Friday, January 28, 2011

On alcohol...

Truth is, I drink very little. But I love the idea of getting drunk. And I love this song. The thing about drinking is that it is a way demarcate the responsible part of your life from the leisure part of your life. When you have a beer (or whatever else you prefer), you are no longer working. You are no longer doing your best to be polite and civil. You are committing to staying in once place for a while. You are relaxing. And if you can have two or three, and get to that point where your voice is a little louder than it should be and you're sure you're wittier than you really are...then that's a very rare moment in adult life. Clearly, it's ok if you forget to go to bed at a decent time. It's even ok if you don't exactly feel 100% by morning. And whoever it is you're drinking with, you've decided not to worry about saying something stupid or impolitic or whatever.

Obviously, none of these things would be such treats if you drank all the time. An escape from adult responsibilities is only valuable to someone whose life is otherwise full of them. Right now though, as I'm scrambling to get things together for a rather major change of scenery (I'm moving!), I am very much looking forward to the next time I can get drunk. Who wants to get drunk with me?!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You want to know what's wrong with California?

This is wrong.

Jerry Brown is generating a lot of noise right now, because his proposed budget cuts....pretty much everything. Including things that almost everyone agrees are important, like public libraries. The UC system. The CSU system. Firefighters.

But at least it's comforting to know that one drastic measure that Jerry Brown most likely won't be able to pull off is....keeping California state taxes as high as they currently are. The Republicans in the state legislature, who represent slightly over 33% of the state and therefore clearly should run the show, are against even putting a tax extension on the ballot (where the "Gee, that sounds like a good idea!" principle could send it to almost certain death, cause paying more taxes never does, especially not to the older voters who are going to show up for an off year election). Nope, they are just way too fond of their knee jerk reaction against anything with tax in the name to do that.

This isn't democracy, this is a farce.

City Living

Friday, January 21, 2011

Games People Play....finishing up.

Games People Play goes back to the library today. At times it's a little dated. It never quite gets away from the smug certainty of the 1960s (Did you know you can solve everything from schizophrenia to indigence with transactional analysis?) and there were points where the underlying sexism and other prejudice made me uncomfortable. The author goes out of his way to explain that he uses the pronoun "he" as a default, unless the nature of a game is such that it would obviously be played primarily by women. The moral of the story seems to be that many women are manipulative, crazy bitches. But I don't think you can condemn the entire book for that. I didn't live in the 1960s or experience those kind of strict gender roles. As a modern reader, I think it's useful to stretch your imagination and see where it could just as easily be the man pouting at home while his wife goes out, or even two men or two women having that fight, but I won't blame the book for not doing enough of that originally.

Overall, I think it's a useful book. Some of the games that he describes I believe in more than others, but most of them seem to be accurate descriptions of human behavior, and accurate descriptions of the ulterior motives of people that it's helpful to be able to recognize and understand. Oddly, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the one and only psychology book that Dr. Phil has ever read. If you've ever watched his show...and I assume most of you haven't...part of his schtick is turning to people who are complaining about their lives and asking them, "What's your payoff?" And he doesn't let them claim that they don't get any kind of payoff, that they're pure and utter victims, because clearly they're making choices that put them in whatever situation for a reason, even if it's a counter-intuitive one like feeling victimized. The point of the book, (and Dr. Phil) is that if you can recognize the games you and others are playing for what they are, you can try to avoid the more self destructive ones. This didn't seem particularly revolutionary to me (possibly because it was on channel 7 every day at 4 PM while I was in high school...I dunno, sometimes I don't have the most high brow taste), but if it's not something you already do the book might be useful.

If anyone's curious, the game that I am by far the most guilty of is this one. The author points out that this one can be played either as a game or a pastime (that is, without ulterior motives), and I think I generally play the more innocent version....but it is a bad habit of mine. It remains to be seen if I'm likely to do anything about it.

And as far as simmering thoughts go - one of the things that I was bothered by in the book, aside from the datedness, was the Freudian need to tie everything back to sex. I'm starting to think that this might be a problem with a lot 20th century popular thought, not just in psychology but also in biology; that there might be better ways to think about evolution than focusing on the genetic successes of Ghengis Khan.  The thought still needs some fleshing out though, so consider this the blog equivalent of a really bad cliff hanger.

