Book Review: The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This book was about five times too long.

There’s a thread of irony in there, since so much of the book is spent bitching about how constant internetting fragments our ability to concentrate or think deeply, and damages our creativity by preventing us from making the loose connections borne of getting lost in a good book or, if you’re an irredeemable nerd, academic texts. Luddite Carr rails against our detachment from good, honest Christian booklearnin’ because it’s making us scatterbrained and schitzy.

As demonstrated by this scatterbrained, schizy little thesis on… what, communicatory technology? The narrative, such as it is, leaps around like an overemoting tumbler at a French circus, from the printing press to the newspaper, from telephones to phonographs, and all sort of other shit totally unrelated to what this book is supposed to be about. Eventually he makes his way back to the topic of the internet, in the same way that a caffeinated 8-year-old with ADHD eventually makes his way back to his homework, which is to say he sort of shows up but doesn’t put in what anything you would call effort.

I spared another star for the intermittent blurbs of good science that showed up when discussing neural plasticity, though that was another poorly organized topic, randomly interspersed through the rest of this logorrhea.

Let me save you 280 pages: SomethingAwful was right. The Internet makes you stupid. The more time we spend on the scroll gobbling down Mike ‘n’ Ikes worth of data, the more we train our brains to accept this as status quo, the less able we are to read a tedious book like War and Peace.

Yes, I’m being flip, because this book sucked and I should have stopped reading when I first realized it. That said, I agree with the central premise. Technology is a special kind of prison. Chains can be broken, if you’ve got the strength; but what happens if the function of the chain is to make you weak? It become self-protecting. The more reliant we become on it, the more it saps us. Like anything else, really.

It is better to read books than read blogs. And you’re probably reading this on a blog. Knock it off. Go read a book.

One contemptible Zoomer puke car mentioned 7 or 8 times (presumably because Carr’s chronic doomscrolling dealt enough hippocampal damage that he didn’t remember making the reference) said reading books has become pointless, since you can just find the quotes and information you need with some specific searches. I wanted to knee him in the sternum. The only way you’ll find that information is if you know what information to want. You can’t keep Googling answers to your quizzes forever, you dirty little animal. Never call yourself a philosophy major again. You don’t deserve that worthless and self-effacing title. Switch to marketing or something.

Oh, the other take-home is that Google is Lawful Evil and getting too big for their britches. The end goal is a digital catalog of all information. Hoarding like a dragon. Gotta slay ’em while the getting’s good. Everybody switch to Bing.



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Book Review: The Cube Method

The Cube Method by Brandon Lilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Brandon Lilly is a huge dude, and he wrote a book to teach others how to be huge. He’s mostly literate, but writing is not his strong suit. Fortunately, I didn’t come out here to pick up Brandon Lilly’s tips on how to master the literary craft.

The Cube method is an intuitive, no-frills approach to powerlifting. The first 5-7 working sets are devoted to one of the big three lifts and their variations to strengthen the individual weak points in those three lifts. For example, if your bench press lockout is a problem, a few of your bench day sets will be devoted specifically to training close-grip bench to beef up your puny triceps. If you struggle getting the weight off the ground in deadlifts, a couple sets are going to be devoted to deficit. So far so good, right?

Then, once you’re done with your real movements, your fat ass gets to cosplay a bodybuilder doing 3-4 sets of 10-20 rep isolation auxiliaries. That’s right, fellas. You get to do barbell shrugs again like some sort of high schooler, and it’s part of your comp training program.

The day wraps up with an arbitrary strongman style training, sled pulling or dumbbell carries or something, and then abs. Nowhere in the book is an ab exercise mentioned. Lilly knows you know how to do abs, and he doesn’t care what kind you do, so long as you do them every training day.

And then, on your fourth day of the week, you get to fart around with nothing but isolations! It’s a bodybuilding day. You switch them around depending on your weak points, so every fourth day is different.

Lilly claims he named it Cube because when it’s written down, it looks like a cube. He did not provide a graphic aid and I don’t know what he’s talking about.

The program has a lot in common with Wendler’s 5/3/1, just like Lilly has a lot in common with Wendler. I’ve been on 5/3/1 for years now and I’ve seen good progress, especially on the bodybuilding modification. On 5/3/1 you’re looking at 2 or 3 working sets with higher reps than advisable for pure powerlifting focus, then a circuit of 3 or 4 isolation exercises to support the day’s lift. The Cube gives you more working sets of fewer reps since it’s geared toward competition and not general strength, and greater specificity to target your weaknesses, then 3 or 4 isolation exercises to support the day’s lift.

