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A Few Ice Cream Ingredient Labels from Portland-based Salt and Straw

This quick post of pictures is 99% for the search engines.

Portland, Oregon’s Salt and Straw ice cream is tasty, with a few classics, varied flavors, and monthly revolving items, like vegan mixes in January or chocolate-based lineup in February. Unfortunately, the company does not post ingredients nor nutrition facts online, and an image search of the web returned few results. So I figured that the least I could do would be to post photos of them myself. I won’t transcribe the text, but hopefully it’s clear enough to be indexed by any search engines that do that sort of thing, but I’ll write the name of the flavor in the caption.

Note, however, that as I’ve delved into ice cream more in the past year, I’ve realized that rather than being addicted to the dairy fat/cream or the processed sugar, I may actually be addicted to the texture, especially a texture that results from added gum-based stabilizers like carrageenan, xanthan gum, and the like. Salt and Straw commonly uses xanthan gum. I don’t believe any of these stabilizers are inherently negative, but those forever interested in knowing themselves may be interested in my own self-discovery with additives, processing methods (ice cream is largely air!) and crystallization, temperature, and other factors. Those interested should note some of the posts on Ruben Porto’s website Ice Cream Science. That link goes to the ‘science’ page, where articles like fiber, fat, and stabilizers in ice cream may fascinate fellow addicts. Serious Eats has a decent overview article on the latter subject.

Below are a few recent flavors. I’ll probably post more ingredient labels until either a) the company posts them itself, or b) my lust for ice cream dies down.

 


Cloudforest’s Gray Chocolate and Matcha
Missionary’s Meyer Lemon Chocolate Sorbet

 


 

Elvis Peanut Butter Banana Split
Heidi Ho’s Lemon Chevre Cheesecake
Candied Apricot Faux-yo

 

A Barking Dog, A Short Exercise in Writing and Editing Under a Deadline, and A Brief Letter to an Anonymous Neighbor: A Short Version of the Argument that Modern Pet Ownership in the United States has become Emotional Slavery

Dearest Anonymous Neighbor:

Most of us live in this neighborhood for peace, safety, quiet, and the great access to our wonderful Park. It should not surprise you to know that many of us work from home, which, although you likely do not know it, is far more difficult than working outside the home. Working at home requires discipline. We must ignore the infinite distractions that our mind knows exist just a reach away: cooked food, organizing and cleaning items, comfortable chairs and limitless entertainment, books-to-be-read, and other items, among the most powerful obvious temptation: ice cream. 

Moreover, we live here for clean air, and that requires some level of the windows cracked opened, but this has a consequence, as well: increased noise from the outside world. 

Your dog today presented such noise. Worse still for myself, the dog has a particular high pitch which strikes me as mildly reminiscent of my newborn son. Each yelp puts my brain on ‘high alert,’ as if he is screaming out crying that something is wrong, when in reality he is quite content nearby. I suspect there are a dozen other neighbors who experience varying levels of auditory interruptions from your dog, even if subconsciously. This is not the first time we have heard it, but it is the first time we investigated which apartment ‘owned’ the dog, so I have returned and taped this note to your door. 

I have purposely taped the note quite thoroughly to the glass, to be a somewhat annoying — but ultimately harmless — nuisance. Please remember that this is not the fault of the dog. The fault lies with the human! In my case, with the taper, in your case, with the pet owner. 

In essence, pet ownership in the United States has become emotional slavery. I suspect your dog — like most cats and dogs — makes you feel less lonely, more useful as a human, is an occasional source of pleasure, provides an excuse for a regular walk in the part, or fulfills other emotional needs. Slavery of humans — whether in the 1700s in North America, today, or throughout human history — is and was mostly about receiving free physical labor. Today, ownership of pets is emotional slavery: it is a one-sided relationship that exists for the “owner” to receive essentially “free” emotional benefits, while the pets receive little other than food, water, and minimal medical care in return. It is as one-sided a relationship as its counterpart in human slavery. The existence of the modern pet is a sad one. 

At least yours is a dog. Cats, which are natural, carnivorous hunters, are often completely restricted to life inside a tiny home. Poor animals. 
Moreover, if you eat meat, like I do, I shall challenge you further: the lives of most of our pets would be better honored if we instead killed and ate them*. At least in that case we would be more honest. Is this not true? Moreover, are we the owners of our pets, like emotional slaves, or are we their care-takers?

The first bold phrase above is the title of an essay I drafted over a year ago and have wanted to finish writing for some time. Today, I thank you for reminding me of my beliefs, the challenges we face in this country, and more than anything, I thank you for motivating me to write! (Even if this letter itself was yet another distraction from real work masquerading as a useful exercise in writing and editing. At least it fulfilled that purpose quite rapidly.)

Thanks again,

–Jay, your Anonymous Neighbor.



*Rest assured: on first glance, your dog did not appeal to our culinary senses. I did, however look into his eyes and say a heartfelt apology: I am sorry that our species does this sort of thing to his.

P.S. (a note for friends and other readers online): After walking on the property itself to post this note to the door, I noticed two things.

First, another neighbor had already left a short note, surprisingly polite, regarding the dog’s treatment.

Second, this dog was barking on a cold day, about 10C outside (50F, granted, with little wind), and I noticed it looked quite thin, and was shivering. Thinking it did not have access to the inside home through its small doggy ‘door,’ I returned with a can of sardines to feed it. As I ‘broke in’ to place the food inside the cage, the dog calmly stepped inside: it had access to the inside home through its little door. 

This dog preferred to remain outside, barking for help all day, shivering in the cold, than remain alone inside! Must we really debate the idea that the dog would prefer to serve as a physical slave, performing some kind of laborious activity all day, than serve as an emotional slave? Pet ownership — and in few cases even parenting human children! — has become emotional slavery. It is time that we as Americans admit that to ourselves. Then, perhaps, we may decide how to progress forward.

