Who Framed Megan Fox?

I was watching a video recently on feminist theory as it relates to the Transformers movies, and was intrigued about what it had to say about the character of Mikaela Banes, played by the actress Megan Fox.  The video pointed out something that I had often wondered in relationship to the falling out between Fox and the film’s fauxteur director, Michael Bay.  If you look at the text of what Megan Fox’s character has to say as well as her narrative arc in the first and second Transformer’s movies, it is clear that a reading of the script would give us a sympathetic and respectful view towards this character.  She has a juvenile record because of her standing by a less than honorable father and has shown genuine sacrifice in her life.  She is an immensely competent person, genuinely interested in mechanics, who feels that she is disrespected because of her looks and the fact that no one bothers to look beneath the surface.  If we listen to what she has to say without paying attention to how the camera of Bay frames her, we would be led to believe that the film would have a high degree of respect for her as a character.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Those who watch the Transformer’s film are not very likely to remember the film’s dialogue or sometimes even its plot because of the way that Bay films it, but one thing they will remember is that Megan Fox is impossibly hot.  Some of the comments I have read about this framing are pretty shocking, with people calling her character development “fan service” or “whore,” which both strike this viewer as somewhat lacking in taste as well as accuracy.  Throughout the films Mikaela is presented by Fox as an honorable and decent woman, one capable of love as well as fixing a car engine and showing an interest in the robots and their ways.   Yet the camera leers at her and influences the viewer of the film to linger on her curves and stare at her the way that Sam, played by Shia LeBouf, does, merely as an attractive object that chatters inconsequentially.  The script and the visual elements of the film are at odds with each other, and as most people in the present age care far more about films and films are a visual medium as opposed to books, people remember what the framing of the film is telling them and not what the script is saying.

I must admit that I do not know Megan Fox personally, but what I do know about her through our common literary interests [1] suggests that she is a fond reader of texts that show strong female characters and that she wants to play a strong female character who is valued for her intellect and for her competence and not merely for being attractive.  I suspect this is a fairly common feeling among intelligent women who happen to be physically attractive, a desire to be known for what is beneath the surface and not merely for looks.  Obviously, being neither a woman nor having ever been particularly attractive, this sort of objectification is not something I know personally in that regard.  Even so, I am familiar with the way that objectification works when it comes for being valued only for one’s competence and not for other aspects of one’s nature, as being flamboyantly intelligent has tended to obscure people’s interest in, say, a genuinely tender and romantic nature that has been largely ignored through most of my life.  Just as a pretty body can hide an intelligent mind, so too an intelligent mind can hide a tender and loving heart.  If people only view for what service we can offer them, they will not see us for all that we are, and in so doing they do violence to us by viewing us simply as an object and not as someone worthy of study and time and attention and respect.

Again, from what I know, Megan Fox is someone who wants to be viewed with respect when she is on the screen.  That requires a tricky balance, though.  How is it that we learn to respect characters in a movie?  Part of that comes from what we bring to a film.  We can pay attention to what characters say and how they present themselves and respect them because we understand them to be respectable.  Most people, though, depend on the framing characters to tell them how to think about or view a character.  A character who is portrayed as being dressed to draw attention to her looks or who is constantly being leered at is not someone that most people will respect.  If we see the characters of a film treating someone with respect, though, we will be led to respect them as well, taking our social cues from how we see the character framed through the camera.  This is how it is easy to tell which characters are comic relief and not to be taken seriously, how we tell the obvious love interests that we are meant to lust after, and so on.  An actor or actress does not necessarily know how a given character is going to be framed in a movie, not least because this framing is often decided in the editing floor and in the way shots are put in relation to each other, and so they often decide whether to be in a film based on their understanding of the script.  This puts an actress like Megan Fox at a disadvantage, because even where a given script shows a competent woman who has intelligent lines and a worthwhile character arc, the framing of shots and costume design and the behavior of others may lead her to be viewed as just T&A even though the script and the actress’ own portrayal show her as far more than meets the eye.

