Call of the Wild and Stanza

I just finished reading Call of the Wild by Jack London. I had been wanting to read something by Jack London for a while because, of course, he is regarded as a great writer, but also because he was a radical leftist.

Call of the Wild was a somewhat enjoyable read. I’ve definitely read better, though. The story seems a bit out there.

I read Call of the Wild on my iPhone using the Stanza app. I got the book for free from Project Gutenberg because this book is in the public domain, along with a great deal of other books. The app was a breeze to use: just tap left or right to flip pages. And when you start up the app it remembers which book you were on and which page on that book.

I am going to at least start reading American Power and the New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky next. It was his first political book.

Atlas Shrugged: Worst Book Ever

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read past this point if you’re planning on reading this book.

Also, a warning: this blog post is only slightly less disjointed than Atlas Shrugged. I am just going through point by point the complaints that I have with this book.

Well it only took me about four months, but I finally and begrudgingly finished Atlas Shrugged. Clocking in at 1,070 agonizing pages, with tiny type, it was a pain to read. I wanted to read it because it is such an influential book, especially for many neocons.

The “heroes” were not heroes at all. What kind of hero simply gives up and lets their world go down the drain? That is what all of the characters have done when they went on strike. This is what they have done when the acquiesce to a corrupt government. This is what they have done when they refuse to actively and effectively fight back. How is John Galt a hero when he tells the President that he will say anything and do anything that he is ordered to do? He is presented as a hero because he says he won’t volunteer to do what he is ordered to do.

For a book that has at its core the concepts of reality, reason, and logic, Atlas Shrugged remarkably lives in a fantasy world. Sure, the setting is the United States. But it isn’t the United States that exists anywhere outside of Ayn Rand’s head (and maybe some neocons, too).

Somewhere in the book someone is describing the hard work and honesty that the United States was founded on. Give me a break. The United States was founded on dead Indians, dead African slaves, indentured servants, exploited workers, racism, sexism, and other forms of exploitation. Ayn Rand would have done well to take a decent history class.

Rand would have us believe that when a few dozen industrialists disappear, the world descends into chaos. I contend that if the leading industrialists disappeared, we would live in a slightly better world. (Only slightly, because there would be people to replace the disappeared industrialists. This new stock would be slightly worse at exploiting people for profit, hence, a slightly better world.)

Rand also would have us believe that socialism is akin to zero productivity. What would she say today when presented with some European states that are much more socialistic than the United States and still productive? What would she say when presented with countless cooperative businesses, such as Rainbow Grocery here in San Francisco? What did she say about the anarchism that was successful in Spain during the Spanish Civil War?

Another problem with Rand’s argument is that she has no concept and no mention of externalities – the concept that people don’t always pay for the negative effects that they have on society. The cost of these effects are not reflected in the price of their products or the price of doing business. An example would be a power plant that sickens the surrounding community, such as in Richmond, California, and doesn’t have to pay for the resulting medical bills. In fact, several times in the book, Rand describes disasters that happened to the Taggart Railroad. Many people died in these disasters, but there was no implication that their families were compensated. In fact, it was implied that it was the fault of the socialists that the accident happened. Well, guess what? No matter who creates the unsafe conditions for a railroad, you can’t just run the train anyway. The “heroes” were essentially taking the same position as the villains without actually saying it: the position of “It couldn’t be helped! It’s not my fault!”

Yet another disgusting part of the book was when Hank Rearden’s family was begging him to not let them starve in the coming economic collapse. Letting your mother starve is evidently OK she has disrespected you. Eye for an eye, right?

I would have liked Atlas Shrugged a lot more if it had at least partially represented the opposing argument. Instead, this book was the worst misrepresentation of an opposing argument that I have ever read. The left was portrayed as “looters” who only stole the productivity of others. The leftist characters in the book never attempted to present a credible philosophy, supposedly because they had no philosophy. They were portrayed as being the worst kind of nihlists.

The absolutely most grueling part of the book to get through was the 70-page rant by John Galt. It was rambling, incoherent, poorly written, and disorganized. I did manage to get through it, skimming part of it.

All of the characters were portrayed as pure good or pure evil; there is no inbetween. It takes a remarkable lack of creativity to write a book with completely interchangeable characters.

At one point, a train explodes in a tunnel. Rand painstakingly goes through the passenger list, describing how dozens of people were part of the leftist problem that she sees. She implied that those who died in the crash deserved to die. This included children. Ayn Rand really must have been an awful person.

At the end of the book, the judge adds an amendment to the constitution saying that business is a fundamental right. A clause such as this in reality would ruin the environment and destroy the lives of workers.

