Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: The anthology of taiwan indigenous literature - Short Stories

The anthology of taiwan indigenous literature - Short Stories The anthology of taiwan indigenous literature - Short Stories by Chang fang-ming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collections of short stories, which were sort of hit or miss. Some were basically a list of customs and beliefs of a tribe, with a semi-story as a sort of excuse to name them all. Also, it's hard to retain much since pretty much each short story deals with a different tribe.

Still, interesting for those who wish to know more about the indigenous Taiwanese. I was also quite happy that one of the stories dealt with Orchid island, since it's hard to find their stories, and they're somewhat different from the other tribes.

All in all, however, short stories don't seem to delve deep enough to really get a feel for each tribe.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Review: The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning

The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It might just be my impression but I felt like he bit off more than he could chew here. This book is *much* more philosophical than the other books I've read by him ("Do the work" and "The War of Art"), and I felt like it missed the mark. He quotes Jung, Marx, Homer, Joseph Campbell, and many others, but just seems to pick and choose random quotes or tidbits. I couldn't help feeling like he wanted to sound philosophical, but wasn't sure exactly how.

I did like some of the points he made, such as how all artists create empathy through their art (not sure if it's all that true for songs, but definitely seems true for books, movies and paintings).

I also liked his notion of following the muse. I just don't think he had to justify it with so many odd references.

Probably 2.5 stars. I would recommend checking out some of his other books first.

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Review: The Drucker Lectures : Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy

The Drucker Lectures : Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy The Drucker Lectures : Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy by Peter F. Drucker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Drucker's and I really liked "The Effective Executive", but this collection of essays still surprised me, and very pleasantly. He has a quote at a certain point:

"Every 3 or 4 years I pick a new subject. It may be Japanese art; it may be economics. So for more than 60 years I have kept on studying one subject at a time."

This is reflected in his lectures. He covers a great many topics, and I was constantly surprised at how prescient he was, from the 40s to the 2000s. There were a few faulty predictions here and there, and some odd statements (about how deregulation would make Japan richer, but was still socially unacceptable, as an example), but by and large many of his statements from over 40 years ago still apply today.

Some passages I highlighted:

"The Ford Motor Company, we say, abandoned the Edsel. Well, this is polite euphemism. You and I abandoned the Edsel."

"The moment you can manage, you are no longer underdeveloped. You may still be poor, but you know how to get out of poverty fast."

"for there is no more conservative cause in the most profound sense of the words than the maintenance of the balance between man and his environment."

"American education tomorrow will no longer assume that one stops working when one starts working"

"Until very recently, there was no industry around for which the basic technological foundations had not been laid before World War I"

"Information is something that is pertinent to the task that can be converted into knowledge. And knowledge is information in action."

"He found in the orchestra's contract that they had to play five evenings, and he said, "No, you are going to be on duty 5 evenings, but you play 4. The fifth evening you sit out in the audience and listen.""

"And let me say the greatest weakness of our nonprofit institutions is that they don't reimburse. They have tremendous resistance against acquiring additional knowledge and skill on the part of their people, and it's stupid. It's very, very shortsighted, and it doesn't save anything. It costs money."

"74% of the people who work for Toyota are not on the Toyota payroll but on the payroll of contractors, suppliers, and have been for a long time. This is what makes "life-time employment" possible in Japan"

5 fundamental questions that every enterprise, profit or nonprofit, should be required to answer: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? What are our results? What is our plan?"

"And when the job becomes simply a a place to hang your hat, when it's "Thank God It's Friday", when you being to play games with yourself so that it makes the job more complicated, then you are bored. And boredom is a deadly disease."

"If you had no Department of Agriculture, would we now start one?"

"Whenever you do something of significance, whenever you are making an important decision, and especially whenever you are making a decision about people, you write down what you expect the results to be."

"The department stores in the United States and Japan are in terrible trouble" (written in 1996)

"No organization can possibly survive if it is both labor intensive and capital intensive. This is Economics 101."

"Is there a world economy? The answer is both yes and no. Economically, the world is becoming steadily more integrated. But politically the world is more likely to splinter."