Wendler is more articulate, but he’s also more of an asshole. Lilly talks about being alpha like a PUA manual for a while, but it’s obviously part of his lifting psyche-up and it must work if the dude is benching 800 lbs. The writing style is not particularly confrontational, he’s just saying what works for him, take it or leave it. The book wraps up with some woeful Boomer-era advice about eating “lots of real food” like chicken tenders, french fries, and Monster energy drink.

Well, I guess you can’t argue with results. There’s no clean bulking your way to the 308 lb weight class.





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Book Review: Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live

Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Three stars for dry writing. It was an interesting enough read. Christakis gives the impression of being called in as an expert witness to uphold the Quiz Broadcast – REMAIN INDOORS – narrative, and he does, enthusiastically, before contradicting it repeatedly.

“Once again, everything that we’re doing is exactly what we should be doing. This is the only way we’re going to beat it. It is your moral duty to listen to government. Here are the many and varied ways the government in general, and Trump in particular, has done everything wrong since this started. I will now list the data as to why none of these methods work. BUT, I cannot stress enough that these methods work.”

“It is imperative that we remain indoors and avoid everyone else, in order to flatten the curve. But it shouldn’t be social distance. The last thing we want right now is to socially isolate, as that suppresses immune system and leads to mental health outcomes that can be as bad or worse than the virus in terms of casualties.”

“The vaccine will dramatically reduce the number of deaths and save us all. Rescue is on its way! Unrelatedly, vaccines take 10 years to make, at which point they’re often unsafe, and historically, most pandemic diseases have been dealt with by herd immunity, with medical interventions occurring well after the pandemic is in remission and the infection line has flattened or begun to drop.”

He says masks kind of sort of work, but only as a means of blocking you from spraying your grotesque fluids onto the people around you. They do nothing to protect you unless it’s one of those N95 respirators. Wearing a mask is a show of good faith, demonstrating that you acknowledge we are in a pandemic situation and, yes, it effects you, too. It’s solidarity and altruism both, and that’s the kind of thing that got us through all the past pandemics.

Oh yeah, that’s a big point. These unprecedented times? Don’t buy the hype. They’re not all that unprecedented. Christakis rattles off a laundry list of other crippling pandemics, drawing the most comparisons between COVID and the Spanish Flu of 1918. He’s of the belief it was easier to get people to behave like responsible adults because Americans were in the midst of WWI, and “flattening the curve” or whatever euphemism they had for that around the turn of the century was seen as doing your part to support the troops.

He also rolls through some survey data, presumably to make good on his promise to discuss the impact of Coronavirus you can’t get from a glance at the grocery store. People are lonely and isolated. Women report greater anxiety and loneliness than men. Mental illness self-report for everybody is way, way up. Small businesses are collapsing, and the world looks like it’s on fire.

At the same time, there are these huge, sweeping grassroots efforts from individuals and nonprofits trying to fight the virus and help their neighbors. Overwhelmingly, people report being totally down with observing quarantine and distancing procedures. Charitable donations are higher and more frequent. People are pitching in their time to provide essential services to those who don’t have them, and everybody seems to be trying to protect health care workers; Christakis was especially fascinated by a sort of volunteer nanny service organized by furloughed workers to watch the children of health care workers for free while they’re out there working triples, tending the afflicted, burning out, and dying at much higher rates than the rest of the population. And that last part held true even before the pandemic.

The take home is wash your hands and wear your li’l mask, but manage your expectations. The vaccine probably isn’t going to return us to Eden. Vaccines take a decade to get out of trial stages, and even those kill people in droves. The vaccine we’re working on attacks the portion of the viral RNA that binds to our proteins and communicates the blueprint of how to do the same to our immune system. It’s a new frontier. We’ve never tried to make a vaccine like this before, we’ve never attacked it from this angle before, we’ve never tried to push it through on this timetable before, and it’s never been so obfuscated and politicized before.

Historically, medical interventions have done very little to control these major disease outbreaks, since they tend not to hit the scene until long after the damage is done and the population is already recovering. It’s usually some combination of widely dispersed antibodies (the same way as they used to do chicken pox, unfortunately), herd immunity, and the virus itself mutating into something less severe. This last part is naturally selected for being beneficial to the virus, too. It wants to propagate, and if its host dies, so does the virus’s efforts at propagation.

