Educated: A Memoir (2018)

A Memoir

Tara Westover ( 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


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



SPEAK: Structure, Presence, Engage, Articulate, Knowledge



  • 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



  • 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



  • 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!



  • 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!



  • 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



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 ( 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


Min Jin Lee, 2017 (read 2018, 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)


Ayn Rand, 1938 ( 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, 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.

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari  (2015)

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari  (2015) ($15, link)

“The brain is the best algorithm,” Fisher argues.

Having read a number of relationship books before it, Modern Romance wasn’t groundbreaking, and I wasn’t surprised all that much by data or original thoughts. Nonetheless, it was worth my time – especially if I return to the dating world [2015].

The authors start with a brief history of older marriages and relationships from the US: we used to be satisfied with companion love, having had only a few options in a partner. Today, we suffer from dozens – or millions – of options, and we know from psychological research that in human decision making, more is certainly not always better.

Thus we have created internet-based technological services to help us find a partner. And since the world, and our beliefs, have changed, this technology is good. However, it has its consequences. It has turned some below-average guys into acting like charming, perfect studs; it has overwhelmed many females, and even males, to the point of apathy; and it continues to delude:

“No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work,” they wrote.

…and as such, these sites should be used as introductory services! “Have faith in your ability to size someone up in person.” Ansari says in his final paragraphs. It’s easy for me to say, “Duh!” but hard for many teenage- and early twenty-something’s to internalize.

Unfortunately, the concept of “a perfect soul mate” is likely to do more harm to anyone trying to find this elusive partner than it will help anyone actually be happier. As I’ve read before, happiness is largely about managing expectations. The problem is the idea of the ideal:

That’s the thing about the Internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it. And in turn there are a whole bunch of inferior things that we’d be foolish to choose.

Notably, everyone (anecdotally, but still!) says they prefer honesty in rejection…yet nobody is actually honest when they reject another person. Ansari’s explanation seems perfect:

If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that, however bizarre, we actually prefer to be lied to. If someone lies and says they are dating someone or they are moving to another town soon, you don’t feel rejected, because it’s no longer about you. This way, our feelings aren’t hurt and we aren’t left confused or frustrated by silence or “pretend to be busy” issues. So I guess what I’m saying is the next time someone asks you out and you aren’t interested, the nicest thing you can do is write back: “Sorry, can’t do dinner tomorrow. I’m leaving on a secret mission with the space program! When I return to earth, I will have barely aged at all, but you’ll be seventy-eight years old. I just don’t think it’s a good time for me.”

A similar area of psychology Ansari discusses is that we do not know what we really want in a partner. I suppose an algorithm or service that took data cross-referencing personality data on couples, time together, and overall happiness just might have a shot at finding correlations, but unfortunately it seems like we’re a long way from that.

They also write about another psychological point: cheating and being faithful. Technology makes it easier to cheat, some on Reddit argue, but it doesn’t make it more difficult to be faithful. Likewise, we should understand that a single fuck or blowjob shouldn’t ruin a years-long relationship. I’m excited to see how American culture changes over the next few decades – and even more excited to be part of changing it.

In early sections, the authors give some good advice on how to craft an ideal profile picture, some minor suggestions for profile information (and the better suggestion to not waste too much time on the text parts of profiles and communication), and how to message prospects. He presents great psychology on why we play the I’ll-text-you-back-in-twice-the-time-you-waited-to-text-me-back games!

The authors later spend a little time in Japan, Argentina, and France (I think?), writing about a few of the differences, and on topics like snooping, sexting, and the like.

He also hits on Sherry Turkle’s argument, that kids – college kids especially – are “losing their ability to have spontaneous conversation,” not using those parts of their brains, and opting instead to craft perfect text messages and emails. The human species is in a sad state, and I hope this generation has its leaders who rebel against these alarming trends, remaining human!