Doomed to repeat it

It's a common in liberal circles to cite how few Americans believe in evolution, let alone understand it, as evidence that there's no hope for the world. Evolution is important, but lately I've been thinking...probably under the heavy influence of Ta-Nehisi Coates...that the more significant gap in our national understanding is actually the Civil War. If Americans really understood the Civil War, I think that would change the way we look at Iraq, and Afghanistan and the kind of people who take up arms against us.

There are two main thrusts of my argument. The first is pretty simple: I think it could be pretty helpful if as Americans, we could channel some of the seemingly endless empathy we have for the young Confederate soldiers who fought for an immoral cause like preserving slavery towards their present day counterparts who are attracted to the ideologies of Islamism and jihad. And to the extent that we insist on believing that most Confederates (and certainly any that we are descended from) were not actually fighting for slavery, but to defend their homelands from hostile invaders, we could admit that the same logic could apply equally to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hell, a more nuanced understanding of the Civil War could even help us understand why for some groups, say the Sunni minority in Iraq, full democracy can be a terrifying prospect when you've spent the last several decades making enemies among the people you're now supposed to let vote. Basically, I think if we were willing to look more realistically at our past, instead of glorifying and whitewashing it, we'd be able to tap into our national memory of what it's like not to be the undisputed supreme power on the planet, what it's like to be invaded, and what it's like to live in uncertain times.

The second part is not completely separate from that. There's a debate going around the blogs I read about the destruction of Afghani villages, and specifically, how much we can believe the Afghan men & women who tell us how grateful they are that we're there, blowing up stuff. Again, this is a situation where a more complete understanding of the Civil War would be helpful, and instead we have our national mythology getting in the way. In this country, there is a long history of putting people in a position where it's in their best interest to tell you how wonderful they think you* are, whether or not they actually feel that way. The problem is, we can still be more interested in believing how wonderful we are, and always have been, than understanding the true complexity of history. I see a pretty strong connection between the mythology of the benevolent slave owner and the proud Confederate black soldier and the idea of being liberators in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think our determination to hold onto to these myths in our own history hurts our ability to look at the current situation with open eyes. Which is not to say that I'm sure that the Iraqi and Afghani civilians want us gone, just that we tend to ignore the part of our national memory that would help us understand best what it's like to be them.

 * I'm having a lot of trouble with pronouns here. I can't say the United States...because the North and the South, the slave owners and the slaves are all equally "the United States." We & you imply some group that includes me or my audience, while they implies some group that is not us, which isn't necessarily accurate either. So I'm doing the best I can to keep this coherent and get my point across, but I realize that I'm taking some liberties.

Monday, January 17, 2011

While other little girls wrote stories about unicorns...

Written by me when I was approximately seven or eight years old, proving that, if anything, my political views have actually gotten more moderate over the years.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Games People Play...continued reading

I first came up with this comic a while ago, but I didn't post it because I'm not sure if it's actually funny (I know, why didn't that stop me with some of the others?). Whether it's funny or not though, it is an illustration (even in a non metaphorical sense!) of the next interesting idea that comes up in Games People Play. It kind of relates to my penguins with pebbles idea, actually, if you've ever heard me explain that one. But basically, the premise is that people rely on various pastimes for social interaction. Pastimes are kind of like games, except the author reserves the word game for more complex think of it as like playing catch. And the thing about pastimes is that different people have different pastimes they prefer, and not knowing or not following the rules of a particular pastime can lead to being ostracized from a group where that pastime is favored. This makes fundamental sense to me. I'm often the one who screws up the rules, but I can also remember times I've been annoyed with someone who wasn't participating in the conversation "correctly." The example that the book gives is you don't join in with a group of women complaining about their husbands by telling everyone how great yours is. You know, unless you want to be glared at.

People gravitate to the kind of comfortable, predictable conversations that they know how to participate in (complaining about their boss, talking about baseball scores, quoting lines from shows they've all watched), and while it's inane on the surface, it does serve a social purpose. And I guess there is some usefulness to becoming consciously aware of the rules of the pastime conversations around you....if you're frustrated with your inability to naturally follow them, or chronically dissatisfied with the conversations you end up in and trying to figure out why. And "not playing by the same rules" is probably a less judgmental way of looking at it than deciding someone is boring, or rude.

