Album Review: Natural History: The Very Best Of Talk Talk

Natural History:  The Very Best Of Talk Talk, by Talk Talk

When Talk Talk released the not particularly commercial Spirit of Eden in September 1988, their label EMI/Parlophone responded to it three ways.  One, they sued Talk Talk for having made a deliberately impossible album to sell.  Two, they dropped the band from their label.  Three, they released this album, a best-of collection that eventually got to fourteen tracks taken from four studio albums and one live album that had yet to be released when it was released on cd.  Many American fans will likely only be familiar with the group’s only Top 40 American Hit “It’s My Life,” but this album makes it very clear that there is a lot more than that as far as great material is concerned, and this is a solid best-of collection that can be easily enjoyed by new fans as well as old fans.  Looking first at the group’s first four studio albums and then live material over the course of the 1980’s, this is a beautiful collection that looks at some singles and some deep cuts from a band that has been criminally overlooked by a great many people who think about the music of the 1980’s, because it was recorded by a band that definitely took an unusual path.

The songs included in this album are as follows.  From debut album The Party’s Over comes Today and Talk Talk.  After that comes a loose single in the excellent My Foolish Friend.  From second album It’s My LIfe comes Such A Shame, Dum Dum Girl, and the title track.  From my favorite studio album of the group comes Give It Up, Living In Another World, Life’s What You Make It, and Happiness Is Easy.  From Spirit Of Eden comes I Believe In You and Desire.  And then from London 1986 comes a live version of Life’s What You Make It and Tomorrow’s Started.  The end result is a pleasant blend of songs provided in a chronological fashion that gives a fair idea of the scope of the work the band did and may encourage listeners to check out other material–of which I particularly recommend The Colour Of Spring and Spirit of Eden among the albums sampled here as they show the band’s mature vision in ambitious form, more accessible in The Colour Of Spring and then more daring and experimental in Spirit of Eden, but great in both.

Even though there is definitely a growth that one seeks over the course of Talk Talk’s career, at the same time there is a sense of melancholy and poignancy in the music and lyrics of the songs of the band that continues through their entire discography.  Whether one reflects on the broken relationship portrayed in “Talk Talk” or the discussion of “My Foolish Friend” or the frustration with the group trying to seize control of their band and their lives increasingly as their career went on, there is a darkness to much of the band’s material.  To be sure, in The Colour Of Spring this dark mood is undercut with songs like “Happiness Is Easy” and “Life’s What You Make It,” but even so it is optimism that is hard-won and honest about the difficulties of life.  And later in the group’s career their music would become increasingly haunted.  There are also some jazz influences that one hears throughout the band’s career as well, demonstrating that even if their overall sound palette changed and got much more spare and filled with meaningful silences, there was still a lot that could be found and appreciated in the group’s music as a whole, and this album shows that.

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On The Difference Between A Victim And A Martyr

What is the difference between a victim and a martyr.  Our age is fond of labeling large swaths of people as victims.  Blacks are victims of some imaginary system of systemic racism that keeps them down.  Addicts are victims of their own neural pathways that tell them that destructive substances and habits are good for them, and they are powerless to escape the grips of their neuropathologies.  People who do not like to deal with the awkwardness of those around them are victims of microaggressions, and need safe spaces free of those who would confront their worldview or behavior.  Previous generations were less enamored with the idea of victim and instead focused on the question of martyrs, writing huge books on those who had given their lives for noble causes and thus benefited the world through their choice of the noble in the face of great persecution and death.  We do not hear so much of martyrs in our age and hear a lot about victims.  This is one of the many ways which shows ours to be an age of decline and decadence.  What it is that separates the two, though?

