Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.

In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?

The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.

The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.

I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.

The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.

Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.

Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.

The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.

There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.

America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.

I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.

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I found the third essay in IMPASSES to be a ramble of mashed up of cited works that largely relies on hyperbolic semantics to make a point.  What the point really is I’m unable to decipher other than some vague notion of not being controlled by “society.”   Some passages that illustrate what I’m referring to above:

“One of the unifying factors between us all is that we have been socialized into capitalism, by capital. Our minds have been colonized in a way where all all of our social relations are imbued with the nature of capital.” page 51

“The world we inhabit prizes the future in such a way that one’s present self is always going to be subjected to its ability to create the future-child and the future-capital.” page 52

“The Shoah was only able to occur because people were classed as Jewish. We must reject these identities if we are to make the leap towards now-time, the revolutionary process of transformation.” page 64

Some of the more basic problems I’m having with this essay is that it fails to lay out operating definitions of the considerable amount of terminology is uses.   And from there the essay goes on to make grandiose claims like the first statement above.   There’s no falsifiable evidence offer that all of us have been “socialized” into capitalism.   I don’t know what it means to have my mind colonized or what “the nature of capital” actually is.

One central idea of the essay is that of “identity” and that often the “identities” labeled on any of us can be restrictive or oppressive.  While this point certainly can be said much more directly than the essay puts it I can agree with the basic premise.  We, on the whole, do categorize and label the world to create efficient ways to communicate.  We group people by their ethnicity or group like objects into a category so we can reference them without having to spell out in gross detail all that we might reference.   This likely springs from the very way in which our nervous system pattern recognizes.   It can be very efficient for managing our experience of the world i.e. makes it faster to decide what’s a threat and what isn’t.   In it’s efficiency it can also be fatally wrong i.e. all red berries are yummy! can often lead to eating a poisoned berry.

The violence referenced isn’t that of military resistance or physical force.  The violence discussed I would more simply just call awareness and learning.   I agree that the best sort of resistance against inaccurate and potentially threatening “identities” (aka labels) is through helping people be more aware of the considerable nuance to life, starting with oneself.   I completely disagree with one strategy cited in the essay that one way to deal with not wanting to be labeled is simply refusing to have a future (don’t have kids, etc).   No, I’m not making a case to have kids, what I’m saying is that there’s no need to resort to a fatalistic solution to eliminate labels and have a more nuanced identity.   Reading, paying attention, engaging others generally gets the job done.

By the end of the essay we get to a sentence of the concluding paragraph:

“But anarchist violence renders theory, navel-gazing and reasoned conversation obsolete.”

WAT?!   what does this even mean?   and no where is actually given any evidence of truth.  In the preceding paragraphs of that statement there’s discussion of “a transformative force of experience through action”  and all “that remains is the experience of resisting.”  To which I guess simply the act of resisting anything is the point?  the way towards not having an identity forced upon oneself?

Beyond the nonsense, literally nonsensical, statements one will never escape some amount of label making.  The author of the essay starts by labeling the world as Us and Capitalist, etc.   I cannot take the point of eliminating labels too seriously by an author that uses too many “ism” words.

Like previous essays there are questions presented at the end of which i can only respond to the question I understand, that is question 2:

One critique of the language you, like Camatte, use, is that it tends to substantialize capital.  Marx worked hard to define capital as a social relation, but we end up talking about it as though it were a thing, or some kind of subject.  Do you agree that some of your language substantializes capital? Do you think this might be a component of the absoluteness with which you describe it, and thus of the extremity of your response to a world so described?

I think the question asker is correct in that the author of the essay treats capitalism as a thing unto itself.  My point above is basically that! for an author that’s trying hard to reject inaccurate labels the use of “capital” conceptually the way the author does violates that idea.  We all know the word “capital” has strong connotations.  So it would be much preferred for clarity for the author to spell out exactly what behaviors we’re attempting to change instead of simply rejecting “capitalism.”

I myself do not think it’s a sound strategy for a society that wishes to sustain itself to deplete important resources simply in pursuit of financial gain.  Sustainable living is a very nuanced activity that indeed does require much deeper awareness and exploratory strategies than I think our society at large is engaged in.   We are far too focused on amassing money – the hoarding of future potential –  instead of not destroying natural resources, providing each other essential health care, participating in education and so on.   That is, we amass money at the expense of doing life giving things that do not require it!