So, um, score one for the book with coming up with a useful paradigm for understanding social interaction! It's not as good as my pebble analogy though. If you're really lucky, I may tell you about that one sometime.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Games People Play...first impressions

I'm about 40 pages in. So far, I'm liking it marginally better than I thought I would. The world doesn't suddenly make sense or anything, but there seem to be some interesting take away ideas.

First two:

Without recognition (basic social interaction), adults whither and die - I have a general sense that this is true (they did an episode of Buffy about it!), and in fact, the realization of this a few years ago made me shift my attitude towards homeless people. I used to think that, as a good liberal, I supported tax payer funded places for homeless people to be...and that those places were not on the street, trying to get my attention. As a result, I ignored panhandlers...avoiding any kind of acknowledgment or eye contact. Part of this is of course defensive a 20 something female I try not to engage with strange men in general ...but the other part is that I didn't recognize a need besides money, shelter, and food that they were seeking. I still ignore some people based on the circumstances, but when I feel like I can spare the (effort, exposure, risk?) I try to make eye contact, smile, and say something like "Not today," and recognize that that even that level of acknowledgment has some minimal value.

Boredom is in the long run synonymous with emotional starvation - This is interesting. I've never really thought of boredom that way. Typically I think boredom gets classified as the opposite of intellectual stimulation, not emotional. But human beings are social animals, and I buy into the theory (half remembered from something I learned about Nietzsche in college) that a good part of human intellectualism is driven by the desire to have interesting things to tell other people. So maybe intellectual stimulation is satisfying because of the anticipated emotional stimulation of having people appreciate your insights, and boredom is the lack of that anticipation. I dunno though, I think this warrants further thought. (After which, maybe I'll have interesting things to tell people!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three quarters formed thoughts on political violence.

I think I may have overshot yesterday in my desire for a non-wimpy ending. Having thought about it more, I think the essential points I want to make are these:

1) There seems to be absolutely no evidence that the shooter was in any way connected to a vast right-wing conspiracy.
2) I don't really see the evidence that violent political rhetoric makes disturbed individuals more likely to commit these kinds of acts.
3) I do think there are other reasons to object to violent political rhetoric, however, and other reasons why those objections get amplified after an event like this. The history of political violence in this country is a lot darker and more complex than that one time a bunch of Bostonians dressed up as Indians and dumped tea in the harbor. The history of anti-liberal political violence, in particular, has been a lot darker and more complex within living memory. And I don't think we can take it for granted that the fondness for violent political rhetoric on the right is completely unconnected to that.

On the other hand, I'm getting really annoyed with the number of people glibly asserting that no amount of gun control can ever be even borderline effective. If we outlaw guns, only criminals will have them. If we outlawed 30 bullet canisters like the shooter had, clearly he would have just brought more guns. I just don't see how this isn't ridiculous on it's face. The U.K. has tight gun control legislation, and it seems pretty obvious to me that this has resulted in far fewer of their criminals having guns...have you seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Did you hear about the debates that they might need pointy knife control a few years ago? Would they really be debating that if every criminal still had a handgun?

What would happen if the legal market for the type of guns that are most effective in these kinds of attacks dried up? They aren't as easy to produce as meth and wouldn't suddenly have a bunch of small scale, black market producers. They also aren't nearly as addictive as meth or cocaine, so I doubt the number of otherwise non-violent people willing to risk jail time to own something shiny and phallic would be anything close to the market for illegal drugs. Presumably the factories where they're made would stay in operation, either because they're located in other countries or because there would still be sufficient demand coming from the military and the police, but I'd like to see the argument for why those factories would be so inefficient at controlling their distribution chain that the cost of a black market weapon wouldn't be significantly higher than legal versions are today. I'd like to see the argument why making these guns illegal wouldn't mean fewer opportunities to buy them, fewer opportunities to transport them, and fewer opportunities to practice shooting them.

