Book Review: Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying

Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying by Light Watkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


First off, there’s no way to know whether the author’s given name is a pun. If it’s deliberate, I hate him. If it’s not, I pity him, and it sucks that his birth name is Light, but when you’re dealt that kind of hand I suppose you have to become a meditation guru.

That said, he’s down-to-earth, for a guru. Watkins disavows the old, traditionalist machinery of meditation where you need to contort your body into the least comfortable positions available to maximize your Enlighteniness and really just compound the hell out your chi. Meditation is meditation, even if you’re in a recliner with your dog in your lap. Just get comfortable and focus on not focusing on anything. Your mind will wander, that’s fine. When it does, notice it, follow the thread of thought to its natural conclusion, and bring your focus back to your mantra (which for Light is a subverbal AHH-HUM sound) or your breath. Repeat for 10-minute increments, no more than twice a day.

Watkins peppers the book with personal anecdotes, like when he wussed out of going skinny dipping with four hotties back in his glory days. Really humanized the dude. A good book that makes meditation more approachable for people who aren’t trying to be full-on Buddhas.



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Book Review: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A one-a-day stoicism situation that mostly tells you to think about how you’re going to die soon. Marcy Marcus and the whole funky bunch are accounted for; Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus. It’s a real star-studded affair, and since they’re broken down into these easily digestible daily affirmations (although that doesn’t feel like the right word, given the grim content), you really get a good idea of the contrast between the different Stoic thinkers. For example, Marcus Aurelius? Deeply dour dude. The misery just seeps right out of his aphorisms.

Seneca, on the other hand? A certified chiller. Much more upbeat. Epictetus’s philosophical style is closer to bullying than anything, and Rufus could have passed for a hire-off-the-street orator.

After 365 days, I am positive that I’m going to die soon. And you know what? 2020 was the right year to read this, because at no point did I feel like soiling myself over the Fungus. Mortality is the price of living. Like Marc said, this life is on loan. And like I said, something’s got to kill me.

I just googled it and none of the stoics are quoted as having said “something’s got to kill me”. That’s a BT original. Maybe that’ll be my Stoic legacy, once I succumb to the Fungus or get cut down in a hail of police gunfire. I wouldn’t care for a headstone, as even things carved in stone aren’t carved in stone, but if I had to get one, “Something had to kill me. And did.” wouldn’t be the worst I could do.




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Book Review: A Little Hatred

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A tremendously entertaining book by my favorite fantasy author. I cleared the whole 20 hour audiobook in almost one sitting. I don’t even want to hear my own internal monologue for 20 consecutive hours, but everything Abercrombie writes is gold, and Steven Pacey really brings the characters to life.

A Little Hatred follows Abercrombie’s patterned precedents of graphic violence, mentally ill protagonists, a continuum of nihilist greyscale morality, and biting, acerbic wit from pretty much every involved party, dumbasses included. However, this go-around, things are much sexier, because most of the protagonists are the 20something progeny of fan favorites from the previous trilogy, rather than a collection of grizzled, belching, genre-appropriate barbarians.

A thorough explanation of the young, dumb, and full of… you know 😉 trope comes from the three male characters driving the narrative, undoubtedly due to Abercrombie’s firsthand familiarity with the idea, having been a man in his twenties. Dark days indeed, and many of us barely escaped them with our hides intact.

Leo dan Brock is a caricature of arrogant vainglory, dominated by his chessmaster mother and trying to earn his place in the world by allowing his poorly controlled emotions to steer him through straits that, quite frankly, his ship isn’t outfitted for in the first place. Despite his myriad of character flaws, women keep forgiving his pomposity, because he’s pretty, and they really do.

Orso dan Luthar leans hard in the other direction, confronting the meaninglessness through self-effacing apathy and hedonism, right up until he can’t anymore. He is utterly adrift, drinking and fucking himself into a coma and not allowing the crapsack reality to disillusion him, right up until a flicker of idealism convinces him that, well, if he doesn’t try to change the world, who’s going to?

Brock’s Jungian shadow work counterpart is the Great Wolf, Stour Nightfall. The same basic drives motivate them both, but Nightfall comes at it as conquest, less high fantasy and more sword-and-sorcery, with Nietzschean sadism and performative brutality.

