Climate: A New Story

Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first found out about Charles Eisenstein through his amazing essay The Coronation (audio version read by him here), where he looked at the coronavirus pandemic crisis as a crisis of humanity, its collectively pernicious relationship with death and its obsession with safety.

Then I listened to this discussion with Rebel Wisdom on roughly the same topic, and his appearance on the Rune Soup podcast where he presented his new book, Climate: A New Story.

What can I say? I’m positively stunned by this man. Very clear writing, solid arguments, a real plan, a holistic, systems-thinking worldview… and a love for nature I didn’t think was possible outside people who usually cannot express themselves in writing as concisely as Mr. Eisenstein.

As far as I’m concerned, if you consider yourself an ecologist, you must give Climate: A New Story a read. It will rock your world and make your question how much of a true ecologist you really are. And I’m leaving this with you in as positive and empowering a way as possible.

I’ve gathered together many of my clippings from my Kindle read and added headlines. I hope they give you an idea of what to expect.

Why ecosystems and ecology are intrinsically interlinked:

The crucial role of living systems in maintaining climate stability presents us with good news and bad news. The good news is that our world can survive, that it can potentially adapt to higher levels of greenhouse gases.

The bad news is that the ecosystems that can do this are in steep decline all over the world. That means, given positive feedback loops that are already releasing large amounts of carbon and methane from nonhuman sources, climate instability will continue to worsen even if we cut fossil fuel use to zero, unless we also heal and protect the forests, mangroves, seagrass, and so on. […]

To me the prospect of humanity persisting on a dead, denuded planet is more alarming than a future without humans.

On why renewables won’t save us and definitely not the planet:

Conceivably, we could find another fuel source and maintain the addiction to a system of economics and production that consumes the world.

On love:

Love is the expansion of self to include another, whose well-being becomes part of one’s own.

On compassion to our adversaries:

Does this mean we might as well give up on change? No. It means we need to ask, What are the circumstances that give birth to the choices that are harming the world? Engaging other people, we have to ask the question that defines compassion: What is it like to be you? The more we understand, the more we live in reality and the less we inhabit a fantasy world populated by our projections.

On the futility of quantifying the world:

The totalizing quest to capture the world in number never succeeds. Something always escapes the metrics and the models: the unmeasurable, the qualitative, and what seems irrelevant. Usually, the judgment as to what is relevant encodes the intellectual biases of those doing the measuring, and often the economic and political biases too. You might say that what is left out is our shadow. Like many things we ignore or suppress, it roars back in the form of perverse, unforeseeable consequences. Thus, although it is the epitome of rationality to make decisions by the numbers, the results often appear to be insane.

Is data really objective?

Thus, what we observe to be happening in the world says as much about ourselves as it does about the world.

On fatalism:

What does it matter, when one party disengages because they think there is no problem, and the other disengages because they think there’s no solution? […] Indeed fatalism is a mind-set that strengthens the trends that generate it by fostering compliance to those very trends. The compliance that fatalism effects is invisible to the fatalistic thinker, who does not regard him or herself as a conformist, but simply as a realist.

On scientific orthodoxy:

Dissidents complain about the difficulty they have obtaining research funding, getting published in journals, and getting their arguments taken seriously. Meanwhile, the defenders of orthodoxy cite the self-same lack of peer-reviewed journal publication as reason not to take unorthodox theories seriously. Their logic is basically: “These theories are not accepted; therefore they are not acceptable.” That is confirmation bias in a nutshell.

On why just measuring emissions is a really bad idea:

It isn’t only forests whose living complexity far exceeds our ability to measure, quantify, and reduce to data. What number should we give the climate contribution of sea otters? They don’t sequester carbon—but they keep down populations of sea urchins, which when unchecked destroy kelp forests that do absorb carbon and alkalize seawater, allowing shellfish to absorb even more carbon.

Wildlife in the current paradigm:

Lucky thing for the fish that they are saving us money. Lucky thing for the employees that they are more profitable healthy than sick. Lucky thing for the honeybees that they provide such economically valuable services. But too bad for anything or anyone whose value registers low on our meter. Do you know that feeling of enchantment on seeing a rare bird or on having a close encounter with an animal, seeing an eagle over the water, a whale spouting in the sea? Can you quantify how much poorer you would be without those beings? Come on, give me a number. Then we will know whether these are worth protecting.

Taking the sacredness of nature seriously:

If a forest is sacred to you, then how much would I have to pay you to cut it down? No amount would be enough, just as no amount of money would be enough to induce you to offer your mother or child for extermination.

On holistic medicine and verifiability:

The same point applies to holistic medicine. Because each body is unique, true holistic medicine is resistant to validation through controlling variables across standard diagnostic and therapeutic categories.

On aborigines in Australia exercising creative non-violence to protect their habitat, and winning:

As tensions were reaching their peak, Dan proposed an idea to a group of aborigines at the site. Everyone felt the foreboding that they were entering a losing battle, so why not try something else? Since they knew media helicopters were coming, why not make giant art installations visible from the air for them to film, instead of the usual script of police arresting activist hippies? The aborigines loved the idea, brought out their dreaming stories, and soon had sketched designs for two-hundred-foot giant rainbow serpents and other figures to be drawn on the ground with sacred ochre. They also planned to greet the police ceremonially, with giant fires making sacred eucalyptus smoke, and five hundred men painted in ceremonial colors with clapping sticks and didgeridoos. The next morning Dan got a phone call. The government had canceled the fracking license.