At the heart of the matter, the difference between a victim and a martyr is agency.  A martyr chooses a course of action–one that is right and good and noble–in the face of danger knowing that the results could be painful and even fatal.  The decision to be a martyr is the result of deliberate steps that one has taken with sometimes predictable results.  An Edmund Campion, for example, goes into an England with violently hostile laws and knows that he will likely be found and tortured and put to death and does so anyway.  A whole slew of pietistic faiths base their ambivalent attitude towards involvement with the political and social systems of a frequently hostile world to a lengthy tradition of martyrdom at the hands of corrupt and intolerant civic authorities, and yet choose to hold to belief systems that they know to be out of step with the corrupt society around them.  A martyr knows that the times are evil and dangerous and does what is right despite the fact that this brings the risk of being targeted by that evil.  And thus persecution and tribulation are not a surprise to a martyr but rather a sign that one is doing the right thing and will receive a blessing in heaven as just recompense for one’s present sufferings, and even that the world may be bettered by the example of fortitude and courage in the face of trouble.

A victim has no such agency.  Instead, a victim is helpless and lacking in agency and is simply an innocent bystander in the great events going on.  A martyr has strength in knowing that present suffering is connected to future glory and that to the extent that we suffer for righteousness sake we share in the experience of our Lord and Savoir on this earth who also suffered to the point of death for the sake of righteousness and who sits in glory at the right hand of Our Heavenly Father.  A victim has no such consolation because there was no decision made to stand up in the face of danger and no connection between present suffering and future glory.  Thus while martyrology leads one to an understanding of the redemptive path of suffering, for victims suffering is simply unjust and intolerable and without purpose or meaning.  The results of this are lamentable but predictable in that victims see no way out of the suffering except to turn those who supposedly have victimized them into victims themselves.  They project their lack of agency on those who have supposedly done them wrong and believe that justice demands an overturning of the system to assuage the feelings of weakness and powerlessness that come from being victimized.  And so the victim becomes the abuser in the guise of the social justice warrior.

How is it that a victim can regain one’s agency without giving into the dark side of the search for power to torment one’s tormentors and further increase the amount of evil and violence that exists?  What is necessary for the victim to regain agency is not power, but rather insight.  There are many layers that this insight can take.  For example, we may see that life in a world that has devoted itself to rebellion against God and against God’s ways is dangerous and that we may occasionally suffer from life in such an evil place.  We may, if we are wise, recognize that we are of the same sort of human nature as those who have abused us and that we have the same potential for darkness and evil inside of us that others have, and this may moderate our own pride and self-regard and lead us to restrain our conduct so that we do not do unto others what has been done unto us, as we are well acquainted with the horrors that unrestrained evil can bring into the troubled and tormented minds of survivors.  This insight restores to us our agency, our realization that we must control ourselves, and that those who seek after the power to exploit and take advantage of others do so out of weakness and not out of strength and that there is a better way for us to follow, and this connections our present suffering to future glory and to a vision of a better and non-exploitative world to come while reminding us that we are imperfect and flawed beings ourselves.  Therefore let us no longer be victims.  If we must suffer, let our suffering be part of a larger context in which we know that the sufferings of this present existence are not worthy of being compared to the glory that is to come, as part of a story that has an ending we know in advance, that we win, and that no evil will be allowed to survive into the world to come, not even the evil inside of ourselves.

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Book Review: Franco (Profiles In Power)

Franco (Profiles In Power), by Sheelagh Ellwood

This book does not really need to exist.  I tend to question the sanity, as well as the wisdom, of someone who writes an obvious hackjob of a biography of someone for whom they have no respect or sympathy.  To understand someone, we need to come to grips with how they saw themselves and how they lived, and to do that task well requires that we have at least some insight into their lives and some respect for their approach.  Most biographies, especially the better ones, are written by people who can deeply identify with someone and their struggles and their overcoming of obstacles.  The author has no such insight and no such identification with the subject.  This is a book about Franco that is written by and for the sort of leftists who write and read with pleasure the garbage that is written so commonly about the Spanish Civil War, and as a result this book falls far short of the standard of a competent biography and can only be recommended to people who want to confirm their own narrowly left-wing view and fail to recognize Franco’s achievement in keeping the right united in Spain and in crushing the wicked anarchists, socialists, and Communists who sought to destroy Spain.

