Thoughts after Reading The Pope at War by David Kertzer

  • Excellent book. Reads like a novel. Highly recommended for students, scholars and readers interested in World War II and specifically the Catholic Church’s role dealing with the leaders of Italy (Mussolini) and Germany (Hitler).
  • While understanding that the Pope needed to proceed cautiously on the diplomatic front to protect the Church and Catholics who lived in Italy and Germany, Pius XII generally caved to the demands of the Fascists and Nazis.
  • In pre-war Germany, there was evidence of abuse committed by Catholic priests. This was used as a negotiation card by the Nazis to get Pius XII to agree to their terms.
  • Pius XII’s reluctance to speak out against the atrocities committed against the Jews was an act of moral cowardice.
  • Pius XII did not address the Nazi bombings of London, Rotterdam and Warsaw as they occurred. However he lobbied the Americans and British not to bomb Rome and the Vatican.
  • Kertzer provided stories where priests and nuns refused to aid Jews seeking to hide or flee from Nazi pursuers.
  • Pius XII did lobby Nazi authorities to protect Jews who did convert to Catholicism. He did very little to protest the poor treatment and murder of Jews.
  • Pius XII was fully aware of what atrocities were occurring.
  • Many of the atrocities against Jews were committed by Nazi officers and soldiers who were Catholic.
  • Pius XII does not merit any consideration for canonization. He certainly was no saint.

Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff

Subtitle: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires

What the top .1 of 1% think and how they look to control their lives and how they want to control the lives of the rest of humanity.

My notes from this intellectually engaging book..

Taking their cue from Tesla founder Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Palantier‘s Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or artificial intelligence developers Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.

page 5

This Silicon Valley escapism– – let’s call it The Mindset – – encourages it’s adherents to believe that winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.

page 10

Studies have shown that the more power a person has, the less “motor resonance“ or mirroring they do of others. Of course, people seeking power may be predisposed to this behavior. But further research has suggested that after people have gained power, they tend to behave like patients with damage to the brain‘s orbitofrontal lobes. That is, the experience of wealth and power is akin to removing the part of the brain “critical to empathy and socially appropriate behavior.” Poor people are much better than their wealthy counterparts at judging other people’s emotions. Their capacity to make “emphatic inferences“ based on facial muscle movements is far superior.

As NYU business professor Scott Galloway has explained, “we’ve decided that capitalism means being loved and empathetic to corporations, and Darwinistic and harsh towards individuals.“ Government readily bailed out banks and businesses in a 2008 recession, and the Covid crisis increased total billionaire wealth from 8.9 to 10.2 trillion in just the first year, despite the pandemic’s negative impact on everyone else. 

page 34

The reduction of reality to information and humans to genotypes all too conveniently dovetails with capitalism’s imperative to render everything into a suitable form for the marketplace. Everything is data, and everything has a price, and everything can scale. The described, codified object is all that matters; anything else falls away like junk DNA, inferior species, or the majority of human beings. The wealthy technologist makes it into the cloud, while the masses are left behind competing against one another in the realm of matter. Like Christ or any other saved figure, only the fully encoded individual can be transubstantiated to the next level. 

So goes the atheistic eschatology  of The Mindset.

page 95

Bernays wrote the book on propaganda – – literally, it was called Propaganda – – in which he explained that the manipulators of public opinion are the true, invisible power in any society. The masses are too stupid to make decisions for themselves, anyway, so their rise to power in a democracy must be steered by propaganda, a “mechanical, advanced and necessary” science of population control. At the time, many journalists and politicians spoke out against Bernay’s tactics and beliefs. He and his colleagues, however, saw themselves as conducting an essential social service. The elite, and even progressives among them, feared the potential power of the unchecked crowd to wreak havoc. They witnessed the madness of crowds in Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union alike and wanted to prevent such crises from happening in America, much as Hillary Clinton feared the “basket of deplorables”, who might elect a demagogue as president, or those young technologists feared the insurrectionists at the Capitol. If one could only push a button and make that all go away.