How are we to deal with this framing?  It would benefit us as viewers of film as well as people in general, to be far more critical when it comes to the way that we deal with framing.  It would benefit us, and lead us to be more respectful of others, if we treated others not based on the way that we saw others treat them through the eye of the camera or through our observation as social cues, but rather from our own character and respect for others.  Whether we are watching people being bullied or treated cruelly and unjustly in our own lives, something that happens quite often, or whether we are viewing a competent and talented woman through the leering eye of a text that sees her as only an attractive object, we are often placed in situations where the text is at dissonance with the context.  We may have limited means of influencing others to be more respectful in their own conduct, but we can choose how we act ourselves.  We can choose to be critical about the way that others are viewing someone, whether on a screen or in person, and we can choose to act counter to the way that someone is being framed as an object of either desire or contempt (or both at the same time), and we can choose to treat people with respect because we are the sort of people who respect others, no matter how unpopular it is.  It may not seem as if the framing of a film is such a big deal, but we are often in the place to view people who are misunderstood and abused outsiders who others view merely as objects and not as people worthy of respect.  The same tendencies to either passively accept the framing that others provide or to reject that framing and treat others based on our own character and nobility present themselves in both art and life.  How will we choose to respond to such opportunities to rise above the tendencies of our present evil age?

[1] See, for example:




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Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Classics Of British Literature: Part 2

Great Courses:  Classics Of British Literature, Part 2, taught by Professor John Sutherland

I must admit that I found this particular part of the course to be somewhat disappointing.  To be sure, not all eras of British literature, nor all tastes on the part of instructors, are to everyone’s liking, but I must admit that I am more susceptible than most people are to a concern about politics and its role on literature.  And sadly, this part of the course is heavily involved with questions of politics on a large scale, relating to questions of religion, race, and gender and their relationship with literature.  Given the general criticism I have for this relationship between politics and literature [1], it is totally unsurprising, I suppose, that this part of the course would be far less enjoyable than the previous one was, where I at least had a great deal of fondness for the people that the professor viewed as important writers even if I found much wanting about the author’s approach.  Here I did not even have the consolation of enjoying most of the people that the author was talking about, nor considering them genuinely major voices in British literature.

This part of the course begins with a discussion by the author that turmoil makes for good literature, by which the author means the time of the English Civil Wars and their aftermath.  While it may be true that turmoil makes for good literature, it also makes for the sort of salacious drama that the author appears to appreciate even more, regardless of whether he appreciates Puritan writers or their rakish Restoration rivals.  After this the author looks at Augustan poets like John Donne (but strangely not Cowper), reveling in the sexuality as well as the wit of their poetic works.  After that the professor looks at Swift’s anger and insanity, the wit of his works, and the Irish question.  Then a look at Samuel Johnson’s dictionary and other writings provides a chance for the author to praise order as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of authors making it without depending on aristocratic patrons.  The writing of Daniel Defoe provides the professor to pontificate on the perspective of imperialism as well as the development of the novel and the way that many early novelists were journalists.  A lecture on Behn allows the author to look at the question of women in writing, as do a few “minor” female poets including Elizabeth I of England (!).  A discussion of the “golden” age of fiction allows the professor to look at the approach different people had to the novel concerning realism and morality.  Other lectures look at Wollstonecraft (more feminism), Blake (romantic poetry with a high view of the Devil as a force for creation and advancement), Equiano (a chance for the instructor to lecture about the evils of slavery), and Gibbon (a look at the rhetorical power of Gibbon’s atheistical writings).

Again, this is a course that is likely to disappoint those who value literature but are sensitive to the worldview of the people who create it.  Much of the literature discussed here has not aged well except when it comes to serving as grist for the mill of those who would engage in the celebration of various purported subaltern groups.  It is pretty clear in looking at this section of the course that it is not the greatness of literature, of which at least some of it can be seen, but rather the political importance of literature that is of most importance to the instructor.  This is, lamentably, a problem with a great deal of instruction in writings.  Of course, what is vital and important literature depends a great deal on where one stands.  Given my own perspective, a lot of these works just seem like special pleading being given praise simply for being passionate appeals for justice for some sort of group that felt that they were not getting a fair shake, not something worth appreciating for the quality of its writing.  As someone who does not tend to value literature for who says it but rather for what it says, this age is definitely one whose value fails to meet a genuinely literary standard of excellence, whatever may be appreciated about its diversity.

[1] See, for example:





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Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Classics Of British Literature: Part 1

Great Courses:  Classics Of British Literature:  Part 1, by John Sutherland

One of the more intriguing issues in dealing with this particular course is the way that the author refers to his course as a look at classics in English literature but the course itself is advertised as being about British literature.  To be sure, there is a great deal of overlap between the two areas, but they are not identical.  The classics discussed here are profound and certainly worthy of serious reading [1], but they are English classics first and foremost and not necessarily British classics.  It would have been honest, for example, for the course to be given a title that reflected the focus on English literature, or for the professor who taught the course to have spent some time including worthwhile literature from outside of England, in Welsh, Scots English or Gaelic, Irish, Cornish, or Manx, or for the instructor to have discussed the Norman French writing of the late Middle Ages as being part of British literature, or for the inclusion of colonial literature in this discussion.  Unfortunately this did not happen, and so the person who listens to this course will have to settle for English literature that pretends it is the best in British literature as a whole.

