Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity


"By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day." -- excerpt from the excommunication of Baruch de Espinoza, July 27, 1656.

Bertrand Russell describes Spinoza as "the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers." I cannot disagree. As remarkable as his philosophy is, his conduct is even more so.

Goldstein titled her book Betraying Spinoza because she hopes to reconstruct his identity and demonstrate how it influenced his thinking, while recognizing that his formal philosophy endeavors to abrogate the concept of identity. Through an analysis of Jewish history at large (and the 17th century Amsterdam Jewish community in particular) and making the occasional educated guess, she makes the compelling case that Spinoza, in rejecting Judaism, was a sort of Jewish savior. By destroying the Jewish conceit of being God's "chosen people," he undercuts all forms of essentialism, religious or otherwise.

His impact on John Locke is noted. The leap to his influence on the deism that informed the thinking of those who would found the United States is short. When I am at my most pessimistic I think of the philosopher, and those like him, and I allow myself to hope.
History of God


Armstrong isn't the greatest word smith, but the breadth of her research is remarkable. A must read.
13 1/2: A Novel


This is the best Lifetime Original Movie I've seen yet. Even so, I was totally pulling for the sociopathic axe-murderer to shut that woman up.
Post Office: A Novel


Don't get the Bukowskistas, nor their figurehead.
Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life


Reich takes a nuanced view of economics which challenged my thinking and eventually won me over (although I wish he would have given more in the way of solutions than the final fifteen pages).

Although I disagree with him on several points, I am agreement with the thesis of his book: namely, that the citizen has been overwhelmed by the consumer and investor, and hence, democracy is in danger of being subordinated to the economy (more so than it already has). The end result is the monolithic supercapitalism we all toil under.

The accepted ways of dealing with corporations (lauding good corporate stewardship, boycotting bad actors, etc.) are provincial and myopic because the underlying structure of supercapitalism remains in place. If one villain falls, another will simply arise in its place. Yet his analysis seems obtuse at times; for instance, he ignores the role played by unions in forming the type of informed citizens he seems to desire that can hedge against corporate excess.

I believe the failure of unions to adapt to international corporatism is what has led to the unchecked capitalism that plagues us. If there are sweatshops in Timbuktu using child labor, why aren't American unions there, helping to build relationships with communities and promote reforms? Aside from the fact that they have been eviscerated, the unions are preoccupied with "American jobs," not understanding that they strengthen the long-term interests of the American worker by bringing his international cousin into the fold. (It reminds me of the early union efforts that neglected women and people of color -- divisions happily exploited by greedy industrialists.)

If economic exploitation doesn't honor national boundaries, neither should the instruments to fight it.

The rational market crowd -- among whose number Reich is counted -- tell us these sweatshops are necessary (and beneficial) to developing countries and therefore desirable. The truth is that transnational corporations own the political infrastructure of these economies (or, in the case of places like China, support the despotic regime in place), where labor activists are openly repressed because they threaten to upset shareholder returns. (For the record, I favor behavioral economics.)

The final third of the book shows a less nuanced Reich, wherein he ultimately (and rightly) rails against the legal fiction of corporate "personhood." He also proposes taxing returns earned from investments as personal income and removing corporate money from politics, both necessary and noble solutions if the Republic is to survive as a representation of citizen interests rather than investor and consumer interests.
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Woman and the Rise of Raunch Culture


[Did you know that Barbie dolls are modeled after a German adult, quasi-sex doll named Bild Lilli? How do you like that, America?! You sick fuck!:]

Levy’s argument can be summed up in one sentence: “Rauch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial.” I enjoy her analysis, but wish she wasn’t so persistently anecdotal. And I wish I had possessed the willpower to stop looking at her picture in the back of the book…the steely eyes, the soft lips ever-so-slightly parted as if she’s about to tell me something, the self-assured unkemptness of her hair. Feminists are hot.
The Death of Bunny Munro: A Novel


"He gives vent to his imagination and realises for the millionth time he has none and so he pictures her vagina."

Nick Cave was already one of my favorite musicians, and now he’s one of my favorite novelists. This story had me shedding a tear over a(n eventually) penitent -- if overwhelmed -- debauchee of monstrously comic proportions who is hounded by the spirit of his dead-by-suicide wife and only mildly distracted by the presence of his beautiful, god-like, 9 year-old son while on an odyssey for the idealized female orifice. And the poor fellow doesn't even have the slightest clue as to why.

A blurb by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) claims that this story is a fusion of Cormac McCarthy, Franz Kafka and Benny Hill. I see it more as Henry Miller does Austin Powers with a dash of Ryan/Tatum O’Neal "Paper Moon." If there's redemption for Bunny Munro, through his child, there's redemption possible for the rest of us. And if there's redemption for the rest of us, who knows? Things may fall apart, but we at least can huddle in the consolation of the next generation, who, despite our best efforts to screw ‘em up, somehow find a way.
Sharp Teeth: A Novel


What would you do
To protect the love you have?
Would you kill?
Would you hunt to kill?
Would you kill without mercy?
And if you wouldn't
Then how precious is your love?
Drood: A Novel


Who would think that a very imaginative and jealous man's opium-induced creep toward madness would be so entertaining?