Sunday, February 12, 2012

Robert A. Heinlein Biography by William Patterson: Connections, Part I

Last summer I was delighted to buy and read the the first volume of William H. Patterson, Jr.'s biography of my favorite author, Robert Heinlein. Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve has almost 500 pages of text (and almost 100 pages of notes) on the first half of Heinlein's life. I loved the book and wrote a brief, favorable review on Amazon back in June 2011. There I noted that I had

"plans to write about the 'Connections' that I made to other books and people, during and after reading, but it will take a few more days to get to that.
More than a "few days" have passed, obviously, but here at last is the first installment of some "Connections" that I found in Chapters 1-3, covering Heinlein's life through high school and his admission to the United States Naval Academy in 1925.

Authors must make choices of what to include in a book of this nature, else the book could grow beyond any reasonable length; obviously this one had to run to two volumes even with everything the author had to leave out. One of the choices Patterson made in this book was to avoid deep literary analysis of the works he describes being written in the biographical narrative. Several of the reviewers at Amazon lamented this, but I appreciate that the biographer wanted to tell Heinlein's story rather than turn the book into a textual analysis.  Patterson previously co-authored a book on what is perhaps Heinlein's best known work, Stranger in a Strange Land. This biography is more about a man. I hope that some of the "connections" below can add to the enjoyment and appreciation of the biography and Heinlein's work.

(All numbers in ( ) refer to pages in the hardback first edition of the biography).

(17) "[A] half-brother of the famous Dan Patch."

See the 1948 story "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants": He picked out a likely-looking nag of the Dan Patch line, bet and won...

(23) "Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress--three books that transcend genre and give Heinlein an important place in the lives of his readers."

In a private communication, Patterson hinted that in Volume II there may be some deeper examination of these three works than there was for any individual work in Volume I.

(25) "Thou art God."

A major theme of Stranger in a Strange Land.

(28) "He practiced [card tricks] covertly, even in church..."

See the card trick/coded message scene in "Gulf."

(31) "He liked...the wry humor of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat."

See Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, where Kip references his father's love for the book, and a specific scene where the men are trying to open a tin of pineapple. This is also one of many, many books that I looked for and read after seeing a reference in Heinlein.

(33) "[H]uman beings must never be judged by categories, but only as individuals."

I just note this as individualism is such a bedrock of Heinlein's work throughout his career.

(36) "He learned to read and speak Esperanto..."

Esperanto appears in a several of Heinlein works as a future universal or common language, including, I believe, Starship Troopers and "The Green Hills of Earth." There may be others.

(40) "He also wanted to travel and unsuccessfully entered a National Geographic contest to for a prize trip to India,to see the Taj Mahal."

See the Skyway Soap "Trip to the Moon" contest in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.

(46) "...he lost his virginity during the Coolidge Administration (1923-1929) to a grandmother..."

See the sequence in I Will Fear No Evil where protagonist J.S.B Smith thinks he is perhaps dead and/or trapped in some sort of purgatory, and tried to remember his life, starting with losing his virginity as a young teenager to a woman in her 30s.

I will post a Part II in the near future. We're only 10% through the biography.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good Night and Good Luck

This blog is closed for the duration of the War. It's been fun, kids, but personal and professional obligations are preventing doing the kind of work here that made it worthwhile. There may possibly be something in the archives worth reading. Everything else, links, groups, etc. will be in suspended animation unless you want to give me the ol' heave-ho.

The Magnum Opus was almost surely The Crowley-Parson-Heinlein-Hubbard-Cruise Connection (part I, part II), but let history be the judge...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Philosophical Roots of Hillary’s Vision for America

I was glad to see that Mrs. Clinton had officially dropped her $5,000 “Baby Bond” after realizing that it didn’t poll well; I was not at all surprised to see that she had replaced it with an equally odious proposal for piecemeal socialism yclept “American Retirement Accounts,” to be paid for by “taxing estates worth more than $7 million per couple.”

Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly insisted that she’s a political “Progressive” and this proposal is straight out of the Progressive play book--of 1896; as is this quote:

“They will begin to bring down this inequality that is eating away at our social contract.”