I would LOVE for the author to get into the discussion of actual strategies instead of ranting with extreme language against vague notions of oppression.

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In “Tent City, Tent Tent City” we learn of the movement in Austin to create a roaming Tent City to inspire awareness and legislative change around ideas of homelessness.  The tent city uprising piggy backed a little on the occupy Austin movement due to the fact that the laws used to restrict occupy Austin activities were the same laws preventing homeless people from squatting in public places.

I wasn’t fully aware of this reality because I was so caught up in the basic ideas being reported about occupy.  I was more focused on the 1% vs. 99% message.  Which in reflection isn’t even close to the more fundamental problem of property ownership.

What is property?  What in the world are these empty parks and buildings and old alleys?  All these public spaces and abandoned privately owned spaces?  These are opportunities for the “owners” of these spaces to extract revenue.  And the essay makes a powerful point in that the revenue increases the more people are kept on the move.  The key to property value isn’t in having people inhabit it!  It’s actually about the potential to inhabit!  Creating desire to inhabit is what we call development!  As long as people inhabit a space one can’t be improving it and selling it to others.

Ultimately the tent city movement fizzled for a variety of reasons. The participants made, in my opinion, a wise choice in disbanding the movement once a point a been made and the media started to get weird.

This issue of laws against homelessness – you can’t occupy public spaces in some cities (see this great report for overviews) – and that of property as something are far too big to be tackled in one movement.  Property ownership is the basis of civilization.  Our entire world is drawn into nations, states, cities, zones, personal real estate.  Ours is a history of conquest over those who occupy property we want to claim as our own.  This history will not be easily overthrown.

Though I do believe as we move into a more predominantly digital existence the idea of property ownership will erode.  I don’t see a short term end to property ownership because even the digital requires physical resources.  The difference though between the past and the digital future is that it is much more difficult to lay claim to digital property because it is so easily reproduced and modified and shared and expanded.  The idea of protecting intellectual property is already cracking for mostly practical reasons – it’s not physically possible to do so, even my offensive measures.   Beyond the digital I wonder how comfortable younger generations are getting with “renting” or “sharing” property.   (stats on rent/own in housing and some rent/own survey here)

The essay closes with a thought that perhaps it’s best to “keep on the move” as a means of experimentation towards a better world order.   It’s hard to argue with the idea of experimenting with ways of living that don’t include property ownership is probably a worthwhile exercise.   The way we do things currently – increasing income gaps, more punitive laws against homelessness, climate change – seems hardly sustainable for ANY way of living for lots of people.

Impasses Questions at the end of the essay responses follow.

Question 1: “How does the noting of profit involving bodies being set in motion intertwine with the idea that camps in order to survive, must be on the move?  Is this tactic playing into the profit-based motion or is it a form of subversion, a way out? Would standing ground and defending a camp be a resistant tactic, and in what capacity, to what degree?”

It’s all about the type of motion that’s inspired.  The intent to own a home or own a different home is what drives property valuation.   Simply being on the move from camp to camp doesn’t necessarily do that.  Though if we were in a fight for camps in more opportune places for survival the camps would be competing for space and thus there would be an opportunity to profit off of offering campers better places to camp.   The fact is this isn’t a new problem in the world.  It’s always been a competition for resources.  What’s changed is that people abide by various laws and/or give into various trade offs for survival.  One of those trade offs is going with the flow in society vs. subverting it.   Camping in places where it’s legally not ok to camp is subversive.  It is resistant and could be useful.  I believe the Occupy movement made a good case for taking over spaces that people in power frequent can stir a discussion that might just lead to change.

Question 2: “How do we move from homeless camps being a method of survival to a method of offensive resistance? Are the participants looking to just find a more comfortable way to live or a new way of living?”

I don’t know if there’s any relevant response to this.   The later part strikes me as nonsensical.   In either  case it’s a new way of living.   And in the former, EVERYTHING WE DO IS A METHOD OF SURVIVAL.  all of it, even resistance to existing power structures.