Rescue is not coming. Not in a timely fashion, anyway. But that’s okay. We don’t really need rescue. We just need to be accountable for ourselves, empathetic to our neighbors, and exhibit a modicum of hygiene.

If you really want to fight Coronavirus, stop drinking soda and eating Pop-Tarts. Take a walk in the sun. Adopt a dog and take care of it. Hang out with the friends you can safely hang out with. Exercise, eat well, sleep enough, meditate, and have emotionally gratifying sex (probably not with strangers). If the American people were healthier in general, COVID wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the pre-existing epidemic of chronic diseases of civilization.

And stop smoking, you stupid bastards.





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Book Review: The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method: Own Your Mind, Master Your Biology, and Activate Your Full Human Potential by Wim Hof

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Here’s the thing. The method is sound. Wim Hof unlocked a bizarre neo-yogic biohacking technique that allows him to manually override functions of his autonomic nervous system. All you have to do is breathe in an incredibly unnatural way for twenty minutes and boom, you’re immune to external temperature changes for a while. The same concept can also be applied to pain.

And if this book were just a how-to manual on how to hotwire the meat shell that limits us all, I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, it’s also an autobiography of Wim Hof, who seems like a deeply unlikable man.

That’s not to say he’s an unpleasant man. He really leans into that 60s throwback peace and love shit you get from every white dreadlocked ketamine dealer who lives in a van, and they can be decent conversationalists, in small doses and accompanied with doses. What rankled me is how he kept using the hippie-dippie shtick as a means of justifying his lifelong, jubilant parasitism.

He begins by talking about his sustained joblessness, give or take a paper route. He brags about squatting in an abandoned punk house for ten years, which really helped him center his chi, do yoga, and play guitar. For ten years. He eventually met a wife in his punk house – the fact that she was also a career squatted could serve as a sort of Chekov’s gun for her emotional stability – and pumped her full of a veritable fleet of welfare babies. Fortunately, Hof continues to boast, the Netherlands has among the most comprehensive and developed social programs in the world. He fails to mention the Dutch tax rate is around 50%, but that’s probably because he’s never paid them.

But he explains to the foolish wagie reader that this multigenerational mooching was imperative to his development of the Wim Hof method of controlled hyperventilation. He also demonstrates its efficacy by setting arbitrary world records whenever he gets into an argument with someone, if his anecdotes are any indication.

“And to prove it’s okay to drink beer, I am going to go outside in the winter and hold a martial arts horse stance… for three hours!”

Okay. That’s cool. I’d be much more impressed if you held something like a job, to support your five children.

Of course, he has money now, and his kids all work with him at the Wim Hof Foundation for Cold Showers and Goofy Breathing. In pursuit of peace, love, and the circus, of course. He has only ever wanted to give back his endless, beautiful, shining, perfect cascade of love back to all of humanity to bring us closer and unite us as one, etc.

He talks like a cultist. Much of the book is hard to get through because he goes off on these peacenik rambles about the connectedness of human beings, and how all you need is love.

But for as much as I dislike this person conceptually, I’m glad he stumbled on this method, and I’d like to see it get more clinical traction. Early trials have demonstrated that the Wim Hof method can be used to combat and, in some cases, eradicate certain chronic diseases, including intractable autoimmune and gastric diseases like fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, IBS, a whole mess of them. Diseases that are typically treatment and medication resistant.

The thing is, these diseases often have a pronounced psychological component that nobody likes to talk about because so many people conflate psychogenic symptoms with malingering. And since the Wim Hof method does, by his own admission (and unbearable blustering) operate on a personal and emotional level, grounding the practitioner and allowing them not only to become acquainted with themselves but also to learn physically active coping skills that recalibrate the CNS and sort of speed-meditate… it’s possible that the physiological benefits of the method, with regard to chronic pain, only become physiological by patching the leaks in the psyche.

For the record, I think he’s nuttier than squirrel shit, but less of a quack than many actual doctors. Cold showers, deep breathing, and outdoor exercise do attune you with your nature, which does improve every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. His little toolkit can be used to do impossible things, like climb Mt Everest in a day without altitude sickness. He has done things that should have killed him, and they didn’t, and he has taught other people to do them, and they didn’t die either. That’s proof enough.

