Benjamin Franklin

An insightful study of Franklin’s life in all its complexity. With his Poor Richard tales of frugality, and his Parisian chameleon blending into luxurious style, he was a master at adapting to the situation and was our “Founding Yuppie” as a huge proponent of the middleclass. Born in Boston, he ran away to Philadelphia at age 17, trying to run his own printing press business and chaffing at the reins his brother placed on him while apprenticing. Franklin always found solace in travel– his first trip to London was at age 20. After returning to the colonies, he continued with his printing business, raising ideas and opinions through anonymous submissions to his paper. Realizing the power that the position of postmaster held, he began to solicit the appointment, eventually winning it (which resulted in extensive travel throughout the colonies). Meanwhile he busied himself with scientific experiments (lightning rod, using oil to still water, etc.) and became famous in France for his electricity experiments. He ended up spending his remaining years (until age 84) as a public servant, serving in some capacity as a US representative abroad or as Pennsylvania state president.
Franklin had a common-law marriage wtith Deborah, a Philly woman who never ventured out of the city, but had several flirtations with women throughout the rest of his life. Franklin spent 15 of Deborah’s last 17 years away from her in Europe. Prior to his marriage, Franklin sired an illegit child, William, whom he brought back with him from England and raised as his own son. This was the first in a long line of illegit children, as William went on to have illegitamite Temple, who had a few children of his own out of wedlock.
Franklin was the only person to sign all 4 documents cruicial to the formation of the US– Declaration of Independance, French treaty, peace accord with Britain (ending Revolutionary War), and the Constitution.
Update: Tom Peters just posted a hurrah to BF.

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Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People

This is a good back-to-basics book on financial health. Quinn’s first rules:
* Only a few things work, and they work really well.
* Set up a system that runs automatically and you can’t fail
* Success comes from starting right, then keeping your itchy fingers off
On saving– make it automatic, with 401k deductions from your paystub and automatic deposits into investment accounts. Compound interest really works. Think twice before purchasing toys or non-essentials. Keep a 3 month cushion fund for emergencies. Enroll in DRIPs. For retirement, you MUST save 10-15%. Pay off everything (retirement, debt, cushion fund, college plans) before prepaying your mortgage.
Check your credit score annually (for free). Auto/home insurance: shop around, and opt for the highest deductable (to ensure lowest monthly rates). Make a will and living trust. She’s got great info on buying a house, mortgage types, how much house you can afford, ARM vs. fixed rate, etc.
There’s also chapters on reducing debt and saving for college.
Her best chapter was on No Worry Investing. Since I’m currently invested in stocks only, this was a big wake up call for me, and a lot of the info resonated– I’m not a professional investor and I can’t put enough time into managing my investments to ensure that I end up ahead. So why don’t I just dump everything into an index fund and call it a day? She loves the Vanguard Target Retirement funds b/c they diversify, choose appropriate assets for age/situation, hold down costs, limit your risk. Index funds are also big with her- particularly the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund. Index funds consistently beat out actively managed funds over time, and they’re cheaper– win/win!
Her recipe for success with No Worry Investing:
1. Funds that track the entire US stock market (Fidelity Spartan total market, Vanguard Total Stock Market, T.Rowe Price Total Equity index)- 40%
2. Funds for international stocks (fidelity spartan int’l fund, Vanguard Total Int’l Stock fund)- 20%
3. Index fund for REIT (Vanguard REIT index)- 10%
4. Bond index funds (vanguard total market bond index fund, fidelity US bond index fund)- 20%
5. Commodities index fund- Pimco’s Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund- 10%
Other funds of interest:
1. Funds that track S&P 500 (Fidelity Spartan 500, Vanguard 500 index)
2. Funds that track small/midsize stocks (Extended market funds)
3. Fund for socially conscious investors (Vanguard Calvert Social Index fund)
She wraps up with her last rules:
* You can’t see the future
* If you’re saving money steadily, that doesn’t matter
* All that really matters is getting more out of life

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New Ideas From Dead Economists

Applying past economic theories to contemporary issues, Buchholz takes an entertaining tone and leaves us with a mildly interesting work. From my newbie’s perspective, there was too much information packed into 300 pages, so I’m left slightly confused still. Here’s what I currently remember:
Absent-minded Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, pub 1776) praised free trade and the division of labor- specializing and dividing tasks to explode production capacity.
Thomas Robert Malthus was primarily concerned about population growth and its effect on happiness.
David Ricardo favored free trade without tarrifs or restrictions. He saw 2 possible futures for Britain- protectionist island barring foreign goods, or an extroverted trader. The former would lead to a weakened economy. Free trade makes it possible for households to consume more goods regardless of whether trading partners are more or less economically advanced. “If French farmers are willing to feed us for less than it would cost us to feed ourselves, let us eat French food and spend our time doing something else.”
John Stuart Mill- tumultuous life, went from rationalist to romanticist. Wrote Principles of Politcal Economy in 1848. From this we get the non-flat income tax (2 tiered) which encourages work and income, and high estate tax, which also encourages work.
Karl Marx- capitalism is a necessary precondition for socialism. Alfred Marshall & the marginalists- elasticity of economy. Thorstein Veblen (Theory of the Leisure Class). Maynard Keynes- smarty pants Cambridge man- savings exacerbate recession.

