Book Art Of Learning Delivers

I thoroughly The Art of Learning, particularly the first half that explores the cerebral journey found in learning/discovering/troubleshooting. The backstory to this book is author Josh Waitzkin was thrown into fame as a child prodigy chess player. The book/movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is written by his dad (I just recently watched and also highly recommend). Around age 20 the author grew disenchanted with chess (likely due to the huge popularity of the movie) and made the abnormal shift from chess to martial arts. The book describes this journey, how there are similarities, and his approach to learning and mental tenacity.

Three points stuck out:

  • It’s wrong to tell children “it’s just a game,” when they’re experiencing a loss. This is typical behavior for parents with competitive kids that don’t perform well during big events. If it didn’t matter, then why did they train so much and travel far for something that doesn’t matter? Children know this and it’s disingenuous to tell them their efforts were meaningless. At the time of this writing, Jim Carrey has been making waves saying how “life doesn’t matter.” This is an incomplete statement as it’s not saying who/what is experiencing the matter. Life may not matter TO YOU or TO THE UNIVERSE. But certain things trigger pain and joy– thus some things do matter to people regardless of the significance to others (BTW, I semi agree with Mr. Carrey’s message besides this flaw, maybe I’ll chat about that some other time).
  • Sometimes the subconscious sees something before the conscious mind does. I’ve experienced this when looking at a coding, or logic problem at work. Sometimes there will be a small flicker that you can’t explain, but you get a hunch that there’s something there that should be continued to explore. I’ve had this sensation on many occasions and have grown to listen very carefully to my body whenever I “feel” like there might be a solution hiding right in front of me that I havent’ seen yet.
  • The book details an experiment between two types of learners — Entity and Incremental learners. It explores how some children who believe they are smart by innate ability (entity) are less resilient to problem-solving after they are stumped than incremental learners. The study consists of giving kids a problem beyond their capability to solve, so they all fail. Afterwards, they are tested on a problem within their skillset and, predictably, the incremental learners did better. This study was referenced in the book The Fighter’s Mind which inspired me in to read The Art of Learning. This illustrates the biggest conflict I feel as a parent — forcing your kids to struggle/suffer is the one of the most effective ways to make them resilient, confident and able to live a healthy life. At the same time… what parent wants to allow their kid to suffer?

Regardless, a good read.

Good Kids Book: “How Much Is 20 Trillion” err excuse me “A Million”

As the US National Debt zooms passed the $20 trillion milestone this month, I thought it would be a good to recommend a book that I enjoyed when I was little, How Much Is A Million? This is a great book for little kids to illustrate how big some numbers are. Frankly, it’s a good book for grownups to read too.

Quick… without cheating, take a guess at how big these figures are:

  • How far would 1 billion US sized dollar extend if they were lined up like a road?
  • How long is 20 trillion seconds?

Answers are at the end, but suffice to say these big numbers are hard for grownups to fathom, and little kids don’t do much better.

In 2008 Hillary Clinton tried to backtrack on her claim of being under sniper fire by saying. “I say a lot of things — millions of words a day — so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.”  

Ignoring my favorable or unfavorable opinion of the former first lady, this really bugged me. Here she is talking about misstatements, and then says something, from a numbers perspective, that is completely absurd! Taken literally, this would mean that she speaks more 23 words per second all day long. Even if you don’t know exactly how many seconds there are in a day (86,400), I would hope that you know there’s less than a million!! And the fact that she said millionS. Somebody get her this book!!!

Anyway…

Answers to the questions…

1 billion dollar bills would stretch around the world — 4 times (97 thousand miles).

20 trillion seconds is a really really long time… 634 thousand years.

Tony Robbins Book On Awaking Giant

I breezed through Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins while driving for an hour. It was interesting to read this after just finishing The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck . Quite a different approach to life of, “YOU CAN BE GREAT AT ANYTHING!” vs. “You are who you are, just accept it and pick your battles carefully….”

I did think Robbins was on point about attaching pain or pleasure to experiences. Other than that, I was mostly neutral on the book. Not negative, just kind of thought “meh, I guess” while reading. I returned it to Audible.

Man’s Search For Meaning Review

I had heard quite a highly favorable reviews of the book Man’s Search For Meaning, by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. The book was a short, but inspiring read about each person finding their purpose to live. Founder of logotherapy, the author essentially says that a man must fulfill his deepest purpose, to find meaning life and the will to live on. There were lots of good quotes from various philosophers. One that stuck with me was Niche’s, “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how.