page 101

Government emphasis on job training, high-tech skills and art general compatibility with a digital future has led schools to emphasize STEM—-science, technology, engineering and math – – over the softer, squishier subjects like English, Social Studies and Philosophy. Education has shifted away from liberal arts, which wrestle with those fundamental questions of purpose and dignity while also building the faculties required to think critically about media and messaging. Those skills are dangerous to leave behind.

page 146

Liberation from The Mindset…

Stop supporting their companies and the way of life they’re pushing. We can actually do less, consume less and travel less – – and make ourselves happier and less stressed in the process. Buy local, engage in mutual aid, and support cooperatives. Use monopoly law to break up anti-competitive behemoths, environmental regulation to limit waste, and organize labor to promote the rights of gig workers. Reverse tax policy so that those receiving passive capital gains on their wealth pay higher rates than those actively working for their income.

page 185

Book Review: Profiles in Ignorance How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber by Andy Borowitz

I got it. We have experienced some really dumb men and women in Washington and national politics. Borowitz picked on Reagan but at least Reagan had some very wise and experienced people on his staff and Cabinet. Contrast the quality of intelligence and expertise with the various iterations of the Trump cabinet.

Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and of course “The Donald” are cited in the book as national embarrassments. The dumbest candidate of all time was not mentioned in the book, Herschel Walker. Walker was outed for paying for an abortion after he claimed that he did not. This font of sanctimony is decidedly pro-life. He has consistently lied about his education and credentials. Yesterday he received a standing ovation from members of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

There were various spokespeople who went on news shows to defend him. Who is dumber? Walker or the people who still support him?

Borowitz’s book was meant as satire. I saw no humor in his stories. It was depressing. So very few of the people profiled by the author read books. Aides could not dumb down information for Reagan or Trump.

Unless you have been in a cave or quarantined for 40 years, most of the stories in the book have already been reported. This is not a book for Republicans. There are a number of Democrats who have experienced issues with judgment but not like the GOP.

At The Line Pickleball by Joe Baker (Review and 41 Takeaways)

This is the first book of what I am sure will be many published in the future that I have read on how to improve one’s pickleball strokes, strategies and play. I have been playing pickleball for about four years and much of this book serves as a reminder of things that I should already be doing. This book is an excellent instruction tool and introduction for Beginners and an effective refresher course and guide for Intermediates and above. The instructions are easy to follow and the author includes pictures and diagrams for further clarity.

FYI: Baker has created and posted useful YouTube videos on pickleball tips if you are not inclined to read the book...

Listed below are 41 takeaways from the book that I found helpful to me and I think would be beneficial for other players…

1.The basic strategy of pickleball can be summarized in just a few sentences: (1) get your team fully forward as quickly as possible,(2) keep the other team back as long as possible. (3) if you have to hit up on the ball, which is almost always, hit soft shots designed to bounce before being returned. (4) If all players get fully forward, keep the ball low until a put away opportunity arises.

2. Don’t hit the ball to players. Instead hit the ball to open spaces to make your opponents run or reach.

3. Always look for the down the middle opportunity, as this is a much higher percentage shot than a down the sideline shot.

4. As far as shot depth goes, aim at the depth of your opponent’s feet. That is, don’t provide a shot that can be volleyed back, and don’t provide a shot that bounces well in front of your opponent.

5. About the best thing you can do for your game is to learn how to make drop shots into the kitchen.

6. Intermediate skill play: more than half of the rallies are over with five shots or fewer and this includes the serve. About 70% of rallies are over after six shots. The service fault rate for the 3.0 skill level is about 3.5%. The best strategy is just to aim for the middle of the box.

7. The old rule thumb is that if you have to hit up on the ball, hit softly, aiming to keep the ball in or near the kitchen area. If you can hit down on the ball, you may hit hard.

8. The smash shot is best directed to an unreachable open space. However if there is no such space, the smash should be directed to the area of a player with the least time to react: the near player, not the deep player.

