December 27, 2007


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During the fairly slack week between Christmas and New Year's, El Cabrero has decided to reveal some trade secrets. I've run across several people recently who say they'd like to read more books. And, since this is New Year's resolution time for many people, that might be a goal for some in the coming year.

I have stumbled upon a method that allows me to go through quite a few books. (Note: I can't reveal how many lest my employers realize what a slacker I am.) My method involves two strategies, one hard and one easy.

First the hard one: try to get up early enough to spend 45 minutes to an hour reading. I usually have a pile of about five going at any one time on different enough subjects to keep them separate. I try to turn the page of each one twice, then move on to the next one. Then, when you get close to the end of one, concentrate on finishing it.

Then there's the easy way: listen up! Many public libraries have good collections of recorded books on CDs, audio tapes, or even these new little recorded book thingies, the exact name of which eludes me at the moment. Even though I live kind of out there, there are three public libraries with decent collections of unabridged books within an hour's travel and I am usually abusing borrowing privileges of at least two of them at any given time.

With those gizmos, any time spent driving, jogging, chopping wood, mowing the lawn, chasing goats, or doing mindless tasks is reading time.

Here are some advantages of listening. First, some books, particularly the classics, were originally meant to be heard. That's especially true for things like The Iliad and the Odyssey. And how long has it been since someone read aloud to you anything you wanted to hear?

Historical note: the idea of an individual reading silently to him- or herself is an innovation of recent centuries. Traditionally, books were read aloud to more than one person.

Then there's the boredom factor. There are some books I'd probably never get through in print version. But if I'm out jogging for an hour, it ain't like I can switch channels. I have found that one can run, drive, or mow one's way through almost any book.

Try it--you might like it.

THE DARK SIDE OF MICRO LENDING. Micro-lending is often held up as a panacea for solving world poverty. However, a recent article from Business Week shows the dark side as many for-profit institutions charge outrageous interest to poor people in developing countries where there is little regulation.

One corporation cashing in is--you guessed it--Wal-Mart:

In Mexico, it charges interest rates that might set off popular and political revolts back home, although Wal-Mart describes its terms as appropriate to the Mexican market. At one store west of Mexico City, a 32-inch LG plasma TV with a price tag of $957 can ultimately cost as much as $1,474, thanks to a 52-week payment plan that carries an annual percentage rate (APR) of 86%.

DARK AS A DUNGEON. Here's an item from the Boston Globe about how conflicts over mountaintop removal mining are raging in West Virginia.

THE BEETLES. The British scientist J.B.S. Haldane supposedly said that the Creator, if he exists, has "an inordinate fondness for beetles." Here's an item on why they have done so well.


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