Saturday, July 26, 2008

eyes close 

Conversation gets quiet, and I put my book away. But this is happiness: family, friends, books, and libations.

a good night 

this is a good friday night - an air conditioned house, good people, good conversations, and a pile of books next to me.

"What are you reading?"

"A book. About books. With pictures of books. About books."

"That much recursion calls for more whiskey,"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who is John Galt? 

I meet people when I wear this T shirt. Today, in half an hour, two people talked to me. (A third meowed at me, but I'm not sure what that was about)

"I am John Galt," a twenty-something man said and kept walking.

The other was a lady about my mom's age, walking two rat-dogs. "What is that from?"

"A book by Ayn Rand."

"Oh, the Fountainhead? Is he the architect?"

"Atlas Shrugged, actually. Fountainhead is her other famous one."

"Oh. What was the name of the architect...Roark?"

"Yeah, Howard Roark. John Galt set up the capitalist utopia in Galt's Gulch."

"That's right."

We both smiled, and went on our separate ways.

Friday, July 18, 2008

beach appropriate reading 

I'm never sure what books to bring on a beach trip. It's easy to think, "Bring what you're already reading," but I'm reading several books at once. And they rarely seem conducive to the beach. I like to stay with nautical books, but the nautical books I have in my "to read" pile are all old, and I'd feel guilty bringing them into bright sunlight for a long time. Plus I don't know what effect salt has on paper. So the old books are out. I don't think I have any recently published histories of the age of sail. (I've probably read them all. I'm a bit pathetic).

I don't do throw-away beach reading books. I don't have the patience. I can write sometimes, but my mind tends to wander.

Poetry is good. It's short enough for my limited beach attention span. I get skittish on the beach. I feel too exposed, either literally if I'm dressing to fit in, or figuratively, if I'm dressing comfortably in jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and sneakers, in the sand.

Magazines? The Atlantic or the Economist? Maybe I can find a copy of either before I leave.

--brief interlude while I check my library--

Okay, I'm good.

  • A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, for fun
  • Micromotives and Macrobehavior, by Thomas C. Schelling, as fodder for discussion of economics with my father-in-law
  • Poems of the Sea, edited by J. D. McClatchy, for when I need something beautiful despite a short attention span

    I'm good to go.

    Oh. Swimsuit and clothes... toothbrush, too, probably...

  • Sunday, July 06, 2008

    More Nazi loot, but books this time 

    The Commission for Looted Art in London, working with the Nuremberg Municipal Library, are trying to return 10,000 books looted by Nazis during WWII. In February, the Commission and Library went through the books and found several that had signatures or stamps or inscriptions that displayed names, then posted them to lootedart.com, and several have already been returned.

    Full news story here: Owners sought for Nazi-looted books, by Leon Symons for the Jewish Chronicle, 29 February 2008.

    Ms Webber said: “This is a very important piece of work because most people think restitution is only about paintings. It is not. Many things were looted, including books.

    “We have already returned a number of books. We found that in some cases they are the only remaining link between those who died and those who survived. We tracked down one woman in Israel, who is now 80. Her parents and sister had been murdered when she was very young and she had nothing of theirs. She could not believe it when we presented her with three books, one of which was written by her maternal grandfather.

    She had nothing from him. Now she does.

    I hope the rest are returned. My grandfather passed away when I was one. I have a few books from his library, and I feel so close to him reading them, seeing his name in the front, learning from the passages he underlined what was important to him. Those books mean more to me than any of the ivory, jade, or silver he collected in SE Asia.

    I can only hope that the rest of these books find their homes, and that people can find links to their past through books their ancestors owned.

    Friday, July 04, 2008

    Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, by Jim Stockdale 

    Jim Stockdale was a remarkable man, and that statement is one of the greatest understatements I may have ever written. He not only survived 7 plus years as a POW in North Vietnam, he made the experience a personal growth experience. He's a Medal of Honor recipient, as well as 4 Silver Stars, 2 Purple Hearts, 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 3 Distinguished Service Medals. He developed a way to calculate natural logarithms and logs up to base 10 with a nail on a prison wall, and he constructed a lo log duplex deci-tri slide rule hat existed only in his head (I have trouble with logs using a calculator), solely to understand the natural beauty of math while in solitary confinement. A lay expert in philosophy, he pondered the nature of Epictetus's theories of Stoicism while surviving torture, isolation, and secret tap-one-letter-at-a-time communication with fellow POWs. I'm working my way through a collection of his speeches and essays. I just finished "Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior."

    Stoicism is a philosophy that became really misunderstood in the thousands of years after the Greeks expounded on it. Put simply, you can only be a victim of yourself, regardless of how others act toward you. You are your own master. You must be detached from sickness, from happiness, from even the deaths of loved ones. Through good times and bad, you are the master of how you feel. Whatever divinity there is dictates your role in the world; you decide how well you play it. Somethings are beyond your control, and you accept those and decide to do your best with the things that are instead of lamenting what you can't control. This detachment is often interpreted as being uncaring, as being separated from the events of the world, but it isn't, not really. It's about not being a slave to the world, effecting the change that you can, and living the best life that you are able.

    Stockdale had the chance to truly experience living his philosophy while a POW. He broke his leg as he hit the ground after ejecting from his plane, and he remembered Epictetus saying, "Lameness is an impediment to the leg, not the Will."

    The speech describes his life in the prison, the isolation, the complex communication and social lives of the prisoners, the torture, the effects of evolving American foreign policy, and how Stoicism got him through. Read it, the speech is only 15 pages.

    If the rest of the book is this powerful, then it will become one of my favorite and most reread books ever. The other speeches and essays I have read suggest that it is.

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