Why I Sometimes Wear a Rock Necklace

2,200 words
Read time @ 250 words/minute: 9 minutes


My turquoise necklace.

I wrote this essay because I often wear a rock necklace, and am sometimes asked why I do so. In addition to responding to the general question, the purpose of this essay is to differentiate between blind faith in some mystical “powers” of rocks and crystals, and a healthy balance of respect for the unknown combined with some amount of skepticism. 


In 2013 I went through a relatively short period of increased creativity and mental energy I can only describe as “excessive.” For short, I refer to the period as “back when I was crazy.” Indeed, a few people close to me at the time were somewhat worried. Life was euphoric for a long time, and I was still able to focus and do work externally, although my internal mental state was disorganized, hyperactive, and more creative than I knew what to do with. Although I’ve never tried hallucinogenic drugs, from what I’ve read of such experiences, my experience was was like a very low hallucinogenic dose for an extremely long period of time.

I often wonder to myself, “Where did this come from?

  • Highly mineralized (and completely different) water and plants in the Arizona region? Specifically: excess lithium which might have corrected a slowly growing mineral deficiency?
  • A resulting effect from my life during the last few months of 2012:
    • Beginning consistent meditation?
    • Reading nonfiction books 4-6+ hours per day?
    • Increased sunlight?
    • Chlorine on the skin from many hours in a swimming pool?
  • A normal effect of being an adult male, who often have such mental episodes (i.e. schizophrenic, manic, depressive, or otherwise) in their late 20s?
  • Recently increased consumption of Brazil nuts, purchased specifically as a concentrated source of the mineral Selenium? (But only, unbeknownst to me at the time, if grown in selenium-rich soil!)
  • Supplements in the year prior, such as fish oil, vitamin D, 
  • Healing of some sort after months in Afghanistan (with associated physiological stresses), or use of pharmaceutical sleep aids in years prior, like the semi-hallucinogenic product Ambien?
  • Some aspect of the air — perhaps higher general quality, lower humidity, or the dangerous reproductive spores of desert-based fungal species — in the southwest?
  • Did my roommates — medical doctors in their residency — drug me as an experiment?!

All possible.

This is the subject for another time, but regardless of the cause(s), several months after it began, this mental craziness settled down, and I got back about my life.

With that in mind, I will continue with the topic, responding to the question: Why do you wear a rock necklace?


While in this “crazy phase,” I went through a quick but powerful obsession with rocks. Not gold… Gold is boring. (Diamonds, too.) Nay — rocks and crystals! Quartzes. Amethysts. Citrines. Tormelines. Ambers. Vanadinites. Rocks and crystals: buying them, touching them, placing them, feeling them, wearing them; even, on a few rare occasions, “purifying” rocks with clean water and the light of the full moon. And both the University of Arizona and the southwest region overall provided ample opportunities to view and purchase beautiful specimens of a wide variety of rocks from Earth. I spent hours in rock shops. I even began “looking up” what the authors of such rock-and-crystal-healing books recommended for “clarity” or “compassion” or other such subjective and emotional terms, open to interpretation from any reader. I read them with the slightest bit of skepticism, of course, but I read them!

Felt unfocused? Citrine.  Need to reduce inflammation? Copper (and a host of others!). Reflect or absorb psychic attack? Black tourmaline, of course! Need to get past your bad habits in life? Pink quartz. And so on, ad infinitum.

This  phase lasted for several weeks at its peak intensity, but my interested remained higher than average for much of that year. Indeed, I still find rocks and crystals staggeringly beautiful. When I am able, I still enjoy hours in a good rock and crystal shop, or at a museum’s geology exhibit.

Thus, during that 2013 phase I purchased many inexpensive specimens, and at one point, in a rather expensive jewelry store, I ended up purchasing two small raw pieces of turquoise. They were practically free, as the store sold them in bulk, because common hobbies in the area include metalworking, rock lapidary work, and jewelry making. But I overstayed my welcome asking questions of the store’s employee, who struck me at the time as a “true believer” in mystical rocks and crystals. She helped me pick out the exact turquoise, I gave her some copper wire to wrap the stone in, she did beautiful work, and I walked away satisfied with my necklace. 
As I transitioned out of this “crazy” period, I still wore the necklace quite often out of habit and convenience, but treated it more like an article of clothing than as anything with inherent properties which might help my overall health or well-being. Later I had the stone wrapped in silver around the copper wire pattern.

But over the years, I have come to love this rock necklace and my collection in a new light: they remind me of the unknown, rather than as objects of a belief system with thin evidence to support it. And I will always enjoy gazing at crystals, allowing my eyes to be incredibly fixated on a central point while the mind wanders creatively. Someday I may even have this particular necklace wrapped in a gold alloy.

But why wrap the rock in such metals? Why care?

For me, copper, silver, and gold are the most interesting trio of elements on the periodic table. Magnesium and calcium are neat, and the lithium-sodium-potassium triad* [1] may have its appeal, but it’s difficult to really feel like you’re touching those other elements because of a typical chemical conundrum: pure forms of many elements are too reactive to be safe, and in common safe forms they aren’t pure elements. Not so with these three almost-middle-of-the-table transition metals. They all can be touched, used, worn, and appreciated nearly 100% pure, and they’re all similarly shiny, difficult to obtain, electrically conductive, dense, and more. For me, they represent the “periodic” essence of the periodic table — and the universe itself — where the same properties and trends in the previous group of elements exist here, but with more variety (elements) and slight differences. All this while these three metals might be held in one’s hand, raw from the earth or mixed together in a refined alloy. This aspect continues to attract me, regardless of how much I may ever “believe” in any healing properties of crystals or raw elements. Such is true of the periodic table in general, the fundamental forces of physics, and much of the known world through modern science.