These are the figureheads, the puppets that shape the play. The actual new powers coming to fruition develop in the form of the female primary characters, each in their own way.

Savine dan Glokta is the daughter of the Archlecter, the most feared man in the Union, now operating under the dismissive sobriquet “Old Sticks”, though it isn’t clear as to whether that was because of his cane or because of his withering. Savine uses her last name as leverage to catapult herself to the apex of Union high society, and weaponizes her keen intellect to get a stranglehold on all of the newly emergent business ventures that come from a civilization proceeding from the medieval to the industrial era. She doesn’t need or care about the money, but she figures it’s as good a way to keep score as any.

Rikke is the daughter of the Dogman who was, himself, a humble and goodhearted everyman. So is Rikke, although she also has the Long Eye, which allows her to see the future and makes her prone to epileptic fits and shit herself. Rikke is probably the most relatable character, operating on Northern naturalist sensibilities and the Dogman’s politesse, tempered with the advice from her friends, the mad witch Isren-i-Phail, and renown murderous spook Caul Shivers.

These five guide the flow of the future, gaining and losing influence as the events of the book unfold and banging each other like a Denny’s table full of drama club kids. (The exception being Stour, whose pathology has likely replaced sexual release with violence). In turn, they are guided by significant figures from the previous generation, though they all eventually turn from them, some more performatively than others.

I don’t want to risk spoiling it. It’s a truly incredible read. Abercrombie has a masterful command of psychology and characterization.

I profoundly hope someone kills Bayaz this go-round. I know he represents the status quo, or maybe the Illuminati conspiracy that there are unseen hands making sure everything in the world continues to suck so they can guarantee their own profit, but I think the catharsis of watching the miserable old fuck get his baldness sundered might make up for the breakdown of the analogy.



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Book Review: Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery

Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Science lady identifies that there’s a such thing as a “recovery industry” and it has been playing us for suckers since at least the 70s. She laces up her fashionable but functional athletic boots and charges into the fray to determine what helps us recover from exercise and what is a scam.

Conclusions: virtually everything is a scam. Icing, infrared, cupping, massages, foam rolling, supplements (even those that include the word ISO and MATRIX in their names somewhere), overhydration, all of it, is pretty much one big pricey hustle. Controlling for all other factors, none of these things reduced DOMS beyond placebo thresholds or improved subsequent performance beyond same.

So what does the research show actually DOES lead to improved recovery?

Eat enough protein. Eat carbs relative to exercise levels. Manage stress. Sleep so much.

That’s it, fellas. Sleep = recovery, and sleep is free.



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Book Review: No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A sound concept and valuable information that probably could have been a distilled to a couple of sentences, rather than an entire book. The take-home is that if you frame exercise as self-flagellation or a painful part-time job you don’t get paid for, you’re not going to stick to it, and you’ll wind up exercising even less as a means of rebellion. Segar suggests to her clients that they frame movement as “a gift to themselves”. Personally, if anyone ever told me that, regardless as to how sound the advice, I would do all in my power to never have to speak to them again.

The remaining couple hundred pages of the book are her rephrasing that concept and giving examples of little Socratic traps she set for her clients to trick them into giving themselves “the gift” of getting off their asses.

To distill it even further: If you don’t like running, don’t run. Do kung fu or something. Don’t like kung fu? Do croquet. Don’t like croquet? Don’t force yourself to play croquet. Go be a gardener, gardening is movement. 60 minute blocks of mandatory, unpleasant sweating isn’t the only valid kind of exercise, and you can still stave off knee degeneration and diabetes by doing quasi-exercise like walking around the neighborhood with your dog and/or friends. It won’t make you an Olympian, but you don’t have to sweat blood and hate yourself for it to count as fitness.



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Book Review: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It’s an excellent and insightful book on the topic of trauma therapy. The gold standard of current PTSD treatment is the acknowledgement that the body keeps the score. That’s why PTSD flashbacks are so visceral. The refrain is, “It’s like I’m back there, in that moment”, and as far as the body is concerned, you are. The evolutionary perspective justifies this both in the understanding that we are animals operating on primitive mammalian hardware, and in the body’s reasoning that whatever it was we did the first time we were in that traumatic (read: perceived as life-threatening) situation, we survived it, or we wouldn’t be here to have the flashback. It becomes maladaptive when falling back on whatever that response was damages the way we live our lives.

