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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Culture of Excess

The Culture of Excess by J.R. Slosar

J.R. Slosar is angry about today's culture. And for good reason. Exorbitant CEO salaries and pointless bailouts, a suffering public education system, self-indulgent digital fantasies, not to mention ridiculously long sports seasons.

Slosar covers these topics and more (global warming, health care, narcissism, even psychology) in The Culture of Excess. It is a bit of a rant, with some out-of-left-field (and politically left-leaning) references and a few difficult to follow passages, but it is, on the whole, a well-written outline of his beliefs about the problems in our society.

He also presents thoughtful solutions, advocating that we shift from Generation Me to Generation We. This would entail adopting a more community-based lifestyle, complete with quantitative thinking, mood regulation and media reform, and defining new measurements of success. All good things.

However, I think Slosar is exhibiting a bit of "chronological snobbery" (except he is considering our culture as inferior to earlier ones, rather than vice versa). I am always skeptical when people put forth the idea that these times are the worst that have ever been. History tells us this is just not so. Meanwhile, yes, things are changing--our culture, attitudes, even our brain chemistry--but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Consider, for example, the digital world, which Slosar often equates with fantasy, talking about the problems that arise when people who overuse digital media must return to "real-life" responsibilities. Perhaps this is true if people are only playing Farmtown 12 hours a day, but what about those whose work is online? Or the networks of bloggers who have formed substantial relationships via the Internet?

I also took issue with Slosar's complaints that our culture fails to think quantitatively and that the media and others misuse statistics. However, he misuses some statistics of his own, citing ample evidence for global warming, but neglecting to mention the recent disclosure that researchers who were promoting the idea of global warming manipulated data about the earth's temperature. Also, he uses America's comparatively high infant mortality rates as a reason that we need a government-provided health care system, but he doesn't explain that America measures infant mortality differently than many other countries do (counting as infant deaths what others count as miscarriages, for example).

I don't want to sound too harsh because I did enjoy the book, but there are holes in Slosar's arguments. Are there problems in our culture that need to be fixed? Absolutely. Does Slosar offer some good solutions to these problems? Sure. But I would have found his arguments and, subsequently, his solutions much more compelling and persuading if his book had been a bit more objective.

Favorite quotes...

The age of excess creates powerful forces that are gradually changing human development. The psychological damage caused by these forces is most evident in an impulsive society that has had a breakdown in self-control. This means that we take in more than we need, or engage in behavior without thinking it through, behavior that has undesirable consequences. Our boundaries for regulation and self-control get stretched and even collapse, leading to rampant impulsivity.

Nothing reflects the culture of excess more than our spending...Eventually, we need relief or some sort of self-preservation to avoid a complete breakdown in self-control and a collapse.

A National Health Care Plan would stimulate and improve the economy. It would do this by creating jobs, promoting business expansion, lowering prices, reducing the budget deficit and increasing our global competitiveness...Nothing would be a stronger antidote to living in a culture of excess than the decision as a society to have a universal health care system.

We now struggle to develop our identity in a complex and overwhelming environment, and we struggle to protect it too...Identity attainment and achievement is complex in today's technological society...The prevailing attitude about developing identity is that of going through a buffet line and picking what you want in whatever amount you want.

The American public has been whacked. They are shocked and attentive. By now the financial impact of a culture of excess has hit full force. The financial failure and downturn have been coming for a long time as Americans have lost self-control and lived way beyond their means.

It seems that today we have thought so far "out of the box" that we no longer know where the box is. Efforts for immediate answers and creative solutions take precedence over thorough analysis. In this regard, traditional quantitative thinking is even considered old-fashioned and unnecessary. What is fashionable is to think quickly and to be different.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snow Day 2

With another snow day, I would have...

  • Painted my nails
  • Finished a couple of books
  • Had a second cup of coffee
  • Taken a nap
  • Snuggled with Fred and Jason
  • Given Fred a bath
  • Actually enjoyed cooking dinner
  • Had an altogether lovely day
Instead, it only snowed this much...{you'll have to look closely at the branches}...

So, I went to work.

The end.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut

The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut by Paul Nowak

This fictional story of the young Jack and his Uncle Chestnut is a great introduction to the real-life character of G.K. Chesterton.