On why luck favors the bold:

Have you ever noticed in life that the most striking synchronicities seem to happen in times of uncertainty? When one moves to a new city without a plan, or travels without an itinerary, or does something out of the ordinary with no idea of what will happen, then quite often an amazing (sometimes life-changing) things happens.

[…] It is not enough to “send positive energy.” A sacrifice of some sort is required, something that involves risk or loss. It might be the sacrifice of time, energy, and money. It could be a sacrifice of certainty or control, an act that feels like a step into the true unknown. It could be a demonstration of commitment that feels real to you.

Pesticides in a nutshell, and why they need to be banned now:

We have basically conducted an eighty-year experiment to see what happens to the biosphere when we constantly dump poison into it. Life is resilient, so the effects were hard to notice at first, but they have gathered now to critical mass.

Ending on a hopeful note, on imagining what’s possible, not what’s realistic:

All of the policies and practices I have described are within reach right now. The vision of a Green World is not fantasy; nor, however, is it realistic. What it is, is possible. It requires each one of us to dedicate ourselves, unreasonably and with no guarantee of success, to our unique form of service. It requires that we trust our knowing that a healed world, a greened world, a more beautiful world is truly possible. I hope this book has amplified that calling and trued you to that possibility.

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Οι ειδήσεις - Οδηγίες χρήσεως

Οι ειδήσεις – Οδηγίες χρήσεως by Alain de Botton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Με τη συνηθισμένη του διαύγεια και τον τρυφερό φλεγματισμό του, ο Αλαίν ντε Μποττόν μας κάνει μια περιήγηση στον θεσμό των ειδήσεων και το τι σημαίνει το να ζει κανείς στην εποχή της (υπερ)πληροφόρησης.

…ο σημαντικότερος στόχος του διαφωτισμού έχει επιτευχθεί: ο μέσος πολίτης διαθέτει τώρα πια σχεδόν ακαριαία πρόσβαση σε πληροφοφίες για γεγονότα από κάθε γωνιά του πλανήτη. Ταυτόχρονα όμως, έχουμε επίσης αναγκαστεί να μάθουμε κάτι μάλλον απροσδόκητο: δεν ενδιαφέρεται ιδιαίτερα.

Αν κάποιος προσπαθούσε να μαζέψει σε μια λίστα που θα τράβαγε όλα τα βλέμματα το τι φρικτότερο συμβαίνει στον πλανήτη κάθε μέρα, το αποτέλεσμα δεν θα ήταν πολύ διαφορετικό από τα πρωτοσέλιδα εφημερίδων και ειδησεογραφικών ιστοσελίδων.

Προτού απογοητευούμε από τις συμφορές που υποτίθεται ότι μας περιβάλλουν, καλό είναι να θυμόμαστε ότι τελικά οι ειδήσεις αποτελούν μια επιλογή από όσα συμβαίνουν γύρω μας — τίποτα περισσότερο, τίποτα λιγότερο.

Η χώρα μας δεν είναι μόνο ένα κομμένο χέρι, μια ακρωτηριασμένη ηλικιωμένη, τρία νεκρά κορίτσια σε ένα υπόγειο, η δυσχερής θέση ενός υπουργού, τα τρισεκατομμύρια χρέους, η διπλή αυτοκτονία σε έναν σιδηροδρομικό σταθμό και η θανατηφόρα καραμπόλα πέντε αυτοκινήτων κοντά σε κάποια ακτή.

Είναι επίσης το σύννεφο που κινείται απαρατήρητο αυτή τη στιγμή πάνω από το καμπαναριό μιας εκκλησίας, η ήρεμη σκέψη στο μυαλό ενός γιατρού που ετοιμάζεται να κάνει ένεση στο γυμνό μπράτσο ενός ασθενούς, τα ποντικάκια δίπλα στους θάμνους, το παιδάκι που σπάει το τσόφλι ενός σφιχτοβρασμένου αυγού ενώ η μητέρα του το κοιτάζει τρυφερά, το πυρηνικό υποβρύχιο που περιπολεί τα θαλάσσια σύνορα με αποτελεσματικότητα και γενναιότητα, το εργοστάσιο που παράγει τα πρώτα κομμάτια μιας νέας μηχανής και η σύζυγος που, παρά τις απίστευτες προκλήσεις και τα σκληρά λόγια, ανακαλύπτει νέα αποθέματα υπομονής και συγχώρεσης.

Όλα αυτά συνιστούν επίσης την πραγματικότητα. Οι ειδήσεις που μαθαίνουμε για μια χώρα δεν είναι η ίδια η χώρα.

Με το λεπτό του χιούμορ αλλά και την ανησυχία του για το πώς μπορεί ο καθένας μας να γίνει πιο ένας πιο ελεύθερος, καλά ενημερωμένος, ολοκληρωμένος και ευτυχισμένος με τη ζωή του άνθρωπος, ο ντε Μποττόν ξεσκεπάζει τις μηχανορραφίες του παγκοσμίου συστήματος ενημέρωσης που δημιουργεί αντιλήψεις, τάσεις, φοβίες και εμμονές. Σε αυτόν τον μικρό «οδηγό χρήσης για τις ειδήσεις», προτείνει τρόπους με τους οποίους μπορούμε να παραμείνουμε ενημερωμένοι, αλλά όχι συναισθηματικά και ψυχικά χειραγωγημένοι.