But that is what we know: that knowledge which is researched, confirmed, published and read about; which is taught, memorized, re-taught, re-learned and indoctrinated, later to be forgotten only before being rekindled again. What we don’t know is far more exciting, and the world of metals itself is as infinite as the depths of the ocean or the vast black nothingness of space. There is groundbreaking science being done often by metals and jewelry manufacturers in alloy composition, the crystallization structures of various rocks and other compounds, and by materials scientists who might find funding at universities or from such industries. I find the issue of orbitals in quantum chemistry particularly exciting, if difficult to understand, as it essentially means that no two molecules of the same name (whether simple water or complex cobalamin) are actually perfectly identical at any given moment. This might mean little in the context of modern biology’s simplistic reactions, but in the growing field of quantum biology, it makes quite a difference.

Back to rocks and crystals. We don’t know individual crystal structures for every type of alloy, although they might be predicted with some measure of confidence. We don’t know the position and velocity of the electrons in a sample of gold or copper or quartz (and supposedly we can never know both for any given sample). We don’t understand how gluons interchange and bind the protons and neutrons in the atomic nuclei of such a sample. And we don’t understand how our “four” forces (or three forces, if gravity is really an emergent property) might interact with each other energetically, or how energy might change or “flow” from one force to another. And we may never know such things!

We should remain open to crystal healing, among other ‘alternative’ ideas. There may be intrinsic properties in the different formations of crystals, bonds between molecules, or something about the individual atoms (or even electromagnetic forces or a more quantum aspect) of these crystals that ‘resonates’ with patients to help them heal. Of course, this also may largely be the placebo effect 2, which exists for all of us all the time, it may simply be more powerful with certain types of alternative healing as opposed to the rest.

We must always remember that what we don’t know vastly exceeds what we do know, and must resist becoming overconfident with our knowledge. Pride cometh before the fall.


Sometimes it is quite enjoyable to wear an interesting necklace. It’s like I’m some secret magical shamanic healer under the “regular” person clothes I wear! At other times, however, having a necklace with a big rock on it is annoying. Pushups. Sex. Running. Daily stuff. So very often, I do not wear it, and I do not allow the obsession with wearing it to consume my life or dictate how I leave the home.

But when I do not wear it for a time, I remember my necklace and what it symbolizes: it symbolizes my past belief in the unknown.

“Wait,” I ask myself. “Past belief? Don’t I still believe in the vastness of the unknown?” This question gives me pause. So of course, the obvious conclusion rises to the surface of the mind: this necklace symbolizes my permanent belief in the unknown. It symbolizes everything I don’t really understand about biology. It symbolizes that when I truly force myself to dig deep down into physics and philosophy towards the nature of the universe, I don’t really understand much of anything, and I must pause again. I must breathe. My curiosity and ignorance far exceed my knowledge.

But this necklace also reminds me that the universe began in a space far smaller than the rock itself, and that every subatomic particle in every atom in this rock is connected everywhere else throughout the universe. We don’t remind ourselves of that often enough.

So I usually do wear my rock necklace.

Thus I am not convinced that turquoise protects us, or that amazonite helps us communicate clearly and heals our emotions, or that citrine brings abundance and prosperity. Eric Ripert, world-renowned chef of the famous New York City restaurant Le Bernardin, comments on his spherical orb of shungite, a black, carbon-based stoneHe believes that its “incredible protective and healing qualities—mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical—can be felt by even the most skeptical people” 3. I remain skeptical, if open minded. I remind myself that for most modern humans, simply increasing sleep or water intake might have more immediate, beneficial, and lasting effects than the rocks would! However, I could have an hour-long conversation with someone who believes in those aspects of rocks and crystals, because I find both the person and his beliefs fascinating.

This is because while I remain skeptical, I believe something to be obvious which others think crazy: I believe that what we don’t know greatly exceeds what we do know.I believe that more strongly than even the most powerful psychic rock crystal healer believes in her crystals. Will we ever know everything? For now, it’s a rhetorical question; we have far higher priorities in our lives. Perhaps our grandchildren may have to confront the theoretical ramifications of knowing “everything,” but I highly doubt most of us ever will. 


The next time you see a human wearing a piece of rock or crystal, you may be forgiven for thinking that she might be crazy. But aren’t we all a little crazy sometimes?

Chances are, she just wanted to remind herself of something we all know deep inside: that we really don’t know much of anything.

Turquoise necklace hung over a beautiful piece of rock: I can’t remember if it’s called petrified wood, picture rock, or some sort of jasper. Regardless, this is an ancient ritual practice which ‘infuses’ the necklace to bring its wearer financial success, wisdom, humility, protection, divinity, love, good travels, good food, laughter, and every other positive effects of rocks, and protects the bearer from every negative effect ever invented. But only if done exactly in the way shown. (Also, it made for a decent photo.)

References:

  1. If any reader might enlighten me as to the difference, when grouping things , between the words trio and triad, please contact me. This page may be useful.
  2. Interested readers might note Jo Marchant’s book Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body. Studying the combination of alternative medicine practices with the placebo effect — which is the ability of our beliefs to help us heal — warrants its own book, let alone an essay or further investigation. Many may indeed waste their paychecks on “treatments,” hopping from one irrational solution to the next. But just as many patients may genuinely find relief in what ails them by these alternative medicines. If done so economically, then these treatments, combined with their most central beliefs, are likely doing more good for the world than not. Each must know her own path. But I digress!
  3. Ferriss, Timothy. Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World (p. 269). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Notes:

[Posted Jan 2019]

What the Solstices Mean to Me

I was fortunate to have grown up on the side of a mountain, and have always loved the sky, no matter whether it brought grey clouds, a bright sunset, or lightning followed by starlight. While at the University of Hawaii I took an introductory astronomy class, and I began to note the night sky even more, learning the names of stars, basic astronomical concepts…. and of the two solstices and two equinoxes. Of course, these astronomical dates on the calendar meant little to me before I left tropical Hawaii, but each year they mean more and more.