9. The server and the server’s partner should both be behind the baseline. Make sure you and your partner wait behind the baseline until your opponent hits the service return shot before moving into the court. If you step into the court when serving move back behind the baseline after making the serve. A big mistake is moving forward too early and then retreating to field a shot.

10. An ideal serve, if it can be made consistently, it’s fast and deep and usually directed at the receivers backhand. However, not faulting is key. Until you get really consistent, do not attempt to serve fast or deep, and do not attempt to add spin. Just focus on hitting the target: the middle of the box.

11. The player returning this serve should typically be 18 to 30 inches behind the baseline.

12. The team at the net has a huge strategic advantage over opponents who are in the backcourt. Net players have more angles and shot placement options than players who are deep in the court, and they can defend their court better than players who are deep.

13. A beauty of being at the net is that the net shields your feet.

14. For a right handed player, shots that land outside the left heel are nearly impossible to field.

15. Never give your opponent a ball in the air (a ball he or she can volley back) unless it is intended to defeat his or her reaction time or it’s a deep lob. Taking the ball in the air versus letting it bounce helps minimize your opponent’s forward progress.

16. When dinking, it’s OK to hit toward a kitchen sideline. When trying to hit a drop shot into the kitchen, it’s OK to hit toward a kitchen sideline. However, long shots directed toward sidelines outside the kitchen have too much of a risk of going out of bounds and are low percentage shots. Top players rarely attempt such long shots.

17. You must stay linked to your partner, never more than 6 to 7 feet away from your partner to form a wall. Slide and reposition the wall after each hit of a ball.

18. Reduce flubs and mis-hits that usually go into the net. Flubs normally result from hitting the ball outside of the paddle sweet spot or off-center. Flubs or mis-hits often result from not watching the ball.

19. Pregame communications: if not already known, ask or advice your partner about opponent strengths and weaknesses. Issues such as poor mobility, inferior dinking ability, poor lobbing skills, slow hands and poor third shot capability should be communicated.

20. Yell “mine” or “yours” unless the shot is extremely obvious.
Yell “no” to your partner if you see a shot going out of bounds.
Yell “switch” if you’re fielding a lob that goes over your partner’s head. This means that you and your partner will switch sides…

21. When dinking, you should try to stay as far forward as possible, in other words, just behind the no volley zone line. Your toes should only be an inch or two behind the line. Crosscourt dinks are more forgiving for both height and depth and they are usually more difficult to attack than those that come from straight across. Also it’s a mistake to dink to the forehand of the person right across from you as this provides a set up for a straight on attack. About 75% of flubbed dink shots that go into the net occur when a player is trying to field a dink that is low into the backhand.

22. Dinking targets: basically you don’t hit directly to your opponents. Instead you hit between them or towards sidelines.

23. Stay compressed in basketball like ready position. When you are compressed, you can move fast and quickly volley back shots that are directed at your feet. If you are standing straight up, you may have difficulty defending against shots that are aimed at your feet.

24. When you get pulled out near the net, hit crosscourt into the kitchen if possible.

25. In the dinking game, it’s best to continuously stress your opponent, making him or her reach, move or scramble. It’s not wise to give an easy dink shot to the opponent directly across from you. Especially avoid hitting it to his or her forehand because it sets up a rather easy attack shot.

26. When playing, keep most shots to your opponents backhand because this will create the highest number of flubs and make aggression more difficult. Stay linked to your partner and slide the wall in relation to the position of the ball.

27. Even the best players, when they launch a fastball attack, will lose the rally about 30% of the time they try. Generally speaking, whenever you have a shot that gives a better than even a chance that you could shut down a rally with it being in your favor, you should make the shot.

28. This statistic is this: among advanced players, if you start the fast game and you fail to defeat your opponents reaction time with your first shot, your chance of winning the rally is about 28%.

