Thursday, January 28, 2016

HamAlong Post IV: If politics is preeminently the art of compromise, then Hamilton was in some ways poorly suited for his job

Another week, another Hamilton post. And guess what! We're just over halfway through this monster (if you don't count all of the notes and citations in the back, that is. If you want to count that cos you plan on reading them well, whatever floats your boat. You're not quite halfway then.)
Thank you, Alice, for leading the way.

Chapters 15-19 still cover a little more of "Non-Stop" but we finally make it out of that track and all the way over to "The Room Where It Happened".
These chapters were like 75% about setting up complicated financial systems that would become the backbone of the nation and while it's all important and impressive that he did this, I only understood like a third of what was going on.

But let's start with Hamilton's first day as Secretary of Treasury, where Hamilton "installed an elegant mahogany desk with caryatids - female figures - carved into its spindly legs. A.Ham, you rake, you.

Hamilton does what he does, meaning he writes a TON, gets into the nitty-gritty of his job, to the point that he wanted to know all the details of his port wardens' lighthouses and buoys and made sure customs collectors sent him ship manifests so he knew exactly how much was coming in. He didn't take on the role of Secretary Treasury alone. As a matter of fact, he started his position pissing off his fellow Cabinet members by amassing a HUGE workforce under him. I assume he needed some help getting through all of those  ship manifests. Oh, and he also did the job of Secretary of State, since Jefferson was taking his time coming back to the States and accepting the position.
Hamilton wrote a 51-page pamphlet (I think we're being liberal with the term "pamphlet") to explain his financial plan involving government securities and bonds and other things that I really don't understand. Congress wouldn't let Hamilton present the plan himself, probably because they all remember the six-hour-with-no-break-for-lunch speech he previously gave. That said, Chernow still says that "it was so lengthy that, by the end [of the reading], many representatives sat there in stupefied silence."

That doesn't mean it was a BAD plan. Daniel Webster later talked about the plan and said:
The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.
At the time people seemed split on if this was a work of GENIUS or if this was evidence that Hamilton was going to ruin the country and was probably the antichrist (or the "American Mephistopheles"). Because politics has literally always been like that, regardless of anyone talking about getting back to the Good Ol' Days.

Jefferson was especially not a fan of Hamilton's plan since Jefferson believed that they should be an agrarian society, like the simple life he and other Southern plantation owners lived, because Chernow gives us a Jefferson who completely lacks self-awareness.
Jefferson fancied himself a mere child of nature, simple, unaffected man, rather than what he really was: a grandee, gourmet, a hedonist, and a clever, ambitious politician.
Strangely enough for a large slaveholder, [Jefferson] thought that agriculture was egalitarian while manufacturing would produce a class-conscious society.
Jefferson, and increasingly Hamilton's former-congressional buddy Madison, were at odds with Hamilton and his financial plan and now we're seeing the beginning of that two-party system that Washington thought would be such a bad idea.

On thing I did not realize was Angelica's influence during the time. Jefferson and Angelica knew each other in Paris through Jefferson's 26-year old girlfriend Maria Cosway. Jefferson and Angelica flirted, with him even inviting her to Monticello or they could even take a trip to Niagara Falls. But given the animosity between Jefferson and Hamilton, Angelica had to chose and eventually she drifted away from Thomas.

Chernow starts to set the stage for Hamilton's later affair with Maria Reynolds. Or I guess continues to set the stage, since he had that comment about how he probably cheated cos Eliza was so busy RAISING THEIR FAMILY and I'm proud that we all called that out in the last post. Come on, Chernow.
This time he talks about how Hamilton was so driven he never took a break and this also probably contributed to his dalliances. I wish he was able to give reasons without making them sound like excuses for his behavior, especially since it was far from a one-time event.

Maria Reynolds comes off as sort of a crazy chick with wild mood swings and who had terrible grammar. She may have been afraid of her husband and looked to Hamilton for help. She may have played Hamilton from the beginning with the damsel in distress bit. Whatever the case, Hamilton paid the Reynolds to not tell anyone about the affair and tried to convince Eliza to extend her trip to Albany and ugh, Hamilton, I'm not a fan of yours right now.