Long experience has shown that when dealing with the Clintons one must parse every word (especially “is") in order to discern the real meaning, else one will end up believing that Freedom really is Slavery; at any rate, if one wants to know which “social contract” Mrs. Clinton is talking about, one could do worse than read this fine essay, and this quote therefrom:

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s vision of the social contract, while also noteworthy, included an almost mystic notion of a general will. Such a concept created an unaccountable power elite to interpret and impose this will, by force if necessary.

This is the intellectual foundation upon which the politics of the Clintons, Reid, Pelosi and most of the modern Democratic Party is based. They are the elite, and they know better than the rest of us poor dupes what is in our interest. In my opinion the only thing stopping full implementation of the ideas put forth by Rousseau and his successors is some residual reverence for the Founders (which they do their best to ridicule) and 200 million privately owned firearms (which they would love to take away).

Anyway, that’s my attempt to put a little context to the seemingly endless string of proposed Federal “largesse” from the Clinton camp; they’re counting on the majority buying into “something for nothing” and giving them the power to enforce the “general will,” said will to be interpreted by them and their fellow mystics of muscle.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Good Pain

It would be entertaining and amusing to fill a lengthy post every day with the follies of mankind, courtesy of the massive aggregating power of the Internet; indeed, the Opinion Journal’s James Taranto does something like this daily with his Best of the Web, though he mixes news and commentary in with the egregious examples of human folly.

Like many of you, I have various Google Alerts and email subscriptions to a wide variety of material, and of course much of what is delivered is immediately discarded. Just as in panning for gold, however, the occasional nugget is found mixed in with the sand and pebbles. Yesterday I received an emailed link to a blog post on how to keep your children off drugs and alcohol and was rewarded with an insight of much wider application than that worthy goal:

The need to eliminate disappointment is a reflection of todays social norms. Recall the commercials featuring a man suffering from severe heartburn after eating a slice of pizza. The next clip shows the same guy polishing off a double-cheeseburger, smiling calmly at the camera as he holds a bottle of white pills that eliminated the symptoms of heartburn. Have you ever wondered what kind of message that sends our children?

Simply stated, the moral of the commercial is this: You do not need to endure pain!

Similar advertisements for depression drugs or even pain-relieving pills abound. While I would never discourage you from swallowing some Excedrin to rid yourself of a headache, the reality is that we are living in an unprecedented age of I-should-not-feel-any-pain.

I, too, have nothing against drugs properly used; I do have a big problem with the mentality illustrated by the commercials in question. Until recently most people endured certain things as part of normal life: The signs of aging, the impossibility of curing all ills, the fact that when Rover got old and sick it was time to put him down, imperfect cleanliness, imperfect diets, imperfect bodies--the fact that life would in turn bring the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the last couple of generations we’ve experienced unprecedented prosperity and technological advancement, yet it all seems not to be enough for many people today, and it can all be beautifully summed up and symbolized by the anti-acid commercials and the “reality” shows featuring “celebrity” surgeons cutting people open and inserting plastic shims into their cheeks and bags of liquid into their breasts. It’s even more extreme than the blogger quoted above said; not only do a large number of people believe they shouldn’t experience pain, they even believe they shouldn’t experience an uncomfortable look because of their physical appearance, whether the problem is congenital or self-inflicted. And a good portion don’t believe they should experience an uncomfortable emotion, either, with a pill or a lawsuit as the two preferred methods of obtaining relief.

One interpretation of how the Roman Empire fell is that eventually the ruling classes became all too comfortable and were no longer willing to expend their blood and treasure to secure the State. In the meantime, the people living on the frontiers were hardened by life and battle, and eventually all the genius of Roman society was not enough to hold them off. Luckily, it seems to me that my country, the United States, still has a core of steel, of men and women who do not fear and avoid pain when their long-term interests are at stake. This core might be said to be surrounded by a layer of brine, though, of people buying new breasts on credit and suing when they feel offended, or when someone declines to save them from the consequences of their own stupidity. As long as we maintain that steel core we’ll be all right.

Let us hope it grows fast enough to keep up with the corrosive effect of the others.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Modest Proposal

I well realize that this will come a shock, a terrible surprise of outrageous proportions; but...

Al Gore is right.

The Assault on Reason has put Live Earth in the Balance, and The Sky is Falling. Literally. Just yesterday it was hot, very hot, at my house. Al is also correct that merely cutting the electricity bill at your pool house or using a smaller private jet are not enough--things have already Gone Too Far, though of course There is Still Time. "I Demand that my country join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth."

