Book Plug

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My Inbox

This book (Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800) arrived. Perhaps (?) it will shed light on my long standing question/interest of Late Antiquity, namely how did Feudal Medieval society emerge from the Roman provincial life. Accounts of 11th century Northern Europe (England and France (Germany?)) describe a culture which has been as if existing forever. Custom is set, practices are regular and known. How did it get that way?

Expect a future book review.


Book Review: Sweeter than Honey

Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma And Truth (Foundations Series, Bk. 3) by Paul Bouteneff is a book passed on to me to read by my (new) parish priest (St. Luke in Palos), note: Orthodoxy in this case is Eastern (Christian) not Jewish Orthodoxy. This book in short is a brief (~200pg) book written plainly (it ain’t Sartre) as a brief modern apology for Orthodoxy in the Modern Western world. Mr Bouteneff uses plain language to address the questions of how the stark (confident) truth claims of Orthodoxy can be made in a modern world in which pluralism and post-modernism are at large. Continue reading →

Book Review: The End of Memory

Actually I’m only about halfway through, so this will be a partial review to be completed later. While reading I’ve been considering three or four things

  • American slavery and racial memory of harm.
  • 9/11 and America’s recollection of that.
  • My essay’s earlier this summer discussing racial memory of injustice.

On those issues, I will defer comment. However, to pull the rug out, some of his key points … below the fold.
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Reflections on Genesis: Murder and Civilization

Well, tonight didn’t go quite so swimmingly. We had a non-quorum or something like that. Instead of 9 people there were only 3 (Thanksgiving, sickness, school conflicts, painting and other things came up tonight). A fourth showed up late for a recap. So far however, probably because the paucity of people led to less lively discussion that I don’t have anything really insightful to share afterwards. One thing came up. I had observed that the “line of Cain” was the progenitor of much artifice (herding cows (domestication?), smithing, and so on) while the line of Seth (which is the ancestry of Noah) had nothing to offer except that they walked with God. Holiness and our closeness to God is not related to our accomplishments and our reason.

Reflections on Genesis: Murder and Civilization

This is the fourth in a series of notes for a Bible study I’m (!) leading on Genesis. The “(!)” is appended because, I consider myself something of a tyro at this sort of thing. But, so far I think things are going fairly well, the discussions have been good, and if nothing else, it’s getting me to think a lot about these first foundational chapters to Genesis.
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Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 2) Concerning Sex — Recap

Well, alas, I didn’t get a fight (any real disagreement) over my contention that Genesis is a subversive text concerning its view on patriarchy, that is contra the common idea that is is written supporting strict patriarchy it was instead written in a surrounding that was very patriarchal yet within contains subversive elements undermining the same. No disagreements lead to less discussion.

An interesting thought occurred to me during the class. Now that we had completed our discussions of the independent stories of creation, the cosmological/ontological and the moral/political in which we refrained from “mixing” the stories, that is to say we regarded them independently. But now that we are done, we might regard the question of why the redactor/editor juxtaposed them in this way? Here’s my thought on this:

The first story tells how in its ontological unfolding of a taxonomy of creation that the Cosmos is intelligible. The second story begins to tell the story of how Man is intelligible as well

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 2) Concerning Sex

Another note on our hermeneutic, in these chapters as for the account of freedom and reason in the Garden story, looking at the same story to see what it says about sex and the relationship between sexes this story is largely descriptive not prescriptive. For much of the discussion in what follows I’d like to follow that tack. In Genesis (and Torah in general) the authors are not shy about tacking a definite lead-in when God is doing the commanding. That is lacking in these verses.

Our Topic

There may be normative data to extract from this text, but we should keep in mind this story is largely a realistic description of man and his nature. And I’d actually like to leave any interpretations of normative instruction from this text to the end. In the description given the texts points out the following:

Three
distinct aspects of sexuality:

  1. the
    (animal) sex act

  2. it’s
    humanization via attraction and esteem

  3. and
    it’s deeper procreative meaning.

This
paralleled by aspects of erotic desire identified:

  1. need
    love

  2. appreciative
    love

  3. generative
    love

(note although the story meets these aspects one at at time, in “real life” they are intertwined making life a tad more perplexing and complicated)

Sidelight of Mine: Contra-Patriarchy

It is a thesis of mine, and not the author (either of Genesis or our commentary) that against common wisdom these days, Genesis far from being a text supporting and establishing patriarchy instead it is a subversive text, undermining strict patriarchy, which was the norm at the time. That is to say, this text was written in a time where patriarchy was the rule and this text often describes that same, but very often inserts subversive ideas which serve to counter unadorned or oppressive patriarchy (patriarchy gone bad). This thesis begins here, and can be followed throughout Genesis.

