the tools nature has given us, and the natural way in which we make decisions is limited by the quality and accuracy of these tools.
  —  Dan Ariely
From his book:  “Predictably Irrational
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Ownership is not limited to material things.  It can also apply to points of view.  Once we take ownership of an idea — whether it’s about politics or sports — what do we do?  We love it perhaps more than we should.  We prize it more than it is worth.  And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss.  What are we left with then?  An ideology — rigid and unyielding.
  —  Dan Ariely
From his book: “Predictably Irrational
[Also known as “drinking the kool-aid”. — KMAB]
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