Nowak smoothly blends Chesterton's actual quotes and anecdotes with several fictional episodes to give readers an idea of his beliefs, thoughts and mannerisms.

I've been curious about Chesterton's work for awhile, so this was my official introduction as well. The book was brief but delightful! I'm intrigued and can't wait to read more!

You can find more information about the book at the website.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Too Too Many Tutus

Too Too Many Tutus by Suzanne Davis Marion, illustrated by Marj Hales

Too Too Many Tutus is a sweet picture book about a little girl's difficult decision about which tutu to wear to dance class. Ladies, we can all relate, right?

Marion does a good job with the light-hearted story, and Hales take us through all of Christina's colorful options with absolutely lovely illustrations.

The small dancer in your life would adore this book. For more information about Suzanne Davis Marion, visit her website.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Am Inspired

I Am Inspired by Valerie Allen

Valerie Allen is raw in this short, but touching, memoir of an unplanned pregnancy.

She is a self-described tongue-talking, Bible-toting, Holy Spirit-filled, born-again minister who makes a mistake. The result is a child. And this book.

Her journey is, again, touching, but the book is so short that it feels incomplete. I wanted to know more about parts of Allen's history and future (in relation to the book) to which she only alludes.

I applaud her, though, for being so open and thoughtful about this part of her life, and I look forward to seeing if she writes more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Color Is Everything

Color Is Everything by Dan Bartges

I am new to the creative scene, and I don't always have a great eye for, in short, what looks good.

So Color Is Everything was quite helpful in teaching me some of the basics of painting like color combination, materials to use and color schemes.

The illustrations are fantastic, as they should be in a book about color. Bartges includes tons of examples, and the book is as interactive as a book can be.

My only question concerns the audience. He says his principles are useful to painters at all stages--beginning to advanced. This is true, I suppose, but the information seemed like it would be most helpful to those of us who are just about clueless. I imagine more advanced painters have studied much of the information already.

But, as I said, I am new to much of this creative stuff. :) For more information about Dan Bartges, visit his website.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Texicans

The Texicans by Nina Vida

Being an adopted Texan, I'm always excited to learn more about the history of my new state. The Texicans gave me plenty to ponder!
In it, Nina Vida primarily tells the story of Joseph Kimmel, a teacher who heads for Texas to settle his brother's estate but finds himself picking up one wanderer after another as he travels. A mystical Mexican, three black slaves and an Alsatian wife provide much color to what had been a plain life for Joseph.

Joseph, his family and friends live in a harsh world. It is frontier life in the mid-1800s, and Vida doesn't shy away from its tensions of race, disease and finances.

People are killed and kidnapped. They are not often happy as they struggle to survive on a daily basis. But the book is not dreary. It's thoughtful, dense and somehow rewarding--as if just by learning more about these characters, we have validated their struggle.

So, this adopted Texan would make The Texicans required reading for our state, and I would highly recommend it to non-Texans as well. :) For more information about Nina Vida, visit her website.

Favorite quotes...

He hadn't made many friends at the school, preferring to be left alone with his books.

When Joseph thought about it, he had to admit that the problem was that the Comanches were here first, and it was just white men's laws telling them they had no hereditary right to land they had occupied for 150 years. Even Mexicans, who had ceded titles, surveys and documents to the new Texans before statehood, were now dispossessed of their remaining lands without legal recourse.

He liked the way he felt after a long day of riding, when his legs were as stiff as two blocks of wood, and his arms felt 10 feet long, and he knew he had earned his supper.

There was a roughness to San Antonio, an unfinished look, as if everyone had gotten to work making money before the buildings were built, and the roads smoothed out.

Texas is a pretty lawless place. People getting killed for no reason. Yet here I am and don't intend to leave...Rangers aren't what they were when Austin brought them together and told them to protect the frontier. The frontier's changed. No one knows for sure where it's at any more. Some of the Rangers is now as bad as Indians. I don't claim them for the Army or for Texas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deep in the Snow of Texas

I think I might be the last person around to post my snow pictures. Nevertheless...