In terms of its contents, the professor covers the first twelve of the total of 48 lectures on the subject contained in this particularly expansive Great Courses collection.  Each lecture, as is customary, is thirty minutes long.  The course begins with the pessimism and themes of comradeship that one finds in early Anglo-Saxon poetry and the style of poetry that this literature bequeathed to later writers in English.  After that the instructor spends two lectures looking at Chaucer’s writing as evidence both of social mobility as well as the author’s own immense cultural sophistication.  After this the professor spends a lecture talking about Spencer’s Faerie Queen and the importance of various modes of sophisticated writing like allegory, irony, and symbolism.  From this the discussion moves to a look at early English drama and the importance of guilds and the tension between drama and morality that has always characterized the English-speaking world.  This focus on drama is continued in a lecture on Marlowe that emphasizes his personal and literary daring, two lectures on Shakespeare that discuss his early writings and mature dramas, and a lecture on Shakespeare’s later rivals like Jonson and Webster and the darkness and wit that they and others brought to Jacobean theater.  After this the instructor spends a lecture talking about the beauty of Tyndale’s prose and how it strongly influenced the King James Bible and also the complexities of the metaphysical poets like John Donne.

In looking at this part of the course, I must admit that my own feelings are pretty deeply mixed.  On the positive side, the instructor and I have a similar taste in what makes literature great, having a love both for familiar choices like Chaucer and Shakespeare but also more obscure poets and playwrights as well as William Tyndale.  Clearly, then, there are a lot of similarities in what we enjoy and appreciate about the spoken and written and performed language.  That said, the professor seems to share a common contemporary unseemly interest in matters of prurient sexuality, speculating on Marlowe and Shakespeare and others concerning their own interest in sex, and spending a great deal of time reveling in John Donne’s early love poetry being written about someone who was not Mrs. Donne.  This sort of salacious gossiping about texts may encourage people to read for the wrong reasons, but it certainly does not sit easily with the moral importance of literature, something that the professor admits is important and also controversial but an area where he markedly fails here.  Likewise, the instructor’s moral biases make his discussion of political matters slanted as well, especially when one considers his intense hostility towards Puritan morality.

[1] See, for example:





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Days Gone By

Yesterday night, a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page a photograph of a mildly embarrassing poem I had written as a teenager.  Despite the fact that I found the poem to be slightly cringy, I had to admit that the work was my own, and reading it gave me a deep feeling of melancholy that the sentiments expressed were so quintessentially Nathanish.  Although I would not phrase the poem the same way had I written it older in life, and it likely would have been far less direct and covered in far more layers of misdirection, the sentiments expressed in them could have been said at thirty-six as they were when I wrote them around the age of sixteen.  I wonder if, had I been able to communicate with my younger self [1], if I would have given in to despair if my younger self had known that two decades later I would be wrestling with the same fundamental ambivalence about love and relationships with no end in sight, creating some kind of temporal paradox that would threaten the stability of some small and insignificant part of the universe.

I suppose my feelings about this matter are not my own alone.  Sometimes the gap between our hopes and expectations and their reality can cross over the line from mere melodrama as my life has been into the realm of the genuinely tragic.  In 1960, for example, the nation of Somaliland, after only five days as an independent state [2], joined in a union with its larger neighbor Somalia with great hopes of a unified and free nation.  Those hopes would not only not be realized but Somaliland itself would suffer decades of misrule before an immensely destructive war of independence [3], only to be forgotten and ignored by the outside world for decades in a refusal to give them back the independence that they so foolishly gave away in a burst of naive idealism that they have repented of many times over in the succeeding decades.  I am sure that if they could go back and do it again, the Somaliland people would want nothing to do with a union with Somalia under any circumstances, and would take their places as a free nation determined to go it alone as best as they are able.  But one cannot go back and reverse the mistakes of the past, or know how badly one’s hopes and longings will be betrayed by the cruel world in which we live.

