Monday, May 1, 2023

Ted Lasso vs. The White Shadow

Is TV as good as we think it is, or are we just being manipulated?

That's the question I'm pondering as I'm watching two fish-out-of-water coach shows — Ted Lasso and The White Shadow.

The title character in Lasso is an American football coach who takes over a soccer team in England. It's one of the most streamed shows nowadays, and, well, you've probably at least heard of it. Right?

The White Shadow (1978-81) features Ken Howard as Coach Ken Reeves, who leaves the Chicago Bulls to coach hoops at a predominantly black school in Los Angeles. I remember watching it as a kid, ages 5-8, and totally remember the players Coolidge and Salami. I mean, come on, who can ever forget a character named Salami?

I love Ted Lasso, so much so that I went as him for Halloween in 2021. The show has good vibes and is a feel-good one. One of the phrases that promotes it is "Kindness makes a comeback."

But after revisiting the first 10 episodes of The White Shadow, I may like the '70s show more. I'm pretty sure The White Shadow was far ahead of its time, and I can't say the same thing about Lasso.

The White Shadow usually tackles a big social issue in each episode. It's explored teen pregnancy, alcoholism, the school-to-prison pipeline, homophobia and even taking a difficult airplane ride from LAX to San Jose.

By the way, the title comes from the end of the pilot episode when Coach Reeves says, "I'm going to be leaning on you guys, and I'll be behind you every step of the way." Then player Morris Thorpe adds, "Yeah. Like a white shadow."

I find the show entertaining and comforting. Of course, there are some outdated, cringey moments, especially with how female characters are portrayed and filmed. However, the show, which was created by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth's dad), is pure on so many levels. It's got heart, a social conscience, and it's not just out to make a buck as Lasso and contemporary shows and movies are — to the umpteenth level.

The White Shadow predates product placement, so it doesn't fill the screen with constant Apple products as Lasso does. And it doesn't sneak in products like current shows, or movies, do. Heck, a popular movie just released is Air about Nike. On one level, that movie is a 112-minute ad. 

For the longest time, TV shows have had various storylines, even in 23-minute sitcoms. I remember Seinfeld in the '90s definitely had multiple storylines, and The Sopranos did that, too. A typical Lasso episode has about five rotating storylines that are pretty fast-paced. In contrast, The White Shadow deals with just one storyline without any real subplots. That lone narrative thread is actually quite refreshing, and because of that, the show has more depth.

By revisiting The White Shadow, I also realized how overproduced and overstylized our current TV shows are. I remember hearing Jason Bateman once explain how on Ozark, they would film in bluish colors and greys to add an extra level of anxiety to a scene. With the lovey, calming music and pleasant hues in Lasso, I see that opposite tricks are being done to add warmth.

I'm not saying I don't like Lasso, but with advanced technology, the brain power of its writing staff and money of Apple behind it, it just may not have the pure heart that the character Ted Lasso has. But The White Shadow does.

Ted Lasso, like most shows today, pretends that everybody is equal in terms of social and economic class, and that's a gross lie. The White Shadow was created to expose those unfair differences in each episode. 

I believe what we see on the Internet, and many of our TV shows, make a default assumption that 21st century capitalism is important. There's another default assumption that it's worth scrolling through advertisements to see Instagram posts that are really just more advertisements. Another default assumption is that watching a 5-second ad is worth seeing another vehicle of capitalism, some YouTube video.

Back in The White Shadow's time, we didn't have the hyper video and advertisement consumption that we have now. The average person did not have blind faith in the marketplace or the belief that as long as something sold, or got attention, then it's OK.

The time was more reflective. The show was more reflective than my beloved Lasso, and the show's creators did something innovative, and socially progressive. Long live The White Shadow!

Monday, April 3, 2023

100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend

New and improved!

One word that sticks in my mind while updating 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend is ephemeral. With our ever-changing world, I wonder if books have become more timely yet more disposable.

Ninety-two of the 100 books I recommend come from the 21st century, and I believe nonfiction exploded as a genre around 2010. In just four years, I felt obliged to replace 25 book reviews with new ones. However, I must point out that 10 of the original reviews simply were books recommended by readers and the humor category wasn't that strong.

My odd main takeaway updating this list and writing 25 new reviews is that I'm developing more of an acceptance to nonreaders. It's not their fault. Our capitalistic culture is too much for many to overcome, and while publishing is a $30 billion industry, it doesn't compare to the $720 billion entertainment industry or $1.8 trillion technology industry.

Book reading is, and will remain, a counterculture action loved by only a few. It doesn't mean nonreaders are bad people, but they think (or don't think, wink) in ways I might not.

For those who actually read, or might give a book a try, I have vetted and give my seal of approval to all 100 books on this list. Many of these books aren't perfect, and some are slow in parts. But the vast majority are page-turners that I couldn't put down.

Also, some categories are perfect for some books, but not all. Many books could be in other categories, but, eh, let's not split hairs over that. Enjoy this list, and let me know if you love any of these as much as I do!

