Posts Tagged ‘Books’

The Case for Optimism: Episode Two

April 25, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

by Hallas Midgette

Hallas Midgette

This is the second episode of the four-part series featuring the thought-provoking talk on optimism delivered by Hallas Midgette, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School. The talk was presented to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017. You can read the first episode by scrolling down on this blog.

In the first episode, Hal explains why he believes the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life. Just as millions of fireflies he once saw lighting up a field in Kansas one Summer, “In a world of many religions’ UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism. Unitarians are optimistic.” Hal went on to say that four books perhaps shaped his optimistic worldview. This episode features his explanation of why.

Episode Two

The Books

There are four books that have influenced my optimistic views, besides all those science fiction novels.  The first was Voltaire’s “Candide,” where, with all the terrible events in his life, Candide kept proclaiming that this “is the best of all possible worlds.”  I read this in college and it stuck with me.  Once, in the middle of the movie “The 25th Hour” …as close a parallel of the story of Candide as I have ever seen, but in a World War II setting…..I stood up to leave because it was Voltaire’s “Candide” all over again and I just couldn’t take watching a human being suffer so much, especially when he accepted the suffering without protest or fight.  Michelle urged me to sit back down, possibly because we were on a double date and the other couple were the drivers.  I reject that this is the best of all possible worlds because that is not realistic.  We can’t resign ourselves to tolerating violence, cruelty and suffering.  I have confidence that the world continues improving, not necessarily  linearly, but in fits and starts.  This feeling that the world is getting better all of the time is one of the reasons I joined this fellowship, because it is engaged in what I view as the battle of good and evil and is on the side of improving the human condition.

The second book that had a major impact on my optimistic view is David. M. Raup’s “Extinction:  Bad luck or bad genes.”  His book was my first forray into looking at extinctions on a geological timescale.  I never before had realized how many localized and worldwide extinctions there have been in the Earth’s history.  There are all types of mechanisms that can cause extinctions besides the one we are probably most familiar with…..fast moving, big rock from the sky.  Or, for some, coming in contact with Europeans.  There have been five major extinctions in Earth’s history, some causing as much as 95% of all life to go away.  The amazing thing is that life just didn’t slowly creep back to its former level, but it virtually exploded back and became more extensive and varied.  Raup was the first author to alert me to the fact that we humans not only might be in Earth’s sixth major extinction event, but most probably are causing it.  But, being a glass half full person, I have faith that humans can and will discover ways to avoid an end to our species.

The third book that influenced my positive world view was Edward O. Wilson’s “On Human Nature.”  Initially he studied social insects, then turned his brilliance to analyzing how humans interact and why we evolved to be so social.  As a social species, our fate is interconnected with one another.   In the past, as we evolved on the savannah of Africa, alone, we were food, but as a tribe, we were the dominant specie to be reckoned with.   We, according to Dr. Wilson, have evolved to live in tribes, and are fairly predictable in what we do, how we behave, and what our limitations are.  Human’s have done well, even in the face of severe adversity.  The world, with its extremes, highs and lows, continues slowly getting better…..like a high tide slowly coming in.  Waves come in and recede, but gradually get higher and higher.  I contend that we haven’t seen, or perhaps can’t even grasp what the high water mark of human achievement might be.  Former President Barack Obama said, “Progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.”

Finally, the fourth book, and the most positive book I’ve ever read is “Nonzero:  The logic for human destiny,” by Robert Wright.  Looking through the lens of gaming theory, the author sets out to prove why humans are where we are today, and that we are now in the storm before the calm.  Yes, I did say storm before the calm.  Through meticulous logic the author detailed how our universe, at least the portion we live in, is primed to move from entropy to organized systems.  While, according to his analysis, life, while not guaranteed, was certainly favored.  He contends that the evolution of life was for more complex systems, that life can’t be a zero sum game, where the winner takes all, like tennis or football.  Life has to be a nonzero sum game, and this is what propels us forward.  A nonzero sum game is like trade, where both sides of the bargain gain….maybe not equally, but they gain from the interaction.  His analysis of history and culture accomplish the same….showing that evolution of civilization was positive, that while there were setbacks, the general progression has been greater complexity and forward, with Mankind having greater control over his own fate.

Episode Three will explain how the Seven Principles affirmed by UUs “virtually scream optimism.”

PAGE TURNERS BOOK CLUB FEATURES “THE NEWSMAN” SATURDAY AT 1 P.M. AT MILDRED TERRY LIBRARY

January 6, 2016

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JOIN ME SATURDAY, JANUARY 9TH,  AT 1 P.M. FOR A DISCUSSION ABOUT MY MEMOIR “THE NEWSMAN” AT MILDRED TERRY LIBRARY.

The book is this month’s selection by the Page Turners Book Club. If you want to read the book first, it is now an e-book and can be purchased very reasonably on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. Local public libraries also have a copy of the book. I will take questions about writing it during the Page Turner’s session.