This book is about 250 pages or so and it is a bit of a chore to get through, it must be admitted, because of the author’s consistent negativity about the subject matter.  By and large, this book is a chronological discussion of Franco’s life and the afterlife of his regime.  The author begins with a preface and a glossary.  After that she discusses his early life and education in the army (1) as well as his shaping experiences in Africa and back in mainland Spain (2).  There is a look at his ambivalent experience within the Spanish Republic (3) as well as a discussion of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War (4).  The author discusses the peace that followed Franco’s victory (5) and his successful efforts to keep Spain neutral during the Second World War (6).  The author then discusses Franco’s successful efforts to portray himself as an anti-Communist leader in the Cold War (7) while living his twilight years in a period of struggle to try to preserve his regime after his death (8).  The book ends with a look at the beginning of the post-Franco era (9) before there is a chronology, bibliographical essay, a map of Spain and Morocco, and an index.

What is most striking about this book is the absolute failure on the part of the author to understand his subject.  When one is dealing with people whose lives were lived in the public sphere, one has to account for their behavior, but in order to understand such people one needs to have at least some degree of sympathy for them.  That is precisely what this author is entirely missing and as a result, this book reads like the blog posts of someone on Daily Kos trying to understand a conservative politician.  Having a lack of empathy or sympathy for someone who we try to write about is fatal because the purpose of such a writing is to get inside the head of someone and to convey their life and its worth, and if one does not believe that someone’s approach had worth and if one cannot understand why it is that they thought and behaved as they did and why it is that they succeeded and were able to inspire and motivate others, then why should anyone care about your own opinion as a whiny and not particularly insightful biographer?  The writer should have stuck to writing about the losers of the Spanish Civil War, because at least here the author would have been dealing with people for whom sympathy was present, and thus there might have been the chance of conveying some spark of the life that is being written about.

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Book Review: Franco: A Biography (Fusi)

Franco:  A Biography, by J. Fusi

This book is sort of the middle ground when it comes to biographies that one would expect about a man like Francisco Franco.  Some biographies view Franco as a great man and take his claims to have saved Spain from the horrors of the left at face value.  Other biographies of his are written by people who hate him and delight in the way that Franco’s regime was unable to survive his death.  This book takes a more complex and more nuanced view of Franco and is certainly fascinating both for its evident sympathy with Franco’s efforts as well as in the realization that it is hard to guarantee the stability of regimes in a nation like Spain.  If Franco was able to provide some sort of stability during the course of his lifetime to Spain, it was because he was able to join together disparate factions of people who all agreed that he was a better option than the sort of chaos that had plagued Spain for a long time.  And even if Franco’s regime did not long outlive him, it did apparently remind the Spanish of the need for government to seek the well-being of all as he did and not engage in the sort of beggar thy neighbor actions that led to the Spanish Civil War in the first place.

This book is a relatively short one at less than 200 pages long and it is divided into eight chapters.  The book begins with a preface and an introduction.  After that the author looks at the decisive aspect of Franco’s military education and early time in Morocco as shaping his approach to warfare (1).  After that the author looks at his experiences in the late Spanish Republic and Spanish Civil War (2) as well as his adroit diplomacy between the Nazis and Western powers (3).  The author then discusses Franco’s positioning of himself as the sentry of the Western world against Communism (4) and his politics that sought to gain favor from Muslim powers as well as the Vatican (5).  After that the author examines the thorny question of what happens after Franco, something that was openly discussed as Franco got older (6).  This leads to a discussion of his last few years of life and the rise of Spanish sectionalist violence (7).  Finally, the author discusses Franco’s agony and death (8), after which there are notes, a bibliography, a note on terms, a glossary, a chronology of events, and an index.

Franco’s life is an interesting one to study in large part because he was able to play such an outsized role in the history of the 20th century.  Although Spain was by no means a powerful country during the 20th century, Spain was able to use its resources and its strategic position under Franco to gain influence with other nations and ensure its own domestic tranquility by adroit diplomacy and Franco had a lot to manage between the struggle over Fascism, where he was fascism-adjacent but not Fascist, the Cold War, where he had impeccable anti-Communist credentials and was able to capitalize on the lack of coercion that the Western democracies were willing to do to enforce a leftist regime on Spain during the Civil War or during the Cold War when any anti-Communist ally was generally accepted on an as-is basis.  It is a great shame that Franco was unable to figure out a way for his regime to endure on a non-personal regime, but being able to ensure decades of domestic tranquility while the nation changed around him was an achievement that few Spanish statesmen of the 19th and 20th century can claim, least of all those who had to deal with civil war and the anarchy of the Spanish Second Republic.