Record-setting snowfall in the DFW area! {This was Jason measuring early on the first day.}

We measured 5-6 inches in our little neighborhood, but I think some areas got as much as a foot...

I was so excited that I ventured out in highly inappropriate footwear...Brr!

These were better and became my shoe-niform for the next few days...

Big fat snowflakes that fell for a solid 24 hours. It was lovely (and even more lovely was having four days off)...

The pool area...

The snow was also rough on the trees...

The campus looked much worse (in terms of trees down), but I don't have pictures of it. We didn't venture out much. :)

We spent most of the four days doing this...
You know you're getting old when you'd rather hang out on the couch with the dog than play outside in the snow. ;) It sure was pretty to watch, though.

Announcement, Reviews and More Snow

Just letting you know, I have five reviews coming up over the next five days. I hope you'll find something in the mix you'll enjoy!

Meanwhile, Mrs. McBookworm is heading back to school! Again! I'm so excited to start studying at UNT this fall; I'll be doing PhD work in Information Science. I would love any advice from those of you who have pursued a doctorate or have returned to school after being out for awhile. (It's been almost six years for me. Yipes!)

And, finally, just a quick glimpse of our lovely snow...{that has since all melted}...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Delay

I can't believe I hosted a giveaway and neglected to announce the winner!

Congrats to Kristy!

{I did choose the winner on Wednesday and contacted her, btw. I'm not a complete slacker.} ;)

Meanwhile, the delay was because of the crazy snowfall we got here in DFW. I think we got around 5 or 6 inches at our place, but some were saying they had as much as a foot. Anyway, it sidelined me for a few delightful days and forced me to read.

So, several reviews will be coming this week! And a happy announcement tomorrow, too.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Progress: Health

One of the things I struggled with in my resolutions last year was assessment. I plowed through my goals, thinking about them as the months went along, but not really going back and checking and charting my progress. So I've been trying to do better about that this year.

I've lost 1 out of my goal of 10 inches, and that doesn't seem like great progress on the whole health thing. And I know I've not been eating as nutritionally as I should (re: previous post). :)

OK, so here's where you all come in...

As an accountability measure, I'm going to be charting my average weekly fat/calorie/sodium intake. For some reason, it's been really really hard for me to be disciplined enough to write down everything I eat, and writing it down is the best way I know to motivate myself to think about what I'm eating before I eat it.

Also, the consistent exercise thing has been a toughie. For almost as long as I can remember exercising (at least since high school), my goal has been to run five days a week, have a "fun" workout (i.e. video, rollerblading, etc.) one day and rest the other day of the week.

Here's where I get tripped up...
  • Because of my schedule (more to come on that), Saturday and Sunday really need to be running days. But if we have something else going (particularly in the mornings when I like to run on the weekends), or if the weather is bad (forcing me to go to the gym instead of running outside), I miss my weekend runs. And this is a problem because...
  • I hate working out after work. Right now, I don't see a way to work out before (gym doesn't open early enough). So that leaves at least three days of running after work. This becomes problematic when we have things to do after work because...
  • That means I have to go to our apartment office to run. Generally somewhere around 8 p.m. There is one treadmill, whose settings are screwy, and I am starting to crash at 8 (and I also feel kind of heavy after dinner).
And here's another confession: If I miss two or three days of working out, I scrap the whole week. I know, I know. All the advice on this says to get right back on it the next day, but I'm always more...meh...I'll start again on Saturday.

So...I'm being held accountable here. Suggestions welcome. :)

February Giveaway

I know I just recently wrapped up the January giveaway, but I wanted to do February's in time for Valentine's Day...or whatever you like to call the either revered or hated February 14. I'll draw at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 10. {I do hope that's enough time for a giveaway to be posted.}

Again, just leave a comment to win. I use the lovely little to choose a winner, so it's fair. :)

What's in the giveaway pile this month?
  • Legs amusing non-Valentine valentine...both couples and singles can appreciate
  • A NorrisCreations bookmark (I am having lots of fun with these)
  • North Dallas Honey, another Fort Worth favorite
  • And, of course, some chocolate to share with your Valentine (or just for yourself if you're like me and don't like to share sweets)

So enter away, and good luck to all!

