No Rhyme Or Reason

As I was trying to fall asleep last night, I saw a trending news story from Seminole Heights, an area of Tampa I am familiar with in the area close to I-275 just north of I-4, a place I usually passed through and had little reason to stay in, where three people have been shot to death in the past ten days.  Although police have tried to encourage residents not to live in fear, it is hard not to live in fear when the threat of death is omnipresent and when those same police warnings tell residents not to go out alone at night.  While Florida, and Tampa in particular, is no stranger to news of the weird, this is a far more sinister sort of news [1].  I must admit that being so far away from what is going on in Tampa for as long as has been the case, I can offer no insight as to what is going on or what leads police to think that the murders are connected even though the victims appear not to have known each other.  The mind of a serial killer is not somewhere I am prepared to enter into or speculate about.

Even so, there is much about the effects of pervasive violence that I am familiar with and that I think it worthwhile to discuss.  First, let us discuss the nature of fear.  When it comes to freedom of action, there is an asymmetrical relationship between those who wish to cause violence and those who wish to avoid it, in that those who wish to cause violence depend mainly on their own action, but those who wish to avoid action need to depend on other people being nonviolent themselves.  While it is hard to know what goes through the mind of someone who wants to repeatedly kill in the same area, and who sees ordinary and relatively innocent people as mere targets of opportunity if not active targets, the mind of those who are subjected to the threat of such violence is easier to understand, as living under the shadow and threat of violence tends to darken one’s view, not least because one comes to a realization of the evil which people are capable of, which tends to make it harder to assume that people will be good.  This is true even where there are no worse effects of the violence.

Such pervasive violence also tests the legitimacy of the police and government order.  A great deal of police behavior, and state behavior in the larger sense, is justified on claims that it is making the populace more secure.  However dubious such claims are on the theoretical level, they become untenable on the emotional level when authorities fail to protect their people from certain types of evil.  Among the evils that can destroy the faith of common people in their authorities are the active involvement of such authorities in the evils that they claim to be fighting against–here the problem of corruption raises its ugly head, the abuse of police power to oppress the people, and the failure of police to prevent or stop threats to the public order like riots, serial killers, and terrorists.  These threats to the public order attack at the relationship between people and their government, because government makes certain promises that these threats to the violence reveal as being empty.  It is perhaps for this reason that governments, whatever rights are guaranteed in their regimes, tend to be rather harsh to systemic threats of violence that attack at their legitimacy.  It is easy enough to see why this would be the case.

What is to be done, though, about such situations.  There are some people who feel that in the absence of trust in being protected by the police that they find it better to engage in self-defense.  There are some notable success stories in that regard–most close to home for me being the time when there was an active shooter at the Clackamas Town Center right across the street from where I lived whose shooting spree ended in self-destruction when an active shooter presented himself, thus making a seemingly harmless mall crowd a less inviting proposition.  One of the driving forces behind the nature of the United States as a heavily armed populace is the heady combination of the competence of the police in stopping violence, a healthy degree of mistrust of the government in general, and a belief that the psychology of the violent in seeking out the weak and defenseless to target means that the best way of increasing security is to make that populace less weak and defenseless against those who would engage in purposeful violence against them, be it from the private or the public sector.  We live, or die, with the consequences of the choices we make, and sometimes based on someone else’s convenience and not our own.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall

The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall, by Donald Hall, Poet Laureate Of The United States, 2006 to 2007

This collection of poems is properly a “best of compilation” of poems from a celebrate contemporary poet and the husband of the late poet Jane Kenyon, to whom some of these poems are dedicated.  As someone who is no stranger to reading collections of poetry [1], I found this book to be an excellent one.  There is considerable interest in the fact that this poetry captures a long span of the career of the poet, where the poems begin with a clear rhyme and meter and move on to more experimental forms with free verse and then end in a more conventional format, showing a great deal of change over time, even if that change ended up being more cyclical in nature.  For those who want an introduction to the work of this noted poet, although he not one I have ever come across before, this book is certainly a good way to do that, and may even encourage the reader to check out some of the poet’s previous collections of poetry that gave him the stature to be a poet laureate of the United States.  He may be no William Stafford, but few people are.

