Geek books and real books. My fun real book this past month was by H.L. Mencken, who was incapable of writing anything uninteresting. Although we love him for his short and cynical essays, chock full of quotable and meme-able sentences, his scholarly work is equally enjoyable. The American Language is a study on how our version of English developed and on the taxonomy of American vocabulary, grammar, and usage. It delights my inner geek, amuses and informs on every page, and gives a fascinating insight into Mencken’s inner thoughts on the language that he used so brilliantly and effectively. I was less thrilled with a lot of the updates added by editors after Mencken’s stroke and eventual death, but at least they were kind enough to set their portions off in brackets.
My geek book for the month is High Fidelity Circuit Design, by Norman Crowhurst and George Cooper. This is a book from the 1950s that has recently been reprinted. If you want to understand Nyquist stability criteria, feedback, and the finer points of tube amplifier design (I told you it was a geek book!), look no further. These days, engineers use computer modeling to determine gain and phase margins for stability and sims to predict performance, but back in the stone ages, they actually plotted stuff on graph paper and used rulers and protractors. I confess that reading this covered my with waves of anachrophilia.
October is the month for horror. I went back to the classics: Dracula, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde. Old friends to cuddle up with.
If you’ve never, Frankenstein plays out far differently that pretty much every movie adaption. The Monster is made over just a few pages of grave robbing and surgery, no electricity and no cackling, and Frankenstein is young, only about 21, and while full of hubris, he isn’t a mad scientist, just a mildly full-of-himself student. It would be interesting to see a film adaptation actually tackle the book.
Let’s see, what have I been reading this month. I’ve just started The Pattern of Evolution by Niles Eldredge, which our European guest had selected from our library for bedtime reading and left laying on the table upon his departure. (One of the great benefits of marrying another extreme reader is that there are always books that I haven’t read, and I don’t even have to venture out to the library or pay Amazon.)
I’m revisiting The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. Stewart has put together a pretty comprehensive look at the major plants, herbs, spices, that are made into various potent potables. There are interesting historical notes about the discovery and use of the different ingredients, and some geeky botany stuff, too. Oh, and recipes for drinks. This isn’t really a book one reads straight through, although I am. But I also read cookbooks cover to cover just for fun.
Just picked up the book mexican sharpshooter has recently reviewed, Data in Decline: Why Polling and Social Research Miss the Mark by Steve Wood. I expect a throughly interesting read.
In fiction, I’m still working my way through the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly on Kindle. I haven’t viewed the series which is based on the character, but I might add it to my watchlist.
In audio, I was listening to A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett, but I’ve kind of lost interest about halfway through. Plot: Horrible people do horrible things. Less horrible people also sometimes do horrible things. Especially in 19th century banking empires, British politics, and banana republics run by thugs. Eh. Probably won’t finish it unless I end up having another long, tedious drive alone.
I don’t have much to report. I went on a bit of a binge of buying cookbooks including Mormioto’s Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking which is accessible enough and got me to make my own dashi from scratch (god damn did my kitchen stink of fish for days, but it was very tasty). I found the content personal, but I was hoping for more…I dunno, context for the food I was preparing. I also grabbed Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking more to kick money her way than anything as I’ve been scraping recipes from her website for years (The Boyfriend does not approve of how much I gravitate to her more gochugaru-centric offerings).
I burned through the available issues of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which started off with just the right level of twisting to the character I was first introduced to by Melissa Joan Hart, but I’m not sure it is living up to its promise so far.
Started but not finished: I circled back to The Lies of Locke Lamora, and pushed through until it found its groove. I’m a little more than half-way done at this point so maybe by next WAWR I’ll have a final opinion. I’ve been chipping away at just the introduction to James R. Walker’s Lakota Myth, which has been unskippably interesting, but also too academic for the naked-poolside-reading I was hoping the main contents would be while Iwas in Palm Springs…perhaps next time I’ll have more.
A wise man once screamed “NO! You must not read from the book!“and I have followed that advice ever since.
A Leap At The Wheel
Books on Audiobook:
The Wizard of Oz: Or so I thought. It was actually a 2 hour radio broadcast will a full cast. Not recommended.