I remember I wanted to talk about the Whiskey Rebellion but I can't find where in the chapters it is, but I kept thinking of Musical Jefferson's line
Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got friskyImagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whiskey
Oh Hamilton, why didn't you listen? This section doesn't go too into detail about what happened with the Whisky Rebellion but Stuff You Missed in History Class has got you covered.

Even though I was talking about how we're just over halfway done, I still can't imagine what we're going to get into in the next 300 pages. Till next week.

Title quote from page 324

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination

You've probably heard of this book. I feel like this is one that got recommended to me from various angles. A co-worker bought it and lent it to me so I decided to give it a try. I could do with being more tidy. That said, this is still a self-help book about getting organized, and with any self-help book, I approached it with a lot of cynicism because I'm a jerk.

She preaches the gospel of her KonMari Method of organization, and I do think her basic tenets are good ones: be mindful of the things you have and don't keep things if they don't bring you joy. It's certainly easier said than done, though she is very insistent that this process is easy and fool-proof.

Her method involves a one-time (though that "one-time" can take up to 6 months) major purge of everything you have and really considering what do you need and what makes you happy. She claims after this purge, she's NEVER had a person revert to their old ways and that once you do this you will be happier, less stressed, lose weight, get clear skin, find the love of your life, probably win the lottery, etc*.

Most of the book focuses on the importance of getting rid of things. An empty room seems to be the ideal. She provides a few tips for being organized, some I liked (fold your clothes and place them vertical in your drawer so you can see everything, organizing by category instead of room so you know what you actually have), many I won't be doing (never keep anything in your tub/shower, dry your dishes on your veranda and you won't need a drying rack [you have a veranda off your kitchen, right?], move your bookshelf into a closet).

There are some exceptions to the "bring you joy" bit, as she does grudgingly admit that paperwork isn't likely to bring you joy but sometimes you do need to hold onto important things like warranties or tax forms. HOWEVER, she is adamant that the second you can throw these things out that you do. Immediately. Have you paid your credit card bill? Excellent THEN TRASH IT IMMEDIATELY. No, don't think you can organize paperwork. It's a losing proposition.

She talks about her own history with organization and tidying up, starting when she was 5 and no matter what she claims or the testimonials she provides, I do not believe you will ever be as orgasmically happy as she is when she's tidying.

She anthropomorphises things, talking about how you shouldn't ball up your socks because they have worked hard when they're on your feet and their time in the drawer is when they should be relaxing and they can't relax when they're squished up like that. And I kept thinking how it's hard enough to throw things out without believing they have feelings. (I blame The Brave Little Toaster for this.) Though she does address this problem of throwing away something with feelings by saying that if something is balled up in the back of your closet or whatnot and never used, it's basically in prison so you should set it free. She does not go into what that new freedom might be like for your old knickknacks if tossed into an incinerator at the dump.

Her tips also aren't great for people on a budget. She doesn't recommend stocking up on items to save money because she says you spend more money storing them and if you throw out something and discover you need it later, just buy it then! There's also an assumption it's very easy for you to run out and pick up whatever it is you need, so there's never the need to keep things on hand. I can't see this book being a bestseller among the couponing crowd.

I won't be taking on the KonMari Method, but I like the idea of going through our items and discarding what we really don't need, what we won't miss. There are going to be things we keep that don't necessarily bring me joy (sorry, packing tape, you're very useful and I'm keeping you around, but my heart doesn't soar when I see you) and I'm not going to start thanking all of my possessions for what they've done for me each day, but I think there are some good lessons to be taken away from this book.

Gif rating:
*I'll have you know, only "win the lottery" is an exaggeration and everything else is mentioned at least once as a result of tidying. And even then she does say it will bring you good fortune, so the lotto thing is closer to literal than you might think.

