Book Review: Indentured

Indentured:  The Inside Story Of The Rebellion Against The NCAA, by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss

This book is written with an obvious intent to shock the reader into a horror at the exploitation of college athletes, mostly from minority and unprivileged backgrounds, by the NCAA.  In my personal case, the big money as well as the exploitation is something I am familiar with [1], and so the shock value was not really a factor in my reading of this particular book.  This book boils down to simple justice–is the NCAA doing justice by having schools and coaches take the spoils for the efforts of young men (and to a lesser extent women) while the athletes are not compensated for it?  The short answer is no, and this book demonstrates through vivid prose and some excellent reportage that the main reasons this has gone on as long as it has is because of the immense power disparity between the two powers and the fact that those who have the government authority to do anything about it have reacted in fear of upsetting the apple cart and entering into the unknown.  The enemy of justice is often not injustice, but rather cowardice and fear, and this book demonstrates those qualities in a frustratingly large degree among those who govern the world of collegiate sports.

In terms of its contents, this book (which is about 350 pages including its two appendices with excellent papers referred to in the main text that show how the NCAA’s systems have more than a little whiff of the plantation) covers a generally chronological look at the problems of the NCAA.  The origins and growth of the NCAA are examined, as are the continual existence of critics and lawsuits, and the immense power for evil of the NCAA is also examined.  Certain leaders in college sports are given immense criticism and the authors show themselves with a consistently and resolutely populist stance in favor of the heavily exploited athletes of revenue sports (namely football and men’s basketball) and the existence of the NCAA as a cartel that keeps them down and exploits them for profit while arguing that there is something grand in amateurism that is worth preserving for the sake and benefit of the athletes themselves, arguments that could almost have been written in the period before the Civil War by slavery apologists.  The authors get a lot of good mileage about labor agitators and lawyers seeking to bring the NCAA to justice in the court system, a process that has unfortunately been very uneven to date.

What is it that someone gets out of this book?  Much depends on whether you are susceptible to the authors’ arguments about justice and fair play, and whether you share their irritation with the frequent desire of judges and other authorities, like the NLRB, in trying to acknowledge what will be just while still trying to find a compromise that would avoid creating too much change in the world of college sports.  The advantage of being an unjust authority in such a circumstance is that any compromise endangers the view that authorities can be just in the face of massive inequalities in power, and makes it far easier for those who are upset with the status quo to demand even more deep changes in order to achieve a greater sense of equity.  This is a book that makes shoe marketers to inner city athletes and labor agitators among the community of collegiate athletes and muckrucking lawyers out to be heroes.  When such people can plausibly be viewed as heroes, the people they are opposed to must be doing something deeply wrong.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Billion-Dollar Ball

Billion-Dollar Ball:  A Journey Through The Big-Money Culture Of College Football, by Gilbert M. Gaul

I found in reading this book that while I appreciated the author’s wit, the author’s politics had a clear negative side for me.  A great deal of the vitriol that the author shows for the context of college football appears to be his socialist leanings and his opposition to capitalism and the workings of college football as a market.  Now, plenty of criticisms could be made about college football [1] and its nature as a cartel, but this author’s problems appear to be of a different nature than my own are.  That does not mean that this is a bad book.  It is, in fact, a pretty good book, and certainly an entertaining read about a corrupt business that takes odd and surprising angles.  That said, everything the author says has to be read with a critical eye, as the author’s worldview and approach are ones that cannot simply be trusted or taken at face value.  If you have critical feelings about college football as a business and the way that academic institutions prostitute themselves for revenue sports, this is a good book to read, but be prepared to have some critical feelings about the author as well.

