Laogai Planet

Recently, China passed a law that appears to claim some sort of extraterritoriality in enforcing its laws against anyone who is viewed as a critic.  It has not been enough for China, apparently, to oppress its own people, especially its minority populations, or to try to kill the goose that lays the golden egg in Hong Kong by demonstrating its complete inability to handle the sort of freedom that small area provided its people.  What China has set itself to do is provide a “legal” means of being able to arrest and imprison and attempt to silence those who are not Chinese and who owe no duties or responsibilities to China but who take it upon themselves to critique the country.  I know that I have been critical and will continue to be critical about various tyrannical aspects of their government and find it troubling that China is taking such a step because it is one that I see many nations feeling more confident in taking given the problems of our particular times.

Right now, what we see around us in Western society is a rise of leftist anarchism in a variety of ways that, while not avoiding the violent and oppressive bullying of others and destruction of their property, seeks to avoid any restraint from government.  In some ways, the incompetence and tyranny of many governments of the contemporary world on the national, state, and local levels tends to encourage even those who have a general commitment to law and order to understand and occasionally endorse acts of civil disobedience and pushback against these aspects of tyranny.  Yet despite the fact that nearly everyone is being pulled in some sort of chaotic direction by our times, there are a great many people whose pull towards anarchy is far greater.  It is often the case, though, that high degrees of anarchy within a society provoke a higher degree of tolerance for tyranny in the support of law and order.  Anarchy, in its hostility against legitimate law and order, ends up leading to the support of more extreme efforts of coercive violence on the part of the state to get rid of the resulting chaotic violence, and is thus self-defeating.  It would be best, of course, for a just and mild order with a maximum amount of people in a state of self-restrained liberty to exist, but the demonstration that a critical mass of people is no longer self-restrained and ruled by a just conscience is usually enough to increase support for harsher standards of order to be leveled at those who have corrupted liberty for licentiousness.

This is a bad development.  For people to be free requires a delicate set of circumstances.  It requires, for example, that people live restrained lives that do not require the imposition of harsh legal orders.  A people who avoids high degrees of promiscuity, adultery, and general immorality as well as moderate partaking of alcohol and avoidance of drug abuse, which respects the property of others and is diligent in its labors and generally responsive to the needs and concerns of those around them is very fit for liberty because they already do themselves what a just social order would be inclined to push them to do.  We call people like this “well-socialized” because they have been properly brought up to care about others and to be free within limitations that avoid taking advantage of others and behaving self-destructively.  Where this sort of behavior is less common, it becomes more difficult for a society to be free, because certain segments of the population that do not live under self-restraint will be put under restraint by others.  What is called the school-to-prison pipeline is merely a recognition of the reality that those who cannot live under restraint and learn how to behave in ways that maximize their own success and well-being will be restrained and coerced by others and they will not benefit from it except that they change their ways of thinking and behavior.  Many people, alas, never learn this lesson, and form what is the professional class of criminals whose behavior increases the coercive power of the state.

What is it that makes our planet at the present time so rich to becoming a laogai planet?  Really, what we have is a perfect storm of bad effects.  We may begin with the native bias that humanity has for order rather than chaos.  We want freedom, but a freedom that is ordered and sedate and which features a lot of patterns of habit.  That which disrupts our habits is not welcome, and the intrusive demands of state as well as of leftist anarchist revolutionaries is continually intruding upon our beloved habits, all of which tends to make people increasingly hostile to this bothering and inclined to preserve its own peace through hostility to both tyrannical nanny states as well as anarchist revolutionaries.  It is unclear what the endpoint of all of this is, but it does not look good overall.  After all, the presence of random acts of violence directed at ordinary people who are minding their own business and people who own property–cars, houses, and so on–tends to lead to a high degree of support for defending oneself and supporting those who care about the defense of the life and property of those who are opposed by the woke mob.  Things will likely end in tears and in less liberty, but more order, for all.