Levine breaks up sympathetic nervous response into fight, flight, or freeze, and the main thrust of his argument is people who deal with PTSD are trapped in the freeze response. Animals who survive life-threatening encounters tend to take minute to literally shake it off before going about their days, but these same animals tend not to have enough cortical folding to develop an obsessive fixation on the traumatic event (and future avoidance thereof). They don’t have the brain power to get stuck in the trauma, and they probably don’t have the computing power to have flashbacks, because flashbacks require memory and imagination.

His recommendation is trying to create some form of meaning aside from “I was a helpless victim”, not because it wasn’t necessarily true, but because for therapeutic purposes it’s not helpful in the long term. Sympathizing with your own victimhood is the willing lamb-on-the-altar sacrifice of your personal power and autonomy, deliberately sabotaging any efforts you (and to a lesser extent, your therapist) make to help you process the trauma and better understand the effect it has had on your perspective, your emotional response cycles, and the person you have become. You need that understanding to effect changes, and you need those changes to keep the PTSD from dominating your life. This is pragmatically indistinguishable from Levine’s “shaking it off”.

He wrote it for the layman and for survivors, so the language is accessible. It draws heavily on evolutionary biology and psychology which is usually conjecture cross-referenced with the fossil record, as you obviously can’t naturalistically observe human evolution, or replicate it in a lab.

That said, I am utterly baffled by some of the other reviews this book is getting, calling Levine condescending or unscientific. Blood from a stone here, fellas. If you want footnotes, we can tack a few APA citations from modern psychodynamic practitioners here, and although that technically qualifies as empirical, a real scientist would understand it’s about as scientific as reading tea leaves.

Psychologists are a bunch of bone shakers. All of the evidence we have comes from self-report, which can take a 180 degree turn based on whether the participant ate breakfast that day, and brain imaging, which is dudes in labcoats looking at a grainy photo and saying “that part seems to be… activated.” It’s the least scientific of all scientific disciplines, so to deride an active practitioner, a dude in the trenches of trauma therapy, putting his ass on the line every session and risking his own secondhand traumatization, for being unscientific… it’s like standing up at the “Speak now or forever hold your peace” part of a wedding and going: “This marriage is a sham, for God cannot be proven!”

Yeah, maybe. But you don’t gotta be such an asshole.



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Book Review: Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs

Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs by Karen B. London

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First and foremost, all dogs are good, so jot that down.

Play Together, Stay Together rails against the now-defunct dominance theory where your dog is constantly trying to usurp you for pack leadership and your only recourse is to physically intimidate him. Instead, Ms. London suggests that the best way to bond with your dog is to fucking party all the time.

I’m hesitant to call it a book, since it’s like 90 pages. That’s more of a large pamphlet. The rest of the pamphlet lays out fun little games to teach your dog the power of friendship, as well as improving their recall and expanding their linguistic vocabulary with cool games like fetching specific objects and hide-and-seek.

Beefton and I have been practicing the game where he chases me around the park and I eventually give him a treat, and it’s his third favorite game. His second favorite game is Tug of War, and his first is Dog MMA. It’s improved his recall dramatically to the point where he’ll come when I call even if he doesn’t see me, so long as he’s not distracted by one of his first two favorite games. I’m also pretty sure he knows the name of most of the roommates.



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Book Review: Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny

Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny by Mark Stavish

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A harmlessly insane academic talks about Santa Claus being an extant astral being without realizing that he was talking about Santa Claus.

Egregores are a whitewashed version of the Tibetan tulpa, which is turn is essentially an imaginary friend. As more people believe in these nonphysical entities, their powers grow, and they implant ideas and drives in humans and animals. They eventually level up to a point where they can manipulate the material plane and zany poltergeist theatrics ensue.

When the author talks about egregores, he means gods and spirits. It’s sort of like the plot of Black & White by Lionhead Studios, where the more belief you get, the more spectacular your miracles, the less deniable your power. He makes a bunch of allusions to various Buddhist leaders who would appear to their cultists after they died because they had become such powerful egregores and gathered so much astral clout. He seemed to consider these anecdotes to be some sort of proof, as he has never heard of lying.