Big Time:
1. Outliers (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell
2. Daring Greatly (2012) by Brene Brown
3. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) by Joan Didion
4. The Creative Habit (2003) by Twyla Tharp
5. Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) by Neil Postman
6. On Writing (2000) by Stephen King
7. Born Standing Up (2007) by Steve Martin
8. Lit (2009) by Mary Karr
9. Thrive (2014) by Ariana Huffington
10. All These Wonders (2017) by Moth Storytellers 

11. How To Raise An Adult (2015) by Julie Lythcott-Haims
12. Nonviolent Communication (1999 original, 2015 third edition) by Marshall Rosenberg
13. How We Love Our Kids (2011) by Milan and Jay Yerkowich
14. Grit (2016) by Angela Duckworth
15. iGen (2017) by Jean Twenge
16. Generation Sleepless (2022) by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright 
17. Make Your Kids Millionaires (2022) by Loral Langemeier and Kyle Boeckman
18. How Children Succeed (2012) by Paul Tough
19. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) by Amy Chua
20. A Promise to Ourselves (2008) by Alec Baldwin

Personal Growth:
21. Mindset (2006) by Carol Dweck
22. Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari
23. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (2016) by Mark Manson
24. The Art of Asking (2015) by Amanda Palmer
25. Radical Compassion (2019) By Tara Brach
26. Not Drinking Tonight (2022) by Amanda E. White
27. The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) by Chris Guilleabeau
28. The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007) by Michael Pollan
29. The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins
30. The Power of Now (1997) by Eckhart Tolle

31. Teaching Community (2003) by bell hooks
32. Permission to Feel (2019) by Marc Brackett
33. Positivity (2009) by Barbara Frederickson
34. Letters to a Young Teacher (2007) by Jonathan Kozol
35. The Courage to Teach (1998) by Parker J. Palmer
36. The Homework Myth (2007) by Alfie Kohn
37. On Your Mark (2014) by Thomas Guskey
38. Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995, new edition 2018) by James Loewen
39. Readicide (2009) by Kelly Gallagher
40. The Body Keeps the Score (2014) by Bessel Van Der Kolk

41. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) by Paulo Freire
42. The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys (1995) by Jawanza Kunjufu
43. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (2017, 20th anniversary edition) by Beverly Daniel Tatum
44. Punished (2011) by Victor Rios
45. Excellent Sheep (2014) by William Deresiewicz
46. In Defense of a Liberal Education (2015) by Fareed Zakaria
47. You Are Not Where You Go (2015) by Frank Bruni
48. Who Gets in and Why (2022) by Jeffrey Selingo
49. Smart People Should Build Things (2014) by Andrew Yang
50. Rethinking School (2018) by Susan Wise Bauer

Social Conscience:
51. The New Jim Crow (2010) by Michelle Alexander
52. White Fragility (2018) by Robin DiAngelo
53. How to be an Antiracist (2019) by Ibram X. Kendi
54. Stamped (2020) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
55. This Fight Is Our Fight (2007) by Elizabeth Warren
56. The Vanishing American Adult (2017) by Ben Sasse
57. Food Not Lawns (2006) by Heather Jo Flores
58. The Souls of Yellow Folk (2018) by Wesley Yang
59. Black Boy (1945) by Richard Wright
60. Night (1956) by Elie Wiesel

61. The Millionaire Next Door (1996) by Thomas Stanley and William Danko 
62. The Psychology of Money (2020) by Morgan Housel
63. Dark Money (2016) by Jane Mayer
64. Born on Third Base (2016) by Chuck Collins
65. The Four (2017) by Scott Galloway
66. Kids These Days (2017) by Malcolm Harris
67. EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey
68. Money (2014) by Tony Robbins
69. This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin
70. The Power of Glamour (2013) by Virginia Postrel

71. A Pitcher's Story (2001) by Roger Angell
72. Why Baseball Matters (2018) by Susan Jacoby
73. The Mask of Masculinity (2017) by Lewis Howes
74. Little Red Book (1992, with 2012 anniversary edition) by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake
75. Zen Golf (2002) by Joseph Parent
76. The Big Miss (2012) by Hank Haney
77. Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton
78. Thinking in Bets (2018) by Annie Duke
79. The Biggest Bluff (2016) by Maria Konnikova
80. Relentless (2013) by Tim Grover

81. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) by Patrick Lencioni
82. Multipliers (2010) by Liz Wiseman
83. Ego Is the Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday
84. A More Beautiful Question (2014) by Warren Berger
85. Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) by Kerry Patterson, et. al.
86. Conversational Capacity (2013) by Craig Weber
87. Leadership on the Line (2002) by Marty Linsky
88. Good to Great (2001) by Jim Collins
89. Leaders Eat Last (2014) by Simon Sinek
90. Positive Deviance (2010) by Richard Pascale, et. al.

Humanity in the Digital Age:
91) Reader, Come Home (2018) by Maryanne Wolf
92) How to Do Nothing (2019) by Jenny Odell
93) Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen
94) The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani
95) Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer
96) The Coddling of the American Mind (2016) by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
97) Option B (2017) by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
98) Humans Are Underrated (2015) by Geoff Colvin
99) Tribe of Mentors (2017) by Tim Ferris
100) Poking a Dead Frog (2014) by Mike Sacks

I fully understand, like most authors, that nobody truly reads everything I write. And that's OK. I forget the exact percentage, but something like 80 percent of books bought are never even opened. Not even opened! 

We readers are a dying breed. I'm sure you're likely scrolling — and not actually reading — this list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, but if you're actually reading word for word, I thank you. I appreciate words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books.