The best relationship tips were to continue doing exciting things – exactly those to help make first dates seem more exciting and increase attraction between couples. But the book wasn’t much on information on retaining relationships. As such, Strauss’ The Truth will almost certainly be the next related book I read – if not the next nonfiction book I read.

Stilll, for this “modern” “snowflake” generation, this might be the best book to start with, because a) it gets them reading, and b) it’s comedic.

My full highlights (34p) are worth reviewing every year or so.

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser ($10, link)

…”the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) later fined National Beef for its negligence. The fine was $480 for each man’s death.

This book was released in 2001, I read it in 2013, and I’m writing this report in 2015. I believe it had an afterward from the ten year release of the book, but despite this fact, since most of my highlights are from the bulk of the book — which is basically fifteen years old — I’m going to write this based mostly on the information in the original version, then close based on the afterward and what’s changed.

Eric gives a bit of the history of McDonald’s, and thus how not only this franchise was born, but the overall history of franchising itself. But then he discusses the problems of the system, both its effects on the country and planet, workers, and risks for consumers and the end product.

“The real price never appears on the menu.”

That includes the price of the subsidies we directly pay to the government, which pays to farmers (great?) and industry (not so much?), the taxes we pay for roads and other indirect public services which contribute to this industry, and worse, the price we pay for our poor health. And we cannot forget that healthcare’s rising percentage of GDP is one of the most dangerous threats to western civilizations…

Themes explored in the book:

  • Bringing junk food, especially beverages, into schools, and how these companies pay for schools; how basically our public schools have whored themselves out.
  • Restaurant franchises, their high turnover of employees, how they purchase satellite imagery and are really in the real-estate business!
  • A brief bit on flavors and food scientists, how they concoct the perfect smelling (especially) foods.
  • Ranchers: how the traits that we Americans love in our ideal rancher — independence, a little rebellion, an ideal to work the land — lead this lifestyle to die and large companies to take over.
  • A brief on ConAgra and how a massive corporation — which nobody has ever even heard of — will sell food under scores or dozens of brands!
  • The horrors of meatpackers, how dangerous the life is, and how dangerous the meat it produces really is. And this isn’t simply because of the crap the animals are fed, but because of the way they and the workers are treated, their conditions, and the desire for speed and efficiency.

“A single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different cattle.”

“The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: coliform levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat”.

And what has changed? Our country is learning; there is hope: we are buying more from farmer’s markets, more grass-fed food, more locally. And while it’s debatable whether this is too little, too late for America – especially when we consider the arguments in The Third Plate, that we cannot let customers (or chefs) decide what to eat – it’s still good progress for our country. Parents are fighting back against crap served in schools, against corporate interests and influence; eating fast food is seen as cheap and well known to be poor for health. Without seeing the data on junk or fast food consumption in our country, or seeing if obesity rates have peaked, I am hopeful: you can feel it in the air, at least in the areas I’ve lived. Once the American south starts changing its eating habits, I feel our renaissance will really pick up speed.

“Instead of importing food, they import entire systems of agricultural production.”

Still, elsewhere in the world, especially in more “developing nations,” I have less hope and more caution. It is disgusting that eating fast food is a status symbol in these nations. Our food system may be changing in America because of pressure by books like this one, but that food system is likely the same in these countries, because it’s cheap and the people remain ignorant. What is proven to make money will spread more quickly than what (is almost never really) proven to be healthier, more sustainable, more environmentally respectful…

Eric’s afterword nicely summarizes what we can do, and what we have done to change our country successfully. But little matter: our country will stand or fall with the rest of the Earth, our fate is tied to it. By exporting our ideas, we have exported our problems; we can only hope — and act — to also export the solutions (responsible, ethical leadership) before it is too late:

“The market is a tool, and a useful one. But the worship of this tool is a hollow faith. Far more important than any tool is what you make with it. “

Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit. The usefulness of the market, its effectiveness as a tool, cuts both ways.”

I hope we change course before the rest of the world — or planet earth itself — kicks our asses for the destruction we are causing.