In terms of the body of work here, this collection of poems is a bit less than 150 pages long in total.  The poet even helpfully explains his approach at the end of the book in his Postscriptum, the way he writes about his obsessions (like death, sex, nature, and the quirkiness of human interactions) and that like many poets he likes to write in the early morning hours.  The poems themselves are a wide gambit.  Some of them are highly quotable and a few of them are deeply reflective, running the gamut from a meta reflection on poetry as well as snow to poems showing the glory of lovemaking or the way that affairs are immensely destructive to one’s well-being as well as the quality of one’s relationships.  Some of the poems even reflect a view of a vengeful and just God executing his wrath on a disobedient world, which is quite a striking contrast.  Many of these poems, though, dwell on death and decay and the ravages of time and memory, which suits this melancholy and autumnal/wintry poet well.  You will not appreciate this book very well if you want sunny and cheery poems, but if you want darker and more reflective poems, this will definitely do the job.

A great deal of the appeal of this book is likely to be from readers of poetry who are fond of Jane Kenyon and want to see how her other half lives.  The poet reflects on how after her untimely and early death to leukemia at 47 that he wrote nothing about her death for a period of about five years and that she and him were the first readers of each other’s poetry in a deeply collaborative process.  Not being particularly familiar with the works of Jane Kenyon, I found them of interest in the way that they showed the author as a human being of deep feeling, but those readers who are interested in the relationship between writers will find much of interest here in that regard.  To be sure, the relationship between these two poets is not nearly as dramatic as that between the late Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who later became poet laureate of Great Britain for his troubles, but the book is certainly one that can be celebrated for the context it has in the relationship between poets and those around them, for this is a poet who certainly draws from his own life in crafting his poems to an admirable degree.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Writer As Migrant

The Writer As Migrant, by Ha Jin

I must admit that reading this book gave me a somewhat melancholy feeling as someone who has long written and lived with a certain sense of estrangement from my roots [1].  This experience is surely not unique, as the author manages to discuss a great many people who managed to write and write very well despite being cut off from their native roots, from Dante to Nabokov, and from Joseph Conrad to V.S. Naipal, all of which are writers I am familiar with and generally fond of.  The experience of being an exile carries with it a certain tension about where we belong and who our audience is, and whether it is best to write in our native language or to accommodate ourselves to the language of where we happen to be.  In my own experience, as a native speaker and writer of English and as someone who started learning Spanish very young as well, I am perfectly content to write in both languages, although I greatly prefer to write in English.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to have as their native languages major languages, though, and face a deeper problem as they seek to live as writers in the midst of the problems of being cut off from one’s homeland.

This short book of less than 100 pages is made up of three essays from the author on the problem of the writer as an exile.  After a short preface the author begins his discussion with a thoughtful examination of the spokesman and the tribe, pointing out that the writer as an exile faces a difficult problem in seeking to speak for a people he no longer lives around, for to abandon one’s citizenship or one’s native language makes it very difficult to maintain credibility as a spokesmen for one’s native people, a problem that Joseph Conrad faced being a writer in English despite being a native Pole, but one that was better navigated, for example, by Solzhenitsyn, who despite his mistreatment ended up maintaining his credibility with the Russian people as a spokesman.  The second essay takes up the theme of the language of betrayal, again focusing on Joseph Conrad and writers who sought (not entirely successfully) to distinguish themselves from him as people who wrote literature in English as a second language.  The third and final essay looks at the nature of an individuals homeland through a discussion of Odysseus’ Ithaca and its various meanings and implications in contemporary poetry and literature.  Throughout the author manages to strike a delicate balance between the individual and the collective while pointing out that while a writer cannot help but be moral, there are strong limitations as to the sort of moral change that writers can promote through their writings.

What is it that made me sad to read these essays?  For one, the author himself is an exile, a native Chinese writer who had been a part of the PLA but who managed to become a professor at Boston University as well as a successful writer of Chinese literature, by no means a popular genre of literature in the mainstream American market.  The author’s own personal experiences, and my own experiences as an exile, give this book a poignancy that shows the sense of loss that results from having to make one’s way among strangers who do not understand us.  The author’s discussion, for example, of the tragic eponymous hero of Nabokov’s Pnin, and the way that he is continually misunderstood by others, is something that strikes a deep chord with me personally.  I found myself in reading these essays a sense of kinship with those who wrote of the desire to find home and the tension between doing what is best for oneself and also seeking the support and encouragement of others without which writing is not of any profit and of precious little enjoyment.  Perhaps we may not be alone in being alone, though, and if we are far from home and caught between hopes for the future and looking back to the past, certainly there are others we can relate to, and that makes the journey a less lonely one.