The winter solstice is the ‘shortest’ day of winter each year: the day when the sun is the lowest in the sky, and the time between sunrise and sunset shortest, such as a mere 8 or 9 hours.

The summer solstice is equally memorable for me, especially in a hot climate like Arizona, as it marks the ending of the growing, long summer days, and means that the ‘hottest’ part of the year — late July — is only a month away. The sunlight is at its peak and will now decrease, and cooler days are only about a month away — I can survive! If surviving the cold is difficult for you, hopefully this aspect of the winter solstice helps you get through the winter, too: even though the coldest days are still ahead, the sunlight will be growing stronger from here on out!

With modern astronomy, we know the exact day of the winter solstice is (usually) on December 21st or 22nd. But our ancestors did not know this. For them, the darkness was slowly killing the sun god each year (and the plant life growing thin), and only after the solstice could each tribe be sure that the sun had survived to bring spring and light another year. They were never certain winter would end and life would grow again, while today we are disconnected by our overconfident faith in the future. It likely either a) took them a few days to confirm or be certain, astronomically, that the sun god was indeed creeping higher and the days lengthening again, or b) maybe they merely wanted to wait a few days before celebrating anything! Whatever the reason, celebrations several days after the event were common in northern cultures on planet earth: around December 24/25/26 on our modern calendars. Christmas and New Years’ are really celebrating the same thing: survival of winter, the most difficult part of the year for plants and rocks and humans alike, and the rebirth that comes with spring.

Each year the winter solstice reminds me that the natural world is the reason for the season, despite what anyone else might say. Indeed, a handful of jingly American Christians remind us of the word Christ in Christmas and say with a lovely rhyme, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But… Jesus was actually born in the fall, likely in August or September, and post-solstice celebrations were common far before Jesus walked the earth. Even the trees know that the days are growing longer again, and the trees have no care for Jesus! As I grew up in the family that I did, I do enjoy saying the words Merry Christmas, but simply smile and nod when I hear Christians get too religious about it…

The natural world is the true reason for the season. Moreover, I think, the entire winter or Holy-day season is what each of us makes of it. Like life, we must find and create our own meaning.

That is what the solstices mean to me.

Happy Winter Solstice 2018!

Educated: A Memoir (2018)

Educated:
A Memoir

Tara Westover (amazon.com link)

I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing. —JOHN DEWEY

. . .

As I walked home carrying the heavy manuscript, I remembered attending one of Dr. Kerry’s lectures, which he had begun by writing, “Who writes history?” on the blackboard. I remembered how strange the question had seemed to me then. My idea of a historian was not human; it was of someone like my father, more prophet than man, whose visions of the past, like those of the future, could not be questioned, or even augmented. Now, as I passed through King’s College, in the shadow of the enormous chapel, my old diffidence seemed almost funny. Who writes history? I thought. I do. [emphasis original]

 

The book isn’t necessary for some readers, and might be overkill for those of us who’ve had our own conservative backgrounds or educational development in adulthood, slow or fast. However, it’s honest, especially in its inevitable inaccuracies, and it’s perfect. Hopefully those who need the punch in the face as to what an education really is will have the patience, self-discipline, and self-honesty to not only finish the book, but also to reflect on its lessons.

Note: Excellent practice started with Tidying Up and Educated: read (or at least skim) the 1- and 2-star critical reviews. Many reviews for this book were 1) Mormons who “knew the Westover family” (though they obviously didn’t know the family!) either defending their versions of events or accusing Tara of lying, and/or b) readers who couldn’t believe what they read and admittedly stopped reading partway through. But based on the small total number of 1- and 2-star reviews I read, I’m hopeful.

 

Educated contains lots of lovely prose, especially about the mountain near their house:

All my father’s stories were about our mountain, our valley, our jagged little patch of Idaho. He never told me what to do if I left the mountain, if I crossed oceans and continents and found myself in strange terrain, where I could no longer search the horizon for the Princess. He never told me how I’d know when it was time to come home.

 

And about The Country vs. The City (or at least a typical modern experience in the middle quote) :

There’s a sense of sovereignty that comes from life on a mountain, a perception of privacy and isolation, even of dominion. In that vast space you can sail unaccompanied for hours, afloat on pine and brush and rock. It’s a tranquility born of sheer immensity; it calms with its very magnitude, which renders the merely human of no consequence. [Her father] Gene was formed by this alpine hypnosis, this hushing of human drama.

. . .

The test began. I’d never sat at a desk for four hours in a room full of people. The noise was unbelievable, yet I seemed to be the only person who heard it, who couldn’t divert her attention from the rustle of turning pages and the scratch of pencils on paper.

. . .

I lived alone in the quiet apartment for three days. Except it wasn’t quiet. Nowhere was quiet. I’d never spent more than a few hours in a city and found it impossible to defend myself from the strange noises that constantly invaded. The chirrup of crosswalk signals, the shrieking of sirens, the hissing of air brakes, even the hushed chatter of people strolling on the sidewalk—I heard every sound individually. My ears, accustomed to the silence of the peak, felt battered by them.