Title quote from page 21

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  Ten Speed Press, 2014

Thursday, January 21, 2016

HamAlong Post III Hamilton: a veritable Niagara of opinion

Here we are, three weeks into this HamAlong and I continue to be exhausted by everything Hamilton accomplished, including pissing off roughly every other person he met. Thank you, Alice, for hosting this readalong and making sure that we actually read this chunkster.
Last week's chapters covered tracks "A Winter's Ball" - "Non-Stop". This week we read chapters 10-14 which match up with...well still "Non-Stop". Man, that song covered a LOT of ground.

These chapters deal with Hamilton's burgeoning political career, but also are at the point where Chernow's rose colored glasses about the guy are unable to hide some of the less-than-awesome bits about Hamilton, such as his feelings on the ladies and in general being sort of a dick to people because while really smart, he never really mastered tact.
That Hamilton could be so sensitive to criticisms of himself and so insensitive to the effect his words had on others was a central mystery of his psyche.
Or he could just be kind of an asshole. ANYWAY

Chapter 10 starts with more about Hamilton's law practice including the fact that he would only represent clients if he believed they were innocent. Except one time when he defended a spinster with the logic that "Woman is weak and requires the protection of man"
This is how Mrs. Arnold was able to fool you, sir. I do not appreciate this and the fact that you would represent people who could only pay you with "barrels of ham" does not make up for it, despite how hilarious that image is in my head.

We also learn a bit about Aaron Burr who was essentially the exact opposite of Hamilton. He talked less, although it's hard to make the case he necessarily smiled more, especially if you look at the portrait of him a couple years before his death. Which might be my favorite picture in the collection the book provides, in large part because that is a painting, not a photograph, and thus he had to make that "Are you fucking kidding me, you done yet with this bullshit?" face for hours, possibly days. That looks like the face of a guy who "could store up silent grievances over extended periods." (John Adams was also described as "a man with an encyclopedic memory for slights." I'd say Hamilton has a real skill pissing off master grudge holders, except I'm pretty sure he pissed off everyone at some point that some percentage of them were bound to have long memories.) But Burr was a big fan of reading and called Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman "a work of genius," so there's that.

In the contradiction that is Hamilton, and people in general, Hamilton joined the New York Manumission Society, which was a group of white guys fighting against slavery and for the rights of black people. Except a number of these people owned slaves, so what the hell?
I'd like to think if Laurens hadn't gotten shot like an idiot, he would have corrected this contradiction. I guess in a way it was nice of him to die before proving me wrong on that.

Hamilton then joined forces with future foe James Madison, brought together by their hatred of the Articles of the Confederation. What was wrong with the Articles? Well, to quote America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction "Why did the Articles fail so completely? Most historians believe the Founding Fathers spent a great deal of their first constitutional convention drafting the Declaration of Independence and only realized on July Third that the Articles were also due."* I thought of this line pretty much any time the Articles were mentioned. It's a good thing Hamilton had a buddy in Madison, considering he was pissing off the other New York delegates who hated the idea of a more powerful centralized government, which Hamilton and his Federalist party was pulling for.
Hamilton to the Articles
Hamilton used his normal methods of persuasion, burying the opposition under a deluge of words. Oh he stayed quiet for a little while, hanging out on the sidelines, but eventually broke his silence "at epic length," even if it wasn't his most brilliant plan.
On Monday morning, June 18, the thirty-two-year-old prodigy rose first on the convention floor and in the stifling, poorly ventilated room he spoke and spoke and spoke. Before the day was through, he had given a six-hour speech (no break for lunch) that was brilliant, courageous, and, in retrospect, completely daft.
And that's from Chernow, Hamilton's official cheerleader. He didn't trust people to vote correctly ("His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself.") and he'd rather come up with his own plan than work off someone else's, and also SIX HOUR SPEECH, NO BREAK FOR FOOD.