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Album Review: Best Beethoven 50

Best Beethoven 50, by various artists

It is sometimes fascinating to ponder best of and greatest hits compilations for classical artists [1], and this three-disk compilation provides an interesting picture of what Warner Classic believes is the best material of Ludwig von Beethoven’s oeuvre.  I have to say that listening to this material, the people choosing the songs did a good job.  Between these three disks of material that is close to four hours of classical music overall, someone who was taking a survey course in classical music and wanted to get a feel for Beethoven without listening to his music in its entirety would get a sense of what it is like.  To be sure, had this collection been cut to only a single disk, it would have featured a lot more cases for people to argue about what was not included, but as it is the selection is ample and broad to include a great many of Beethoven’s works, some of which are in their entirety ad some of which are not.  I would have liked more, but many people will be satisfied by this album as it is since it is already a pretty substantial collection of songs.

This particular collection is divided into three cds, each of about 80 minutes or so in length.  The first two albums contain fifteen tracks apiece, and the last album 20 smaller numbers.  The first cd includes material from Symphony #1 (1), #2 (2), #3 (3-4), #4 (5), #5 (6), #6 (7), #7 (9-11), #8 (12-13), as well as the Ode to Joy from Symphony #9 (15).  In addition to these there are also selections from the Egmont Overture (8) and the Turkish March (14).  The second disk then includes selections from the Violin Concerto (1-2), Piano Concerto’s #1 (3) and #2 (4), the Violin Romance #1 (5), the Triple Concerto (6), the Piano Concerto #4 (7) and #5 (8-10).  There are also elections from the Piano Sonata #8 ‘Pathetique’ (11-12), the Moonlight Sonata (13), Fur Elise (14), and the Piano Sonata #17 ‘Tempest’ (15).  The third disk then contains the ‘Waldstein’ Piano Sonata #21 (1), the ‘Hammerklavier’ Piano Sonata #29 (2), a couple of selections from the Diabelli Variations (3-4), selections from the ‘Spring” Violin Sonata #5 (5-6), the ‘Kruetzer’ Violin Sonata #9 (7-8), the Cello Sonata #3 (9), the String Quartet Op. 18 #4 (10), the Serenade for Flute, Violin, & Viola (11), the ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet Op. 59 #1 (12), the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio #7 (13), Ich Liebe Dich (14), some Irish folk songs (15), a selection from the Missa Solemnis (16), and a few selections from the Fidelio (17-20).  Overall the songs are played by a diverse group of musicians with a high degree of skill and are mixed very well also.

One thing this album does demonstrate when it comes to concert music is that there is a substantial difference in selecting the best songs of most pop artists and doing so for those artists for whom works have a higher degree of ambition and cohesion.  The fact that the author can only include small selections of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, for example, means that the listener loses the whole scope of such works (the same is true for Fidelio).  For those artists whose ambitions include thematically organized larger works, there is something lost in selecting excerpts from that and something to be gained by appreciating the longer works in their entirety.  Even so, this compilation is easy to enjoy and the playing (and occasional singing) is of a high level.  If you want something pleasant to listen to in the car and do not want too demanding of an experience in terms of appreciating classical music and want the good stuff with no “filler,” this album will certainly do the trick.  It is a classical best of that is easy to recommend and contains a lot of vitally important songs within the classical repertoire, and that is always something to appreciate.

[1] See, for example:

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Album Review: Haydn: Symphonies #82, 84

Haydn:  Symphonies #82 & 84, by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

It is interesting to note that in the cosmopolitan world of the eighteenth century a talented and prolific composer like Haydn can be a patriotic Austrian composer–so patriotic he wrote hymns for his emperor–work as an underpaid composer at an obscure Hungarian estate, and have his work praised all over the rest of Europe to the point where he had fan clubs in France and was able to travel to England and compose some of his greatest late symphonies there.  That said, these particular symphonies show Haydn in experimental mode and demonstrate that his loyalty to his chamber orchestra and the freedom that he had to make tweaks within the formula for classical symphonies, allowing him to maintain the sort of balance he enjoyed while also showing  great deal of creativity as well in pieces that are still enjoyed.  It is a bit of a shame that this particular disk only includes two of his symphonies as one could always enjoy more Haydn.  No one ever had to deal with too much Haydn music to listen to that was unpleasant or irritating, at least, so the more the merrier as far as I am concerned.

