Category Archives: non-fiction

Negotiate Your (freelancing) Income to Six Figures – Possibly good information wrapped in terrible writing (2/5)

As usual I didn’t pay for this book but instead received it for free in exchange for a review. True to that promise, I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

So the description of the book doesn’t give an outline or table of contents, so I’ll do that for it.

Section I – Introduction – 10% – Why do you need this book, lots of personal tidbits from the author, promotion of other products by the same author.

Section II – General Knowledge – 20% – Definition of terms, basics of negotiation

Section III – Negotiating Skills – 15% – Description of various strategies for negotiations and how to use them correctly and pitfalls to avoid.

Section IV – Applications of negotiating skills in niche writing – 25% – Basically, what to negotiate for with the skills from section III. Compensation, time off, kill fees, etc

Section V – Potential mistakes, dishonest negotiators and other associated problems – 10% – What do do if things go wrong and how to tell when they’re going wrong.

Section VI – Case studies – 15% – A set of really vanilla examples of negotiations.

Section VII – Selective resources – 5% – Basically just random tips.

Hopefully that all adds up to 100%. Looking at that, it would seem this is a very well-rounded book that covers a lot of the bases and on the surface you would be right. It has a lot of very good information in it. The part that made it lose so much esteem in my eyes was the writing itself.

Firstly, on this point, the writing is so soft and airy and almost bubbly that it borders on unprofessional. Further, it seems at times that the writer is a non-native speaker of the English language and things come out a bit garbled. I’ll present a few examples to illustrate my point and you, my own humble readers, can judge for yourself. The items below are direct quotes from the book and are checked scrupulously for accuracy. Please note too that these are just the problems that leap out at me in a quick skimming of the text. They are not exhaustive but merely representative.

[Addressing the reader directly]

“You are one of the few creative people who will succeed in business and in personal life and turn everything you touch into gold.”

[Addressing the reader directly]

“You are a special person with an inspirational personality…”

[Typos, spelling and grammar problems abound]

“… the healthy compromise involves one party giving up his/her interests in one area in order to gain interests in another area, and visa versa”

“… will even prefer to lose rather than preventing his counterpart to solve his problems…”

“… if possible they like to ‘put their head in a sand’…”

“If your counterpart able to trust you…”

“Do not sign anything that you yourself are not clear about it’s meanning”

I won’t go on because I don’t want it to seem that I’m picking on the author but clearly this book needs some additional work. It seems like a great idea and may convey some critical information but it falls well short of professional at this time. If you buy a copy, do so with the knowledge that you’re going to have to wade through some pretty spotty writing.

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Filed under non-fiction

Books: My Life in France (and an Exhaustive List of Every Meal I Ate While There) – Julia Child

My Life in France – Julie Child

Child’s book, it should be beyond surprise, reads rather like a cookbook. The reader is dizzied with untranslated French and long lists of French foods and left wondering if the subject was that of snails or gourmet crackers or perhaps the neighbor’s cat. The text is a skillful lesson in gleaning from context quickly which passages should be read in detail and which should be merely glossed over for lack of adding anything to the narrative. No matter how assiduous I might read and reread Julia’s detailed dinner menu from December 5th of 1962, it is exceptionally unlikely that any impression will be left on my apparently impregnable mind.

Actual writing aside, one is left at the end with a vast respect for the life that Child led. Her experiences were varied, her energy and patience immense and yet she never seemed to succumb to the egotism so common in the accomplished. She acknowledged that her chosen topic was a complex one but she pursued it with a vigor and exactitude that made it accessible to the common housewife of the time. Unlike her predecessors she took the time to make sure that the recipes in her book were not only detailed enough to be executed by the uninitiated but also didn’t include those ingredients that couldn’t be obtained outside of France. Her legend as the bridge between French cooking and America seems well earned.

Overall, I’d grant the book a few stars out of five but it would be much more entertaining to someone who had more of a connection either with cooking or with French culture. It is fairly hard to dive mind-first into a book that requires so much of it to be explicitly ignored.