Ayn Rand is a wanna-be great philosopher. I think she has deluded herself into thinking that her theories must be true due to a world that she sees as black and white, ones and zeroes. Unfortunately, her theories only work in the fantasy worlds that she creates. I find myself thinking this a lot about different people (mostly people, I suppose, who buy into Rand’s BS, like Dick Cheney et. al.): I wish I could see Noam Chomsky debate Ayn Rand.

Some More Thoughts

Some random rumblings from my gray matter recently:

– I’d like to go on a cross-country bike trip after I graduate. And not just a fast-as-you-can straight shot from San Francisco to Baltimore. More of a San Francisco to Fresno to San Diego to Flagstaff to Phoenix to Austin to Houston to New Orleans to Key West to Atlanta to Baltimore with 25 more destinations in between. And stopping for extended periods to get involved in local social justice movements or to read or to soak up some rays or anything else that floats my boat. And maybe go back and forth and all around a few times. Lots of camping and lots of couch surfing. Anyway, this idea has been occupying much of my thought for the past couple of weeks.

– School has really started to ramp up. I am unbelievably stressed and busy but I am somehow still doing well. I really don’t understand how.

– I am currently reading How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos. I can’t say that I am completely convinced by some of the things he says but it is interesting and generally well-argued nonetheless. I might try to tap out a whole book review after I am finished.

What I’ve Been Up To

I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit lately. I’ve basically been busy as hell lately, and I suppose the blog has taken a back seat. So this post will be a rambling one bordering on stream of consciousness. So grab a cup of your favorite hot, cold or lukewarm beverage, get someone to rub your feet, and read on.

The fitness side of things has been going very well. It has been mostly bicycling (more on that soon!) but I have also been doing some calisthenics, push ups, basketball and pilates. However I guess I am drinking enough beer and soda to negate any exercise progress I am making. I am still holding steady at my (healthy) weight but I’ve still got that blasted belly fat. I think at some point I may abstain from alcohol for a month just for caloric reasons.

Now onto bicycling. I am surely becoming better at it. My legs are getting stronger and I am becoming more confident in riding. I let myself go faster down hills and don’t mind small bumps as much. I am actually surprised that I have not gotten a flat from some of the huge goddamn pot holes I have unintentionally gone over. I have also somehow managed to not pierce my tube on all the glass I have seen on the street. Also, yesterday I participated in my second Critical Mass. It is quite an empowering experience. After spending all month being a second-class citizen on the roads and being scared out of my wits several times by inattentive or malicious motorists, it is nice to have the bicyclists own the roads for a change. Yesterday I especially had fun stopping for a few seconds directly in front of some cars in a couple of intersections to let the mass go through. I did have to break off rather early, however, to meet some friends in the Sunset for dinner. On my way there I kept running into break-off massers. I am not sure what you call it, but I went through a group of bikers who were using an intersection as their own personal traffic circle, stopping traffic in all directions. Beautiful thing. After passing through that I had all four one-way lanes of Fell Street to myself. I love Critical Mass. I wish it were two times per month, every week, twice a week, every day. Maybe some day…

By the way, a quick “shout out” to my friend Peter’s excellent San Francisco bike blog.

School has been going well, although I probably need to start working harder at it. Last semester I worked too hard at school; I probably worked twice as hard as I needed to to actually get an ‘A’ and ended up with super duper A’s. Right now I am probably working hard enough for everything to be borderline A/B and I would really like to get straight A’s again. Unfortunately this semester there are no term papers like last semester where we get to pick our own topic. I really enjoyed writing my paper Anarchism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War last semester and I wish I had the opportunity to do something like that again. Unfortunately it is mostly book reviews, midterms, and one term paper on which our topic is rather narrow. School has been rather tiring, for sure. 11 out of my 12 weekly class hours are packed between Monday at 4pm and Wednesday at 10am. With bicycling to/from school most of the time I am pretty exhausted by the time I get out of work on Wednesday. But I keep on truckin’. I think I can wait until December and January for a decent vacation.

In December I will be going to Maryland for about a week. I’d like to be back in San Francisco for New Year’s Eve, and then I’ll be off to Hawaii to visit Kelly, Conor and Caleb. Hopefully Tim will be home by then. I’m very much looking forward to this vacation. But the real doozy will be next summer when I plan to go to Europe for a month, couch surfing as much as possible. I should probably get on getting that passport…

Talking about Couch Surfing, I have been hosting a LOT. The vast majority of the days I will have one or more (sometimes as many as four) couch surfers staying with me in my studio. I am taking a several day break from it right now but I really enjoy hosting people. I have met so many people and I’ve stopped counting how many I’ve hosted. Besides the obvious social benefits of it, I am looking at it from an anarchist perspective. It is essentially a gift economy; the apartment is theirs to stay in with no strings attached. They also get to avoid spending money at a hotel and I get the joy of knowing they kept money out of the hands of the big hotel owners. And to be selfish, I am racking up a huge list of people than can host me in the future!