Άμα σας ενδιαφέρει τι έχει να πει, προτείνω, αντί να διαβάσετε το βιβλίο να δείτε αυτό το βίντεο όπου ξεδιπλώνει τη σκέψη του σχετικά με το ίδιο θέμα με λιγότερη λεπτομέρεια αλλά κατ’ εμέ περισσότερη συνεκτικότητα. Άμα θέλετε να μάθετε και περισσότερα, διαβάστε και το βιβλίο. Αλλά το βίντεο από μόνο του νομίζω αρκεί. Θα σας διασκεδάσει και θα σας εμψυχώσει.

Μα τι τύπος είναι ο Μποττόν; Φιλόσοφος που είναι αρκετές φορές καλύτερος ομιλητής απ’ ότι συγγραφέας (και είναι ήδη πολύ καλός συγγραφέας!); Μα την πίστη μου!

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The War of Art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

I’d heard of Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire, an epic historical novel about the Battle of Thermopylae (which I image is less Dan Carlin’s King of Kings which looks at the famous Persian Wars from the seldom sung Persian perspective, and more Frank Miller’s 300, but that’s just me guessing).

It seems that apart from historical battles, Mr Pressfield can also make an epic story out of the clash that’s forever raging on inside each one of us: the battle against Resistance.

What kind of Resistance, you’re asking? Like a force as real as gravity, friction and actual electric resistance, this is the power that stops us from doing what we need to do, more specifically create what’s aching to be born of us, and more specifically (for Mr Pressfield’s case), write. Just simply write.

Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power. It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work. Resistance is implacable, intractable, indefatigable. Reduce it to a single cell and that cell will continue to attack.
This is Resistance’s nature. It’s all it knows.

This work is a very short motivational book that gave me a feeling very similar to the one I get when I listen to or read Jordan Peterson’s work: “alright kiddo, go clean your room. Do the work.”.

Peterson would continue with “only then can you stand to criticize society — only then can you look at the face of your father”, but Pressfield’s message instead is “you will doing us all a favor by becoming who you’re truly meant to be and creating a better world in the meantime”. It’s less a message of tough love and more one of much-needed empathy. We all have this Resistance, after all.

We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.

It’s quite reminiscent of one of my favorite Jung quotes: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” It’s something to live by.

I felt good by reading this book. But the rest, of course, is up to me.

I also recommend Mark Manson, Julien Smith and yes, Jordan Peterson in the “do the work” genre.

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Η κρυφή γοητεία του εντέρου: Στα άδυτα του πιο παρεξηγημένου οργάνου του ανθρώπινου σώματος

Η κρυφή γοητεία του εντέρου: Στα άδυτα του πιο παρεξηγημένου οργάνου του ανθρώπινου σώματος by Giulia Enders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Καταρχάς, να αναφέρω ότι αυτό ήταν το πρώτο βιβλίο που δανείστηκα από το καινούργιο κτίριο της Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκης που στεγάζεται στο ΚΠΙΣΝ. Ήταν πολύ απλό: γράφτηκα δωρεάν με τα φορολογικά μου στοιχεία (TAXIS και ΑΜΚΑ) και άρχισα να ψάχνω στον κατάλογο της δανειστικής βιβλιοθήκης τους. Για κάποιο λόγο αυτό το βιβλίο ήταν ο πρώτος τίτλος που σκέφτηκα. Τον δανείστηκα για δύο εβδομάδες, αλλά είχα τη δυνατότητα να επεκτείνω τον δανεισμό και για μία επιπλέον εβδομάδα. Πολύ φιλόξενος χώρος και βοηθητικό προσωπικό. Και όπως ήδη ανέφερα, εντελώς δωρεάν! Το συνιστώ σε όλους.

Τώρα, στο ψητό της κριτικής.

Όταν ήμουν μικρός, ίσως 6 χρονών, ήμουν τρελαμένος με τη σειρά Πώς Λειτουργεί το Σώμα Μου. Νομίζω μου έλειπαν ελάχιστα από τα 50τόσα τεύχη της DeAgostini, και είχα νομίζω όλες τις βιντεοκασέτες και τα πλαστικά οργανάκια. Αυτή η σειρά με έκανε να αγαπήσω την ανατομία και τη βιολογία, και αν με ρωτάγατε μικρό τι ήθελα να γίνω στις πρώτες τάξεις του δημοτικού, θα σας έλεγα «ιατρός». Στην πορεία κατάλαβα ότι δεν φτάνει η όρεξη και το ενδιαφέρον για το θέμα αλλά και η αποστήθιση περιττών πληροφορίων και η δυνατότητα επίλυσης διαφορικών εξισώσεων ή τι σκατά κάναμε στα Μαθηματικά Κατεύθυνσης, οπότε έχασα το ενδιαφέρον μου — ή αλλιώς θα λέγαμε ότι η τεμπελιά και η έλλειψη φιλοδοξίας υπερτέρησαν.

25 σχεδόν χρόνια μετά, το βιβλίο της Giulia Enders με τον γλαφυρό της τρόπο, τα αστεία σκίτσα ζωγραφισμένα από τη δίδυμη αδερφή της (!) και τα πολλά αστεία της και το καταπληκτικό πάντρεμα pop science και χιούμορ (το θέμα του βιβλίου πρέπει να ομολογήσω ότι προσφέρεται για αστεία με κλανιές, κουράδες και τις σχετικές λειτουργίες) μου έφερε πίσω αυτό το πάθος και το ενδιαφέρον.