Although this is not as much Haydn as one would like, these are still excellent symphonies.  The first included in the set is Symphony #82 in C major “The Bear,” and it is marked by a first movement in vivace that lasts almost 8 minutes and is very lively and upbeat, followed by a slightly slower Allegretto that is about the same length, then a Menuetto – Trio that is almost five minutes long and closed by a Finale in Vivace Assai that is about five and a half minutes long.  After this there is Symphony #84 in E-flat major, beginning with a Largo – Allegro that is just over seven minutes long, followed by an Andante that is about seven minutes long, a Menuetto – Trio of about four minutes of material and then a gorgeous finale in Vivace that is about five and a half minutes long.  The cd includes the label’s usual trilingual liner notes in English, French, and German, and if there is any problem with the material it is that it is hard to hear the loud parts as loud as one would want.  Overall this is a pretty soft cd, but it has some excellent music that is easy to enjoy.

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Album Review: Haydn: Symphonies # 44, 45, & 49

Haydn:  Symphonies #44, 45, & 49

I must admit that while I listen to a fair amount of classical music that occasionally I find myself listening to music from labels or at least imprints that are unfamiliar to me, and such is the case with Apex, which has combined three symphonies of Haydn that were written and first performed in a period close to each other where Haydn worked for low wages in the obscurity of the Hungarian estate and palace of the Prince of Esterhazy.  According to the trilingual liner notes in English, German, and French, many of Haydn’s friends and admirers sought for him to find more remunerative work composing for other sponsors or the general public at large but at least while the incumbent prince was a sponsor of music Haydn was content to create in some obscurity where he had a good degree of loyalty to the household and its orchestra and where he had the creative freedom to work.  One can certainly think of these particular symphonies as creative ones, and as a violist who has played one of these symphonies in concert I can say that they are well-suited to a small but reasonably accomplished chamber orchestra if I may humbebrag about my own abilities and those of my fellow musicians at SPC’s Community Orchestra with whom I performed.

This particular disk is made up of three albums.  Like all of Haydn’s symphonies, they are high classical symphonies with four movements, although there is some experimentation in the four movements involved.  Symphony 44 is in E minor, and it is called the “Funeral Symphony” because it was apparently stated that this was to be played at Haydn’s funeral.  It happens to be the symphony of his I played personally and it is beautiful if melancholy.  IT begins with an Allegro con brio, is followed by a Menuette (canon) trio, then by a long adagio and finally a short and fast presto Finale.  The second of the symphonies included in this set is in F# minor and is called “The Farewell” in part because it was written as a way of protesting the separation of the musicians from their families during a long performance season.  It begins with an allergo Assai, is followed by a lengthy Adagio, is followed by a Menuet allegretto – trio which ends with a violin duet after all the other musicians leave, and then is ended by a lengthy Finale: Presto.  The third of the symphonies is in F minor and is called “The Passion,” beginning with a lengthy Adagio, then followed by an Allegro di molto, after which there is a Menuet-trio and a short Finale: Presto.

By and large all of these symphonies demonstrate the harmony between passion and design that marks the High Classical and Haydn’s work in particular.  There are certainly hints of the sort of emotional use of instruments that would be later carried further by Beethoven and then the Romantics, but that emotional resonance is kept within a harmony with reason in a way that the time understood and appreciated.  Yet despite the fact that Haydn definitely kept to the style that was dominant during his time, he was certainly very willing to vary the order of the four movement types within the classical symphony form as well as write in different keys and vary the length and the instrumentation to make a point or to fulfill his artistic ambitions.  Whether or not the listener is always able to distinguish the point of the artist involved and what subtle changes are wrought as the author flexibly uses the symphony form as a handmaiden to his creative efforts, this flexibility demonstrates that however restrictive we may find forms, they represent all the same a means by which creativity can be exercised and developed within constraints.