Dude, driving a Prius to Whole Foods ain't going to do it. Recycling the nine little bottles of Evian that you drink everyday instead of the clean tap water provided to you, ain't going to do it. Cutting down to two trips a year to Lake Como, using one square of toilet paper, buying carbon offsets from Al Gore's company, none of it is going to produce the results that are needed.

Yes indeed, only results count, good intentions are nothing, and in a crisis like Global Climate Change one must be bold, one must think Outside the Box, and, especially, one must not be afraid to offend bourgeois sensibilities. I have given the problem careful consideration, I have the answer that fits, that works, and now the only impediment to Saving the Planet is finding the political and moral resolve to implement my solution.

The problem, as is well known, is people. Selfish people, who want electricity and cars and computers and houses and air conditioning and McDonald's. The people who have these things are a problem, and the billions who don't have them but want them, in China and India and Africa and elsewhere, are an even bigger problem.

The solution then, is simply less people. And so,

A Modest Proposal:

The population of Earth is to be cut from the 6.8 billion or so currently producing Dangerous Greenhouse Gases to a manageable 680 million, or a reduction of 90 percent; this will presumably reach Al Gore's goal of a 90 percent reduction in "global warming pollution" and save the Planet and its Fragile Ecosystems. This winnowing to take place by scientific selection of those who have something to contribute to the World Ecofriendly Socialist State, and those whom will be Sacrificed for the Common Good.

It will of course take a Committee of Concerned Scientists to make a proper selection of the individuals who will have to go, but if I may, I have some preliminary suggestions that could assist these worthies in their difficult but necessary task. Firstly, China and India are way overpopulated and have between them literally billions of folks who now aspire to a better life for themselves and their children. And we know all too well that Better Life=Greenhouse Gas Pollution. I humbly suggest that no country should have more than 100 million people, and that any country that does is using more than its Fair Share of resources. So the Committee will scientifically select 2.3 billion Chinese and Indians to be, err, reduced. Other Asian countries can contribute 800 million or so, proportional to current population. Russia is depopulating itself nicely already, but speed is of the essence here. Since crude oil and its spawn is the most evil thing ever "invented," the Middle East and nearby oil-producing regions could be completely "cleaned out" and turned into pristine Desert Ecosystem Preserves. Running total: about 3.8 billion. Only 2.3 billion more to reach our Goal of a Cool Planet.

Africa--790 million, or a proportional 90 percent, seems a reasonable, sane number for reduction--especially when you consider that they're all going to want climate control, and houses to go with it, in the next 50 years. This will also allow the Rain Forests and all that CO2-reducing vegetation to grow back over the farms those selfish Africans cleared just because they wanted something to eat. For that matter, the whole Indian Ocean Area ought to be completely depopulated--all those lovely tropical islands need to go back to jungle to breath CO2. Only 1.1 billion to go!

Europe is hopelessly industrialized and hasn't even met it's targets under Kyoto--90 percent of the population gone and the forest will grow back; maybe lions will even return to England! South America should just be turned into a Nature preserve, as well--letting it all go back to rain forest will only require say, a million people to manage the forests. Only 400 million more need to trimmed. We can do this!

There are only 32 million Australians, and I have a soft spot for them, but saving the world is no time for sentiment; their little contribution of 29 million leaves about 370 million to come from the Great Satan of carbon emitters, North America. After Mexico and Canada have made their modest reductions of 98 and 30 million respectively, i reckon that about 252 million Americans must be Sacrificed for the Greater Good. Some might protest that America is getting more than its fair share of survivors, but the world does need a few people to invent, develop and fine-tune "renewables" like solar cells and wind power generators, and it just so happens that the U.S. is the leader in R&D and technological know how in these areas. So which Americans will have to die, that the Planet May Live?