Filed under literature and books, non-fiction

Books: How Starbucks Saved My Life – Michael Gates Gill

So, first, I realize that it’s been far too long since I wrote anything.  The reasons for this are various and have absolutely nothing to do with the book in the subject line.  The book I just finished is merely an excuse to write something and provide this bit of drivel as a preface.  There has been much tumult and annoyance in my life since the last post that you couldn’t care less about but suffice to say that I have learned to live by the wise credo that to live a life fully one need merely pay attention, state one’s opinion clearly and concisely and honestly and then detach from whatever outcome may result.  It is no man’s task to fix the world.  Do your part and then move on, I say.  And with that monstrously opaque preamble out-of-the-way, we move on to the topic at hand.

I read this book because I was having one of THOSE Saturday mornings.  Have you ever had one of those mornings when you just need something… something to read and since your wife is one of those really wonderfully bookish people you happen to have just stacks and stacks of books handy and can pick something rather randomly and sit down to read it?  It’s rather like living in a library staffed by an impossibly sweet and wonderful person who you also happen to get to sleep next to.  At any rate, I digress.  I picked up this book at random and … well, after a couple of days I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the book itself but I do find myself rather disappointed with the reality therein presented.

It’s worth noting that I am by nature a cynical person and I get that the wealthy in this country  are detached from the reality of the less fortunate.  I don’t expect them to know how it is “growing up in the hood” but the author of this book seems more hopelessly clueless than one could reasonably imagine.  Sure, he grew up in affluence but he seems almost ignorant that there are people in the world who are NOT affluent.  His writing style is child-like and his themes, at least from the viewpoint of a lower-middle class person, are obvious and pedantic.  There’s no news here.

What is refreshing and inspiring is his view of Starbucks as a corporation.  I’m not a coffee-drinker so I’m about as detached from this company as they come.  I bought some stock a while back… and then sold it, but that hardly counts as knowing their culture.  Admittedly I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I want a company (and a job at said company) to be a family.  Not a family born out of a common enemy like a U.S. Marine’s drill Sargent, but a family born out of a common goal and a real sense of supportiveness.  Gill’s portrayal of Starbucks is exactly that.  I’m sure that he’s taken plenty of artistic license with the reality of working at Starbucks, but if even half of what he says is accurate then it’s a step up from the average corporate reality.

To sum up, the book is a unique viewpoint.  It’s one that we never think about generally because we assume that nobody’s actually that naïve.  Clearly though, there are some that ARE that naïve.  One feels for the narrator in the same way one feels for Lenny in Of Mice and Men just before he gets shot in the head.  Mercifully, our narrator survives but he does have the same dopey aspect that makes one feel sorry for him nonetheless.



Filed under 2000s, literature and books, non-fiction

An agnostic view on The Ten(Twelve) Commandments

This post is a re-edit of one I wrote years ago for my other blog.  As would be obvious to any of my readers who have hung about for a while, I’m a religious agnostic who is intensely curious about others religion and welcome an open discussion of same with anyone who cares to have it.  Unlike many who claim the moniker of agnostic or atheist, I’m respectful (hopefully) and appreciate the views of others.  In this spirit, I’m putting this post up to prompt my Christian friend Grant Dawson to begin the project we’d agree upon that pits us both head-to-head in a discussion of modern Christian faith.  Help me in motivating him by visiting his blog.  He has a lot of great posts but he has one in particular that I consider his writing “hook”.  Read that, follow his blog and let’s get this party started.

Firstly, it should be noted that while the Christian faith is keen to claim the Ten Commandments as their own invention, the concepts embodied in those rules predate Christ by tens of thousands of years.  The Christians are certainly the best known codifiers of these somewhat obvious laws of behavior but by no means did they invent them.  Just for grins though, let’s look at each one in detail.

#1:  I am the Lord your God

This one is rather obvious.  In order to have a religion of any merit whatsoever, you have to have a cohesive leadership.  It also establishes the speaker as GOD and lends weight and influence to the other commandments.  It’s a good start, though somewhat predictable.