Η συγγραφέας, ιατρός και θαυμάστρια του πρωκτού και της συναρπαστικής λειτουργίας του, αποφάσισε να διερευνήσει εις βάθος την τελευταία απόληξη ενός συστήματος το οποίο είναι πολύ πιο θεμελιακό για την ευεξία μας απ’ όσο είχαμε πιστέψει μέχρι πρόσφατα — και δεν αναφέρομαι μόνο στα ωφέλη μιας «ισορροπημένης διατροφής».

Το ξέρατε ότι η καθιστή θέση κατά την αφόδευση μπλοκάρει κάπως το παχύ έντερο, σαν πόδι που πατάει ένα ποτιστικό λάστιχο, και ότι το βαθύ κάθισμα στις φτέρνες, περίπου όπως θα καθόσασταν πάνω από μια τούρκικη τουαλέτα, ανοίγει πλήρως όλους τους σφυγκτήρες (σαν το πόδι να σηκώνεται από το λάστιχο); Αυτό μπορεί να το ξέρατε (κι εγώ το ήξερα από πριν διαβάσω το βιβλίο), αλλά το ξέρατε ότι μπορείτε να εξομοιώσετε αυτό το εσωτερικό άνοιγμα απλά βάζοντας τα πόδια σας σε ένα σκαμπό ενώ κάθεστε στην λεκάνη, (κάπως έτσι); Το δοκίμασα, και λειτουργεί!

Το ξέρατε ότι ο οισοφάγος ενώνεται με το στομάχι με μια πλάγια κλίση ώστε να μην έχουμε παλινδρόμηση και κάνουμε εμετό κάθε φορά που γελάμε ή χοροπηδάμε;

Το ξέρατε ότι το λεπτό έντερο έχει βελούδινη υφή επειδή είναι καλυμμένο με μικροσκοπικές λάχνες; Εκεί πάει το αίμα για να απορροφήσει τα θρεπτικά στοιχεία τα οποία έχουν χωνευθεί τόσο ώστε είναι απλά συστατικά και μπορούν να διαπεράσουν τα τοιχώματα και να μπουν κατευθείαν στην κυκλοφορία; Αν το έντερο δεν είχε τις λάχνες, θα έπρεπε να έχει μήκος 9 χιλιότερα για να έχει την ίδια επιφάνεια αιμοφόρων αγγείων.

Το ξέρατε επίσης ότι έχουμε δύο σφιγκτήρες, έναν εκκούσιο εξωτερικό κι έναν ακούσιο εσωτερικό; Τον εκούσιο προφανώς τον ελέγχουμε εμείς, αλλά ο ακούσιος ανοίγει μόνο όταν το έντερο νιώσει άνετα με τις συνθήκες και είναι συνδεδεμένο με το υποσυνείδητο μας. Έτσι ίσως και να εξηγείται ότι μερικές φορές θέλω να πάω στο μέρος με το που γεύομαι φραπέ με γάλα, πριν καν η καφεΐνη ενεργοποιήσει το νευρικό μου σύστημα.

Βασικά, το ξέρατε ότι το λεπτό έντερο έχει αυτόνομο νευρικό σύστημα το οποίο φαίνεται πως συνδέεται και με τα συναισθήματα και τη διάθεση;

Θα μπορούσα να αναφέρω κι άλλα τέτοια τσιτάτα (θα έπρεπε να κάτσω να τα θυμηθώ βέβαια, γιατί το βιβλίο το έχω επιστρέψει!) αλλά το σημείο του βιβλίου που με ενδιέφερε περισσότερο ήταν για τους μουσαφίρηδες που όλοι μας κουβαλάμε παντού μαζί μας — τα βακτήρια.

Περίπου τα 2 κιλά από το σωματικό σας βάρος δεν είστε εσείς — είναι βακτήρια τα οποία κατοικούν κυρίως στο παχύ σας έντερο και συμβιώνουν μαζί σας. Μεγάλο μέρος κάθε αφόδευσης είναι και βακτήρια, τα οποία πολλαπλασιάζονται κάθε φορά που έρχεται νέα τροφή. Τα γνωστά προβιωτικά (όπως το κεφίρ, το γιαούρτι, το προζύμι και άλλες τροφές που έχουν υποστεί ζύμωση) περιέχουν ωφέλιμα βακτήρια και αυξάνουν την ποικιλομορφία του μικροβιώματος. Με τη σειρά της, η μεγάλη ποικιλία από βακτήρια (κάποιοι έχουν μέχρι και χίλια είδη!) συνεισφέρει στην καλή υγεία.

Το πρεβιωτικά, από την άλλη, είναι τροφές οι οποίες είναι ιδανικές για να τραφούν τα μικρά μας κατοικίδια με τον καλύτερο δυνατό τρόπο, ιδανικά μετά από τις μικρές γενοκτονίες που επιφέρουν τα αντιβιωτικά τα οποία συχνά και ανεύθυνα συνταγογραφούνται σαν παυσίπονα.