And remember, we are talking about keeping guns out of the hands of 22 year old psychopaths...the kind of people who can't hold down jobs, aren't likely to have a vast network of criminal contacts, aren't likely to have much of anything in the way of resources. Keeping guns away from organized crime is a different issue. Organized crime is bad too...but then at least you're dealing with rational people who would rationally prefer to minimize killing innocent bystanders. I don't think there's any way to make a serious argument that it's impossible to make it harder for people like the shooter in Arizona to get a gun. The only reason why people are repeatedly making such an un-serious argument is because they don't want to make their actual argument, which is that it is very important that we not make the kind of changes that that would require. Which, I guess they're welcome to believe...but I'd like them to try to support it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Half-formed thoughts on political violence

The shooting in Tucson is bizarre for a lot of reasons. The more we find out about the guy who did it, the more it seems like he follows in the footsteps of a long line of political assassins motivated more by isolated delusions than mainstream political divides. But at the same time, it is kind of hard to understand how out of 535 members of congress, the one targeted was a Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona, one who had just narrowly beat a Tea Party candidate in a state where Hispanics now need to be able to show their papers and ethnic studies classes are banned.

I can understand Republican's frustration at the liberal instinct that somehow, they must be connected to this. It really doesn't seem like this guy was a right wing nut. But at the same time, I understand and kind of share the liberal instinct. It makes me mad to hear Rand Paul say "But the weapons don't kill people. It's the individual that killed these people." This particular individual stopped killing people as soon as his weapon needed to be reloaded, and it certainly wasn't me who fought for his right to fire off 30 bullets before someone had the chance to tackle him (ironically, a gay Hispanic intern).* The other side of the liberal argument makes me more uncomfortable...the idea that there's a rhetoric of violence that inspires crazy people to take violent actions. Not too uncomfortable, I do generally subscribe to the idea that there are limits on how much violence is really ok in polite conversation, or even in semi-polite conversation between friends. Not legal limits, of course, but I feel well within my rights to not like someone who peppers their conversation with verbs like curb stomp, especially if they're a public figure. My reasoning for this isn't really that I think it'll produce more violent crazy people though. I mostly worry about the process of desensitization that makes prison rape funny instead of horrifying. So I think the right is wrong about gun control, and wrong about how lightly they joke about "second amendment remedies," (two sides of the same coin really, I look at a handgun and am horrified by it's association with killing, and wish more people felt that way) but I don't really see a way that they caused this, no matter how indirectly.

I think there might be more too it though, and this is where the half formed thoughts come in. Correct me if I'm wrong...but I think it's pretty indisputable that the predominant history of political violence in this country is the history of white supremacy. I guess there's also been class-based political violence with union busting and all of that, but I'm not really sure that competes with the kind of impact that lynchings had. And throughout that history, there were the perpetrators of the violence and then there were the political figures who played off of it, who said "Of course I'm against lynchings, but until southern culture changes, I really don't think desegregation is a good idea." You could argue that the left should be the inheritors of this legacy, since it was Southern Democrats at the time, but it's not the Democrats of today saying "Of course I'm against anti-gay violence, but until military culture changes, I really don't think gays in the military is a good idea."

 It doesn't immediately follow that all of the right's affection for the imagery of violent insurrection against the federal government has white supremacist roots, but there is power associated with being the reasonable face of a barely contained violent element, and it's a source of power that I'm not sure the Republican party is above alluding to. I know for sure that significant portions of the left believe that the right has that power, and that assassination is a political tool that is especially likely to be used against the left....witness the widespread fears that electing Barack Obama would make him a target. I don't think that these are necessarily reasonable fears, but they do have reasonable roots in fairly recent history, and I wonder how much this contributes to peoples' instincts to look for a right wing connection here...and to what extent the Republicans have brought that upon themselves.

*It looks like I got this wrong. The intern was not one of the two men who tackled the shooter, although he may have saved the Congresswoman's life.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Prop 8 News

So, as I understand it the federal courts have sent the Prop 8 case back to the state courts to clarify California law regarding standing.

Basically, normally the state of California would be the one to appeal when one of its laws is found unconstitutional. But in this case "the state of California" was Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, and they both decided they have better things to do with their time. So the people who actually sponsored Prop 8, who have absolutely nothing better to do with their time, would like to be able to spearhead the appeal instead. And the law is ambiguous as to whether they can or not.

On the one hand, if they can't...yay! Prop 8 goes to the dust bin of history!

