The Mysterious Case Of @ChartData

Who is @chartdata?  As someone who probably spends more time on Twitter than is probably good for me, one of the many feeds I follow is one by Chart Data that posts information about songs and albums and artists that are popular on charts in the United States (where I live) and around the world.  For example, throughout the week I will look at feeds that tell me song and album certifications in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other places, while seeing the movement of songs on and off the charts.  The person/people behind the feed will also post changes in roles, the songs of the summer, and retrospectives that tell us that on this date ___ years ago ____ hit their peak chart position of ____ with the song _____.  I must admit that I am intrigued by these statistics, even when the news is bad news, like some mediocre trap album having all seventeen of its songs chart simultaneously on the Hot 100.  As someone who cares deeply about music charts [1], I find the sort of information provided by this account to be deeply interesting and worthwhile, in that it gives me an efficient way to keep track of what is going on in popular music.

Yet it would appear as if not everyone is content that the mysterious identity of chart data should remain mysterious.  It so happens that not all is going well with the Twitter feed.  As I write this, earlier today the person in charge of the feed wrote the following:  “I appear to have been targeted with false DMCA claims by someone after my personal information. Twitter allows me to file a counter but only by disclosing this info. If anyone knows how to fix this please send a DM otherwise I risk losing the account entirely in the future.”  Regrettably, I was unable to help the person behind this feed with their concern, as I do not know how to fight DMCA related claims that are related to doxing.  For whatever reason, and I do not know nor care about the reasons, the person or people behind @chartdata want to remain private.  I tend to live a pretty public life myself and my opinions and general worldview and bias are openly acknowledged.  Not everyone appreciates it–Amazon, for example, considers me a biased reviewer and refuses to accept my reviews on products–but knowing who I am and what I stand for is not a very difficult task, come what may.

For whatever reason, though, @chartdata wants to remain private.  I am okay with this decision.  Not everyone wants to live a public life where they are subject to intense scrutiny over the way that they spend their time.  Perhaps @chartdata works for Billboard, or a music label, or has a job that may not be considered related to the music industry.  Perhaps they have political or religious beliefs, as I do, that would lead them to be subject to considerable scrutiny and disapproval.  Perhaps they do not want their personal life to become the subject of discourse and would prefer to focus on posting chart data and information.  The why and wherefores of their desire to remain private is private, and I am not privy to the reasoning.  I simply agree that in our world there are many legitimate reasons why someone would want to remain private and have their tweets be judged on their own merits and not the personal standing or opinions or decisions or life of the person making the posts.  If there was ever a time that was an acceptable course of action, it would be in our present days.  When I go to @chartdata, which I do multiple times daily, I am looking for music data and statistics, not anything personal, and that is exactly how I want it to remain.

Yet in a world where there is an increasing desire to make everything about people public, from their purchases and search data to their photographs and random internet comments, where public figures find their third grade behavior under intense scrutiny, the desire to remain intensely private while having a popular online presence is a deeply anomalous one.  To what extent does our personality matter with regards to what we say.  I happen to believe that a message and messenger need not be viewed as synonymous.  If someone is faithfully transmitting data and not infusing it with their own personal commentary, that data can speak for itself and others are free to interpret it however they will.  If we view #peaktrap as a threat to the well-being of society or puzzle over the wide gulf between streaming and radio with regards to what is judged as “popular music,” we are free to draw such inferences as we may from the data, while the person or people providing the data remain hidden.  It should not be necessary for the identity of the account holder to become an issue.  Some of us just want the data to work with, trusting that our own interpretive skills can handle it without the need to puzzle over who is providing us with the information and what their own reasons for doing so are.  Sometimes data should be left to remain data, and if someone wants to share data but not share themselves, who am I to complain?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/08/08/make-it-real/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/08/01/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-def-leppard/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/16/album-review-expose-greatest-hits/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/05/you-can-talk-to-me/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/09/08/private-emotion/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/28/making-movies/

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Book Review: The Education Of A British-Protected Child

The Education Of A British-Protected Child, by Chinua Achebe

As someone who had to read the author’s perennially overrated book Things Fall Apart in high school, and who apparently still somewhat resents the time wasted reading and talking about this book, I felt it worthwhile to read this relatively short collection of the late author’s essays.  That is not to say that I found this book to be uniformly pleasurable or that I agreed with everything that the author had to say, but I did agree with more than I thought I would, and even that which I did not agree with I found to at least be worthwhile in showing the author’s perspective and in wrestling with topics in which i have no direct personal interest but some scholarly interest [1].  As someone who is neither African nor African-American, I view this book and its subjects as an outsider, but although I am a fairly fierce reader of books, I do not think I am lacking in sympathy (even if empathy is beyond me), and so I consider a book like this worth reading even if one is not an insider to the author’s concerns or identity.

