Movie Review: John Wick 4

Note: This movie is not suitable for children.

As someone who was a bit late to the party, not seeing any of the John Wick movies until I found them while doing some traveling, and finding myself surprisingly interested in the actions of a lone wolf who tries to shoot his way out of his problems only to find himself more intractably connected to the problems of a world of elites who live by both the gun and the law in a strange combination that makes this film (and the series it is a part) both a bloody and gory action movie full of senseless and gratuitous violence, but also a film that offers surprising and unexpected depth. This is not an easy film to review, at least given that I desire to give (as much as possible) a non-spoiler review to the film because it is something I wish to recommend, and do not want to spoil for those who would read this review and then might ponder whether or not to see the film in the same unspoiled way that I went to this film only knowing that it was the fourth film in a series, that it was well-liked by audiences who tend not to feel that films which cater to the dreaded “modern audiences” are really made for them, and that it was a film that had a diverse and generally young and mostly male audience, and also, importantly, that there was not going to be a sequel to the film.

What most impressed me and troubled me about this film is that I went into the movie expecting a gory but generally riveting and entertaining story, and what I got out of it was something that genuinely moved me with its sense of foreboding and moving tragedy. The film appears like a Greek tragedy, with characters openly discussing the weighty themes that give it surprising emotional depth even as the audience watches, both in awe and somewhat in horror, wondering whether the film is actually going to live up to the emotional depth that it contains. And it does. Over and over again, the film broaches the reality of a legal code under The Table that rules the conduct of bloody but orderly people organized by families and by a complex parallel legal and economic order to that one finds in the regular world. Similarly, the film is full of resonance about the value of friendship, and about the way that violent elites deal with problems by seeking to pit people against each other to preserve the larger order that they are all a part of, even as some people within that order vainly seek their freedom from the violence that engulfs them and the fatal consequences of stepping over the boundaries of their world.

This is not to say that everything in the film is equally deep and resonant. The script of this movie is barely functional, providing the minimum amount of dialogue to allow the necessary information to be conveyed to the audience, much of it of a cliched nature. No one is going to be winning any awards for this script, let me assure you. That said, the direction and cinematography and stunt coordination of this film are top-notch, and the way that the action of this film is choreographed and shot provides a great deal of the resonance and meaning that this film has to offer. The budget of this film is spent well–the stunts are superb, and there is a real sense of risk and daring in some of the shots, especially in the Paris sequence that comes at the end of this film, which is masterful in how it is handled by the director as well as by those involved in the brutal ballet that takes up the final third or so of this movie. Those who watch the movie and were, as I was, surprised but also pleased by how it ended are also advised to stay until the post-credit sequence which closes the one plot hole that was nagging me a bit when the main part of the film was over, an ending that you might not otherwise see coming and which brings home the brutal truth of this movie’s story even more than would be the case otherwise.

Much of this film is spent putting various men together who all have different agendas. The viewer who wants a happy ending is likely to spend much of the film troubled by the way in which vendettas and blood feuds seek to overwhelm the fragile order in which the characters live. While there are only a small amount of characters here that we are meant to care about–the rest of the people are nameless and faceless beings who engage in some excellent dancing before getting killed via head shot over and over and over again in a variety of locales, the characters we do care about are involved in a complicated situation that leads one to wonder how it is all going to work out for the best. And having watched the film, I can affirm that there is not going to be a sequel, for sure, but that the film does manage to provide some painful lessons. As one watches this movie from beginning to end, one is reminded that those who engage in anarchical and chaotic violence that threatens the order of a system tend to find peace and rest only in death, and that friendship and family are of great worth even when, especially when, they are costly, even as the system remains after they are dead and buried.

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Do Small Nations Have A Right To Exist?

We live in a world that frequently exalts companies and institutions that are massive, to the point where they threaten to take over the entire world and bring it under subjection to some sort of unaccountable authority that thinks it knows best for others and does not. Unaccountable authorities need not be global authorities, but they can be national authorities, state authorities, local authorities, religious authorities, cultural authorities, and so on. Yet at the same time we tend to know, at least intellectually, that it is small institutions, companies, and nations which are the most nimble and the best able to handle changing circumstances as well as act in the best interests of all stakeholders within and around the institution. We pay lip service to the small and nimble, but all too often we pay our taxes and other money to institutions that are bloated, large, and unresponsible to our needs and interests.

Do small nations have a right to exist? On the face of it, this question has an obvious positive answer. Among the most praised nations of our contemporary world–to the extent that any nations and its leaders deserve praise–are those nations which are small and relatively homogeneous and which enjoy a high standard of living, a high degree of political stability, as well as high marks in the happiness and well-being of their people. Plenty of small nations have vibrant economies, enjoy a high degree of prestige for their culture and lack of bullying, and are part of larger supranational organizations that allow them to trade widely and freely with others. Even nations as small as tens of thousands of people can live freely and happily so long as they are protected in some way by a larger state that they have a special relationship with in the way that Monaco does with France or Andorra with Spain and France or San Marino and Italy or Liechtenstein has with Switzerland (and perhaps Austria). Nations of hundreds of thousands of people can live freely as part of regional trading blocs that help to provide economic and political leverage. And nations of millions of people can live freely while seeking to fulfill the longings and interests of their people without any great trouble so long as they are left in peace.