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But Is It Righteous Blood?

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that a particular blog entry of mine from early in my writing has been very popular, that relating to the scripture in the law that refers to righteous blood calling out to heaven to avenge its being shed.  As is common when I deal with biblical passages, my intent in looking at that passage dealt with the biblical law from a theological fashion and also discussed matters of biblical forensics involved in dealing with those bodies who had been killed of unknown causes in remote places.  We may note that God cares a great deal about righteous blood, and demands a sacrifice from people to affirm the value of innocent life and to make sure that the town itself is not responsible.  So who counts as righteous blood?  We know that human beings are not particularly righteous in general, and that the longer we live, the more we have to answer for, although many people in our contemporary age feel that acts of pillage and destruction and violence are an appropriate response to what is viewed as the death of righteous people.

But are they righteous?  Let us remember them by name.  The death of George Floyd is the initial spark that led to the present uprisings.  During the course of his life, Floyd was arrested nine times, the first time for dealing cocaine, then a couple of cases for theft, a few days in jail for failing to provide information to a police officer, possession of a small amount of cocaine, criminal trespassing, and another case of dealing and then for possession, as well as aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.  When he died he had attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy some cigarettes.  Now, I think it is safe to say that as a consistent petty criminal that Floyd was not an innocent person.  It is equally obvious that he did not deserve to die by being chocked out by a police officer.  In other cases, we have seen even less justification for hostility to police officers.  Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot at a Wendy’s in a case where nearly everyone involved escalated things to a level where deadly force was justified if unfortunate.  Brooks drank and drove, passed out in a drive through lane, and tried to taze officers multiple times after having stolen the tazer from one of the officers.  Of course, part of Brooks’ own panicked response that ultimately led to his demise was due to the fact that he was on probation for prior offenses and that he would likely have been given a “substantive violation” which would have led to much higher penalties.  Again, the question must be asked, is this a righteous person?  No.  As is frequently the case, unfortunately, once someone has some interaction with the justice system the difficulties of maintaining the straight and narrow make it hard for them to avoid future negative interactions with the justice system that tend to lead to people being seen as professional members of the criminal class, with correspondingly negative treatment being handed to them.

More to the point, though, when we see a passage like Deuteronomy 21:1-9, and we are dealing with unsolved murders, the issue is generally a cold case where there are no witnesses and no one willing or able to provide information about the unsolved murder.  As it is written:  “If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns.  Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke and lead it down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck.  The Levitical priests shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault.  Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley,  and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.  Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.”

There are definitely cases where this is still a problem.  Some years ago a body was found of a frozen chalcolithic age man affectionately named Otzi on the border between Austria and Italy.  It was found that this man had been ambushed and killed by arrows from unknown assailants.  Such an act against an isolated traveler is a clear example of the slaying of righteous blood where the perpetrators are unknown and where it would be appropriate to mourn the death of someone to violence who had been minding his own business and slain by brigands who cannot be brought to justice because the case is quite literally far too old and far too cold.  In the cases we previously discussed, though, there is no need for righteous blood to cry out against God because the cases have witnesses and evidence and can be tried in courts.  Of course, what makes such cases so problematic is that there are multiple perspectives of these cases that are wildly at odds, to the point where what looks like systemic racism and oppressive police violence to one side looks entirely justified if unfortunate acts of violence against hostile and dangerous criminals on the other side.  I happen to believe the latter rather than the former, and the issue here is not one of evidence so much as the way that evidence is seen and the worldview through which it is interpreted, which is a different matter entirely.