One quote that wasn’t in the book, but has always stuck with me and seemed to encompass a lot of what this book was about was from the movie Flight of the Phoenix which says, “I think a man only needs one thing in life. He just needs someone to love. If you can’t give him that, then give him something to hope for. And if you can’t give him that, just give him something to do.”

The book challenges the reader to reverse the common question, “what is the meaning of life?” to instead ask, “what is my meaning for life?” It points out that even in suffering their is meaning, as he illustrates with his concentration camp experiences.

While I’ve never experienced anything like a concentration camp, when life has kicked me in the ass in the past (as it does everyone), I think it might have been good book to have. Presently I live in a town I’m not that fond of and every day I wish I could move to dozens of other cities. However, I’m here for the benefit of my kids — they like it and it works for their situation. While I don’t think my life comes anywhere near the definition of “suffering,” it is nice to know that my frustrations on my location are going towards a greater purpose.

I’d encourage any man or woman who is trying to find a why in their life to read this, or anyone who just wants to read a popular book that likely will come up sometime at a cocktail party. This book has been around forever, and for good reason.

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Details How to Raise Pioneers, Not Princesses

I had mixed opinions on Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. As a father with a daughter, and growing up without sister, this book had a vast amount of insightful information. I think all dads subconsciously know there’s a lot to protect your daughter from, and I’m pretty sure this book covered all of them.

Almost to a fault, author Meg Meeker overwhelmed the reader with a variety of risks facing girls today. So much so, that it become hard to understand what to focus on. In short, the book advocates to be that stereotypical dad who cleans his shotgun when boys come over, and gets all in his daughter’s business. The risks presented with regards to STD’s, eating disorders, depression and a slew of other issues offer a compelling case to be that dad.

At the same time, a good portion of this book was stories of parenting, and I got the feeling the author was cherry-picking the most egregious examples to drive home points.

I could also tell there was a not so-subtle Judeo-Christian agenda, which was confirmed in the later chapters when the author encourages everyone to practice some form or Christianity or Judaism. She justifies this with statistics illustrating church attending families raise less at-risk kids, but I might question the cause and effect nature of these statistics (i.e. does Church make daughter’s strong, or does the family that spends time together on Sundays seeking deep meaning in life make strong daughters?).

At one point I became pretty annoyed with this agenda during an example where the author details some high school girls going out partying in Mexico, and “shamefully”, one of the girls danced and drank with an older man who was married! Nevermind she didn’t know he was married, or why that’s objectionable behavior to dance with someone.

At the same time, there was a lot of good advice and it was refreshing hearing a book, performed well by Coleen Marlo, that idolized the role of a father. Here are a couple key points I logged:

  • There are two types of girls: Princesses and Pioneers. We ultimately want our daughters to be pioneers so that when things get rough, they dig into their own soul to solve problems and don’t look for someone to save them. Sons too for that matter!
  • We also don’t want their happiness attached to their appearance, which they’ll already be subconscious of. Thus comments that continually say, “you’re so pretty” may incorrectly give the message that our approval of them is stapled to their looks. I call my daughter “pretty girl” a lot, so I guess I need to cool off on that.
  • Have firm rules on what’s okay and not okay. My Pretty Girl Pioneer is pretty strong willed so there will be battles to come. And…
  • The fights will come! When they do, remember women like to test men’s resolve by throwing them off balance. Daughters will do the same. This was also discussed extensively in The Way of the Superior Man where women want to see if men really are committed to fulfilling their deepest purpose in life. So while she may slam the door at you grounding her, her respect for you holding to your guns improves.
  • Don’t spoil your kids with two much stuff. I personally need to work on this. My son is all about toys and “stuff”.
  • Have her back, and don’t throw the, “You should have known better” comment out when things go bad for her. You never want her to regret calling you in times of despair.
  • Be present. This one was tough to read about since I’m on the road a lot, but spending time is key. It doesn’t always matter what you’re doing, or even if it’s that much fun. Just being around, talking and listening helps her.

Anyway, as I said, I felt the majority of this book was worthwhile, but definitely found myself at odds with about a third of it. It’s probably a book every father with daughters should read just to arm yourself with events to come.

Malcom Gladwell’s Blink a Questionable But Interesting Read

Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is filled with interesting and well researched stories. These alone made the book worth reading. However, the overall message was a little more difficult for me to accept. I didn’t reject it, but I didn’t buy into it as enthusiastically as the author aimed. Yet once I accepted that I was not totally going to agree with everything the book offered, I found it enjoyable as it has interesting stories and thought-provoking ideas.