At times, history reminds us that we are our own worst enemies.  There are still many people in the United States who view the antebellum period with a sense of nostalgia, gloomily worried about what was lost in the aftermath of the Civil War, and longing again for power by unreconstructed Southerners against the liberalizing tendencies of d*****d Yankees.  Yet that world was destroyed by the behavior of fire-eating Southerners themselves.  After the election of Abraham Lincoln, before he could even take office, the seven states of the deep South were pushed into a preemptive rebellion against their impending political impotence.  In the social experiment as to whether somewhat exploitative free labor regimes and extremely exploitative plantation slavery was a bigger draw to internal migration and external immigration, the rules of apportionment had determined the North to be a winner similarly to the way that the difference between high levels of taxation and regulation in some states at present in the United States and low levels of both in others has made the latter the clear winners in contemporary apportionment with the invention of air conditioning and increased transportation infrastructure.  Yet instead of choosing a gradual and consensual loss of power nationally or adopting strategies to reverse that decline by making their region more appealing to upwardly mobile migrants seeking economic opportunity, they choose to rebel and were crushed.

As human beings, we are limited beings in terms of both what we can understand from the past as well as what we are able to discern about the future.  Our memory plays tricks on us, and our attempts to understand the past on its own terms is often sabotaged by the fact that we know how things turn out and the people making the decisions did not.  We can say, knowing what we know in the present, that the rebellion of the Confederate States of America against the United States was a horrible idea, that Somaliland had no business joining greater Somalia and that it would only lead to tragedy, and that the love life of even a young Nathan was too unsuccessfully and too publicly so to be ignored, but had to be dealt with in the face of unfriendly attention by others.  We make our decisions in ignorance of how things will turn out.  It may be somewhat mature of someone as a teenager to wish happiness even for a young woman who is not interested in him despite his interest in her, but it is tragic when the same thing is going on twenty years later with little improvement.  It may be idealistic for a nation to join in a union with a neighbor of similar ethnic origin but different colonial history but it is tragic when that idealism is crushed by dictators and viewed by the international community that one is unworthy of having one’s separate nationhood back.  It is all well and good for one to place one’s lives and sacred honor and one’s corrupt social institutions at risk in order to win a war for independence until the God of Battles decides to reject one’s appeal to heaven and leaves one’s homeland and evil civilization in ruins, with only one’s stubborn pride to keep going in the face of disaster.  Days gone by will not return again, and one cannot undo the mistakes of the past.  The melancholy course of human history makes fools out of most of us in time, if we have long enough to watch it happen.

[1] See, for example:






[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/06/26/today-in-history-on-june-26-1960-somaliland-become-an-independent-nation-for-the-first-time/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/05/18/today-in-history-on-may-18-1991-somaliland-became-a-nation-for-the-second-time/

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Book Review: Jesus And The Jewish Roots Of The Eucharist

Jesus And The Jewish Roots Of The Eucharist:  Unlocking The Secrets Of The Last Supper, by Brant Pitre

I have some deeply mixed feelings about this book, but ultimately while I found that the author’s perspective as a Catholic made this a less than enjoyable book to read at parts (and a deeply but unintentionally humorous book to read at other parts), I feel on balance that this book does a good job at pointing to the continuity of scripture and the biblical nature of the NT Passover [1] even if the author fails to take some of the obvious implications of what he writes about here concerning the continued validity of the biblical festivals for Christians today.  Yet although the author does not follow the implications of his research concerning the Jewish roots of the NT Passover and adopts Catholic language that will be alienating to many readers, this book is a worthwhile one in support of the continued keeping of the biblical Holy Days, and especially of the vital importance of understanding the biblical as well as the Second Temple context when it comes to viewing the behavior of the early Church of God.

In about two hundred pages, the author shows a reasonable command of the relevant sources about the Jewish context of early Christianity, even if he gives far too much credence to Jewish myths in the Mishnah and Talmud.  The first chapter of the book looks at the mystery of the last supper, particularly relating to the Jewish prohibition on eating blood.  The second chapter looks at the kind of Messiah that Jews were waiting for, correcting some misconceptions about the Jews only looking for a political messiah.  The third chapter looks at the NT Passover in light of the practice of the Jews at the time of Jesus.  After this, the author looks at the manna of the Messiah, which is followed by a passage of the bread of presence which shows the author attempting to conflate all kinds of references to bread to the same observance.  The sixth chapter of the book looks at the likelihood that Jesus did not drink the fourth cup because He was giving his blood as an offering and thus had to inaugurate an incomplete festival in order to serve as the Passover Himself.  The eighth chapter provides a look at the Jewish roots of Christian faith and points out that the Pascha refers to the Passover, even attempting to score some points by labeling the symbolic interpretation of Protestants concerning the bread and wine as being tied to gnostic practices.