Who then gets to count as righteous blood whose blood is shed in unacceptable violence.  The most obvious example of righteous blood is that of innocent unborn slain by murderous abortionists.  Here is a case where people’s only supposed fault was being inconvenient to someone.  Similarly, where we know that someone has been killed because their identity or their religious beliefs and who have committed no criminal acts nor any violence or hostility to the state or its officers, we can recognize such people as being righteous blood as well.  The martyred believers of early Christianity and many contemporary believers who are persecuted all over the world in such places as China and Nigeria and the Middle East fall under this category, to be sure.  After that, things get considerably more murky.  To what extent do the crimes and attitude and behavior of people in their interactions with police officers justify the use of violence against them?  This is a subject where reasonable people disagree.  There might be a broad consensus that police have a responsibility not to use their state-given power to intimidate others (see the advice of John the Baptist to Roman soldiers) but a large degree of leeway may be given based on the stress of the situation.  Any resistance or violence committed against police officers will make a situation far more dangerous for someone being arrested.  This world has no need of supposed martyrs against imaginary views of systemic racism.  What we have need of is people who are willing to discipline themselves and avoid subjecting themselves to the criminal justice system in the first place.  But such righteousness appears uncommon in our evil generation.

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: The Foo Fighters

It is hard to find too many contemporary rock groups whose position as rock acts as well as culturally significant figures is as solid as the Foo Fighters.  It seems perfectly appropriate that Dave Grohl, once the drummer for Nirvana, would have been able to have a longer career as the lead for a band that has been able to provide commercially and critically appealing rock music in an age where rock artists have not fared well.  There are few who have been able to keep a consistent career of excellent musical material that resonates with the general public the way that the Foo Fighters have, and with an aesthetic that includes some hilarious music videos that regularly lampoon and interact with contemporary culture, the group has managed to more than just make popular rock music but also make music that others are able to relate to and that serve as a critical commentary on certain aspects of our time, such as commercialism (“Big Me”) or revolutionary impulses among artists (“Learn To Fly”) while also including some touching personal messages (“Best Of You,” “Let It Die”).  It is not as if the Foo Fighters have been snubbed yet, seeing as they got their start in 1995 and so just became eligible in 2020 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  It is just that sometimes we need to be reminded that there is something worthwhile in contemporary rock that deserves to be celebrated.

The Foo Fighters’ Influence

How does one determine the influence of a contemporary rock band?  Most contemporary rock acts are known for their commercial music or struggle to remain relevant by hopping on bad musical trends.  The Foo Fighters have been able to avoid this.  Their four Grammy awards for rest rock album suggest that their music has resonated with critics, and that should count for something in an age where contemporary rock music is highly reviled.  Rather than be content with just their hard-rock sound, they have broadened it to acoustic rock and managed to be what Pitchfork describes as “a consistent hit machine pumping out working-class rock [1].”  And there is nothing wrong with that at all.  It is unclear how many bands have claimed to be inspired by the Foo Fighters, but they have certainly interacted with other bands like Hole (with whom there is some bad blood) and they have a fairly close relationship with acts like Tenacious D as well and there is plenty of interest in acts seeking to pretend that they have the same sort of rock sound to appeal to Foo Fighter fans.

Why The Foo Fighters Belong In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

How’s this for longevity:  their first seven studio albums as well as their Greatest Hits album have gone platinum, and another album has sold enough to go gold (2014’s Sonic Highways).  Every studio album they released for the first twenty years of their career have qualified for some sort of certification, demonstrating a long career of consistency despite the band’s desires to expand their sound and wrestle with different concerns.  Their self-titled debut, 1997’s “The Colour And The Shape,” 1999’s “There Is Nothing Left To Lose,” 2002’s “One By One,” 2005’s “In Your Honor,” 2007’s “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” and 2011’s “Wasting Light” mark an amazing set of critically and commercially successful albums.  And while the group only has 3 top 40’s on the Billboard Hot 100 because their early songs were not released as singles, namely 1999’s “Learn To Fly,” 2005’s “Best Of You” and 2007’s “The Pretender,” the band has been dominant on mainstream rock and alternative as well as the Hot Rock songs since 2009, with 10 #1 hits on the Alternative charts (“Learn To Fly,” “All My Life,” “Best Of You,” “DOA,” “The Pretender,” “Long Road To Ruin,” “Let It Die,” “Rope,” “Walk,” and “Something From Nothing”) as well as eight number #1’s on mainstream rock (including 2017’s “Run” and “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”) and three #1 hits on the Hot Rocks chart (“Wheels,” “Rope,” and “Walk,” from 2009 and 2011).  The group has also been immensely successful overseas in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, as well as the UK.