First Hollywood--if all the "stars" are gone, untold greenhouse gas pollution produced in heating and cooling their mansions and fueling their private jets will be saved. Also, no paparazzi will race around Beverly Hills trying to take their pictures, saving even more fuel. The entertainment industry is a huge polluter just by existing, what with car chases, celluloid, burning stuff for fireman movies, etc., etc. In fact, I think the wise choice would be to just depopulate the entire L.A. Basin--no, small thinking. Let's just say--California. Except for the solar panel designers and builders. Next every American environmentalist, from Al Gore on down to the shrillest hippie in in Sedona, AZ needs to go. They understand the evil of human life better than most of us, so I think it natural that they sacrifice their own evil first, for the greater good. Then, the obese, the ill, the old and the defenseless. They're not going to be contributing much to the New World Environmental Order, so logic, pure logic, tells us how to get to our goal. And now we've reached the Nirvana we were looking for, a 90 percent reduction in Greenhouse Gas Pollution.

While some may recoil at the killing involved in my little plan, well, the best modern scholars at our finest American Universities have proved, beyond doubt, that we humans are just collections of chemicals organized in such a way that we have an illusion of consciousness. We're not some kind of Divine Spark with a touch of God, who's just an Illusion of our illusory consciousness, so let's get over ourselves and get on with the job.

The best precedent for this Modest Proposal, in my enlightened view, is the legal killing of millions of unborn babies over the last 35 or so years right here in America, so that the mother might continue her education or not have stretch marks or because she didn't plan it or for any reason she wants, I suppose. Al Gore's plan to Save the World is much, much more important than such petty personal concerns, and really, are the numbers all that much greater? One death is a tragedy, six billion would be a triumph of enlightened leadership!

It's the Right Thing to Do, For the Planet, For the Future, for the collections of chemicals with illusions of consciousness to come. I want to see some initiative from Al and the Hollywood crowd and the Greenpeace crowd. The hemlock is waiting.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In Praise of the Revolver

In choosing a handgun for the home or concealed carry I recommend 110-year-old technology:

The double action revolver.

Advantages vs. the semi-auto pistol:

1) Ease of use--in the gravest extreme, under the most compressed stress you will ever experience, there are no safeties to operate, no adjustments of trigger pull for the second shot (double action auto), just put front sight on center of mass and press trigger.

2) Grips--grips can be customized with ease to a perfect fit, so that when you naturally grasp the piece the front sight goes neither too high or low. Not true of my Glock, or most other semi-autos I've handled.

3) Practice--Practice is the most important and most generally neglected part of shooting to save your life. The revolver dry fires in the same way it live fires, so that one can get unlimited free practice in aiming and operation. The semi-auto must be unnaturally cocked during dry fire.

Disadvantages: Ammunition capacity. The semi-auto generally has from one to 10 more shots available without reloading than the five or six in the revolver. Unless you're defending Fort Apache or The Alamo, this is a factor less than one percent of the time in civilian defense shootings. See 3) above; if your shots hit their target, reloading will hardly ever be needed. Get a couple of speed loaders and practice with them anyway. They take one or two seconds more to reload, with practice, than a semi-auto magazine.

By the way, the above image is of a Smith & Wesson, but there are plenty of other fine choices, especially on the used gun market.

Just make sure a gunsmith inspects your used revolver before trusting it with your life. Shoot straight, and have fun!

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Friday, July 13, 2007

America is Not a Democracy, and Other Reasons to be Thankful

The United States of America is mistakenly called a “democracy” so often that a lot of fairly intelligent people seem to have bought into this error--people who should know better, like Peggy Noonan. Ms. Noonan has written many a fine speech, but in today’s Opinion Journal column she not only seems to think that President Bush should have his head in his hands like LBJ because he’s supposed to be “suffering,” she writes the simple, declarative sentence:
But this is a democracy.
Which it isn’t--the United States is a republic. A democracy is where 500 guys get to vote that Socrates must die. A democracy is where the majority can do whatever they want, including seize your property, enslave your children and hang you from the nearest tree. The Founders of the United States understood this very well, which is precisely why we don’t have a democracy.
Americans are some of the best educated, most technologically sophisticated people ever to walk the Earth, by a long shot. Almost all know how to read; and yet, and a survey released recently enough to be relevant (2002) “60 percent believe some people possess psychic powers, 40 percent believe in astrology, and 30 percent believe in UFOs.” The idea of allowing the “average man and woman” to decide important questions by vote is enough to give me a case of the shakes and an urge to run screaming for the nearest mountain range.
There is more recent polling data in this column by Jon Sanders, along with additional data including the fact that 19 percent of Americans believe there is at least “a chance” that Elvis is still alive.
On the other hand, “Only 14 percent of Americans surveyed said they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in Congress.” Believing in UFOs is merely idiosyncratic; when it come to the important things perhaps Americans are smarter than I thought.
(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I Get Excited by the LA Times!