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Book Review: Francisco Franco (Arraras)

Francisco Franco, by Joaquin Arraras

This biography is a fascinating one in large part because it was written and published in 1938 in England while Franco was in the process of leading the Nationalist side to victory in the Spanish Civil War but before that war was over.  Most of the time retrospectives like this one are done to discuss the value and worth of someone’s life in the period after their death.  But no, this book was written before Franco had accomplished the task of his life in bringing Spain under orderly rule for decades in the aftermath of a brutal Civil War of the sort that some nations have good reason to fear.  In fact, this book is laudatory enough to its subject that I do not believe such a work could be easily be published today, given the near unanimity on the part of leftist academics in the evil that was represented by Franco’s efforts and instead trumpets the doomed cause of the leftist coalition of anarchists, socialists, and Communists with whom I have zero sympathy for in Spain or solidarity with in contemporary America.  This book is more or less an effort to help the English public at the time to get to know Franco and his background and it serves the same context for contemporary readers who may not know very much about Franco’s military ethic or the deeper origins of his hostility with the leftists he would eventually vanquish.

This book is about 200 pages long and it focuses on the first part of the subject’s life, entering the Spanish Civil War but not knowing the end and so unable to carry it on.  The author begins with a discussion of Franco’s family background and childhood in Galicia (1) as well as his experiences in Mellila (2), the call to arms in Spanish Morocco (3), and his efforts in the Spanish foreign legion (4).  After that the author spends a great deal of time discussing his efforts to defend Melilla in 1921 (5), defend various blockhouses and convoys (6), reconquer Mellila (7), and help the Spanish military efforts on the road to Annual (8).  The next few chapters continue to discuss his leadership of the Spanish foreign legion (9), relationships with the Spanish political leadership at the time (10), his leadership during a Spanish retreat (11), and the daring landing at Alhucemas (12) that allowed him to be unbowed and unscathed through Spain’s efforts to subdue northern Morocco (13).  After that the author discusses Franco’s leadership of the abortive General Military Academy (14), his troubled relationship with the Spanish republic (15), and his role in putting down the leftist October Revolution in Asturias (16) as well as his rise to the chief of staff (17).  At this point the author discusses Franco’s struggle against the leftist reign of terror (18) in 1936, Franco facing the revolution (19), the explosion as a result of the assassination of a conservative politician (20), his move from the Canary Islands to Morocco (21), and then his victory in the Battle of the Straits against a mutinous leftist Navy (22) to bring his troops from Morocco to Spain (23) and then lead the Spanish Nationalist forces in conquering territory in Spain (24), after which the book ends with some biographical notes.

Overall, this book is highly partisan to Franco in particular and has the feel of one of those “official” biographies that are written to appeal to people at the time and gain political support for the subject’s cause.  In particular, the book tends to short-change the other leaders of the Nationalist side during the Spanish Civil War, most of whom conveniently died through plane crashes while leading their troops, leaving Franco the only leader with a high enough profile to lead his side to victory and then into political power afterward.  The author also appears to be making the implicit case that lengthy leftist political tampering and formative experiences in Morocco hardened Franco into treating the anarchists, socialists, and Communists he opposed in the Spanish Civil War like the revolutionary Moroccan troops that he so successfully opposed.  Perhaps it is not politically correct to think of colonial war as providing the toughening process that leads to success and victory in a Civil War, but the author allows us to make that connection and I think it is wise to do so.  In the end, the author is more of a flagrant partisan of Franco than I even I think is advised, but all the same, it does allow one to see the logic of anti-Marxism and what is necessary to lead successful counter-revolutionry forces, which may be a practical matter before too long.