Videos are great and all, but nonfiction books fill gaps in our educations. I feel so fortunate to be able to constantly fill those gaps and choose education (or at least an effort to educate) over ignorance.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Reading is for suckers!

After reviewing 25 books new to me for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I must conclude this: Reading is for suckers!

One of the Snooze Button Generation's monthly posts grabs at least a few hundred hits. For the book reviews, none of them got to 100 on the day they were posted. I'm interpreting those lack of hits as this: "Hey, dude, stop these reviews. We don't care!"

I guess that response coincides with our current climate, where reflection is low as is full-length book reading. So I'm stopping reading ASAP and will be devoting my life to TikTok.

The big question: What took me so long? Everybody knows that I'd be a superb TikTok personality. Heck, I might even do an ice-bucket challenge or mannequin challenge and even get a fidget spinner. This Gen Xer is hip to all our current trends!

Honestly, I just felt odd releasing my concluding post of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend with all of its links on April Fool's Day. So Happy April Fool's Day! Look for culminating post for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend on Monday.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Good intentions gone wrong

Attending a youth soccer game can be an education in parenting gone wrong. You might see parents demeaning referees, caring too much about the outcome and searching for the next Pele. Then, when it's all over, everybody gets a trophy!

Poor parenting and helicopter parenting have negative ramifications, and Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explore those in The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018).

The book explores some ideas in American pop culture that are new, compared to 20 years ago. It explores identity politics, cancel culture and "safetyism," which is how important one's physical and emotional safety is. A big point about safetyism is that overprotection of one's emotions can build weak individuals who hardly have resilience or grit.

What I respond to most in The Coddling of the American Mind is the authors' list of cognitive distortions and how they used to infect individuals, but now they have infected the masses. First off, I suggest everybody check out a list of cognitive distortions and see if they have a tendency toward any of them. Knowing what they are helps, and they will save anyone from any possible problem. (Hopefully, that's a joke and an example of magnification.)

It's true that black-and-white thinking affects the masses, especially when we're talking politics. There also is a bunch of catastrophizing and overgeneralizing that I see in media. Our divisive, combative political climate plays a role in this, and it's easy for the masses to be swept away in a cognitive distortion because that's what's happening to the person right next to them.

A lot of the book focuses on the culture of college campuses and how college students are showing up to campuses ill-equipped to function on a reasonable level of a human being. I remember being shocked, reading How to Raise an Adult (2015) about how many parents were inserting themselves in college campuses to help their children with basic things, like schedule changes and grade disputes.

Just like the child is the center of their cookies on the Internet and their iPhone, some kids assume that they are the center of the family and then the center of wherever they are. The phone and social media play a huge role with that skewed perspective.

With Coddling of the American Mind out in 2018, it examines more how overparenting hurt the generation in college. However, I realize that "overparenting" might be a misnomer. In fact, overparenting perhaps could be called "overprotecting" or "overscheduling."

To me, parenting has an important emotional component, and by shielding children from difficult situations, or difficult emotions, that is a disservice. Maybe overparenting shouldn't even be considered parenting. It's just whack.

Lukianoff and Haidt definitely are onto something, that the common "parenting" of a generation has set them up for failure. I understand that helicopter parents may have evolved to bulldozer parents. I want to be optimistic for the future, but it's just so difficult when I see so many kids being raised by their screens or by parents addicted to screens.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Indigenous wisdom in modern times

Many Americans seem pretty darn ethnocentric. They accept Cheese Whiz, football and Fudruckers as facts of life, when they are just part of our corporate culture.

I feel we take too much of our mainstream culture for granted, when there is a wealth of other meaningful cultures living here as well, including our Native American brothers and sisters.

I initially was curious why Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer had jumped onto the The New York Times Best Sellers list and has been there for 153 weeks. I reluctantly got the book and, perhaps surprisingly, fell in love with it.

Kimmerer is a botanist and Potawatomi professor who examines indigenous people's knowledge, wisdom and culture. I like to soak in that culture and think how it may complement, or improve, modern living.

The book consists of a bunch of essays, and their tender, caring mood makes them feel like much-needed hugs to the reader with love declarations for Mother Earth.

Braiding Sweetgrass starts with Sky Woman, the Native American story of creation. One day, a pregnant woman drops through a hole created by an uprooted tree, and that starts the human race. I would say Sky Woman is just a tiny bit nicer than Adam and Eve eating an apple, learning about satan and being shamed. 

Speaking of apples, I also remember learning about apple orchards in Braiding Sweetgrass. In an apple orchard, all trees grow at the same, healthy rate, even if one is in the shade or in bad soil. The healthy trees send their nutrients to the ones who need it more, and that enables them all to grow together. I wonder if we human beings could learn anything from that.
With Sky Woman and apple orchards, I see that Native Peoples have much different core beliefs than their European conquerers. Even with land ownership, that is a concept accepted as a fact of life for many of us. But that's an obvious human construct. Humans created land ownership, and when settlers came to the Americas, Native Peoples did not comprehend that.

The Earth is a giving, loving entity that we human beings need to survive. Why would the land need to be "owned" by certain select people? Aren't we all just renting our space from Mother Earth?

A theme in Braiding Sweetgrass is sustainable land stewardship. That seems to be opposite philosophy of current Americans, including former presidential candidate John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. He recently explained how American corporations will usher in a new era of environmentalism led by energy companies, including ExxonMobil. ... Kerry actually said that. Lol!