In terms of its contents, this is a book of slightly more than 200 pages of material that begins with a look at Penn State and the author’s thoughts on real universities.  After that the author bloviates about this being the guilded age of college football and comments that college football is an unusual charity with its demand for seat deposit donations in order for people to obtain season tickets.  The author then turns to a look at colleges paying their coaches not to coach–here’s looking at you, Charlie Weis, who turned the enviable trick of being paid not to coach by both Notre Dame and Kansas.  The author takes a walk through a university campus with someone who is hired to help college athletes go to class and then looks at why the SEC wins at football so much.  The book then closes with a look at how women’s rowing provides key numbers of female athletes to balance out football teams for Title XI purposes and a look at how college presidents fumbled the chance for reform of the athletic systems.  The book then comments on the fate of poor little colleges that spend a lot of money to keep up with the Joneses and notes on sources as well as acknowledgements and an index.

The author clearly prefers an egalitarian model where universities recruit only serious students and eschew the changes that result from corporate sponsorship and fund their sports in an egalitarian fashion.  If we wanted our universities to have a socialist and egalitarian mindset, that would not be a bad thing–clearly the author wishes to be consistent with his worldview, even if it’s one I don’t agree with.  Even for those who do not like the mindset of the author, though, there is clearly something wrong when taxpayers and students are supporting through increased fees mediocre to poor football teams that should be competing on lower and less demanding levels.  The question is, what do we want college football to look like, and who has the power to do anything about it?  So long as people watch games and buy tickets and jerseys and cheer on teams, not much is likely to change.  Whether or not that is a good thing is up to each and every person to decide for themselves.  I see no problem with college football being a big business, so long as we are all aware of the dangers to players and everyone is compensated fairly for their efforts.  The author, though, seems to have a different goal in mind in seeking to delegitimize college sports because it is such a profitable business.

[1] See, for example:

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C=EA2: The Way Forward: A Discussion Of Approaches

[Note:  This post is the prepared text for a discussion given remotely on September 18, 2017.]

A Personal Introduction

I would like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to speak to you all today.  Mr. Crant already introduced me and a little bit about my story in his part of the presentation but I would like to give a little bit more detail about my lengthy period of major depression and the way in which it ended.  Although I have struggled periodically with depression over the course of my life, starting from childhood, my most serious period of depression was between 2006 and 2011.  In late December 2005, my father had a massive stroke that caused serious left-side paralysis and six weeks later, in early February, he died of a heart attack.  After his death, I felt a great deal of depression due to a variety of factors, including the fact that he had died at 59, and I was 24 at the time, and it was the first time I came to grips with the fact that long life was something that I could not personally take for granted in light of some of the similarities between us and between our early childhood [1].

This period of depression lasted for the next five years, during which time there was a significant degree of immense gloominess, along with my first two periods of gout attacks, the first shortly after my twenty-fifth birthday and the next three and a half years later during the first few months of 2010.  By the time I came into contact with Mr. Crant I had moved to Thailand where I worked as a teacher and a missionary to hill tribes teens and young adults in the northeastern part of the country.  Through my discussions with Mr. Crant I reflected on the absurdity of life and the reality that my body had used the period of depression, including its darkest part in 2010, as a way of rest after a prolonged period of stress and difficulty where I had pushed myself to obtain two graduate degrees despite the state of my mental health.  Interestingly enough, my recovery was accompanied by several days of my kidneys passing a particularly foul-smelling urine that appeared to be entirely unrelated to my rather modest diet based on rice and chicken and vegetables.

C=EA2:  A Case Study Approach

The current state of research of this theory is largely based on self-reporting from people like myself that can be considered as a case study approach.  We have stories of depression, therapeutic conversations that help re-orient attention from depression as a crisis to it being a response to the absurdity and difficulty of life that provides a period of rest where recuperation can be undertaken for the stresses of life, and where recovery was accompanied by the body ridding itself of what appeared to be toxins that were associated with the depression, after which there was a restoration to generally neutral to positive feelings.  Since then, I have not had any prolonged period of major depression thus far, and recovery from somewhat low feelings lasting for several days at a time has also been associated by what appeared to be the body cleansing itself of certain toxins.  As of yet I have not been able to have these tested, but that is something that I believe would be worthwhile in the future.

