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If you follow this blog regularly or interact with me on Facebook, you probably know I’ve been reading Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. A lot of people read this book in school or prison. It’s one of a thousand great books I’d been meaning to get around too.

The whole idea of getting around to books is something I’ve been thinking around lately. I tend to buy a lot of books, even with stealing as much time from the dreary daily chore schedule I’m on, they pile up at a faster rate than I can read them. I wish I could get through books like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. I’ve tried a bunch of different speed reading methods, and none of them really help.

Most of the speed reading practices actually promote skimming, which I think is bogus. Either read a book or don’t. If you don’t immerse yourself and take time to understand what you’re reading, you may as well just read the Wikipedia summaries of the books and move on. For me, reading great literature is not about cramming info into my head, it’s about changing my thoughts and understanding of the world.

The Count of Monte Cristo is the longest book I’ve read in several years. If I recall correctly, the last one I read that was over 1000 pages was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Since the book is set in a real historical period, there isn’t a lot of world building like you’d find in a fantasy epic. There are no chapters devoted to explaining dragon physiology or the history a wizard war. What you get are really sweeping character builds. These characters are, to use E.M. Forester’s term, “round.”

The elements that do have a bit of theatrical whimsy are largely Oriental in the complicated ways criticized by Edward Said. The East is exotic, but not deeply explored here, beyond descriptions of mind altering drugs, tobacco, fine silks, and other luxuries. The Count himself is referred to as Oriental, or in a way, otherworldly.

Some reviewer online made a point I found interesting: they said The Count of Monte Cristo could be considered an early super hero. He has gone through an extreme transformation, seeks to right wrongs, has a vast fortune, and displayed several talents that are repeatedly described as incredible, for instance, his amazing accuracy with his pistols.

It certainly isn’y worth shitting too hard on that theory, but I would probably reverse the formula. Superheroes are modern interpretations of The Count. As much as I grew up loving comic books, I can barely stand them now, especially my old favorites put out by Marvel. It seems to me comic writing peaked during the Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore era (which has arguably not completed). Now that film technology is so fantastic, I don’t know that the crazy scenes depicted in comics are as fantastic. Part of the fun of reading X-Men was wondering what Wolverine’s claws actually sounded like. Or how it would look when Nightcrawler “bamfed” into another room. Now we know, and we all know it the same way.

There are several film adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo. No matter how great special effects get, they are not likely to capture the detail and tension of 1000 revenge filled pages. Sure, you can portray the events, but are you ever going to be able to capture Maximillien Morrel’s heartbreak? Will any actor, besides perhaps Daniel Day Lewis be able to portray, using only his eyes, the rage felt by Valentine’s grandfather when she is poisoned?

Reading this book was a nourishing experience. If you are not regularly exposing yourself to great writing, great plots, and great themes, you are probably shorting yourself as a writer. For the last year I have struggled writing things beyond these short blog posts. I felt like I lost my fiction gear, but the truth is, I wasn’t reading much fiction. Non-fiction is tremendous, as are biographies, but there is something about fiction that lets you really get into deep human truths.

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I have this fantasy where I spend my days reading and learning and writing about strange connections between things. The more I disconnect from the internet news cycle and read thick, heavy books, including a lot of fiction, I find my thoughts are getting better and stronger. I wish I had more time to devote to reading and writing. The goal would be what Stephen King recommends, four hours of each, instead of a day job.

I do read about three hours a day, and my workday is essentially writing for 8 hours, however, the reading I do is not necessarily directly in service to my job. There are some interesting food related scenes in my current read, The Count of Monte Cristo, but I can’t say it’s really helping me come up with a better way to sell vegetables. If we had a special on eel braised in wine, maybe.

 

I’m not sure if I mentioned this elsewhere, but I have a fairly simple goal this year: read 100 serious books. I don’t really have a minimum page count or anything, but I do have a bit of a criteria for what I mean by “serious.” I’m looking at classics and novels that appear on the reading lists of great artists and academic programs. The books should lead to other books and the writing itself needs to be quality. In short, no marketing or business or Tim Ferris type books will be found in this list (though I have read one, which I don’t believe I will count to my goal because it sucked, as expected).

I don’t have a particular list in mind, instead, I’m letting my curiosity and obsessions guide my path. There are a few books that I should’ve read by now I intend to like Lolita, The Good War, and Call of the Wild. I’ve been more and more interested in the French revolution lately, so it’s likely I’ll get deep in that near summer.