Hamilton wasn't winning over everyone with his marathon speeches, so instead he teamed up with Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers. They were supposed to be anonymously published and technically they were. However, Madison and Hamilton couldn't HELP but tell their heroes that it was all them.
Madison furnished Jefferson with the relevant names [of the authors] in code, while Hamilton sent Washington the book version and observed, "I presume you have understood that the writers...are chiefly Mr. Madison and myself, with some aid from Mr. Jay."
It wasn't all politics. I mean, it was mostly politics, but he also had time to flirt with Angelica when she came back to America to visit, prompting people to suggest there was something going on there, though it doesn't appear to have gone beyond flirting. And, since this is getting long, let's end with Peggy being great. At a fancy party, Angelica dropped her garter (which, is that a thing you can just drop? That seems scandalous.) and when Hamilton picked it up Angelica told him he wasn't Knight of the Garter. Peggy heard this comment and raised him "He would be a Knight of the Bedchamber, if he could." Can we get a follow up book that is just the Schuyler sisters being awesome and sassy?
Till next week, HamAlong-ers!

*America (The Book) also says The Constitution was named after Hamilton's mother. I have realized while reading Hamilton that an embarrassingly large chunk of my American history knowledge comes from the Daily Show. Also, I'm writing this while watching an Adam Ruins Everything about voting and yeah, good times.

Title quote from 225

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

In retrospect, their naivety was staggering

I didn't know anything about Black Chalk when it showed up as my latest Just The Right Book acquisition. But the cover seemed interesting and buzz phrases like "intricate psychological puzzle thriller" and "dark, twist fun" sounded like this could be right up my alley. OK, so the tag line "One Game. Six Students. Five Survivors." is kind of confusing, if only cos when reading that my first thought was " like, those are pretty good odds." I'm not saying my typical game night ends up with someone dying, but we're not talking the Hunger Games here or anything.

But anyway, this book. It jumps back and forth from present day where our narrator is a crazy hermit, living in NYC. I have no idea how he affords his apartment, since he doesn't seem to have a job and certainly never leaves the place. He has a terrible memory and leaves himself these "mnemonics", clues to remind him to do things, such as leaving 6 glasses of water out each day, so he remembers to drink something. You'd think leaving some notes would work, but whatever. Let's not try to impose logic on the eccentric guy.

Our narrator-of-the-terrible-memory gets a strange phone call about a game. And thus we have the second part of the story, with the chapters jumping back to this guy's days at Pitt College in Oxford. There's an American exchange student Chad, who is shy but excited to be somewhere new, where intellect is appreciated. He meets and becomes fast friends with this guy Jolyon, who is the guy on campus that EVERYONE knows and loves. They make a few other friends and form their own little clique of students at the school that don't come from money.

One day during some sort of club day event, where all of the clubs (or soc's) on campus try to convince people to join, Chad spies a table for some Game Soc. The table is manned by three mysteries guys and Chad sees the guys turning people away. Chad convinces Jolyon and another friend Mark to talk to the guys, who agree that if they come up with an interesting enough game, the mystery guys will give them £10K towards their endeavor.

Basically, the story is about 6 college students at a fancy English school deciding to play truth or dare without the truth part. Through a series of cards and dice play that is never explained, the players have to perform some sort of "consequence" thought up by the other players. The consequences are embarrassing or upsetting. Ideally both. Every player has to put up £1,000 to play, if you refuse to do your dare, you forfeit your money. If you perform whatever your dare is and decide to quit after, you get your money back. Last man standing gets the £10K plus any forfeited money.

The Game starts innocently enough but slowly the group becomes obsessed with it, rarely talking about anything else. The challenges are selected for the individual, based on whatever will hurt them the most. And eventually the dares get to the point that friendships are broken, lives are ruined, and as that tagline tells you, one person doesn't make it out.

Here's the thing. While I do agree that the dares are embarrassing and I wouldn't want to do them, the reactions from everyone seem out of proportion to the dare. But maybe it's me?