In reading this book I was struck by how insistent the author was concerning the “real” presence of the blood and body of Jesus Christ in the wine and bread that serve as two of the principal symbols of the New Testament Passover.  I would argue that the presence of Jesus Christ is real but it is spiritual and not physical.  I would also note that the Bible has specific commandments about the unleavened bread for the Passover that the Catholic Church totally fails to uphold in their counterfeit Eucharist.  Where this book breaks down is in the disconnect between the author’s knowledge of the Bible and the practices of Second Temple Judaism and the disconnect between the biblical practice of the Holy Days like the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread practiced by the early Church of God and the total failure of the Roman Catholic Church to practice in a biblical manner.  This book would have been a lot more consistent had it been written by someone who was not under the delusion that the Catholics practice biblical Christianity, but even with its inconsistencies there is a lot to appreciate here by those whose practice of the NT Passover allows them to avoid the author’s errors.

[1] See, for example:






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Book Review: The Case For Jesus

The Case For Jesus:  The Biblical And Historical Evidence For Christ, by Brant Pitre

As someone who is no stranger to reading apologetic works like this one [1], I found this book interesting and worthwhile for several reasons, although I must admit I am not as enthusiastic about some of his other books where his Catholic perspective is a bit stronger (like his book on the whore of Babylon, for example).  Even so, this was a book that hit a certain sweet spot that makes a book enjoyable to read, and that is a work that presents a thoughtful case for Christ based on the evidence that also takes seriously the Hebrew thought of the early Church of God.  Even if this author does not share that perspective, it is worthwhile at least to note that he celebrates and presents that understanding in a way that is appealing to read and which is quite excellent to contrast with the approaches taken by other contemporary Christian apologists, few of whom have a great interest in the perspective of the Hebrew scriptures on such matters as the Messiah and why it was that Jesus Christ was considered guilty of blasphemy.

This book totals about 200 pages, a pretty standard length for an easy-to-read volume of this type, and contains a baker’s dozen of chapters that deal with various matters about the historical and biblical case for Jesus Christ.  The author begins with a discussion of the quest for the historical Jesus and for the author’s own personal quest for belief through the course of his education.  After that the author asks the question of whether the Gospels were anonymous, finding no anonymous copies of the Gospels whatsoever, but rather finding that the four Gospels of our scripture are uniformly given the titles that we have them (or abbreviations thereof).  The author then turns his attention to the writings of various ante-Nicene church fathers (showing his Catholic perspective in an appealing form here) while looking critically at the so-called Lost Gospels.  The author then looks at the genre of the Gospels as biographies, and discusses the dating of the Gospels as being before the destruction of the Temple.  It is at this point that the author shows his most interesting line of evidence by looking at Jesus’ messianic claims and their Hebrew context, which can be found in all of the Gospels and not only John.  After this the author looks at the crucifixion, resurrection, and transfiguration, presenting a solid book that is immensely enjoyable for a believer to read.

Where this book excels the most is in exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of so much of the critical impulse of self-professed scholars when it comes to examining the biblical record.  By looking at what the self-professed Christian writers of the early centuries of Christianity said about texts which we can read for ourselves in translation today, we can see that there was no widespread conspiracy against valid forms of Christianity, but rather a strong Christian hostility to pseudonymous works and a high degree of concern for eyewitness testimony as well as high standards of historicity, which one finds in the Gospels as a whole.  The author shows himself to be knowledgeable in matters of textual criticism to a high degree, and it is inspirational that he managed to survive as a faithful person in the sort of environment that tends to cause so many others to lose their faith because of corrupt instruction by those who should know better but do not when it comes to God’s word and its reliability.  For those who are at least somewhat sympathetic to an understanding of the Hebrew scriptures and their viewpoint as well as to a historical look at the church fathers of late antiquity, this book is definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

[1] See, for example:













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A Long Chain Of Influence

From time to time I ponder the long and indirect way that influence spreads from one person to another.  This is especially worthwhile to trace in the world of thought, since people to read books are often influenced by those books and may act or write in such a way that they influence others in later generations, and so on and so forth [1].  I would like to begin with a discussion of one of the more unusual examples of this as a model for how this process works.  About 2500 years ago or so there lived a man named Mencius whose writings discussed the legitimacy of Chinese rulers using a construct known as the Mandate of Heaven.  The idea was that the virtue of rulers depended on the circumstances that took place during their rule, and that if a ruler or a ruling dynasty was beset by endless disasters, then someone else was justified to rule in their place.  When Chinese philosophy became important in Enlightenment Europe, this construct was modified and eventually came to justify the revolt of first the American colonists in 1776 and then French and Haitians and many others since then.