All of this is well and good, but how are small nations to achieve their freedom in the first place? It is one thing to note that such nations can be very successful when they are free, but how are they to become free in the first place in a world where small areas have often been the prey of larger imperially minded states both near and far? We might say, for example, that Western Sahara could live freely on its own and not be less well off than its North African neighbors, but how is it to be free of Moroccan domination? We might think very easily that Catalonia would be a successful nation on its own, but how is it to be free of Spain? How are Somaliland and Northern Cyprus to be recognized as states of their own? And on and on, such examples could easily be multiplied in the dozens, as we might ask about Maronite Christians in Lebanon who deserve some freedom from the chaos of sectarian politics, or ask how the Kurds or Baluchi or any other number of people are to be able to rise above their present fate as stateless people subject to the whims of the nations which imprison them and deny them the proper freedom and autonomy that they merit.

If a people finds themselves in the course of history to be sufficiently distinct and with sufficiently distinct interests that the states in which they are a part of do not represent their interests or provide the space for them to live freely with a high degree of cultural and individual autonomy, there are only a few ways that they can find the freedom that they seek. Ideally, they can mobilize and build institutions that serve the interests of their people and find peaceful ways of gaining some degree of freedom within larger states. Less ideally but still potentially successfully, they can find powerful friends who have an interest in supporting their demands for independence for various mixed motives, such that powerful allies can provide the military might needed to achieve independence. Least ideally, they can mobilize their own resources, even as a small people, against the seemingly overpowering might of the larger nations that oppress them without respite and without a willingness to slacken the bonds that hold a small nation under subjection to a larger one.

Still, ultimately, freedom requires there to be a coming to terms between those who want to be free and those who they want to be free of. Where there is a great deal of well-being in a small nation that wants to be free, there can frequently be a realization that even with the bad blood that generally results from separation between two nations, such nations can frequently find reasons to view each other as good neighbors, potential trade partners, as well as allies even if such people cannot peacefully and successfully exist under the same state. Such was the case between the United Kingdom and the United States starting from the 1760s. Most of the small nations that now exist survive because it has been in the interest of others that these small nations remain free. It is harder for people, even those who are in dysfunctional states, to see how it is that nations can be better off free to trade peacefully with each other as neighbors rather than squabble over questions of rule. Would a Spain that is shorn of its oppressive relationship with peoples like the Catalan, Basque, and Galician people be able to come to terms with its economy and the well-being of its remaining regions? To what extent does federation and federalism offer the chance for African nations to resolve what seem to be implacable problems of instability and internal disorder as people and nations fight each other for power and desire to dominate others or escape that domination by seeking freedom? In many cases, time must tell.

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Book Review: What’s Up With Catalonia?

What’s Up With Catalonia, edited by Liz Castro

In many ways, reading this book in 2023 is a bit of a disappointment. This book was written and published in a hurry, when Catalonia thought it had a moment where the time was right to strike a peaceful effort at gaining independence for their nation from Spain, and so it gathers essays from a wide variety of people in the region who are all in one way or another sympathetic or outright demanding towards Catalonian independence and who have a variety of grievances against Spain for their behavior. Unsurprisingly, we might expect that were such a volume to be updated in the present-day, there would be more grievances, but probably less hope that Catalan independence will proceed smoothly or peacefully, especially given the total lack of visible progress towards Catalan independence that we have seen since Spain refused to consider as legal the referendum that demonstrated a majority of Catalans desire to be independent from Spain, something that Spanish constitutional courts have always considered to be illegal and therefore not something that they need to address except through military force and acts of coercion.

This book is a short one at about 200 pages or so, and it is filled with a variety of essays from people who would be more familiar to those who are more familiar with Catalonia than I am, and so I have only heard of a few of the people. Included in the various essayists are the usual group of politicians, activists, academics, and the like. Most of the people writing have a rather notable leftist bias, which does not really do a good job at appealing to me since I have no fondness for leftist community agitators and socialist types of the kind that fill the pages of this book. Somewhat unfortunately, many of the essays of this book cover the same ground over and over again, discussing the importance of the Catalan language to feelings of nationhood in Catalonia and neighboring provinces as well as discussing the unfortunate nature of broken Spanish promises in the period after 1978 as well as the way that Spain’s centralized government has viewed Catalonia (and other peripheral provinces) as a cash cow to be milked without providing returns to pay for infrastructure or something else that would be of use. Even though I believe the authors to be correct in discussing the problems of Spain’s policies with regards to language, taxation, and a distinct lack of federalism, one does not need to read the same material restated in slightly different terms dozens of times as occurs in this book. It would have been nice to have seen more variety in the subject matter.

