Finally got around to reading Billie Holiday's autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. Whenever I see it mentioned people seem to complain that it wasn't accurate, but it seems to be exaggerated rather than fictional. She was at least assisted by a ghostwriter too. However, Even so, it's an effective book, painting a vivid picture of her life and times.
As is well known, she had a rough childhood, but gradually achieved success as a singer in the forties and fifties. She struggled with the discrimination and segregation of the times. The descriptions of the problems of going on tour as a mixed band, with a constant struggle to find places to be allowed to eat and sleep, is fascinating.
The book seems to capture her voice effectively, though "motherhuggers" was apparently not the original term.
Overall, well worth reading: it's a bit of a classic as a musicians autobiography.
What I'm Watching
Watched the latest BBC Bible's Buried Secrets Did God have a wife on the BBC. As I said about the last one, good to see some sensible biblical history on TV for a change. Goes through the basics of how the Israelites originally had a pantheon of gods much like the other semitic peoples in general, and the Canaanites in particular. The chief god was called El before he was called Yahweh, and he had a fertility goddess called Asherah as a wife. The bible is pretty explicit about the existence of other gods Exodus 15:11 asks "Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods". Archaeology shows the Israelites had statues of gods and goddesses. Eventually and fairly late, the priests of Yahweh decided he was the only god, and managed to gradually stamp out worship of the others.
Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou explains this all very well. The only slightly annoying this is that she keeps saying "my opinion" is, and presents it as if it's a radical notion, whereas this is perfectly uncontroversial conventional wisdom amongst most archaeologists.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Black Dynamite on DVD. Loving recreation/spoof of the Seventies blaxploitation movies. Liked it: only reasonably funny, but very well-done. Also Michael Jai White has some surprisingly good kung fu moves. Might have liked it more if I'd watched enough of the originals to get all the references.
What I'm Reading 2
The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy by Donald Robertson.
Bit of a specialized book: you'd need to be interested in either Stoic philosophy or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to get much out of these. Fortunately I'm interested in both. It's not a random connection: the origins of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) are well known to have been influenced by stoic philosophy.
The conventional story begins a bit like this. One of the major purposes of ancient Greco-Roman moralist philosophy was self-improvement: learning how to lead the best life, and practicing "spiritual exercises" to improve one's mind. Stoicism is the best known of the schools and has a large share of the surviving texts. The early pioneers of what is now called CBT , Albert Ellis with Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Aaron Beck with Cognitive Therapy were influenced by the stoic techniques when they developed their therapies.
That's usually where the story ends. CBT practitioners often have only limited interest in an ancient discipline without a scientific evidence base. Followers of Stoicism often have only limited interest in what they see as a selective application of their principles.
However, in this book Donald Robertson does a great job of probing deeper into both the origins of CBT and the techniques of stoicism. He draws comparisons between the two in a number of ways. The book seems aimed a bit more at teaching CBT practitioners about stoicism than vice versa. However, he succinctly explains the basic principles of each, so the book should be easily intelligible to someone coming at it from either side.
The book starts off with the origins of CBT. Robertson corrects the impression that it sprang fully-armed from the foreheads of Beck and Ellis. He points out that while they're obscure today, even Freud's contemporaries had an interest in cognition and behaviour. Later on the Swiss therapist Paul Dubois was influenced by the stoics in particulars. Emile Coué was influenced by ancient philosophers including Pythagoras and Aristotle, and Ellis was a student of Couéism Other philosophically influenced therapists included Hans Eysenck, who was was influenced by philosophers such as Cicero; and Donald Meichenbaum who was influenced by the stoics. The book "The Inner Discipline" by Baudouin and Lestchinsky included specifically stoic disciplines, as well as Christian elements.
In the second half of the book, Robertson goes through the "spiritual exercises" of the stoics and other schools in detail, comparing them to modern therapeutic techniques. I thought this was the real strength of the book, but the virtue is in the detail: it can't easily be summarized. Some of the interesting points were:
- A comparison between the Cynics' anaideia (shamelessness) and the "shame-attacking exercises" of REBT. where get self-conscious or inhibited people to deliberately do embarrassing things in public such as dress strangely or say bizarre things. For example, Donaldson compares this to for example Crates asking potential followers to walk around after him holding a salted fish.
- The modern use of autosuggestions, affirmations and coping statements is compared to the stoic repetition and memorization of useful maxims.
- The concept of the Sage as the perfect wise man is compared to a kind of modern role model, where you decide what to do by considering what the sage would do. Sometimes they would use try to visualize what a particular character, like Socrates, would think or do in a give situation.
- The concept of Prosoche (attention to oneself_ is compared to "mindfulness", where one has to be aware of ones internal train of thought.
- The stoic Katharsis (purification) is compared to "distancing" as the process of regarding thoughts objectively.
- The private self-improving journals called hypomnemata, of which Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is the best known, are compared to modern therapeutic diaries.
- Praemeditatio malorum (preparing for adversity) is compared with the "mental rehearsal" in Beck's cognitive therapy
At the end of this section, Robertson goes through how an ancient stoic might have structured his day: beginning with a prospective meditation on how he intends to cope with it; maintaining mindfulness through out the day, and closing with a retrospective meditation on how things went and how to improve. He also includes a script for a "view from above" which he has used in therapy sessions.
Finally, Robertson looks at the possibilities of expanding the connections between Stoicism and CBT. He points out that CBT tends to have a bit of a lack of a positive vision of the best way to live life. He also looks at a particular example of how the stoic "view from above" can be used in a CBT setting.
Overall, an interesting book, drawing useful comparisons between stoic philosophy and CBT.
Sci/Tech. Fast charging battery possibility. Programming, motherhugger. Folk models of computer security: Long PDF, via. George Monbiot: "events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power". death rates per watt. "Almost all of the respondents believed that hackers had to be sitting in front of some computer somewhere when they were "breaking into" computers".
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