To be sure, Mencius had no conception of how his idea could be applied to other countries, and the American revolutionaries (to say nothing of those inspired by them) may not have been precisely aware of the Chinese context of their justification for revolt.  During the 18th century, the regimes of the European world (and in many other places) justified their behavior and their position based on a view of having divine right to rule.  Their reading of Romans 13, for example, was a bit defective in that they did not take God’s judgment seriously or their role as servants of God who had been appointed as his viceroys to act against criminal behavior, but the fact that they appealed to religious (and other) justifications for their rule is not particularly surprising.  Those who desire to rebel against government face some difficulty in that religious texts tend to be pro-authority, and other nations tend by nature to be pro-authority as well because supporting rebellion, even against an enemy or rival nation, can backfire (as it did with the French after the American Revolution) in encouraging one’s own oppressed people to rise up in revolt.  There is no shortage of people who either because of oppressive conditions or their own ungovernable natures seek to rise up against those who have been placed over them.  These people also tend to see themselves as having a claim to rule over others, even as they have cast off rule over themselves, and gaining legitimacy is such a vital task that few texts, regardless of their provenance, will be rejected if they can provide some help in providing legitimacy.

Influence does not need to proceed in such a fashion, though, where there is a conscious adaptation of the justifications of others to one’s own situation, and where that justification then is passed to others who can read it and adapt it to their own conditions.  At times, influence can even take place where someone is directly hostile to the source that is unbeknownst to them influencing them.  I have found this in my research as well and consider it a fascinating phenomenon and one that is worth exploring a bit.  Let us consider another example, one involving various laws of success.  Human beings from time immemorial have longed to uncover various “laws” that would guarantee them what they want.  They have wanted to know a code, or master a superstition or rhythm or pattern of life that would guarantee them success and happiness in their lives, and this magical thinking has carried on long after the original pagan religious justifications of this have been submerged deep into the sands of time.  Even to this day one has to play whack-a-mole with much myths as a supposed “secret” law of attraction or people peddling one version or another of some sort of laws of success that will guarantee well-being regardless of circumstances.

Of course, no such laws exist.  We may concede that there are ways that one can behave, individually as well as collectively, that tend to lead to greater success in life and greater happiness for a wide variety of people, but it is not entirely certain and there are plenty of second-order effects.  One can be honorable and conscientious in one’s duties and find that one lives in a corrupt regime and one’s honor becomes a negative rather than a positive.  Or one can find that, as was the case with Job, that one’s righteous and godly life made one the subject of a dare between God and Satan by which you were tested despite not being at fault.  We know, of course, that Job was blessed afterwards, but that was not understood until after the trial was done.  And, as Hebrews 11 reminds us, there are all kinds of people who have suffered of whom the world is not worthy.  We may be included among that number–this life is not just.  Indeed, it is only the presence of the world to come with both judgment and blessings that makes this life possible for many people to endure because of its injustices, both injustices that we suffer and those we inflict upon others.

And yet the influence of God on mankind is far more subtle even than the influence of mankind on others.  Divine providence is an immensely tricky matter, all the more so because if mankind is free to make decisions and responsible for the decisions made, then God’s workings must be done in a way that respects human choice.  Rain falls upon the just and the unjust, and their crops are watered side by side.  Towers do not fall only on wicked inhabitants of cities, but on relatively blameless ones as well.  It is not only the unrighteous Gallileans who are skewered by soldiers but ordinary ones who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  God promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love God but does not promise that all things that happen to the blessed will be good things.  How are we influenced to rise above the circumstances we face, even when those circumstances encourage some to rebel against all authority and others use physical circumstances as a way of trying to divine one’s spiritual health, both of which are wicked but widespread human tendencies?  To resist such tendencies we must have an influence working within us that can overcome the pull of our fallen and corrupt human nature, a godly leavening spreading through the lump unlike the leavening of wickedness that is all too widespread in our world wherever we turn our heads.

[1] See, for example:





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Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East:  Where Are…Persia, Babylon, and the Ottoman Empire, by John Davenport

Part of a series devoted to teaching children historical geography [1], this book reminds us that among the most important part of a historical and geographical history is the geography.  Maps are rather important when one is trying to show how geographic conceptions change over time, and this book does a terrible job at such maps.  Examples abound.  On page 38 of this book for example, the author manages to drastically understate the expanse of the Chaldean Empire.  Page 15 shows a map of Alexander’s route that fails to include his route to Alexandria or through Central Asia after the battle of Guagamela.  Page 78 of this book shows a map of Muslim predominating countries that does not include Albania or Bangladesh, which is a pretty notable failing.  Examples could be multiplied, as nearly every map in this book has some kind of error, ranging from minor map errors to more serious ones that give a mistaken view of the history that the author is trying to present.  If you can’t get the maps right, you have no business writing a book that seeks to educate young people about the course of history in an important region of the world like the Middle East.