[1] See, for example:

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Numbers 6:22-27: The Lord Bless You And Keep You

It is a tradition within the Church of God that the second Sabbath after the end of the Feast of Tabernacles there is in local congregations the blessing of the little children, either those children born within the previous year who are old enough to attend services (all but the youngest) or those young children of parents who are new to the faith.  Some decades ago, this blessing was done at the Feast of Tabernacles when there were few congregations, but the length of the ceremony and the number of children became so large that it was decided to hold the ceremony at the local congregation by the ministry of the congregation, and the second Sabbath after the Feast of Tabernacles was chosen to make sure that families are able to return after the Feast, because it is difficult sometimes for people to return if the Feast ends, as it did this year, near the end of a week.  Rather strikingly yesterday, as our pastor and our new local elder were preparing to bless the two little ones who kept our congregation from being particularly unproductive this year, he referenced the priestly benediction to the children of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27, a passage that I had not heard of being referenced in this particular way before.

Numbers 6:22-27 reads as follows:  “ And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”’  So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”  Now, when I read this passage, I tend to think of the children of Israel as being a reference to the entire people of Israel as God’s children rather than being specifically directed at the little children of Israel as it was being directed to the little children of our congregation yesterday [1].  I tend to have in mind the people of Israel leaving slavery and on their way to the promised land, lacking in confidence and faith and being slaves in their hearts and minds long after they have been freed from the oppression in their bodies.  So it is in our world too, in that people remain influenced and sometimes even defined by the horrors and oppression and abuse that they have suffered long after they are no longer subjected to it.

Yet there is no question about the application of this verse to literal children.  I cannot read the priestly benediction applied to little children being blessed by their ministers without thinking about my own early childhood.  Perhaps it is unfair for this to be so, but it is so.  For it was thirty-six years ago that I too was one of those unhappy babies being brought by my parents before the ministers to be blessed in a ceremony not unlike those held yesterday in congregations all over the world.  What words were whispered over my head as I was held in someone’s arms.  What sort of fond wishes for God’s protection and blessings were asked?  Was the message personally tailored based on the pastor’s awareness of my family, or was it a more general sort of prayer full of the cliche of someone who was going through the motions and making a general wish for well-being and that God would help me to grow up to be a godly man, as, God willing, has been the case.  I certainly cannot remember as I was only an infant, and it is unlikely that anyone else remembered the precise words of the blessing either.

Certainly, little children need all the blessing and help from God that they can get.  In looking at the two little ones being blessed, one of the children was the fourth children of an intact family, and the other child was brought by his grandmother, and by a mother who looked young and who I cannot remember having ever seen before.  I wondered, in the latter case, where the men were–where was the child’s father and grandfathers?  Sometimes what is missing is just as important, if not more important, than that which can be seen.  Among the most important and most serious areas where little children need protection is within their own families.  Most of the harm we suffer comes from people close to us, from our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, the people we interact with on a regular basis in our jobs and congregations.  In the same way, most of the harm we do is to those who are close to us as well, for the same reasons–proximity can be a great blessing and also be a great danger as well.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to reflect that it is the same way with God, at least in part.  The priestly benediction asks for God to bless and keep the children of Israel, to make his face shine upon them, to be gracious, to give peace, yet having the countenance of God upon someone is not an unmixed blessing.  To those whom God loves and who are obedient to Him, the face of God is a glorious vision of what we are slowly becoming as God works with us and as we grow to show more and more of the family resemblance of being His children.  On the other hand, if we are rebellious to God and hostile to his ways, the thought of God’s face being on us and His presence being in our lives is not something we look forward to.  Our expectation is not of graciousness in such circumstances, but rather harsh judgment.  Even the graciousness, for example, of the father of the prodigal sons towards the younger son who repented in his heart and returned to his father, depended on that repentant heart allowing the son to feel and see the love and grace given to him.  It is a terrifying thing to reflect on how our perception of God’s love and grace might depend on how we see Him, mediated through the way that we see authority figures like parents in our own lives.  It makes one wish, like the psalmist of Psalm 80, who largely repeats the same plea three times, in verses 3, 7, and 19:  “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!”