The thing is, playing by these American Gods rules, there would be immensely powerful egregores like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Not as powerful as Jesus the Christ, but more than strong enough to manifest hardboiled eggs, or Twizzlers your stocking. And yet!

Two stars because the writing was good enough and I knew it was a kook book walking in. The other three were subtracted to encourage Professor Stavish to be a little more discerning.





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Book Review: Spirit Hacking

Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World by Shaman Durek

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


No one to blame but myself for this one.

Here’s the problem. Conceptually, I think biohacking is cool, because I came up reading extensively on evolution, Zen buddhism, and the aggressive cyberpunk revival of the mid 90s. Unfortunately, the community surrounding it is insufferable. Ditto for things like paleo dieting. It’s the Rick and Morty effect. The show is pretty clever, but you can’t tell anyone you think that or you’ll get grouped in with people who like Rick and Morty.

I’ve got an academic interest in shamanism. I say academic to clarify that, as a white, heterosexual cis American male, if I were to announce that I believed myself a shaman, you would have a moral obligation to punch me in my smug mouth.

The other issue is I’ve pretty much exhausted GoodReads recommendations for books related to books I’ve enjoyed, so I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, and nothing good is on the bottom of the barrel. That’s why it’s the bottom of the barrel.

Walking into a book called “Spirit Hacking”, linked to both biohacking and shamanism in the Similar Books category, penned by a guy whose first name is “Shaman” should have served as more than enough warnings to deter me. And yet, still, fool as I am, I plodded on.

The forward is written by Dave Asprey. For those blissfully uninitiated, Dave Asprey is the conman behind Bulletproof Coffee, which is the sad tech movement supported by cherrypicked and dummied-up neuroscience studies that encourages impressionable Silicon Valley elites with poorly tuned bullshit detectors that putting Super Special Bulletproof Brand Butter in their Super Special Bulletproof Brand Coffee somehow bypasses the blood-brain barrier to allow them to biohack their entire neocortex into some vague and ill-defined “greater functionality”. The nerds, promised that their brains work the same as computers and that doubling up on this scam will allow them to overclock themselves, they eat that shit right up.

So Dave Asprey writes the intro, and it isn’t an intro, so much as a commercial for his scam, but he also brags about how much money he has and how humble he continues to be, and how many cool spiritual adventures he has been on in his quest to be the perfect man, which, of course, he is far too humble and self-effacing to say that he is. However, you certainly can be, if you buy the right coffee, nudge and wink.

I narrowly made it through that when Shaman Durek hit the scene, reading his own book. Ill-advised. He proceeded to tell me that anybody could be a shaman, and he is a shaman, and he knew he was a shaman because he literally died. He goes on to explain this literal death was figurative, since it happened in a spirit journey or drug trance, so not really what literal means. Then he proceeds to get just, really, irrationally angry. Like he’s ranting about pretenders to the throne and fake shamans, gatekeeping ayahuasca use and railing against shamans who say other people can’t be shamans, even as he says that people who take drugs to become enlightened then get road rage can’t be shamans. Same breath. And it’s a wheezing breath, because as he’s reading his own audiobook, he’s getting genuinely angry again. You can hear it in the voice. Why would I listen to a grown man I don’t know throw a recorded temper tantrum for 11 hours?

I made it to the next chapter, when he started talking about how he knew he was a shaman because as a child he would hug random people and burst into tears. I cold-stopped when one of the sections was subtitled “My heritage is mystical AF!”

That’s enough for me, I think. I’ll continue along my wretched life deprived of my personal power. Sorry, dude. The rest of the book might be a transformative, world-lighting tour de force. After that… performance, I’ll never know.



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Book Review: The Case Against Reality

The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes by Donald D. Hoffman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


“If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, did it fall?”

Now take that sentence and stretch it out into an agonizing, 400 page self-congratulation penned by an uncharming Frasier using the biggest words and most circular arguments he can muster. Sprinkle in a fart-sniffing reference to his own research every three paragraphs or so, and you’ve assembled this horror.

If you want the same content but to spare yourself the trauma of trying to trudge through the masturbatory jargon, find a white guy with dreads outside of a music festival and promise him ketamine if he can summarize an Intro to Evolutionary Biology textbook.



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