Book Review: Do What You Want by Jim Ruland

Do What You Want

★★★☆☆

Bad Religion was probably one of my top 3 favorite bands while growing up as an angsty teenager. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost some of my punk rock sensibilities and the desire to keep up with the bands that I used to love so much.

But I have so many pleasant and vivid memories of listening to various albums on full blast in my room or car, while driving around during the sweltering Southern California summers. I remember wearing my cross buster t-shirt and feeling so smug when a fellow student (who went to one of these crazy mega churches) in a high school class asked “why on Earth would you wear something like that?” I remember keeping a dictionary nearby to look up every third word of a song because their wordy lyrics were so ridiculously complex.

And although some of their albums came out half a decade or more before I started listening to them, “Suffer”, “No Control”, “Against the Grain”, and “Generator” were critical components in the sound track of my teenage life.

I think one of the reasons I liked them so much was because their lyrics were a bit more highbrow than the average punk band of the day. It was less “fuck yeah anarchy, smash shit up” and more thought provoking stuff that pondered our existence and place in the universe — for example, these lyrics from “No Control”:

There’s no vestige of beginning, no prospect of an end
When we all disintegrate it will all happen again, yeah
If you came to conquer, you’ll be king for a day
But you too will deteriorate and quickly fade away

Hopeless? Sure! But also a thought provoking message about how the universe and existence is about so much more than just us and what we do? Sure! Excuse me while I go listen to this song real quick.

Anyway, it’s been awhile since I’ve given them a serious listen, so, imagine my surprise when I see a friend add “Do What You Want”, a biography about Bad Religion, to their reading list. A book?! About Bad Religion?!

The book spans 40 years of the band’s history, from their first practice sessions inside a hot garage in the valley, to their most recent album (Age of Unreason). (Have they really been at it for forty years and have something like 17 albums!? It’s really unbelievable to me that these guys are pushing 60 and still at it and enjoying it.)

Despite being fairly emotionless and dry (imagine reading about a history of a band in a newspaper article), this book was a really easy read. There’s nothing scandalous or exceptionally profound within, but it does share interesting anecdotes from tours and recording sessions of every album they’ve put out. And hey, I definitely learned some interesting things about the band!

I also found myself flipping back and forth between this book and then loading up Spotify in order to listen to various songs and albums that were mentioned. I forgot how good some of these early albums are. And I’ve really missed out on some of the more recent stuff. There are some good tunes there.

All in all, the book provided a nice sense of nostalgia and even helped me rediscover some more recent tunes from one of my all-time favorites.

Do What You Want by Jim Ruland and Bad Religion

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Racing in the Rain2

★★★★☆

This is one of those books that’s been on the “to-read” list for a long time. Highly rated amongst friends, with many saying some variation of “I loved this book, but it just destroyed me. And now I want to hug my dog.”

Alright. So, I finally decided to pick it up. My verdict: I loved this book, but it just destroyed me. And I want to hug my dog.

This book struck a chord with me on a few different levels. First, and most obviously, as a dog owner. I kept glancing over at Benson as I read it and would involuntarily start scratching his head and wondering what he’s thinking about.

I felt that the asides about racing (like, straight up, actual car racing) were a little long and drawn out, but I get it and understand how it ultimately connects with the story. And it’s especially amusing the think of a dog who watches TV all day and really, truly understands what he’s seeing.

Secondly, the book resonated with me as a father. We ourselves had Benson with us long before we ever had kids, and they’ve since grown up around him and he’s always been patient and shown them love as well.

There were other parts that really affected me as well, that were downright shocking. I don’t want to spoil them. I would mope around the house with tears in my eyes after reading parts of the book and my wife (and Benson) would wonder what was wrong with me.

I think some of the emotional impact of this book has to do with confronting our own dog’s mortality. He’s a big dog, though not super old (as far as dogs go), but he’s starting to get mysterious lumps under his skin and having more difficulty walking up steps.

Anyway.

Let’s not forget that ending, oh man, I was just a weepy pile of tears by the time this thing was done.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Book Review: The Silence by Don DeLillo

The silence

★☆☆☆☆

Maybe I’m still in a bad mood from a recent book I read, which I also one-stared, but this one was terrible.

I think it’s supposed to be a message about how scrambled our brains are due to our fixation on technology, but I really don’t even know. It was weird. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t interesting, even though the premise seems interesting.

To quote from the description: “…something happens and the digital connections that have transformed our lives are severed.”

A bunch of people get together at a Super Bowl party and essentially have conversations with themselves that make no sense and have no relation to each other after all the power goes out and every screen is blank.