Even so, this is a book that I found to have at least considerable interest in terms of its discussion of the problems of the Catalan nation in making itself free in a peaceful fashion in the face of Spanish intransigence, as well as the importance that the Catalans placed on diplomatic efforts with the United States and the European Union in the hopes that these diplomatic relationships might allow Catalonia to avoid international isolation as an independent state. It is also interesting to note that several of the writers seem to think that in the Spanish context, right-wing opinion such as the kind that I have as an American, always comes with a view towards high degrees of centralism and a lack of freedom for minorities, while right-wing opinion in the United States is often very closely connected with ideals of liberty as well as federalism to avoid oppressive and corrupt state and federal governments. It is a shame, but perhaps unsurprising, that this book focuses so much of its attention on trying to appeal to left-wing audiences rather than trying to make an argument that would appeal to someone right of center, as it seems that the authors’ familiarity with Spanish politics blinds them to the distinctions that exist within the political culture of other nations that may be potential readers of a book like this one. Even so, with all of its tedious repetition, the problem of Catalan independence is a worthwhile one to read about and study, and this book is worth reading at least to get an idea of what Catalan thinkers themselves think about the desirability and even the necessity of independence for their small but worthy nation.

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The Silence Of An Enemy

Earlier today I received a notice from Discord that said that one of the nearly 100 discord channels I am in said something hostile towards some sort of protected class–that was the language it used–and said that those who had read such matters (I had not, as it was a server I never visited or read) had the responsibility to inform Discord of content that was going on in a server that they did not approve of. Similarly, I have seen some of the people I interact with in Discord viewed as being suspected of belonging to some sort of groups that Discord apparently does not approve of while soliciting information about them that might lead these people to be removed from the platform for violations of the community code of conduct. Without knowing any information about these people or these servers, because my attention is directed elsewhere, I have never had the slightest interest of looking into the matter to find something or to provoke some comment that would be worth reporting to Discord or any other social media platform.

In an unrelated conversation I had with a dear friend of mine online, my friend was talking about the conversation she was having with a friend of hers who recently moved out on her own after having some sort of row with her parents. I was concerned that the argument had something to do with boys, but at least from what I can gather, a big part of the disagreement involved the friend’s mother not wanting her to have plants in the house. Who would be against having plants inside like friendly succulents is something I do not understand since plants make life much more enjoyable when they are around, as long as they are low maintenance, as many of them are, and even someone who does not have a green thumb like me has occasionally had plants around to liven up the space around me, and happily so. I commented when hearing about the information that was going on that friends communicate with each other, and that one of the important aspects of friendship is the trade in information, which is sometimes referred to as gossip, that occurs between friends where they exchange information that is of mutual interest to them back and forth, thus staying informed about each other’s lives.

In a further unrelated conversation I had that related to this same subject after dinner when I got home, the person I was talking to commented on his annoyance that there seemed to be interference with some of the radio programs that he was listening to throughout the course of the week that had some particularly pointed things to say about the corruption of our contemporary age in high places, and that this interference reminded him of the way that the Russians similarly disrupted radio broadcasts in Europe through interference so that news that was contrary to their dishonest propaganda could not be heard by ordinary people who did not need to know the truth. Nor is this an isolated problem–corrupt political regimes in the past few decades up to the present day have long sought to disrupt the ability of people to become informed about what is going on or to inform others about what is going on concerning delicate matters that the state does not want to be known widely. Those who do not want the truth to be talked about or broadcast have many unpleasant ways of seeking to silence others. At best, one gets one’s radio broadcasts or internet connection interfered with. At worst, well, this blog is a family-oriented blog so I cannot go into those details.

What is the silence of an enemy? There are certainly occasions where it is better to be silent, like when someone has something stupid to say and chooses to exercise those few brain cells that are available to avoid saying something foolish. That is wise silence, though, the sort of silence that prevents us from inserting our foot into our mouths. The silence of an enemy is something different, the alienation that occurs when we do not give others proper information that would be useful to them because we do not care enough about them or their well-being to communicate with them. The communication of friendliness is a mutual two-way street of information that is useful, enjoyable expressed. But the silence of an enemy occurs when someone refuses to inform someone else of what they are doing, even if they demand information from us about our own plans and behaviors. Without mutuality, there is no genuine friendship. What is it that leads people to become uncommunicative with others? We can find interaction with others to be irksome and unpleasant, especially if other people are not prone to respect or honor us. We can feel immensely irritated that we are holding our tongue out of politeness for others but do not receive the same level of graciousness in response from others, and find that irritation sufficiently unpleasant that we seek to minimize our contact with those who fail to behave according to reciprocal norms of friendly and open and respectful communication. But whatever reason we are silent, the enmity in our hearts cannot entirely be hidden, even if it is not understood.

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Book Review: A History Of Gnosticism

A History Of Gnosticism, by Giovanni Filoramo

This book does not have an accurate title, but I do not know if that if the book had an accurate title if it would be any more enjoyable to read. At least some parts of this book, mostly towards the end, try to create the basis of a history of Gnosticism, but most of the book seems like the author’s attempt to spread the good news of Gnosticism through a very sympathetic reading of the corpus of materials that one finds from various religious traditions of the late classical world that are associated with that religious movement. This book was written by an Italian religious scholar and is translated from the German, and it is perhaps inevitable given the material included that this book is a particularly academic portrayal of Gnosticism from a point of view which has a high degree of sympathy with Gnostic thinkers as well as their Neoplatonist critics (like Plotinus) but without a high degree of understanding or appreciation for the biblical perspective. Given my own perspective, it is perhaps inevitable that I would find a lot of fault with this book, and in all honesty this book is not written for someone like me, but rather is written for someone who has more sympathy with the perspective of the Gnostic and certainly a lot more interest in what aristocratic Academics of the contemporary era as well as the past think about mass movements that leave them in the dust.