Gladwell attempts to add strong merit to “thin sliced” decisions. Translated to laymen terms, the author intends to add tremendous credibility to people’s gut instinct. He provides numerous examples where people’s instincts successfully outperformed well-researched analysis. I had mixed opinions on his examples. His suggestion that too much information during war didn’t sit right with me, but I did think his market analysis with Pepsi and chairs was spot on.

Yet about halfway through the book he flipped the script talking about how incredible amount of data overflow frin people’s faces is critical to “mind reading.” This flies against the message of the first half of the book that told people not to read too much data, but trust your gut instinct.

Again, once I stopped taking it too seriously, I thought this book was interesting and thought-provoking.

Since this is one of several mental books I’ve been reading lately (The Whole Brain Child, The King Within and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters) I did buy into tapping into your subconscious for answers, and conducted a small experiment on myself. Granted this wasn’t very scientific, but I had a friend ask me a bunch of questions, some important, some not so important. I tried to essentially be “mindless” and give answers that just popped into my head, while trying to maintain eye contact and be present, essentially numbing my right brain (emphasis on not scientific). This was also kind of inspired by this youtube video on split brains.

This took place in October and when I listened to my answers more recently in January I was surprised with the results. It wasn’t conclusively prophetic, but I did nail a copy answers that proved to be true. I asked myself a couple deeper personal questions, so my answers wouldn’t mean anything to readers, but my subconscious did predicted that Donald Trump would be president. My “full brain” would have bet 10:1 odds that he would not have been elected, so that surprised me.

Anyway, in conclusion, the book is interesting, but not life altering. Give it a read if you’re looking for something thought provoking or if you want to talk smrt with people at parties.

Whole Brain Child is a Worthwhile Read On Tips For Developing Kids’ Brains

The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson was a very worthwhile read on brain functionality. It’s geared towards parents dealing with kids, but there’s equally valuable information on how to deal with other adults. The book combs through lots of examples of how to stimulate children’s brain development which I definitely intend to incorporate into my parenting regime.

One example is how kids can get stuck where only their amygdala is controlling their brain functionality due to stressful situations. To get people out of this thought process, you have to appeal to the right (emotional) brain first, then talk to the left (logical) brain.

I actually used the book’s techniques with an adult customer who was having a frustrating experience. This gal was very smart, one of the smartest I’ve worked with, and had just complained that Excel crashed (the software I consult for works as an add-in for Excel). She was pretty emotionally angry, slamming down her pen, and saying, “it’s locked up and going to crash.”

I went and took a look, and I noticed she had at least 20 workbooks open, many with over a dozen tabs and exceeding 5 megabytes in size. Given her machine, this was a colossal amount of memory to be using, and it was not at all surprising that her machine crashed. She was smart enough to know this, but her right brain anger was chocking off her logical thought process.

Had I tried to speak directly with her left brain bu saying something like, “You have way too many files open, silly!” I’m pretty sure she would have gotten more defensive and angry. Instead, I tried to talk with her right brain, so I hit some keys on her keyboard too, expressed frustration, told a small story where I also got upset losing some work and just echoed empathy for her frustrating experience.

Predictably, she calmed down, and eventually her left brain began to function again and she said, “you know, it probably didn’t help that I had 20 workbooks open….” Magic!

My only complaint was that this book was that it could have been condensed. Like many books, it seemed like it was flushed out to be longer just in effort to sell. I also didn’t enjoy this book as an audiobook. Even though it was performed enjoyably by the authors, the book referenced charts and graphs to a point where it became a little annoying to listen to.

Red Rising An Enjoyable Sci-Fi War Book

For people who are enamored with sci-fi, killing, and war tactics, you’ll enjoy Red Rising. To my surprise, I am such a person as I blitzed through the second half in about 2 days.

I almost abandoned the book about about 20% into it. I wasn’t that connected to the main character and author Pierce Brown had just written a ridiculous line implying how capitalism caused the universe to go bad (Side note: this was completely unnecessary for the plot, and the author, like many authors had an  uncontrollable urge to drop scornful views on free markets even though it has nothing to do with the story). Online reviews convinced me to push forward. Fortunately the author didn’t make any future economic oppressive suggestions, and it picked up into an enjoyable story.

The author devises some unpredictable strategies and ways to unravel some difficult situations. I still never really felt that strong of a connection to the main character, but the story was dark and engaging.

This was part one of a three part series. I’m sure I’ll read parts 2 and 3 (Golden Son and Morning Star) soon. Readers have rightfully drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games series. I haven’t read that series, but it’s similar to the first two movies I saw of it.