On the other hand, if they can' would establish the precedent that any governor and any attorney general could opt not to fight for any law, even one that I liked

On the other hand, who cares! I hate all initiatives anyways. Another way more of them can die!

On the other hand, would this apply to other laws? Laws passed by the legislature? How would this play out with the two constituencies problem? (Essentially...since California legislature districting is based on all residents, whereas the statewide offices are elected by voters, the legislature gives more representation to those areas that have more residents that aren't voters (children, immigrants, lazy people) than the statewide races do, making the governor pretty consistently more conservative than the median legislator.)

I think I hope that the Prop 8 supporters don't have standing, because they're bastards. But I think it's also worth thinking about the wider ramifications, even if I'm not sure what those are at this point. And even if they do have standing, it's not the end of the world. That just gives them standing to make their incredibly weak case to the Federal Court, and this whole process is going to take years anyways...and time is not on their side.


And now to tackle the second half of What Hath God Wrought:

(I make no claim that Daniel Walker Howe would actually agree with me that his book was mostly about Whigs and the Mexican-American War. It's about a lot of things. These are the things that I grabbed onto and thought about and wanted to write posts on)

The Whigs. Even though I just claimed not to claim that Daniel Walker Howe's book is about Whigs, and even though he explicitly claimed that his book doesn't have one overriding thesis, certainly a unifying theme throughout it was that the description "Jacksonian America" really only applies to somewhere around half of the country during that period. The policies, like Indian Removal, that we find so hard to stomach now also experienced lots of opposition in their own time. Even slavery. One good point that I think he makes is that even though historians like to make a point of what a minority viewpoint abolition many people belonged to abolition societies then as belong to the Boy Scouts of America or the NRA now. So it's not like it was some unheard of thing. The Whig party coalesced around opposition to Andrew Jackson...I'm sure it's simplistic to think of them as "the good guys," but at the same time it's hard not to. One thing that I thought was particularly interesting is that the military ended up largely dominated by Whigs...even while most of the military action that the country was engaged in during the period was at the prompting of the Jacksonian Democrats. Actually, possibly because the military action of the time was prompted by the Jacksonians. Those who actually had to enforce Indian Removal were not enamored with it's justice.

The other thing that's striking about the Whigs though, and maybe the thing that has the most relevance to the modern day, is that the process by which vice presidents in this country are chosen borders on criminal negligence. The Whigs had the bizarre honor of electing both the first and second presidents who died in office, one right after  the other (with a Democratic president in between). Both times, the vice presidents who took over represented dramatic policy reversals from the men who had actually been elected. One guy even tried to switch parties. The exact same thing probably couldn't happen today, what with the maturation of the party system. Whatever else you might think about Sarah there any doubt that she would have pursued a conservative Republican agenda? (Ok, maybe a little doubt...sometimes she doesn't seem to be sure what the conservative Republican agenda is). But she's still an unsettling reminder that we haven't magically started taking the vice presidency seriously. I have a theory that the world would be a better place without the vice presidency, or at least the current conception of it. I think we'd be better off if Richard Nixon had never been vice president (not just because he might then have never been president, but also because being selected to be Eisenhower's more partisan counterpart & hatchet man so early in his career brought out the worst in him), and if Al Gore had never been vice president (was it really good for the Democratic Party to have it's 2000 nominee selected for them  in 1992?). I'm not really sure what good the vice presidency has ever done this country. Well, except for Harry Truman. Harry Truman was awesome. And Gerry Ford wasn't exactly evil. Or Papa Bush.

So, in summary....Whigs! And Gerry Ford! It all means something.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Mexican-American War

I'm doing my best to grapple with the moral ambiguity of the Mexican War...except maybe moral ambiguity is not the best word for it. Those who opposed it at the time didn't see very much moral ambiguity, and they were probably right. I can definitely see the status quo bias at work in my mind though. When I read in Battle Cry of Freedom about Southern filibusterers launching attacks on Central America and the Caribbean, I was outraged. But when it happens in California...well, it's California, what did they expect?

I think what I need to really wrap my head around this is a better understanding of historical philosophies of land ownership. Presumably, at some point in human history, people wandered freely and if they found a place they wanted to settle they long as nobody actively tried to stop them. And then at some later point in human history, people stopped doing that without thinking first, "but what if someone already owns this?" But when did that shift happen? Did it happen in Europe and then unhappen (for Europeans) in the New World? Why would it have unhappened?