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Somali vs. Somalian: On The Weaponization Of Identity

We live in a world where identity politics have frequently been a problem and one of the obvious areas where identity politics has helped to lead to the misery of a great many people is the Horn of Africa.  Having long been interested in the tangled politics and identities of this area, I would like to state at the outset that I have a marked bias in favor of the claims of Somalilanders (some of whom appear to call themselves Landers) to have their de facto independence recognized by the global community with all of the responsibilities and blessings that confers.  Be that as it may, this particular post is not about this advocacy [1], but rather about the complications that result from the identity of people being weaponized by failed nation-states in the support of irredentist claims.  To understand the problematic nature of Somalia’s weaponization of the Somali identity, it is worthwhile to examine the stark difference that exists between the ethnic and the national identities present within the Somali people.

As it happens, the Somali are a people that are divided into several clans that live in at least five different nations in the Horn of Africa, not including their diaspora populations in places like Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.  In Africa, the Somali population is concentrated in five nations:  Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  Djibouti, which was once called French Somaliland or the land of the Afars and Issas, Somaliland, which was once British Somaliland, and Somalia, which was once Italian Somaliland, are differentiated at least in part by their distinct colonial history, which has made the Somali populations different enough that they have not cohered well.  Djibouti has never been a part of Somalia proper and Somaliland’s thirty years in Somalia began with lies about power sharing and federalism and ended up in a brutal and destructive civil war that ended up destroying a great deal of Somaliland’s infrastructure and killing many of its people during the last days of the Barre dictatorship.  Those same years found Somalia and Ethiopia fighting over the Ogaden region, where many Somali live in Ethiopia, which was also fought because of Somalia’s irredentist claims and desires to rule over all the Somali people wherever they may be.

The weaponization of the Somali identity is nothing new, then.  Somalia’s desire to conflate their national identity as Somalians with the Somali ethnic identity has led to a great deal of bad blood between Somalia and its various neighbors.  When this is combined with a poor track record of internal government and brutal treatment towards various constituent parts of the Somali nation, like Somaliland, Somalia itself has a rather poor track record and it is quite likely that any part of the Somali people that wants good government will have to get it on their own apart from that charnel house of anarchy.  And that is what makes the weaponization of Somali identity so troublesome, in that it seeks to promote a view that only Somalia, a state incapable of governing itself, is the only fit representative to address the concerns of Somali people who happen to live in nations outside of Somalia’s own borders.

This presents Somalilanders and the Somali people in Kenya and Ethiopia with a difficult challenge.  It is frequently necessary to defend one’s separate identity while also affirming a sense of kinship with other Somali peoples.  This is by no means a unique problem.  German Americans in the 1770’s had to defend their identity as separate from the Hessian mercenaries hired by the King of England to crush the American Revolution, and again in both World Wars in seeking to defend their status as loyal American citizens in the face of German aggression in Europe.  What it means to be Irish-American has been contested by Catholic and Protestant Irish whose opinions towards Great Britain has varied widely.  The Japanese-Americans in World War II had a tragic experience of being in internment camps because of the concern over their loyalty to the United States in World War II.  And so it goes.

What is the solution to such weaponization of identities?  For me, it appears obvious that we need to be able to distinguish between ethnic and national identities where people are seeking to conflate one with the other.  There are some people who claim that while Somali is a recognized identity that Somalian is not.  If that is the case, then such an identity needs to be created in order to separate someone who has a Somali background and someone who claims a citizenship in the nation of Somalia.  Somalia cannot govern itself; it has no business trying to paint itself as the sole legitimate holder of the national aspirations of the Somali people, some of whom are doing quite a bit better without Somalian interference than they would as part of a greater Somalia that would only be more fractious and anarchical than the existing one.  And as bad as things are, let us not seek to make them worse by granting legitimacy to Somalia’s desire to expand without having solved its inabilities to govern itself at its present size.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Q Continuum

The Q Continuum, by Greg Cox

This book is technically three books in one that all deal with a consistent plot involving Captain Picard and his attempts to help his old enemy Q deal with a mysterious enemy from his past at the outer edge of the galaxy.  For those who are fans of the interactions between Q and Picard, this book is certainly an enjoyable one.  It’s by no means a perfect book but it has a lot going for it, even if it does offer some familiar tropes that are a bit tired for some readers–it has the red shirt problem, for example, in seeking to use expendable and little-known characters as cannon fodder to move a story along without having to show too much loss to the more familiar main characters.  In addition, this particular story uses a trope of making biblical religion appear to be ridiculous and false through reviving a character encountered in the Original series with a similar anti-Christian bias.  It is striking that Star Trek depends for its lore on common origin and common ancestry and common law for humanoid beings but rejects the common Creator implied by such a common design throughout creation, and this novel is no different in its polytheistic anarchy with predictable if lamentable results, even if there are elements of this book that are enjoyable.