"Total sales have tripled, while employment is a quarter of what it was. They think the company has become more productive. No. It has outsourced."

"one of the major challenges ahead is the fact that politics, military might, and economics no longer move in complete parallel but diverge."

"the fewer farmers there are, the more protection they get in every country"

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into it (maybe the first chapter), but after that it was excellent. They really need to create a modern day version of this. Possibly a movie. Obviously most things are tongue and cheek, although the ending is a bit different.

I listened to the audio version, narrated by Nick Offerman, and he was excellent as well.

The only quote I jotted down:
"It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when the "poor whites" of our South who were always despised and frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them."

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Monday, October 01, 2018

Review: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm in no position to question his findings, nor his methods. He does call out several other diets and nutritionists by name (South beach, Atkins, Perlmutter, Paleo, etc.). I find it interesting to note the points in common between all these diets and books: More veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, berries, etc. The difference seems to lie in meat, grains, animal products.

He's very much against isolating chemicals and finding benefits/disadvantages to each, since he says the way they all interact together is what matters (eating food vs. taking pills with isolated compounds).

If I were to play devil's advocate, I'd say that many of the studies mentioned (not all) seem to have a low number of participants (below 100), in contrast he seems to go into great detail to debunk studies that oppose his WFPB diet.

Toward the end the tone shifts (actually more or less the whole second half). He starts discussing how and why other scientists and lawmakers disagree with his findings. I won't opine on this, although for the most part it seems pretty credible.

Also,if you're calling the book "The China Study", I appreciate including other studies and information, but there should be much more about the China study. It is almost added as an afterthought at the end (it is mentioned throughout, but the study itself is only explained in more detail at the end). Even then, it has lots of ambiguity ("several suspect results were thrown out" sounds suspect in itself. How many is several? What criteria were there for judging them 'suspect'?)

Some of my notes:
US spends more on healthcare than any other country
US healthcare system is the 3rd (after heart disease and cancer) leading cause of death in the US.
Doesn't just cover China study
Premise: Too much protein (animal protein, Casein) is bad for us. --> Opposite of most diets (low on carbs, high on protein)

Study on Sodium nitrite:
1970: Journal Nature said Nitrite in our hotdogs may create nitrosamines (carcinogens)
Why: Animal experiments
Study: 2 groups of rats exposed to different levels of NASR (type of nitrosamine). Low dose received 1/2 amount of high dose.
Low dose: 35% died of cancer.
High does: 100% died of cancer.
The low dose, translated into human terms: 270,000 bologna sandwiches with 1 pound of bologna each, per day, for 30 years. This is how much rats in Low dose group had per bodyweight.
But studies with casein protein brought about cancer in 100% of test animals, and without the protein: 0% of animals.

Says he had nothing to gain in discovering this, and everything to lose, but then says those who pay his grants were reviewing his studies--> so it had to work out.

Cholesterol below 150 mg per deciliter means no heart disease according to most doctors.
He calls out Perlmutter by name.

"Hardly any study has done more damage to the nutritional landscape than the Nurses' Health Study, and it should serve as a warning for the rest of science for what not to do."

Interestingly, it mentions the Mcdougall plan, which I then looked up:
(From Wikipedia): The McDougall Plan—is a fad diet that carries some possible disadvantages, such as a boring food choice and the risk of feeling hungry."
Is it a fad diet if those are the only "possible" disadvantages? No mention of possible advantages.
So maybe he's onto something when he says the industry has a smear campaign going against nutrition-centered care. Then again, maybe he just knows people will oppose his findings so he's preemptively going after them.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: The Stolen Bicycle

The Stolen Bicycle The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, this book was longlisted for the Man Booker prize, and there was some controversy since Man Booker first listed the author as Taiwanese, then switched to Chinese (under pressure from Beijing), which made the author protest on his facebook page. Anyway, the book didn't make the shortlist, and I can't help thinking the whole China/Taiwan drama may have had something to do with it.

Regardless, this was an excellent book, although this may be partly because I love Taiwan, and this book is thoroughly Taiwanese. It delves deep into certain aspects of Taiwanese history that I otherwise would know nothing about. In the process you also get a more Japanese perspective of certain events in WW2.

