24 March 2012

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz


I was introduced to Being Wrong after watching a video of a presentation Kathryn Schulz gave at a TED convention.  The premise of the book intrigued me and I added it to the list, and it finally came up.

It was a fascinating book, exploring not only how and why people go wrong, but more importantly, what happens when we do - both the negative and the positive.

Schultz’s basic premise is that being wrong, though it can be uncomfortable, sometimes even catastrophic, can also give us opportunities for learning and growth.  This is something that I felt I could appreciate, as I’ve always done my best to admit when I’ve made mistakes - though, granted, I’m sure I’m just as blind as the next guy when it comes to realizing I’m wrong.  Even so, I do my best - as we all do, I guess.

Schulz covered a range of biases that explained the why and how of people going wrong - the whole gamut, from confirmation bias to the effect of peer and community pressure on beliefs.

Some of the most touching stories she related included a woman who mistakenly identified a man who raped her - and thus sent an innocent man away to jail for several years.  He was eventually exonerated, and she even extended an olive branch to him and made peace with him - until he ended up committing a murder.  Though she was wrong about him raping her, he did end up being a killer.

Though it was a grim example, it was also uplifting, showing how the woman’s experiences shaped her and allowed her to grow.

I think that Being Wrong is a book that everyone should read.  It forced me to reconsider many of my beliefs about wrongness and rightness, and I hope it does the same for many others.

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Books: Currently reading Gravity's Rainbow.  Wow, talk about dense.

Bottles: Had a glass of Kim Crawford Pinot Noir a few nights ago which was pretty good.

Writing: Slowly making my way through the rewrite.

Guitar: Out of town right now, so...no.

17 March 2012

Turley Duarte Zinfandel 1999


I bought my bottle of Turley Duarte 1999 when I went to Aureole in Las Vegas, a restaurant with a wine list that won a Grand Award from Wine Spectator.  Their wine collection was quite impressive, housed in a 44-foot-tall glass tower, and their “wine angels” used wire harnesses to get the wine from its alcoves in the tower.

The wine was a pure blood red - or it may have simply been the lighting, as it was a little strange where I was sitting - with a heady scent of honey and oak.  I frequently find honey notes in Zinfandels I taste; I don’t know if it’s me or the Zinfandels, but either way, it was good.

The wine was mellow, with a taste of pure fruit, a veritable explosion of it.  Age made it delightfully smooth and balanced.  It had no bite that younger Zinfandels often had- just a pure power, cutting through my palate and absorbing me.

It was deliciously complex, but in the end it distilled down to a lingering note of honeyed oak on the finish.

It was a beautiful bottle, which I shared with three friends over a cheese plate and desserts.

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Books: Just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  It was amazing!  Up next: Gravity's Rainbow.

Bottles: Having some Chateau Lamothe de Haux Bordeaux-Blanc with salmon tonight.

Writing: Well, notes finished but no real progress on the rewrite yet.  I have made a promise myself to make a real start on Monday.  I got sidetracked by my spring frenzy of cleaning.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."  Solos are down pretty good; working on fills and rhythms now.

15 March 2012

Francesco Rinaldi & Figli 2006 “Le Brunate” Barolo d’Alba


I drank Francesco Rinaldi & Figli 2006 “Le Brunate” Barolo d’Alba with a multi-course dinner at d.vino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I went first through a bread course, then a cheese course, entree, and ended with desert.  I was with a group of nine, and we managed to polish off three bottles.  It was probably my best Italian wine experience to date.

The Le Brunate had a purplish-ruby color in the glass, and a medium body - far lighter than I had been anticipating, but then, I think it was one of my first Barolos so my expectations weren’t exactly well-founded.

The nose was full of heavenly fruit, layered atop smooth oak scents.

The taste was super-smooth, with potent but balanced tannins.  The fruit was juicy and slightly tart, and a hint of licorice tied the wine together.

The chef prepared a pair of five-cheese platters for us, with some overlap between the two, so we ended up with, if memory serves, 8 cheeses to try.  Grana Padano was particularly nice with the wine, as was the Chimay and the Ubriaco del Piave.

It was a wonderful wine experience.

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Books: Just got a huge pile of them, consisting of The Fault in Our Stars, The Magicians, The Magician King, and Gravity's Rainbow.  I also read an old Babylon 5 book which was, shall we say, of a bit less quality than the other B5 books I have read.

Bottles: Nothing new lately.

Writing: Finally finished arranging my notes - 19 pages of them!  Given that the novel itself is 159 pages, that's kind of a lot!

Guitar: Working on "Shine On" and also experimenting with variations on the pentatonic scale.  Looking at starting "On an Island" next lesson.

13 March 2012

Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior by Nancy L Segal


Entwined Lives was the third book I read in the interregnum between drafts of Into the Shining Sun, and it was by far the most scientifically-minded one of the three, focusing primarily on the insights that twin studies provide.  However, that is not to say it was without emotional content as well.  It even featured an entire chapter on twin loss, as well as a chapter that explored what happens when one twin is injured and the other is fine.

One of the most fascinating subjects was the biological variability that occurs in gestation of identical twins.  Depending on when the embryo split, there are four different sub-types of twins, depending on whether they have separate or fused placentae and whether or not they have separate chorions and amnions.

Another thing the book clarified to me were how identical twins’ personalities tend to play out; the genetic components of their personalities are quite strong, and differences between them tend to be quantitative: there is not a “leader” and “follower,” there is a “more frequent leader” and a “less frequent leader.”  Their identical genes also lead to similarities in their thinking; they are able to easily understand each other’s viewpoint.  This especially will have impact on Into the Shining Sun, and will help shape the relationship between Adam and Shawn as I revise the novel.