Γενικά το πώς παρουσιάζεται στο βιβλίο ο κόσμος τις μικροχλωρίδας (αν και ορθότερα θα έπρεπε να τη λέμε ‘μικροπανίδα’) είναι συναρπαστικός. Και να φανταστείτε ότι πριν λίγα χρόνια δεν είχαμε ιδέα ότι υπήρχαν βακτήρια, εξού και οι περίεργες δοξασίες σχετικά με την προέλευση διαφόρων ασθενειών. Ήταν λογικό στην αρχή να κάνουμε τη σύνδεση ότι τα βακτήρια είναι κατά βάση εισβολείς, και όταν ανακαλύψαμε ότι πολλές αρρώστιες οφείλονται σε λοιμώξεις από βακτήρια, να καταλήξουμε ότι τα αντιβιοτικά είναι καλά και τα βακτήρια ΚΑΚΑ!

Αλλά πάντα η πραγματική φύση των πραγμάτων ταπεινώνει εμάς τους «έξυπνους» ανθρώπους. Αξίζουμε τα εύσημα για την ανακάλυψη των βακτηρίων και αντίστοιχων αποτελεσματικών όπλων εναντίον τους, αλλά το παρακάναμε (ειδικά στην κτηνοτροφία), και τώρα τα βακτήρια-βετεράνοι που έχουν επιζήσει από τις απανωτές επιθέσεις και πολλαπλασιαστεί απειλούν να γίνουν υπερμικρόβια και να πάρουν την εκδίκηση τους. Είναι σχεδόν ποιητικό.

Για την ακρίβεια, απ’ ό,τι φαίνεται το 99% των βακτηρίων που ζουν παντού γύρω και μέσα μας είναι αβλαβή ή και ωφέλιμα, οπότε εκτός από τις περιπτώσεις που είναι όντως απαραίτητο (και υπάρχουν φυσικά αυτές οι καταστάσεις), κάθε φορά που είμαστε υπερβολικοί με την καθαριότητα (βάζοντας π.χ. αντισιπτικό στα χέρια χωρίς λόγο) ή παίρνουμε αντιβιοτικά, κάνουμε τους οργανισμούς μας πιο ευάλωτους. Απ’ ότι φαίνεται, οι αλλεργίες και τα αυτοάνοσα νοσήματα είναι πιο συνηθισμένα σε χώρες όπου οι άνθρωποι είναι πιο σχολαστικοί με την εξάλειψη των βακτηρίων στο περιβάλλον τους.

Κάθε παραλληλισμός μεταξύ του πώς φερόμαστε στα μικρο-οικοσυστήματα μέσα στα οποία ζούμε αλλά και στα ευρύτερα, πλανητικού βελινεκούς οικοσυστήματα, είναι τελείως συμπτωματική.

Υπάρχουν τόσα που δεν ξέρουμε για το πόσο μας επηρεάζουν οι συγκάτοικοι μας. Εδώ ανταλλάξανε βακτήρια από το έντερο ενός ποντικιού με παχυσαρκία και ενός χωρίς και –μαντέψτε– το παχύσαρκο αδυνάτισε και τούμπαλιν…

Όλη αυτή η συζήτηση, και το βιβλίο, με έκανε να θέλω να φροντίσω τη μικροπανίδα μου με ζυμωμένες τροφές (ήδη έχω τη δική μου καλλιέργεια κεφίρ, αλλά σκοπεύω να πειραματιστώ και με άλλες, όπως τουρσιά — π.χ. ξινολάχανο — ή δική μου κομπούτσα). Έχω άλλωστε να πάρω αντιβίωση πάνω από 8 χρόνια και δεν θα με χάλαγε να κρατήσω αυτό το σερί.

Αν όλα αυτά σας κίνησαν το ενδιαφέρον, πρέπει οπωσδήποτε να διαβάσετε την κρυφή γοητεία του εντέρου. Το πέμπτο αστεράκι δυστυχώς δεν θα του το δώσω γιατί το τέλος βρήκα ότι ήταν κάπως μπερδευτικό και σίγουρα όχι τόσο γλαφυρό όσο η αρχή του βιβλίου, που είναι αριστουργηματική. Αν το πρώτο μισό ήταν σαν το δεύτερο μισό, σίγουρα θα έπαιρνε τα πέντε.

Αλλά και πάλι, οι πληροφορίες που περιέχει πιστεύω θα σας φανούν πολύτιμες στο ταξίδι σας στην καλύτερη υγεία και την πιο αρμονική συνύρπαξη με τον κόσμο γύρω και μέσα σας!

Δείτε εδώ μια σύντομη παρουσίαση TED της Giulia Enders σχετικά με το βιβλίο η οποία είναι χαρακτηριστική του στιλ.

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Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types

Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types by Don Richard Riso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Found this one last year in this shop when I was in Dublin. Having highlighted about half of it with that light blue colored pencil of mine, it took me about a year to “finish”… Reference book or no, I was really attracted to the way it expanded on some of the concepts first laid out in Personality Types.  I recommend reading that one first (or maybe even The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut for a different school of thought) if you want to get into the Enneagram, and read this one for more models and, uh, experimental ways to use this tool for personal growth and helping others out.

The Enneagram is a valuable piece of social technology — it’s a tool that can help us understand others and ourselves that works. We need to spread the word!