Near the end of the book, where the dares are getting more intense, one of the characters has to get caught jerking off in a pub bathroom stall to an Asian Babes magazine. And yes, that sounds super embarrassing. Except here's the thing. It's not just embarrassing. People are LIVID at him. People call him names and tell him he's racist and spit on him and...really? I know it's embarrassing but why are we so mad at him? He didn't get caught at a playground or some SVU stuff. And each challenge is like this.
Spoiler contained

I liked the idea of the book, but since I didn't really believe anyone's reaction, I kept getting taken out of the story. By the end I didn't care. And I was reading the NPR review which mentioned the BIG TWIST and someone in the comments got angry the reviewer even mentioned a twist. I'll say this: I finished the book and didn't realize there was some BIG TWIST. So. But hey, the NPR guy liked it, so maybe this will be more your thing.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 92

Yates, Christopher J. Black Chalk. Picador, 2013.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

HamAlong Part II: Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships

Welcome back to another HamAlong post! Thank you Alice for hosting this and making sure we actually read this super crazy long book.
Part one of the book covered tracks 1-8 ("Alexander Hamilton" - "Right Hand Man"). This part is pretty much tracks 9-23 ("A Winter's Ball" - "Non-Stop") and holy shit we're pretty much through Act I and there are still like 600 pages left to go. For those not familiar with the Hamilton musical, seriously, fix that cos it is amazing. Anyway, these chapters seem to focus on Hamilton's love life. Or that was the part that I focused on. Naturally.

First up, we get more about Hamilton and Laurens' love for each other, as it seems they were both "rash and impetuous". The two of them exchanged letters with lines such as "I wish, my dear Laurens, it m[ight] be in my power by action rather than words [to] convince you that I love you."
But of course, Hamilton has a lot of love to give, and as the song says, Martha Washington named her "large, lascivious tomcat 'Hamilton'". Eventually Hamilton gets tired of flirting with everything with a pulse, decides he wants to settle down, and Eliza Schuyler steals his heart. Don't worry though, Hamilton assured Laurens that "In spite of Schuyler's black eyes, I have still a part for the public and another for you."

Hamilton doesn't just get Eliza, get gets the whole Schuyler family. Hamilton, who didn't have any family to speak of, was about to get three brothers (John, Philip and the wonderfully named Rensselaer) and four sisters (Angelica, Margarita (aka PEGGY), Cornelia, and to-be-born Catherine). I don't know much about the brothers, but the sisters seem awesome, not the least because all except Eliza eloped. Cornelia won whatever challenge the sisters clearly had going by "stealing off with a young man named Washington Morton by climbing down a rope ladder from her bedroom and fleeing in a waiting coach."
Of course, Hamilton may have married Eliza, but there's always her older sister Angelica who at this point was already married, or things may have turned out differently.
The attraction between Hamilton and Angelica was so potent and obvious that many people assumed they were lovers. At the very least, theirs was a friendship of unusual ardor, and it seems plausible that Hamilton would have proposed to Angelica, not Eliza, if the older sister had been eligible.
Will they ever be satisfied?
In between all this loving, Hamilton and Washington were fighting. Washington wouldn't give Hamilton the military position he so desired and Hamilton kept annoying Washington and indeed had become disillusioned with the man. But they kept their spat hidden to not upset the children. Eventually Washington gave in and gave Hamilton a command at Yorktown and he done good. He was given the task of taking over a redoubt and he and his men managed this in under 10 minutes. So that's pretty snazzy.

Things continue to look up as Eliza gives birth to their first child, son Philip. And Hamilton cannot stop going on about how awesome his son is including his "method of waving his hand that announces the future orator". Seven-month-old Philip had apparently already NAILED orator level hand waving. Or Hamilton is a ridiculous father who would totally flood your Facebook feed with pictures and stories about how awesome his kid is. "I'm sorry, are YOUR kid's eyes 'not only sprightly and expressive, but...full of benignity?' Yeah, that's what I thought."
Hamilton also did lots of very important government stuff, helping to quell some riots from soldiers who just want the pay they were promised for fighting for the country, figuring out a financial system and other important stuff. But instead of going into the details of that, I'm going to end this on a sad note and talk about Laurens' death.