In a way. See here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What if God Was One of Us?

And he had a blog?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Shattering Secrets of the Mormons

It seems that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has revealed that a certain level of suspicion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) still exists in these United States.

“Rival camps take aim at Romney’s religion” says the Boston Globe story, wherein we find operatives from the McCain, Brownback and Giuliani campaigns quietly highlighting the fact that Romney is a Mormon and questioning whether Mormons are really Christians, their treatment of women, revealing the “secret” that Romney’s ancestors were polygamists and in general trying to place doubt in the minds of primary voters about suitability of any Mormon to be President.

Their points are well-taken, and their sneaky, underhanded whispering campaign is of course entirely justified in the service of a higher ideal.

A little background; as a man born and raised in the Mormon Church, one who only escaped the clutches of Mormonism due to my voracious consumption of Robert A. Heinlein novels beginning at age 11, I’m uniquely qualified to give you, the reader, the inside scoop. I find it hard, so very, very hard, to reveal these painful truths, but in the interests of full disclosure, fair play and the prevention of a National Catastrophe, I will now expose the SHATTERING SECRETS OF THE MORMONS!

First, let us take on the myth that Mormons are Christians. They, after all, believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that he died for the remission of our sins and was resurrected…so, other theological claims aside, they’re obviously not Christians.

The Mormon man’s treatment of his woman (yes, polygamy was banned a mere 107 years ago) is another major cause for concern; why, in my childhood I witnessed any number of instances of my mother talking back to my father, disagreeing with his edicts and commands and paying the price for it when they discussed the matter and decided that she was right; a more terrible example for an impressionable young man’s mind could scarcely be contemplated. Even now I find myself doing the same from time to time, perpetuating a “cycle of nonviolence” that I fear will continue even to my son’s future family, and beyond. It’s also true that Mormons don’t allow women to join the priesthood, a radical idea that no other religious group would dare contemplate whether in the past or in our own enlightened age, when our best academic minds are (almost) unanimous that there are absolutely no differences between the sexes (apart from an annoying bit of plumbing).

But really, these are mere bagatelles when compared to the really SHATTERING SECRET that I’m about to reveal here for the first time in print—a secret so shameful that any sociology professor at an elite private university would be struck dumb, or perhaps blind, were they to learn of it (sociology professors, you have been warned):

In every Mormon church building in this Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave there is a room, dare I say it, a secret room, even though were you to look at this room in the full light of day you’d find nothing unusual about it. But…every week there assemble in this seemingly ordinary room young Mormon lads, as young as eight years of age, and their adult leaders, and what happens then is far too frightening to easily contemplate; even though it has been more than thirty years since last I was subjected to this, this subtle brainwashing, still it is seared, seared in my memory as if it happened yesterday. For in this room the very first thing that happens is a prayer, said “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” and then begin the strange and terrible rituals—the cultish salute to a mysterious standard, followed by instruction in various manual and intellectual arts and sciences, the better to prepare the young men to fulfill the duties that have been preordained for them by the authorities. Martial symbols, arts and even, God help us, implements, are studied, explained and/or handled. Survivalist techniques and literature are freely read and discussed.

Most frightening of all, an Oath is taken.

It’s true my friends, all too true; young Mormon boys are practically forced to attend Boy Scout meetings weekly, to be drilled and programmed and brainwashed into keeping themselves Physically Strong, Mentally Awake and Morally Straight.

For this reason alone, irrespective of all theological and cultural differences, no Mormon can ever be allowed to become President of the United States.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Know Your Philosophical Enemy

You’ve often heard the questions—from the writers and commenters at conservative, libertarian and other "thinker's" blogs and web sites, from callers to talk radio shows, even from professional writers and columnists:

Why do academics and journalists constantly attack America for an Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, but say little or nothing about the millions unspeakably brutalized and butchered in Cuba, Red China, Syria and a hundred other hell-holes around the world? Why were the McCarthy hearings more evil and traumatic, and worth miles more celluloid in the Cineplex, than the end of 20 million (or more) human beings starved, tortured and murdered by Stalin and his mafia? How does a Ward Churchill or Leonard Jeffries get tenure at an American university? Why are marriage, the family and Christianity relentlessly caricatured, sneered at and attacked in the news and entertainment media? Why do the public schools teach, as fact, theories and policies that seem designed to damage the government and nation that constructs their classrooms and pays their bills?