The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman (1995)

The Five Love Languages Gift Edition:
How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary D. Chapman, 1995
(Read 2012, reviewed 2015/2017)( link)


“In the context of marriage, if we do not feel loved, our differences are magnified. We come to view each other as a threat to our happiness. We fight for self-worth and significance, and marriage becomes a battlefield rather than a haven.”


While some may call this a Christian book, the ideas are for almost everyone. Is it the best book for a healthy marriage or relationship? Likely not, but it’s a powerful enough compliment to any short list of books on romantic relationships.

I will never forget the sadness of asking my mom if she’d heard about this book, to which she replied “Oooh yeah, we read that book decades ago!” with an arrogance about the statement. Read, but never practiced.

Like the “love” graph from the other book, Chapman notes that the average “in love” experience lasts about two years. That makes sense to me more and more from a scientific/biological perspective. Twenty-four consecutive menstrual cycles for monogamous couple without a child developing? Of course after 9-18+ such “unsuccessful” menstrual cycles the “chemistry” between any such heterosexual couple would begin to weaken. There may not have been strong evolutionary pressure for this apathy to develop, but it certainly is logical.




The “love tank” concept as how “full” the person’s love “meter” or “tank” is. How close to empty (serious argument in the relationship) or full (contentment, peace, and reciprocity) is the other person? And this written in a book decades before the “gamification” of life we see today!

Chapman suggests a “tank-check” game, where a few times a week we ask our partners “from 0-10, how ‘full’ is your love tank?” Good advice.

He also suggests, if one is completely ignorant of the others’ love language, that we test one language a week for five weeks, knowing that we’ll see significant differences when we’re “speaking” that person’s language.


How to figure out our languages

I have suggested three ways to discover your own primary love language:

  1. What does your spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply?The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love languag
  2. What have you most often requested of your spouse?The thing you have most often requested is likely the thing that would make you feel most love
  3. In what way do you regularly express love to your spouse?Your method of expressing love may be an indication that that would also make you feel loved.



I do strongly disagree with one statement:

In fact, true love cannot begin until the in-love experience has run its course.

That “biological” or MHC or “matched-opposite” match in a partner can form rapidly, and I totally disagree that the couple must take years and pass through the ‘infatuation’ phase of love first. Me and my partner knew there might be something deeper from the night we met: both ending long relationships shortly before we met each other, and both joking within a few weeks about who would be the heart-beaker versus the heartbroken if/when our relationship ended. I knew consciously before she did, but she knew subconsciously, too, that our relationship would be one for decades and generations. And all this took place far before the infatuation/in-love experience switched over to long-term/companion/”true” love. Chapman is wrong indeed.

But I wonder if he himself still even believes what he wrote.


The five languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation

Compliments. Do more, and not back-handed insults masked as compliments! This may not be either of our strongest love language, but it is the easiest to give and can really pay dividends more than the others!

Make requests rather than demands. The latter treats the other person like a child.


  1. Quality Time (aka Quality Conversation)

Funny, in 2017 this “clicks,” but I missed it completely in the past: quality time often (if not always) means quality conversation. A good, stimulating conversation while walking in the park can be better than a short vacation to a distant expensive destination! Makes perfect sense to me now. And even in new “experiences” together, which almost always means unique forms of visual — or sometimes visual + auditory/sensory — stimulation, more knowledge of neuroscience and male/female differences only helps me appreciate these novel experiences more. I am so thrilled to be on a media fast this year.

We must be willing to give advice but only when it is requested and never in a condescending manner.

That’s an excellent life lesson. Only give advice when requested, and never condescendingly. I recall it from How to Win Friends and Influence People, among other books. Good listening is hard work. I look forward to having teenagers to test my patience and listening skills!