Starting off: The Beauty Pageant

Man’s desire for partnership is begun with the encounter with the animals. Last week, we discussed how this sparked his dormant powers of reason. We also noted how, in the inability of these animals to provide the desired partnership this highlights what is lacking, exciting his latent desire.

While it might be argued by puritanical or innocent readers might argue that man might be seeking human company or a rational soul mate, a fellow namer-and-speaker with whom we might share our thoughts and speeches. But, as the story unfolds, the partnership sought and found is almost certainly sexual. This again, should give us confidence as we proceed in the perspicacity of our author, for any account of primordial and fundamental human nature must needs take eros into account.

Notes on Creation of ‘Ishah/Woman

It was not necessarily sexist. How can we see that? Man was created first is sometimes seen as support for the superiority of man. However,

  • Man’s origin was lower. Man was created from dust and breath, woman from bone near the heart of man.

  • Man in the process of woman’s creation is rendered less whole. Woman is whole, but man is left with a permanent (symbolic) wound signifying perhaps a deep unfulfillable desire. Man’s desire is a “conundrum” (after Kass), it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what would fully satisfy it.

  • In contrast the woman, created from the rib, is presumably not deformed or lacking.

There is in fact gender asymmetry in the presentation. It might less indicate difference in status, than primordial differences in desires
and our natures.

First Comes Eros, Desire

And the main said,

This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman [‘ishah] because from Man [‘ish] this one was taken.

The nature of his desire is pointed at in Adam’s description: “This one at last is bone of my bone”, not “You are bone of my bone”, indicates the objectivity of the desire. Speaking of bone/flesh does not indicate any sort of platonic desire. And possessive, “flesh of my flesh”.

On “Of one Flesh”

At this point, there is no consciousness of desire, because of the freedom/reason and the lack thereof mentioned last week.

What does “and the two shall become one flesh” tell us? Note again, this is not a commandment of God’s, it is descriptive, not normative or prescriptive.

Post Fall

On the temptation, and woman’s role. Recall, last week we noted that there is good which came of it. The tasting of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leads to the maturation of man to more of his potential. And that it was woman who started this off, is against common commentary, not necessarily a bad thing. It is she who is open to conversation about looking past their base sexuality and desires looking towards wisdom and beauty and being open to new things. Perhaps precisely because her eros is less focussed and less carnal it can “grow wings and fly”. The man, speechlessly, followed the woman’s lead.

After maturation: Shame

Shame is the first thing which occurs after eating of the fruit. Erotic desire was the first thing which occurred on meeting, now shame on knowing good from bad (or caring about the same). How does awareness induce shame?

  • Halves not whole

  • awareness of our sexuality -> awareness of our mortality

  • the relationship between sex and shame, as indicated here is natural not puritanical or that sex is sinful or dirty.

Shame and sexual self-consciousness (mutually) changes the relationship of the sexes. With shame comes the romantic appreciative love.

Through courtship and flirtation, inspiration and seduction, a new dialectic is introduced into the dance: approval admiration, and regard require keeping lovers apart at the beholding distance, yet the original sexual instinct drives toward fusion. A new and genuine intimacy is born out of a delicate need to preserve and negotiate this distance and its closure.

This shame as well, is the spur to civilize. They sew and manufacture clothing. Modesty counterpart to shame comes into play. Kant wrote:

In the case of animals, sexual attraction is merely a matter of transient mostly periodic, impulse. But man soon discovered that for him this attraction can be prolonged and even increased by means of the imagination — a power which carries on its business, to be sure, the more moderately, but at once also the more constantly and uniformly, the more its object is removed from the senses. By means of the imagination, he discovered, the surfeit was avoided which goes with the satisfaction of mere animal desire. The fig leaf, then, was a far greater manifestation of reason than that shown in the earlier stage of development. For the one [i.e., desiring the forbidden fruit] shows merely a power to choose the extent to which to serve the impulse; but the other — rendering an inclination more inward and constant by removing its object from the senses — already reflects consciousness of a certain degree of mastery of reason over impulse. Refusal was the feat which brought about the passage from merely sensual to spiritual attractions, from mere animal desire gradually to love, and along with this from the feeling of the merely agreeable, to a taste for beauty, at first only for beauty in man, but at length for beauty in nature as well. [… short bit elided …]

This may be a small beginning. But if it gives a wholly new direction to thought, such a beginning is epoch-making. It is then more important than the whole immeasurable series of expansions of culture which subsequently spring from it.