Have you ever heard of ‘The Frankfurt School?’ Perhaps one in a hundred Americans, stopped on the street, could tell you the background of the term; but the ideas and theories of this “School” (never called such by it’s “members”) are the ideological basis for all the piles of intellectual excrement that so puzzle that American in the street when he hears snatches of talk on the radio or television, vague references to “Critical Theory,” “Deep Ecology,” “Women’s ways of knowing,” etc. etc. So-called Feminism, the New Left, hell, everything we think of under the umbrella of “The 60s” was given its philosophical base and justification by the thinkers and writers of the Frankfurt School: Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and a handful of others.

In this brief but useful article Charles A. Morse gives us a summary of the points made by Pat Buchanan in his book The Death of the West:

The Frankfort School would patent the familiar “Critical Theory” which was accurately defined by a student as the “essentially destructive criticism of all the main elements of Western culture, including Christianity, capitalism, authority, the family, patriarchy, hierarchy, morality, tradition, sexual restraint, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism, heredity, ethnocentrism, convention, and conservatism.” Under Critical Theory, anything emanating from the west is to be libeled and attacked over and over again while at the same time, anything emerging from a “progressive” country or group is to be applauded including the murder of over 100 million people. All blame for societal and economic ills are to be shifted to the [W]est.

These academics, escapees from Hitler’s Germany given shelter in the United States, used their new positions and influence in academia to attempt to undermine everything their host country stood for. We’re now in our third or fourth generation of professors, social scientists and journalists trained at our major universities by adherents of this “School.” No wonder the United States is held to a different standard; no wonder that so many academics seem intent on biting the hand that feeds them. They’re Cultural Marxists, and they’re in an intellectual war with us bourgeoisie. Nothing would give them more satisfaction than to hollow out the foundation of the most prosperous and free society the world has ever known and bring it crashing down, to be replaced with a Dictatorship of Love that would only need a river of blood to feed it.

If you love your country, your family and your God, you had better get to know your enemy.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Book Review: The Art of Learning

The Art of Learning By Josh Waitzkin. 265 pp. Free Press. $25.

After the release of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer in 1993, Josh Waitzkin was sixteen years old and the most famous chess master in America—except for Bobby Fischer himself. Fischer, however, was moving around Eastern Europe, unable to return to the U.S. without risking arrest after violating the sanctions against Yugoslavia the previous year by playing a match there with Boris Spassky.

Waitzkin was the “Next Great Hope” of American chess. As the movie (based on the book of the same title by his father, Fred Waitzkin) describes, after Fischer’s spectacular victory in the “Match of the Century” over Spassky in 1972 and subsequent retirement, American chess organizations and players longed for a new homegrown challenger for the supreme title. Josh Waitzkin’s results until Searching for Bobby Fischer showed the potential to enter the elite of world chess, perhaps even become World Champion.

As he explains in his new book, The Art of Learning, the movie changed the whole direction of his life:

While I adjusted to the glare of the media spotlight, my relationship to chess was slowly becoming less organic. I found myself playing to live up to Hollywood expectations instead of for love of the game.

In October 1998 Waitzkin walked into a Tai Chi class in Manhattan. Within months he had left competitive chess and in November 2000, after just two years of Tai Chi study, he won an American National Championship in Push Hands, the competitive form of Tai Chi. In 2002 he won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Taiwan, and in 2004 he reached the pinnacle of the sport with two World Championships.

When a man performs at a world level in not one, but two forms of competition, he gains the right to have his ideas on learning, training and performance psychology given careful consideration. The problem is that some champions are either unable or unwilling to communicate their methods and techniques to others.

Thankfully, Josh Waitzkin has both the ability and willingness to share what he has learned and developed during his life and competitive pursuits. The result is The Art of Learning, a superb book that can help anyone who reads it and acts on its recommendation to compete, succeed, and more importantly, enjoy life to the fullest.