The Death of a Pope

The Death of a Pope by Piers Paul Read

History is filled with examples of how small groups of people or even individuals have changed its course...sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse--and now God has given us the chance to do something that will save millions of lives.

Juan Uriarte wants to change the world. A liberation theologian and social aid worker in Africa, he believes the ends justify the means. But what are his ends?

David Kotovski wants to find out. Juan was acquitted of terrorism charges on an investigation that David helped lead, but he suspects that Juan has even bigger plans in the works.

So does Kate Ramsey. A journalist who covered Juan's trial, she follows him to Africa and becomes enamored with Juan and his work. She soon begins to blur the professional-personal lines, but it's not clear until the end, of course, just how far Kate will go to help Juan with his end-game.

The Death of a Pope got off to a slow start with Juan's trial, somewhat unnecessary background descriptions and minor characters who receive a bit too much attention.

But the pace picked up about 50 pages in and became more exciting as it went along. I was racing through it by the end. It's also interesting that Read includes a lot of gray areas. The bad guys aren't completely, obviously bad, and vice versa.

Within these gray areas, his characters cover topics like the distribution of condoms in Africa to corruption within the Catholic church to "First World re-entry syndrome."

After witnessing the courage and good humour of those with nothing but a mat to sleep on and a bowl for gruel, the clutter of affluence--all the paraphernalia of the good life in the developed world--leads to a mental nausea that takes weeks to subside.

Because of this range of issues, a more appropriate title might be The Politics of the Papacy or Contradictions in Catholicism. But those titles might not be quite as grabbing as The Death of a Pope.

And the book is grabbing indeed.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

New Month, New Look

So, the weird comment placement I mentioned on the last post?

Apparently, I had a corrupt blog template. Nice.

But, thanks to Sassy Chic Backgrounds, I have a cutie new (and free) background. Yay!

Now I'll be working on a new header. Stay tuned. :)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Congratulations to...

Leann, just e-mail or Facebook me with your address, and I'll send the goodies your way.

OK, I wanted to pick all of you! This giveaway stuff is fun but tough. :)

No need to fret, though. I'll be announcing February's giveaway on Friday, and I hope you win!

{In the meantime, is anyone else's title and comment fonts and placement acting up, or do I need to check my template settings? Grr, technology.}

Girl Scout Cookie Monsters

I generally do a very good job of avoiding these little cookie dealers...
Jason and I have a "no eye contact" policy, and, if that is breached, we swing into the backup plan of "Go!Go!Go!" a la Monica and the Wedding Dress.

It seems they've been EVERYWHERE this season...on campus, on the Internet, at the grocery store, even at Barnes and Noble, but we stayed strong. We resisted. We fought the urge...until yesterday.

We stopped off at the grocery store after church. It was 30 degrees, spitting snow...and there they were. Right outside Kroger. Bundled up in layers and blankets peddling their nicotine-level-addictive goods...

I couldn't help but glance, breaking the no-eye-contact rule. And, just to my side, is this tiny little Cindy Lou Who peering up at me. She's so wrapped up that all I can see are her enormous blue eyes, rosy pink cheeks and giant grin.

Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?

In my defense, I stayed strong even through this, said No, thank you, and went inside. But, all through shopping, our discussion kept coming back around to Thin Mints vs. how their cookie prices compared to the regular in the grocery how committed those little girls must be to sit out in the freezing cold on a Sunday to sell cookies.

And that's how our proverbial cookie crumbled.

We took our stuff to the car and stared longingly back at them. As we loaded stuff into the trunk, we caved. But we reached an agreement--one box. Shortbread (our mutual favorite). One sleeve for each of us. Not too shabby.

So Jason then made his fatal mistake of giving me a $10 and sending me back to get them.

I walked back to their table and asked for a box of Shortbreads. Cindy Lou handed them to me, smiled, and said one fateful word...


And I caved. Again.

And the Caramel Delites, of course.

The Caramel Delites lasted until we went to church last night. I imagine the Shortbreads will not make it past dinner tonight. {This is why I am not allowed to buy these...or any other cookies really. If they are in the house, I will eat them. All.}
Fittingly, my next post will be an update on my new year health goals.

Read from the beginning...