To look and explore the wonder of plants, trees, algae and all things earth-relate has started with me, and I give Kimmerer credit for allowing me to look at the world through her loving eyes. I feel it's healthy to question our fundamental beliefs now and again — whether it be about creation, land ownership or trees. 

That reminds me of that famous Mark Twain quote: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Re-engage with the actual world

Jenny Odell taught me that bird watching is actually bird noticing. We're probably not going to see them, but we can listen and notice.

When I actually listen, I hear birds all over the place, and I hear various other sounds as well. I notice a lot when I actually look, different trees and shrubs, grass growing through sidewalks.

I absolutely love How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019) by Odell because it's helped me re-engage with the physical and natural world, after giving away a lot of my life to social media, my phone and TV.

I've always resisted Google. Why just one Internet search engine? Where are Lycos and Excite? 

I held out from writing with Google Docs until about seven years ago. I just thought it was silly that I'd have to be online to write. Why? Couldn't I just save my work on my hard drive? So I wrote — and often still do — in Pages on my Mac.

In my mind, I look at Google searches as the start of the attention economy we find ourselves. Seriously, is this how any consumer, or lay person, would draw it up? Our every move is tracked so the right business can sell to us. Say what? ... And don't get me started with Google Classroom, which tracks what our students are doing.

Part of How to Do Nothing explains what we all know by now, that our Internet searches and phone lives are commodities, sold to companies, who do their best to cyber-hunt us and advertise to us. I do not like this system one bit, and, like Odell, I know my life is at its best when I'm not a part of that madness, when the screens are off and I'm exploring the actual, physical world.

Although I think "the kids today" give too much of their lives away to Big Tech and are being digitally manipulated, I guess it's not my place to scold them. However, I do like to present arguments for engaging with the actual, physical world vs. screens. The problem I run across is that many kids do not know how to engage with the actual, physical world. It's like their curiosity and humanity have been digitized out of them.

I guess I'm only really in charge of my own life and how I'd like it to be, and in the end, I want minimal screen time. How to Do Nothing offers more than that plan. It's a critique of capitalism disguised as a self-help book. Sure, I love the self-help part about re-engaging with the world, but then, it becomes a much deeper look at 21st century capitalism.

I hate to think that I'm a marionette moving my way through Internet searches and social media because artificial intelligence knows how to keep my attention. I can see how people can fall into YouTube warps, where Google manipulates them by constantly suggesting videos that fit their profile, likes and demographic.

Odell, who also plays with context as an artist, rightfully points out that the Internet strips us of time and place. But as a human being, doesn't time and place — AKA context — matter? Are we even human if time and place cease to exist?

With all the scrolling on our devices and all the images we encounter, where is context? We likely just respond to guttural impulses or what the computer already knows we'll respond to, and then the computer — and tech companies — shape us. I fear that we no longer shape ourselves and that our physical environment no longer shapes us either.

Another fear I have is that our cyber-time has become so normalized that Odell and I look like the weird ones for talking about reconnecting to the physical world and resisting the tracking parade of our online lives. But try it. Go out without the phone. See how incredible our surroundings are when we simply notice them.

Monday, March 27, 2023

That fertile miracle of communication

If you watch a movie from the '80s, like Splash or Big or Back to the Future, I bet you react how I do. You'll think, wow, that moved way slower than I remember. You'll notice more details than you did back in the day.

In the digital age, our brains have changed. We process video much more quickly than we used to. Our attention spans have diminished. Heck, we don't even have time to look at a 5-second ad on YouTube.

In the digital age, what has happened to our reading brains? Maryanne Wolf explores this in Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age (2018), and I find the book especially important for anyone who reads full-length books because it is truthful and enlightening.

I stumbled across this fact in Reader, Come Home: The average person encounters 100,000 words each day. That number is mighty high to me. That's a full-length book. Each day.

However, those 100,000 words typically accompany a photo or are scrolled past. Then, when we're actually reading, we are so accustomed to looking past words so fast that we don't read every word. We're scrolling, in sense, when we're reading nowadays. And if you happen to read this sentence, go ahead and tell me that at

Our lack of extended reading harms us. Not only do our brains end up craving video snippets, but we lose empathy. When we participate in actual human life, it can feel boring.

Personally, I had a stint in which I checked my phone at every possible free moment. At red lights — that is one place that comes to mind that made me realize I needed to change that. Thankfully, I did.

In Reader, Come Home, Wolf looks at the science of what happens to the brain with the bombardment of video snippets and digital experiences. That scientific part of the book was OK, to me. But I especially responded to the arguments Wolf made for reading, calling upon Aristotle, Derrida, Heidegger and a mini-army of renowned thinkers.
Heidegger argued that a human's special nature is to be a reflective being. I agree with Heidegger, and where is reflection nowadays? So much "content" is just consumed and forgotten. As I write this in an outdoor cafe, by the way, I notice that everyone here is on their phone, presumably working or consuming that content. Typical, I suppose.

With Wolf mentioning how Proust referred to reading as "that fertile miracle of communication in the midst of solitude" or explaining how the act of reading goes beyond the wisdom of the author to discover one's own, I loved the pro-reading passages.