In a bit more than 150 pages the author provides a variety of essays.  The author begins in a discussion of British imperialism in Nigeria, and what it meant to be a British-protected child whose country did not come into existence until later on in his life.  The author reflects on what it means to deal with (other) legendary writers, spends a couple of essays pondering on his father as well as on his daughters, and looks at what it means to be recognized.  He offers some tips on how to teach Things Fall Apart so that people who are not African or African-American would be able to relate to the stubbornness and intended nobility of its protagonist Okonkwo.  The author muses on what it was like to travel white in Southern Africa and deal with the ambiguities of race and identity in other places.  He tries to defend Africa from the hostile view many have of its lack of civilization, praises Martin Luther King, makes some trenchant conversations on the politics of language and the failure of Africa’s leaders, and closes with a “Captain Obvious” moment that Africa is people in showing hostility to demands for austerity by the World Bank and related creditors of Africa’s governments.

Where the author is at his most moving is when he talks about his own family and his relationship to other writers and thinkers who have influenced him and who have wrestled with divided identities.  Unfortunately, while the author has a lot of worthwhile things to say about the divisions within Nigeria, and while I certainly favor the Igbo of the author over the Muslim Hausa who have long oppressed them within Nigeria, it seems as if much of the author’s worldview has a rather fatal logical flaw that really bothers me.  On the one hand, the author is an observant viewer of the failures of Africa’s leadership to bring the blessings of Africa’s resources to its people, but on the other hand, the author’s commitment to Marxism and identity politics does not offer a way forward out of the corruption and poverty that the author decries.  The author is wise to want a better life for his children and future generations, and is right to criticize the corrupt leadership of Nigeria and other countries, but he does not have anything better to offer other than criticism of others.  Of course, the reader of the book is in the same position as the author, only able to offer criticism and likely few answers to the seemingly intractable problems Africa faces.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/25/book-review-africa-and-africans-in-the-making-of-the-atlantic-world-1400-1800/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/01/02/failure-is-not-an-option-the-forgotten-travails-of-the-central-african-republic/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/03/book-review-atlantic-history-concept-and-contours/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/12/how-to-become-an-atlantic-historian-without-really-trying/

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Book Review: A Passage To India

A Passage To India, a play by Martin Sherman

It should be noted that what I read and am reviewing here is a play that is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster that I have not read.  I am going to assume that the plot is basically the same, but this is a play, and it is a book that I managed to find in the stacks of my local library but that was not in the book’s database.  I chose to read the book because I guessed it had something to say about imperialism, and though the story does not appear to be all that compelling when viewed on its own apart from the somewhat heavily freighted, it is easy to see how the story has become a classic because of the influence of anti-imperialism in contemporary studies.  This book is a clear example of what happens with politics trumps the essential elements of a story, and where a book becomes famous and viewed as a classic without really deserving the honor on its own merits.  As much as I am intrigued by India [1], subject matter alone does not make for a classic work.

This play is a two-act drama of about 100 pages in length, and it is mercifully short, because the plot is wafer thin.  When one is used to reading great plays, reading a play like this one of such mediocre content is more than a bit disappointing.  The plot itself is pretty basic–an idealistic young woman from England goes to India to see if she is going to marry a local Anglo-Indian magistrate there.  She finds herself charmed by her potential future mother-in-law, who wants to escape from conflict and who finds the troubles of British imperialism in India too difficult to honestly face, and is taken on a cave expedition that leads her to think herself attacked by her Indian host, Dr. Aziz, only to realize that she had made a dreadful mistake by falsely accusing him, when the case becomes massively and sensationally political.  A great deal of the discussion is tiresome, focusing on the fact that Adela, or Miss Quested, is supposedly some sort of great prig, as if it mattered, and discussing the snobbery among the British population and their hauteur towards their subjects, as if that made a book more interesting to read.