As mentioned before, this book is a series of three novelas with a total of a bit more than 500 pages of material.  The first one, Q-Space, is the largest, and it finds the Enterprise E in post-series events tasked with going to the edge of the galaxy to see if a hole can be punched in the barrier that separates the Milky Way from other galaxies.  While approaching the barrier the Enterprise comes across an unfriendly but powerful species of gas creatures and Picard is kidnapped by Q, who is married and has a spoiled toddler for a son.  In the second, Q-Zone, the Enterprise manages to escape the gas creatures by hiding in the barrier but that increases the psychic stress that the Enterprise and its crew are under, even as Picard and Q go on a massive visit of Q’s past to see insights on how a dangerous threat can be dealt with before it is too late.  Finally, in Q-Strike, the being known as 0 and Q have a showdown on the Enterprise-E as Picard joins forces with the gas-aliens and the Q to save his crew and save the galaxy from a madman bent on revenge for his exile from the galaxy.

Why was this book written?  What sort of psychic needs does the author have to reject biblical religion while simultaneously arguing for the importance of humans in a universe where there are a lot of powerful beings whose raw strength and length of life far outlast that of humanity.  As human beings we have the simultaneous longing to be like God but to reject God, and until we come to terms with that, what we will get from our fiction that struggles with this tendency is mere wish fulfillment like this novel is.  There is a lot about this novel that shows the author’s interest in higher matters of history and theology but also that show the author’s bad faith when it comes to such issues and the way that fantasy and science fiction sit uneasily with unexamined theological mysteries.  This is a book with a scintillating plot and some interesting contents, but which is sadly overwhelmed in dealing with the larger implications of its material.  As a result this is a book that can be read enjoyably but which does not have the heft that the author clearly wishes with a 500 page volume.

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Book Review: Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook

Star Trek Adventures:  The Roleplaying Game:  Core Rulebook, by various authors

If you have read a lot of core rulebooks for various roleplaying games as I have, this book will be very familiar to you.  As I said, it was a very familiar one to me.  This particular game was organized in order to encourage people to play tabletop roleplaying games based on the Star Trek universe during various periods, and this book seeks to encourage the reader to engage in such games.  Admittedly, compared to some core rulebooks, this one benefits from having a lot of material out there already but the book itself is not particularly interesting or entertaining compared to others of its kind.  This is somewhat regrettable, because compared to many intellectual properties Star Trek has a lot to offer as far as gameplay is concerned.  Some readers may have written their own episodes or come up with their own stories about the universe in which Star Trek is a part and that sort of creative and imaginative effort will help one to better understand and appreciate this game, although admittedly the authors seem to have leaned on the general appeal of the series themselves and not done a lot of work to make the specific book as entertaining and enjoyable as it could have been, and that is somewhat regrettable, sadly.

This book is a long one at more than 350 pages and it is divided into twelve chapters.  The first chapter introduces the game and the Star Trek universe (1).  After that the author discusses the history of the United Federation of Planets, which it presumes the players will be a part of (2), and also discusses the mission and purpose as well as the infrastructure and duties of the game (3).  After that the author discusses basic operations (4) and reporting for duty (5), including the aspects of talents and character creation.  The author discusses the final frontier (6), looking at new worlds, alien encounters, and scientific discoveries and how they affect gameplay.  There is a chapter about social conflict and combat (7) as well as a discussion of the technology and equipment that can be found in the game based on what timeline one chooses to be in (8).  There is a focus on starships, bases, colonies, and rules as well as alien vessels (9) and a discussion of the tasks involved with gamemastering as well (10).  Finally, the book ends with a look at aliens and adversaries (11), a sample rescue mission at Xerxes for readers to follow (12) and then credits and an index.