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Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency

Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency by Janina Klimas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

25/01/2018 EDIT: I’m adding in the summary of the book’s action steps in the words of the author:

The first step, is to review all of the action steps. They are compiled here for easy reference:

1. Throw away everything you ever thought you knew about learning languages. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to spend half your life trying to study a language. You don’t have to be Doctor/Professor/ Genius insert-your-last-name. You don’t have to have a million dollars, pounds, euros, yuan, yen or whatever, to attain these skills.

2. You don’t have to speak perfectly. You can make lots of mistakes and still be understood. You do have to have a willingness to understand how to learn languages and how to apply it, in order to meet your goals in your language.

3. On the matter of language learning in schools, please contact school districts and write your political leaders. In many school language programs, the traditional paradigm sets up students and teachers for failure. Unless people have the correct knowledge and materials to set up a program that assesses students all the way through, from beginning to advanced, and provides a long enough time sequence to be able to do so, languages in school are going to continue to not be a great experience for most people.

4. Be informed as you approach materials for the independent study of languages. I know I called out a few language programs but the truth is, I think any exposure you get is great. I also think a lot of the programs – particularly audiobook-type programs – are fantastic to learn useful words and phrases. You can listen if you’re going for a walk, cleaning the house or in the car. While they can be a useful way to pick up words and phrases, you need to be realistic. You need to be informed about how much input you will actually get, in order for them to be effective.

5. Decide what your idea of fluency is. What’s going to work for you? What’s going to work in your life? How much time do you have to dedicate to this endeavor? Do you want to go on a trip to Italy? In that case, maybe you can stay toward the upper bubbles. Do you want to move to China and fit in with the locals? Then you need to be way more advanced.

6. You need to decide where you want to be. After you’ve made those decisions, you need to learn about the amount of time it’s going to take to get to your goal, in your specific language. You also need to figure out how you’re going to get there with the time you have.

I was sent this book in digital format in exchange for an honest review. It took me more than a year to actually get down to it and finishing it. Sorry about that, JK.

What I enjoyed about this book was that it got me really motivated to actually communicate in different languages. The criticism on the different kinds of school systems sounded familiar, and the realisation that I’m not even communicating in my supposed mother tongues perfectly, let alone that I wasn’t born a native speaker in them and that I had to go through the long process of becoming one, did strike home. I loved how far she went to get across that no-one expects us to be perfect when we’re learning a foreign language, and that errors should be taken advantage of, not feared. “There is no failure, only feedback” truly is the golden rule here, as with anything.

I don’t believe this book is just for absolute beginners or people who haven’t ever learned foreign languages–I was able to get something out of it even with plenty of experience in languages. I see Learn ANY Language as more of a collection of resources and unique methods that can greatly expand your concept of what learning a language actually has to entail. I’ve been getting creative with learning or improving my working languages (mainly English, Spanish, German and to a lesser extent Bulgarian and Danish) for some time now by using podcasts, conversation exchange/tandem meetings, movies, video games, Memrise, Language Transfer incl. others, but Mrs. Klimas broadened my already airy horizons even more, and I’m thankful for it.

I also enjoyed learning about language skill assessment, the learning process and the practicalities of which parts of the traditional learning systems really work and which don’t, which is always a topic that fascinates me—just imagine how different things could really be…

Admittedly, I didn’t like some of the assumptions she made, e.g. that as a reader of the book I must be an L1 English speaker, for example, or that learners should spend some years working with specific structures before getting into more advanced ones, e.g. spending 1-2 years without being properly taught the past tenses or other ways to formulate the past in the given language. Judging by how much time people tend to devote to talking about the past, that sounds a bit counter-intuitive and an arbitrary limitation.

I also thought there were plenty of grammar errors and repetitions of advice and sentences throughout the book that cheapened the look and feel of the endeavour, especially on a topic such as language. But these are relatively small issues compared to the value that can be got out of this book, if one is only willing and motivated. If you are, this book will give you ideas and specific advice. If you’re not, it might help you get there.

Recommended for anyone interested in being a polyglot.

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A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A review for A Game of Thrones. Boy oh boy.

The world of fantasy feels so different now from what it must have looked like back in 1996, before even Lord of the Rings, the film that launched high fantasy of this variety into the wider public consciousness, had entered pre-production. Compare who gets to read this now with this book’s conceivable target audience back in the day. It’s a completely different world.

20 years later, fantasy of all sorts is mainstream, especially Game of Thrones the series. But has the game-changing success of the HBO blockbuster altered the way we should look at the original book’s standalone value?

I’ve got to be honest with you: I only read the book because of the show. Season 7 got me all hyped again come July, and after I was a couple of episodes in and I’d started itching to learn more about the characters I’ve been following for so many years again, I decided to take the plunge and make the commitment.

For make no mistake, this one’s long. Taking my sweet, sweet time, it took me 3+ months to go through its 780 pages of tinyish print. Assuming that each page took me about 1.5–2 minutes to read (including going through passages more than once to make sure I understood, or to reread for pleasure, which I’m happy to say happened quite a lot), that would make us… 20–25 hours at least? Shit — I just realised that I’m now counting hours with books, too; I thought I reserved this stressful habit for games and series only.

I’ll be honest with you again: I’m glad this book was made into a series and I got to watch it before reading the book. Mr Martin’s style is rich and flowery, but while reading it I sometimes thought, especially with some of his detailed descriptions of places (using obscure medieval masonry lingo) that he could have used a more eager editor. Just like with Lord of the Rings, it seems to me that it takes a certain kind of focused, detail-oriented person, the same kind who reads his/her favourite books again and again instead of looking for new books to discover, to truly enjoy these long-winding epics on the first go.