It would be a great disservice if Forster’s work happened to be a good one, since this play is not a very compelling one to read.  If you do not happen to share the author’s worldview, there is not much to enjoy here, since this play is exceptionally heavy-handed in its approach to imperialism.  Most of the English here are not particularly sympathetic, but that is largely because most of them appeared to have worshiped power and not been very good Christians.  Of all the characters in the play, I think I resemble the somewhat gauche but also sympathetic Adela the most, and the fact that the writer is rather harsh towards her makes me less sympathetic towards him and to his work as a whole.  Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore are viewed as somewhat sympathetic characters as well, but for the most part this book is strongly lacking in people worth caring about who behave in ways that are worth giving credit to.  The big points in the book are heavily signposted, and amount to bromides about imperialism being bad and honesty being good and all that.  This is a play that was barely worth reading and would not be worth paying for in a theater.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/05/20/the-cantonization-of-india/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/04/book-review-lucky-boy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/12/book-review-the-shadow-of-the-great-game/

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Antifa: A Case Study In The Ignorance Of History

Admittedly, I don’t write as much history as I intended to when I started this blog.  I write a fair amount of book reviews that relate to history, and a fair amount of music history as well, but not nearly as much in the way of historical analysis that I wish to, because it takes a while to think about and write and because the business of life gets in the way.  That said, there are definitely aspects about our contemporary sociopolitical context that greatly worry me as a student of history.  Among those is the rampant ignorance of history among those who attempt to use it against others.  As someone who lives on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, anytime I see or read the local news, there is almost always some reminder of some kind of Antifa outrage gone wrong, some sign of the leftist of the area going in a particularly horrific direction with baleful consequences for the area where I live.

It is perhaps for the best that hipsters are so fond of irony [1], because there are few ironies in our political scene greater than the fact that a group labeling itself as anti-hate is among the most hateful participants in our contemporary cultural wars, and a group that labels itself Antifa in a professed opposition to the illusory fascism of our present government itself behaves like the SA brown shirts of pre-fascist Germany.  How is it that an avowedly anti-fascist group can mimic so assiduously the tactics of the anarchic but simultaneously well-organized ground troops whose civic disorders helped to encourage Hitler’s rise to power in Germany?  One might argue that Antifa were useful idiots (although useful to whom is perhaps difficult to say), but questions of their idiocy depend on their awareness of history.  To the extent that Antifa is deliberately naming itself in a traditionally ironic leftist way in the way that Democratic Republics of the leftist variety are invariably neither democratic nor republics, we may consider them to be hypocrites, but not idiots.  However, it does not appear as if many antifa supports, especially on the ground level, are that aware of history, although their leaders may be.

There seems to be a widespread blind spot on the left that argues that only those who are right-of center can be fascists.  To be sure, many conservatives (although not I) have read Liberal Fascism, a book that seeks to connect many of the contemporary behaviors of the left with those of fascist regimes of the period during and shortly before World War II.  Yet while it is fairly obvious among those who are more conservative (or more open-minded to historical truth in general–the two may not be exclusive) that fascism is not strictly on the right or the left, no matter how much neo-Nazi movements may be connected with the far right in the United States and elsewhere, it is not so obvious to those on the left.  It should be noted that while some people define facism as “an authoritiarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization,” as my web browser helpfully tells me, in general use it is used to label practices or views that are authoritarian, oppressive, or intolerant.  And while the first definition would appear to exclude contemporary leftists who are certainly not nationalistic in their views, it certainly does include antifa in its second direction, given the oppressive and intolerant nature of the contemporary left.

How would a better understanding of history help us with the scourge of the ironically fascist anti-fascists among us?  Historical perspective could help out in multiple ways.  For one, a better understanding of history would allow people to realize that the public position of avowedly racist groups is not simply a matter of contemporary society but has a long history in the United States, even if not a positive history.  Such knowledge as the presence of xenophobic public protests in the early 1990’s or the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s could put contemporary white nationalism in its proper context as a fringe and extreme minority, and not something worth disrupting the peace of our republic for.  Additionally, a better understanding of the attempts of Hitler and his associates in using urban disorder through the brown shirts of the SA in encouraging the rise of law-and-order support for his party would remind contemporary imitators (whether intentionally or not) of the SA that history generally is not kind to those who are on the side of disorder in supporting the rise of authoritarian regimes.  After all, the SA was decimated in the night of the long knives when Hitler realized that the SS was better suited than the SA to being his paramilitary group of choice once power was achieved.  It is very possible that contemporary leftism could make the same sort of choice to strike against those whose urban behavior has been such a troublesome aspect of contemporary political activity in our own society.  If those who were a part of Antifa were more aware of the tragic history of the brownshirts, they would likely be a lot less interested in copying their example, or in exposing to the world their ignorance of history by adopting fascist behavior under the name of avowed anti-fascism.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/01/27/the-irony-of-hipsterdom/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/01/05/and-whats-wrong-with-that/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/24/book-review-coffee-the-world-and-jesus/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/19/book-review-are-you-a-bromide/