In the digital age, however, reading may have morphed into a different animal. Nowadays, we experience "continuous partial attention," a phrase coined by writer/consultant Linda Stone. Are we even reading when we're reading? Is our attention being hijacked during reading as well? Are all those video snippets too much for our brain to overcome?

The phone, AKA the pocket supercomputer, allows us to consume so much content — videos, social media feeds, text, sports scores, stocks, emails, you name it — that it puts up a firewall between us and our reflective nature. Books, on the other hand, may get us to slow down and reflect.

Because of our omnipotent supercomputers, our brains need faster-paced books now, and we likely turn pages much more quickly than a decade ago. New fiction books almost make it a certainty that they will end each chapter with something surprising to get the reader to keep going, just like what TV shows do to keep the viewer binge-watching.

Our media has conditioned us to live in non-reflective, superficial ways. But I simply refuse to succumb to that.

Sure, I can watch some schlock TV, but something in me yearns to see things in a deeper way, to connect to wisdom of the past, to connect to our great thinkers and to understand that our minds, our perecptions, aren't meant to be wasted on supercomputer diversions.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Konnikova is on the mark

At a certain point during The Biggest Bluff, I looked up and thought, "Am I the mark here? Am I being manipulated into liking this book?"

Y'know, if you can't spot a sucker at the table, then you're the sucker.

Eh, even if I were the mark, I enjoyed Maria Konnikova's 2016 psychological look at poker and how she burst on the poker scene. Parts of The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, And Win reminded me of the WSOP-winning escapade Positively Fifth Street (2003) by James McManus.

Let's just be honest: A lot of us have some sort of dream of making a splash in the poker world, and these two books play into that.

A few things separate Konnikova and The Biggest Bluff from other rush-driven poker books. She's a woman in the testosterone, douche driven poker world, and she's got a PhD in psychology. She also hooked up with poker legend Erik Seidel as her mentor, and their relationship and his insights were definite highlights of the book.

One of Siedel's mantra's throughout the book is "less certainty, more inquiry," and I love that. I believe that guiding phrase would work in life in general, and as a recovering "know-it-all," I wholeheartedly subscribe to it.

The pacing of The Biggest Bluff kept me on my toes. The way the book progresses, Konnikova puts us in her mind through her exhilarating ride with a lot of ups, but inevitable downs. However, I must point out that about 99 percent of gambling stories are about big wins. Only 1 percent are about losses. So while the book has many more killer wins than reality, her psychological approach makes it worthwhile.

I don't buy a few things in the book, including that she knew absolutely nothing about poker before she started playing. I guess that fact doesn't matter, but it just seems that she wouldn't go into poker if she "didn't even know how many cards were in a deck." Eh, that seems like a bit of an exaggeration. But so what?

When she is playing in Monte Carlo, then winning in the Caribbean, it sounds like a fantasy, and it's fun to read. Perhaps that's what poker is — representing something that isn't real. Especially in bluffs, that's what we're doing.

Could her ride be as glamorous as Monte Carlo and the Caribbean? I don't think so. I've seen poker rooms; they can be gross. And, mathematically, they're full of losers.

So I guess the big takeaway is: What is truth? I'm not suggesting that The Biggest Bluff is fiction, which it is not. But in storytelling, we reveal only what we want and what makes the best story. We don't include the sad, inevitable pain that poker ultimately is. Or is it?

I must admit I was envious of Konnikova's reality. Maybe I need to learn to master myself — and win.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Duke book — a good decision

During the World Series of Poker, an opportunistic capitalist created a "Bad Beat" counseling table. If you exited the WSOP, you could pay a small fee and explain your poker injustice to the bad-beat counselor.

I always thought the Bad Beat counseling table was for those who didn't quite understand poker, odds or reality, and Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts (2018) by poker pro Annie Duke helped confirm I was right.

Thinking in Bets is entertaining and thoughtful, and I loved reading it. It made me realize how so many people engage in resulting when it comes to decision making and then don't fully understand a good decision vs. a bad one. They focus too much on a good result vs. a bad result.

Too often, we look at the result, or hindsight, to rate our decisions, and we disregard the information we had at the time. We can use hold 'em poker as an example. Let's say you believe your opponent has a pair of pocket jacks pre-flop, and you hold pocket kings. If you get in all your chips before the flop, it is an excellent decision, no matter what happens.

If your opponent flops a set of jacks and knocks you out of your tournament, it remains a good decision. But, unfortunately, our emotions often cloud how we perceive the decision. Just because we just lost doesn't mean it was a wrong decision.

We do this in life all the time. When something bad happens, we often assume we made a bad decision. When something good happens, we often assume we made a good decision. We disregard all of the information we had at the time, and chances are, we live a life making constant good decisions, based on the information we had at the time. (At least I do, I think).

Thinking in Bets isn't really about poker, but Duke made me realize that poker is more about life than chess. In chess, we see absolutely everything happening right in front of us. There are no surprises.

In poker, we don't have all the information. We don't know the next card. We don't know what our opponent has, but rather, we know their pattern and tendencies and how we perceive that opponent. That is how life actually works. We rarely have all the information we'd like to have, but we still must make a decision and do our best with that lack of information.

Duke also pointed out the logic behind my lack of gambling. Yes, I love playing poker with friends (but not in casinos), and I also run a football pool and play fantasy football and fantasy golf. That's the extent of my gambling. I don't like to gamble because, statistically, loses hurts twice as much as winning feels good. Emotionally, it just doesn't add up.