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The kindle 3 is great for what it’s meant to be, a simple device for reading long form works.

The upgrade from kindle 1 to kindle 2 wasn’t nearly as dramatic as 2 to 3.

The kindle 3 is thin and light. The page refresh is fast and the battery life appears to be ridiculously good.

The new kindle cases have a light built in for those dark reading sessions.

I’ve got ipads and every other device. The kindle is bar far the best reading device. I do plenty of staring at screens and the kindle 3 does an even better job than the 2 of being less screen like than all other reading devices.

I cannot stress enough about the greatness of having a single purpose device for reading. Ipads, iPhones, and what not are full of distractions that unless you completely lock down and disconnect your device overwhelm the reading experience.

Did I mention this thing slips into cargo short pockets perfectly?

I’ve said this in previous posts and ill reiterate it here: no other digital bookstore compares to amazon. They simply have thousands more titles that I want to read. Oh, and they actually categorize books and provide more useful filters than iBooks or the nook estore. I can barely navigate the other stores. And certainly can’t wander the digital stacks at all like I do in the physical world.

Yeah, I’m a kindle fan.

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Cory Doctorow has a pretty interesting set of ideas in his latest book, Makers.

I found the writing/arc absolutely dreadful.  I found the ideas fascinating.

Usually I power through a book like this in 2-3 days.  This took me a week because by page 250 I was tired of the act of reading.  I did power through because I wanted to see the full shape of Doctorow’s ideas about the near, and very clunky, future.  Also, I’m biased for any story that’s about people hacking, making, constructing or goofing off in a garage.

The cool stuff Doctorow put together here is the idea that the future will be so incredibly “makeable” that everyone with an idea will just make and remake stuff.  And that will create a larger and larger riff between corporations with fancy trademarks and people, often fans of those corporate thangs, ripping the corporations off.   In the end those corporations will just have to keep giving in time and time again to the fans and hackers and just buy up their knock offs and mash ups.  Now don’t go thinking this is just digital media.   Doctorow literally means everything will be printable with in the home 3d printers.  (Which isn’t very far from what’s possible considering that you can gank a 3d printer for less than $1000.)

The part I was hoping he would go into deeper was about the idea of printing self replicating machines… and exploring the ideas that the machines themselves would just keep that remashing and remaking without humans.

The downside of this whole experience was the dreadfully lame backstory involving Disney and cheesy corporate characters. I also thought the main characters were a little shallow.   Almost caricatures of people who like to make shit.  The cheesy story i was amused by was the idea that in the future we figure out how to mess with metabolism enough that lots of overweight people opt for a treatment to keep them skinny for life… except they have to eat 10k calories a day to keep up with the metabolism.  It’s not that far of a stretch to imagine this treatment and people willing to do it.  Also, IHOP makes an appearance in this book… exciting me a great deal.

In short – read the book for cool ideas.   don’t expect a page turner.  power through it and let’s talk.

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i finished a book. it’s not clear to if i liked it. sparse, existensial, left hanging.

point omega. a novella set in the desert in the recent past.

characters searching for slowness and vastness…. zen…. the moment, a moment. an author searching for a moment. 100 pages that seem like 300 because all the talk of vastness. or maybe it was the music pouring from headphones or the vastness of the ground 5 miles below my rightside 757 window.

read the book. we wont share the same experience. it’s a weirld empty vessel ready for your filling. might have been the author’s point… or his side effect.

and so it is with everything else. an existence of disconnects. these disconnects arent bad they just exist. we all have private experiences. you cannot know me. i may not be able to know me. we know facts and ocassionally find a narrative to group the facts. facts = events. things interact. self awarenes is the exhaust, the by product of our nueral narrative.

im writing this on a droid phone. it is a terrible writing instrument in general. however on a plane it provides a compact canvas with no digital distractions. i am not using a word processor with all its algorithmic fixes and helpers. it is refreshing to me to be able to screw it all up and not have technology try to make it all right.

messy technology is my favorite. technology that tries to be too coherent, too slick, too well design fights against the disconnects i write about above. it elimimates the magic of accidents… happening into a different way of doing it, a nifty new view a mistaken stroke that changes the course of a project, business, country or life.