Let’s straight up take a passage that appears in the later half of the book as people are talking “with” each other:

Martin resumes speaking for a time, back to English, unaccented.
Internet arms race, wireless signals, countersurveillance.
“Data breaches,” he says. “Cryptocurrencies.”
He speaks this last term looking directly at Diane.
Cryptocurrencies.
She builds the word in her mind, unhyphenated.
They are looking at each other now.
She says, “Cryptocurrencies.”
She doesn’t have to ask him what this means.
He says, “Money running wild. Not a new development. No government standard. Financial mayhem.”
“And it is happening when?”
“Now,” he says. “Has been happening. Will continue to happen.”
“Cryptocurrencies.”
“Now.”
“Crypto,” she says, pausing, keeping her eyes on Martin. “Currencies.”
Somewhere within all those syllables, something secret, covert, intimate.

I mean, I was actually laughing because this whole thing is ridiculous. “Crypto,” she says, pausing, keeping her eyes on Martin. “Currencies.”

I think I needed to be high as a kite to appreciate this book.

The Silence by Don DeLillo

Book Review: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist

★★★★☆

This has been on the “to-read” list for awhile and I finally decided to check it out after Dr. Kendi did a (virtual) speaking event / QA session at our company.

We’re the same age and graduated high school the same year, so for me, this was an interesting contrast between my privileged white life and his life and the struggles that he and his family had to continuously faced because the deck is so continuously stacked against people of color.

I feel that this book is at its best when he shares vulnerable and deeply personal stories on his growth and evolving ideas of race, gender, and sexual preference.

This definitely provided a new perspective (for me) to consider when thinking about how lucky and privileged I’ve been and how much I’ve taken it for granted while others have struggled and sacrificed so much (up to and including their own lives).

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Book Review: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Tender

★☆☆☆☆

Ugh, oh God, no. What did I just read?

Animals and livestock get some disease that means humans can’t eat them anymore. Sooooo… we turn to raising and farming humans to get our meat fix. Sounds like it could be an interesting plot for a dystopian novel (it kind of reminded me of Ashfall by Mike Mullin).

But really, what was I expecting?

I think the whole point of this book was to be provocative, shocking and straight up gruesome. And it was all those things. And more. Including horrible.

From the overly descriptive details of factory farming (no doubt taken from existing farming / slaughter methods used when processing cattle), to the poorly written prose, to the loathsome characters, this book had almost no redeeming qualities.

Somehow, I managed to finish it, despite feeling almost nauseous during certain passages. But I really feel like it was a waste of time and I am a worse person for it. Definitely one of my least liked novels that I’ve read in a long, long time.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Book Review: The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Undoing

★★★★☆

I enjoyed this story about the founding fathers of behavioral economics and their seemingly unlikely friendship. Their work has influenced so many aspects of our lives.

We also learn about a number of their experiments, the how and why behind them, and what it ultimately means. Some of the examples were pretty jaw dropping and I found myself falling for some of the same fallacies they were pointing out. M

We are really irrational creatures.

Interestingly, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow a few years ago and just now realized that the author of that book is one of the psychologists that this book is about!

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Book Review: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein

Money book

★★★☆☆

Quick read about the history of money in all its various forms. The historical aspects of this book are really interesting (and it delves into everything from the creation of paper currency, to stock exchanges, to digital currencies) though it never does a deep dive into any particular topic.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the writing style is really off-putting. It reads almost like a conversation or transcript and this maybe explains why it never digs into any topic with much detail.

That said, it was still interesting and is probably worth it to file away some of the knowledge for a trivia night at the local pub.

Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein

Book Review: A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Life planet

★★★★☆

I love Sir David Attenborough and was excited to read this. It’s one part biography, another part dire warning letter to those of us who will be alive long after David Attenborough departs this world, and one part hope, talking about the things we are doing now and in the near future to (hopefully, maybe) avoid a climate disaster.

The first half of the book is definitely not a happy-feel-good story. He writes a letter to us and future generations, warning of the changes he has seen in his lifetime and the changes yet to happen due to climate change and our affect on the planet.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. He gives an overview of some of the sustainable ideas and technologies that various individuals, companies and even some governments are working on and the massive benefits they have if they are scaled up. It gives some hope that we might (maybe, hopefully) can turn things around. But time is definitely running out.

And given how people have generally responded to wearing masks and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, we probably don’t have much hope.

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Book Review: “Heavier Than Heaven” by Charles Cross

2020 has been crazy. Somehow, I just finished my 65th book of the yearHeavier Than Heaven, a biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles Cross.