Laurens continued to be "rash and impetuous" till the end, ignoring a command to NOT randomly attack a British expedition and was shot and killed. Hamilton never got his congressional Louise to his Thelma.
On a personal level, the loss was even more harrowing. Despite a large circle of admirers, Hamilton did not form deep friendships easily and never again revealed his interior life to another man as he had to Laurens. He became ever more voluble in his public life but somehow less introspective and revelatory in private. Henceforth, his confessional remarks were reserved for Eliza or Angelica Church. After the death of John Laurens, Hamilton shut off some compartment of his emotions and never reopened it.
As so I leave you until next week.

Title quote from page 123

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sometimes crazy is just right

The first book signing I went to was for Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened so it seemed fitting I go see her when she came to NYC for her latest book. So I got another book signed and was awkward in front of an author I like, but it's cool because Lawson and she doesn't really make you feel awkward. Probably cos her books are a bunch of ridiculous awkward stories. I also dragged a friend of mine with me because it's always easier to be awkward when there's a crowd of you. Spread the awkwardness around.
Unlike her last book which was more of a memoir, this is more a series of ridiculous stories. Ridiculous stories plus chapters regarding her mental health. It actually had less regarding mental health than I thought there would be. This itself is neither good nor bad, just an observation, especially coming out of the reading where it seemed like it would be more of a 50/50 split. Though now that I think about it, that 50/50 split thing might just be my own assumption based on the fact that she read one more serious story and one funny one, and yeah, I'm realizing that assumption was all me. I think this is why sample sizes are so important when drawing conclusions.

One of my favorite sections includes advice from her father. Should we look at some of the best bits? Of course
There will be moments when you have to be a grown-up. Those moments are tricks. Do not fall for them.Don't make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed.Sometimes stunned silence is better than applause.
And of course, there's some excellent advice from Neil Gaiman when she was having trouble doing the reading for the Let's Pretend audiobook.
Pretend you're good at it.
Which is advice I first heard from her and something I try to keep in mind whenever I'm doing, well, anything. I was going to say "things that scare me" or "things I think I can't do" but that encompasses most things so "anything" covers it.

As with her last book, I couldn't help but laugh out loud while reading it. Which makes for some interesting looks on public transportation. But so worth it. Even those chapters that do deal with her mental health are laugh out loud funny, even if there is a bit of sadness behind the laughter.

If you liked Lawson's first book, or you're a fan of her blog, then you'll like this book.

Gif rating
Title quote from page 6

Lawson, Jenny. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Flatiron Books, 2015.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

HamAlong Part I: Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton

Here we are with post one of the Hamilton readalong (aka, Hamalong). Let's start with WHY I am reading a 800+ page biography of a founding father, despite the fact that biographies and US history are typically not my jam.
It's this guy's fault
Hamilton the musical. Obviously. It's amazing, and I'm sorry it took me way too long to listen to it while everyone was raving about it. This recent discovery meant for Christmas I received: a $10 bill, this biography we're going to be discussing, the soundtrack, AND tickets to see the show!

As I wasn't the only person to receive the book, and the fact that the book is massive and I require additional support to get through it, our fearless leader Alice (prompted by Tika of the genius ideas) decided to host this readalong. Because support of great people and gifs make everything better. Let's begin!

I was pretty happy to learn in these first chapters that Chernow has not written a super dry biography. Maybe because Hamilton's life was so dramatic, but still well done! Also well done that Chernow starts with Eliza and her work to tell Hamilton's story. AND THEN he moves onto Hamilton's mother Rachel, who is just as badass.
In [Rachel's] proud defiance of persecution, her mental toughness, and her willingness to court controversy, it is hard not to see a startling preview of her son's passionately willful behavior.
Now, in her proud defiance, leaving her shitty husband after he had her thrown in a dungeon (whaaat?), she did abandon her oldest child Peter, and that is pretty shitty of her. Chernow doesn't shy away from this point, but does reiterate said shittiness of Lavien.