This book’s take on the history of the Middle East is remarkably selective.  Admittedly, one cannot cover thousands of years in history in an area as dynamic as the Middle East without some selectivity, but this book’s approach is baffling, beginning with the third battle between Alexander and the Persian armies, at Guagamela, and then moving to a look at ancient Mesopotamia, the Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Empires, Alexander’s empire and the fight between the Romans and Parthians, then a look at the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires and a look at the rise of Islam and the Ottoman Turks.  The book inclines a timeline as well as some of the works consulted, which appear insufficient to write a book like this one.  Be that as it may, at least with this book the history is not as inaccurate as some of the other volumes in this series have been and the reader of this book should at least be interested in the history of the ancient Near East, which is generally a good thing to be interested in [2].  There are far worse books about the Middle East that one could read.

In reading this book, I feel like I am giving it faint praise, but my feelings on this book are deeply mixed.  On the one hand, I think the author does a good job at presenting the history of the Middle East in such a way that an interested reader would find much of interest to spur on further reading and research in the subject, which I wholeheartedly recommend.  I like the fact that the Middle East is counted as its own region instead of split apart among continents where its coherence would be minimized.  That said, it’s hard to get beyond how consistently bad this book’s maps are, both from an aesthetic perspective as well as from a factual one.  The book fails in an essential aspect of historical geography, namely the geographical part, even as it is a modestly successful work as a history for young readers.  With more attention paid to accurate maps, this is a book that I might be able to support, but as it stands I feel it necessary to give this book a negative review, and instead recommend that someone trying to encourage geographic literacy about the Middle East pick up one of the better biblical historical encylopedias and explain the maps for oneself.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:





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Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America:  Where Are…Gran Colombia, La Plata, and Dutch Guiana, by Earle Rice Jr.

This book is part of a series [1] of books that seeks to instruct late elementary school to middle school readers on the political and geographic history of various regions of the world.  For many readers, it is likely to be their first or one of their first introductions to these three disciplines (political history, geographic history, and regional geography), and one could wish that these were better books.  Admittedly, I am not the target audience for this book, but perhaps historically literate adults should read books like this to realize the extent to which the historical education of children does not receive a high enough priority from writers.  If genuinely knowledgeable people will not deign to do such work, it will be left to hacks like the author of this book who do a terrible job at providing factual information or maps that are worthy visualizations of history.  When nearly every map in this book is flawed or erroneous in some way and when the author makes basic errors about the history of the region, there is a lot about this book that screams for the need for quality control.

The contents of this book are pretty basic, but the same time pretty haphazard as well, starting with Columbus’ explorations in the Caribbean and then moving to Mexico, Brazil, the Guianas, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina.  The book contains a timeline, as well as some frequently ambiguously or terribly drawn maps, of which nearly all of them are at least problematic.  The author, perhaps unsurprisingly, focuses attention on a few moments of history, like the age of conquest/exploration, the period when the region fought for its independence, and then the more troubled period of the 20th century.  It is not so much that a lot of history is left out–it is not difficult to think of information that this book does not include that it could easily include, although a short list could include the horrible conditions at Potosi, for example, or just about anything relating to Guyana, Paraguay, Belize, and so on.  This is an interesting part of the world and the author barely scratches the surface of what makes the area such a compelling and interesting one to read about and visit.

But more than what this book leaves out, it is the book’s inaccuracies and bias that are even more irritating.  The author repeats the cliche about Christopher Columbus coming from Genoa, which is likely not even true given his linguistic limitations in the Italian language.  He was quite possibly a converso, which is all the more interesting [2].  Even more ominously, the author appears to have a love affair with communist revolutionaries like Che Guevara, which gives this book an unsettling historical angle that makes it all the more inappropriate to teach to children.  This is the sort of book that should remind adults of the importance of checking out books for kids and ensuring that such books teach a proper historical perspective.  All too often charlatans and hacks write to kids because factual accuracy is considered less of a concern and indoctrinating children to a mistaken view of history is such an important matter for people with certain political views.  This book does capture the change in geography over time based on historical matters, but it is unfortunately not the sort of book that makes for edifying and educational reading for the young based on its factual inaccuracies as well as its ideological bias.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:




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Shall I Compare Thee To A Winter’s Night?