I vaguely remember how big of a deal Kurt Cobain’s death was when I was in middle school, but I never really thought too much about him as a person, or the deeper meaning behind various Nirvana songs. All this, despite being a huge part of the sound track of my teenage life.

One of my biggest takeaways after reading this book was: how can you help those who don’t want it?

What a tortured, tormented soul who really struggled with life. I honestly felt down and depressed after reading certain parts of this book. I would put it down and mope about the house while I processed what I just read.

That said, another part of the book that I really enjoyed and appreciated was hearing how much joy and life his daughter brought to his life and how much he loved being a dad.

Also, after reading this, I think it’s incredible and seemingly improbable that Nirvana actually happened.

I often found myself flipping between this book and Spotify to listen to various Nirvana songs that were mentioned, trying to appreciate them in a new light and really hear them and looking at various performances on YouTube.

Relevant excerpts from “Election Meltdown”

I suppose this is going to become a recurring series, where I “doom-read” (similar to “doom-scrolling“) some relevant book related to whatever horrible thing that’s currently happening in the world.

In today’s post, I share some interesting excerpts I found while reading Election Meltdown by Rick Hansen. I found a particular passage so amusing and ridiculous that I had to tweet about it. Rick Hansen, the author, ended up retweeting me. Nice!

Onto the excerpts!

In light of recent events, where the current administration is doing everything in their power to cast doubt on the results of the upcoming elections, I was particular amused at the types of people they are putting in charge of their voter suppression efforts.

The following deals with purging voter rules.

“From this “suspense” list, he and his assistants tried to identify “foreign sounding” names to determine whether the list was excluding large numbers of noncitizens from registering. He admitted that this methodology required making “subjective” judgments.

The ACLU’s Dale Ho asked Richman why he had coded some Kansas residents on the suspense list with the last name “Lopez” as foreign and others not, but he did not get a good answer. Then Ho continued with a devastating line of questioning:

Q. Just hypothetically, Dr. Richman, if you came across the name Carlos Murguia, would you code that as foreign or non-foreign?
A. I’m sorry, could you, please, spell the name.
Q. Sure. Carlos, C-a-r-l-o-s, Murguia, M-u-r-g-u-i-a.
A. Probably.
Q. Probably what?
A. Probably would code it as foreign.
Q. Okay. Are you aware that Carlos Murguia is a United States District Court Judge who sits in this courthouse?
A. I am not.”

Another form of voter suppression is strict identification requirements. As it turns out, that is trying to find a problem where none exists.

“I had been searching for proof of a single case since the 1980s, anywhere in the United States, in which someone tried to steal an election through impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud strict voter ID laws are designed to prevent. It is an exceedingly dumb way to steal an election, because one would have to hire people to go to the polls claiming to be someone else, hope that the people being impersonated had not yet voted, hope that the people being paid to commit felonies would actually cast a secret ballot the way the payer wants, and repeat this process undetected on a large enough scale to sway an election. It is no surprise that the News21 database covering a dozen years contained only ten possible individual cases of such fraud, and none involving a conspiracy to steal an election. Election law professor Justin Levitt found thirty-one possible impersonators casting votes out of over a billion votes cast in the United States between 2000 and 2014”

In 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (we will miss you, RBG. Thank you for the trails you’ve blazed and the things you’ve done) wrote:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent for the four more liberal justices, lamenting that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Of course, despite most people (of rational thought) realizing that voter fraud is not a real problem, the GOP is quite successful at implementing a variety of voter suppression laws across the United States.

“Alas, the intellectual collapse of the voter fraud myth has done little to slow down the pace of laws, passed almost exclusively in Republican states, that make it harder to register and vote. Instead, green lights from the Supreme Court have accelerated the pace and deepened the reach of these laws, even as lawsuits and the commission’s failure undermined their premises, and even as some lower courts have rejected or softened some of the more extreme attempts. According to a Brennan Center survey, twenty-five states enacted new restrictions on voting and registration from 2010 to 2018: “14 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have implemented strict photo ID requirements), 12 have laws making it harder for citizens to register, seven cut back on early voting opportunities, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.”

But not all hope is lost!

“Democrats have learned that campaigning on voter suppression works, for the simple reason that people are offended by efforts to make it harder for them or their friends, relatives, and allies to vote. Voting rights has become a political issue like health care or climate change. The shift toward Democrats in states such as North Carolina was partially a reaction to Republican legislative overreach on voting rules and procedures. The issue of voting rights has caused people to take to the streets, as North Carolina residents did in their “Moral Mondays” marches.”

Only 39 days until the 2020 election.