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Why smart people make big money mistakes–and how to correct them

Yes, I’m still on the economic book bent.
This one was well-written and entertaining. Basic premise is that we prevent ourselves from making good financial choices, by simple human pyschology. We mentally account for money differently based on source of money (i.e. you go out and think nothing of spending that birthday check on an expensive coat, but you’d never do that with your paycheck) and keep pouring cash into the car that keeps breaking down simply because we have already put so much into the car so far.
Other tricks used against us are the anchoring effect of a listed price– maybe something isn’t worth $200, but when we see it marked down from $500 to $250, we can’t resist buying it. Anchor effect also hugely impacts the final price on your house sale. Overconfidence in our own abilities to time the market or to have the inside scoop on a stock also hamper us. On the opposite side, the herd effect of “everyone’s buying it” similarly hampers effective financial decisions.

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The Millionaire Next Door

This one was recommended by a myriad of financial blog sites, so I finally dug in and read it. Basic premise is no shocker– the wealthy do not flaunt their wealth– they’re the ones buying used Hondas and reasonably priced suits and modest housing. Instead of buying “stuff” they are investing in stocks, businesses, real estate. They are frugal.
Here are the seven factors of those who successfully build wealth:
1. Live well below your means.
2. Allocate time, energy, & money efficiently in ways conducive to building weath.
3. Believe that financial independence is more important than display of social status.
4. Parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
5. Children are economically self-sufficient.
6. Proficient in targeting market opps.
7. Choose the right occupation.
The book also touted the pursuit of occupations to serve the wealthy, such as estate and tax law, accountancy, brokerage.
How to determine if you’re wealthy:
Multiply age times realized pre-tax annual household income from all sources.
Divide by 10.
This is what your net worth should be. Got some work to do on this one too.
PAW (prodigious accumulator of wealth) vs. UAW (under-accumulator of wealth).
PAWs are worth twice their expected net worth.
Overall, not a bad book. Quick read, and reinforces ideas you probably already have (especially if you’re motivated to pick up the book).

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The River of Doubt

Gripping tale of Teddy Roosevelt’s journey along an unmapped 1000 mile river in the Amazon in 1914, originally named River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida), but renamed Rio Roosevelt after the expedition. They traveled across the Brazilian Highland to the origin of the river, then jettisoned most of their passengers and supplies, cramming 22 men and hundreds of pounds of equipment into 7 clumsy dugout canoes purchased at the river from a group of Indians.
Ably led by Colonel Rondon, the expedition originally mapped the river with time-consuming fixed-station surveying using a sextant and a lead canoe to place a sighting rod along a bank of each bend in the river. On the first day they set up the sighting rod 114 times, only travelling 6 miles. Roosevelt was joined by his son, Kermit, and naturalist Goerge Cherrie, as the only Americans. Most of the Brazilian contingent did the dirty work of paddling and lugging supplies during portage. They purged baggage 4 times along the way, but the “officers” kept all their books and other items I can’t imagine lugging through the Amazon.
The Cinta Larga Indians lurked everywhere, invisible in the jungle; the expedition left gifts and tried to show friendly intentions along the route, thus the Cinta Larga did not attack the party. There were 3 deaths– one camarada drowning in a whirlpool after Kermit disobeyed Rondon’s orders to halt, one camarada murdering another, then the party abandoning the murderer to the jungle where he most likely died.
Roosevelt contemplated sucide by morphine overdose which he always kept on himself, instead of dragging the party down with his illness. They were all dangerously ill by the time they met up with the relief party at the end of the journey, on April 26, 1914, after 2 months on the river. Roosevelt never fully recovered, and died less than 5 years later from an ailment stemming from his “old Brazilian trouble.”
The author interviewed Cinta Larga tribe members who have passed down the story of the expedition for the last 90 years, as a legendary interruption from the outside world.

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Freakonomics

Definitely as good and readable as all the hype surrounding it (unlike The World is Flat, which I found to be distastefully obvious). Topics as unlikely as abortion legalization in 1976 causing the decrease in crime in the mid 1900s; drug dealer infestation to figure out their sociology (most live with their moms b/c only the upper echelons of the gangs make serious cash); teachers and sumo wrestlers cheating b/c the incentives to succeed are too tempting; real estate agents listing their own houses for 10 more days than they’ll list yours b/c the incentive for their own house sale is much greater than yours.
Recommended.