It should also be noted that this idea of eros and its relation to shame/modesty is not reflected in Greek thought, wherein the gymnasium and ideas of beauty spring from the unadorned naked body.

Final Step: Procreation

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Pain and dependency in childbearing lead to changes in the sexual relationship.

They desire shall be for thy husband and he shall rule over thee

What to make of this?

Recall -> descriptive not prescriptive. It is not “The Lord God commands” this, but a description or prediction of what shall be, not to say it is what should be. How does this (desire and rule of verse follow logically from childbirth and procreation?

How to gain man’s domesticity? By giving him the appearance of rule.

If woman is weaker (physically) and dependent when pregnant or nursing, her procreative powers give her unique powers in the household. Maternity is never in doubt, but paternity is. Legitimacy and the paternity of children depends on the marital chastity of the spouse.

No social order interested in its long term future can be indifferent to the need for responsible fatherhood.

Therefore the establishment of a human household requires limiting of male independence and female sexuality.

Man’s First Response!

What is man’s first response after God’s speech casting them out.

Golly, let’s name her Eve because she’s going to have children!”

His first response was positive, looking at this new revelation.

One’s child is good that it is one’s own, though it is good not because it is one’s own. Rather, one’s own children become one’s own share of that-good-which-is-children. Through children, male and female finally achieve some genuine unification (beyond mere sexual “union”, which fails to do so): the two become through sharing generous, not needy, love for this third being as good.

Flesh
of their flesh -> their child.

Some possible Normative suggestions?

From Kass:

The primordial story of man and woman hints that, despite all the dangers that accompany the humanization of sexuality, it is complementarity — the heterosexual difference — and not just doubleness that may point the way to human flourishing altogether. Conscious love of the complementary other draws the soul outward and upward; in procreation, love, mindful of mortality, overflows generously into creativity, the child unifying the parents as sex or romance alone never can, and the desire to give not only life but a good way of life to their children opens both man and woman towards a concern for the true, the good, and the holy. Parental love of children may be the beginning of sanctification of life. Perhaps that is what God was thinking when He said that it is not good for the human being — neither for man or woman — to be alone. Perhaps this is why “male and female created He them”.

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 1) Freedom and Reason (recap)

Well, again the discussions were lively and interesting in our Bible study and more importantly I haven’t fallen too badly on my face. Actually, hubris is more likely my fault, as things seem to be going well. To recap, the lesson crystallized for me, that the story of Eden, Eve (+ snake) and the fall when read with a philosophical hermeneutic concentrating on what it teaches about freedom and reason is:

  • The proto-human description of an idyllic state exists in all of us and,
  • freedom and choosing (which entails in that action a concern and presumption of knowledge of good and bad) is integral to our makeup as well.
  • Furthermore our appetites and reason are tied into this as well, and the end result of this mix is
  • civilization.

For my notes on how this is arrived at, see this post (or get the book linked there). 🙂

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 1) Freedom and Reason

This is the 2nd week of my Bible study on early Genesis, drawing heavily from Leon Kass wonderful book The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis which takes a philosophical (wisdom seeking) hermeneutic in reading Genesis. This is not to necessarily replace other methods of reading this text, but can very well stand along side other methods and in the light of how this text can teach us with this method, we might very well benefit from such a reading, placing this alongside Plato and Aristotle in our classrooms using this type of teaching. We will break the second creation story into two parts, starting with reflections on what this text instructs us on Freedom and Reason … next week we go to sexuality and the relationship between man and woman. It should also be noted, that this text is was primarily developed as my notes for a Bible study I’m leading on Monday night, after which I’ll also post (in a separate entry) my reflections on the “aftermath”.
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Reflections on Genesis: Chapter 1 (redux)

Well, I survived my first (adult) Bible study session. Actually, oddly enough, this is really the first one I’ve attended and here I am leading it. But all in all it went well, I think (if I do say so myself). The discussion was interesting and thoughtful. Dare I say … adult?

It also cemented for me the particular philosophical interpretation of Genesis put forward by Mr. Kass. That is, Genesis 1 (creation version 1) is a story about God’s creation of the Universe and “Days” refer not to time but to ontology, i.e., phases of taxonomic separation. That ontology is to emphasize that the universe can intelligibly approached by the human intellect. That we are made in God’s image, which primarily means we do those things which God does (and as other creatures of His creation do not) such as create, bless, name, separate and make intelligible.