this is how i write software. i cut, paste, try something, try something else, fix, start over, change editors, change monitors. i start with the smallest, sparsest description of a project and dance. i like people to play with software and media early. not so they can see if it fits the spec but so they can grow along with the software. this is the only way to turn wide disconnects between users and end products into the necessary, and fragile, into bridges of usuability. software should be a vessel that the user can bring their unique experience too and the software can dance with the user.

i do not love the iphone. it forces me to waltz when i want to hip hop or stomp or jazz. as a user amd a developer conformity is a requirement. conformity doesnt increase knowledge or enjoyment. it increases habit and eliminates accidents.

this is also why i despise collaborative filtering aka recommendation algorithms. these always tend towards everyone seeing the same things. a bookstore or a library or music store is still a womderful experience because things are not organized by what you might like…. alphabetical or front tables or genres with spines, cases to catch your eye is a great way to run into a different thing. we see the same movies, read the same books, use same phone, have the same views and yet its all false because really, as i said, were all very different. why not celebrate and fully experience that reality in everything we do? doing and buying the same thing wont make us satisfied or generate understanding. its just boring and reduces experience.

and thats all we get is experience. this waking string of 28000 days. experience what the senses send in. i want more of that….soak it all up. i dont want less experience in exchange for less discomfort or ease of use or a common experience. those are false chasings…. unachievable and entirely boring.

i didnt like the book. i did enjoy the experience. read it or dont… but do tell me about what you do read.

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Damn.  Dead Boys, by Richard Lange, is one crazy collection of short stories. 

(I came into this book by way of the Small World books employee, Phil.  Good choice, Phil!)

Dead boys is definitely edgy.  Essentially it’s a collection of raw, LA based short stories mostly about down-and-out folks who sometimes dip into criminal activity (though I wouldn’t call them criminals…).  It’s strangely dead on about LA even though it seems very over the top at times.  Behind closed doors many people really do lead over the top existences – we all tend to clean up well in public – and Lange has masterfully given us a non-intrustive nor creepy peephole to see behind the scenes.

What makes this collection special is that it doesn’t moralize.  it is stories.  it is what it is.  no right, no wrong – just existence.   no justification for these characters or their behavior.  I related to the complexity of just living life and how hard it is to put the pieces together.

I know my book reviews rarely bash a book nor give some brilliant literary criticism.  I’m not going to do it in this case either.  I think this book is very enjoyable and provocative.  Here are few “gotchas”.  The prose is raw and changes from story to story.  Perhaps that’s not your cup of tea.  It’s all based in LA.  If you’ve never been to LA you might not get all the nuances but you certainly will get a sense of the shadowy parts of LA and the idea that everyone here is chasing something.

Summer is over, but that doesn’t mean good summer reading has to end.  Get this book to smack your sensibility around a bit.  lemmeknow what you think.

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Ben Mezrich has a winner in The Accidental Billionaires.  It’s just a flat out fun read.  Bought it from bookstore at sometime past 5pm, finished it by 9:30, while squeezing in dinner and what not.  It reads fast and furious because it is FUN and Of The Moment.  Mezrich’s last couple of books I’ve read had that same movie like pace to them.

I can’t claim it’s accurate to every detail and Mezrich flat out notes that he’s constructed most of the narrative from lots of different pieces and created the dialogue.  So if you’re looking for some business analysis of Facebook, gotta got to WSJ or something like this.  This is a wild tale of ivy league, ambition and college tomfoolery cum mega dollars.

What’s so fun is that we’re still seeing this story play out!  Facebook is only 5 years old and still an unfinished tale.

If you’ve ever read books about Harvard and Ivy League education/campus life the context of the story won’t shock you.  If you have no idea what goes on and actually powers the lives of college kids, well, you might be a little rattled.  No, not all student loans and 529s go into the books… and, yes, a great deal of the world’s most successful media and Internet companies are driven by some pretty basic goals of 20 year olds.