Till We Have Faces: I didn’t realize this was fiction, based only on the name I assumed it was non-fiction. But it was one of the few Lewis books left that I hadn’t read so I threw a hold on it in the library’s audiobook application. It is in fact fiction, and it is fantastic. In addition to being written by an expert craftsman, this is a novel that would be pretty impossible to write in this day and age. The concept of having a female protagonist who takes up some masculine role in society would inevitably become bogged down in the current simple-minded discussion of gender issues. But being written in the 50s actually allows Lewis to write a stronger, more interesting female character that provides a clearer analysis of gender roles. Nothing turns me off of fiction faster than weak women, and between this book and That Hideous Strength, its nice to see my literary hero doesn’t fall into my literary pet peeve. Also, this not really a book about gender roles. Its not a book about any one thing, because it is about nine or so different things. If I had to pick one thing it was about the most, it would be about how you would get along in a world where the divine is real and doesn’t really love us. Highest Recommendation.
Democracy in America: Ufda. I find historical books about history and political economy really interesting, but they require a lot of concentration because you need to both consider the words on the page and the frame of reference that they were written in. Kind of like the Screwtape Letters. In any case, 34 hours of that is just too much for me this month, when I’ve either been too sick to do productive work (fucking strep, fucking high-false-negative strep tests), or working 7 days a week to catch up. Only made it through about the first third, I’ll come back later. Incomplete.
Whitepapers: I don’t normally list all the whitepapers and journal articles that I read, but there were some interesting ones that might be of interest here
Honestly, there isn’t much groundbreaking here, but it lays out the argument for charter schools in the suburbs. Just the kind of thing you would expect to find from some shitlord conservative think-tank like… *needle scratch* the Progressive Policy Institute? Interesting for that reason alone.
You know all those people saying “80% of the US is opposed to political correctness?” This is the research that they are pulling from. Its generally a pretty interesting look at the electorate, though I think it has some shortcomings. It’s interesting because the categorization they propose feels truthy, and it seems to be a better signal than party affiliation for predicting opinions of the tribes. It’s limited because it doesn’t spend a lot of time on meeeeeeee and my tribe. Political opinion is a high dimensional space, and this projects that space onto a single axis. It puts me in the moderate camp, which is probably right in that I’m pretty close to center on the left-right axis. But I’m a huge outlier on a bunch of other axes on the political space. A model is only as good or bad as its predictive power, and this seems predictive for a lot of people. “Bad for outliers” is hardly a reason to reject a model. And I found it to be very helpful to see the divisions within the right wing and within the left wing. Its not news that the right and left disagree, but disagreements within the wings are pretty important these days. Highly Recommended.
The truest thing I’ve ever read was the argument that Killmonger was the protagonist in Black Panther, which is an Alt-Right parable. The second truest thing I’ve ever read was this paper. This paper documents and discusses the reduction in faith in information provided by institutions like media, government, and academia. The interesting thing though is that this paper is *incredibly* careful to present the case in a way that doesn’t turn off anyone from any political orientation. One of my hangups is that a lot of this distrust is the result of these institutions becoming untrustworthy because they are becoming self serving, partisan, and/or low-quality shitholes. Guess what, it talks about that (maybe using different terminology…) One of the hang-ups of a friend of mine is that the Right has a financial incentive in developing an ecosystem of alternative news outlet and those with the biggest financial incentive are the loudest talking about how you can’t trust the MSM. Guess what, it talks about that too. It is pretty clear that this has been heavily edited to take into considerations the thoughts and objections of reviewers with a very wide array of intellectual orientations, and its a very, very strong document because of that. I told this friend that this is exhibit A for why educational institutions need intellectual heterogeneity. While this progressive friend is not yet ready to admit that academia is a stifling monoculture, this paper is helping me change his mind. Highest Recommendation
Podcasts: I just wanted to call this one out because it is really, really interesting
So to Speak Podcast with Don Verrilli. Verilli was the Solicitor General in the Obama administration. He is, quite possibly, the most skilled Supreme Court lawyer alive. I probably don’t agree with him on anything policy-wise, but when the guy talks about how to argue in front of the Supreme Court, there aren’t too many living people with more to say. And when he makes an admission against interest, well, that’s worth taking a note of. He makes two here.
First, Verilli says that he thinks the Roberts Court really does support the 1st amendment because they have an ideological commitment to it. Its not just a tool for achieving a partisan end of being pro-business or owning the libs. I think this too, but its nice to hear it confirmed like this.
Second, an more importantly, Verilli comes out and says that there’s not an Originalist argument for campaign finance laws. He talks about how the Founders had a broader understanding of corruption that the modern court does. But even if that’s true, they didn’t think that there was an exception to the 1A to combat this. I don’t think he says it, but this is consistent with the idea that it was the structure of the government that was supposed to prevent this type of corruption, not restrictions on civilian action. Recommended if you follow the SC