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Welcome to my home page. I live in Brooklyn, NY and Oak Bluffs, MA; I'm dad to Hazel. I work as a programmer; I have a dog, and she has a web site too.

Thatcher's rants and musings

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29 March 2015

Pokey the dog passed away on Saturday, a few days shy of her sixteenth birthday. She carried the torch of dogness proudly and with much personality. Tribute slide show: https://youtu.be/IM_TopFLeKU

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1 March 2015

Year in Review 2014: Books

These are the books I can recall reading in 2014.

  • House of Mirth, Edith Wharton. Mostly beautiful writing. Specific observations. Pessimistic.

  • Why Internet Porn Matters, Margret Grebowicz. A philosophy book about interent porn that heavily references some inscrutable (to me) French dudes like Foucault, Baudrillard, and someone delightfully named Lyotard. It's mostly about politics in relation to gender. About half of it flew over my head, but that's actually a pretty good average for an academic book of this type and I think she took pains to make it relatively clear. The thesis, if I recall/understand correctly, is something like "you have to be able to explore and imagine stuff outside the bounds of the current social rules, in order to change those rules for the better, and internet porn is part of that exploration."

  • _Sophie's Choice_, William Styron (abridged audio book via Audible). This was OK but the sexy stuff seemed kind of fantastical and 1970's-ish? Dunno, I didn't love it.

  • Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins. Hazel's into these. I thought they were pretty good for YA sci-fi. Reminded me a lot of the Tripods books by John Christopher that I read as a Young Adult.

  • How To Think More About Sex, Alain de Botton. Odd and mostly enjoyable. The thing I like about de Botton is he's not afraid to tackle difficult questions in a straightforward way. The thing I don't like about him is he often seems a bit facile. But maybe these are the same thing. Anyway, one tasty tidbit I recall from this book is his definition of beauty (quoted from somewhere else): "Beauty is the promise of happiness." Ponder that.

  • Finding Love Again, Terri Orbuch. Subtitled "6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship". The thing I liked about this book is Orbuch uses actual statistical data -- she runs a large, long-term study of relationships based on regular questionaires and interviews. The thing I hated about the book is that a lot of her advice doesn't seem rooted in that data, and sounds a bit bullshitty or trite. Like, she gives dating advice: "Don't talk about your ex." And the supporting data for that is an anecdote about a woman who went on a first date and talked about her ex, and the guy didn't ask for another date. Case closed!

    But -- she does describe one exercise that I tried and think was worthwhile. You write down exactly 15 qualities -- no more, no less -- that you want in your future partner. Any category -- she encourages including superficial qualities that you feel strongly about, you could put "rich" on there, or "cute butt" (or both of course), plus more conventional qualities like "loves kids", "not a substance abuser", etc. You write down these qualities, and when you evaluate a potential partner you size them up against the list. Orbuch's rule of thumb is, if you find someone that matches well with 12 or more qualities, you've got a really good candidate. Fewer than 12, and it's probably not meant to be. Orbuch encourages revisiting and revising the list as you go along in your search and learn more about what you value.

  • When I Grow Up, Juliana Hatfield. Memoir by alternachick. I'm a big fan of some of her work, and was a music fan & music maker in overlapping times and places. I enjoyed the book; it felt pretty raw and honest, if unsettled, and I loved learning that she stole the lyric sheet for Dino Jr's "Freak Scene" when the Blake Babies were recording at night at Fort Apache while Dino Jr was recording "Bug" during the daytime sessions.

  • Dataclysm, Christian Rudder. Totally amazing compendium of observations based on aggregate data from social media sites OKCupid, Twitter, Facebook, and Google searches. He analyzes how age, attractiveness, and race figure into dating preferences, etc. The meta point is that data from social media enables new insights into human nature, and is well supported here.

  • Attachment In Psychotherapy, David Wallin. This is aimed at practicing psychotherapists, and sums up 50 years of attachment theory research and associated topics, interpreting how it applies to shrinks and their patients. Attachment theory is a branch of psychology research that originates with experiments done on infants and their mothers, observing patterns of behavior around the mother leaving and returning.

    Here's a quote from the book: "the infants classified as passive appeared capable of only faint bids for solace, as if too overcome by their helplessness and misery to approach mother directly. Unhappily, the reunions seemed neither to ameliorate the ambivalant infants' distress nor to terminate their preoccupation with mother's whereabouts. It was as if -- even in her presence -- these infants were seeking a mother who wasn't there."

    I found the book dense, well written, very touching at times, and overall well worth reading. Aside from attachment theory, his other big focus is on mindfulness and how that applies to psychotherapy. Also interesting, useful and on-target, although not strictly on the topic of the title.

  • Doing Psychotherapy, Michael Franz Basch. My shrink told me this guy gives a good synopsis of narcissism, in addition to a humane overview of the process of psychotherapy. It was published in the 70's and seems dated at times, but the guy is just really sensible and good at explaining stuff.

    Tidbits: the four functions of the therapist are 1) pacification (basically, soothing), 2) unification (basically, modelling coping with life's confusion) 3) optimal disillusionment (pointing out things the patient doesn't see or sees but doesn't interpret correctly) and 4) interpretation (explaining the meaning of behavior).

    The narcissism bit is compact but dense, just four pages, and I found it initially inscrutable but over time made more sense. Very roughly paraphrasing, a person's sense of self ordinarily develops in childhood from idealization into grandiosity, and then "if all goes well, grandiosity is eventually transformed into a healthy sense of self-esteem." Etc.

  • I Am An Executioner, Rajesh Parameswaran. A book of well written short stories, many of which imagine the inner lives of animals, or scenarios like a weirdo pretending to be a doctor and performing surgery, or a science-fiction surveillance state, or the executioner mentioned in the title. Fortunately (unlike much contemporary literary fiction) the stories have recognizable arcs and inventive twists. Several of them reminded me of Philip K Dick, in a good way.

  • _Lady Chatterley's Lover_, D.H. Lawrence. This is an amazing novel, a collision of emotions and ideas. There's a little bit of explicit sex, including a couple of disorienting descriptions of orgasm, which got it widely banned when it was published. There are also themes of industrialization's rise and fall, commoners versus aristocracy, even man-machine hybrids (Lord Chatterley is crippled but rides a newfangled motorized chair around his estate). Quality.

  • Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, Herbert Mason. This is an adaptation of one of the oldest known pieces of literature. Fairly readable and bizarre and moving at times.

  • Final Cut, Paul Sylbert. An inside account of the making of the film The Steagle, released in 1971. Sylbert, a successful Hollywood production designer, wrote the script (adapted from a novel), and directed it. This is his account of how the film got to be made, and got to be butchered by the studio before release. He's got many axes to grind and doesn't hold back. I especially enjoyed the details of the actual production, like how they dealt with locations and shooting and watching dailies and editing. Also what the various roles are, not to mention the continual suspense about whether the film will be funded, who will be cast, whether it will actually get shot, and then whether it will be ultimately released and in what form.

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