Why The Foo Fighters Aren’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

They just became eligible, so here’s hoping that they are inducted before too long.

Verdict:  Put them in.  They are among the most obvious induction cases for contemporary rock acts.


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Book Review: The Family Album Of Favorite Poems

The Family Album Of Favorite Poems, edited by P. Edward Ernest

This book was published originally in 1959 and printed in 1983.  It could not be printed today, at least not without dire threats being sent to the publisher and boycotts and a terrible political scene.  Reading this book was a sort of melancholy experience not because the book was bad–it was quite good, for the most part, containing more than 500 pages of generally excellent and diverse poetry–but because so many of these poems were ones that had influenced me as a reader and as a writer through their language and through their poetic form and because I do not see so many young people today being raised to appreciate this sort of poetry.  Our education shapes the way we look at the world and we are impoverished when we cannot recognize the noble writings of the past and the way that a lot of poetry was designed with clear didactic intent, which is something this book has in spades.  Poetry written today often has the same intent, but its intent is far less noble, and the frequent use of dialect in these poems by Robert Burns and others is something that would attract a lot of negative comment today, unfortunately.

Overall this book is a bit more than 500 pages long and is divided into sixteen smaller “books” of poetry that deal with a related theme.  So we begin with poetry expressing the reality and earnestness of life and the need to take it seriously (1), and then after that we move to poems that reflect the human spirit (2) as well as love poems (3).  There is then a section of poems that deals with the worth of the common person (4) as well as poetry that deals with youth and aging (5) and poetry that encourages martial bravery and courage (6).  This is followed by a selection of comic verse (7) as well as poetry relating to God’s creation (8) and ten the relationship of nature to time (9).  There are poems about everyday life (10) as well as patriotic poems (11) and songs, a lengthy chapter on story poems and ballads that takes up more than 100 pages (12), old songs and new ones (13), as well as poetry that deals explicitly with faith (14).  After this there are poems directed specifically to children (15), and finally poems about Christmas and the New Year (16).  After this the book ends with an index for authors, an index for first lines, and an index for poem titles.

Overall, this is a fantastic work of poetry that includes a diverse group of classic poetic works in the Western tradition.  I could think of this work as being possible to improve through the addition of translated poetry from Chinese or Japanese traditions, but overall the work does a good job at demonstrating to the reader the fine Western tradition of poetry that helped to provide moral instruction, entertainment, as well as certain expressions that could be used as a way of communicating truths to the world while letting them know that you too were a well-read person who understood the right way to refer to things for maximum resonance.  I was personally surprised in reading this book how familiar I was with the language of the poems and how they had appeared in many other writings that I have read as the source of titles or of quotes used in the books, and that was something that pleased me as well.  If you are interested in reading classic material that is something that may interest you as well, and if it does, you are fortunate in being responsive to such things.  Not everyone, sadly, appreciates noble and good poetry that gives sound life lessons and encourages faith and decency.

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Book Review: The English Reader

The English Reader:  What Every Literate Person Needs To Know, selected and introduced by Michael Ravitch & Diane Ravitch

I have long been fascinated, even if I find much to disagree with, concerning the practice of some writers to demand that others read a certain set of materials [1].  Fortunately, in the case of this book’s materials at least, the materials included for English literature are in general materials that most cultured and literary people will read by their own free will even if they never take a formal course in English literature.  That was at least the case for me and I assume that my own self-education in fine literature is not something that is completely unusual.  That is not to say that being familiar already with a vast majority of the works included here means that I agree with the authors’ perspectives as it is explained in the introductory materials to the book.  Far from it.  Indeed, this book is a rare one where its selected contents are easy enough to praise but where the introductory commentary seeks to define the literate person as one who is rebellious against God’s ways or any kind of larger social obligations and someone who decides what is right and wrong for themselves without any overarching moral code to be held responsible to.