Thus, it definitely helped that I was already familiar with the characters before jumping in; I enjoyed reading more details about their backstories and fleshing out the space Westeros inhabits in my head, but the stories on their own I don’t think would be sufficiently interesting to capture my imagination had I gone in a complete ASoIaF virgin. I can clearly picture myself picking this book up blind, attempting to penetrate its world, and failing miserably.

That would have been a shame indeed because one of the series strongest points is its characters. They have clear, believable motives which are never easy to pinpoint as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Reading about them in much greater detail made me feel as if those people and their families had actually existed a long time ago, in a feudal society far far away.

On the other hand, I did find some of the differences between the book and the show jarring, e.g. how much younger everyone was (Ned & Catelyn in their mid-30s, Robb 14, Sansa 11, Arya 9—children really did mature quickly back in the day!), or how different some characters looked compared to their counterparts on the show: e.g. Arya and her “horseface”, the bald, ugly Jorah or the bald, whiskered Tywin.

I also found that some of Martin’s descriptions of clothes, appearance, hairdos etc. were random and a bit all over the place and not as
majestic and authentic-looking as they were in the show (even though Martin says it was a conscious decision and I can see where he’s coming from and now I feel a little bad for badmouthing him for it!)

One thing I liked in the book a lot that would have been pretty difficult to successfully transfer from it to the show (I mean, if they could do it, I’d be totally for it) was the structure. The storytelling went from one character’s perspective to another (e.g. from Arya’s to Jon’s etc), with always some ‘off-screen’ time passing from one chapter to the next. This often allowed for the undisclosed resolution of one chapter’s cliffhanger to be the unspoken backdrop of the next, something which made reading much more engaging and suspenseful.

That said, one of the reasons I’m happy GoT was made into a show and not a movie series is that in the HBO show they managed to follow the original plot and scene progression so well, though I would have still liked to see Tyrion climbing the Eyrie, or Clegane walk Sansa to her chambers after the tournament banquet (this scene was apparently used to cast Rory McCann for his role as Sandor Clegane, pity it didn’t make it into the show’s script intact and Sansa hears about the Hound’s backstory from Littlefinger).

All in all, I quite enjoyed A Game of Thrones. Yet, I can’t give it five stars, and this is the elephant in the room of a question that’s been bothering me: is there a point after which a book of fiction or a fantasy series just ends up being too long? Do we all have some kind of personal threshold? I know A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t even the worst case of an XL series of XXL books (something-something-Wheel of Time—I’m too scared to touch them, honestly), but seriously: the prospect of reading another huge book like that, and then another, and another, and another, and another, and then yet another, especially since I already know what’s going to happen, feels two parts exciting and five parts “hey don’t mind me, I’m just gonna be picking up that Murakami, Bill Bryson and Graham Hancock at some point, k?”

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that with the show and the series and all those infinite other TV and fantasy series out there, in a world that’s so darn interesting by itself and with so many exciting or actionable things happening around us, we just might be spending a bit too much of our life watching, reading, discussing and worrying about imaginary kingdoms, imaginary dragons, fictional incest and fascinating ultraviolence. It all feels like a giant distraction, a never-ending circus.

I’m not saying that you or anyone else shouldn’t be reading fantasy or fiction, not at all—evidently, I’m not impartial to it either. What I’m saying is that I’m not sure I should be spending my limited book-reading time with books like it. I’d compare it with the hip burgers at restaurants like Hot Hot or Μπαρ Μπεε Κιου (Bar Baaah Cue) in Athens and others like them in almost every wealthy city around the world: they are expertly made, hip, trendy, absolutely huge, do well on Instagram and are tasty as hell. But they’re still made of brutally grown meat, and, at the very end of the day, against all appearances… they’re still junk food.

Burgers and Game of Thrones – the 21st-century panem et circenses?

Just for argument’s sake, another comparison: Book 1, 1996 and Season 7, 2017. Taking both of them into account and the apparent incapability of this series’ writer to give it a proper ending (what has led us to where we are now), would you be able to say what this white hot mess is ultimately all about?

I’m fully aware that stories and (adult) fairytales are some of the cornerstones of our humanity. But what about the content of these stories? What role does it play, if any? Are all distractions, entertainment and/or myths created equal?

My reluctant answer would have to be no.

PS: If you’re interested in some worthwhile, engaging, slightly pretentious criticism of A Game of Thrones, check out this top Goodreads review and the related discussion that caught my attention, written before the HBO series was a thing. The reviewer’s list of books that in his opinion ‘are really radical and surprising, unlike aGoT which was entirely predictable despite claims’, might also be worth a couple of looks into.

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Το χαμένο νησί

Το χαμένο νησί by M. Karagatsis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ευχαριστώ τη Μαριλένα που μου δάνεισε Το χαμένο νησί. Ήταν η πρώτη μου επαφή με τον Καραγάτση.