 

The book is a rallying cry for a true education, decreasingly seen in the U.S. Still, I think Westover would agree that home-schooling can be a decent model of education, even at times as exemplary as hers was horrific, and formal education in high school or college is not strictly necessary. More important to one’s education is sparking the internal “fire” to learn in the individual, which is more easily accomplished after Maslow’s needs are met, like finances:

I was an incurious student that semester. Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure: my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns, such as the exact balance of my bank account, who I owed how much, and whether there was anything in my room I could sell for ten or twenty dollars.

. . .

I had a thousand dollars in my bank account. It felt strange just to think that, let alone say it. A thousand dollars. Extra. That I did not immediately need. It took weeks for me to come to terms with this fact, but as I did, I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.

. . .

I couldn’t have explained why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews. But when I’d seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite, and I wanted a taste of that infinity.

 

On boxing yourself into predetermined roles:

He’d [her professor] seemed to say, “First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”

. . .

We are all more complicated than the roles we are assigned in stories.

 

Tara says of her older sister, and later of her older brother: “Somehow, it had never occurred to me that my sister might have lived my life before I did.” Indeed. More broadly, this is the true education that must come as an adult from others; without it, we are doomed to learn only directly from our experiences. If we learn from the experiences of others, we grow far more in a single lifetime.

 

Note her physical reactions (nightmares, headaches, dental problems, severe skin/allergic reactions) to her parent’s near-disownment when she went to Idaho and tried to confront them all. (Before they flew to her college in England to confront her.) Fascinating (and terrible); and likely some kind of psychic-resonance-familial-connection going on to cause these kind of pain/negative reactions in Tara’s self.

 

Something that might not be obvious to many American readers – even if she mentioned it in the book – is the true charisma of “prophetic” (if often mentally ill or schizophrenic) individuals like her father. That charisma is powerful; and since we so seldom encounter such individuals in our daily lives, it is too easy to negatively judge those (like in this book) who follow such leadership. We are all more sheepish than we want to accept.

 

Random quotes from her family:

“What’s college?” I said.

“College is extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around,” Dad said.

. . .

My hands might be dirty,” Dad had said, winking at me and displaying his blackened fingernails. “But it’s honest dirt.”

. . .

“These genius socialists,” Dad said. “They’d drown staring up at the rain if you didn’t build a roof over them.” I laughed so hard at that my stomach ached.

. . .

Shawn called it a death machine and said Dad had lost what little sense he’d ever had. “Are you trying to kill someone?” he said. “Because I got a gun in my truck that will make a lot less mess.”

. . .

“That doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’ll adjust the chakra on Audrey and wing it to you.”

“You’ll what it to me?”

Wing it,” she said. “Distance is nothing to living energy. I can send the corrected energy to you from here.”

“How fast does energy travel?” I asked. “At the speed of sound, or is it more like a jetliner? Does it fly direct, or will it have to lay over in Minneapolis?”

Mother laughed and hung up. [emphasis original]

. . .

I tried to forget that night. For the first time in fifteen years, I closed my journal and put it away. Journaling is contemplative, and I didn’t want to contemplate anything.

. . .

But what has come between me and my father is more than time or distance. It is a change in the self. I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.

 

That last quote should remind me how change must be embraced throughout life: who I am now is not the same “me” as a decade or three in the future or past. I am only who I am now.

 

[wrote the following in notes for Pachinko, but applies more to this book] Knowledge and education as light in the darkness, as Sagan describes science:

Many good people who have seldom read books in their lives, especially as adults, recognize their own ignorance of science, history, books, art. Yet they know themselves all the same, and in that, they are wise, patient, and usually kind. And after passing several hundred books, especially with a long stretch of space and time in our lives to reflect, many of us respect the infinite grandeur of knowledge, and the equal infinitude of our own ignorance. Little by little, year by year we learn. Not after reading a thousand or ten thousand books will our knowledge ever be complete, nor our education finished. The light humbles us, as it should, and we, hopefully a little wiser than when we began, must be patient and kind.

It is those of us who have read few books, usually less than a few dozen and worst of all less than ten, who are blinded by the light of new knowledge. We become so transformed by each new book that we become disciples to its ideas, and must evangelize the truth to others. Our minds expand and our personalities beg to express some creative “output” for each prior torrent of knowledge “input” towards us that we proselytize and attempt to spread the word of each gospel-like book as we finish it. This is especially the case with nonfiction.

So lies the danger of “education,” the in-between space where we cannot turn back, we cannot stray, lest this short exposure to the light burn and scar us. We must always continue to grow.

 

Speak: A Simple Guide to Public Speaking

Speak:

A Simple Guide to Public Speaking
Steve Alexander Jr. (amazon.com link)

 

Notes:

SPEAK: Structure, Presence, Engage, Articulate, Knowledge

 

Structure

  • Outline your speech keeping AIDA in mind
  1. Attention – story, quote, your own qualifications, statistics, strong emotions (why you care yourself)
  2. Interest – keep them interested, review what you’ll cover
  3. Desire – connect with their feeling
  4. Action – call to action, buy product,
  • Insert a clear opening, body, and conclusion
    • And state three main points in intro, in body, and then again in conclusion
  • Use an acronym to help remember your points

 

Presence

  • Dress appropriately, use good posture
    • Watch movie scenes without volume
  • Use the stage deliberately (3 point triangle on stage)
  • Gesture often and use visual aids well, if at all
    • 3×5 powerpoint rule: 3-5 words per bullet, and 3-5 bullet points per slide onscreen

 

Engage

  • Use stats, question, and quotes moderately
    • But ask questions!
  • Personal stories
  • Insert good, respectful humor, and avoid using one-liners
    • Connect your points together
    • Give the audience something actionable!