This book is a bit less than 200 pages of text, along with a lengthy set of endnotes, but despite its modest size, the book is a pretty tough slog in some respects. The book begins with Abbreviations and then with an introduction that looks at Gnosis and modern culture as well as the rediscovery of Gnosticism from the writings of Nag Hammadi. After this the book proper begins with a chapter on the fragments of a lost faith in Gnosticism that we get from the writings of anti-Gnostic writers of the early Catholic/Orthodox tradition as well as the writings of those within that tradition (1). This is followed by a chapter about the second century AD as an age of religious revelation in the world of late antiquity (2). The author then looks at the Gnostic imagination (3), as well as examining the world of the Pleroma (fullness) and its structure and supposed order (4). After this the author writes about the supposed arrogance of the Demiurge and the resulting creation of the world (5), as well as the way that Gnostics examined the problem of making mankind in the image and likeness of God (6), a problem that, it should be noted, does not adhere closely to biblical truth. This is followed by chapters that examine the Gnostic savior in both Sethian and Valentinian sources (7) as well as the nature of Gnostic eschatology (8). It is at this point, some 140 or so pages into a book that is only 190 pages, that the author actually begins writing about the history and not the theology of Gnosticism. First, the author explores the role of Simon Magus and his disciples as a way into the problem of the relationship between Gnosis and Gnosticism (9), then looks at the connection between various beliefs on ecstatic religion and various Gnostic teachers as well as the period of resistance and surrender to the dominant faith that followed the second-century beginning of the movement in later centuries (10), and then finally a discussion of ascetic and libertarian Gnosticism (11) before the book ends with notes, a select bibliography and suggestions for further reading and an index.

In reading a book like this, there is a great gulf that separates the author from this reader, a gulf that prevents me from wholeheartedly enjoying a book like this. If I am far from a sympathetic reader of this book, there are at least a few aspects of this book that are worth praise. For one, the author strives to understand Gnostics on their own terms, and is quick to recognize that the anti-heresy writers of the philosophical and Christian traditions did often have a good idea of what they were talking about when they criticized certain failings within particular Gnostic beliefs. The author recognizes that hidden within the hostility of many writers towards heretics was some sort of simultaneous attraction to it and susceptibility to the influence of heresy, which is something that one must always be careful of. Also, the author is also wise to point out that certain elements of the ascetic tradition that became important within Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity springs from roots that are not far from Gnosticism itself. Ultimately, though, this book is written by a friend of Gnosticism, someone who considers there to be truths within the batty and contradictory and imaginary cosmology of Gnosticism, and that is several bridges further than the facts and reality of the situation would warrant.

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Core Curriculum: REO Speedwagon

Earlier today, as I write this, someone made a comment about whether or not I had an article in my popular series of articles on acts that have been unjustly denied a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for REO Speedwagon. I have not (as of yet) written such a piece, but I thought that in preparation of doing so I would do something that I occasionally do here and that is ask what core songs the band has that have been covered in compilation albums. To the extent that an artist has a large body of work that is recognized as being core material by fans, such a band has a claim to have greatly influenced music. For an act that is as popular on classic radio as REO Speedwagon is, it would make sense to see just how broad its core material is aside from the handful of songs that casual music fans are most familiar with.

While I usually look up wikipedia pages for the track lists of compilation albums for bands, REO Speedwagon has a distinct shortage of such wikipedia pages for their compilation albums, so instead I am using the track lists that are included on Since there is also a strong tendency on the part of some compilation albums to separate the band’s early years in the 1970’s from its core period of popularity in the 1980s, I am also combining such part one/part two sorts of compilations together to count as recognizing the core of the band, since there is no overlap to be expected between these sets and it helps demonstrate the reality that multi-disk compilations for REO Speedwagon are already somewhat the norm, which helps to demonstrate the wide body of work that is considered as core material from them even before their commercial heyday.

Let us first consider the first of these compilation combos in 1980’s “Decade Of Rock & Roll ’70-80′ and 1995’s Second Decade Of Rock & Roll ’81-91′, both from Epic:

Decade Of Rock & Roll:

Sophisticated Lady (1)
Music Man (1)
Golden Country (1)
Son Of A Poor Man (1)
Lost In A Dream (1)
Reelin’ (1)
Keep Pushin’ (1)
(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come (1)
Breakaway (1)
Lightning (1)
Like You Do (1)
Flying Turkey Trot (1)
157 Riverside Avenue (1)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (1)
Roll With The Changes (1)
Time For Me To Fly (1)
Say You Love Me Or Say Goodnight (1)
Only The Strong Survive (1)
Back On The Road Again (1)

Second Decade Of Rock & Roll:

Don’t Let Him Go (1)
Tough Guys (1)
Take It On The Run (1)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (1)
Roll With The Changes (2)
I Do’ Wanna Know (1)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (1)
Live Every Moment (1)
That Ain’t Love (1)
One Too Many Girlfriends (1)
Variety Tonight (1)
Back On The Road Again (2)
Keep On Loving You ’89 (1)
Love Is A Rock (1)
All Heaven Broke Loose (1)
L.I.A.R. (1)
Live It Up (1)