But don’t buy the cult of personality hype. Wooks is wooks, and you can pursue an agenda of universal holism and be responsible enough to hold a job at the same time, no matter what they tell you.



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Book Review: Pathways of Bliss

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Joseph Campbell’s work is always best consumed through audiobook. He’s a dry writer. Unfortunately, he’s an even drier speaker, as career academics usually are, so you’ve really gotta hunt for the audiobooks where they hired professional narrators to read it, instead of the recordings of his university lectures that they try to pass off as books.

The ideas contained in the work are gold, especially if you’re a Jungian or some other kind of witch. Human beings think in terms of the mythological. These archetypes help us understand aspects of ourselves, and we call on them the way that voodoo practitioners let the loa ride them, or how ancient Greeks invoked the protection of situational gods, color-coded for easy reference

The main idea of pathway to bliss is We Live in a Society and we lost the plot, which is why we have such a hard time figuring out what makes us happy. The first step is initiation, the transformation from the comfort and protection of childhood to suddenly having all the responsibility of adulthood thrust on us. In many cultures, this is a highly ritualized process. In American culture, it’s not, which is why there are so many cringy “adulting” jokes. Women get menstruation, which serves as a pretty undeniable threshold, but men just kind of stumble along and eventually segue into what their interpretation of proper adulthood and conduct is.

The other function of initiation is to unite the mentalities of the tribe with regard to what the values of the tribe are, and to provide a clear, concise set of rules for the aspiring initiated to follow and uphold. A code. We don’t have a code anymore. Instead, we have a selection of half-ass codes that we spend all our time arguing about, because as mythologically-minded creatures, we want the meaning and purpose provided by a unanimous code.

There’s a vague blueprint, though. You graduate. You get a job. You marry. You produce 2.3 offspring. You provide for them. You keep all those plates spinning until the kids grow up and launch along their own ill-defined trajectories, and then you retire, and then…

And then?

Campbell talks about how it’s at that point you’re free to pursue your bliss, even though time has almost run out. You spend your whole life working toward the golden years where you’ll finally be able to fish in peace, and once you’ve squared away the rest of your requirements and you have your lifetime boxed up nice and tidy, you get in your little boat and row out. And sometimes, after a week, you realize that fishing is boring, and holy shit, I wasted my entire life.

There is no formalized initiation. There is no clearly defined rule set. We have interpretations of the expectations foisted on us, but interpretations are all they are, since our culture is without a true moral compass. The main message of the book is that we don’t need to put our bliss off until we’re almost dead. In fact, it’s the worst move we can make. Our lives belong to us foremost, and we contain all the archetypes, and maybe some would resonate with us better than others if we gave ourselves the chance to explore those sides of ourselves.

Maybe you weren’t meant to be a fisherman. You thought you were, but you waited and scrimped and saved for 50 years, and now you’re out there, and fishing is boring. Maybe your true passion is base jumping. Well, you’re 70, so you’re not going to go base jumping. Not more than once, anyway. It’s tragic to deny yourself the best life you could have had, and the best you that you could have been, because instead of pursuing some ridiculous bliss dream off the beaten path, you followed what you thought was expected of you — but which was never really expected of you in the first place!

Go on out there, chase your bliss. The Gonzo kids would say “Let your freak flag fly”. Do that, if it makes you feel better. It’s your life. You’re the protagonist of the story, and I think that the real and deep-down origin of neuroticism is the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing yourself to be the hero of your personal mythology while observing yourself constantly acting unheroic.



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An Open Letter to ID Software

Dear fellas,

My name is BT and I celebrate your entire catalogue. I’ve been a diehard Doom stan since my father brought home the first massive, beige Packard Bell monstrosity, circa Y2K. I’ve gotten through every incarnation of the game on Nightmare, from Classic to Brutal, Ultimate and Final, TNT and Plutonia, and I reveled in it. If I were a different, sadder type of man, I would probably have a Doom tattoo that I would have to avoid explaining to women.

Doom 2016 was a whole new world. The plot was getting sort of anime and increasingly indecipherable, but that’s fine. The plot I grew up with was a single barely legible page of red text once a campaign, written in second person, ending with “You grab your plasma gun and go forth into Hell to find further ass to kick!!!” And that was enough. We were thankful.

I beat that game on Ultra-Violence twice, then Nightmare over a dozen times. It was a religious experience, and not just because of Doomguy’s excessive, canon Catholicism.