I did find some of the details of the story enlightening but not surprising.  First off, I guess I didn’t really know that Mark Z was initially inspired by HotOrNot.com.  Pretty funny.  No one ever gives that site credit enough for pushing web 2.0 forward.  It’s pretty interesting to see how connected the main folks are to the same ol same ol in Silicon Valley.  The characters are what you expect if you’ve followed any of the backstory in the news.  Very few surprises – no shocker in the eventual ‘reality bites’ part of becoming a business and entering the world of valuations and legal locomotion.  In fact, I found the documentary, StartUp.com, a bit more shocking in it showed the breakdown of friendship in a very raw, visual format.  Reading about such things doesn’t seem as painful as seeing it in the eyes of friends falling away.

One complaint, and it only applies if you actually know web programming.  The “hacking” descriptions are pretty lame.  Scraping the Harvard internal websites for student photos isn’t that big of a hack.  At least from Mezrich’s descriptions it was some pretty straightforward perl script scrapes and some very lightweight password guessing.  Oh and some basic physical network connection stuff.  This is not the stuff of legendary hackers.  It’s pretty standard tasks for anyone working on the web nowadays… aggregating content in its various forms.

I suppose if there’s a bigger topic in this book it would be the role that universities play in new media.  Think about how much commerce comes out of university systems that never leads to direct compensation.  Without access to bandwidth, computers and a big network of connected people, many big Internet ventures simply wouldn’t exist.  Oh, and we must not forget the sheer amount of “free time” at college –  that is, time that isn’t structured for students.  Whether this needs to change or not, I can’t really say.  I’m pretty sure it’s always been this way.

One note of caution… probably not a great gift for a high school senior ready to ship off to school.  This is certainly an adventure that might inspire others to head off to school not for a life of the mind but instead to find the pot of gold. 🙂

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Ron Currie Jr delivers a really fun, clever read in Everything Matters! The book cover sells the book as more of comedy than than the sci fi/philosophy/absurdist mystery it is.  The essential question of the book – does anything we do matter?

The premise is set up with the unavoidable apocalypse that only the main character, Junior, knows about.  He has always known when humanity will end.  The book covers how Junior navigates life – from birth to the apocalypse – knowing that it will all be over and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  In the end, Junior is left with a choice… hide his knowledge from everyone and live with this lonely knowledge or reveal his secret and suffer a different set consequences.

Currie uses a variety of viewpoints and literary devices to give the story context and arc.  I particularly liked the subtle countdown, sort of a reverse page numbering used when the omniscient narrator/being giving Junior his knowledge talks.  It leaves you with a sense of “uh oh” i know this is going to end… which is part of the point of the story.  We know the ending and we know exactly when it ends and the countdown gives the reader the sense of just how far we’ll get into the characters lives before it all ends… and the dread was real for me.

The prose moves your brain right along.  Reading it in one longish sitting is possible and fun.  Currie develops the main character reasonably well.  The secondary characters aren’t always developed much further than some basic behavior patterns.  The book does move along a large time horizon though – making character vignettes rather difficult.

Generally a good reading experience… so…. do we get anywhere with the big question: does it all matter?

No. I didn’t.  And I didn’t expect to.  Does it all matter is a personal question.  I presume the answers I get from this book are the personal perspectives of the author.  Ultimately it is an optimistic view that family, love, connection matters – even at the expense of intellectual honesty.  Ah, isn’t that a secondary big question?!  Is it “better” to keep certain facades intact to make life bearable/enjoyable versus really chasing and embracing truth, no matter its ugly consequences?

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CNN’s got a little piece on the upswing in Rand sales. Their LA Festival of Books booth was a corner booth and much bigger than in previous years.


Where was this popularity when Free Market was crashing down?  Right.  So who was at the top of the Amazon Top 50 books then? Exactly.

Ayn Rand books are good books.  Whether they are good or sound strategies for the world, well, you decide.

From the dude at the top of Ayn Rand institute:

“So many people see the parallels with actually what’s going on, with the government taking over the banks, with the government kind of taking over the automobile industry, a president who fires the CEO of a major American corporation. These are the kind of things that come out of ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ ” Brook said.

My opinion… if we’ve written down enough theories of how it should all work  someone is going to be right some of the time.  Marx? Revelations from the Bible? 2012 cults? Hale Bopp? Ayn Rand?

For me, the world is far too complicated to predict the fate of a country, a financial system or the world in a single book or perhaps even all the books.

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