Now let’s turn our attention to 1985’s Best Foot Forward, also released by Epic:

Roll With The Changes (3)
Take It On The Run (2)
Don’t Let Him Go (2)
Live Every Moment (2)
Keep On Loving You (2)
Back On The Road Again (3)
Wherever You’re Going (It’s Alright) (1)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (2)
Shakin’ It Loose (1)
Time For Me To Fly (2)
Keep Pushin’ (2)
I Wish You Were There (1)

Here we are alreaady starting to see a differentiation being made between core songs and those that are viewed as being less essential, with some variation among deeper cuts. Let us now turn to 1988’s Hits, a highly regarded single-disk compilation:

I Don’t Want To Lose You (1)
Here With Me (1)
Roll With The Changes (4)
Keep On Loving You (3)
That Ain’t Love (2)
Take It On The Run (3)
In My Dreams (1)
Don’t Let Him Go (3)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (3)
Keep Pushin’ (3)
Time For Me To Fly (3)
One Lonely Night (1)
Back On The Road Again (4)

Here again we are seeing some songs be anthologized over and over again, and not just the obvious ones, it should be noted.

1998’s Only The Strong Survive stays away from the big hits, for the most part, but still manages to include some familiar songs:

Keep Pushin’ (4)
(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come (2)
Keep On Loving You (4)
Stillness Of The Night (1)
The Key (1)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (2)
Only The Strong Survive (2)
Music Man (2)
Shakin’ It Loose (2)
I Need You Tonight (1)

In 1999, a collection of REO Speedwagon’s Ballads was released, presumably as a counterpoint to the previous year’s compilation of mostly harder rockers:

Just For You (1)
Time For Me To Fly (4)
Keep On Loving You (5)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (4)
Take It On The Run (4)
‘Til The Rivers Run Dry (1)
In My Dreams (2)
Here With Me (2)
Building The Bridge (1)
One Lonely Night (2)
The Heart Survives (1)
After Tonight (1)
I Wish You Were There (2)

In 2000, just one year later, a one-album retrospective: Take It On The Run: The Best Of REO Speedwagon, was released, and it contained the following tracks:

Keep On Loving You (6)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (5)
One Lonely Night (3)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (2)
In Your Letter (1)
Golden Country (2)
Don’t Let Him Go (4)
157 Riverside Avenue (2)
Lightning (2)
Keep Pushin’ (5)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (3)
Time For Me To Fly (5)
Roll With The Changes (5)
Say You Love Me Or Say Goodnight (2)
Take It On The Run (5)

Just a year after this, in 2001, Sony released “Simply The Best,” another one-disk best-of compilation that leans hevily on power ballads:

Keep Pushin’ (6)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (3)
That Ain’t Love (3)
Keep the Fire Burnin’ (4)
One Lonely Night (4)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (6)
Time For Me To Fly (6)
In Your Letter (2)
Take It On The Run (6)
Keep On Loving You (7)
Don’t Let Him Go (5)
Golden Country (3)
157 Riverside Avenue (3)

This is the first compilation that contains no new deep tracks or minor hits but contains only songs previously anthologized, marking a point in which there seems to be some consolidation of the best of REO Speedwagon, at least an essential core of a substantial number of songs.

In 2002, one year after this, a budget compilation “Keep On Rollin'” was released, with the following ten tracks:

Roll With The Changes (6)
Take It On The Run (7)
Keep On Loving You (8)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (5)
Music Man (3)
Time For Me To Fly (7)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (7)
Like You Do (2)
Little Queenie (1)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (4)

With the exception of a Chuck Berry cover, this compilation also contains previously anthologized tracks, a remarkable achievement for a budget compilation.

In 2004, we got the two-disk compilation “The Essential REO Speedwagon” from Sony, and it contains the following songs:

Sophisticated Lady (2)
Music Man (4)
Golden Country (3)
Son Of A Poor Man (2)
Lost In A Dream (2)
Keep Pushin’ (7)
(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come (3)
Lightning (3)
Like You Do (3)
Flying Turkey Trot (2)
157 Riverside Avenue (4)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (5)
Roll With The Changes (7)
Time For Me To Fly (7)
Say You Love Me Or Say Goodnight (3)
Back On The Road Again (5)
Only The Strong Survive (3)
Don’t Let Him Go (6)
Keep On Loving You (9)
In Your Letter (3)
Take It On The Run (8)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (6)
The Key (2)
One Lonely Night (5)
Live Every Moment (3)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (8)
That Ain’t Love (4)
In My Dreams (3)
Variety Tonight (2)
Here With Me (3)
Love Is A Rock (2)
Building The Bridge (2)
Just For You (2)

This set makes a strong case for being the core music of REO Speedwagon, with two disks of 33 songs, all of which have appeared on previous compilations, and including every single hit single the group ever had and just about every notable deep cut that had been previously recognized on the band’s most notable compilations.

In 2006, another budget compilation came out, called “Collections,” with the following tracks:

Keep On Loving You (10)
Take It On The Run (9)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (6)
Only The Strong Survive (4)
One Lonely Night (6)
Roll With The Changes (8)
Here With Me (4)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (9)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (7)
Time For Me To Fly (8)

With all of the songs on this compilation having been anthologized at least three times before, this seems like a pretty obvious subset of the core REO Speedwagon songs. This same set of songs was released as a Greatest Hits album in 2008 by Sony in Canada.