29. Hit your fastball to a location that forces an awkward hit… A popular goal is to jam the opponent’s dominant side. This means directing the ball to the right hip pocket or right shoulder of a right handed player. This forces the defender into a high elbow or chicken wing arm position usually leading to a weak return or pop up.

30. When in a fastball fight – – – and especially if you are starting it – – – you should generally fight with the near opponent, not with the far opponent. The near opponent has less time to react.

31. When fully up to the net, keep the paddle up, above your waist, and in front of you with the head of the paddle above your wrist.

32. The main root cause of many of unforced errors is the use of force exactly opposite of what it should be used. In other words, players hit hard when they should be hitting soft and vice versa.

33. A return of serve that is deep is better than a return that is fast because the deep shot makes the critical third shot more difficult. You’ll get better depth accuracy and precision with a slow arcing return then you will with a flat trajectory fastball return.

34. In general, you should get the lobs that go over your partner’s head and vice versa.

35. For a 4.0 level and below players, the overhead smash leads directly to the loss of the rally for the smasher about 28% of the time. Why? Often the smasher tries for too much, too much angle or too much depth.

36. When you and your opponents are close to the non-volley zone line, the best put away smash strategy is to angle it down to the feet. If you are forward and your opponents are back, your best put away smash opportunity is to angle the shot to make it unreachable. It helps if the ball is off center because it gives you an even better angle.

37. When you are at the non-volley zone line, any fastball coming your way that is shoulder height or higher will likely go out of bounds. So starting out, get out of the way of any fast shot at shoulder height or higher and watch the results.

38. On the return of serve, the failure rate at the 3.0 skill level is about 8%. The most frequent fault is having the ball go into the net and the main root cause behind us is trying to use too much power. Provide enough arc to clear the net easily and avoid using more power than it takes to hit this target. The target is to aim at or near the center of the non kitchen area.

39. When hitting to a banger, try to keep most or all shots to the banger’s backhand and to the left heel target.

40. Rather than taking risks with aggression, very often the best strategy is to simply continue to return the ball to your opponent. Under such a strategy, an impatient or less skilled opponent will usually be the first to fault.

41. The ideal strategic arrangement is for you and your partner to play parallel and at the net that will keeping your opponents deep in the court. Therefore your strategy is to get your team to the net while keeping your opponents away from it.

Book Review: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles

The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best business related book that I have read this year…This book is an indictment of Jack Welch, “welchism” and capitalism in general. Jack Welch is not here to defend himself but the author presents a very compelling narrative supported by numbers that Welch was very overrated as a CEO, role model and strategist.

Welch quelched efforts at innovation, long term planning and corporate responsibility so he can meet or exceed quarterly numbers. Welch’s primary business objectives were to please his stockholders and become very personnaly wealthy.

Very well written book. Interesting stories and business analysis…Good investment of my book purchase…

Notes from the book:

Welch employed three main tools in his crusade: downsizing, dealmaking, and financialization.

Welch developed a new policy, colloquially known as “rank and yank.” Each year, managers rated their employees. Those who were in the bottom 10 percent were let go.

GE stock fell 80 percent in the years after Welch retired, becoming the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Welchism has at its heart the conviction that companies must prioritize profits for shareholders above all else, that executives are entitled to enormous wealth and minimal accountability, and that everyday employees deserve nothing more than their last paycheck.

From runaway climate change to steep inequality, to hollowed-out communities abandoned by companies seeking cheap labor elsewhere, it can at times seem like corporations do as much harm as they do good.

The chief executive of a major American company now makes in one year what it would take a typical worker in that company 320 years to earn.

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Memory by Richard Restak M.D.

This is a badly needed book for me personally. At 70, I have memory issues, mainly forgetting someone’s name or being unable to remember the correct term or word. I fear dementia as I get older after seeing what my mother experienced before she died. I was looking for exercises and insights into improving my memory and this book provides it. Excellent tips on exercise, diet, and naps to improve your cognitive skills.