The book is an almost seamless blend of autobiography and training and performance insight and technique. Starting with the day that a six-year-old boy played his first game of chess in New York’s Washington Square Park, we move sequentially with Waitzkin through the years of his chess career and his subsequent pursuit of excellence in Tai Chi and Push Hands competition.

While there is nothing startling or completely original about the book’s insights into sports, the mind and the pursuit of excellence, it manages to both entertain and instruct in a wonderful, upbeat way. Most other books on sports psychology and mental training are dull and didactic by comparison. When Waitzkin, for example, explains and demystifies how use an opponent’s blink to gain the advantage, make a move and drop him to the ground, one realizes how much hooey many books on the martial arts contain.

For this reviewer the most personally rewarding insight in the book was how to use opponent’s attempts to intimidate you or downright break the rules and cheat to your own advantage, turning the natural outrage one feels in this situation into energy and will to win. This mindset will serve you well at work, in sports, even on the daily commute!

The climax of the book is Waitzkin’s trip to Taiwan in 2004, where he encounters last-minute rule changes, blatant failure to award points that he’s won and even not ending a round on time because he’s ahead. Fortunately, he’d encountered this at previous Championships and had planned and trained to use these things to power him toward the performance of his life.

In the final analysis no training technique or sports psychology principle results in real performance gains if not consistently, diligently applied over a long period of time. Waitzkin’s great gift to the reader in this book is to emphasize that reality of hard, sustained effort, while sharing a sense of joy in the process of becoming the best that one is capable of—a process that continues every day of our lives.

The Art of Learning delivers even more than the title promises, and I highly recommend it.

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road and Robert Pearson's Chess Blog)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Today's Must Read

Victor Davis Hanson manages to identify the difficult realities, make me laugh about the present and smile about the future, all in the same short piece:

What, then, is the radical Left good for? Mostly psychological cover. It is our version of the Athenian elite demagogue’s dung on his boots or Medieval indulgences or the Bible in the hand of the philandering fundamentalist. Its rhetoric alone allows Edwards to enjoy his mansion, Gore his jet, the Kennedys’ their drink and drugs, Bill Clinton his sex, and Soros his billions—and China its cutthroat acquisitions abroad and its suppression at home. Proclaiming to be a man of the people these days can cover almost anything from living like 18th-century royalty to making the foreign policy of the United States look downright saintly.

Thank you for the reminder, VDH.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Fair Question

From one of the most original thinkers of our time, Professor Frank Tipler:

It is becoming increasingly clear that this corruption of education is probably universal across all disciplines. If so, then all advanced education will have to be obtained outside of the university. And if that is the case, then why should universities exist at all?

Read the whole thing, and wonder.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Illegal Immigration Approval Act of 2007

...or whatever they're calling it. Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online puts together a good digest of (mostly) conservative blog reaction, and it's pretty ugly.

A problem I have with this "compromise" (at least the high points, as announced) is not only that it seems like bad policy to reward illegal immigration, it's also bad politics for the Republican Senators (and the President) who signed off on it, and the Republican Party. They were vital to get the deal done, but what's in it for them and their party? Twelve million new Democrat-leaning voters in the coming years? What the hell kind of deal is that?

Sometimes one does wonder if all the talk about the One World, CFR-Bilderberger-Trilateral-Illuminati conspiracy is mostly true. At least it's a more plausible, interesting explanation than stupidity on the part of some very smart people...

Anyway, it's also not yet passed through Congress and signed, and I expect some lovely political theater as it makes it's way through the process. A Million-Citizen March on Washington with Michelle Malkin dressed as the Statue of Liberty would make a good start.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why Things (Usually) Work

It was my political science professor back at the U. who started me thinking about it, with a very simple question during a class on American government:

“What is the biggest factor that makes things work in a society?”

When no one else popped up with an answer, I ventured that it was a stable government. Others gave answers like “Everyone shares the wealth” (the class socialist), and “An educated populace.”

After the class had run out of steam, he let a few more seconds of silence linger for effect, then, with an emphasis that made us aware that this was one of the great truths we would learn from him, he said:

“The biggest factor that makes things work in a society is that most people, most of the time, want them to.”

Yes, it’s one of those insights that seems obvious in retrospect, like the winning move that you missed in a chess game, but it wasn’t what anyone expected to hear at that moment, and that’s why it’s stuck with me so clearly for so long. The implications are many; what is Thomas P. M. Barnett’s “Functioning Core” but the group of countries where most people, most of the time want things to work? What are terrorists but people who don’t want things to work, instead desiring to replace something functioning with their own mad visions of paradise on Earth?