I preordered Doom Eternal. The Authorities at Youtube were very upset about Doom Eternal. The marauder was the scourge of pissbaby game journalists the world over, because he has a shield. You couldn’t just shoot him a bunch. You needed to strafe around, keep the other demons at bay, strategically prioritize the marauder by keeping your distance and wiping out the distractions until you could isolate him for an old West style showdown. It was challenging, satisfying, excellent gameplay. The platforming added a fun new element, and increased Doomguy’s mobility. On some level, I think I preferred 2016, but I still loved Eternal. I cleared it once on Ultra Violence, then three more times on Nightmare.

By this point, I am a man grown. I have many jobs, and responsibilities. I have a world-renown travel blog, multivariate financial holdings, and a burgeoning gorilla-themed athleticwear empire. I have a demanding gym schedule, many fulfilling hobbies, and my very own dog whom I walk twice a day. There aren’t enough hours in the day for video games anymore. When my desktop PC broke, I didn’t bother fixing it. I replaced my computer desk with a fish tank because the industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

My gamer friends, they say to me, “BT, fix your fucking computer! It’s like a 30 minute job!” to which I respond, “Never! I have thrown off the ergonomic, rainbow-glowing shackles of gamerdom. My fingers are clean of Cheetoh dust, my bloodstream finally clear of 20 years accumulated Mountain Dew Code Red. I am a free man.”

And even still, I bought the Ancient Gods DLC. I took some issue with it being called DLC, as I’m of the belief DLC should be free shit you add to a finished game. The implication of “content” is the game contains it, and if it is contained in the game, it is part of the base game. Ancient Gods extends the story line and adds new enemies, which makes it an expansion of Eternal, and thus, an “expansion pack”. But this isn’t the hill I’m here to die on. Let’s keep going.

I skipped Ultra-Violence this time and went right for Nightmare. This was hubris. The Ancient Gods expansion is harder than college.

This made sense to me. You start the game fully upgraded with everything you had in Doom Eternal (because it’s an expansion pack). The challenge would need to scale accordingly, and does.

The story continued to career around incomprehensibly, VEGA has always been God, Samuel Hayden has DBZ-melded with God’s best friend and closest confidant, there’s an actual Devil that Vega-née-God buried in a hole in Makyrville and Doomguy has decided that he’s going to kill God (though not Vega) and incarnate the Devil to kill the Devil so all the demons have to go home. Whatever, dude. I’m here to chew ass and collect heavy metal vinyls… and I left my record player on my Hot Topic-themed space ship.

ID software. Fellas. I’m not mad. Life’s too short to be mad about video games, rest in fucking piss Overwatch. I’m just disappointed. By forcing Doomguy to take out enemies in a specific order and immediately respawning the annoying “deprioritized” demons like Hell Knights, Pinkies, and those douchebags with the shields, you’ve disincentivized killing demons in the game about killing demons. It’s like, what are we even ripping and tearing for?

The arena design suffered a little compared to previous games, but the environmental design was awe-inspiring. A lot of people seem to be bitching about the Spirits, but that has the same vibe as the issue with the Marauders. I think they were well done, and they add a level of difficulty and shifted priority that would make for a very engaging and fulfilling experience if I wasn’t spending so much time running for my life from the perpetually respawning throngs of shit-tier demons that can still absolutely one-shot you on Nightmare.

The Turrets were a fun idea, if lazy in their design. The invisible Whiplashes that you can’t meathook were the truest manifestation of Hell I can imagine.

I don’t know whose nephew suggested the Blood Maykrs, but they certainly only came onto the team in the past six months, and you’ve got to get rid of them. I’m not a big fan of aiming in general which is why I’m playing Doom, but the invulnerability, the weird timing, the reuse of the chime sound from the Marauder, and the sad little squirt of ammo you get for killing it… there’s just no reason to bother with it. It’s difficult, and annoying, but not especially fun, especially when it winds up behind waves of trash enemies that respawn as soon as you kill them.

And then, after the first appearance, the Blood Maykrs are relegated to the role of ambient trash demons themselves, and if you put in the time and effort to pinata pop them in the skull, they’re right back on the playing field while you continue dealing with the arbitrarily defined “true threat” of whatever demon is tallest.

I didn’t care for all the special demons that could only be killed by special guns, and I especially disliked how many of them were the plasma gun. Don’t make me use the plasma gun. I shouldn’t be punished for not liking an inferior gun.