Posted in American History, History, Musings | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Book Review: Delights And Shadows

Delights And Shadows, by Ted Kooser

This book was a well-earned winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2004.  After having read two previous books by this poet, I figured that I had a pretty good sense of the kind of writer he was, and that sense generally found itself present here, as the author had a wide variety of inspiration and his poetry was deeply reflected and highly colored with melancholy.  At less than 90 pages, this is a short book of poetry [1], as many books of poetry are, and it is a deeply enjoyable one.  Yet its enjoyment is not the sort of enjoyment one gets from something that is happy, but rather the enjoyment that comes from recognizing the poetry as authentic and deeply moving.  And as someone who can certainly be moved by poetry, whether as a reader of it or as a writer, this poetry is the sort that I imagine comes particularly well from someone who has lived a long life and is reflecting on death and loss, as well as delight.  Perhaps it is a bad thing to reflect upon loss, in that it can remind us of our own griefs, but this task is done well enough here that it seems churlish to complain.

The slightly more than 80 poems in this collection are divided into four sections.  The first section is called “Walking On Tiptoe” and contains poems about subjects as diverse as a visit to the cancer clinic, tattoos, and visiting a cosmetics department of a store, as well as rainy mornings and mourners.  The second section, “The China Painters,” includes the titular poem as well as reflections on memory, the author’s mother and father, dishwater and depression glass, as well as creamed corn and an old cemetery.  The third section, “Bank Fishing For Bluegills,” contains poems about turkey vultures and and a moth as well as the home medical dictionary, as well as what is, I think, the book’s best poem overall, a musing on four Civil War paintings by Winslow Homer.  The fourth and final section, “That Was I,” gives the reader a chance to look at an unsuccessful garage sale, starlight, a spiral notebook that contains too many subjects for the lives of its elderly writers, and a glimpse of the eternal.  The poems in general are reflective and meditative and deeply thoughtful and creative.

It is hard to know what audience would be most appreciative of a book of poetry like this one.  To be sure, poets in general are read mostly by other poets, and the fact that I both read and write poetry a fair bit is probably not coincidental.  Yet aside from the normal audience of other poets–who were quick to appreciate this book and recognize its excellence–it is hard to tell who exactly would most appreciate this book.  Those who can relate to the author’s musings on death, loss, illness, approaching night, and related subjects likely could write similar musings themselves.  And those who would do best to gain wisdom and insight from these meditative pieces, including the pieces on the Civil War and the way that the author makes a painting come alive by putting himself in the place of the subjects of the paintings, are likely those whose youth and vitality would delude them into thinking that they will last forever until the moment that they vanish irrevocably.  Perhaps it is best that a book like this exists, to be enjoyed and appreciated by whoever comes along with the right frame of mind to appreciate both its shadows and its delights.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/22/book-review-a-glass-face-in-the-rain/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/16/book-review-the-osage-orange-tree/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/16/book-review-everyone-out-here-knows-a-bigfoot-tale/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/02/book-review-darkness-sticks-to-everything/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/01/book-review-ask-me/

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Book Review: Flying At Night

Flying At Night:  Poems 1965-1985, by Ted Kooser

This is the second book by the poet I have read, and it serves as a bit of a “best of” compilation, something that is common in poetry [1].  While it is certainly a very worthwhile collection of most excellent poetry, it is by no means an easy book to recommend for all readers.  The particular excellence of this book consists of the poet’s dark reflections on death, illness, and the ravages of time, as well as the triviality of the lives of so many people.  Perhaps ironically, the author’s turning of the material of contemporary life into moving poetry serves to point out how trivial most people’s understanding of their existence is, because he manages to make experiences that are neglected or forgotten into poetry of the highest order.  When someone can write moving poetry on book clubs, walking to work, and the basement of a Goodwill store, no one has any excuse to view anything as beneath poetic excellence and attention, as is often the case for many.  These poems may not be fun to read, but they are certainly worth reading and reflecting on and serving as the inspiration for one’s own musings.