It's certainly not a clean, straightforward narrative, but it branches out into many avenues. I won't say it gets sidetracked, since the narrator is always in pursuit of the same thing (the bicycle), but in doing so a lot of ground is covered.

There's quite a bit of interesting symbolism (holding onto peoples' waists while riding a bicycle behind them, to then being the person in front with someone holding on behind. Also the parallels between the inanimate bicycle and the animate elephant, and I'm sure there are plenty more I've missed).

The postscript is beautiful. And thanks to it I found my favorite Jonathan Franzen quote: "Fiction meant taking up whatever the world had abandoned by the road and making something beautiful out of it."

A pet peeve though: The Chinese transliteration was really weird. Most of it was done using Wade-Giles (who does that anymore?), but some seemed haphazard (Ssu-Chuan for Sichuan/Szechuan)? I do wish I could read this in the original Chinese though, since I heard his prose is very poetic. I think some of this comes across in translation, but I'm sure a lot of it is lost.

If you're going to read one work of contemporary Taiwanese fiction, this should probably be it.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: The Mysterious Etruscans

The Mysterious Etruscans The Mysterious Etruscans by Steven L. Tuck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent overview of the Etruscans, which had been very hard for me to find, whether in English or Italian.

There seemed to be a couple times where he was overreaching and exaggerating a bit. I understand that the evidence is limited, so we have to guess and surmise quite a bit, but sometimes it just seemed taken a tad too far (No, the Romans would not have been going around in fig leafs if the Etruscans hadn't given them togas).

But I shouldn't overemphasize the fact. It doesn't detract (too much) from the overall story of the Etruscans.

Some of my notes:
Ostrich eggs were signs of international trade. Some were engraved by Phoenicians, others by Etruscans.
Warfare: Etruscans were very courageous, but bad at overarching strategies (just charge in for personal glory/machismo, with no real macro strategy)
Women had more power than Greece. Portrayals of childbirth and child rearing. Also literature aimed at women. Also portrayals of women at games and religious rites.

"The Etruscans are almost completely responsible for for the western notion of family, and they originated the very idea of the Family name in Europe."

"Tuscany" comes from the Latin for 'Etruscan'. "Tyrrhenian" comes from the Greek for 'Etruscan'. "Rome" comes from 'Rumon', the Etruscan word for the Tiber river.
Etruscan games were always religious in nature, so bleeding (although not necessarily death) was required in fights as an offering, unlike in Greek games. This then led to Gladiator fights of Ancient Rome.
More things we got from the Etruscans: togas, and aqueducts and stone archways were Etruscan inventions. Agrippa was Etruscan too.
Etruscan was still being used (at least in temples) up to the 4th century (so pretty much to the end of the Roman empire).
Capua (Etruscan city) sided with Hannibal, since he was fighting the Romans.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: The Coming Storm

The Coming Storm The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like Michael Lewis is a genius at finding interesting topics in nooks and crannies others would have never thought to look. This is another one, showing how basically Barry Myers, slated to be the next head of NOAA, could (and is likely to) suppress weather data, thereby literally killing people, if he is confirmed.

I don't doubt that Myers is basically a gangster. From what little I've read about him (aside from this book), it sounds like he is, and wouldn't flinch at trying to gain personally at the expenses of citizens. However, this book would have been more interesting if Lewis had interviewed someone else at Accuweather. He mentions that Myers declined an interview, which is understandable actually, but there are other board members and employees (and former employees).

I always figured the NWS collected the data, and then companies, like Accuweather, could run their analyses on it (as well as on other data from other countries), and come up with their products. Like market research agencies use demographic data. If Accuweather comes up with good info (or can convince people they do), then they can sell it.

Of course, saying idiotic statements like 'we don't need the NWS because Accuweather is better' is like saying we don't need the census data because Nielsen has more useful reports, but that doesn't mean the private company has no use.

Anyway, a lot of the information was maddening, and Myers is most likely a terrible choice for head of NOAA, but I also think this book could have used more input from the other side.

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