Stories like my own, and that of others, have a certain power to them.  For example, a paper published in the Journal of Behavioral Health Services in April 2011 [2] found a positive role in self-reported mental health measures in predicting functional outcomes for veterans.  It should be noted that just as I have struggled with PTSD since early childhood, so veterans too are often found to struggle with it, and this particular struggle is often related to other mental health issues with anxiety and depression.  Placing one’s story in a context often helps to make it easier to cope with, and it also can provide therapeutic benefit for oneself and for others.  Although this approach is qualitative instead of quantitative, there are positive results from being able to express one’s story and share it with others and also to gain insights from the stories of others, especially where there are similar patterns that may be recognized between a variety of self-reported stories.

Nevertheless, there are some limitations in reliance upon self-reporting and the case study approach.  An oft-repeated truism is that correlation is not causation, and there are limits to the evidence that can be gathered when one is limited to the case-study approach.  Questions of mechanism as well as numerical data are difficult to determine, and there can be a certain vagueness that comes from only being able to express one’s experience in a story without there being any data that can be aggregated together and analyzed in detail as part of experimental research.  In that light, one could see the efforts at helping people who have prolonged and/or deep periods of major depression ought to take advantage of as many approaches as possible, both qualitative approaches that allow them to report on their own mental and emotional state as well as quantitative approaches that can provide a detailed and data-driven understanding of how the recovery from major depression appears in various measurements.

Suggestions For Future Research

With this in mind, I would like to briefly discuss some suggestions for future research to further integrate this paradigm regarding depression into existing studies.  As many of the cases so far in the body of research that Crant has developed so far in his studies of depression include what appears to be the passing of foul-smelling urine, urine analysis related to the recovery of major depression is an obvious area of potential research.  Such analysis would be able to help relate depression to physical causes related to the chemical contents of the body, and point to the importance of the body’s natural systems in helping to preserve mental health.  Likewise, the existing body of case studies, and further case studies that are undertaken, can be examined using correlational studies that seek to determine the common elements in the story.  If similar processes and events can be found to occur in a sizable body of people recovering from major depression, then it may be possible to find certain avenues of approach for further research that would help to point out the mechanisms by which the body seeks to rest and recover through depression and then is able to rid itself of that which is dragging it down.

On a less chemical and statistical level, we may view the therapeutic efforts of reframing thoughts and ideas about depression as an approach that shows some marked similarities to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a common approach undertaken in various mood disorders like depression and anxiety disorders that seeks to give the mind a greater amount of tools in order to better understand the absurdity of life and the need to be resilient in the face of life’s stresses and difficulties.  Finally, the coincidence of PTSD and depression in athletes and soldiers is something that has been noted in the groundbreaking research on CTE by Dr. Bennet Omalu, most famous for being the doctor who first discovered the problem with repeated brain trauma in sports.  His papers on Chronic Truamatic Encephalopathy in athletes and veterans has suggested that traumatic experiences can cause the development of tau proteins in the brain that are associated with depression and other mental illnesses, which may provide a physiological basis for a great deal of our understanding of PTSD and related mental illnesses.  These are all among the areas where future research may be very profitable.

I thank you all for your time, and I would like to open the discussion to any questions.

[1] See, for example:


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Book Review: Yes, God Is A Mathematician

Yes, God Is A Mathematician:  The World’s Most Ancient Mystery:  The Secret Of Vedas Cracked, by Dhanesh Kumar M.