I could see myself playing this game, and that is enough to give the book some praise, at least.  In reading the book I thought of what it would be like, for example, to be on a supply run to a particular place and to find some notable artifacts that in turn led to a tense diplomatic encounter with another government that allowed for some high-stakes action without violence being involved.  This game, though, appears to short-change that sort of effort given that it privileges a lot of fighting efforts and does not appear to want to think through what a campaign would be like in a more mundane world.  As someone who thinks of logistics as being one of the more fundamental and frequently enjoyable aspects of space travel, and certainly among the most important to the survival of the universe and its people as a whole, I tend to think that it gifts too much of a short shift in many games, which privilege tactics and diplomacy to a lesser extent in particular at the expense of strategy and especially logistics.  Still, at least this game universe allows for the creativity of the people playing and serving as gamemaster and that is perhaps enough to overcome some of the flaws in the approach of the book’s authors.

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Book Review: The Autobiography Of Jean-Luc Picard

The Autobiography Of Jean-Luc Picard:  The Story Of One of Starfleet’s Most Inspirational Captains, by David A. Goodman

I always find it to be deeply interesting when fictional characters end up getting an autobiography that is clearly meant for a wide reading audience.  In this particular case, it appears to be obvious given the context of the book that this book was written in order to provide a context for and even advertisement of the television show Star Trek:  Picard, which focuses on the life of the retired Starfleet captain after his adventuresome career.  For those readers who have not read all of the backstory of Picard, and whose knowledge of him is limited to Star Trek:  The Next Generation as well as the movies, this book offers a summary of Picard’s achievements from his own perspective as well as some context on his earlier career and why it was, for example, that he remained single so long.  We meet plenty of familiar people here and see the small-town politics of an institution like Starfleet as well as examine the complex family background of Picard and how it shaped his own life, frequently for the worse.  As a result, this book, if more strictly a fictional autobiography than an actual one, is no less dishonest for not being about a real character.  Indeed, one of the ways one can tell that this autobiography is not a real one is the willingness of its narrator to admit his own faults.

This book is a reasonably short one at a bit more than 250 pages.  It begins with a foreword from Dr. Crusher that is mostly interrupted by the rantings of Q.  After that the author gives a chronological account of Picard’s life.  We begin with the rivalry between the brothers and the troubled relationship that Picard had with his father.  We discuss his early education and his struggles in Starfleet and his growth in character as he experienced being an officer.  The author makes friends and deals with responsibility and finds himself with a wide variety of choices and options, and sometimes feels himself a bit behind the curve when it comes to career advancement.  Eventually, of course, after some dramatic experiences in many aspects of Starfleet operations, he finds himself the captain of the Enterprise, where we see a familiar perspective of the operations of the ship and his relationships with his officers as we would have seen it in the television series and movies.  After that the author catches the reader up with Picard’s experiences after his time as a captain and how he eventually came to terms with his complex family legacy and learned to enjoy retirement.  And with that, presumably, the book ends where the new series begins.

Is this a worthwhile book?  If you are a fan of Star Trek and have at least some fondness for Jean-Luc Picard as a character, this is certainly an enjoyable book.  It is hard to imagine that one would be a fan of ST:TNG and not be a fan of Picard at least somewhat, and if one is not aware of the new series, this book forms a suitable reminder that Picard’s story is still going on, that he has married Dr. Crusher (spoiler alert) and that he is enjoying a productive retirement reflecting on his life and the choices he has made.  For readers who are less interested in Star Trek itself and more interested in the book as representing the autobiographical form, this book does a good job at showing the way that someone can structure a narrative for their life towards the end of it.  Obviously, it is harder for memoirs and autobiographies written at the beginning or even middle of one’s life to serve as a suitable signpost of one’s life history and the course of one’s existence, but this book does the trick because Picard at this point is pretty old, it must be admitted.