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Oregon: Portrait Of A State

Oregon:  Portrait Of A State, by Rick Schafer

Being somewhat familiar with books like this one [1], I have to say that there are quite a few things about this book that are immensely worthwhile.  For one, it is of a large enough size to make a good coffee table book and filled with immensely beautiful photographs about Oregon that have a minimum of sermonizing.  In reading this book, I was struck by how many of the gorgeous scenes in the book I have seen in the course of my own travels through Oregon [2].  Reading this book as a person who enjoys traveling through Oregon is a double pleasure–there are beautiful photos and there is a feeling of gratification that one has good taste in places to visit.  That is the sort of pleasure I like to get from books, the enjoyment of beauty as well as the gratification of my own good taste in books as well as travel destinations.  Any book that is beautiful enough to encourage local tourism is a book that deserves considerable appreciation from people in the area, and it would be little surprise to me if this book was an immensely popular one.

In terms of its structure, there is not much to say about this book, given that it begins with a detailed map of Oregon and then has about a hundred pages of beautiful pictures of Oregon.  One gets a feel for what the photographer most enjoys to photograph, and that includes a lot of mountains, quite a few rivers and falls, and more mountains.  Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, the gorgeous and somewhat remote Wallowa Mountains, South Sister, and numerous other peaks have their picture taken in glorious shading.  The photographer shows a keen grasp of focus, light and shadow, and vivid contrasts in shade and color.  All of this makes for an immensely enjoyable read, and the sort of book that will impress guests who want to take a turn at its pages while the book sits on a coffee table.  I was impressed enough when I visited the library that I figured I had to take a look at it and it was definitely a worthwhile book, one that demonstrates a keen eye for composition as well as a love of the sights of Oregon that ought to inspire more than a few trips to somewhat remote areas.

The photos and their captions occasionally provoke more serious feelings than that of enjoyment and pleasure, such as when the photographer takes a picture of an abandoned schoolhouse in a field of grain, a reminder of abandonment and loss that strikes this reader at least as a rather poignant reminder of loss.  And though most of the photographs are of natural scenes, quite a few of them show human influence through farming and viniculture, as well as the gorgeous Mount Angel Abbey, a covered bridge, and some ski lifts, showing the way that Oregon’s beauty has been enjoyed and enhanced by some beautiful buildings, including Portland’s lovely skyline.  And, it should be noted, even those shots that are of relatively unspoiled nature show the influence of mankind, namely the photographer whose taste for beauty has the sort of gaze that would be a bit uncomfortable if it were from an eye rather than from a camera, and if it was directed at people instead of gorgeous landscapes.  Such is the way that appreciation of beauty goes in that it is acceptable in some contexts and not others.  Here, it simply works beautifully.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast, by Rick Schafer, Essays by Jack & Jan McGowan

When I enjoy books with beautiful pictures of Oregon’s scenery [1], I prefer them to come without a sermon.  Unfortunately, it is all too common for books about nature to want to lecture people as to how that nature needs to be protected through intrusive bureaucracies and government regulations [2].  Let me break it to would be essayists like those of this book:  if someone is reading a book and appreciating photos of wild and uninhabited nature, then that person has an appreciation for creation, and one can spare the lecture.  Considering that this book is basically an updated version of a book from about two or three decades before on the Oregon coast, the lack of originality in the book’s approach is a bit painful.  Thankfully, there are enough photographs to make this a worthwhile endeavor even if it’s not as good a coffee table book as its predecessor.  Still, photos of beautiful Oregon coastal scenery can be appreciated even when they come with unpalatable supporting text, and so even with this book’s failures it is still worth enjoying because at least its photos are good.

In terms of its contents, this volume is a bit under 100 pages and divides its look at the Oregon Coast into three parts from north to south.  The book does a good job at presenting the complexity of the Oregon coast, from its hidden shipwrecks, one of which still sends out beeswax into the water even hundreds of years later, apparently, to its many interesting rivers and headlands and the ports with their tricky sandbars, to the shifting dunes of much of Oregon’s surprisingly sandy beaches.  There are really two reasons why someone would want to read this book, and that are the photos as well as the captions, both of which work at showing the beauty of Oregon’s littoral.  The fact that some of Oregon’s beaches used to be used as roads is quite remarkable, and there are even some useful trivia questions, such as, what is the only Oregon ocean port that is not on a river and has no bar to cross, Port Orford.  I do not know when or if such a trivia question will ever be useful, but it may be so I suppose that is another reason to appreciate this book.