I also remember how Duke explained how people often fall into a trap of confirmatory thinking instead of exploratory thinking. We might find ourselves looking at select facts that help us confirm an outcome we desire or something we want to be true, but we don't often just explore with a blank slate of a mind.

I've often thought maybe I should take poker more seriously and play in some tournaments, but, nah, I don't want to be seated at a table that long. I'd rather play golf. I believe there is something in me that wants me to compete, and I loved that Duke shared some of her expertise in Thinking in Bets.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Millennials: A deeper understanding

"You Millennials are so entitled!"

"Can you Millennials do anything without your phone? Can you even make a phone call?"

"Do you even know what work is, Millennial?"

Well, OK, Boomer, I used to hear those type of Millennial-hating statements, and as a Gen Xer, I must admit that I found some truth in them. But I failed to look at Millennials from a wider view, and Malcolm Harris helped me do that in Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials (2017).

Harris' main point is that Millennials are working more and getting paid less than any previous generation. Their generation is by far the most educated in history, yet is projected to make less than their parents. Basically, capitalism maximizes labor and diminishes lives away from consumption. In the advent of technology with "smart" devices, Interweb cookies and data in their hands as children, Millennials have been commoditized like no previous generation.

Harris points out that economic success is stacked against young people, and he's right. He delves into the student-loan crisis, and I respond to what he writes about our schools. He writes that the schools get kids to work, work, work under the vague disguise of a "pedagogical mask." Again, I couldn't agree more. It's just so much work, and how much if it is actual education?

Honestly, the schools are pretty obvious about this. They explicitly have kids choose career paths as early as high school, and kids and parents either unwittingly, or wittingly, jump quickly into being human capital. High school can be a dystopia of excessive competition, stress and fear of the future.

What ever happened to actually being educated to become a well-rounded human being? Why do the kids have to be human capital so darn young? What happened to childhoods?

Another huge insight Harris provides is through the lens of human capital and what that means to Millennials. By being commoditized as children, they then can be constantly commoditized their entire lives. Not only will they have tech jobs, but they "unwind" and find their entertainment through tech and their sharing their data with corporations and conglomerates.

Yeah, they might work from home, but that often means they never can turn off work. Sure, they have benefits of technology, but in the work place, they face a mountain of tasks and emails that are neverending. Work stays in their mind and at their fingertips 24/7. There is no turning it off.

This hyper-capitalized, tech youth experienced by the masses just doesn't have an economic payoff. Maybe we Gen Xers have been confused at what comes off as entitlement from Millennials because they never really had in-person childhoods. They just consumed digitally and consumed more digitally, and they worked and worked in school. And where's their wealth? Crypto?

If you look at the numbers and look at wealth distribution, it's easy to conclude that the American Dream never worked for the masses. Sure, it may have worked for a few who busted their tails to achieve some crumbs from the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, but we have a glut of human capital that will continue to be exploited — as is the way of our capitalistic system.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

It's The Four's world

It's hard not to like Scott Galloway, who eloquently rants on Real Time with Bill Maher, makes common-sense capitalistic points and seems to overflow with insight.

I listened to his podcast a few times and embraced The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (2017). I like when "The Professor" is being "The Professor," when he is wry and direct. Yes, old man, tell us what the kids today need to know and do!

So there was a little of that in The Four, such as Galloway's assertions that to be successful an individual needs emotional maturity, curiosity and ownership of your task, project and business. 

That sounds right to me. But I would add that you need drive. I'm not so sure I have it in me to be a full-fledged, battle-it-out entrepreneur because I don't have the drive to do it. But it might have been a much different story when I was in my 20s and 30s.

The power of FANMAG — Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon and Google — is so utterly enormous that The Four is a read I consider necessary, and, of course, I learned a lot about Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Although it's so obvious, I didn't realize that Apple is a luxury brand. When Galloway spelled that out to me, I felt embarrassed that I used to think it was a mere tech company. No, no, Apple's all about the packaging and branding and ability to have me think it is on the cutting edge of technology and style. 

The fact that Apple comprises 7.1 percent of the S&P 500, and Amazon, Facebook and Google have ginormous market shares force us to understand what these companies do and their economic and social power. As time progresses, they are becoming increasingly more powerful.

I believe all of us, Democrat and Republican alike, see that the Big Four's power as so vast that something needs to be done. But what? I guess small victories and a sense of justice is all we can ask for, but it's as if they're so powerful that nothing major can happen.

To me, the huge problem is how much commerce must go through The Four. Right now, I'm writing on a MacBook Pro (Apple) on the Blogger website (owned by Google), and I'll post this on Facebook. Maybe Amazon isn't as obvious, but I started my day with an Illy espresso, ordered from Amazon.

Monopolies always have been prevalent in the United States. In fact, one of the first games any of us learn is Monopoly. With Big Tech, monopolies build exponentially, and from their perspective, it's their virtual world, and we're just living it.

The Four sparked an interest in the inner workings of corporations for me, and I remain vastly under-informed with how they operate. But the book helped. I'm happy I got that education, but perhaps I wanted more of Galloway's dynamic personality in it.

When he focuses on the OODA loop, the four-step approach for decision making that is observe, orient, decide, act, I loved it. That came from a military strategist, and it makes total sense in decision making. So I loved Galloway's common-sense advice, which also included this gem: Stay loyal to people, not organizations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Is anybody crazy with money?