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A School In Self-Government

How does one go about raising human beings who are capable of responsible self-government?  One of the characteristic problems of human history has been that we are hypocritically an order of beings that refuses to be restrained or governed from outside but have been given a sacred charge to bring the earth under our dominion, a task to which we have devoted ourselves to, whether we are religious or not.  We wish to teach but not to taught.  We wish to speak our perspective and our view but not listen to those who disagree.  We wish to rule over the world but resent any sort of government over us.  From a strictly logical point of view, these are fatal contradictions, because they deny the essentially equality of humanity under God that exists.  Yet we do not view ourselves as being equals, but view ourselves as being in the center of space that revolves around us, and we cannot square this subjective feeling of pulling everything into our orbit with the mundane but dispiriting external reality of the delicate dancing and negotiation between equals that is involved in successful living.  How is it that we learn to overcome this innate tendency towards self-serving hypocrisy that is so widespread among contemporary humanity to a degree even higher than its generally high frequency within humanity as a whole throughout our existence?

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch nearly a dozen children and teenagers interacting with each other.  Much of the time those interactions were positive, but one of the more intriguing sights I saw was an older sister who was still nevertheless somewhat small trying to drag around and carry a young sister who did not want it.  In a way, all government starts with self-government, and frequently self-government involves learning how to restrain ourselves from doing evil to others.  After all, to restrain ourselves we must learn that others are beings with their own preferences and their own boundaries that must be respected.  In many ways, though, it is hard for children to learn the respect for the space and boundaries of others when their own space and boundaries are not respected.  A great deal of hostility between siblings could be reduced to the extent that polite requests replaced appropriation, and that the space of one’s bodies was respected as well.  Those who are not used to having their own boundaries respected may frequently adopt a strategy of seeking to gain power and mastery so as to ensure their own personal safety.  A great many people in our present world think that it requires control of the shared space of society to make themselves feel personally safe, even if their attempt to seize control makes other people feel less safe and thus prompts further conflicts.  It is easier for us to restrain ourselves when we learn and grow from how others restrain themselves with regards to us.

One of the aspects of abusive situations in general is that those who are in control of those they do not respect tend to claim to themselves and to others that they exercise tyrannical power because of the unfitness of anyone else to exercise freedom responsibly.  And yet in practice in such an environment it is impossible for anyone to demonstrate fitness so as to make the system less abusive and less tyrannical.  It is easy to command, and difficult to negotiate, and more egalitarian social structures require a lot of hard work in persuasion as well as listening and developing respect for people who think and operate differently from ourselves, which is by no means an easy task.  Ideally, self-government can be taught from a young age in a progressive fashion as mastery of fundamental aspects of self-government and restraint lead to greater responsibilities and freedom until one reaches a level of equality between parent and child, or between ruler an ruled in general.  The proper goal of any just government or authority of any kind is to make itself obsolete by reproducing the self-restraint and mastery of morality that good government operates by in those who are governed, so that they are capable of self-rule and therefore less in need of external coercion and restraint.  The need for increased regulations and an increased burden of enforcing compliance is a sign of failure to educate and inculcate standards of righteous and godly and moral behavior on the part of others, and is not a sign of success in government expanding its mandate.  The expansion of government and intrusiveness is a sign of failure, rather than that of success.  And yet the retraction of government is difficult because it requires trust that is hard to attain in an atmosphere of sullen compliance and resentment.

All harmonious relationships depend on the existence of trust, but to talk about trust and the need for trust is to demonstrate its absence.  When the quiet part has to be said out loud, consensus has broken down and what was formerly tacitly assumed between people has to be spelled out more exactly and communicated more often in an atmosphere of tension and disagreement.  To talk about the desire for self-government and the need to have responsibility and to restrain oneself from exploiting and taking advantage of others is to express that trust has broken down within a system that depends on trust for its successful operation.  And that is what we find all over human institutions.  Ultimately, if we cannot successfully govern ourselves we will find ourselves in conflict with anyone whose responsibility it is to govern ourselves and may all find ourselves the poorer for it.  In times like our own, where the breakdown of institutions is glaringly obvious, the need for self-government is immense, but the task of self-government requires that we be able to enforce our boundaries against others and restrain ourselves from doing evil to others, and both of these tasks are beyond us at present.  And yet mastery of those tasks is necessary if we are to avoid the threats of anarchy and tyranny.  That requires that we engage in the task of creating for ourselves and encouraging the development of others in schools of self-government.

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