February is ear-marked for chef biographies and fantasy books, which are directly related to my 2017 writing project, which will not be online. I hope to get it published.

Anyway, here are some things, other than books, I’m really digging right now:

Hawkwind’s 1993 album It is the Business of the Future to Be Dangerous. I’ve never listened to this influential band, but I liked the title of this album because it’s a cool quote from mathematician/philosopher Alfred Whitehead (who I’ve read almost nothing of). The album is weird and not what I’d call top 40, but the sounds are interesting. It’s almost impossible to be in a pedestrian good or bad mood at work listening to this.

The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast. This is a history podcast about Napoleon. It’s nice to listen to political history because it immediately gives you some perspective and inoculates you from the hysteria of current events. I’ve become fascinated by Napoleon and his Bonapartist followers because it seems to have more in common with Trump’s regime than National Socialism does. I don’t think Trump is “literally Hitler.” That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, it just means the mainstream diagnosis is off. If the diagnosis is wrong, the treatment will be wrong.

Henry & Heidi. Another podcast. Henry Rollins’ recent appearance on Ari Shafir and Joe Rogan’s podcasts reminded me how much I admire and was influenced by Rollins as a teenager. The format of this show is simple, his long time friend and handler Heidi May interviews him about his life and he tells stories. It looks like the show is now defunct, but the episodes I’ve listened to are great. If you’re a fan of his essay The Iron, don’t miss the episode about Mr. Pepperman.

Dry-Aged Steaks from Whole Foods Market. I know I’m basically on a plant-based diet because of Mrs. Lott’s nonsense, but my buddy Josh cooked up some of these ribeyes over the weekend and they were glorious. At $26.99/lb they aren’t cheap, but they are tender, delicious, and come from a great ranch. Even at this price, it’s still about a third of what you’d pay at a steakhouse. I still prefer the dry-aged meat from Prather Ranch, but if Whole Foods is more convenient to you, these are phenomenal.

Hickok45This is a YouTube channel dedicated to firearms. The host is grandfatherly and knowledgeable. If the idea of a nice, Southern, retired high school English teacher shooting guns and telling you about their function and history sounds appealing, this is for you. I love that he is not a Call of Duty cosplay tactical dork. There’s no “you need this to survive” bullshit here. Just a cool old timer with some interesting firearms.

That’s about it. As you probably know, I’m just about finished with daily blogging. I haven’t quite decided on what I’ll be doing with this website. Part of it will be getting a redesign to feature my copywriting portfolio and magazine writing (which is pretty much nowhere on here now). I think I might do a weekly roundup of things I’m enjoying to both keep some eyes on the blog and keep track of my interests and see if my approach is leading to interesting territory.

I’m a huge fan of Maria Popova’s literature blog Brain Pickings. Other than famous author, she has my dream job: she reads old books and writes short essays about them. I’ve listened to quite a few interviews with her and I love how she organizes her workday, it’s basically: read in the morning with coffee, read later on a treadmill, write a bit, read some more before bed, edit a bit. Basically the dream. The takeaway from her success affirms all that I’ve learned this last year about consistency and passion.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give a would-be blogger it’s to pick a lane early on. This blog is so all over the place, a casual reader who doesn’t know me would probably have a hard time remaining interested. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably stick to books I’m reading, and write about how they inform my thoughts on the world I’m in now. I don’t know that would be any more appealing, but it seems to be working great for Brain Pickings.

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The exile of Napoleon Bonaparte and his return during the 100 Days looms heavily in the opening chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo. Napoleon was a populist leader of a military revolution in France, which overthrew the monarchy.

France was sharply divided between Bonapartists and Royalists. The division touched every single layer of society from the peasantry to the extremely wealthy. Much of the rich sided with the Royals to preserve the system that enriched them, huge populations of the poor went with Napoleon. They were sick of elites shitting on them and were willing to go as far as joining Napoleon’s armies to die as “cannon-fodder.” Anti-Bonapartist propagandists used that term because of Napoleon’s tactic of overwhelming enemy forces with numbers. Body counts were high, battles were won, the highest price was paid by the poor. As always.

The rich could not understand why the poor would rather die under a different tyrant than simply slave, and live, under the existing one. I don’t know that anyone has ever explained it well. Napoleon promised freedom and liberty at a time where there were no fact checkers except the opposition pamphleteers, who earned little trust because of their obvious connections to the Royalists.