The nearly 150 pages of poems here, including nearly as many poems, are divided into two sections, with the titles of “Sure Signs” and “One World At A Time.”  The author sets the tone for the book from the first poem, which shows the author selecting a reader who enjoys the poems and looks through them but figures that for the price of the book she can spend it on something more useful, and then she does.  Other poems reflect on the seasons, the country of the midwest, dying at work, people with various ailments like hobbled feet and hearing aids, and even such matters as having to take a urine sample in order to get a job.  Some poets may be accused of writing about recondite subjects that are far too obscure or estoeric for ordinary readers, but the poetry of Kooser manages to strike the right touch between short impressionistic sketches as well as realistic portrayals of prosaic lives.  The poetry manages to be both beautiful as well as relatable, and the author even manage to write about politics without causing offense, something that is rarely even attempted at present.

This poetry is certainly better to read for free, by reading a library copy, rather than paying for, but all the same it is worth more than just reading.  This is the sort of poetry that hopefully has inspired at least some of its readers to write.  For the artist, every experience or observation is fuel for art, and that is clearly the case here.  As someone who has written poetry on the broken doors of office restrooms or the broken software that companies use, the poems are definitely ones that I can appreciate as someone whose on poetic beat and approach are not very far from this one.  To be sure, these poems were published more than thirty years ago, but they feel fresh, in large part because they are written about the author’s observations and experience and still feel like stories told as memories.  Given the wide variety in time as well as subject matter as well as the author’s winsome manner in writing and his wry and ironic tone, this book is certainly a pleasure to read.  Any poet who can switch from talking to a late-marrying widow who wanted to keep her husband’s smelly feet against him like a chit until he died while working on the farm to writing about how to clean a bass and then what it is like to get to the office early deserves one’s respect and regard.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/05/21/book-review-across-the-land-and-the-water/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/12/book-review-down-in-my-heart/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/10/book-review-early-morning/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/02/book-review-darkness-sticks-to-everything/

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Who Told You?

[Note:  This is the prepared text for a sermonette given at The Dalles congregation of the United Church of God on August 11, 2018.]

I imagine that most of us here are familiar with dinner parties held with other brethren where we sit with people we kind of know but don’t necessarily know all that well and are searching our brains looking desperately for something witty or clever to say and hoping we don’t say something awkward.  On the other hand, these conversations can, when done well, lead to people who may know each other shallowly over the course of many interactions to know each other deeper, and to become closer friends.  Over the years, as we spend time with each other, we better understand the sort of family that God is putting together through us, one member at a time.

It is not only we ourselves, though, who have to worry about awkward interactions.  The Bible is full of accounts of awkward interactions, made uncomfortable by the knowledge of what was going on the one hand and the thwarted desire to escape being known on the other hand.  The first awkward conversation in the Bible, in fact, takes place in Genesis 3:8-13.  Let us turn there, and examine the awkwardness of this familiar conversation and some of its implications for ourselves.  Genesis 3:8-13 reads:  “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”  So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”  And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”  Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”  And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

What makes this such an awkward conversation?  Let us note that a large part of the awkwardness is because Adam and Eve were trying to hide from God.  Anytime a conversation appears where one or some of the parties are trying to hide or run away from the others, any interaction between those people is going to be awkward and uncomfortable.  Had Adam and Eve approached their impending conversation with God with anything other than panic and fear, it would have been much less uncomfortable.  We know that after this interaction God pronounced a curse on Satan and the pain of childbirth and the hard labor men would be subjected to, but the real awkwardness comes here in the beginning of that conversation, which is why I have focused on precisely that part.  Another aspect that makes this conversation awkward is that God is asking a lot of questions–four of them to begin with.  In many ways, these questions are rhetorical in that God already knew the answers to them, but they are questions meant to bring out confession on the part of Adam and Eve.  Only Adam and Eve don’t react that way, rather seeking to make hollow justifications or blame others for their sin, a pattern most of us continue in our own awkward interactions with others.  Let us focus on one of these rhetorical questions that God asked here:  Who was it that had told them they were naked and so encouraged them to hide in shame and fear from their Father and Creator?  Who was it?  [waits for answers]  I want you to keep this in mind.