So Hamilton's mom was not married to Hamilton's dad and thus Hamilton is a bastard at a time when that was a serious issue for upward mobility. Then Hamilton's father (OR WAS HE??) leaves him and his mom dies and the cousin he and his brother, James, are staying with commits suicide, his aunt, uncle and grandmother all die and everything is terrible. And thus we get Hamilton's work ethic:
From the outset, the young Hamilton had phenomenal stamina for sustained work: ambitious, orphaned boys do not enjoy the option of idleness.
Alexander was lucky to be taken in by a "well-respected merchant" Thomas Stevens. Alexander got along with Stevens' sons, and indeed the boys acted the same. And looked the same.
So perhaps Hamilton isn't Hamilton but is actually Stevens? Because of course there's extra drama and mystery in the guy's life. Who knows, but the point is Stevens helped out Alexander and not his brother James.

Alex gets work as a clerk and is given a surprising amount of power, considering his age and social standing, to make decisions on behalf of his bosses, Beekman and Cruger, telling them "I dun as hard as is proper," and I'm not entirely sure what that means but I like it all the same. You dun, Alexander, but not too much. Don't go overboard with the dunning. He knows the exact right amount.

Things are looking...not up, but at least better for Hamilton when there's a devastating hurricane, because of course. But since Hamilton knows how to take lemons and make a new form of government, he knows how to take a hurricane and use it as a jumping off point to get off the island via his writing. The merchants on the island decided they had to get this kid educated and Hamilton does not waste this opportunity.

When he gets to NY (after his ship almost sinks en route when the boat catches on fire, because of course it does) he meets
Who totally does need introduction cos history books tend not to mention this guy. But he seems to provide a lot of the information we have about Hamilton during this time period, so thanks for writing all this stuff down, Herc.

Hamilton begins his studies at Elizabethtown Academy, in preparation of getting into Princeton.
Never tentative about tackling new things and buoyed by a preternatural self-confidence, Hamilton proved a fantastically quick study. He often worked past midnight, curled up in his blanket, then awoke at dawn and paced the nearby burial ground, mumbling to himself as he memorized his lessons. (Hamilton's lifelong habit of talking sotto voce while pacing lent him an air of either inspiration or madness.)
In addition to studying and looking like a crazy person, he also likely met Burr at this time. Hamilton was also busy meeting important people and having impure thoughts about their daughters (or at least Kitty Livingston), in case you forgot that Hamilton is only about 17-19 at this time and teenage boys are always the same.

Hamilton didn't get into Princeton. Or rather his request to go through an accelerated program was denied, possibly due to James Madison. Instead he ended up at his safety school, King's College (now Columbia). And as with most college experiences, he starts going to rallies, which at this point are about how the colonies should tell parliament to fuck off (at this point some, including Hamilton, were still on the King's side). And at this point Hamilton really solidifies his key strategy for getting what he wants: burying the opposition under so many words that they can't get up again. Take that, Samuel Seabury.
Skipping ahead to the revolution (because OMG there's so much in these chapters) Hamilton makes a name for himself, eventually gaining the eye of George Washington, who made Hamilton one of his aide-de-camps, welcoming him into the Washington family, which it was actually called and that is adorable. And this was all a good thing for Hamilton, not only for the upward mobility but also because Hamilton could use some impulse control.
Washington possessed the outstanding judgement, sterling character, and clear sense of purpose needed to guide his sometimes wayward protege: he saw that the volatile Hamilton needed a steadying hand.
But Hamilton managed to keep his cool long enough to not only act as Washington's secretary, but also make decisions on his behalf and interpret his orders and wishes. He also meets John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton's grandson says "There was something about them rather suggestive of the three famous heroes of Dumas," and adorable? Adorable. There is also the fact that a few historians mentioned the possible homoerotic overtones between Hamilton and Laurens and Hamilton and Lafayette.
Because I've gone on long enough, let me just point out one last thing before ending this post. The section ends with a duel, where a guy gets shot through the mouth and out the back of the head and LIVES. What? How even? And the shooter's comment?
I have stopped the damned rascal's lying tongue at any rate.
These guys did NOT mess around with their duels.

It's insane that so much has already happened and we're, what, an eighth of the way through the book? Also I realized we're about 8 songs in, if we're measuring against the soundtrack. I'm exhausted thinking about everything Hamilton had already done. I'm also feeling super unproductive. Thanks a lot.