Περισσότερο απόλαυσα τις πιο πεζές αφηγηματικές στιγμές του βιβλίου, οι οποίες από μόνες τους είχαν κάτι το αλλόκοτο, και λιγότερο τις μερικές φορές ντελιριακές (αν και ενδιαφέρουσες λογοτεχνικά) εσωτερικές αναζητήσεις του πρωταγωνιστή. Κι αυτό γιατί, παρ’ ότι βρήκα τον αντι-ηρωικό του ρόλο και το ότι εξέφραζε την εσωτερική Σκιά που λίγοι μας δείχνουμε αρκετά ελκυστικό, περισσότερο με μάγεψε το πόσο παράξενη και γλυκιά κόλαση ήταν η Τήλος και οι κάτοικοι της. Οι σκέψεις, τα κίνητρα και τα συναισθήματα του Γερόλυμου ήταν δευτερεύουσας σημασίας και μερικές φορές μου αποσπούσαν την προσοχή από αυτό για το οποίο ήθελα να μάθω κατιτίς παραπάνω.

Έχοντας ακούσει ότι αυτό είναι το πιο φανταστικοστραφές και φευγαλέο βιβλίο του Καραγάτση, έχω περιέργεια να διαβάσω κάποια στιγμή και άλλα του, ξεκινώντας από τη Μεγάλη Χίμαιρα ή Το 10.

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First approach: Once again, my review could just be delicious quotes taken straight from this little gem — it’d be easy, straightforward, powerful and much better than anything I could write myself, probably. I just might come back at some point and add some of them.

I’m not giving it 5 stars because I thought the layout and ‘guideposts’ idea was kind of messy and didn’t lend itself to a single, strong point, to the extent I’m not sure what the book was about. I felt the title was misleading in this respect (it’s not exactly about imperfection), and was a bit all over the place. But I’m the kind of person who can live and enjoy going all over the place. Let’s just say it wasn’t as memorable as it could have been?

I’ll check my Kindle notes and come back.

25/01/2018 EDIT: I can’t believe it. I stuck to my word. Go me!

My emphasis.

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

“Shame Resilience 101 Here are the first three things that you need to know about shame: We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. We’re all afraid to talk about shame. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable—it’s the total opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy. In fact, the definition of shame that I developed from my research is: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.1″

It’s not so much the act of authenticity that challenges the status quo—I think of it as the audacity of authenticity. Most of us have shame triggers around being perceived as self-indulgent or self-focused. We don’t want our authenticity to be perceived as selfish or narcissistic. When I first started mindfully practicing authenticity and worthiness, I felt like every day was a walk through a gauntlet of gremlins. Their voices can be loud and unrelenting.”

“’Who do you think you are to put your thoughts/art/ideas/ beliefs/writing out in the world?’”

“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception—we want to be perceived as perfect.

“Get Deliberate: A good friend of mine heard this wonderful intention-setting reminder during a Twelve Step meeting. I love it! It’s called the vowel check: AEIOUY. A = Have I been Abstinent today? (However you define that—I find it a little more challenging when it comes to things like food, work, and the computer.) E = Have I Exercised today? I = What have I done for myself today? O = What have I done for Others today? U = Am I holding on to Unexpressed emotions today? Y = Yeah! What is something good that’s happened today?”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us. People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

“When I’m really scared or unsure, I need something right away to calm my cravings for certainty. For me, the Serenity Prayer does the trick. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen!

“The Hopi Indians have a saying, ‘To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.’ I know how much courage it takes to let people hear our hearts speak, but life is way too precious to spend it pretending like we’re super-cool and totally in control when we could be laughing, singing, and dancing.

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

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The Present

The Present by Michael Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Divine love = attention + compassion.

This little e-book is supposed to be telling the ‘truth’, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It kept hammering on that what I was holding in my hands (or listening to an artificial voice narrating through my earbuds) was humanity’s quintessential distilled wisdom and what we would need to take our 600 million (sic) years of evolution to the next level. Only this way were we to leave the animal mind behind and become spiritual beings!

What I think I got from The Present:

-when we die we re-incarnate as the closest member of our bloodline.
-if we’ve been given the truth in our lifetime and we squander it by not paying attention, be go back to being cyanobacteria in the Marianna Trench eating sulfates from underwater geysers thousands of meters below the surface of the ocean and then we have to evolve all over again from the beginning.
-everything is balanced. If you’re rich, beautiful and lucky in this life, you’re going to be unattractive, poor and and born a cripple in the next. Why? Because… physics and the law of action and reaction! It only makes sense that whatever’s true for particles, celestial bodies and energy should hold for immaterial spirits that re-incarnate and defy every single law of physics as we know them today. Apart from quantum mechanics of course! 😉
-the Beatles were prophets and if you listen to their music with an open heart you can also learn the truth from there.
-heaven is just a techno-utopia.
-40,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens didn’t know how to light a fire. Wait, what?! This is so wrong, I don’t know where to start. As if this wasn’t a hot mess already!

OK, enough cherry-picking. For a book that tries to drive the point that it holds the ultimate truth, it sure mixes up its science, its rational thinking and its talking out of its behind. The writer couldn’t decide if he was going to be a prophet and just be a channeler to the divine or if he was just going to be looking at the facts. No, don’t you go all rational high and mighty on me and then in the next sentence start talking about re-incarnation as if it’s self-evident.

Sigh… it had some good points, some honestly well-put concepts, and the message that the present is all we have, as well as the first sentence I’ve quoted at the top of the review, is a spiritual takeaway as great as any. But I can’t take any book that in all honesty tells you that you should only read it and no others for the rest of your life seriously.

This is like Conversations with God gone wrong. Check it out if you want to see some good material squandered by pompous and misguided writing.

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