So for the war enthusiasts like myself, you’ll enjoy this book. If blood, war, death aren’t your thing, this is not a book for you.

 

Chasing the Scream Points To The Next Socially Oppressed Group’s Uprising

If asked who is the most discriminated group in America, answers would probably range along the lines of: Blacks, Gays, Women, Muslims, Republicans. Yet I’d argue a different subset of the population is by far the most discriminated group, and it’s those who partake in illegal drugs. By illegal drugs I’m talking schedule 1 and 2 substances that the DEA will lock you up if you’re found to be in possession of (though Marijuana is quickly falling out of this category).

Indeed, there’s no place in civilized society for a drug user. There are literally tests conducted by employers to see if individuals fall into this undesirable subset of society. If caught with drugs, an individual faces jail-time, having their children taken away, shamed, and basically having their lives ruined.

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari delivers a deep dive analysis of the MADNESS of the War on Drugs as well as giving a hard look at the incorrect prejudices about drug users.

The war on drugs has always stood out to me as something terribly wrong with the world. No doubt my libertarian father played a huge role in guiding my thought process, but my own independent analysis has fueled a passionate disgust against the drug war. In elementary school I published a brief letter to a local newspaper saying something like, “I’m 10 years old and I think drugs are bad, but it’s immoral and wasteful to throw people in jail who use them.” Still makes sense to me as a grownup.

Since then, I’ve continued being an enthusiastic supporter of drug legalization. I’ve published a couple other letters, read countless horrifying articles, and gotten into a couple feisty facebook debates (which I always win!). Suffice to say, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable on the subject.

Chasing the Scream reignited my passion with a recap of the author’s long journey around the world where he interviews dozens of people representing all perspectives of the discussion. Fair warning, this is not a pretty picture. This book took me abnormally long to finish simply because parts of it were quite upsetting and I needed breaks. Hearing about Billie Holiday’s troubled life and how the drug war was initiated by a disturbed man named Harry Anslinger often left me emotionally drained.

What surprised me most was how many reasons the author offered to legalize drugs that I was unfamiliar with. Going into the book, here were my basic reasons for legalization:

  • Outlawing drugs creates a black market where violent gangs thrive (Walmart doesn’t conduct drive by shootings against Target as they compete for beer sales)
  • Making drugs illegal drives up the price of drugs, ultimately forcing addicts into illegal activities to maintain their habits (Conservative estimates put 50% of theft is connected to drug addicts unable to maintain their expensive habits. Other estimates as high as 85%).
  • Drugs are more dangerous illegal than legal (Nobody buys Coronas and unexpectedly gets Tequila mixed with rat poison).
  • Cost to fight the war on drugs is tremendous, over $40 billion dollars a year.
  • It violates the basic moral principle of “live and let live.” If someone isn’t harming anyone else, then government and society have no business harassing them.

Yet this book uncovered several other arguments I had not considered. Without getting too into the details here are a few:

  • By far my biggest revelation was the overrated harmfulness of illegal drugs. If you read nothing further on this post please consider reviewing this article and note the chart which ranks drug harmfulness. The author of this study, Dr. David Nutt former advisory to the British Ministry of Defence, was fired after publishing this analysis.
  • A United Nations Study said that roughly 90% of people who use drugs, do not get addicted to them.
    • Note these two above points alone would probably change most people’s perception of the sanity of the drug war. Drugs are not as harmful as alcohol, and most people that use drugs don’t end up on the street or as zombie addicts.
  • Drugs are always more potent illegal than legal. This was evident in prohibition where beer essentially disappeared for whisky and other potent drinks. This means that while drugs are illegal, users are offered only only drugs with the highest potency. It’s like a bar that only serves drinks with an alcohol content over 40% (has anyone ever heard of the prohibition popular drink White Lightening?).
  • The annual casualties caused directly by the war on drugs is estimated at over 30,000. That’s ten 9/11’s per year.
  • Chemical addiction is not what we think, particularly with regards to heroin. What we have been taught as “obvious” is far from settled science. Here’s a short video explaining the misconception with heroin, from one of my favorite youtube channels (EDIT: I didn’t even realize that this video was actually inspired by the book until I was typing this up. I knew of this video and channel long before the book — small world).
  • In Liverpool during the 90’s, a doctor elected to give out clean heroin for free. During that time, none of his patients died. When the policy was cut, several of his patients died within a few years. Heroine’s dangers are primarily street related as people have incredibly harmful drugs distributed.
  • Psychedelics (for the sake of simplicity lets assume this is just LSD, Mushrooms and Ecstasy) have tremendously positive benefits that are being ignored. Keep in mind the harmfulness of these is at the bottom of the above chart.
    • A study from Jons Hopkins University that suggests that our brains are naturally wired for mystical experiences provided by psilocybin mushrooms (the least harmful drug on the chart above).
    • I followed up with my own research on this where Jons Hopkins has preliminary results showing psilocybin mushrooms can lead to many positive changes including potentially 80% reduction in smoking (see Ted Talks discussion here).
    • Yet another study that showed tremendous improvement on folks dealing with depression on this Ted Talks.
    • Ecstasy has tremendous potential to deal with PTSD see short video here.