  1. Gifts

Where do you begin? Make a list of all the gifts your spouse has expressed excitement about receiving through the years. They may be gifts you have given or gifts given by other family members or friends. The list will give you an idea of the kind of gifts your spouse would enjoy receiving. If you have little or no knowledge about selecting the kinds of gifts on your list, recruit the help of family members who know your spouse. [and more]

Both of us have gifts as our weakest “language,” but more and more she enjoys giving (and would likely enjoy receiving) small but potent food gifts: small dark chocolates, cheeses, surprising fruits when there are no more in the house, etc. It isn’t urgent or a priority, but I should improve, and love the “bocadito” concept.


  1. Acts of Service

First, they illustrate clearly that what we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. Before marriage, we are carried along by the force of the in-love obsession. After marriage, we revert to being the people we were before we fell in love.

That’s perhaps one of the best reasons to find a strong, true, “matched-opposite” love and go for it full force: the continual growth of one self. Permanent change, rather than reversion to one’s “old” self.

Still, I don’t think it’s that simple, and I think that mature young adults (regardless of age) who are truly biologically matched can easily overcome this trap and continue growing both together and independently.


  1. Physical Touch

Wives often assume that their husbands love language is physical touch.

Indeed, though I’d change the words to women/men in general. Following that sentence, he notes how the miscommunication regarding physical touch spirals downwards leading to sadness for both.

Plus, what exactly physical touch means will change. Having corrected a /lithium deficiency and noting a better sense of smell, I notice mine changing subtlety with her cycles. And I look forward greatly to my hormones changing dramatically (though not to the order of magnitude as hers’!) when she’s pregnant and we’re young parents. All parts of life, but modern Americans must understand that physical touch means more than simply orgasm, and sometimes it means more than even sex in general.



Be Here Now, 1971, Ram Dass

Be Here Now (1971/2012, read 2012) ($6, link)

Ram Dass


After writing reports on Sam Harris’ Waking Up and Ekhart Toller’s The Power of Now, I see that this book is the same message mystics and philosophers have said for millennia. But I read it before my own “waking up” experience in 2013, void of drugs or hallucinogenic molecules from the outside, and it makes so much more sense now (2015/2017). I may not ever revisit the entire original book, with its mystical drawings and flowery language in parts, but I don’t think I need to. I must simply remind myself of these truths regularly, and continue to develop my practices.



I’d get to a point with my colleagues when I couldn’t explain any further, because it came down to “To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.”

He’s describing experiences with certain high doses of drugs (LSD, I believe), but the quote is just as relevant to all types of wisdom. I will do my best to communicate with you, but unless you have had the same experience as me, you’re never going to really understand my perspective. As I’ve always told my sister, “If you had had her experiences and thoughts, you would be her.” In other words, if we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we would be that other person: it’s a good reminder for us all to live with a little more compassion.



Here’s a nice reminder to me to change the way I use the word “meditate” to refer to everything I do:

At first you “do” sadhana (work on the spiritual path) within certain time and space boundaries, such as going to church on Sunday mornings, or getting high on Saturday nights, or meditating each morning. Eventually, it turns out that SADHANA IS EVERYTHING YOU DO.



And this nugget:

We function under the fallacy (cogito ergo sum) that we are our thoughts and therefore must attend to them in order for them to be realized.

In a sense, that’s a sucker punch to Descartes’ idea: we are our breath, not our thoughts. Our thoughts get in the way. However, I’m not certain the two truly are saying different things. Descartes’ MIGHT have been saying that we have possessive/language ‘thoughts’ and ideas, therefore we exist, but he also may have been saying, “I am, therefore I am,” in the same way that Jesus did. It’s hard to tell without a) looking into it more, and b) learning their respective languages (French and Aramaic/Hebrew).



Several highlights of mine explain that we are not to drop out of society – and indeed, I see a new rationality in this book that I do not remember when I read it. It’s the same as Harris’ recent Waking Up, granted, without the science, but he’s saying the same thing: understand that once you free yourself, internally, from association and being imprisoned by a sense of self, then we are free. But we do this without dropping out of society, per se.