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The Middle Mind

White has awoken my slumbering senses so far… I’m 65 pages in and feel more alive than before I began.
“… to make something that has the click of invention… is to feel that life has been pulled from the abyss called death of perception wherein one is dumbly pent by Stevens’ quotidian or Hegel’s ‘night,’ the night of the Middle Mind dead. Each day’s practice is the requirement of going once more to that abyss, where life’s failure is a real possibility, and plucking life out in the possibility (if not the realization) of its human capacity. This cannot be done in a context in which, as Stevens wrote, ‘the deer and the dachshund’ (or Eschenbach and Manilow) are one. It can be done only in a world in which the imagination rules supreme.”
*******
Later, finished the book. I love Curtis White’s crotchety, critical insights; he brutally rips apart contemporaries’ works without a care in the world. He demands that we THINK CHANGE. He demands that we delete our TVs. He begs us to read Wallace Stevens The Necessary Angel and trashes deconstructionism, and lambasts our politicians, and praises Marx Hegel and Chompsky. He likens Lycos CEO Bob Davis to Bizarro, Superman’s evil antithesis. He ridicules businessmen.
He urges us to give up Spielberg and embrace Radiohead.

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It Must’ve Been Something I Ate

After a couple of cross-country flights, finally finished this 500 pager. Steingarten writes well about food, tho’ nothing revolutionary. His endlessly deep pockets secures him $4k worth of caviar in a few months time, trips to and fro (France, Thailand, Baja California, New Orleans, Italy), and mounds of ingredients (pot a feu– roosters, pig’s blood, Turducken ingredients upwards of 90 spices). Probably the most inspiration I got out of this was the knowledge that he one day decided he had enough of being a lawyer and simply turned into the Vogue food editor.

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To the Power of Three

A half-step above beach reading, mildly interesting. High school girls involved in a triple shooting; Perri, Kat, Jodie the tight threesome since 3rd grade; Binnie & Eve the two farmgirls who don’t smell so good. The detectives. Peter Lasko the actor who lands a part in a Miramax movie but who ends up dead.
Probably the only redeeming feature was the mention of Television without Pity as something that could be on your computer screen when someone comes in to talk to you and you immediately minimize all windows before engaging in a conversation.
My advice: skip this one.

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A Crack in the Edge of the World

Early thoughts: I become less and less of a Simon fan, especially when he insists on inserting himself into the story. It turns into a “Simon says” narrative; Simon went to Iceland, Simon refers to his earlier work Krakatoa, Simon knows best b/c he’s a geologist cum author who went to Oxford damnit thus British accent portrays superiority to the plebians he lives amongst in the good old US of A.
But I am enjoying the basics as he sneaks them in. Check this info on creation of the seas.
*********
Now finished, I can’t say my opinion has improved much. The last section seemed a smattering of completely unrelated items; almost like Simon had index cards full of factoids he wanted to work into the book somehow, thus just tossed them all into the mix at the end (topics ranging from the Pentacostalists, Paper People, Burnham’s plan, Loma Prieta, loss of artistic soul from SF.)
I think there are better books on the SF earthquake… And Simon has lost his edge.

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Poet of the Appetites

Just finished the fantastic biography of M.F.K. Fisher, the author of Consider the Oyster, Gastronomical Me, etc. etc. This bio was a glorious journey along MFK’s life, detailing her first trip to France with new husband Al Fisher, whom she eventually left to join Dillwyn Parrish, all the way to life in Sonoma in Last House, a cottage built for MFK by David Bouverie on his ranch. Along the way she has her first pregnancy during her heady days as a Hollywood writer (pregnancy disguised as an adoption since was unmarried)–Anna, and in a fit of boredom moves to NYC where she marries Donald Friede after 5 days. Her daughter Kennedy is born of this marriage, which spirals into debt, stress, and discovery of Donald’s problems in the bedroom. MFK has various and several affairs over the ages, becomes good friends with Donald’s next wife Eleanor, and becomes increasingly distant from her daughters. One of her last affairs was with Arnold Gingrich, the magazine editor who would write her daily letters on his commute from Ridgewood, NJ into NYC. Prior to that she had an extended affair with Marietta Voorhees in St. Helena.
In the literary world, her best work is written pre-1950s, yet she is rediscovered in the 80s. North Point press comes out with a reprint of all her works, and she meets literary talents like Evan Connell, Walter Percy. In the gastronomical world, she’s pals with Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters.
Throughout the bio, Reardon manages to convey the same mouth-watering atmosphere that MFK creates. Definitely a complete look at MFK’s life- worth reading for any MFK fans.

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What the Dormouse Said

Exactly what it pretends to be– an intermixing of 60s era counterculture (LSD, pot, etc.) with the birth of the PC industry. Nothing that was terribly new to me, but perhaps I’m spoiled b/c I live in the Bay Area and know all the tales already. Not sure this would appeal to anyone outside the Bay Area, but give it a shot if you’re curious of the underpinnings beneath the rise of personal computing. Strange inclusion of Greek folk dancing, huh.

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Freddy and Fredericka

Another delicious book by Helprin. This pushed the limits of what I had seen previously from him– a fantasty of sorts putting the Prince/Princess of Wales in America to conquer the colony back for England (which Freddy did, almost getting elected President after Dewey Knott was assassinated). They worked at various tasks as regular people, cleaning, chopping, saving up money for their weekends where they visited museums and libraries. Eventually back to England where Craig-Vvyan the falcon soars to confirm Freddy as king.

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