#2: You shall have no other gods before me

Somewhat redundant with #1 really and undermining of the speaker’s position.  It seems to admit to the existence of other gods and attempts to subordinate them.  A real king of kings doesn’t need to do this.  He stands on the mountain and says, “I AM KING, tough cookies”.  This commandment seems like a throw away.  The speaker’s position would be stronger without it.  If you must say something, say I am the ONLY God or depending on your position on the trinity question, say that you’re God, father of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.   Either way, this one doesn’t work.

#3: You shall not make for yourself an idol

Alright, this one bugs me.  As I would understand this, the speaker is forbidding his followers from creating anything which constitutes a stand-in for him.  In other words, you can’t make a physical representation of God and worship that instead.  You must worship the unembodied idea of  god but you can’t construct a golden cow or anything else in an attempt to give him a material representation on this earth.  If that’s the case, then isn’t the cross itself a violation of this?  Isn’t this a physical representation of the holiness of god that is treated with veneration?  Similarly, what about graven images?  I see a lot of portrayals of Jesus in churches.  This seems like a violation of that commandment.  Even worse, I’ve seen people dressed up as Jesus for various reenactments and that seems like it would violate the spirit of the commandment entirely.  I’d be interested to have someone explain this one to me.  As commandments go though, not a bad one.

#4: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God

This is your basic, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain or use it to sell vegetable choppers on late-night television.  I get this.  If you’re the boss you don’t want people sullying your good name.  Does strike me as a tad vain, however.

#5: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Well, this is certainly open for interpretation.  Personally, I like the Jewish interpretation of this commandment.  Jews can’t even turn on a light switch during the Sabbath because it would be considered ‘starting a fire’.  I really respect that because they go to a LOT of trouble to keep this.  I can’t help but admire anyone who goes to a lot of trouble to obey such a rule.  I like the Jewish faith.  From a commandment perspective though, this says, “dedicate a day to me and me alone.”  Not a bad idea, especially if that day is also a day of leisure.

#6: Honor your father and mother

This one isn’t all surprising considering that the promulgation of religion primarily from parent to child.  Even if it wasn’t in the Bible per se, I suspect an enterprising parent would add this commandment themselves just to keep the young people in line.  It’s also worth noting that this commandment represents a transition from the previous ones which were designed to establish the authority of God and those which are intended to confer a competitive advantage to the adherents of the religion.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this has a lot to be said for it.  Previous generations are invaluable to the child-rearing process.  It would be a distinct evolutionary advantage to foster those relationships.  Say what you will about the Bible, it has a fairly good grounding in simple practicality.

#7: You shall not murder

Continuing in the vein of practicality, we have the prohibition on murder.  I can almost hear a primitive man, millions of years ago talking to a friend around a roaring fire: “You know Both, me no like Gorth.  Me want kill Gorth but if kill Gorth, Gorth no hunt, no bring food.  Me think not good kill Gorth.”  And thus was this commandment was born.  The simple fact is that we all do better when we get along and don’t slaughter each other.  Again, simple practicality.

#8: You shall not commit adultery

This one is actually an oddball in that in strictly biological terms, it works AGAINST the group.  Promiscuity is actually a POSITIVE trait from an evolutionary perspective.  Males and females of the species are likely to bear more healthy offspring if they have several sexual partners.  The only problem, of course, is that possessive males, when they find their brides violated, tend to violate the previous commandment.

#9: You shall not steal

Similar to murder and adultery, there’s an advantage to cooperating and not filching each other’s stuff.  Adultery is actually a subset of the concept of theft in this case and it’s simple good sense to get along, keep your hands off other people’s stuff and not subject yourself to the potential for murder.

#10: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

As with #9, we have to just find some way to get along.  More than that though, we have to be honest with each other.  Of all the commandments, this one is probably the deepest and most meaningful for me.  It’s a lot of wasted energy to be anything BUT truthful so the optimal and most efficient state is to just start out that way.  When we’re all straight up with each other, we all benefit.

#11: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

#12: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

These two are merely subsets of one another, recognized as separate, according to Wikipedia anyway, only by the Catholic faith.  This seems to simply say that you must not even CONTEMPLATE breaking commandment #9.  If you covet, that will inevitably lead to theft.  So the origin of this falls directly in line with the idea that we have to get along and not get ourselves murdered.