However much I push it down
It's never enough
However much I push it around
It's never enough
However much I make it out
It's never enough; it's never enough

I don't see a cure for how a lot of Americans treat money, but The Psychology of Money at least points out the attitudes we have toward money and why. Because the book was wildly popular, I was skeptical of it, but it delivered with a lot of counterintuitive points about money and at times felt like the Outliers of personal finance books.

"Chapter 3 — Never Enough" stays with me the most. One huge problem many face is ever-moving goalposts with wealth. What are your financial goals, and why? Then, what happens if you ever reach those goals?

It turns out that many people constantly move their goalposts and never feel a sense of satisfaction or never experience the freeing feeling of financial independence. It's a reason why some foolish multi-millionaires continually risk too much or end up ruined.

One overarching point in The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness (2020) by Morgan Housel is that humans aren't machines. They have emotion. They have histories and generations. Our attitudes and feelings toward money, and investing, connect to our experiences. We might scoff at how different generations treat money, but that's because we have different experiences and points of reference.
Huge major points continually come throughout the book, including the differences between "rich" and "wealth" and how getting wealthy is much different than staying wealthy. I also walked away understanding how recessions, and big stock market drops, are common. I realized how it's crucially important not to have a financial approach determined by extreme events or outlier events.

Unfortunately, it may be human nature to see extremes that happen and then be affected by them. It's a reason why so many people sell low in a recession or buy high in a bull market. It's also important to know that individuals' goals differ so much that the advice of "absolutely buy this stock" or "dump that index fund" don't make much sense. They could only make sense within the context of that individual's goal.

A few other rarely discussed points about our psychology toward money include how we often discount how we'll change throughout our lives and the man in the car paradox. That paradox is that people often buy luxury cars for status, but then those people aren't noticed or envied. If anything, it's only the car that is noticed or envied, and the person is forgotten.

Finally, in the final few chapters, Housel explains what he does financially, and it's nothing exotic. He owns his house outright and has a few index funds. He also ends with a brief history of how money has changed in the United States.

And herein lies another major lesson. Our financial world is so young and ever-changing that all of us need to accept how relatively young it is and be prepared for changes, although we don't know what they will be.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Big hat, no cattle

Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian Republic will be transferring a nuclear warhead to the United Nations in a few days. Here's the plan: We get the warhead, and we hold the world ransom for ... ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

When Austin Powers came out in 1997, one million dollars wasn't what it used to be. So now in 2023, it's not that bonkers either, but it still is — pinkie on the lip — ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

The fact that The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko came out in 1996 made it a long shot that I'd actually read it. The fact that it I highly, highly recommend it also is surprising because, well, I prefer books from this century.

But my god, the book deserves the accolades and hype it attracts because of how clearly it explains what true wealth is and how to obtain it.

"Big hat, no cattle."

That's a phrase that sticks with me from The Millionaire Next Door about how there are so many people with gaudy displays of what they think show wealth. But in reality, it's just a facade, and they could have hardly any savings, retirement or even be in debt.

With this book, I now know what the offense and defense of wealth are. Offense is what you pull in, and defense is what you spend. Too many Americans have poor defense. They just spend, spend, spend. Fortunately, I had the value of smart spending instilled in me, so my defense isn't too shabby, thank God.

I also understand the difference between PAWs, AAWs and UAWs. That's the difference between prodigious accumulators of wealth, average accumulators of wealth and under accumulators of wealth. Thank God, I'm a PAW, always saving at least 15 percent of my income and "paying myself first" before even getting to spending.

Looking back on my financial journey, I must give props to former Press-Telegram restaurant critic Al Rudis, who gave me sound financial info when I was in my 20s. Al, my man, I haven't seen you in about 20 years, but thanks for impressing on me the importance of 401Ks and Roth IRAs. Al, you da man!

For a lot of Gen Xers without Al Rudis, I bet they found themselves in a financial sea of work, work, work without a paddle. At least with Al's advice and the self-disciplined mindset promoted in The Millionaire Next Door, pretty much anybody with a solid job can get on a path toward wealth.

But as the book points out frequently, income is far different than wealth. In fact, another quote that sticks with me is the risk of entrepreneur. A lot of people assume that it's risky to be an entrepreneur, and of course, there is risk involved. But what is more risky, to be paid by 600 different people to your business or just one employer who can easily replace you?

I come from a working-class city, Cleveland, and on some level, will always have a working man's aesthetic. I've worked hard for my wages, and, hopefully, I've saved 15 percent of them. If I were a youngster, I'd consider having a start-up, but if I really wanted to do that, I suppose I would today.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Stamped for all readers

"Dad, you talk about race too much," my daughter said. "Not everything is a race issue!"

OK, fine. I'll believe my daughter on that. But what's a Polish-American guy to do, when he soaks in a bunch of books that give a fuller history of the United States from a non-white perspective? Who am I suppose to tell that historians say Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime and had at least six children with Sally Hemings?

Today, I recommend Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. I also highly, highly recommend Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016) by Ibram X. Kendi.