I really wish I understood this better. From what best I can piece together, I've seen evidence for at least three different philosophies of land ownership:

1) Right of Discovery: If you saw it first, you own it. Of course, how do you define "saw" here. Countries were claiming huge swathes of land after barely setting foot in this is kind of unsatisfactory.
2) Right of Improvement: Who cares if you've seen it, a man (or country) can only claim as much land as they can actually use, and you prove you're using it with things like irrigation, cleared forests, and generally making environmentalists cry.

3) Right of Defense: The Americans seem to have used this one against Spain in Florida...that no country can actually claim land they can't defend. Convenient, huh? The fact that I've invaded your country proves that I have a right to invade your country. Except...I can also see it turned around to make logical sense. In a warlike world, you don't want neighbors who can be easily invaded. See Russia & Poland, History of.

So, yeah. Obviously Europeans could have had no Right of Discovery in the New World unless you define away natives as non-people. Which it seems like they sometimes did. When it comes to the Mexican-American War though, it seems like you might have a clash between the Right of Discovery (Spain/Mexico) and the Rights of Improvement & Defense (America). But maybe I shouldn't say that without a more complete idea of what pre-cession Mexican culture in what is now north of the border was like. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of California...but did you know Santa Fe was like, a city and stuff?

I guess I have always accepted that Mexico owned California and most of the west before the United States did, taking it was wrong, and that was that. It was really striking to me though that mission/rancho culture in California didn't exist nearly as long as I had always assumed, only 50 years or so. One of the things I took away from Battle Cry of Freedom was this fact: Texas only seceded after revolutionary Mexico tried to end slavery. Reading that, I filed it away in the folder I keep, "a million and one reasons why the United States never once had the moral high ground in history." After What Hath God Wrought though, I'm not so sure. I like revolutionary Mexico's emancipation policy, sure...but they also had some pro-dictator, anti-rule-of-law policies too that give me more empathy for the Americans in Texas that decided living under foreign rule wasn't so great anymore. In what sense did Mexico really "own" territory that was so sparsely populated? How do you even define Mexico...the government, however unstable it was? The collective sovereignty of the Mexican people? Did the people in Veracruz have a legitimate claim on land in Arizona that the Americans violated? Obviously, the United States has moral culpability for starting an offensive war, at the very least, but I'm trying to think of this in a more complex way than just reflexively feeling sorry for the trail of victims the United States has left in its wake.

This is an extremely messy post, I apologize. I can't really make a clear argument because I don't have one...just putting half formed thoughts out there for better scrutiny. With luck, maybe eventually I'll fill in all the gaps in my knowledge and make something of it.

Chicago Thugs

So, it's not that I think Obama really deserves the stereotype of a corrupt Chicago politician, or that I think that that stereotype is all that pervasive outside of a small subsection of Republicans who still envision the political divide as them vs. Boss Tweed...but when I heard someone named Daley was being considered for chief of staff, I thought surely it was an inconvenient coincidence. It's not.

I'm sure he's a very nice guy, and totally on the up and up. I am not in any way currently wondering if this is going to somehow help Rahm Emmanuel win for mayor (ok, maybe I'm wondering a little bit). I don't really believe that they should pass over the best candidate to avoid a minor perception problem.

But seriously, Richard Daley's son?!? (Or brother, depending which Richard Daley you mean).

Monday, January 3, 2011

What to read...

I finished my big fat book of doom...hopefully resulting in a post about Whigs and their consequences later. I'm a little bit less than a quarter of the way into a random fantasy book I picked up just because Ryan already had it at the house, but it's time to start planning what to read next. I'm thinking I might go with the crazy assumption that some small number of people are reading this, and offer to read the first book anyone suggests in the comments....assuming that A) I haven't read it yet and B) I can get it from the public library, or you're willing to loan me a copy and can do so in an efficient manner. I'm willing to slog through just about anything, although as Ryan has learned I'm not always the most appreciative of other people's literary offerings (the title of this blog actually comes from me making fun of one of his favorites that I absolutely hated, Pillars of the Earth), so recommend at your own risk.

So...what should I read?