Given the frequent comments and lively discussions with some self-declared atheists on this site lately, my guess is that there should be little objectionable to be found in this accounting. So at this stage of Genesis, I’m guessing, contrary to popular misconception, there should be little to be found in Genesis 1 that would ruffle the feathers of your average atheistic bird. No? Yes?

Reflections on Genesis: Chapter 1

As I mentioned last week, one of the topics I’ll be blogging about this week, reading Genesis from a philosophical perspective. Monday evenings I’m leading a bible study which will last 4-5 weeks. Each week we will basically be discussing one chapter per week. This study draws heavily from Leon Kass’ The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, which I recommend highly for any interested reader, even you atheists 😉 .
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Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Saturday I read Mark Steyn’s America Alone. Highly recommended for right and left because the basis of all his conclusions aren’t based on disputes over economic ephemera but something as solid and stolid as demographics and birth rates. Throughout all of old Europe, birth rates are running an average of 1.1-1.3 per couple, which isn’t sustainable. Apparently “experts” in the field say birth rates that low aren’t even recoverable, which means the Europe we’ve come to know from the last 1500 years will cease to exist in a generation or so. The Islamic sub-culture doesn’t have this issue … yet.

The current debate about abortion and civil rights for gays will disappear in Europe … when Europe disappears to be replace by Sharia Law and a new Islamic … what? Is Empire is the best choice that remains?

A thought to consider … It is hard for me to even imagine life in a culture with a 1.1 birth rate. Consider that 2.1 is zero growth, the .1 required for infant mortality. But 1 child per couple, that means the following will happen. That means in the average household when one grows up, one have no siblings … that much is obvious. But after a few generations, no siblings means … no cousins, no uncles or aunts. Your extended family is only parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. And those 8 great-grandparents and 4 grandparents all share exactly one child (be it grand or great-grand). Catastrophic collapse of the family tree. Who pays for retirement ponzi schemes when population is undergoing exponential collapse, halving every generation?

This is what is now occurring (and has been going on for a decade or more) in Italy, Spain, France, Scandinavia et al. Poof, in 40 years (at the outside) it will all go up in smoke. If you thought Marxism was a big mistake, the efforts of post-Christian post-modernism and it’s denouement may top that … just watch.

The car burning in France is just the beginning. France is 10% Muslim … but 30% if you count those under 20 years old. In many European countries the most common first name of babies is … Muhammad.

The 68 cent question will be … when (not if) it collapses will out global highly interconnected economy survive or will the house of cards of our hyper-specialization spell our doom. When Roma fell in Late Antiquity the collapse of specialization dropped economic indicators to levels worse than the late Iron age. We might go further if more specialization hurts a people after a collapse.

Read it. Don’t wait. Talk about it. Global Warming isn’t the problem. The incipient Dark Age is.

Reason Dissed Again … (and not by me)

On recommendation of my mother, I’ve recently began reading Taras Bulba by N. Gogol. I found a review at First Things. Anyhow, I’ve been busy yet again with evening appointments and long workdays (a start-up is underway). As I don’t have time for an essay, I’m going to attempt to type in the first two paragraphs or so of the Introduction by Robert Kaplan as it underscores quite well much of my yesterday’s argument.
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My Excuse

For the somewhat lighter posting of late is Mr Erikson. Right now it’s this tome:

… a somewhat guilty pleasure, that is a very dark fantasy novel with protagonists ranging from some very dangerous entities (some sane some less so) and the soldiers trying to get by and get done what is needfull and who by and large work with their brains more than brawn. This book is the third in the series (and in the last two weeks). They’re getting better and if you liked either the better books in Glen Cook’s Black Company series (or his much earlier Dread Empire series) I’d recommend them.

Death and Destruction

In the path of the course of my education, I was well trained in my secondary education to distrust and well, steer clear of the Classical cannon of “Great Works.” This was largely by teaching methodology. I was something of a bookworm and when assigned a text in school, probably had it completely read (not exactly a close reading mind you) in the day or two after the book was assigned, I’d have it read. Then, as we discussed and talked about it for the next two to three weeks … I’d get frustrated and (at best) bored while we had “in class reading sessions” and so on to get us to read the books. It was good training to make me get a visceral (bad) reaction when told a book was a classic. So, as a result I read a lot of everything else. Partially as a result I read a awful lot of science fiction.