In Eternal, you were rewarded for switching through guns, but if you were good enough with your preferred guns, you didn’t have to. That’s no longer available to you. You’re required to use the microwave gun, and strafe around in stupid little crisscross patterns while you wait for the target to pop. Hopefully the Blood Maykr or Pinkie you killed five seconds ago hasn’t respawned nearby, or you won’t get the microwave off, and you’re dead again. You better have enjoyed the first six waves of this arena, because you’re going to be doing them again, and again, and again.

I don’t mean to bitch, in general, or about my favorite video game series specifically. It’s a recreational activity and if I didn’t like it, I could have just stopped. But by virtue of being not mad, just disappointed, the issue is further highlighted because Doom is a game about rage. Doomguy is a fury elemental, that’s his whole deal. We’re out here to rip and tear until it is done. So why am I spending so much of this game shooting wildly over my shoulder, fleeing from demons that I’ve either already killed or demons that I have to kite out to a special segment of the map so I can use the goddamn microwave gun on?

Doomguy shouldn’t be running in the opposite direction for the majority of these battles. There’s a difference between strategic withdrawal and shrieking, tears-running-down-your-cheeks retreat, and playing Eternal then playing Ancient Gods really underscores that in a way that I wish could be avoided.

But I bought it, and beat it, and sprung for the combo pack, so I’m going to be beating Part II when it comes out. No matter the cost. By any means necessary. Fighting the Devil who is Doomguy with red eyes for some reason. I’m sure they’re going to have a better final exposition that’s going to really just blow the lid off the whole big bastard. They’ll pull it together in the last innings. They have to. Doom is good. I love ID software. You can do it, fellas.

We’ve got something beautiful here. You gotta… you gotta do it.

Love,

BT

Book Review: The Artificial Ape

The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution by Timothy Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A fascinating book about how using tools makes us human, and how that’s not necessarily a compliment.

The main thrust of Taylor’s argument is that we started using tools that shouldered much of the burden that we would otherwise need actual shoulders for, so the shoulders we had went a little vestigial from generations of disuse. I know that analogy sounds kind of clunky, but it’s literally what happened in the case of our 10% loss in bone density over the last few thousand years.

The perspective makes sense. Orangutans are strong enough to rip the lower jaw clean off of a crocodile, and have been observed doing it, so don’t fuck around. But that kind of power requires a lot of upkeep, at the expense of other systems. We had a common ancestor 12 million years ago. The human genetic code contains the blueprints to be that kind of jacked manimal, but instead we started throwing pointy sticks around. We didn’t need to be that strong. The strength, or lack thereof, wasn’t making that big of a dent in the gene pool anymore.

Bipedalism was our first big advantage, and we’ve been coasting on that ever since. Hands free mode let us tinker, and the clubs, spears, and baby slings (for carrying, not for throwing) let us outcompete pretty much everything else in the world at the time. Fire was our next big W, and we became so reliant on it that we lost a large portion of our intestine, which is why gorillas can get donkey brolic on nothing but nectarines and foliage while a vegan diet is a death sentence for any human outside of the 1st world. Our stomachs aren’t long enough, or multiple enough, to break down the plants into nourishment. Cooked meat was a shortcut to an unprecedented amount of easily absorbed nutrition. Why waste the biomass maintaining a massive gorilla colon for processing 40 lbs of roots and leaves a day when we’re getting everything we need in a pound of mammoth flank and a few handfuls of high-glucose berries?

What I found most interesting was the sort of fork-in-the-road that our skulls and jaws took. When you look at animals with a preposterous bite force like a gorilla (1300 PSI) or a pitbull (2000 PSI), you see the long, threatening canine incisors first. For good reason. Evolution has programmed us to steer clear of seeing those incisors pointed our way, as it often precedes getting got. In order for the canine incisors to be functional, they have to be deeply rooted into bone. A pitbull’s teeth wouldn’t be much use if they snapped off every time he clamped his big square head onto something.

But for those teeth to support that bite force, the muscles wrapping around the skull have to connect to occipital bone. That’s the big knot of bone toward the back of a dog’s skull. All the great apes have them, too, except for us. Those powerful biting muscles sort of squeeze the braincase, which requires the bone to be thicker and sturdier overall, but that’s okay. Fair trade. Most animals have much greater need for dangerous teeth than for the wasted space of extra cranial capacity.