I have a self-imposed rule only to recommend one of any author's books in my 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project, but today the rule is broken. I already recommended How to be an Antiracist by Kendi. So I officially give the record-keeping recommendation to the remix of Stamped because it gives some props to Jason Reynolds. The remix is marketed to teens, and if you're a non-reader, it's surprisingly entertaining and easier to handle than the 511 pages of the original Stamped from the Beginning.

Stamped, the remix, perhaps makes the subject matter more palpable for fragile or skeptical whites. The original Stamped delivers on being the definitive history of racist ideas in America that it sets out to be. Stamped is an absolute tour de force. I read the teen book first then the masterpiece. Honestly, I guess I was experiencing a bit of white fragility for not just jumping first into Stamped

Simply put, the fabric of the United States structure is systemically racist. Kendi walks us through this history in a compilation of hardcore facts structured as a narrative. Whereas the definitive Stamped has five major chapters titled and focuses on key figures in America's racial history — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis, the remix doesn't call the chapters by those leaders, and it condenses the points.

Both versions provide history lessons that would benefit anyone. In the original, I respond most to the sections on Thomas Jefferson and Angela Davis. I believe that is because I've learned about Jefferson throughout my lifetime, here and there, and his relationship with slavery rarely, if ever, came up.
With the Angela Davis section, we're talking about exploring a gluttony of racist policies, rhetoric and Supreme Court rulings during my lifetime. One takeaway from this section is how television and common narratives fail with truth and often promote overt, or covert, racist messages. I remember hearing about crack babies, for example, in the 1980s. It turns out there were no such babies, and it was just racist rhetoric.

One of Stamped's goals is to point out strategies antiracists should stop using. The three oldest and most popular strategies are white self-sacrifice, uplift suasion and educational persuasion. It turns out that when whites sacrifice their own privilege on behalf of black people that does not work. What it does is perpetuate the myth that whites benefit from racism. They do not.

Uplift suasion is the idea that black people can teach whites not to be racist by behaving exceptionally. Not only is in ineffective, but it suggests that black people have to be perfect or play some sort of role. It takes away any responsibility of changing racist beliefs from whites.

Educational persuasion is the idea that if facts are presented, then we could eradicate racism. Well, W.E.B. Du Bois tried that as early as 1894 and quickly found out it doesn't work and gave up. Racism education has been founded on a false construction of the race problem, that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas. But in reality, self-interest leads to racist policies, which then lead to ignorance and hate. 

At the end of the day, there is no simple answer, but working on a local, neighborhood level is the best tactic. We can hope that lawmakers and people in power will push an effective antiracist agenda. However, that happens so rarely that it is hard to be optimistic.

Stamped overflows with so much information that I feel limited with this brief review. Please take the time to read the book, or at least the remix, if you haven't yet.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Are you an antiracist?

Someone recently posed a question on Facebook that got my attention: "Who was the best black male teacher you ever had?"

As I thought and thought, I read some responses and realized my answer was what many replied. We never had a black male teacher, and we didn't even realize that.

Although I never met him personally, I consider Ibram X. Kendi a much-needed teacher to me. I highly recommend Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist (2019).

When I was growing up, I lived in racial ignorance and power-structure ignorance. I thought racism was a choice. Some people were kind and not racist; others were mean and racist. Boy, I hardly knew anything and acted like I had answers for something I knew nothing.

You're either racist or antiracist, and those traits are not fixed. You can be racist one minute and antiracist the next. To me, that's a huge point in my effort to be an antiracist. At first glance, it might appear simple, but in reality being an antiracist is complex and fluid.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from Kendi's book is how little I know about the actual diverse lived experiences of African-Americans. Philosophically, I think I understand a lot. I understand that "systemic racism" and "institutional racism" are redundant. However, I don't know if I can fully understand the microaggressions against and internalized racist feelings of African-American individuals because I don't experience those myself.

I responded to the social commentary part of the How to Be an Antiracist, but perhaps I responded to Kendi's lived experience even more. He explored the intricacies of his life and dealing with cancer. I appreciate his honesty and vulnerability and his explanation of the complexity of his identity.

Gosh, I suppose that hints at what I responded to so much. While it might sound simple to be an antiracist, our identities are so complex that it is not that easy. And can we actually separate ourselves from our racist systems, or better yet, can we actually improve those racist systems?
Pick a system. The criminal-justice system, health care, education, corporate America, the list goes on and on. I can't think of one that isn't inherently racist. I want to be optimistic, but improvement appears so daunting, it's pretty darn difficult.

Personally, I sometimes get mad at myself for how myopic, and sheltered, of a view of race I used to have — and still have on some level. I have learned not to go out of my way for awkward race talks because nobody wants a race talk initiated by a middle-aged Polack. I am making a concerted effort to listen more and absorb what I can. Striving to be an antiracist is part of my identity. 

At first, I resisted the basic premise of How to Be an Antiracist. Is it that simple? Either you're a racist or antiracist, no other options? But as I read the book, I realized it is correct. The opposite of racist wouldn't be "not racist." It indeed would be antiracist.

The book came out before the George Floyd tragedy and before Black Lives Matter got its merch on Nike apparel. Kendi's point is right: You're either for Black Lives Matter or you're not. I say get BLM merch in the corporate world as much as possible.

Of course, the United States could be lauded for being the capitalistic, economic power that it is. But to get here, we've had an ugly history of violence, oppression and cruelty. Hopefully, we are no longer hiding from that history, but understanding it better and taking antiracist actions that actually work.