The following three quotes speak to this. As a young boy, I realized some Christians are quite poor at communicating this concept, saying silly things like “don’t live in the world,” or “don’t be of the world,” without really explaining the idea philosophically. And the idea is simple: we must live in the world (if we are human), but that we can do so without being completely attached to the specific roles we may play each day or each decade. Buddhism says it better: desire and attachment are problems to be minimized. Indeed, the downfall of Christianity in America is likely to be the bubble-effect: too much isolation from those “hell-bound” non-Christians.

Well said:

You must see that all beings are just beings . . . and that all the wrappings of personality and role and body are the coverings. Your attachments are only to the coverings, and as long as you are attached to someone else’s covering you are stuck, and you keep them stuck, in that attachment. Only when you can see the essence, can see God, in each human being do you free yourself and those about you. It’s hard work when you have spent years building a fixed model of who someone else is to abandon it, but until that model is superceded by a compassionate model, you are still stuck.


Just because you are seeing divine light, experiencing waves of bliss, or conversing with Gods and Goddesses is no reason to not know your zip code. Keeping it together means keeping conscious at all levels—all planes—with no attachment to any of them.


To think that working on oneself requires “dropping-out” of society is to miss the point. Certainly you must drop out . . . but the drop-out is internal, not external. One drops out of one’s attachments; one drops out of one’s identification with the illusion of separateness [the ego, like Sam Harris or Ryan Holiday describes].



On getting out of your own ego:

In order to perform karma yoga, there is a simple general principle to keep in mind: bring a third component into every action. If, for example, you are digging a ditch, there is you who is digging the ditch, and the ditch which is being dug. Now add a third focus: say, a disinterested person who is seeing you dig the ditch. Now run the entire action through his head while you are digging. It’s as simple as that. Through this method you would ultimately free yourself from identifying with him who is digging the ditch. You would merely see a ditch being dug.

This is very similar to Jocko and other effective SEALs who “step out” of their own bodies in order to see the work being done, and to help with decision making. Imagining some other “self” looking at your body and your decisions is a pretty effective method for accepting what you’re doing and past/present/future decisions of what to do.

How did I randomly do this, when, at Robins AFB, I was emptying the garbage with alcohol and rotten food and vomit? How did I jump to my 80-year old self reflecting back at his life when deciding to join the military or not? Moreover, why have I naturally done this, when it seems so few other humans regularly do? (And of course, how is the nutrition of my mother in the islands, genetics, birth order, first twenty years of life, and environment responsible? At what point do “I” become responsible, if ever?)

Also, considering the poison that mirrors are in our spiritual lives, it’s one of the reasons this spiritual disconnect (or connection) is so much harder for American females than for males: too much time in front of a false self-image (the 50/50 flip in the mirror) and their own ego in general (the image).

Moreover, it’s the same concept as Sam Harriss talks about that “I have no head.”

Powerful stuff.



And another way to talk about what the words spirit/spiritual mean:

Spirit is a Latin word meaning breath. It’s like breathing out and breathing in, NO THING-yup, no thing. And this no thing is basic for our life. Breathe spirit, this spirit which sustains and maintains, without which we die to this form.



Two quotes I’ve included from Autobiography of a Yogi:

“Why be elated by material profit?” Father replied. “The one who pursues a goal of evenmindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world, and departs without a single rupee.”


He had often written to those of his disciples who were over-anxious to see him: “Why come to view my bones and flesh, when I am ever within range of your kutastha (spiritual sight)?”



I’ll close with a reminder that we can move mountains, indeed, but that if our power, connectedness, (or, the word Jesus used: faith) was the size of a mustard seed, we’d be satisfied with the mountain exactly where it is:

The cosmic humor is that if you desire to move mountains and you continue to purify yourself, ultimately you will arrive at the place where you are able to move mountains. But in order to arrive at this position of power you will have had to give up being he-who-wanted-to-move-mountains so that you can be he-who-put-the-mountain-there-in-the-first-place. The humor is that finally when you have the power to move the mountain, you are the person who placed it there—so there the mountain stays.