 

Mental Telepathy is Here

February 26, 2014

(This is not the “biggie” I told you that I am working on. That’s not ready yet. This is a thought I got when watching The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interviewing Ichio Kaku about his new book The Future of the Mind.)

It’s been here probably as long as the brain has been here. According to Ichio Kaku, a City College of New York theoretical physicist, the brain’s capacity to emit radio signals has incredible potential. Some of it is already being realized. For instance, Stephen Hawkins, the paralyzed English theoretical physicist, can type and send email using a computer chip attached to the frame of his glasses. That’s because the chip is picking up radio waves from his brain and transmitting those thoughts to a computer.

After watching Stewart’s interview, I immediately bought the Kindle version of the book. I don’t mind contributing to Dr. Kaku’s fortune because I hardily approve of brilliant intellectuals writing scientific books prosaically enough for ordinary people like me to understand. They are probably our best hope of reversing the dumbing down of society by mass media.

A Way to Fight Junk Information Addicition

January 16, 2012

Eating junk food can make you unhealthily fat. And ingesting too much junk information can make you unhealthily uninformed.  Way too many of us fit in both categories.

“Who wants to hear the truth when they can be affirmed and told they are right,” Clay Land – a cousin of mine, by the way – said on Weekend Edition Sunday morning. Being interviewed about his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, Clay said that we can be better informed if we seek factual information instead of opinions that confirm our beliefs.  His book tells us how we can do that.

He is addressing a big problem. We are feasting on texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets. Some experts think our attention spans have become unhealthily short.  We can change that by changing our information consumption habits.

One can’t blame the providers for the problem because they are giving us what they think we want, content that confirms our beliefs. But, just as Wal-Mart started carrying fruits and vegetables and lower salt and fat content in order to stop losing high-end customers, information providers could start providing more fact and fewer opinions. But we have to reward good information providers by becoming good customers.

I think he has picked a subject is quite timely, one that needs our attention. And I plan to read the book. And it’s not just because he is the son of my cousin Ray Johnson, who is an Albany, Georgia psychiatrists.  Ray gave me the heads-up on Clay’s scheduled interview on PBS. I’m glad he did.

 

Thursday Special at Friends Bookstore: The Kingdom by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood

August 11, 2011

  When I start my Friends of Libraries Bookstore shift this afternoon at 2, I’m bringing my  copy of  Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood’s  latest thriller The Kingdom.  This copy is almost new since it has been read one time… by me.  Yours for $5. Come and get it. First come, first served.

SEE YOU AT THE FRIENDS BOOKSTORE AT THE COLUMBUS PUBLIC LIBRARY.

Thursday Special at Friends: David McCullogh’s “The Greater Journey”

August 2, 2011

This book is on the New York Times Non-fiction Best Seller list right now.  The USA price: $37.50.  Yours for $12.oo in the Friends of Libraries Bookstore at the Columbus Public Library. It goes on sale Thursday, 8/4/2011, at 2 p.m., which is when I begin my two-hour shift.

I know this because I am bringing it with me.  How new is this copy? It has been read once. By me. Do I recommend it? If you care about American history, yes.  When a book by McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the outstanding Lincoln history Team of Rivals,  comes out, I buy it.  It doesn’t matter which subject they write about.  To me, they are that good. They know how to bring history to life.

As the cover flap reads, “The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring – and until now, untold – story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.”

What I liked about it most was the new information it gave me. For instance, I didn’t know that Samuel F,.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, an invention that changed the world, was a celebrated American painter who spent a great deal of his time painting in the Louvre,  the most famous art museum in the world.  I was there on my trip to Paris in 1955.  I spent probably a half-hour checking out the timeless masterpieces. I was young and things more exciting to the young appealed to me at that time.

I heard McCullough say on C-span’s weekend non-fiction books program that history is not just about wars and politicians, though it seems that is what most history books are about. There need to be more histories about the other great moments in history, and that was one thing that inspired him to write this book.  I thought the same thing about too much attention given to wars years ago.

So if you want a great deal on the latest book by the author of the Pulitzer Prize  winning Truman and John Adams, and other acclaimed books such as 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and the Johnstown Flood, come to the Friends bookstore Thursday when it goes on sale at 2 p.m.  Of course, while there you can pick up some other great bargains since most hardbacks run between $1 to $3, and all paperbacks are $.50.   The proceeds go to Chattahoochee Valley Libraries. See you at the bookstore.

Do I Have a Deal for You! Join me at the Friends Bookstore 2 – 4 p.m. Tomorrow, Thursday

July 20, 2011

Billy Crystal’s autobiography 700 Sundays is one of the funniest and moving books I have read in a long time. It is a gem. I laughed out loud a number of times. I paid $3 for it in the Friends of Libraries Bookstore at the Columbus Public Library last Thursday.  I let Don and Carol Nahley read it and they loved it as much as I did.