I am often deeply amused by what I see around me, and a great deal of that relates to what we are used to.  Shakespeare, for example, in one of his sonnets, compared someone to a summer’s day in the following language:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee [1].

There is a lot, for example, in this sonnet that is not said.  It is telling that in the interpretations of this sonnet that much depends on who one assumes the sonnet is being directed to.  As Shakespeare did not organize his sonnets together nor, so far as we know, provide an explanation for them, we are left to our own devices when it comes to interpreting the sonnet, and what we interpret about the sonnet tells us much about ourselves.  Some, for example, speculate to great lengths about supposed homoerotic tendencies within the sonnet, while others claim that the sonnet was directed to a lady.  The poem itself is ambiguous; it does not specify to whom it was directed, and indeed in the cultured milieu of his time and place it may have been a particularly negative thing for the subject of the poem to have been too obvious or too well known.  Shakespeare, of course, was a married man during the time the sonnets were written, in a world of writers who were notoriously immoral, as many writers have been throughout time–though not all of us, thankfully.  Whoever the author was writing to, there would have been reason for someone to criticize him or worse.  Ambiguity is the defense of someone who does not want to be understood, and in this case we may assume that Shakespeare only wanted at least part of his poem to be understood by the subject of the poem, about whom we have few details except an impression of youth and beauty.

As might be expected, this poem has been parodied.  One poem I particularly appreciate is the following:

Shall I compare thee to a winter’s night?
Like icy snow, the blistering winds doth blow,
Thou art just as cruel, and filled with spite.
Those cold, cruel seeds reaped, in thy soul hath sowed.
Snowflakes fall in attempt to disguise it;
To conceal the menace with pretty lies.
You too, have done likewise, yet won’t admit
The storm that drips snowflakes, from its black skies,
Icy blue eyes, hair like night, and pale skin
Conceived by a blizzard, shaped by the ice.
Thou hath no goal, but for vengeance to win.
Words sting like ice shards, stare seeks to entice.
So long as the earth turns, and man can read
So lives this cruel ode, this cruel ode indeed [2].

While I am certainly no stranger to writing poetry myself [3], I have not generally seen Shakespeare’s poetry as something to parody.  I have written my own sonnets (and other types of poems) in my own voice for my own purposes about my own reflections and observations on the passage of time and death and gloominess and loneliness and other subjects that I can relate to particularly well.  And yet not everyone waxes poetic when it comes to reflecting on the winter and on the icy, chilly blasts we get either from winter storms or from particularly chilly and frigid people whom it is our misfortune to wish to warm up with the flames of love.  And yet people do share the qualities that days have.  A day like this one is full of awkwardness, in trying to make our way along the crunchy ice and fallen snow without slipping and injuring ourselves.  We walk uncertainly, drive uncertainly, and many will try to strenuously avoid doing either of those two things for fear of injuring themselves and others and destroying their property and that of others.  And yet most of us find our way through such circumstances well enough and do not manage to cause trouble for ourselves and others except for the concern and anxiety while we are out and about.

If we sought to compare someone to a winter’s night, what part of that night would we compare it to?  Would we compare it to streets bereft of drivers and only the rare, timid pedestrian who is trying to travel someone with as little fuss as possible?  Would we compare it to the beauty of snow falling outside a window like it falls from a snow globe?  Would we compare it to the cuteness of snowmen with carrots for noses and snazzily dressed in nice hats with scrawny sticks for arms?  Would we compare it to the icy blast of a cold wind chilling us to the bone if we are unfortunate enough to be caught outside on the way from house to car or car to work or some other place?  What comparisons we make, what aspects of a winter’s evening we think of and reflect upon, tell others about ourselves and about what we notice and what details we consider the most salient when reflecting upon ourselves or someone else or life in general.  Just as what we see in what others have written tells others about us by virtue of how we interpret a given ambiguous text–and, to let you in on a trade secret among writers, any worthwhile text is going to be ambiguous in at least some fashion–what we write down in texts does tell others a lot about ourselves, but not always what others see.  Sometimes, the truth meaning of what we write and how we live is a mystery to ourselves and to everyone we encounter, and is only known to God above.  Most of us, though, leave clues like the footsteps in the snow that show the path of someone who walked in the snow and left a mark that will melt away only with the heat of day.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet_18

[2] http://www.powerpoetry.org/poems/shall-i-compare-thee-winters-night-parody-shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-summers-day

[3] See, for example:









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