This book contains almost 500 pages of literature, mostly poetry but also including some prose and poetic portions of some drama, over the course of English history organized in a chronological fashion.  The book begins with an introduction and then contains a brave speech by Elizabeth I.  After that comes several sonnets as well as monologues from Shakespeare.  Interspersed around various famous and familiar folk songs are writings from Spenser, Marlowe, Raleigh, Bacon, Donne, Jonson, Hobbes, the KJV, Robert Herrick, Herbert, Browne, Barbara Allen, Milton, and many others.  By and large the editor does a good job at selecting works, including figures like Bunyan, Locke, Newton, Swift, Pope, Wesley, and William Pitt even.  Even when the book deals with 20th century authors the author’s touch is generally sound when it comes to choosing among literature (no Wodehouse, though, sadly), with selections including Chesterton, Forster, Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Eliot, Orwell, Auden, and ending with a couple of stirring World War II speeches from Winston Churchill in 1940, which mark the end of what the author considers to be English literature that every literate person needs to know.  Overall, despite some troubling introductions where the author gives odd praise to different aspects of a writer’s persona and creativity, the selections are a good mix of poetry and prose and include some decent political nonfiction as well, an underrepresented literary genre among the classics.

In reading this book the reader will likely be struck by some of the characteristic problems that involve the issue of creativity.  When we praise creativity, as this book does loudly, it is hard to avoid the tension between praising what mankind does in imitatio dei while simultaneously showing a high degree of resistance to there being an overarching divine order in which we have a part.  The divine order that we rebel against by seeking to decide what is right and wrong for ourselves is the same divine order that gives us dignity and honor as beings created in His image.  This book does not address or realize that tension and so it praises creativity while simultaneously failing to realize that the gift of communication and passion and reason that the author celebrates is something that comes from God.  We enjoy the gifts that come from God even when we resent Him and rebel against Him.  The rain falls upon the just and the unjust, and the same is true with regards to literary ability, if this book’s diverse and frequently contradictory excerpts has anything to say about the subject.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: New Poems

New Poems:  By Rilke, translated from the German by Joseph Cadora

Sometimes it can be a bit disconcerting to read a book that his hyped as a big deal and then to wonder what the big deal is because it really isn’t all that special.  That is the case with this particular book, in that this book is being marketed as a daring new direction in poetry when in reality it has a lot of connection to old poetry.  That is not to say that these poems are necessarily bad.  Rilke was the sort of person I can well understand, one who had some clear issues with his parents and struggled throughout his entire life with a schizoid approach to relationships and intimacy that led him to neither be happy alone or with other people.  And his poetry has the same sort of divide between being unpleasantly personal and being very well-connected to the traditional focuses of poetry.  That is not to say that the fact that this poet is somewhat traditional in what he writes about makes this the best of poetry.  Truth be told, I did not find Rilke to be either a particularly bad or a particularly good poet.  I have read a lot worse but also a lot better.

This book is divided into two parts, and strikingly the two parts are closely connected by many of the same themes and subject matter.  The book as a whole is about 450 pages long or so, and the poet includes several smaller sets of poems within the larger collection that occasionally cohere to each other.  For example, there is a poem “Blue Hydrangea” in the first part of the book and one called “Pink Hydrangea” in the second.  Both parts of the poem pay ode to various Sapphic odes that the author finds worthy of mentioning (for some reason) and both parts of the book have poetry that relate to the biblical history of Saul and David.  The author expresses his interest in Buddhism in several of the poems and there are other poems that reflect on life in Italy (where the author spent some time sponging off of someone) as well as plenty of trees and flowers.  The end result of this book, which has its left-side pages in German and its right-side pages in the English translation is the feeling that it is nothing worth ranting about but not worth remembering either, and that is what has generally happened to it.