Glen Cook is a on again and off again writer, but when he’s on … he’s on. An example of his best work includes these three books,

. This is the story primarily of a small hard bitten mercenary company surviving and working their trade in world with a somewhat non-Tolkeinesque view of the consequences of a world of where magic and spells operate. Wizards seek mainly power and the avoidence of their own mortality and will do terrible things to accomplish those ends and they are terribly powerful … which makes them almost universally feared and rightly so.

A new author (new to me especially) has appeared who writes well and devestatingly in this same mode. These four (so far) books are frightenly good reading if gritty realism is what you want in your fantasy.

I’ve read the first and I highly recommend them.

Book Review: The Great Wave

Well, I”m on a David Hackett Fischer binge, as I’ve mentioned before. Today’s “victim” is a change of pace from Washington’s Crossing and Albion’s Seed. The book is:

This book takes a exacting scholarly result done by two economic historians Henry Phelps-Brown and Sheila Hopkins and put the numbers in to historical context. The economic study was specifically a detailed price/wage index for a variety of commodities over eight(!!) centuries. From an examination of this data Mr Fischer notices that the price/wage index has periods of relative stability and has unstable periods. These periods of instability he terms “The Great Waves”. He also finds that these waves have similar features although their intensity, and duration varies. He makes clear these are not cycles, but like “great waves” on shorelines are a combination of factors which, unexpectedly and occasionaly rise higher and wash over … well … us. In the eight centuries of data, there have been four such waves. These waves occurred in the fourteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries, in fact we are still living in one of the waves. The periods between those waves have been noted for peace and advancement of civillization, the three stable periods in fact have “names”, i.e., the Renaissance, the Englightement, and the Victorian eras.

Each of these Waves has a number of similar features.

  • Each wave begins with a pronounced rise in the price of non-manufactured commodities relative to wages, i.e., food and energy.
  • This in turn stresses the society, the division between rich and poor grows, marriage and out-of-wedlock childbirth rises, starvation, misery and health crises become more pronounced.
  • Then the culture and civillizations, which are stressed, fall prey to a disaster, which in normal times would have been passed over, but in because of the stress, things dissolve in chaos. For the twelfth century, the famine and the Black Death came, for the sixteenth there was the Thirty Years War and again famine, the Eighteenth gave rise to a wave of revolution (including the American and French … but colonial revolts, riots, and uprisings where common elsewhere as well) and War (Napoleon), the twentieth we know more closely at hand having suffered a influenza pandemic and two World Wars (and counting).
  • Monetary inflation occurs to varying degrees in all these periods. As prices and population rises, the monetary supply is stretched. In response more money is coined, which in turn raises prices higher.
  • Mr Fischer points to the cause of much of the unrest which leads to violence as the wild hikes in prices when shortages occurr, which do things like cause revolts, mob action, or removal or even the loss of faith in democracy as happened in Europe in the 1930s.
  • During the times of unrest, the arts and literature reflect a gloomly outlook on the present and future events. During the times of stability the reverse is true.

Commentary

This was a intruiging book, it presents a lot of ideas, backed up by a lot of reference and other data (more than half of the book is appendices, references, and so on). One of the factors which make it intruiging is that he rejects the capitalist/socialists/marxist dichotomy and looks elsewhere for his explanation of “what to do”. The ideas which Mr Fischer puts forth as lessons to learn include having our economists look further into the past when plying their trade, that government might best use it’s resources not in directly fighting poverty but in trying to combat wild price swings and shortages. Mr Fischer points at the small releases in the last decades of crude from strategic oil reserves which had a larger effect than effect on calming prices swings. As he has been finding that wild fluctations in price very often trigger social unrest and violence he suggests that nations (and I might suggest if this were to be believed that international organizations, i.e., the UN) might need less peacekeeping and millitary methods for suppressing unrest if those violent price swings and short term shortages were controlled. It presents a possible thesis that, while governments are instituted for life, liberty (whatever that might mean, heh), and the pursuit of happiness, that the best method for acheiving the same is to look to provide price stability especially of non-manufactured goods like food and energy.

City Galaxy of God?


Shadow at Evening by Chris Walley is among the books I read on the return trip from Asia. This book is self-described as “Christian Science Fiction” a genre I have never before approached. In the fiew works of Chrisitian ficion I have read, normally Christian themes, teachings on soterieolgy, salvation, or a recasiting of the Chrsitian myth are essayed. In this, it seems to me different.
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Book Review: Washington’s Crossing

In 1776, and into the first quarter of 1777 the American Revolution was on a cusp. The events and decisions made in that year were make/break ones for the nascent revolution. David Hackett Fischer, a historian teaching a Brandeis University, has written a clear moving and importantly probably very accurate account of the events of that year. In the spring and summer of 1776, the Army having positioned itself to defend New York suffered a long series of defeats. 90% of the Continental army was lost to disease, dissapointement, and enemy action. The British army effectivly and professionally made use of their expertise and experience to drive Washington back across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Starting with a daring night raid accross the Delaware on a Hessian (German mercenary) post in Trenton, Washington, his generals, and men over the next four months seized the initiative and basically staved off certain defeat. This is the story of how that came about.