Of the three people involved in the creation of this book with name credit, there are clearly very difficult judgments to make about them.  Rick Schafer’s photographs are amazing, and this book certainly demonstrates that the photographer has an eye for great composition and also good taste in choosing such beautiful areas to photograph.  For that skill alone this book, and any other book he has made, deserves a look.  Even if the idea of making a book out of beautiful Oregon photography is not exactly an original idea, it is still executed well here.  On the other hand, the essays by Jack and Jan McGowan detract from the enjoyment value of the book and add to its length.  This book would have been vastly better without the politically-inclined essays and with more amazing photographs.  Sometimes less is more, and that is especially true when one is dealing with environmentalist propaganda.  One might suspect that there are plenty of people who agree with it, but even they might be honest enough to admit that they would prefer to see more pictures of amazing state parks and dunes to more screeds about saving the environment.  Stop talking about it; show more beautiful photos of God’s creation that show it to be well worth saving without having to say anything about it.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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The Cyberbullies Among Us

This morning, I found myself involved, without any particular interest on my part, in an internet quarrel over policies between a coworker of mine and someone else.  With the names redacted to protect the innocent and the guilty, I first received an internet message from a stranger asking if I was a coworker of someone (I was) who had apparently made some sort of racist comments online.  I replied, rather simply, that I was a coworker and that our company does not tolerate racism, and left it at that, as the person did not have any documentation to justify his stance that my coworker had indeed said or done anything that was racist.  Not too long after that, the coworker in question sent me a message and said that the other fellow was trying to dox him through me.  I told my coworker not to worry about it and that I’m not the sort of person who gives a great deal of credence to unsubstantiated accusations.  Political disagreements happen and people often become cyberbullies because they cannot handle the opinions of others.

While I cannot vouch for my coworker’s innocence or, conversely, for the truth of the accusations made by the stranger, the fact that it appears to have come through a political disagreement is itself significant.  As someone who has a pretty large online presence, the question of cyberbullying and doxing and related problems is one that often comes through my mind.  I often feel concerned about how my own writing will be taken, and if people will feel bullied by even my implicit discussion and comments about them.  I tend not to be someone who is easily offended but when I am offended I tend to be deeply offended, and since I am fairly open and public about what bothers me, I have noticed that people tend to view me as far more prickly than I am, which is prickly enough.  As someone with a loud and sometimes strident online voice, I am sensitive to the fact that other people may feel themselves bullied or shamed by what I say relating to them even where that is no intent on my side to do that [1].

The contemporary world has many ways to shame other people.  The sharing of private conversations with others in order to influence behavior, the mobilizing of others on social media to share pictures or to engage in concentrated and targeted abuse of others is something that is fairly easy to accomplish and can result in a great deal of suffering for others.  As someone whose somewhat opinionated nature and status as a frequent critic of books and other material tends to cause offense to others, I tend to be somewhat sympathetic to others who are the nature of targeted social media attacks, since they have happened often enough to me.  There is a certain natural solidarity among those who are the victims of bullying and abuse, and the knowledge that one can innocently be caught up in these matters and be the subject of large amounts of hateful speech from others tends to make one rather skittish about being involved in spreading hateful speech about others.  At least that ought to be the case, that we would be sensitive to how we are treated and make sure that if we find some sort of treatment by others to be abhorrent not to treat others that way either.

After all, when we become cyberbullies of even people who have done great evil, we become in many ways like them.  There can be a certain pleasure, for example, in shaming someone whose moral and political views greatly offend us, but doing so puts us in the position of fascist oppressors of those whose opinions differ for our own.  To use fascist means to attack those we deem as fascists hardly puts us in a positive light.  The fact that such sort of shaming is so ubiquitous in our society that it is even done by those who consider themselves to be reputable news sources but are in reality gossip rags and libel machines does not justify our behaving in like fashion, but it does suggest that it is far easier to be a bully than we may often believe.  It is deeply ironic that in an age where there are so many efforts against bullying that exist, many of those who are the most vociferous about the way that others have bullied them are often just as casual in bullying others themselves.  Oh, that we would be more reflective of our ways, and more kind even in an unkind world such as our own.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: 101 Things I Learned In Advertising School