In 2008, Sony released a Playlist one-cd retrospective for REO Speedwagon as it has for other artists, with the following tracks:

Take It On The Run (10)
Keep On Loving You (11)
Keep Pushin’ (8)
Roll With The Changes (9)
Keep The Fire Burnin’ (8)
Can’t Fight This Feeling (10)
Back On The Road Again (5)
Time for Me To Fly (9)
That Ain’t Love (5)
In My Dreams (3)
Here With Me (5)
Don’t Let Him Go (7)
Ridin’ The Storm Out (7)

Here again all of the songs had been anthologized multiple times already, suggesting that the various compilations at this point were just choosing among songs that were already recognized as classic or essential works, for the most part. This seems to be born out by the fact that since this time we have had no compilations and only box sets come out.

It seems impossible at this point to think that a single cd alone would be sufficient to capture the fullness of REO Speedwagon with any degree of competence. Even two cds fail to include the fullness of material that has been judged as being worthy of investigation by the larger of the compilation efforts. It seems that if we want a more complete anthology than the two-cd Essential REO Speedwagon, which is only missing a few of the somewhat anthologized tracks.

One can see, over the course of REO Speedwagon’s history, that the following process occurred: First, there were efforts at cataloguing the most significant songs in the early days of the band and then the commercial peak of the band, then various components of the band’s catalogue, and finally there was a consolidation of various selections among nearly 40 songs that had received considerable praise and interest, to the point where eventually it was decided that only box sets could even remotely fully capture the band’s career. A two-disk set seems about right, even if it is a bit incomplete, for the casual fan who does not want to listen to all of their studio albums but wants to get a sense of this band’s output.

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No One Is Above The Law

There are many slogans that look good on paper but which in reality prove to be far more troubling than would first appear to the case for those whose intellectual depth is no more serious than hashtags of the current thing or statements that appear to be statements of broad and even-handed principle but which are typically only enforced in a partial and one-sided fashion. It is not my point–though others are free to make it their point–to demonstrate the sorts of ways that no one being above the law would be particularly unpleasant for the people who are shouting a slogan that they view in a narrow sense as being beneficial to their political cause, while not thinking or caring about how its even-handed application would be far more ruinous to their case than helpful because of the corruption of contemporary cultural and political elites.

To the extent that political prosecution of the party on the outs is going to become a feature, going forward, of the American Republic, we ought to be very careful as to the results of this particular phenomenon. When the price of losing an election is facing politically motivated prosecution and the weaponization of the government apparatus against what could otherwise be a loyal opposition, the motives to avoid ever losing elections is going to increase, and those who refrain from punishing their political opponents are to be viewed only as weak and cowardly rather than principled in their refusal to abuse the power of state against those who are only waiting for a change in power to abuse them and arrest them and harass them in turn.

Who can be trusted to make good law? Who can be trusted to enforce laws fairly and justly and even-handedly? In such a world as we live in, not many people can be trusted to do so. When people who are peacefully invited into the Capital Building as if they are somewhat politically minded tourists are viewed as threats to the American Republic while those who burn and loot cities are viewed as mostly peaceful protesters, we have a clear problem with demonstrating even-handed and just views of the law and its applicable enforcement in an atmosphere of widespread crisis and a lack of legitimacy on the part of those in power, regardless of what party they come from. Indeed, it is not merely enough that people in power often lack legitimacy in the eyes of their rivals for power, but even in the eyes of their frustrated followers who are upset that elections do not fix the problems that we all see around us.

We ought not to expect politics to save us from ourselves. Ballots can replace bullets as the way in which disagreements are solved only when there is the expectation that those who are making decisions are principled in their behavior and that the results are generally tolerable and also generally free and fair, if not necessarily perfect. Nor can we entirely get rid of politics, regardless of what political order we would prefer, since wherever there is power, there will be rivalries in order to obtain and hold onto power and disagreements over the proper way in which power is to be used and for what ends. We ought rather to shrink the domain of politics in order to reduce the attractiveness of gaining political power to force one’s ideas against a recalcitrant populace that happens to be a temporary minority, or a defrauded majority. Yet we seem intent on making politics ever more important, and thus ever more fractious and combative, contrary to the way of wisdom.

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On The Futility Of Passwords

One of the characteristics of a certain sort of person is the desire to have an in-speak by which one can speak to others and provide knowledge while simultaneously preserving that argot from common knowledge. There has, for at least several decades (and in some cases far longer), been a desire among a certain segment of our population to coordinate with each other their shared nefarious goals and ideals and plans while denying that same clarity to others who are assumed to be against the success of such plans. In my own personal experience I have dealt with plotters in certain institutions who sought to speak to each other in a coded language that conveyed their thinking while seeming innocuous to those who were on the outside and not privy to the schemes and plans of the people involved. This language presents a passcode that seeks to preserve the privacy and secrecy of what is being planned while simultaneously communicating it to others who happen to be in the know.