Ultimately Mr Fischer holds that a “web of contingency”, the cascade decisions made by hundreds of men led to the events, not any one man’s decisions, good or bad. He also points out that there were some fundamental differences, for example a more bottom up then top down approach to running things that may have helped the American cause.

Some other things … I didn’t know but found interesting:

  • The Hessian under Mr Rall in Trenton, were not drunk sleeping off Christmas celebrations on the eve of the attack. They had been on alert for days, were weary and the remarkably poor weather convinced them that an attack in those horrendous conditions was impossible. Only that caused them to relax their pickets.
  • Weather conditions in the weeks surrounding the three (!) battles in starting with the night march/morning assault on Trenton were very much aided the Americans. Call it Providential (and depending on your beliefs, Providence might be Fortuna or God). But from the aforementioned nasty weather relaxing the Hessian alertness to, wet muddy (knee deep mud) holding up the British counterattack coming from Princeton, and then finally just a day later, when Washington decided to counterstrike back at the base in Princeton, the temperature abruptly dropped freezing the roads (and mud) and making travel much easier. (Note: Mr Fischer does not ascribe that to Providence, but merely notes that the weather conditions were fortuitous).
  • Casualties from the battle of Trenton for the Americans were officially lower than the Hessians. But … factor in exposure and the deaths from exhaustion from the night march in that bad weather and the American’s probably ultimately lost more men.
  • The three victories combined with the poor treatment local New Jersey civillians were encountering from the British brought the militia out of the woodwork. Fighting a “pettite guerre”, ambushing and disappearing. Washington saw what was happening and the American forces supported it fully. As a result, the British lost the initiative completely and suffered a long series of defeats and setbacks over the next three-four months driving them back almost to New York. This also served to turn the British opinion against the war and from there the tide turned.

Of couse it helped a little is that these events occurred all around where I grew up, but notwithstanding, I recommend this book. It was a light read and very informative.

Reflections from the Pool

What follows are thoughts shaken loose during reflections on the readable and fascinating book, recommended by Mike Russell over at Lord of the Kingdom. The book is Following Gandalf, and if you’re interested, toss me a few nickles and obtain it by the link below. Under “the fold” you can find some preliminary reflections. I have a few chapters to go, but it’s been … interesting.


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Book Review: Simply Christian

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright is the prolific Bishop Wright’s latest apologetic work, which hopes to strike a similar chord in future Christian libraries as C.S. Lewis classic Mere Christianity. It is a very different book, but that is probably because the audience is several generations removed and the issues “hot” today are different from those back in the post War era. This book consists of three sections:

  1. Echoes of a Voice — In which the general case for religion, spirituality, and all that is made.
  2. Staring at the Sun — Specifically considering the case for the Christian faith going from God to Israel and how Jesus was the answer (and how the Holy Spirit is our gift).
  3. Reflecting the Image — Finally, how we are asked to participate in this narrative.

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Thinking Evil Thoughts

Or more properly thinking thoughts about Evil. On the return flight earlier this week from LAX -> (sweet home) Chicago I finished the rest of  Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt. I thought I’d drop some parting thoughts:

  • Ms Arendt admits in the afterward that her proposal that the willing cooperation of the Germanic Jewry (and as well other parts of Europe) greatly enlarged the scope and completeness of the Holocaust. It didn’t make it possible, but made it far worse.
  • The inconsistency of the success of the “Final Solution” as tranplanted into allied and subject states during the War varied significantly. These responses ranged from the “resistance by farce” of Italy, the highly effective but politically (not morally) motivated Danish resistance … to on the other side of the spectrum the cooperation for profit by the Hungarian and the shocking enthusastic atrocities (to which the Germans reacted with horror) carried out in Rumania.
  • Finally, this account left the reader somewhat unsatisfied by her account of the somewhat shakey legal standing of such a tribunal in the first place. Given today’s trials of some ex-leaders such as Mr Hussein et al it too bad a better treatement of that issue was not addressed by Ms Arendt or even by the Judge and protagonists in the Eichmann trial.