101 Things I Learned In Advertising School, by Tracy Arrington with Matthew Frederick

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I’m not familiar with the series that this book is a part of, but judging from what the book says, it is likely that the series as a whole is at least somewhat polarizing if this book is any indication.  My own feelings about advertising and marketing are somewhat ambivalent, but this book does a good jot, for the most part, at presenting the high road in giving advertising legitimacy by providing the means by which people who have goods and services to offer make others aware of that fact in ways that encourage their bottom line.  I see nothing inherently illegitimate about advertising, but feel it necessary to recognize that much of it is unethical and manipulative in its nature [1].  The authors of this book–and it seems as if the cowriter is given credit mainly because he was the one who created the series rather than for being the main author–do a good job at drawing interest to this book through their mostly good-natured sense of humor about advertising.  Other than a particularly saucy and daring quotation from Hitler about the nature of propaganda and its audience, this book manages to take the high road and defend ethics and truth-telling in advertising to a high degree.

In terms of its contents this book is short and straightforward to a high degree.  Each of the 101 things that the author(s) learned in Advertising school are introduced with some sort of provocative visual and there is usually some sort of provocative quotation or short discussion about it.  This is not a book that aims at great depth but it certainly is the start of book that can start a conversation with the reader about the nature of advertising and marketing efforts that certainly deserves to be had.  What is the value of brokers and middlemen in general?  What are the alternatives to advertising efforts, and are there ways that advertisers can improve their rather pitiful reputation among an increasingly cynical general public?  How can much of the clutter that the authors talk about in advertising be removed for the benefit of everyone involved except for those business which profit from the proliferation of intrusive and often irritating advertisement?  This book does not definitely answer such fairly obvious questions but does at least provide a pro-advertising point of view that ought to inspire some sort of comment and response among many readers, which is likely what it was meant to do.

Even so, at the end of the day I find it hard simply to buy the arguments of the author(s) in favor of advertising.  The authors seem to want to do a great deal in a somewhat superficial way here, and much of it is certainly interesting and some of it downright ironic, such as the insight that advertising agencies do not themselves advertise, except indirectly through the marketing campaigns that they work on for others.  The book also praises companies whose reputations have fallen a bit on hard times, like that on Dove with recent advertising that has been deemed racist.  Those who want something to argue with or respond to will find much of interest here.  Those whose views are favorable to marketers and advertisers will also find much of interest here, but I wonder if this book is designed more to preach to the choir in a highly polarized atmosphere concerning advertising and marketing and to provoke debate with those who are opposed to the authors’ worldview than it is to provide the means for a convincing argument in favor of their worldview.  At least some of this book appears an awful lot like trolling, especially the quotation from Mein Kempf and its reference to 9/11 truthers that are its most controversial comments/insights.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Landscapes Of Anne Of Green Gables

The Landscapes Of Anne Of Green Gables:  The Enchanting Island That Inspired L.M. Montgomery, by Catherine Reid

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I consider myself at least a mild fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery and of her writings [1], for like her and like many of her characters I am a high-strung and sensitive person who feels compelled to write, has a deep appreciation of creation, and comes off to others as far more optimistic than I feel inside.  In short, I found this book deeply relatable and wanted to read it on those grounds.  Having read it, I must say that the book ends up being far better than I expected it to be, and I had high hopes and expectations going into it.  A big part of the reason for that is that the landscapes that the author talks about are multi-layered.  I knew, going into this book, that it would have beautiful landscapes of Prince Edward Island, just from the context I brought with me being familiar with Montgomery’s life and writings, but I was not aware that the author would talk about other landscapes as well, including the landscapes of time and the interior landscapes of creativity and inspiration.  All of this made a great book even better.

In terms of its contents, this book is about 300 pages but it can be read profitably and well more easily than others of its size because of a great many gorgeous pictures that will make this book a treasured volume on coffee tables and in bookshelves for a great many people for a long time to come.  The book is organized in a way that puts its gorgeous photos and the author’s text in the best light, being divided into thematically organized chapters that discuss such matters as an introduction to Prince Edward Island and its history, the interconnected lives of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery as kindred orphans, the loveliness of Prince Edward Island during Montgomery’s time and our own, the poetic imagination of both Montgomery and her protagonists, the beautiful gardens of Montgomery’s imagination and life, the seasons of life on Prince Edward Island, and the life of a writer.  There is a great deal in these materials that is personally relevant and that will likely be relevant to many of this book’s readers, whether or not they have visited PEI.  If this book wasn’t supported by the tourism board of that lovely island province, it needs to be soon.