SO, I HAVE DECIDED TO SHARE IT YOU.  BUT, YOU’LL HAVE TO COME TO THE FRIENDS BOOKSTORE TO BUY YOUR COPY FOR THE SPECIAL PRICE OF $3.00. 

But, you’ll have to be there before someone else buys it. I’m donating it back to the bookstore when I am working there tomorrow between 2 and 4 p.m. Now, if someone has already bought it when you get there, don’t worry, because there are a lot of fun books for you to buy at incredibly  low prices. And the money goes to helping the library, so you can feel about not only getting a good book, but for contributing to a good cause.

Be there or be square.

DROP BY AND BUY

April 19, 2011

It looks as  though I will make it to my volunteer job at the Friends of Libraries Bookstore at the Columbus Public Library Thursday.  My hip and leg are pretty sore from the Saturday night fall in the Bill Heard Theater in the River Center; however, the x-rays showed no breaks, so I plan to be there between 2 and 4 p.m., and I hope you’ll drop by and buy a book.  Just don’t ask me to dance.

Join Me at the Library

April 18, 2011

It’s Monday so that means I need to come up with something to post because I’ve promised to try to have a new post on Monday – well, Sunday night sometimes.  I have a few things in my blog oven, but the only one ready to serve is an invitation for you to come to the Friends Book Store at the Columbus Public Library.  I work in the store every Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m., and the time passes quicker when I stay busy ringing up sales so I thought maybe you might like to come by and buy a book.

 I hope to be there this Thursday, but I have to be honest with you. I fell again.  Two weeks ago I fell and hit my head on a sidewalk, but that didn’t interfere with my Thursday volunteer job. However, this time I stumbled on a step in the Bill Heard Theater,fell forward, and rolled on my side when I hit the carpeted floor, causing me to land on my left leg. I don’t think I broke anything, but there is pain so I’ll have to wait to see what the doctor says after the x-rays.

  If I am there Thursday, I will bring an interesting novel I just finished called American Rust by Phillip Meyer. It’s a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year. I paid about $15 for it at Barnes and Nobel. It’ll go for $4 at the book store.  First come, first serve.  Do I recommend it? I do, but I have to warn you that it’s not all sweetness and light.  The goings on in an economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town can get rough. 

  I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you,  but people who work in the bookstore are among its best customers.  I just bought David Baldacci’s The Collectors.  I am a Baldacci fan.  It’s not Hemingway or Steinbeck, but a good action packed and mysterious ride. This one, a hardback,  sold for $26.99 new. I picked it up for $3.

Maybe I’ll see you Thursday, if my injuries allow it, and if you come. If I’m not there, they’ll sell you a book, anyway.  I hope I will be there. I enjoy meeting the interesting folks that come in to buy books, and I like the idea of helping raise money for the library. I think public libraries are extremely important in a democratic republic. It’s a lot harder to fool people who do a lot of reading and fooling people is what a lot of politicians really care about. Unfortunately, they often succeed.  But, an informed public makes it harder to do.   

Keeping my Monday Promise

December 20, 2010

I promised that I would always try to have a new post at least every Monday, but with Christmas shopping and a special Christmas card I am planning for you, my plate is full, as it were. (Ever wonder what the heck “as it were” means?) But, full plate or not, a promise is a promise. 

Then again, maybe Mark Twain had the right idea. Here’s what he says about promises in The Innocents Abroad, which I am just getting around to reading.

 
 
 

Mark Twain, as photographed by Mathew Brady

  “I never could keep a promise. I do not blame myself for this weakness, because the fault must lie in my physical organization. It is likely that such a very liberal amount of space was given to the organ which enables me to make promises that the organ which should enable me to keep them was crowded out. But I grieve not. I like no half-way things. I had rather have one faculty nobly developed than two faculties of mere ordinary capacity.”

As I said, I am just getting around to reading it, and at the same time sampling the Autobiography of Mark Twain, the new autobiography that contains a lot of material just released, because he stipulated it not be released until 100 years after his death.  Sampling seems appropriate to this highly publicised book because it is pretty much a stream of consciousness affair.

On top of all of that reading, I am really engrossed in Ken Follett’s new epic, Fall of Giants, the first volume of his 20th Century trilogyAfter reading Pillars of the Earth, I decided that I would immediately read anything  he writes.  He has to be one of the world’s greatest writers. His style is contemporary, which makes it easy to read because he makes no attempt to impress us with long, convoluted sentences, but he does throw in a word we have to look up occasionally, which I like, because I like learning the meanings of new words, as long as there are not so many as to drastically slow down reading.

Before I started reading Fall of Giants, I read John Franzen’s highly touted Freedom. Critics who proclaimed its greatness say it reflects the current society. I agree, but I really don’t think his writing is as engrossing as Follett’s.  He really gets into long, convoluted sentences and weighs us down with tedious detail.  That is, of course, just my opinion, but it’s the one I value the most when it comes to books, movies, music, plays, and art. Let’s face it, reviewing is a subjective endeavour.