Stuck … (a little) … On the City of God

Well, I had been promised writing thinking of writing on Book VIII, but want to ponder it a little more. Augustine in this book discusses in depth (and I believe continues in later books) discussing and referring to demons. Demons for Augustine are not just little phantoms or imaginary things, but in fact, that term covers all the gods worshipped by others. Augustine (I believe … further reading in the City of God will confirm or deny this hypothesis) felt that Christian God was the Creator and the source of the Platonic ideal of Good. Given this supposition, any other rational being (supernatural, although I don’t like that term) which was not man, but having attributes closer to God (but not Perfectly Good) Augustine calls a demon.
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Book Review: The Tyranny of the Night

Glen Cook is an uneven author. He writes mostly fantasy, with some science fiction sprinkled in. For example, the series The Black Company contains some great stories and writing, mixed with some awful blatantly derivative stuff (the first book (The Black Company) is great, the second (Shadows Linger) ok, the third (The White Rose) is also really very good, then it drops off, but the last two were very good as well). But, when he’s “hot” his writing ranks among the best. Mr Cook’s vision of wizards as things that normal men fear and avoid is uncommon in the genre

Like Joss Whedon, in a different genre, and Dan Simmons, Glen Cook is not afraid to kill off a major character, which is good. Some of his prose is just wonderful too, like

The Gods of the Andorayans reflected the Northern folk themselves. Which meant they were rowdy, drunken, not too bright, drunken, violent, drunken, and short-sighted. While often drunk.

Those were values their culture had accreted over the ages.

Tyranny of the Night is touted as book one of The Instrumentalities of the Night, so there promise to be more. This book is a little reminiscent of Tower of Fear. This story is not a Tolkeinesque epic tale. It is a complex tale of political intrigue. This book is the start of a promising tale of a world in turmoil, a changing of the guard in both the supernatural (aka Instrumentalitites of the Night) and the natural (empires and kingdoms of men). In this world, the night is ruled by “other things”. Men fear the night. The supernatural powers toy with men. Our story follows Else, a captain and warrior of the Sha-lug (professional slave-soldiers raised to their profession). The story begins, with Else and a band of warriors do something new. These warriors use a small cannon loaded with gravel and silver to kill a “bogon”, a fierce spirit of the night. But a supernatural creature like the bogon should have been invulnerable to anything but a mage (who basically has control of other creatures of the Night). Men should not be able to harm “the Night”. This saves their lives … but sends ripples in the “Night”, as the this actually means that men if they figure it out, can kill the Gods. The Gods are not pleased.

Else is then sent abroad on a somewhat open ended spying mission. But the Gods want Else killed, so that this knowledge doesn’t get out (not realizing that men … well … talk). Else soon is embroiled in high and low politics as he tries to position himself in a place so that he can be of use to his country.

The lure of this book is watching the complicated politics and intrigue play out slowly as men scheme and counter-scheme. If that kind of story holds allure, this book will be well worth it. However, it is complex, name, places and schemes fly back and forth. It is difficult to keep track of what is going down. If that isn’t your bag … then this book won’t be for you.

Book Review:The Black Arrow

En flight from Chicago to Hong Kong, I read two books. The first of these books was The Black Arrow. This was lent to me by a co-worker, and is billed as Ayn Rand, without the speeches and with more sex. To cut to the chase, this book was … well … ok. The story moves along and is entertaining. The heroes are likeable. The Objectivist/Libertarian philosophy isn’t dry and rigorous. It displays a culture in which every thinking person doing exactly what the main characters are doing. The action carries the story forward and the heroes all good and the villains are all bad. They all live in “A black and white world”. This is not a “deep” book, but it isn’t bad.
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Close Read: Augustine’s City of God
Book 1 and Suicide

For what I’m up to see this. The book we are examining is City of God.

I”ve now managed, thanks to an LAX-MDW (Los Angeles -> Chicago) plane “ride” to skim over the first several books of Augustine’s City of God. Much of the first book, as Thomas Merton comments in the introduction are not specifically interesting to the modern reader. However, there are a number of topics worth our time. In book 1, Augustine considers suicide and why this is wrong.
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Book News

Prince of Darkness is at my local library … and now it’s in my grubby hands. This is (alas) the not the final book in Ms Penman’s history which started with King Stephen (When Christ and His Saints Slept) moves into Henry’s reign and marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Prince of Darkness is another Justin de Quincy story, not quite as good, but probably less work for Ms Penman. Justin is an agent of Eleanor’s in the time when Richard is in prison and John is conspiring (against Eleanor) to keep Richard far far away.