Part of the problem with this form of communication is that people in general do not like being on the outside when it is clear and obvious that some sort of scheming is afoot. When we know that others are engaged in plotting of one kind or another and are generally up to no good, then all of their discourse becomes subject to scrutiny and unfriendly efforts at interpretation to gather what sort of information is being conveyed by those words. When those words are decoded, as they often are, the people who are engaged in scheming and plotting do not suddenly cease their efforts and engage in open and honest communication–for the truth is not in such people, as they are the children of the father of lies himself–but they rather seek to change the language that they use to preserve the sense of secrecy that they feel is of the utmost importance in the success of their plans and machinations. This leads to a proliferation of words and expressions being invented to convey some sort of secret information to those who have been initiated into such unholy cabals of evildoers who seek to preserve the secrecy of their insider knowledge, but who simultaneously cannot help themselves but seek to communicate this knowledge to others, which allows those who are not in the secret to become familiar with what is being said, thus proving to be a self-defeating effort. Any truth that can be communicated to one’s confederates can be understood by those who are sufficiently perceptive on the outside, and then explained to others, thus losing its value as a passcode.

We may extend this reasoning beyond the present case, and see it as a demonstration of the futility of seeking to secure the privacy of information through the use of passcodes in general. Whatever is kept private and secret, or that we desire to not be general information, has to be protected in some fashion. Simultaneously, whatever we would wish to keep private, others will wish to know, often for nefarious purposes like stealing our identity or having improper access to services and information that they would not otherwise and should not know. Yet most of the time this information is protected by passwords. Even when we have to change passwords on a frequent basis, they have to be simple enough that we can remember them. When these systems of passwords fail, the result of people is to add more layers of complexity to the passcode system, adding two-factor authentication that seeks to send more passcodes to one’s cell phone or e-mail address. And ultimately all of these methods are futile, try as we might to seek to preserve the security of information by a fixed or a series of fixed pieces of information that others will wish to get access to in some way.

How, then, do we obtain some measure of security? We ought not to think that perfect security is in the reach of people for whom life is always at least somewhat of a risk. That said, there are ways that we can be better at preserving privacy to the extent that we seek not to preserve security with texts that can be logged or hacked but rather through using the things about us that do not change at all. To the greatest extent possible, we should be the password for that which we want to protect. In a world where people are constantly trying to pretend to be something other than what they are, who we are, and those qualities in us that distinguish us from other people, is the best way of ensuring that it is we ourselves who are wanting to do something. If we are vulnerable to losing our privacy because cameras are everywhere and our DNA or cell phone tracking location can be followed by others, then why not turn that around and make sure that it is by those qualities that distinguish us from others that we are given access to that which we should access and which no one else should? Why should that be such a hard thing to do? If our distinctive qualities can bring us trouble in this world, they should at least bring us some measure of security in being harder for others to mimic.

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On The Pleasant And The Good

Simply because we live in an age where many people seem to religiously avoid anything unpleasant as if to be unpleasant is to be evil, it is all too easy for people to fall into the opposite ditch and view things as good simply because they are unpleasant. This too is an error, an error that leads people to counsel things because they are unpleasant, assuming that everything that tastes bad is good for you, or that feels bad is for one’s benefit. This is as incorrect as to believe that everything that is pleasing to the eyes or that gratifies the desires of the flesh is good, and for the same reasons, namely that principles of right and wrong and the principles of pleasure need not have any relationship with each other. Even the same activities that are unpleasant to one person in one situation may be pleasurable to another person in another situation, without being morally wrong in the latter case.

To the extent that one is a virtuous person, whose desires are properly ordered by what is right and proper, the good is pleasant and the bad is unpleasant. This is not to say that many people even approach the correct standards of morality in their lives, but to the extent that people are just and righteous people, they will enjoy doing the right thing and not enjoy doing the wrong thing. For such people, the pleasure principle can be a guide to morality because their desires are governed properly, so properly, in fact, that the self-regulation involved is not a burdensome matter, but rather is felt lightly and cheerfully. It is for the continent people, those who do what is right, but do it with extreme difficulty, and contrary to their fallen and corrupt human nature, that what is right is most strongly opposed to that which is pleasant. Such people still desire to do what is wrong, but fight against their wrong desires. We ought to praise the ability for people to successfully fight against the baser elements of their nature to do what is right in spite of themselves, but we ought not to consider such people as virtuous, or their devotion to the unpleasant to be a sign of their moral progress, but rather of the desires that they have still yet to bring into subjection.

How is it that people have their thinking about the pleasant and the good to be so entangled? There are at least two sorts of errors involved in this thinking. Both errors are understandable, and lamentably common when it comes to human thinking, but are not the less flawed for all of that. One of the mistakes is to judge pleasure as bad simply because those who are evil enjoy doing what is bad. The fact that some people enjoy doing what is wrong does not mean that enjoyment is evil in itself, or that the right thing to do cannot be enjoyed. If we see people enjoying at least some of what they do, it does not mean that their enjoyment of something makes that which they do to be some sort of idol. To be sure, there can often be a problem with balance in that people will be naturally inclined to do that which brings them enjoyment and disinclined by nature to do that which is unpleasant, but the fact that people must be encouraged to do that which is right but that which does not come easily or pleasantly and must be discouraged from seeking pleasures which are wrong does not mean that right pleasures are to be viewed as evil because they are enjoyed. Such cases, in contrast, are a small taste of righteousness, in providing people with the recognition that to the extent that they are properly in alignment with God’s ways, more and more aspects of doing what is right will become pleasant to them, which is in general something that ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged.

