December 31, 2010


Here it is, another New Year, and I am all out of resolutions. I'm not opposed to the idea of picking a goal and working on it, but I can't seem to think of one at the moment. There are certain possibilities, but they are non-starters.

Here are some I won't be making for 2011:

*having a neater office and car. As if.

*giving up red wine. Yes, I could, but so what? I could also drill holes in my skull.

*being a better person. Like the saying goes, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Here are some I've tried that kind of worked (even if they weren't necessarily made on New Year's Day):

*learning to play guitar. Sort of.

*learning Spanish. Un poquito.

Some I tried just haven't worked out yet, like teaching myself classical Greek.

In the meantime, be it resolved that all the critters at Goat Rope wish you and yours a happy 2011.

(We'll be back on the chain gang Monday.)

December 30, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: random items

I'm winding up Slacker Week by looking back at the year in reading. Here are some that I found to be diverting this year...

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson based on research by John Sergeant. I liked the movie, but the book was way more diverting--and weirder, especially since it's a work of nonfiction.

I also did some interesting reading about disasters and how people respond to them, including Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why and Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

On a social science note, I enjoyed Len Fisher's Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, a book which I borrowed from a friend and probably haven't returned. Also enlightening was The Invisible Gorilla: and Other Ways our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

I could go on, but if I do, my employers will realize what I slacker I am all year round. Good reading in 2011!

December 29, 2010

The Goat Rope books shelf: religion and philosophy

During Slacker Week, i.e. those days between Christmas and New Year's Day, El Cabrero is doing as little as possible other than looking back at the year in reading. I was not particularly in a religious mode this year, if you don't count karate (which actually works pretty well as one), but I did read a bit about religion.

I don't always enjoy Karen Armstrong's books on religion, although I always seem to read them. I did enjoy one of her more recent books, The Case for God: What Religion Really Means.

I'm always a sucker for a good book on Buddhism, and Perry Garfinkel's Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All fit the bill.

I paid another visit to Aristotle this year, re-reading The Nichomachean Ethics and The Politics, along with Hegel's Introduction to the Philosophy of History. On the down side, I crawled through Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and still don't know what all the shouting was about. It goes without saying that I revisited my old pal Nietzsche

December 28, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: history and biography

El Cabrero is slacking this week, which means no links or comments about current events. Rather, I'm taking a look back at the year in reading. Today, the topic is history.

By far the most engrossing book of this kind for me this year was Arthur Herman's Gandhi and Churchill, an account of the decades long rivalry between two worthy opponents. People of different political tendencies idolize one or the other of these men (usually not both, however). I'll pass. Both had their moments, but both also were capable of incredible blunders, callousness, and bull headedness. If I had to choose between one or the other, I'd pick FDR or Walter Reuther.

I've always been interested in the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my father and two uncles served, but my interest was piqued after my trip to Okinawa, where I toured the Peace Memorial and two museums that had exhibits related to the terrible battle that raged there. I really learned a lot from Max Hastings' Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. The Nazis had no monopoly on atrocities.

Finally, what is it about Western powers that makes them want to make ill-advised forays into the Middle East, anyway? They've been doing it since the Trojan War and it never seems to work out very well. Juan Cole's Napoleon's Egypt provided another case in point. It's amazing that he got to be emperor after leading that monumental goat rope.

December 27, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: fiction

I'll wait for the movie on this one.

I like to think of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as Slacker Week--and I plan to live up to it. There will be no links this week but rather a look back at the year in reading.

I make it a point never to divulge the number of books I get through in a year lest my employer realize that I'm pretty good at slacking the rest of the year too. I did get a bit less read this year, probably due to spending more time in physical training to prepare for karate my trip to Okinawa and to try to keep the edge.

While I didn't read a huge amount of fiction this year, here are some notable books:

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I think I've read most if not all this writer (of Appalachian origins, let it be noted) has produced. Some of her fiction can be a bit preachy but her latest offering really hit the spot. It's the story of a young man who winds up hanging out with the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky and then gets chewed up by the post WWII Red Scare. I think one reason I enjoyed it so much was due to our recent trip to Mexico where we hung out in the same places.

The Fall by Albert Camus. It's been decades since I read this one (The Plague being my favorite of his) and I was curious to give it another look. It has been interpreted as the author's own confession of his shortcomings and failure.

The Kiss and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov. I've read a lot of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy but not so much of Chekhov. The Good Doctor had a great eye for human actions and emotions and life's little situations. I plan on heading back for more.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction but La Cabra recommended this post-modern novel of separate but related stories across time.

Finally, I hit the children's section to take another look at Alice in Wonderland, an adult book thinly disguised as a children's classic. Also, I've never read any of Madeline L'Engle, but was inspired to try A Wrinkle in Time after seeing my nephew devour it.