 

Articulate

  • Pronounce and enunciate your words
    • Read books aloud
    • Video yourself
  • Use literary devices; vary vocal tone
    • Metaphor – comparing working class like an engine; depression to a sea
    • Simile – like or as,
    • Alliteration – repeating sound, like trials and tribulations
    • Anaphora – repeating whole words or phrases, like “now is the time” or “no more”
    • Polysyndeton – using and/or repeatedly to connect phrases, common but often overused, and 3 is best
    • Asyndeton – no connecting words like and/or
  • Breathe deeply, reduce filler words and phrases
    • Embrace your accent!

 

Knowledge

  • Know your topic
  • Know your audience!
    • “Why should my audience care about this topic?”
    • Religious audience
    • Fraternity/sorority
    • Corporate audience
    • Tech audience
  • Know the venue

 

Review/thoughts:

On going to a Toastmasters meeting for the first time, he says:

…I was in disbelief at how well some of the members spoke. I assumed that either the meeting was staged by trained actors, or they were all on some powerful drug. They expressed themselves eloquently and were all much happier than the people I had left back at the office.

 

Decent; much too expensive for such a short book, especially in print. Good info, but it reads (grammatical errors and all) more like a quality semi-free bound pamphlet to friends or small community than a published, well-edited book. Bought because I met Steve a few times and wanted to support him. Worth it for the review of basic presentation principles from another perspective. For those who really want to internalize speaking, the book might be worthwhile compared to the cost of TM, but only if the information here augments regular practice. The book alone won’t transform anyone, and helped Steve synthesize and solidify his own ideas and the art more than it will most of us. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that last point, as it’s the reason many authors write to begin with.

 

A better book would be from a public speaking coach who’d successfully transformed hundreds or thousands of clients. Should search to see if such a book exists.

Future: Good to review my notes here along with TM notes in Evernote and Language Intelligence notes periodically. Read Shakespeare aloud, etc…

 

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko:
The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need

Daniel H. Pink, Art by Rob Ten Pas (amazon.com link)

 

Read in 2014 and reviewed/reread 2018.

Fun cartoon-animated career and life-lesson guidebook. In the grand scheme of things, a more general life book would be Zen in the Art of Archery or similar, but this was still enjoyable and relevant. Six lessons:

  1. There is no plan.
    • Doing something for instrumental vs. fundamental reasons; the latter being because we think this will lead to something else, or for a fundamental reason, that we think it’s inherently valuable.
  2. Think strengths, not weaknesses.
    • Martin Seligman and Marcus Buckingam’s “research has found that the key to success is to steer around your weaknesses and focus on your strengths. “ Agreed, in a sense. No reason for us to avoid challenging ourselves, learning, and improving our weaknesses, but – especially professionally – we should focus on what we’re already good at.
  3. It’s not about you.
    • Life is always about serving and helping others, bringing out the best everywhere around us. True even if we take several years to develop ourselves or vacation.
  4. Persistence trumps talent.
    • And intrinsic motivation, rather than external motivation (for external rewards), develops persistence, which leads to our success.
  5. Make excellent mistakes.
    • Think big, etc.
  6. Leave an imprint.
    • Improve our companies, communities, families, groups, etc. Leave a positive imprint, a good impact, leave things better than we found them…

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, 2018

Pachinko,

Min Jin Lee, 2017 (read 2018, amazon.com link)

 

Book club. I do not care for historical fiction.

Fun, but between a half and three-fourths way through, my patience started to wane, and I started to look forward to finishing the book. I respect Lee trying to describe the lives and changes over many generations of Koreans, but I grew increasingly uninterested in each set of characters introduced after the halfway point. There must be a better way: I think this book would have been better off as a nonfictional description of the lives of each generation of Koreans (I’d read that), or a nonfictional description in each of 4-6 “books” or “volumes,” followed or preceded by a fictional short story such as those in the book here.

I like fiction that aims to be fiction – like The Lord of the Rings or The Hunger Games, or any of a thousand other novels. Perhaps the Harry Potter series too, which I haven’t read. Each creates its own fictional world, even if we want to philosophically discuss the “reality” of that world within the mind of its author/creator and its audience. Historical investigation – equal to nonfiction “popular science” or scientific musings, I think – attempts to inform us of the truth of events as they happened.

But this kind of genre I do not care for. Surely re-reading writings by myself, like losing one’s self in thoughts while walking on the sidewalk, simply reinforces existing prejudices. And conversely, by opening my mind to new perspectives, every damn work I read by someone else distorts the artificial boundaries of reality and illusion in my own mind a little bit… if I really wanted to break the boundaries beyond real and non-real, I wouldn’t read historical fiction, I would take hallucinogenic mushrooms or LSD. I enjoyed Oil and Marble far more, as it “felt” plausible and real, and while some events were clearly imagined, 1) the author notes the majority in her afterward, and 2) I doubt the emotions of those events were far from the truth of their lives.

Perhaps fictional authors cage themselves in from nonfictional books and vice-versa, but if so, they all do a disservice to the world. An author is an author, perhaps they should all write a broader variety of works.

Lee gives us a good sense of what it was like for many Koreans during the war and afterwards. But it’s a sense, distilled from her own, far-more-educated sense of history… Useful, but not exactly likely to warrant respect by any Koreans or Japanese in conversation, no?