When we move beyond this original awkward conversation that set the pattern for a great variety of awkward conversations that followed, it is worthwhile as well to ponder how it was that God viewed the Church of God that he created in the wilderness and after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because we see similar patterns being said about both the people of Israel and the Israel of God.  In Exodus 19:5-6 we get an early glimpse of what God wanted Israel to be.  Exodus 19:5-6 comes shortly before the giving of the ten commandments, and it gives the vision of God for how Israel was to be:  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.””  Here we see that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, something God had the authority to give since He had the earth to give as He chose, having made it, but only if Israel obeyed His voice and kept His covenant, which is precisely what Adam and Eve had not done.

We see this identity of the Israel of God repeated in a very familiar passage in 1 Peter 2:9-10.  Most of us have heard this particular passage repeated over and over again, but let us get a sense of what God is trying to say.  In fact, let us begin with verse 4, so that we may get the context of what God says in verses nine and ten:  “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”  Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”  They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

What is Peter saying here?  For one, it should be clear that he is quoting a few scriptures to point to Jesus Christ as a living stone, and the chief cornerstone of the temple that God is building through those who are called and chosen.  He quotes, for example, Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14 to clinch his point about the way that Jesus Christ was rejected by men but chosen by God.  And he points out that the people chosen by God were themselves outcasts and misfits on this earth as well, but were made into a royal priesthood and a holy nation–notice the similarity to what God told the Israelites at Sinai.  Israel had been oppressed in slavery for generations, and yet it was God’s intention to make them into a glorious nation, if they would hear His voice and obey His word.  And it is precisely that quality that God emphasizes over and over again.  Those who hear His voice and are obedient to His word are to become part of His family, and those who are rebellious trip and stumble over the living stone that is Jesus Christ and hobble around spiritually as some of us hobble around physically.

It should be noted, though, that Peter makes it clear that the blessings in being a part of God’s family are not because we are glorious in ourselves.  Neither were the ancient Israelites, who were not very impressive former slaves and whose whining and complaining in the wilderness and whose persistent disobedience to God throughout their history were a source of continual torment to God.  Nor is Peter alone in emphasizing this point about the lack of earthly credentials that believers tend to have.  1 Corinthians 1:18-31 tells us again about this familiar divide between believers and unbelievers, and points to the modest earthly status of believers:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.””

Here again we see the same pattern that Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 2.  Those who trust in their own wisdom and who do not hear the voice of God find the workings of God with mankind to be a stumbling block and offensive to their ideas of how things should be.  The world expects that God should call those who are famous and glamorous and honored and respected by all, and are offended that God should call those who are obscure outcasts.  But as was the case with ancient Israel, God does not want believers to glorify in their own talents and their own abilities and gifts, as if we had credit for the extent that we were wise and noble, but rather God wants us to appreciate His generosity towards us, so that we may understand that we are nothing without Him, but everything in Him, through Him, and by Him.

In this light, therefore, I wonder why there are such divisions within the family of God.  Why is it that there are such cliques among us?  Why is it that we snub and exclude other brothers and sisters because we do not consider them cool enough to want them to associate with us?  Why is it that we cannot even bear at times to be polite to fellow brethren, much less friendly with them?  Why is it that we sometimes cannot even bear to be in the same building as those whom we snub and act so rudely towards?  Who told us that God was calling people who were cool, who were easy to get along with, who were socially graceful, who everyone would gravitate towards?  Has not God always called those who were viewed by the world with contempt so that He could manifest His power to transform them into His sons and daughters?  Why should it be any different for us now than it was in the time of ancient Israel or in the writings of Peter and Paul?  Who is telling us that we can look down on our fellow brothers and sisters, no matter how awkward and odd they may be?  Is it not the same being who told Adam and Eve that they were naked and so they should hide from God the same way we hide from our brethren?  Why should we listen to him?

