Gary’s book club

I just finished reading Gun, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Its been out for a few years, but its one of those books that is referenced enough that it is probably worth while reading. The book explains why history was shaped like it did around the world. Why did Europe colonize the Americas and not vice versa? Why didn’t native Australians have advanced farming and herding? Why didn’t the natives of North America, who had some of the richest farmland in the world, develop more agriculture?

His answer is that the crops that could be cultivated and the animals that could be domesticated weren’t evenly spread out around the globe. Most of the crops and animals that could be used were found in Eurasia, and that the East/West layout of most of Eurasia lent it self to the disperals of these crops/animals better than the north/south layout of the Americas or Africa did. As such, they were able to advance faster having better crops to start with. Also, because they had domesticated animals sooner and had them longer, diseases which spread from animals had longer to develop resistances in Eurasia, and made conquest of those places without as many domesticated animals possible. (ie: When smallpox was introudced to the Americas it killed a large percentage of the population, but there was no corresponding disease in the Americas that killed off Europeans.)

His thesis makes a lot of sense in the big scheme of things when comparing different continents, or even different ethnic groups over time, but seems to break down the closer we get to the present, when crops and animals were distributed all over the globe. It explains history over thousands of years or even over centuries, but it doesn’t really explain the rise of Hitler or Lenin. His answer might be that in the big scheme of things, Hitler and Lenin don’t really matter. The further away we get from the 20th Century, the less the individual players that shaped the Century matter.

Of course, if all of human history had been documended like the past 200 years, we might not have to revert to broad sweeping theories.

I’m now reading 1421: The Year China Discovered America.



I’ve gone to the gym for the 4th time in four days. This is a big deal for me. The last time I had a gym membership, I’d go maybe four times a month. At sometime, somehow, a switch got flipped and I want to go to the gym. The last four days my body has ached, but its mostly gone. I have also really switched my diet to mostly fruits and vegitables. It hasn’t really reflected on the scale yet, but I can feel a difference. You can’t go from nothing to something and not have it make a difference.

There were a ton of reasons why I avoided going to the gym. One of them was the intimidation factor. Gyms are natural habitat for ex-jocks, the muscle bound and narcissistic….none of which are me. While the chubby and rotund are the ones who most in need of a gym, they the ones most likely to be intimidated by going. I’ve never really defined myself by anything physical and dealing with high school punks, mid-level managers with their wannabe CEO haircuts, and Eden Prairie housewives who still look like Martha Stewart, is not my definition of fun.

Nonetheless, letting yourself go to hell isn’t much of an option either. So I’m biting the bullet, doing it, and ignoring the vapid conversations around me.

Tonight, I’m watching The Pianist. I’m sort of catching up on all the 2002 movies I missed.


And what did you do on the 4th of July?

I watched movies.

Terminator 3: They did a much better job with this than I thought they would. T2 didn’t easily lend itself to a sequal, but they managed to explain everything in a convincing manner. The problem with many franchise movies, is that they weren’t initially concieved as franchises. Indiana Jones, Highlander, Planet of the Apes (Original), and Jaws sequals were all sort of made up as they went along. As a result, some of the story lines just get rediculous as more sequals come out and the budgets get thinner. So far, Terminator has done a good job of keeping things together. I think there is an excellent T4 out there waiting to be made that will have nothing to do with Arnold in the role of a robot.

Punch Drunk Love: I went to Hollywood Video to rent some movies after seeing T3, which is something I rarely do. The guys at the checkout were talking about Everquest and I asked them what server they played on. They flipped out that I knew to ask that question and gave me 50% off my movies just because I was cool. I’ve liked all the previous Paul Thomas Anderson movies I’ve seen (Magnolia and Boogie Nights). While this was a good movie, I didn’t think it fit in to the same catagory as his other films.

Adaptation: I’ve heard so much about this movie that I thought I knew what to expect, but in the end I was totally wrong. There is so much going on in the film that I think I’d really have to see it again to let it all sink in. The short summary of the plot is that its a movie about writing a movie, except its really so much more.

Also, Barry White passed away. A generation will grow up not understanding my impression of him.


The Pillsbury Doughboy

I started going to the gym again. When I last had a health club membership, it was something I did because I knew I should do it, but going was a chore. I went once a week and going once a week is like not going at all. Now, I want to go. I can’t explain it, but I’m just sick of looking like I do.

I don’t think my problem is eating. While I certainly can make some improvements in my diet, I don’t think that is the primary problem. The big problem is that I have a very sedentary life. Like most kids, I was pretty active playing outside all the time. I played sports through my sophomore year in high school. Then…..I joined the debate team. While debate is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done, it doesn’t do much for your body. If you’ve been to a debate tournament, you can take a look around and realize this pretty quick.

In a larger sense, I’m sort of representative the problem society has with weight. For most of human history, the primary focus of humanity was eating. Hunting, gathering, and farming. The amount of time it took to acquire and prepare food was many many times greater than it is now. Today, (in developed countries at least) the amount of work needed to acquire and prepare enough calories to survive is trivial. We pay farmers not to grow food. The largest dietary problem amongst the poor in the US has dramatically gone from malnutrition to obesity.

On the other end of things, we don’t have to work very hard anymore (in the burning of calories sense of the word, not in terms of time). Television is often blamed for most people’s lack of exercise, and to some extent its true, but even with out TV, people wouldn’t necessarily be out working up a good sweat. My personal devil is the PC. I don’t really watch too much television despite the link up above. My television watching is pretty efficient due to Tivo, and I really don’t care for most of the programming outside of the educational channels. The PC is a much greater time suck for me than TV ever was, because TV is finite in its content whereas the Internet is not.

So, having eaten the easy to come by foods and having sat on my ass, I am now counteracting it by running in place, lifting things that serve no purpose, and sweating like a pig (and when I sweat, I really sweat). Nonetheless, I like it and feel much better having done it.


Hail Caesar

I watched the TNT mini series “Caesare” tonight. Its too much story to put into two episodes. Hell, just Caesar and Cleopatra took 2 hours in the movie Cleopatra and that didn’t deal with anything prior to the defeat of Pompey.

The mini series does appear to use a fair amount of CGI in the battle scenes, which is a trend in epic films. I think its a great thing if it mean more historical epics being made. Baz Luhrmann is currently working on Alexandar the Great and there are several other large scale epics in the works. The idea of a Baz Luhrmann historical epic has me worried, but I’ll reserve final judgement till it comes out.

A Caesar motion picture would be a great, but they have to pick and choose what they want to deal with. The whole story of Caesar is too much for one film (in the same way in which “Gods and Generals” was just trying to do too much in one film). I think the march on Rome and the Roman Civil War would make for the best story, and the one which really hasn’t been done well by Hollywood.