In her Acknowledgements, she says,

I wanted very much to get this story right; however, I felt that I didn’t have all the knowledge or skills to do this properly. In my anxiety, I did an enormous amount of research and wrote a draft of a novel about the Korean Japanese community. Still, it did not feel right. Then in 2007, my husband got a job offer in Tokyo, and we moved there in August. On the ground, I had the chance to interview dozens of Koreans in Japan and learned that I’d gotten the story wrong. The Korean Japanese may have been historical victims, but when I met them in person, none of them were as simple as that. I was so humbled by the breadth and complexity of the people I met in Japan that I put aside my old draft and started to write the book again in 2008, and I continued to write it and revise it until its publication. [all emphasis mine]

 

That phrase says it all: “I was so humbled by the breadth and complexity of the people I met in Japan.” Duh, no? We are all prisoners to – and must challenge – our own prejudices of others, and simple stories that explain away groups of people during wars and migrations are only useful for their simplicity. Once learned, all must be unlearned. They always lack nuance, and each family and individual is affected by these forces and reasons – grounded in truth, of course – but each situation is always more complex than that. Indeed, we should be humbled by the depth of each person we meet; as is often said, if we find someone boring, all that truly shows is our unwillingness to discover and/or discuss their true passions.

 

If it hadn’t been for the book club, reading that paragraph above and the interview with her would have spared me from reading the book. Like all authors, to be sure, she wrote this for herself – nothing wrong with that. But I would have (and have) filed it away in my mind, reading it if ever I wanted to gain a little education on the east China/Korea/Japan region in the early- and mid-1900s. It is wonderful to have a sense of this aspect of Asian history, broadening my mind and augmenting my own actual education as a kid and senses from growing up. But I myself have not read all the primary literature that Lee has, nor interviewed the people she has, nor actually read a few diverse books on the region’s history as I might, were it necessary. Thus, I must not confuse her fictional creations of what happened in and around Korea last century with the actual truth. I must not adopt her own prejudices and ideas about this history – educated and valid – as my own, simply because I’ve read one particular historical fiction – uneducated, invalid. It is useful to have a sense of this history.

 

But it is also dangerous, because I may believe I am more educated than I really am: I know about Korean history, because I’ve read a book! Dangerous.

 

[see notes for Educated]

 

 

Generic complaints out of the way…

The belly as memory and our emperor…good reasons to fast:

 

“But did you know, the young man had already heard of your cooking from his brother who stayed ten years ago? Ah, the belly has a better memory than the heart!”

Changho-ya, you’ve worked for me, you’ve had enough food and money, so you’ve started to think about ideas—that’s normal. Patriotism is just an idea, so is capitalism or communism. But ideas can make men forget their own interests. And the guys in charge will exploit men who believe in ideas too much.

 

 

 

 

Also loved the comments below on protesting and action being for youth (especially unattached males) with nothing to lose, whereas the opposite was equally dangerous: getting too enraptured in ideas, rather than practical life, might lead us to be exploited by ideas. And so I see many baby boomer Americans feeding conspiratorial ideas on all sides of the political spectrum, especially as they age.

Protesting was for young men without families.

For every patriot fighting for a free Korea, or for any unlucky Korean bastard fighting on behalf of Japan, there were ten thousand compatriots on the ground and elsewhere who were just trying to eat. In the end, your belly was your emperor.

 

 

 

Neat quote opened Book II by Benedict Anderson on the concept of the nation as imaged. Reminded me of Yuval Harari’s description in Sapiens of our most powerful imagined concept to date: money.

 

Major theme: Life is suffering for women, life is suffering for women…

Yes, life is suffering. Not for wo-men, or for men, but for hu-mans. Life is sadness, hatred, anguish, pain, anxiety, and suffering… but it is not only suffering and negativity, it is also joy, excitement, growth, calm, connection, and so much more. Life is what we feel, interpret, and make it in each moment.

 

Loved this note about the importance of physical touch to the sick:

 “Your grandmother Sunja and great-aunt Kyunghee visit me on Saturdays. Did you know that? They pray for me, too. I don’t understand the Jesus stuff, but it’s something holy to have people touch you when you’re sick. The nurses here are afraid to touch me. Your grandmother Sunja holds my hands, and your great-aunt Kyunghee puts cool towels on my head when I get too hot. They’re kind to me, though I’m a bad person—”

 

 

Finally, some great life advice:

 

Sunja said nothing. In the market, say very little, her father had taught her.

 

“Does your parlor need a boy?” Sunja asked.

“Sure, but no fighting. That’s not the only way to be a man,” he said, feeling sorry for the kid who didn’t have a father. “Being a man means you know how to control your temper.

“Just study,” Hansu had said. “Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge—it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.” Hansu never told him to study, but rather to learn, and it occurred to Noa that there was a marked difference. Learning was like playing, not labor.

 

 

 

 

Future to-do:

  • Important: Find 5-10 books exploring major cultural differences in the world, each with perhaps a few regional examples from Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, Polynesia, etc.
  • Remember to consider her categorization of narrators when reading fiction in the future: “There are remarkable narrators in great works of fiction that are wry (Pride and Prejudice), sarcastic and unreliable (Lolita), opinionated and high-minded (Jane Eyre), humble and curious (David Copperfield), and intellectual and world-weary (Middlemarch).”

Anthem, Ayn Rand (1938)

Anthem

Ayn Rand, 1938 (amazon.com link)

The book opens with each “individual” referring to him/herself as “we,” and the direction of Rand’s use of language becomes clear rather quickly. It makes for a pointed conclusion, highlighted in the third and fourth quotes below:

“We love you.” But then they frowned and shook their head and looked at us helplessly. “No,” they whispered, “that is not what we wished to say.” They were silent, then they spoke slowly, and their words were halting, like the words of a child learning to speak for the first time: “We are one… alone… and only… and we love you who are one… alone… and only.” We looked into each other’s eyes and we knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, and left us groping vainly. And we felt torn, torn for some word we could not find. –
. . .
I am. I think. I will. My hands… My spirit… My sky… My forest… This earth of mine….
. . .
And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”
. . .
And here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, should we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory. The sacred word: EGO.