The weird thing about the Napoleonic revolution, according to Marx, was that it wasn’t really a revolution. It was an exchange of elites dressed as a revolution. This is instructive in today’s climate. When you get down to the “sides” people are joining, the tensions are really between Nationalism and Globalism. There are extremely rich people who will benefit depending on which idea takes hold, most of the protesting in the streets is, in my opinion, proxy clashes for elite desires.

Trump is a nationalist. Clinton was/is a globalist. What are regular people? I don’t think they are either. I think normal people are tribalists. They are concerned with their immediate family and friends. They want to feel safe. They want to be successful. They want to have enough to help their friends. Nationalism and Globalism make promises to these people, but I doubt they can actually be fulfilled. Nationalism thrives on turning people against each other, Globalism thrives on turning them into wage slaves.

There are real issues with going full Nationalist or Globalist. The world has probably advanced too far to ever go back to battling nation states, but humans have not changed enough to accept a world that pretends all people and cultures are the same. We are stuck between a time where we love each other’s food, music, and art, but we hate the retrograde ideas that come along with them. We want cheeseburgers without deforestation. We want falafels without honor killings.

Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheists believed the way forward was the elimination of religion. It’s hard to argue with the record. Religion has caused some dastardly acts. But it also influenced Christians to hide Jews from Nazis. It’s a reason why hospitality is so important in the Middle East.

I don’t think we can ever, or should ever, get rid of religion. We could affirm the universal utopian goals that most of them promote. Within these moral frameworks we might be able to find a way to discard Nationalism and Globalism. Imagine a kind, faithful revolution that benefitted no elites, that required no war. A multinational expression of global good will. Not forced down by elites, but generated from the bottom.

On to your questions.

Why shouldn’t we move to East Bay? Why should we?

For those outside of the Bay Area, this question relates to the classic problem of knowing when it’s time to give up living in San Francisco and accept that the East Bay is what you can afford. I left San Francisco last year and it is shaping up to be the best choice I made since moving to California.

Tech companies enabled by old San Francisco money with political connections have radically shifted the economics of living in the city. The sharing economy, speculative property investment used to conceal foreign fortunes, and the fight for office space has caused just about everything in San Francisco to be extremely expensive.  I’ve been into the city twice this week and the contrast between rich and poor is shocking. Every train station in San Francisco smells like piss and dead hobos. It makes the industrial sprawl I live in look clean. Yet there are stores half filled with things for minimalists to buy and Teslas everywhere.

The East Bay used to be the more affordable option for people who wanted to remain in the Bay Area. Now the East Bay is looking a lot like Brooklyn. There are great places to eat, good music venues, lots of young people doing interesting things, and a middle class family can still manage to own a home if they are very careful with their finances. That last part is changing fast. If you plan to stay in the Bay Area and you aren’t rich, you should probably start looking really hard at buying property in the East Bay if you can, even if you’re a little further out than you want to be.

If you move and rent, you’re going to be in the same situation you’re in now in five years. Rents are climbing and Oakland is already difficult to afford for median salaries. We got serious about saving and managed to put together a downpayment. Our mortgage is far less than what rent would be anywhere in San Francisco. It’s kind of a drag there aren’t more cafes and such around us, but it’s an excuse to go explore outside of our neighborhood. Plus, who needs $4 drip coffee anyway?

TL:DR version: if you have a household income of $300K+ a year, you can afford San Francisco, if not, GTFO.

 

How would you summarize the purpose of life in one sentence? 

No one knows the purpose of life and anyone who says they do is lying.

What are some of the most difficult films to watch?

You could make a case that certain brutal horror and war films are hard to get through, but the films I find difficult to watch are usually art-house affairs without traditional narratives. If I want to struggle with following something, I can just read post-modern philosophy.

If I had to pick one film, it would be the documentary Earthlings. It’s an absolutely harrowing movie about factory farms and maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s an extreme and biased film, but the suffering you see is real. I think about it a decent amount and it was very influential on my slow move towards a more plant-based way of living.

Can you describe the creepiest person that you ever met?

My wife and I were sitting at a cafe in San Francisco with our dogs and this eccentric older man came up and gave our dogs some treats from his pocket. This is a very normal occurrence in the Castro. People tend to be friendly and enjoy dogs in this neighborhood, but this man felt “off.”

He gave each of our dogs a treat and then said “wouldn’t it be a tragedy if these were poisoned treats.” I told him it would be because I would beat him to death in the street with my chair if either of our dogs so much as sneezed. He looked put out and stammered that he was only joking, I told him I wasn’t and he walked away quickly. Fuck that guy.