Anyone who desires to immigrate to the United States should, as an absolute first step, be checked for their record on making the country of their origin “work,” and should be evaluated for their potential to make their new country “work.” Any doubts, and it ought to be “Application Denied.” Much of Europe apparently didn’t consider this in years past and is now reaping the results of such short-sightedness. One wonders how long that continent will continue to be part of the “Functioning Core,” the way things are headed. It’s an object illustration of a simple but vital principle.

I wonder what their political science professors told them?

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)

Monday, May 14, 2007


After a vacation without computer access, followed by one of those dreaded surgical "procedures," I'm back at the keyboard, but aside from my colloquium response over at Eternity Road today I have little of import to offer. Instead, I will make myself useful by providing this inspiring image taken by the lovely wife of an esteemed Alaskan friend, now living in Japan:

There, wasn't that much more useful than my usual blatherings? I presume everybody knows what this is a photograph of, but if not it will do you good to research it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Enough of the Serious Self-Improvement Stuff

Make a motivational poster of your own here.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Are You Directing Your Own Show?

Near the end of a previous post (The Great Secret That We Already Know) I mentioned “that there is a sound scientific, physiological basis for repeating important information often,” and said that perhaps I would take that on.

The time has come.

Since then, the Esteemed Proprietor of Eternity Road F. Porretto has also done a post on conditioning and the media. He wrote:

Among the lower orders, conditioning is straightforward and sure. Among men, it requires that the intellect be prevented from interfering with the conditioned response. Thus, to condition a man requires that one use rewards or punishments strong enough that he acts on their expectation without conscious thought. If he can be discouraged from examining his responses post-mortem, it’s better still.

Leftist activists’ “outreach” tactics have assumed this shape. Whenever an event that might contradict their preferred views intrudes upon the popular consciousness, they set up a tremendous, clanging, repetitive din. They always employ the same stock words and phrases in chanting about an issue, whenever that issue arises. They always make the presentation as annoying and offensive as possible to the “unbeliever.”

It’s fascinating, and important, to ponder why this seems to work, and to understand the physical and physiological mechanism(s) that explain it.

I’m an avid tournament chess player, and on a chess blog by the good Rocky Rook I found this article from Australia’s The Age. In an piece full of important information, this is the paragraph that struck me hardest:

While the study of elite performance has been based mainly on observational and interview techniques, its models agree nicely with what neuroscience has discovered about how we learn. Eric Kandel of Columbia University in New York, who won a Nobel prize in 2000 for discovering much of the neural basis of memory and learning, has shown that both the number and strength of the nerve connections associated with a memory or skill increase in proportion to how often and how emphatically the lesson is repeated. So focused study and practice literally build the neural networks of expertise. Genetics may allow one person to build synapses faster than another, but either way the lesson must still be learnt. Genius must be built.

Let’s put this all together; you are building your neural network ever second of every minute of every day of your life, regardless of age or circumstance. Being great or even good at chess or music or basketball has in common the steady, intelligent use of repetition and feedback. And as Fran noted, so does successful propaganda. The battle of ideas, of what the good life or the good family or the good nation will look like, is a battle to physically restructure the neurons in people’s heads.

We don’t usually think of it this way, but these principles have been understood in practice since before writing was invented, and the Greek philosophers certainly understood and and wrote about them. Now, however, we understand on a microstructural level how to condition ourselves for self-improvement, and how to condition others as well.

What is it doing to the brain of a young person to listen to rap music every day for hours and hear the words ‘nigga’ and ‘ho’ over and over again, along with a constant litany of self-aggrandizement, brutal physical force and praise of alcohol and drugs? On the other hand, what does it do to the brain to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and read uplifting literature that shows heroism, success and the triumph of work?

We’ve long known about the effects of these things on people’s attitudes, their feelings and their outcomes in life. With this understanding of the dynamic nature of our brains, let us make even more effective use of our talents to build neural networks in ourselves and others that will serve us for good.

Don’t let others build your brain on their plan. Take control of your own physiology, and positively affect the physiology of those you communicate with!

(Cross-posted at Eternity Road)