It’s hard to say whether this is the sort of book that deserves the hype it tends to receive.  The translator appears to have done a good job in turning this poetry into English, but then one has to look at the meaning that is conveyed and one is less ecstatic about it.  The author writes a lot about women, but most of it is not pleasant stuff, as the author either celebrates sapphic ode or calls women a snare.  This is the sort of poetry that is hard for people to recommend once they and their intended audience know what the poetry is actually about, because it is too closely connected to the writings and culture of the past to be easy to sell to cultural philistines who know nothing other than themselves, and that poorly, and too filled with the decadence of Western culture to recommend to those who appreciate the historical and literary tradition that Rilke draws upon.  That does not make this book terrible, but it does make the book inessential, worth knowing as a signpost of the decline of Western literature rather than for any of its own limited merits.

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Second Mover Advantage In American Military History

The United States has been in a great many wars, but many of them have followed a consistent pattern.  The Americans are minding their own business blithely going about their business of trading and seeking to do business throughout the whole world for adventure and profit, and find themselves surprised by someone who attacks them.  This is viewed as a cowardly surprise attack and despite being initially unprepared, the response on the part of the American people is to mobilize for war, at which point it is conducted with a high degree of chance for success.  Frequently in American History–starting from colonial times, the ordinary American has been caught by surprise by a sudden wave of violence directed at the United States and has responded with fury.  Witness, for example, Ft. Sumter, Pearl Harbor, the Zimmerman Telegram, the explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor, 9/11, or the British response to the Boston Tea Party as ways that the people of the United States were mobilized to resist hostile actions taken towards them by foreign powers.

Even in cases where the Americans were acting in a provocative fashion, there was still a massive psychological advantage to be had in being the second mover responding to hostile action rather than being the side who initiated the strike.  Why is that?  What is the advantage to striking back rather than making the first blow?  On a tactical level, being on the aggressive offers the benefits of being able to choose one’s targets and to set the tempo of violence, while being on the defensive frequently forces one to respond to events rather than being able to force the tone, at least initially.  There does appear, though, to be considerable benefits on a political, diplomatic, logistical, and psychological level to being the responding party in violence.  One can build a larger base of support for people who are willing to fight back than one can to aggressively attack someone who has not been threatening.  People will be more motivated to fight when attacked than when attacking, and to support a strong government making a vigorous response to an attack, and even to the sacrifices that are necessary converting an economy to wartime means.  It is not, after all, predetermined that an initial defense precludes a later offensive.  In all of the wars where America was attacked, the response to that attack included some serious offensives, though sometimes it took some time for the military to be prepared for this.

If we are looking at the run-up to a civil war situation, it is clear that the leftist anarchists and Marxists are the aggressors in this conflict, committing acts of terror against police officers, ordinary people, and public and private property.  Instead of an 1850’s Bleeding Kansas situation this looks like a 1930’s Spain sort of situation, where the initial violent moves were made by the left and where the reply was a systematic repression of anarchist and socialist forces.  Admittedly, this would not have seemed like a good scenario even ten years ago, but now it seems like a best-case scenario given the intransigence and violence of the revolutionary left and their handmaidens and allies in various institutions like the media.  Of course, this sort of scenario does involve mutual violence and battles the possible long and bloody sieges of buildings followed by lengthy imprisonment terms and hard labor for the unemployable soyboys and soygirls on the side of the radical left.  Still, it does not appear as if there is a way forward for our country that does not involve some sort of violence.  If we do not want revolutionaries to take over, counterrevolutionary efforts appear to be necessary, however unpleasant.  It is vitally important though for the morale of ordinary people that any violent response be in defense, because we are not well-suited to thinking of ourselves as aggressive and have little motivation in general for offensive wars.  But woe be to those who attack us.


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