What is the dirtiest thing you have seen someone do?

About seven years ago I saw a cop trying to cuff a homeless man for some crime. The man managed to drop his pants somehow and started shitting all over his own legs and pants. I think if I was the cop I would’ve just let him go rather than put him in the backseat of my squad car.

What is something you personally think people shouldn’t wear in public? 

I’m not easily bothered by that kind of thing and believe people should be allowed to express themselves in their dress however they want. However I’m in favor of requiring nudists to bring a towel or something when they sit in public places (for sanitary rather than moral reasons).

I also have a distaste for religiously required clothing, especially when the female version is more restrictive or more uncomfortable. But again, if that’s what you want to wear, no one should stop you.

What is the easiest way to catch a liar?

Let them keep talking without interruption.

At the end of the day, what matters most? 

Whether or not you have pleased the gods with your bravery.

What is the strangest experience you ever had in an elevator?

Nothing comes to mind.

What is the most unfair advantage a person can have?

Natural beauty.

 

 


I’ve been going on about how fucked restaurants are for a few weeks now. In the Bay Area, the cost of eating out is insane. Between the enhanced minimum wages, expensive utilities, brutal rent, and stiff competition, it’s hard to get out of anyplace for under $15. 

It’s a tough business and I’m not suggesting we abandon eating out, but if you’re on a budget and you want to have a nice long meal with friends, truly a great thing to do, its tough. If you want to eat somewhere decent and maybe have a beverage, you’re looking at $25-35 a person. Add on any niceties like sustainability and seasonality, and it’s even more. 

My solution to this is old school: cook at someone’s house with your friends. People show up for BBQs, but why not for a regular weekend lunch? Why not make the cooking part of the hang? 

Today I finally got together with a couple of friends to cook; my old friends Josh and Gene.

We bought extremely nice dry-aged steaks from Whole Foods, some potatoes, aged 30 month cheddar, and some Brussels sprouts. Josh cooked everything and we drank copious amounts of coffee and root beer (we are a teetotaloing threesome). It was outrageously decadent and we only spent $20 each. 

I’m going to do more of that. 

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I’ve never written anything worthwhile under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Every impressive, forceful, enjoyable word combination I’ve put down is done while completely sober, usually after a period of heavy reading or reflection while walking. It’s entirely possible I’d be much further along as an author if I followed my natural abstemiousness.

For better or worse, I became quite taken with writers like the moral anarchist Hunter S. Thompson, the gloriously weird and largely overrated William S. Burroughs, and the besotted yet noble Charles Bukowski. Like many impaired with youth, I missed the point and went off course. These were not dispsomaniacs who wrote, but great writers who imbibed.

Between the age of 23 and 31 I didn’t touch any alcohol or drugs. I still haven’t had a drop of booze, but I do indulge a fair bit in the Devil’s Cabbage. As far as vices go, this is a rather mild one and is held in check by an obsession. I prefer to sit with a book above any other activity and I am almost incapable of reading while stoned.

All the writing I’ve done high has been terribly solipsistic and too poor to be recommended even as a diversion. I had the same results with alcohol.

It’s possible that I simply have the calculus wrong. Hemingway’s long praised command to “write drunk, edit sober” offers some direction. Christopher Hitchens’ excellent essay from Vanity Fair, “Living Proof,” offers even more.

In the book I’m currently reading,  The Count of Monte Cristo there is a fair amount of drug use, mostly hashish and opium, taken mostly for their hallucinogenic properties, but also to aid in sleep, which is said to be enhanced. The Count says these drugs cause, “the boundaries of possibility [to] disappear.” He venerates the experience as Romantic writers of the period did. For many of the Romantics, the ideal of pleasure trumped the ideal of intellect. After all, what was the purpose of the intellect but to help someone conspire to achieve pleasurable outcomes for themselves?

Though I certainly give into pleasure, I also have some ascetic tendencies, which I’ve always thought had aesthetic value. In my fantasies I own an industrial warehouse with nothing in it but an extensive library, a well-equipped gym, an outrageously good sound system, and a comfortable recliner to work from. Here I work from dawn to dusk free of husbandly duties and the weakening distractions of the internet. In this monastic, industrial man cave I read, listen, lift, and write. Nothing more.

Just about everything I’m working on this year is an attempt to manifest this space and free myself to work even harder on writing. The goal, my goal, is to make my entire living independently from reading and writing.