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Book Review: Winter Morning Walks

Winter Morning Walks:  One Hundred Postcards To Jim Harrison, by Ted Kooser

Sometimes a book of poems surprises you in a very good way.  I must admit that before reading this book I was not familiar at all with the poems of the onetime Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and this book was an excellent first look at his approach to poetry, although I cannot consider it a very common book of poetry.  Indeed, this book of poetry suggests the sort of exercise that would be useful to many of us who are poets, and that is committing to writing poems that can fit on a postcard to someone who is an appreciative reader out of whom an entire volume of poems like this one can be selected [1].  While I do not know of any readers of mine who would appreciate daily poems of the kind that this one represents, this book certainly does a good job at providing a worthwhile concept for some truly arresting and intriguing short poems, many of which are of the kind that I could see myself reading if I lived in the country or if I was writing poems about the place in the country where I spend a fair amount of time.

This short book of poetry consists, as its title suggests, 100 short poems written on postcards from the author to a friend and sometime collaborator of his.  All of the poems are short, and they are organized in chronological fashion from November 9, 1998 to March 20, 1999.  One might think that the task of writing poems, all of which include the temperature during the morning when it was taken before the poem was written, would be a tiresome one, but the constraints the author subjected himself appear to make this all the more interesting as an exercise, and one that is worth repeating for others.  As a way of overcoming depression and understanding that someone cares that one is alive, this book of poetry is therapeutic as well as deeply poignant and thoughtful to read.  The poems are written in free verse, but are full of alliteration and vivid imagery that gives the reader an impressionistic sketch of a winter scene being discussed.  We see frosty fingers and a “deeply troubled, sighing furnace” trying to heat the house in the midst of the chill, and the reader can imagine oneself witnessing or experiencing the same scene that is being discussed concisely but beautifully.

How is it that this book works so well?  For one, its theme keeps its contents focused on the experience of observing and writing about winter scenes.  For another, the author is skilled at finding something worth writing about, taking in a scene and making compelling poetry out of it.  This sort of exercise would appear to hone the author’s creativity by giving him something to do daily, a way of overcoming listlessness and melancholy, and by giving him an audience who cared about what he has to say, something every author needs, no matter the genre.  This book manages to do several things at once.  For one, it shows a poet engaged in a worthwhile exercise of writing his insights on a particular period of time where he happens to live, and contain some very observant details.  For another, the book is the kind that not only encouraged the author in its creation but also encourages others in reading it and in pondering whether such an effort could be done by other people at other times with the same worthwhile benefits in encouraging a daily pattern of watching the conditions of one’s world as well as recording it and sending it to someone else, an audience of one that will be merely the first of many appreciative readers.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/14/pygmies/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/05/05/der-untergang-after-w-g-sebald/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/28/who-killed-the-door/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/19/o-tinnitus-after-gerard-manley-hopkins/

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Book Review: Mermaids In The Basement

Mermaids In The Basement:  Poems For Women, by Carolyn Kizer

Unfortunately, when I was getting this book from the library, intrigued by its title, I did not see the subtitle of the book stating that this book, like so many that I read, was intended for an audience which I am most definitely not a part of [1].  In this particular case, I have to say that my being a man, and being a strong fan of the Judeo-Christian religious worldview, does not make very fond of this book.  Even though this book is aimed at women, I suspect there are a great many women who will not like what this book has to say, not least because the book attacks those women who were not themselves overtly hostile to men (Jane Austen is one of those who in a particular poem is insulted as being a cabbagehead for worshipping God as a man (41)).  If you are a woman and not fond of the supposed “sacred feminine” paganism this book endorses, the author is calling you cabbagehead.  I suppose she has worse opinions of men, but someone with that lack of charity of spirit and that lack of accuracy and good sense is not someone whose opinion matters too much.

Thankfully, this book is rather short at just over 100 pages, because it has little to offer a great many of its potential readers.  The books are divided into seven parts.  The first part looks at Mothers and Daughters, reflecting on marriage and family and having some disturbingly incestuous aspects to some of its lines.  The second part of the book is written for female friends, of which the author apparently only has five (for the amount of poems there are).  It is a wonder that the author has as many friends as she claims, given her overall lack of kindness in her lines.  The third part of the book consists of a four part poem “Pro Femina,” which may be the least essential thing that needs more written about it, as someone who has suffered through dozens of books that resolutely ignore men and their concerns altogether.  The fourth part of the book is devoted in true weebalo-like fashion to Chinese love, showing the author’s fondness for Eastern poetry, much of which is quite skilled in its execution.  The fifth part of the book consists of a few poems that show the author’s interest in heathen Greek mythology.  The sixth part of the book consists of a long poem dedicated to a month in summer, while the seventh and last section of poems consists of the author’s random and highly odd reflections on where she has been all her life, as if anyone wanted to know.