There were many more stories and interviews that will feverishly compel the reader to stand up and stop the madness, even if they have no interest in doing drugs themselves. The author highlights all of the logical points but also appeals to people’s emotional concerns illustrating how legalization is the compassionate and strategic choice for keeping everyone, including children, safer.

One other part of the book that stood out was when the author interviewed a doctor who was one of the leading “experts” for maintaining the war on drugs for the UN. The author describes their encounter as civil. When the author presented some of the sensible arguments for legalizing drugs, the doctor seemed thoughtful, and eventually admitted he had not thought of such questions, so he obviously didn’t have an answer. Considering the magnitude of this — a man who is LEADING the charge for the continuation of the war on drugs, can’t even ATTEMPT to defend itself in a friendly conversation with a reporter. This is a common event. Those that favor the drug war, often haven’t thought about it beyond, “Drugs are bad. Of course they should be illegal. Having them sold in stores is crazy!” And that’s the end of the rationale.

A similar personal story occurred with my father. As a local political activist, he was often invited to debates. Once he was invited to UC San Diego to debate the topic of drug legalization. His opponent was a veteran police sergeant and stood as a formidable “street credentials” contrasted with my dad simply being a regular citizen. However, the sergeant’s opening statement was, “the drug war is a complete waste of time, anyone who says we can win the war on drugs is full of shit.” The university had just erroneously assumed anyone in law enforcement would be in favor of the war on drugs, and mistakenly booked someone to represent a side which they vehemently felt the exact opposite of (the result turned into a 90 minute seminar where my dad and his new best friend got to rant and rave on together on all the harm the war on drugs entails).

It’s truly hard to find people willing to publicly argue in favor of the drug war in an structured debate because it’s an incredibly difficult task. Any rational discussion invariably leads to the undeniable conclusion that the war on drugs does tremendously more harm than good.

I personally cannot think of a political issue where the mainstream perception is so misguided, while such a preponderance of evidence exists to reverse the policy. During the 2016 USA presidential campaign, the only legalization discussed was tepid steps towards marijuana legalization. The idea of legalizing ecstasy, LSD, or Psilocybin mushrooms is never discussed despite them being schedule 1 substances and colossally less dangerous than alcohol.

Perhaps my personal biggest disappointment with Barack Obama was his failure to enact significant change with the war on drugs. Before taking office he said, “the war on drugs has been an utter failure.” He has inferred he has tried every drug out there. Yet besides commuting only a few outrageous sentences (with some being more for stats than real change), Obama failed to even scratch the service in rolling back all the harm the war on drugs imposes.

It’s easy to think about this senseless war and become depressed, yet the author provides an inspiring comparison for hope. There’s some definite similarities to the war on drugs and discrimination against homosexuals (the author himself is gay). In 1952 when Alan Turing, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, admitting to homosexual activities, he faced jail-time. Today, the thought of imprisoning people for being gay is mind-boggling. By most measures, gays have won their fight for legal equality (even muttering an anti-gay comment is now met with vicious public outcry).

For decades, the public has been lied to that drug users are maniacs that are a menace to society and must be imprisoned for everyone’s safety. This is completely false just like all gays need not be imprisoned or any other peaceful people. Marijuana is starting to get folks to come out more. Here’s yet another amusing Ted Talk where a gay pot using man parallels the similar struggles. Yet there’s still plenty of other drug users who have to hide in the shadows for fear of persecution of their peaceful habits.

Like the social crusades previously waged by gays, blacks, women, and other minorities, individuals against the war on drugs must not be deterred by their slow march towards victory. The truth is on their side, while their oppressors depend on lies and deceit to maintain their war of misery. My favorite quote from Martin Luther King JR. is,  “No lie can live forever.” Hopefully as time progresses and books like Chasing The Scream continue to be read, the truth will overtake the lies and we can see an end to the staggeringly senseless war on drugs.