My notes from the book:

Pictures are easier to commit to memory than words. This is based on the fact that the brain wasn’t designed for reading words; reading doesn’t come naturally. We have to be taught how to read, while we require no instruction to form mental images of the objects and people around us.

We now know that memory depends on associations rather than single words. Each word has to be put in context and associated with other words or phrases in order to form a memory for later retrieval. So your best chance of remembering is to enlist the brain’s powers of association.

Another highly effective technique for improving your memory is to keep retesting yourself on the material you want to remember. Even after you have learned something, your long-term memory for it will be strengthened if you repeatedly challenge yourself to recall it again and again.

Based on the older adult risk factor, I advise all of my patients to abstain completely from alcohol at age seventy at the latest. By sixty-five years of age or older, people possess fewer neurons than they did only a few years earlier. So it makes sense to eliminate alcohol at a time in life when it’s necessary to conserve as many neurons as possible.

Fiction, on the other hand, requires the reader to proceed from beginning to end while retaining in working memory the various characters and plot developments.

Incidentally, I have noticed over my years as a neurologist and neuropsychiatrist that people with early dementia, as one of the first signs of the encroaching illness, often stop reading fiction.

For some reason, our brain is better at recalling losses and failings rather than positive experiences.

Naps too exert a positive influence on memory. Naps lasting anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour and a half have been shown to increase later recall for information encoded prior to the nap.

The key to successful napping is waking up more empowered than you felt before the nap.

Dark chocolate enhances episodic memory.

This serves as another reminder that anything that gets one up and about and focuses attention, however briefly, will prove beneficial. At the deepest level, physical activity of any sort promotes synaptic and cognitive resilience.

Book Review: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan W. Watts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my bookshelf for decades. I have read or skimmed through this book dozens if not hundreds of times. I have yellow highlighted much of the book. I think that everyone should read the first chapter of this book for Watts’s brilliance and insights into reality. Considering that this book was published over 70 years ago, it’s amazing that the insights are certainly relevant for today’s world. For sure, the world has not become more secure since 1951, but significantly much less.

This book tries to address an issue that was relevant in the past and is certainly relevant in our present time. How are we to find security in peace of mine in a world who is very nature is insecurity, impermanence, and unceasing change?

Watts’s book serves as a guide for life – – how to approach it rationally and wisely. This book has had a profound effect on my life. Both uncomfortable and settling, it has provided some perspective to me on my philosophy of living. In a sense, this book became my Bible.

Listed below are some nuggets of wisdom from the book…

By all outward appearances are life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another.

If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever excludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.

However long postponed, everything composed must decompose.

When belief in the eternal becomes impossible, and there is only the poor substitute of belief in believing, men seek their happiness in the joys of time.

This kind of living in the fantasy of expectation rather than the reality of the present is the special trouble of those businessman who live entirely to make money. They fail to live because they are always preparing to live.

To be happy, we must have what we cannot have. In men, nature has conceived desires which is impossible to satisfy.

¨We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them.

Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it.

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Book Review: With a Mind to Kill (007) by Anthony Horowitz

With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble so I hoped I made a good reading investment. This is a gritty, violent and dark 007 adventure. No tropical island scenarios and his love interest was almost passionless.

The book starts off with the funeral of M reportedly killed by 007. Following the Ian Fleming template, the story starts off somewhat slowly. Bond has to pretend that he is still under the control of the brainwashing he received from the Russians earlier.

007 ’s mission is to find out what the huge plans are to upset East-West relations. This story takes place in 1964 where there is turmoil in the Russian government under Chairman Khrushchev. Bond is aided by a Russian doctor Katya Leonova who was involved in the brainwashing of Bond.

I liked the storyline. Like I mentioned there were parts of the book that moved slowly. I was more interested in what the characters did and said as opposed to the architecture and history of buildings that Bond visited.

This is old time Bond not the Bond played by Daniel Craig or the latest Bond movies. No special gadgets. No technology. A 1964 Cold War thriller…

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