Looking back over the list in general, it’s really somewhat disappointing.  Everything that God has to say to us in these 10(12) snippets of wisdom is obvious to any school child.  There are variations to these (cannibalistic, polygamist tribes) rules but in general all societies that live in groups adhere to these laws quite naturally.  Sure there’s an occasional primitive tribe that shares wives between all the males but in general they don’t go around killing each other for no reason.  The rules are basic common sense even to the most unrefined.

The fatuousness of these rules makes me question the very motives of any God who would hand them out.  Why proclaim with such formality something which is so obvious?  Is this is the best that God can do with all the forces of omniscience on his side?  How about some rules about which berries to eat and which are poisonous?  Something we can use but not pick up on any street corner?  Further, why is God so insecure that he spends nearly half of the commandments trying to solidify his own position?  If I’m God, omnipotent and omnipresent, I might spare one commandment to say, “Look, I’m watching you.  I see everything so don’t even THINK about breaking my commandments” but *5*?!  To me this indicates a certain level of narcissism on god’s part.  He spends half the time talking about himself and only after he’s done telling you why he’s the only god you’ll ever need does he get down to the business of telling you anything useful.  Frankly, it’s a disappointment.

If anything, I’d say this is just more evidence that god, if he existed, had nothing to do with the commandments at all.  A real god wouldn’t bother.  He’d tell us something useful rather than spouting obvious truths.  If this is God’s best work, then I’m sadly disappointed.  Of all the things to be promulgated among the mass of humanity, this is a poor effort.  Perhaps he’ll do better at the second coming.  Not that anyone would care at that point, of course.

Now that you’ve suffered through that, read Grant’s response from the Christian perspective.


Filed under history, personal, religion

On “On Tebow”

Today’s open missive written to the wide, wide world is actually a reaction to someone else’s blog post.  You can read the original here.  Go ahead.  Go read.  I’ll wait.  OK, now that you’ve carefully and thoughtfully read that other post you can either decide to read this or you can just decide you don’t give a hoot about either post and go on with your life.  Either way, going on with life is a good thing just as reading is so whatever your decision, I stand behind you.  If in doubt, Magic 8-ball can help.

The article I pointed you to is from my friend Grant.  He’s a devout Christian and as a result he disagrees with me about a lot of things that he thinks are really important and that I think are just nice, fun(?) things to do on Sunday.  No matter in the end though since I love a debate more than … well, just about anything else.  I will say that on many levels I think that by responding it’s just possible that we may discover that as contentious as the religious debate is in this country we’re not really all THAT far apart on most things.  Issues of salvation aside, we’re all children either of God or of the heartless but infinitely orderly universe.  Perhaps the two aren’t all that different?

Grant begins with a disclaimer and it’s a very tempting one when writing about religion.  Grant, like many writers on this topic, doesn’t want to offend anyone else.  Talking about religion is one of the supreme conversational no-no’s and that’s always bothered me immensely.  Come on.  Let’s put it out there where everyone can see it.  Discuss, debate, you might learn something.

Getting some housekeeping out of the way, I’m with Grant in that last night’s Broncos v Steelers game was a grand one.  Exciting, big personalities, etc though I am forced to point out that Denver didn’t exactly claw its way back from adversity.  They were up big time and just about blew the game in the second half.  So this particular game wasn’t so much a Cinderella story as it was a near replay of the Tortoise and the Hare.  The guy pulled it out but not before taking a bit of a nap.  Oh, and as to the hype, I’m not sure anyone else was really following him either so Grant shouldn’t feel bad about catching the Tebow train after it was well underway with a good head of steam.  We’re Americans, it’s what we do.

The heart of Grant’s post is to answer the question: “Did God help Tebow win?”  As an Agnostic, I don’t really think I’m in a position to make a value judgment on the validity of that question.  I can, however, (much to my insane and giddy glee) make a logical assessment of the validity of Grant’s arguments.  His first response here is pretty typical and unassailable: (to paraphrase generously) “God is infinite and therefore can do any damn thing he damn well pleases.”  No argument from me.  Christianity defined its God in a manner that can’t really be refuted.  By definition God’s existence can never be disproven since his definition also includes the ability to hide himself from outside scrutiny.  So to this point I merely shrug and say, “ok, sure.”