If the frequent unpleasantness of moral progress leads people astray in being hostile to the pleasant rather than hostile to what is evil, so too the incorrect targeting of pleasure as bad in itself rather than bad when it is combined with wrong behavior leads to a mistaken entanglement in our thinking that leads us to view God as a being who is not merely indifferent to our pleasure but actively hostile to it and to view this life as something merely to be endured rather than enjoyed. And to be sure, there is much that has to be endured in this life. But, even with all of life’s imperfections, there is much to be enjoyed, even if that enjoyment generally decreases with the ravages of age, poverty, and poor health. To someone who is healthy, a jog around the block can be the source of rich pleasures, from the endorphin rush of the exercise itself to the enjoyment of the beauties of creation, or of friendly interaction with others one may see along the way. The unpleasant aspects of increasing one’s own physical fitness is not in itself virtuous, but rather an expression of how our existence is frequently less than ideal. We must not conflate the two.

Let us therefore conclude our discussion for the moment. Many people who would consider themselves to be righteous and good are, in fact, not. If they were good, they would enjoy doing the good, and find pleasure in doing the right thing. To the extent that we do not enjoy doing what is right but must fight against our own nature and inclination to do that which we should do, we are not in fact good, but merely strong enough that our will to do what is right overcomes our desire to do what is wrong. And, to be sure, we ought to prefer the strength to overcome a bad nature to be superior to the lack of strength that leads the incontinent to fail to do what is right. But strength of will is not goodness. The truly good and righteous people, to the extent that such people may be found at all in our evil world, will enjoy doing what is right and they will have comparatively little to resist because their nature more closely resembles that of God above. To the extent that we can find some small taste of the pleasure of doing what is right and enjoying it, we should celebrate it rather than mourn it or think evil of it in ourselves or others. There is enough that is unpleasant that must be endured, let us enjoy those moments when we can do well and find honest and simple pleasure in doing what is right because our nature in some way is right.

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The Downside Of Being In the Inner Ring

I feel some sort of pity for the social media teams of college teams when it comes to their sports teams. I cannot imagine that such jobs are very highly paid, or that the people who have them are the best at their game, and yet when one’s team is having its worst moments, those are the people who have to deal with the harshest of internet trolls picking on people when they are down. Today, at least one of those people getting raked over the coals is the person in charge of dealing with social media at Purdue University, which today became only the second ever #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to lose to a 16-seed, when the Boilermakers were taken down by Farleigh Dickenson, a small New Jersey private university which won its conference tournament on a technicality when the school that actually won was ineligible for postseason play because it was in an ongoing transition from Division II to Division I.

It is not my intent to talk about college basketball primarily in this post. Nevertheless, when we see a team that is highly regarded as Purdue is–it is regularly among the best regular season teams in the big 10, but just as regularly struggles in the biggest games in the NCAA Tournament, having lost four straight years to double-digit seeds–we ought to ponder what it is that people think they see in such a team versus what they actually get. Farleigh Dickenson is obviously not in the inner circle of college basketball, and Purdue is. And yet Purdue has among the most embarrassing losses ever to take place in the NCAA tournament, a historic defeat, while Farleigh Dickenson has won its second game in a row and has similarly secured a place in history as a team that has accomplished what is considered to be nearly impossible. Ultimately, as long as there is at least some sort of genuine competition, the underdog always has a chance against those who are favored.

In seeing frauds on the basketball court, one is reminded that frauds are all over the place in a world like our own. Everywhere you look, one can see people trying to show the appeal of being in the inner ring. But there is a downside to it as well. When you are an outsider, you know you are an outsider, you know that you are not going to get the benefit of the doubt nor do you expect other people to save you from your own problems. When you are in the inner ring, your expectation is that if you have a bad day at the basketball court, the refs are going to bail you out, or if your bank makes terrible decisions, the Fed is going to bail you out even if you appealed for less restrictive regulation because you were not supposed to be a threat to the well-being of the economy. People can think that they are far smarter and far better than they are when they are being puffed up by the flattery of others in the in-crowd. Those who are on the outside only want a fair fight, and that is enough for them to prove themselves.

I remember hearing a sermon once about someone who had trained to be an amateur boxer from his father, and had entered the ring against someone and found to his surprise that his father had pulled his punches and so he was not ready for how hard the other person was hitting, leading to an embarrassing defeat and, presumably, an end to any interest in staying in the sport. What did it benefit the young man to be trained for boxing for years but have the punches pulled? He thought he was being prepared to become a successful boxer, when instead he was merely being protected, for a time, from the pain that boxers risk when they enter the ring. The very first time he entered the ring against someone who was there for a real fight, he got knocked out, because he wasn’t really ready for the fight and had been led into thinking that he was a better fighter and more prepared than he was. To be puffed up by supposed well-wishers is not doing one a favor. What is a favor is being prepared for reality and how to deal with it, though that is not something that is all that common in our present age.

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