Enter man, a scavangening omnivore who can comfortably walk a hundred miles a day, supplements his arsenal with his lethal little arts-and-crafts, and eats his prey cooked. Absolutely no need for those canine incisors anymore. No need for the muscles supporting them, either – no matter how much gristle is in the steak, it won’t compare to the 8+ hours a day spent chewing if all your food was raw. And thinner, more pliant cranial bones make for an easier escape from the birth canal.

Nature did what nature does, and as those muscles loosened as they became less necessary for survival. In conjunction with our easy nutritional intake and the burgeoning protoculture that comes from being social animals…. our brains exploded to three times their previous size, maybe? No one actually knows why that happened, but Taylor’s guess seems as good as any.

Great book. I knocked off one star because I found it dry in some parts, but that’s to be expected, the man’s an archeologist and most of them aren’t Indiana Jones. Well worth the read if you care about anything I said in this review.



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Book Review: The Trouble with Peace

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Presumably, the titular trouble with peace is its long-term untenability, and how goddamn treacherous everyone is.

A surprising number of loose ends got wrapped up in this one, which sets the stage of the third book in the trilogy focusing more on the labor disputes and the rise of the first real challengers to Bayaz’s power, the unwashed masses and their predilection for smashing the hell out of everything. As appealing as the Judge subplot is, and as entertaining as are the attempts at stick-and-poke anarchy made by all the dislocated skilled workers made irrelevant by the shiny new deathtrap machines, they don’t have anything that can challenge Bayaz’ pet demigod. No amount of rabble, no matter how roused, can overwhelm an Eater. They’ll just get ate.

On one hand, I can recognize the point of the allegory. Unmaking the foundation of society is supposed to seem like a pipe dream, no matter how broken the society might be. Bayaz is an institution unto himself, an immortal watchmaker who set the clockwork of the empire to spinning centuries ago and stops in every now and then to tune it up and sneer at the little people so they know just how superior he is. He has failsafes upon failsafes. It’s supposed to be impossible for young, morally upright idealists to try to effect change. You don’t need to be a poli sci professor to see the parallels.

But on the other, it’s a little dissatisfying. (This is the closest I have to criticism, this book is a masterpiece.) You want to root for the underdog, but the underdog is too realistic. We see the looters and rioters, warts and all, and though their cause is just, they’re nothing but warts. There’s not much character development in the Breakers and Burners, which was a deliberate stylistic choice to maintain the air of mystery around the organization. Consequently, the only things we see are them acting like animals, pillaging and raping and burning their way through the cities that have been grinding them further and further beneath their heel over the past 30 years (longer if you disregard the sudden-onset Industrial Revolution and think about the lot of the smallfolk under aristocratic feudalism).

In the third-person omniscient provided by all these perspective hops, the reader can recognize that the politics of the Empire are a Machiavellian nightmare, and the North is nothing but tribalist feuding, as the North has always been. You want to root for the peasants. You want the system to be burnt down. But the peasants are just so grotesque and fairytale-goblinoid evil that you can’t sympathize with them. Brod is okay, but only because he’s surrogate Logen, and even he can’t decide whether the uprising is the move.

All of this to say the revolution is the backdrop, with the main focal point of the story being the relationships between the main characters. I don’t want to go into it and risk spoiling anything, but it’s gripping. I can’t wait until the next one.

And Abercrombie can be relied on to pump out the next one before I die of old age. Unlike certain contemporaries I could and will name: George R.R. Marten, Patty Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch, for starters. It must be real embarrassing to be those bums, watching Joe Abercrombie, the new and unrivaled king of grimdark, just churn up an entire new trilogy in the 10-year silent expanses of time between each of their individual volumes.



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Book Review: The Forever Peace

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It was a decent enough throwaway sci fi book, but it didn’t even approach capturing the spirit of the original. The characters were not especially interesting, and neither was their plight. The plot held enough weight to support the narrative, but just barely, and I spent much of the book waiting for it to be over.

Not all of it, though. It spiked back into readability right at the end with the introduction of the unrepentantly repentant sociopath assassin Gabriella, and Julian’s transformation into the sort of sin eater surrogate who retains the ability to pull the trigger while the rest of the world undergoes mandatory indoctrination into pacifist libleftdom.

You could tell the book wanted to play around with the philosophical implications of declawing the human race, but it never quite got around to it.




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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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