Till next week!

*I actually FINALLY listened to it because Alice had sent me a copy of the Lafayette bio by Sarah Vowell and I knew Lafayette was a character in Hamilton and yeah, it all spiraled out of control from there. So I guess I like bios of figures from American history more than I previously thought. I am terrible at knowing what I like.

Title quote from page 3

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin, 2004.

Monday, January 4, 2016

When you ask the question differently, you look for answers in different places

I am a fan of the Freakonomics offerings ever since my friend bought the first book for my other friend.* I've read that first book multiple times. I've read the follow up Superfreakonomics a few times. I regularly listen to the podcast. When I saw Think Like A Freak was on sale, I naturally snagged a copy. And in the end I was sort of...disappointed.
Think Like A Freak is sort of a guide for how they approach problems. It's interesting and it makes a lot of good points and I highlighted a lot of passages. But here's the thing. I've heard a lot of this already on the podcast. Which I suppose is understandable, cos they come out with a new podcast practically every week and that is a lot of material to have to come up with, so naturally there are repeats in the book. But a lot of it was repeats, so while I enjoyed reading it, I already knew a bunch of the (very good!) points they were going to make.

That and the book contains a lot of notes. Apparently. That in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. But, as I read it on my Kindle,  I have the little % completed bar running along the bottom. I was at 52% when I read "Let us tell you one more story..." and I thought "Shit, there is no way this last story takes up the other 48%." Surprise, it only took up another 5%. That is 43% notes, acknowledgement, and footnotes. So yeah. Made me happy I bought this on sale.

Let's focus on the good things. Because I did like the book and I did just pick up When to Rob a Bank by the duo (on sale, of course).

Unlike the previous two books, which focused on a number of relationships between seemingly unrelated topics (sumo wrestlers and Chicago school teachers, for example). This time around the book is more of a how-to guide, explaining how to approach problems "like a freak" to get to the bottom of these complicated questions. As with the other books, the main thesis is that you shouldn't trust conventional wisdom**, just because it's conventional and that everyone responds to incentives so figuring out those incentives can help solve (or at least identify) the problem. And they do still tie together seemingly unrelated people; one section is titled "What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?"

One of the parts that stuck with me the most came from their chapter about quitting (and why it can be GREAT!) about performing premortems.
Many institutions already conduct a postmortem on failed projects, hoping to learn exactly what killed the patient. A premortem tries to find out what might go wrong before it's too late.
The idea of listing out all the ways a person (or a project or an idea) could fail sounds like a bad idea. You could talk yourself out of it and then what? Better to focus on what will go right. And while I agree you could talk yourself out of whatever it is, I still think the benefits could outweigh the costs because you plan for possible scenarios in which everything could go to shit. Because if you go through those, if anything bad does happen, you already know what to do. Or you can actually set up the systems in place so the bad stuff doesn't have a chance to happen. Yes this can take time and make people uncomfortable, but given the example they use, seems like it's more than a fair trade-off.

This section talks about the Challenger disaster. Essentially, a group of experts had already suggested that the O-rings would fail, which was exactly what caused the explosion. In this case, the decision was made to go forward, which ended up being a tragic decision, but that's what lead to this group decided to start planning these "premortems" and hopefully actually listening to the results.

Overall I recommend the book. Or the podcasts. Or both. Just know that you'll be hearing a lot of the same stuff. Good stuff, but the same regardless.

Gif rating:
*It was a going-away gift when my friend and I spent a semester in Italy. He got her Freakonomics cos she likes finance and economics and sociology and whatnot and he got me Will in the World because SHAAAAKESPEARE. He is an excellent gift-giver, to this day, as evidenced by my recent Night Vale Community Radio mug.
**If you're looking for other "Everything you know is wrong" type stuff, might I suggest Adam Ruins Everything, which is one of my new favorite things.

Title quote from page 51, location 797

Dubner, Stephen and Steven Levitt. Think Like A Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. HarperCollins, 2014. Kindle