There are many ways that you could like this book.  You could be a fan of Anne of Green Gables or the other writings of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and be interested in knowing more about her writings and the land that inspired them.  You could be a fan of Prince Edward Island and its natural beauty as well as its unusual history that has led to much of that beauty being preserved even in the face of tourism and the proliferation of golf courses.  You could be a fan of the relationship between the beauty of creation and its influence on the artistic creation of writers.  You could be a fan of nature photography or beautiful book art, or any number of related subjects, and there would be much to enjoy in this book.  This book combines the immense beauty of Prince Edward Island as well as the writing of Lucy Maud Montgomery with the immense tragedy of a life marked by powerful depression and immense difficulty, and the lasting nature of the beauty of the land as well as the writing that was related to a life that in many ways deeply resembles my own.  After all, Montgomery was a sensitive and high-strung person with a marked tendency towards melancholy who channeled her intense passions and the difficulties of her life into writing which has served the world far more than it served her personally.  This book is a worthy and gorgeous testament to that reality.

[1] See, for example:

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You Take The High Road, And I’ll Take The Low Road, And I’ll Get To Scotland Before You

One of the music reviewers online whose videos I enjoy–there are quite a few–is named Anthony Fantano, who claims himself to be the Internet’s busiest music nerd [1].  Some time ago a magazine wrote a hack job on him that falsely claimed that he was making videos in order to appeal to the white nationalist alt right [2], which is completely untrue as he tends to be a fairly notable Progressive in terms of his own political opinions, which he makes clear from time to time when he talks about his more serious opinion pieces.  Although I happen to be generally hostile to Progressive politics, and therefore have much to disagree about with Mr. Fantano, I find it abhorrent that he had a speaking tour canceled because a libelous article managed to stir up a great deal of unrest on the part of venues as well as his booking agent, forcing him to lie low at present and wait for the storm to calm down before he is able to try again at doing a speaking tour as a comedian and public figure.

Earlier today, a young man in our local congregation sent me a message asking for a favor, and it ended up being that he needed someone to take his place leading songs tomorrow at services in our congregation because he was going to be with his family in a neighboring congregation.  I had no problem agreeing to the request, and when I saw what songs he had picked out I thought that they would be fine to lead before the congregation as a pinch hitter of sorts while he encouraged his maternal grandmother.  Later on this evening I got a call from one of our deacons asking if the songleader had gotten in touch with me and I was able to report that his wife (the pianist scheduled for tomorrow) will be able to practice the songs that were on the website.  Now I just have to find some people to give the opening and closing prayer.  I hope my fellow brethren don’t get bored of seeing me on the stage.  As it happens, while I was discussing the songleading for tomorrow I was also arranging to sing with a combined choir in about three weeks for the memorial of the grandfather of the young man who asked me to take his place this week as a songleader.

Recently the cooperation between different secession movements has been something of interest to me, and although in general I am in favor of secession movements on the part of peoples with a recognizable culture and a lengthy history of oppression in tyrannical and/or failed states, I must admit the international community as a general rule is not very fond of those areas which buck the status quo and which want to redraw the maps of the world.  In both Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia [3], we have seen a marked phenomenon where separatists have taken the high road, at least as far as the international community and those who could be judged as sympathetic to their cause while both of the nations involved (Iraq and Spain) in trying to resist separatism have failed badly in presenting themselves as nations that any restive region wants to be a part of.  It is striking to see rebels take the high road and those authorities that consider themselves to be legitimate taking the low road so painfully obviously.

Indeed, in life we often find ourselves caught between taking the high road and taking the low road.  It can be easy to forget when there is something that we feel needs to be done, or alternatively, needs to be prevented from happening that we are dealing with other people with whom we can expect a great many interactions in the future.  The short-term gains we get from taking the low road often end up backfiring in the long run when we find that we have a lot to look forward to in dealing with others who are less likely to want to do anything with those who have been unkind before, or, in contrary, are more inclined to deal with someone who has been gracious and honorable and generous in their dealings.  The choice is ours to make, in so many areas of life.  Do we choose the short-term ease or do we take the time and effort to build something that can last?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

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