To change gears here, work is also going well. We are trying to spin off a separate company. I won’t go into the details right now, but it’s involved setting aside a few weekend days to get some work done on our project that we are trying to launch. I don’t mind so much; the solitude while I work is nice and it is what I was looking for when I volunteered all of us to work on the weekends. The regular during-the-week stuff is going fine but I am looking forward to this new company getting launched and hopefully working in that line a lot more.

Now onto the “having fun” part of this post. As I posted before, I have recently launched a San Francisco drum and bass blog where I am keeping track of the different drum and bass events upcoming in the city, posting pictures and writing event reviews. I had a tremendous time last Sunday at Compression at The Cellar. I hope to go to more drum and bass events now that I am keeping track of all of them for the new blog.

A few fun things that are upcoming for me: Next weekend I am going to Monterrey for a night with a few friends for a birthday. I’ve been to Monterrey a few times but never spent the night. I think I won’t go to the aquarium again, even though it was great last time. I want to check out other parts of Monterrey, whatever they may be. The weekend after that I’ll be in LA visiting Alyssa. I haven’t been to LA for a while and I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

Now just some comments on our current political atmosphere. I become more and more turned off by mainstream politics every day. I am especially jaded by the Obama campaign. I can’t stand to see Obamamania going on here in San Francisco. If I had more time (how many times have I said this?) I’d challenge the Obamamania. I want to put up posters that say “Obama is a warmonger.” I want to make t-shirts to the same effect. I want to challenge the Obama street table volunteers to an impromptu debate.

What, you didn’t know that Obama was a warmonger? He has voted to fund the war in Iraq. The same war that has killed an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis, many more than you may know who have been killed directly by American soldiers. The same war that has made five million Iraqis flee their homes, internally and externally. Well, surely, you might think, Obama will change all of that when he takes office. Think again. He plans to keep thousands of troops in Iraq, including in the Green Zone, thus completely ignoring the will of the Iraqi people and destroying any hope of Iraqi sovereignty. Obama also seems to think the Iraqi people should be paying us money for our war that is essentially no more than mass murder. Should someone with this mentality be our president?

But it doesn’t stop with Iraq, of course. Obama’s effort to be “tough on terror” includes sending more troops to Afghanistan. Send them there for what? What are more troops going to do over there? It doesn’t take tens of thousands of troops to combat Al Qaeda, who are evidently holed up in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. I’ll tell you what more troops will accomplish however. They will, intentionally or not, murder more Afghan people, like the close to 100 that were killed a couple weeks ago by an American bomb. Is this who you want to be president?

This is the same man who thinks it is wise to leave “all options on the table” with regards to Iran. The same Iran that several years ago agreed to stop all nuclear activity if we would only promise to not attack them. We reprimanded the third party diplomat for delivering the message. Are we really going to consider bombing Iran, too? Or maybe we’ll just starve them out like Bill Clinton did to Iraq. 1 million dead Iraqis thank Clinton for that, and the rest of the Iraqis thank Clinton for making them more dependent on their dictator, making it extremely difficult to overthrow him. And this is who the San Francisco “liberals” are so excited about?

This is the same man that actually wants to increase the size of our military. Our military expenditures are already higher than the rest of the world combined. This is our idea of a presidential candidate that stands for peace, that wants to use diplomacy to settle our differences with the world? Diplomacy at the barrel of a gun, maybe. Change, my ass.

And just a bit on the economy here. I am actually kind of excited about the state of the economy. I think economic collapse would certainly be painful in many ways but it would also be a time of opportunity. An opportunity to make a change in our lives on an individual level and also an opportunity to replace what we have on a systemic level with something at least slightly better. We’ll see what happens, but my opinion is that the current bailout plan will make the decline of the American economy happen slowly rather than suddenly. Either way it’s going down the tubes.

Lastly, a quick comment on some stuff I am reading right now. I am reading Living My Life by Emma Goldman, an autobiography if the title didn’t give that away. An excellent book so far, talking about all of her travels, lectures, romance and more. I certainly like Emma Goldman much more than Lenin after reading his biography. Lenin was essentially a mass murdering elitist who did it all in the name of the working class. One thing I am getting out of all of this, however, is that I think I would admire someone much more for their actions rather than their words. Emma Goldman, until this point in the book at least (I think she’s about 30) has mostly done lecture tours. Anarchist lectures are generally meant to agitate the working class so they take action. Seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. But I still like Emma Goldman.