Grant’s second argument seems to say simply that God did not intervene directly but granted Tebow the skill, talent, dedication, whatever to make this happen on his own.  This bit makes me ponder a bit more than the previous since this doesn’t actually REQUIRE a benevolent creator be involved.  Grant even admits that an atheist could also have been successful so it almost begs the question of why bring the creator into it at all?  It would seem that a faithless man can work hard and wring benevolence out of the universe even without God?

Grant closes with his third point about Tebow’s ending prayer.  Again, as a non-religious person this totally fails to offend me.    Do whatever it takes to make you feel inspired, grateful, whatever.  I will say that those showboating wide-receivers who praise God for every single catch do tend to get on my nerves.  Do what ya gotta do, but keep it classy.

Personally, the idea of God’s interference with… well, anything on a local level, is just insulting.  It’s insulting to God.  If God exists, he’s been sitting back and watching for the past 15 billion years with absolutely no interference necessary of any kind.  Why do I say this?  If God exists, he’s also absolutely perfect.  If he wants Tebow to win the Super Bowl then he doesn’t have to do anything.  Tebow would have been destined to win the big game from the absolute first instant that God put pen to paper.  Everything, the entire history of the universe, the path of every single molecule, the outcome of every game was mapped out with absolute certainty on the EXACT moment of creation.  God, if he exists, isn’t some celestial plate-spinner dashing from plate to plate keeping things going just the way he wants but rather an immaculately perfect clock-maker who wound up the cosmos billions of years ago and went off to smoke a really good cigar but hasn’t touched the damn thing since.  Anything less… just wouldn’t be very God-like.


Filed under non-fiction, personal, religion

On the Fairer, Daintier, Gentler Gender

Recently I’ve been spending some time reading a book from 1969 that centers quite specifically around how the male gender should conduct itself.  It details in long-form the recommended manner of performing many of life’s most vital processes: which silverware to use and when, how to conduct yourself if your phone is on a party line, which actors and actresses you should use as role models, and how much to tip the porter when you check into a hotel.  For the curious, the answer is $.25 per bag with a minimum of $.35 even if you only have one bag.  In today’s world, I’m pretty sure that a tip of such magnitude would be hurled back at you with all the force of a Nolan Ryan fastball.

On the whole, I’m surprised at just how little has changed in 40 years.  The expectations themselves haven’t changed much, but merely the determination with which they’re enforced.  A gentleman is still expected to pull out a lady’s chair for her in a restaurant, but where today this is seen as cute and quaint, in 1969 it was viewed as absolutely mandatory.  In years gone by, the man was expected to order dinner on the lady’s behalf and shield her from the waiter but in today’s world this might be viewed as absolute effrontery.  Yesterday’s mandates are seen as today’s curious and somewhat nerdy aberrations.

One somewhat shocking facet of all this is the assumed naiveté of both genders during this time.  In many cases the details laid out for the man’s benefit are stunningly ponderous and obvious.  Doubtless after 37 years on this Earth, I’ve forgotten the ignorance of youth and just how blessedly idiotic I was, but it’s hard to fathom a man who needs advice as simplistic as this tome provides.  Even more stunning is the image that is painted of womanhood.

There was a time in my youth when I firmly held with the belief that women, in addition to having divine powers, were absolutely moral and perfect in every way.  This book, written near the year of my birth, would seem to offer evidence of this fact.  I can easily draw the lines to conclude where I might have come across this simple truth.  Society at large during this time period seems to paint the same picture.  June Cleaver was still held as the absolute good of the American family.

It wasn’t until… well, to be absolutely humble and honest, it wasn’t until a few years ago that this image began to break down for me.  I realized with a rather large gulp that women, as fearsome a prospect as this might seem, were just as human as men.  While men suffer from certain ineffable drives and desires, women too are slaves to similar motives.  The crystalline purity of the female soul was shattered into a million pieces when I realized that biology enslaves us all.  Women are equally as petty, as sexual, as driven by base emotions as the male gender.  This, to me, was the greatest revelation of my adult life.  My entire vision of women as perfect snowflakes was sullied by the realization that in many ways, they are just as base a creature as is man.  In some ways, even moreso.