Look for an upcoming review. This weekend (Friday) I begin my journey back to Cebu. Blogging may be spotty, but look for a flurry of book reviews and stuff like that as I’ll have a good many hours of uninterrupted reading.

Close Read: Augustine’s City of God
Book 1 essay 1

Well, last week I decided I should start some sort of systematic approach to blogging. Thursdays (which might as well move to Sundays) have been my Classical and Christian series. After I finish with the David/Achilles essays, which I probably can milk for another 4-6 essays, I think I might seek to find similar topics to study. Back in the day … that is shortly after I began blogging had come to the realization that “close reading” or careful examination of texts was something I really never learned to do well in school. Accordingly, I decided to try blogging and writing essays about my reading as I went to force myself to read the text carefully. The text I had chosen back then, was Augustine’s Confessions. To aid in my endeavor I had obtained a companion “commentary” which I used to help me keep on track (and to obtain insights which might not have otherwise occurred to me).

So, I’m going to return to this concept. Perhaps in a few years, “close reading” will be a skill learned. For now, I have again gotten a commentary. Again, I’m starting with Augustine, specifically City of God. The current “liberal” theological community as far as I know, doesn’t think so highly of Augustine’s little book. Anyhow, I’m going to try to approach this book with an open mind. I was very impressed with Confessions, I hope this book doesn’t disappoint.
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Book Review: The Last Knight

This book is a quick read but overall was a disappointment. The Last Knight is John of Gaunt (now that would be Ghent). John of Gaunt was an English Duke who lived in a turbulent times before the War of the Roses and the passing of the Medieval era. The problem for me with this book, is that I’m not really (I guess) part of its intended audience. I’m not sure who his intended audience is for it didn’t include a lot of “dry historical facts” and read a lot like a popularization. For example, telling us that John of Gaunt would be the equivalent of a man worth “billions” in today. The author also found it necessary to inflict on this book a lot of modern sensibilities. I think he tried more to bring John of Gaunt into the modern era than transport the reader into the past. As example of this, he spends some space (and repeats several times) detailing the growing anti-Semitic and aversion to homosexuality which was growing in the lower and middle classes in this period. But, John of Gaunt we find had neither any real dealings with Jewish people nor was either homosexual or had any close dealings with any in his life. These issues have more modern relevance than Medieval and the discussions of this seemed jarring asides and not really relevant to the text. It felt more like the author had a particular axe to grind and was using this as a platform to air his views, albeit veiled in the mist of the authors assumptions of what the “right” point of view might be. Actually, in a number of cases (not just homosexuality) I got the impression that this book was meant by the author to be a commentary on modern social policy and thought told in the context of story of the John of Gaunt. I’m going to have to hunt for another book on this period … just to wash the taste of this book out of my mouth.

I don’t think I’ll hunt down a book on John, my guess is the reason we don’t read more about him … is well he wasn’t quite as interesting as he might have been. While he did support John Wycliffe for a while and was a primary sponsor of Chaucer … he was a warrior who was never excelled in any of his campaigns.

However, if any gentle reader out there has read a good book on John of Gaunt or a contemporary of his … post it in the comment. I’d be interested in reading it.

The Reformation: more thoughts

I’m continuing to read Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation. Last time, if you recall, I had just read a dozen pages, and I was inspired to write about it. Well I’m a good bit further along, perhaps a fifth of the way into the book. The Reformation is truly underway in his account. So far this is still a well crafted, occasionally quite humorous history text. Again, if any of my gentle readers have further reading suggestions akin to this for myself (and my daughter!) don’t be shy, drop a comment (or e-mail, find it by clicking my name under the picture on the left there).
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Book Review: The Elusive Quest for Growth

Traveling to Asia, and spending time working here in Cebu City in the Philippines this topic was of more then just passing academic interest. It also gives me a chance to at least spend a little effort overcoming the same analogous criticism I laid on those who casually make claims (or worse cast aspersions) on Christian beliefs. For I am pretty much as non-expert as one could get in matters dealing with economics, my only economics insights come from my intuitions from life and familiarity with mathematics. On my past trip out here, and probably at others times, I took it upon myself to muse on the poverty in this corner of the world in contrast to the US. But … I did not seek expert opinion. Here is a chance to begin to rectify that. And, additionally I am able to observe much of its claims first hand, at least in one locale. A co-worker had this book on his shelf. I swiped it for my trip, hoping for time to read it. Today, I didn’t have to work a full day … and am basically over the cold that plagued me earlier in the week … so I now have finished it.
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