I also started reading a journal I subscribed to, Anarchist Studies. An article in the current issue discusses Leo Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism, which is something I had never heard of until now. There’s a lot about laws, slavery and non-violence in the article. I am skeptical of some of Tolstoy’s arguments, especially the one that declares that laws are slavery. I think the term slavery is cheapened when it is used so broadly like this. Having said this, I’d like to read some of Tolstoy’s books and articles that this journal article mentions.

Until next time, faithful readers…

Books that Change Your Life

I didn’t intend for this post to start off this way, but a thought has come to mind. I am very glad I decided not to get a TV when I moved. My motivation was not that there isn’t anything good on TV. Surely, there could be a lot more good content. But this wasn’t my main issue with TV. My issue is the advertising. And if you have been reading this blog somewhat regularly, you will know how I feel about advertising and subscriptions.

But anyway, I don’t intend to get all high and mighty like…”Oh, you watch TV? I don’t. In fact, I don’t even have a TV.” The reason I am glad I don’t have one is because if I did, I would watch it as a default activity to do, out of habit. I, of course, still subject myself to the same mind-numbing content as everyone that owns a TV. I illegally download plenty of TV shows and watch them on my computer. But not having a TV and cable just makes that default habit-induced urge go away. Now when I want something to do to relax by myself at home, instead of reaching for the remote, a beer, and a bowl of peanuts, I reach for a book, a beer (well, actually, usually Diet Coke, juice, or water), and a bowl of peanuts. And I have always wanted to read more.

That brings up another point. Question all assumptions. When people think of the different rooms in their home, and think of what they need to have in them, I think there is a preset list in their minds. It is nice to be able to think of living without a certain thing, and come to the realization that you either don’t need or want that certain thing. This might be a function of the size of my apartment where I kind of need to cut back on some of the things that are found in almost every home in America. So I don’t have a microwave in my kitchen. Again, I am not trying to get all high and mighty here. I am certainly just protecting myself from myself. Because I’d rather not use a microwave, but if there was one there, I’d use it. But things, I think, taste better when heated up on the stove or in the oven. And it really isn’t much extra effort at all.

But now I would like to move on to the main idea I wanted to get across tonight. I hope you’ve made it this far. Back to the reading thing. It is rather remarkable how something like a book can change your life, or at least your outlook on life. A few books have done this for me over the past few years.

First, it was the Ralph Nader biography, Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon, that I read a couple of summers ago. That made me realize that there really is a lot that one person can accomplish just with hard work alone. Surely, it isn’t easy doing what Ralph Nader has done. But it is rather obvious what you need to do to bring about change. Work your ass off. Devote yourself to what you believe in. These are simple concepts, but difficult in practice.

Secondly, this book motivated me to start volunteering some of my time. I volunteered for the 2004 Nader campaign. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And it made me realize how good it makes me feel to devote even a little bit of time every week to something I believe in.

A few months ago, I finished reading The Fountainhead. The book was maybe a bit over simplistic, but it also made me realize some things. You shouldn’t spend your life compromising yourself. Make sure you are doing something you love doing for a living. Of course, this is not something that is very easy to accomplish, but at least I realize this as a goal and I am working on acheiving it.

Currently, I am reading Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. This book has really opened my eyes in terms of how the world works. I am sure I still have a ton of learning to do, but I think I am starting to see things a bit more clearly. It also contains tons of references to other books and articles. In fact, the footnotes are longer than the book itself. This book is a collection of discussions that Chomsky has had over the years. These aren’t prepared speeches. Someone will ask him a question or propose a discussion point, and Chomsky answers. Every single one of his answers reads like a thorough essay, but this is stuff off of the top of his head.

He has a lot to say about the nature of power, the media, state-sponsored terrorism, propoganda, and a wealth of other subjects. I can’t really give a fitting summary to this book. You’ll just have to pick it up and read it.

Now all this isn’t to say that I read a lot per se. In fact, I read quite slowly. Alyssa gave me Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky for Festivus, and a month and a half later I am still reading it. It is a 400-page book. But I do enjoy reading often, even if it is only a few pages a day when I am trying to fall asleep. It keeps me thinking.

I really wish I had discovered books like these years ago. Because of this, I am going to start a page of recommended books, so that perhaps someone else can discover these books much earlier than I did. This is not to say that I have some amazing taste in books – this list should be taken with a rather large grain of salt.