The chapter on loss was also especially useful.  One of the quotes from it really changed how I was thinking about Shawn’s death:

“In 1985, I lost then and forever my idea of my own immortality.  There was this form that looked so much like me, that moved like me, had mannerisms like me.  It was a tremendous impression that burned into my brain forever, I’ll never forget it.” - Jim Wilson, 6 years after the death of his identical twin brother, Bill.

All in all, Entwined Lives was a valuable read and I’m glad I found it.

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Books: Getting a few new ones from the library today, but meanwhile about halfway caught up with my periodicals.

Bottles: Drank some Spanish table wine last week.  It was okay but nothing special.  Can't remember the name.

Writing: Organizing my notes as we speak.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."

07 March 2012

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet


I don’t remember how I came to add The Family to my reading list, but I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did.

As the title says, the book revolves around an examination of a group called “The Family,” a fundamentalist group that prides itself on its invisibility, despite being an organizing force behind a wide range of events both historical and current, including the National Prayer Breakfast.

Organized in 1935 by Abram Vereide to oppose the new deal, labor unions, and the threat of socialism, the organization that would come to be called The Family formed a sort of nexus of fundamentalism, training its members that “Jesus plus nothing” is all that was required to change the world.  This informed their worldview as the organization revved up to combat communism during the Cold War, and later transformed itself from an elite organization to one that has embraced the populist front, joining the fight against abortion and homosexuality.

It’s far from an expose, though, and Sharlet is, wisely, careful to avoid choosing sides.  He takes great pains, while illuminating the fundamentalist mythologizing of American history that there is an equally ubiquitous secular mythologizing of that same history.  Likewise, he outlines the current battles over the separation of church and state and uses the recent battles to give us perspective, explaining how Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was only applied judicially in the twentieth century, and that prior to that Christian values had a great deal of synonymity with American jurisprudence.  He also points out that when the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced, it lacked the phrase “under God” for several revisions; whether it is good or bad that it was introduced in 1954, the fact remains it was introduced.

Sharlet takes great pains to avoid making value judgments about the Family’s goals, only seeking to explain them.  He is careful to explain that the Family is, despite how it may seem, a more-or-less apolitical entity, counting members of both the Republican and Democratic parties amongst its ranks.  However, he also includes a quote by Julius Nyere, the first president of Tanzania, as he defended his country’s political system: “The United States is also a one-party state.  But with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”

Perhaps Sharlet’s most insightful analysis is that Fundamentalism arises out of that age-old problem that all religion confronts: the problem of human suffering.  In his last chapter, he writes:

“Evangelism and fundamentalism arise in response to the dilemma of suffering, a problem all religious beliefs must try to reconcile; they try to eliminate it by offering certainty, by creating and perpetuating a story about how the world is supposed to be.”

This was a distillation of something I have long felt to be at the heart of much of religion, expressed eloquently.  He posits that, rather than accepting things (and saying that the suffering will be rewarded in the afterlife), the Family functions by ignoring that suffering, and accepting that it is simply how things are supposed to be.  However, what is most damning about the Family - in my opinion at least - is the unrepentant role they have taken in causing that suffering in the pursuit of American Empire.  Sharlet avoids ever directly pointing that finger, but I have no problem doing so.

The Family was a fascinating, though at times terrifying, read.  It examined many often-overlooked aspects of the Christian Right, and it managed to overcome my inherent prejudices and allowed me to examine their point of view.  While I don’t necessarily agree with them, I am glad for the glimpse of understanding that I’ve been given.

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Books: Nothing right now; catching up on issues of Wine Spectator and Scientific American.

Bottles: Tried a new Argentinian wine last night, can't remember the name.  It was a Malbec from 2008 and it was pretty good.

Writing: Finished re-read.  I'm pretty happy with it for the most part, but I see some areas that definitely need improvement.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."  Several exercises as well.

04 March 2012

Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins by Nancy L Segal


Indivisible by Two was another book I picked up to further my research into the relationships of siblings and especially twins.  It focused on stories of twins (as well as one set of triplets and one set of quadruplets) who experienced unique life events.  Stories ranged from twins raised apart, to twins who were similar yet different (for example, identical twin girls, one of whom was transgender and became a male), to a twin who lost her sister in the World Trade Center attacks, to a twin surrogating for her infertile sister.  That’s just scratching the surface.

I don’t suppose I have too much to say on the book; it was at its heart a scientific, though quite riveting and emotional, book about twins.  However, I thought it would be fun to share some of the insights I gained.

-Since identical twins are able to see “themselves” in their twin, they can observe their twin’s behavior and its effects, and learn from their twin’s mistakes without making the same choices themselves.

-Twins are much more observant of the differences between themselves than the average person, perhaps as a result of their own desire to differentiate themselves and establish their individuality.

-Our genes affect more than I had ever believed possible, including the most minor of mannerisms.  For example, one pair of twins that were raised apart for 30 or so years, not knowing they were twins, met and discovered they both held their drinks in the same peculiar way, with the pinky finger underneath the drink.

That was just a bit of what I gleaned from the book.  It was an illuminating read and I am looking forward to reading Nancy Segal’s other book on twins, Entwined Lives, next.

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Books: Finished Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  Going to catch up on some of my periodicals.

Bottles: Enjoyed some of Orin Swift's 2009 The Prisoner, as well as some Domaine Pichot Vouvray last night at a friend's housewarming party.  Both have been reviewed elsewhere...I think.

Writing: About 75% done with my reread.  On the whole I can see the second half is in much worse shape than the first half - which is a reversal of how I felt last time, if memory serves...

Guitar: Shine On!