 


 

She expands on the following theme in Atlas Shrugged, that the evil socialist/communist state will prioritize the needs of the many over individual invention and innovation and new ideas. Thus the state will forbid innovative changes which might disrupt existing industries. One need only watch the first few minutes of the Uber TED Talk regarding Jitney regulation to see how often this happens in our own world. Here in the book, the elders of the world banish the invention/discovery of the electric light, as “it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles,” and therefore must be destroyed:

“And if this should lighten the toil of men,” said Similarity 5-0306, “then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.” Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box. “This thing,” they said, “must be destroyed.”

When asked, a friend and mentor mentioned he hadn’t read Ayn Rand but that in his experience, she seemed polarizing: most either adamantly loved or vehemently hated her work. Oddly, I have no strong opinion, but this is likely because I’ve read quite a bit in my adult life. Were this one of the first few books I’d ever read, I likely would have fallen into the “adamantly” love camp, prizing individualism unequivocally over collectivism and the “self” over the “we” and others in every moment. Then, my “Objectivist” world view would likely have been shattered at a later point in my life, likely my 20s, and I’d have “woken up.” I’m far happier on the middle path.

Anthem is a good introduction to her style of writing and general ideas. I’m glad I read it after I began Atlas Shrugged, as, if I decide not to finish the latter, it saved me from spending the time on the book while giving me a way to understand her silly philosophy. Atlas Shrugged currently sits at about 15% read, and if I read it this year or next, it’s likely to be read with Brave New World, 1984, and any other major western dystopian fictions.

Rand’s religious zealots would do well to read Sam Anderson’s article Mrs. Logic, an overview of Rand’s life from Anne Conover Heller’s book Ayn Rand and the World She Made for the cold, objective truth. The truth is that Alissa Rosenbaum was a human person, a Russian Jew, born into a hard life, and not long to move to America as a young adult. She seems to have been rather egotistical and ungrateful for the help others’ provided her during her life, and although all philosophies have their merits, hers is not without glaring flaws.

Again, I neither demonize nor idolize Rand. I simply think she would have been better off spending a period of time in her life alone in the woods like Thoreau or typical monks and nuns. She might have opened up a little bit more to the inherent connectedness in the universe: that “I” cannot so much as breathe, think, or exist, without affecting the entire universe. Parenting, an act which changes us all, would have had the same effect.

I must prioritize myself, to be sure… “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others,” lest I prioritize others so much that I fail to maintain my own body, and so die. But at some point in my life – for moments here, for years there – my sense of “I” actually includes other people: the Chinese circular sense of self actually grows to encompass others. This is especially true in the early decade(s) of life, when we must learn all we can so that we may apply and adapt these skills in countless variations to earn our keep in the world and provide for our offspring…but alas, most of us selfish folk understand as parents that core truth: if we parents prioritize our own family, but do so at the expense of others, gifting to our children a world which we have destroyed and pillaged, have we really done the best for the ourselves and our children, or have we doomed us by our actions? Rand writes decent fictional stories, but they should not become a religion.

All are one and one is all; the “I” that Rand prioritizes and the “We” she despises are both but perspectives, temporary shapes seen in an afternoon cloud.

Still, understanding her work should help me to understand these powerful, mesmerizing, often brainwashing ideals within our culture. Yet I wish the Americans who idolize her work understood the culture in which she was raised and against which she rebelled: of course when “we the people” or the government is prioritized at the expense of the individuals, we must rebel for our individual groups and families and relationships and persons. But all in balance.

 


 

I enjoyed her joke about the feminine obsession with mirrors, which seems to happen across multiple species:

We did this work alone, for no words of ours could take the Golden One away from the big glass which is not glass. They stood before it and they looked and looked upon their own body.

 


 

Final quote:

We go on and we bless the earth under our feet. But questions come to us again, as we walk in silence. If that which we have found is the corruption of solitude, then what can men wish for save corruption? If this is the great evil of being alone, then what is good and what is evil?

While the World Watched (2011)

While the World Watched:
A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement, Carolyn Maull McKinstry and Denise George (2011)($9, amazon.com link)

Young Emmett Till might as well have been a dog struck by a car on the highway, its carcass left on the roadside to rot and decay, then picked up and shipped in a box back to its owner. What did this horrifying event say to me, even as a child? That black life is irrelevant, insignificant, worthless. The loss of black life is of no consequence.

Here’s a good book on the racism that occurred during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. After knowing Earl R. and his opinions on MLK being a great speaker and figure for the movement, but not an orchestrator – that role going to A. Phillip Randolph – I believe Carolyn speaks too highly of MLK Jr., and not highly enough of others. Still, she’s only doing this because from her view – like that of most of us – MLK was the leader.

I do disagree with her belief that there’s a spirituality lacking from our modern world, especially with the advent of science. [2017 thoughts: I understand better now. Some scientists do not lack this spirituality, knowing that after physics and mathematics one comes again to philosophy and spirituality, although many others do. But among the general public, what she writes is true: we lack spirit, conviction, ethics, brotherhood…]

But I agree with the bulk of the book, and that “Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.” I also like the Birmingham Pledge:

  • I believe that every person has worth as an individual.

  • I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.

  • I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.

  • Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.

  • I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.

  • I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.

  • In signing this document, people are pledging to believe in the worth of every person God created and to treat people with respect and dignity. It is also an acknowledgment that racial discrimination—every thought and every cruel action—is harmful, both to the offender and to the recipient. So basic, so simple, and yet so life honoring.

It is good to remember, from time to time, the way the spirits of many passionate and just Americans were crushed by the early events in the Civil Rights movement, and by the three high profile assassinations in five years. My generation cannot imagine it.

They close:

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.