The living writer who most embodies my fantasy creative lifestyle is Henry Rollins. I would be surprised if his work stays widely read after his death, but I could see some of his writing having a cult following amongst lonely men for decades. Something along the lines of Japanese nationalist Yukio Mishima. Especially his essay, “The Iron.

If you take anything away from reading Rollins, it should be that fortune favors the consistent and distractions should be ruthlessly eliminated. I’ve got less than 20 days of writing for this blog left. In the last year, I will have written hundreds of pages. That was accomplished stealing a little time here and there. I have no doubt that if I had a normal work week to write, I could do even better work. It would be nice to pay off the mortgage so Mrs. Lott will leave me be about career, but all I really want from this writing is to be able to do more of it.

 

 

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Henry Rollins was on Joe Rogan’s show today. I’ve heard him on a few interviews recently and for whatever reason, wasn’t quite as fired up hearing him as I used to. Today’s interview was one of the best I’ve heard from him in years. It made me want to work five times as hard.

He has inspired the way I try to work and the way I approach creativity more than anyone else. His whole modus operandi is to work as hard as possible and be as humble as possible. I wish I had 1/10th of his output. No one makes me feel as lazy as Rollins does.

I need to write more. I need to read more. I need to work more. I need to see more.

I could probably write a hundred blog posts about why Rollins is great, but you should just go straight to the source and listen to him on the JRE.


There’s a lot of talk about the video of white nationalist dweeb Richard Spencer getting sucker punched by that black bloc dork . It was the most perfect example of a nerd fight I’ve ever seen. 

Spencer was right in the middle of explaining, of all things, his Pepe pin. Then from off camera comes a punch, that if thrown by a person with strength, should have obliterated spencer. Trust me. I’ve watched at least 50 knockout game videos on LiveLeak. 

It’s weird hearing so-called normal thinking people fight over the communist’s duty vs the fascist’s rights. I bet any living WW2 vets are just like, “I remember when we had enough heart to hate Reds and Nazis.” You don’t have to choose a side here. It’s just funny if you let it be.  

If you don’t see the humor of Howdy Doody Hitler getting attacked by a Hot Topic ninja, I just can’t help you. 

How good is that last line as a quote?

Anyway, if you’re going to go after Nazis, you should do it like the man pictured above. That’s old time Jewish Strongman Joseph “The Mighty Atom” Greenstein. One of my all time heroes. 

He did all kinds of crazy strongman carny shit and early MMA fighting, starting back in the 1920s. My favorite of his feats took place in 1939 in New York. A lot of people don’t know this, but there was a massive American Nazi movement. A March in New York was said to have 20,000 participants. Can you imagine that shit? Those assholes wore the armbands and everything. 

The Nazis had an office in New York with a “No Jews” sign out front. Greenstein, a proud Jew, took offense and ripped the sign, and some say a Nazi flag, down from the building. He called out to the occupants and 19 answered. He met them in the street and smashed them to pieces single handledly. Some eyewitnesses said he used a bat. 

He  defended himself in court against charges of Aggravated Assault, Grievous Bodily Harm, and Mass Mayhem. The judge could not believe a man of Greenstein’s size (he was small like Wolverine in the comics) had done all this damage. Not all of the plaintiffs made it to court to testify because many were still badly injured and in the hospital. 

The Judge asked him about the fight. Greenstein said, “It wasn’t a fight, your honor. It was a pleasure!”

The cops on the scene reckoned the Nazi scum “was harassing this nice Jewish gentleman” and he was only defending himself. The case was dismissed. Unable to serve in the war directly, Greenstein spent the rest of war years doing feats of strength at shows to help sell war bonds. He may have roughed a few more local fascists up down the road. 

Greenstein was also a vegetarian and was doing a lot of the modern mobility and movement training before anyone reading this was born. He was very, very cool. 

I have a book about him called The Spiritual Journey of Joesph Greenstein. I’ve had it for a few years and it ended up being pretty valuable for a paperback , about $50. Seeing that book increase in value has actually made me a little more concerned about the conditions and editions of books I buy. A lot of books coming into the house these days are in hardcover. 

I’m really enjoying reading the Penguin Classics version of The Count of Monte Cristo. I already wrote about how I love the story, but the feel of the book, its heft, the silky red placeholder, the rough grain of the cover’s weave. It all feels wonderful in bed on a very cold day.  

I have really been powering through books lately. I’m still pretty hooked on World War 2 bios, but I also have a stack of classics and a few philosophy books that should keep me busy until February. I wish I had more time for it.