I am of two minds regarding this book.  One the one hand, the author is clearly a skilled poet when it comes to technical matters.  If the subject matter and approach of the poems had been less personally hostile in terms of matters of gender as well as religious worldview, I would have viewed this collection of poems very highly.  But that is precisely the problem.  A book of technically skilled poems of a wide variety of types shows off the virtuosity of the poet, to be sure, but the poet forgets that the first order of business when writing a book is to make the book acceptable to its audience when it is within his or her power to do so.  This book manages to be both false in its worldview as well as deliberately provocative to the point of being offensive to any man worth being called by the name and to the majority of the world’s women.  Unfortunately, this book’s target audience consists of neo-pagan women and present and future bitter misanthropic cat women, and that is not an audience I either write for or consider myself particularly sympathetic with.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/08/04/book-review-dangerous-men-and-adventurous-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/03/26/book-review-the-secret-place-of-the-most-high-for-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/08/03/book-review-what-about-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/12/24/book-review-every-bitter-thing-is-sweet/

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Eleanor Rigby

Earlier this week I answered a random twitter question that asked what songs would be good to make television series from?  The first song I happened to think of was Eleanor Rigby, which is perhaps an easy thing to understand.  Let us examine how it is that one could make a compelling series out of this song, and what it indicates about the sorts of songs that would make for inspirations for longer series media, be they films or television shows.  First, let us look at the lyrics for the song (courtesy of LyricFind):

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

***

So, what is the story that is being told.  For one, we have the lonely person Eleanor Rigby picking up the rice after a wedding, presumably lacking a partner for herself, and we also have Father McKenzie working and darning his socks and writing a sermon that no one will hear.  In terms of characters, it is fairly easy to flesh out what sort of series would work for this.  The song as a whole reflects upon loneliness, and while that is not the most obvious choice for a television series, it would make for some compelling viewing, if somewhat uncomfortable viewing [1].  From the two main characters of the song, it would be worthwhile to think of a series that focuses on the loneliness of different people that interact, or at least share the presence, of these two titular lonely people.

One could start, for example, with one or multiple episodes about Eleanor herself.  How does she live her life aside from trying to collect the rice that has been thrown at the wedding?  Why does she die in church?  Does she have anywhere else to live?  Who else attends services there?  We know, for example, that there are to be episodes focusing on Father McKenzie, on his duties as a priest.  Who listens to his sermons, and who does he interact with?  What was the couple getting married?  Are they lonely together?  What other guests were there at the wedding?  Did any of them notice Eleanor or have any meaningful role in her life?  One could see a drama like this telling various vantage points of different characters in the same small world and show how many and various are the ways that people are lonely in this world.

I personally think it would make for compelling viewing, but it would certainly be unconventional viewing.  Most series focus on a small set of main characters that the viewer is meant to care about and who the other characters in the show care about, but the main point of this show would be to demonstrate the characters living lives that no one seems to care about, no matter how much they may (quietly) care about others.  Indeed, the major characters of individual episodes would be likely to be minor characters in other episodes, given the smallness of the world that many people live in.  It would require some very clever continuity work to make sure that people look the same and dress the same as they interact with each other over the course of the episodes, but it is definitely something that could work very well in giving an example of a show full of lonely people who long for connection but cannot seem to find.

What is it that makes this song (and others like it) worthy of being turned into television shows?  The main part is that they tell a compelling story that one can expand from.  One website listed dozens of potential series that would take the premise of the song and expand on it.  One can take the story or premise of the song and expand from it, one can take the title of the song and think of a situation it fits for, and the result is a strong premise for a show that could last several seasons.  Indeed, there are many songs that one can creatively twist to serve as the premise for a show, with a ready-made audience as well as theme song.  Why then is it not done more often?  Given how many reboots are done, why not take a song that allows the chance for at least a somewhat fresh premise, something that has not literally been done before?  Are we really that uncreative?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/25/book-review-lonely-husbands-lonely-wives/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/11/12/the-lonely-hour/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/10/20/the-lonely-fly/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/07/26/the-lonely-island/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/08/08/nobody-wants-to-be-lonely/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/11/08/book-review-the-lonely-god/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/09/03/its-a-lonely-galaxy-out-there/

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