March started out slow, but I read quite a bit at the end.
John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic
I was quite disappointed with this one. I’ve been interested in issues of conscious consumption vs. materialism for a while now, but this was more of a screed than a reasoned discussion. It had strange religious overtones, and was generally so one-sided as to be off-putting. Technology, in particular, is portrayed as “soulless” (whatever that means) and antithetical to a balanced life. It also made me wonder about how various kinds of activism have changed over time. The book was originally published in 2001, but somehow it feels much older to me — more akin to the environmentalism of the 60s and 70s that relied on emotional appeals for things like air and water quality, rather than the more efficiency oriented activism that has become common in light of global warming (think Thoreau vs. Al Gore). Obviously both kinds of activism are important, but I personally find the more quantitive approach much more compelling.
Robert Jordan, The Dragon Reborn
After a long slog through a non-fiction book I didn’t really enjoy, I plowed through this one in three days. I don’t have too much to say other than that I enjoyed it. It focusses a lot more on Perrin and Matt (and the Aes Sedai) than Rand, but the bit with Callandor at the end ranks (in my memory at least) as one of the most iconic scenes in the series.
Charles Hugh Smith, An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times
This was another impulse purchase on the Kindle that was better in theory than practice. The question that drove me to read it is one I still think makes sense: There is some evidence that climate change and resource scarcity will have a substantive impact on the world within our lifetimes. Given this, how should we personally prepare and invest for an uncertain future? Unfortunately, the only people writing about this seem to be pretty radical libertarians. I knew nothing about this author going in, but his continued references to the “nanny state” made it pretty clear that we had some fairly dramatic ideological differences. Even though I have serious concerns about his politics, he does make some reasonable points. He focuses not only on investing in the traditional sense, but also on developing skills and social capital, which can be as important as money for surviving hard times. Smith’s vision of the future of employment is also very similar to the gig economy described by Sarah Horowitz in the The Atlantic, which lends it a bit more credibility in my book. In terms of more traditional investments, he advocates investing locally, which may be reasonable, but I would recommend the book Locavesting for a better resource on the topic. The author is also a fan of gold, and while I don’t have strong feelings either way about gold as an investment vehicle, he lost soem credibility with me when he revealed that his primary concern was not gold losing value, but rathe the government seizing it.
This falls into the “stupid comedy” genre. It’s not something I would normally go to see, but Divya was out of town, I wanted to see a movie, and this had the highest rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time. It was actually pretty funny, and the two main characters had good chemistry.
I saw this with Divya and we both thought that they did a great job adapting the book. They cut out a fair amount, particularly of the events in District 12 before the Games, but this is inevitable with a book-to-movie conversions and I don’t think they cut out anything too major. My major complaint is actually with the shaky camerawork, particularly during the Reaping scene. I very rarely notice the cinematography in movies, but I found this quite distracting.
Game of Thrones, Season 1
After being mocked mercilessly for my television choices last month, I’m happy to report that in March I watched the critically acclaimed first season of Game of Thrones. I read the first three books of the series the summer after sophmore year of college (so ~7 years ago, yikes), so while I have a high-level idea about how the series go, I don’t remember too many of the details. Like the books, the show is quite dark, and it took a few episodes for me to get into it. That said, once I got hooked, I finished the rest of the series in short order. I agree with pretty much everyone that Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion is the highlight of the show. Since this is an HBO show, it will be a year before I can watch the second season, but I am certainly looking forward to it.
Chuck, Season 3
Divya and I finally finished watching the third season of Chuck. The beginning was a bit campy, but I thought the season got progressively better. They made some major plot changes at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see what happens in season 4 now that all of the main characters know Chuck’s secret.
Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal
I’m not very good at reviewing music, so I’ll just say that I particularly enjoyed this album, which I first heard on [the Current][http://thecurrent.org/]. It kind of reminds me of Mumford & Sons, but is perhaps a bit more upbeat.
Jonathan Alter, Meet the New Boss, The Atlantic, Apr. 2012.
Nice Profile of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago. Alter has a history with Emanuel, and the piece is largely favorable, but it touches on some of the complexities of governance in Chicago related to its long history of machine politics.
Mark Bowden, The Man Who Broke Atlantic City, The Atlantic, Apr. 2012.
I should really just subscribe to the Atlantic, as I’ve enjoyed almost every article I’ve read. This one profiles Don Johnson, a gambler who won millions in blackjack from Atlantic City casinos. His trick seems to have been social engineering — he took advantage of the casinos’ desperation for high rollers by convincing them to give him concessions that tilted the odds in his favor. I had no idea that casinos would actually change the rules of the game for high-rollers, but clearly it wasn’t a good idea. I found this gripping throughout.
James Bamford, The NSA Is Building the Country s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), Wired, Apr. 2012.
This article reports on alleged NSA data-center in Utah that will eventually be used to mine a considerable fraction of domestic internet communications. I don’t really know how much to believe the details in an article like this, but it does cite (and name) a former NSA employee, which I suppose gives it some credibility. In any case, it’s fascinating stuff, though I wish it appeared in a James Bond novel rather than a non-fiction article.