Filed under history, non-fiction, personal, relationships

Annoyance and the Underground Railroad

Until two hours ago I was rather annoyed.  Something incredibly and unforgiveably evil happened to me and I was not at ALL a happy camper.  Oh… Oh, it’s hard to even say this without breaking down.  My…. Oh god… oh GOD… yes, I’m going to say it… oh GOD!!!!  Be strong!!!!….  My home internet was down.


OK.  That wasn’t so hard.

Really, in retrospect, I was rather annoyed but in retro-retrospect that’s just a laughably asinine thing to be annoyed about.  We are *SO* spoiled.  SO, SO spoiled.  Well… at least I am.  I remember a time when I sat and typed away for hours on my Tandy Color Computer 2 with a tape drive and I had to record over a Bananarama tape in order to save anything from one day to the next.  Half the time the stupid thing didn’t really record properly and I had to retype everything I’d spent hours on the previous day.  Now I’m perturbed endlessly by not being able to update my blog for a day because the blasted internet isn’t accessible and all my namby-pamby neighbors are all security conscious and have to encrypt their wireless connections.  (I know, because I sat here for 20 minutes and flipping checked all 57 of them).  What’s the blasted world come to when an internet connection is second only to Mountain Dew in the “list of things that a nerd needs to survive.”  To paraphrase Scrooge, are there no books?  Are there no wireless ereaders?  Bah.  Regardless, I’m glad it’s back.

So while I was disconnected from the world… well, while I only had my iPhone available and wasn’t desperate enough to actually try to blog with it, I did something… oh my… it makes me laugh to think about it.  It’s so antiquated, so backwards.  It’s like I was Amish for an entire Monday night!  Good God.  Yes… yes I am forced to report… that I read a book.  I know, I know.  Please sit down, sit down.  Come to order.  Let’s not fling things at our computer screens because, after all, it’s just hurting you, not me.  And yes, it was a book… on paper.  Good God… what have I come to…

In some modicum of seriousness, the book in question was “Hidden in Plain View, a secret story of quilts and the underground railroad.”  I bought this book just the other day from a Goodwill thrift store for the corpulent sum of $2.49.  Hardcover, dustjacket, whole deal.  Premium shizzle, yo.  On the face of it it’s a wonderful little tome.  It goes over in some detail the Underground Railroad quilt code and discusses the way in which quilts put out for “airing” were actually signals to slaves on southern plantations.  Some specific designs meant “get ready to head out in a week” and others indicated that “today was the day” and maps were worked into the stitching so that runaways could actually take the quilts with them and use them as reference.  It’s a fascinating story that would make a wonderful 10-page paper on the topic.  Unfortunately, the authors of this particular book decided to stretch those 10 pages of content to 190 pages.  So by the time the 190 pages are finally consumed, the reader has heard at least 27 different variations on the phrase “And the quilts… they were a code!”  When on page 160 I read the words, “The quilts were a code that only the slaves could read” I threw the book at the cable modem and shouted, “YOU ALREADY F—ING TOLD ME THAT ON PAGE 2!!!!!”  I’m fairly certain that’s what fixed the internet.

In total seriousness, the book does have some really grand conceptual things to say.  In general, I think that we look back on the slave trade and think of the victims of slavery as passive heathens without any real culture of their own.  In several parts of the book, however, the authors are quick to point out (repeatedly) that the African populations from which slaves were taken actually had a very rich and complex history.  When the Europeans came and plucked them from their homes, they uprooted them physically but they could not take from them their language (both written and spoken) and a vastness of culture that we don’t tend to appreciate or remember very well.  This common culture was the foundation for the quilt code and for the resistance in general.  Lincoln may have emancipated the slaves, but they were far from passive participants in their own bondage.  As the book says, their resistance to oppression started when first they laid foot on the boat and never ended until they were either free or dead.


Filed under history, personal, political