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This was an interesting book to read.  I don’t think I would consider this a good book, or at least as good a book as the author seems to think it is, but it was a very interesting book.  For the record, I do believe in the mathematical nature of God’s creation and that, properly understood, there is no difference between true science and true religion, and no need for there to be compromise between the two [1].  There is, however, a lot of bad science, and bad philosophy, and bad religion, and this book shows at least some of the last two of those qualities, although not to the extent that it makes this work entirely without pleasure even for a reader like myself that lacks any belief in or a great deal of interest in Hindu religion.  This book is clearly meant at someone who has a high degree of regard in and interest in and knowledge in Hindu religion already and as such I am not the ideal target audience for this book even though I found a great deal of the discussion intriguing if somewhat overblown.

This short book of about 80 pages or so is divided into eight Platonic pseudo-dialogues, and your enjoyment of this book will depend at least somewhat on the ability you have of suspending disbelief that the dialogues are capturing a genuine conversation, or at least a reasonable enough facsimile to buy into it.  The dialogues get longer as the book progresses, and as the author assumes that the reader has bought into it.  The dialogues open with a class introduction that introduces the characters, with the teacher being a likely stand-in for the author.  After this the author discusses the mystery of temple towers, before looking at ancient vedic textual codes.  The teacher then looks at the paradoxical nature of vedic reality before explaining to an eager group of pseudo-students the principles of Vasthusathra.  The final three chapters of the book showcase the author’s attempt to demystify the concept of Mandalas, elucidate the algorithm of the Vasthusathra, and to present a Hindu mathematical nature of reality.  For the vast majority of people, this book will make almost no sense whatsoever, and for those who do understand enough of the book’s context, it will read as if the author is attempting to initiate the reader into a heathen mystery religion.

And it is for this reason that the book struck me as both interesting and ultimately problematic.  As I mentioned earlier, I am someone with a high degree of confidence in God’s mathematical abilities, looking at the degree of highly precise mathematical information that has been encoded in the laws that govern the physical universe as well as the behavior of organisms.  I would have been very pleased with a presentation that discussed the mathematical model of the ancient Hindu peoples, knowing as I do (thanks to my studies of Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek mathematics) of the intricate connection between studies of mathematics and certain heathen worldviews.  That said, I have a strong hostility towards the snobbish and antiegalitarian attitude that undergirds much of the mystery religion approach, whether one looks at the Hindus, the gnostics, or the Masons, and any other number of similar approaches.  This book fails largely because it shows an approach to architecture and life that puts people rigidly into a place and does not allow for growth or improvement.  If there is a spirit at the base of Hindu religion, it is a hierarchical religion of authoritarian demons, and no spirit I want any part of.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Mastery Of Speech: Book Three

Mastery Of Speech:  Book Three:  How To Speak Well Under All Ordinary Conditions, by Frederick Houk Law

As a fond reader of forgotten books, I often find myself reading parts of books that have other volumes that for whatever reason have not been scanned and made available.  This particular volume, for example, is the third of eight volumes in a course of self-education on public speaking by a notable figure who also finds himself in these pages as a bit of a prophet by predicting the rise of Silent Cal Coolidge to the presidency on account of his silence in 1918.  As someone who is fond of reading about communication [1], this book has a lot to offer.  Although this is not a new book at all, the insights in this book are of the nature of timeless insights that are of immense value to those who are able to and interested in applying them.  As is often the case with certain “soft” skills, improving one’s public speaking is often not a matter of mastering difficult to understand matters, but rather mastering very simple principles that can be difficult sometimes to apply because they cut against the grain of our normal behavior and our deeply set habits.

This particular book is only a bit over 60 pages and is intensely practical in its structure and contents.  The few pages of the book largely deal with the psychology of speaking under normal (or even abnormal) circumstances that focus on improving one’s ability to connect with one’s audience.  The lessons included one after another in this book include discussions on such matters as:  using eyes while speaking, making facial expressions aid speech, being a leader in speech by asking questions and drawing other people out, making points of contact with one’s audience, taking advantage of the light, mastering unforeseen circumstances, maintaining one’s good nature, reading the minds of those one is speaking to, making judicious use of compliments, being a good listener, gaining the power of silence, using brevity, arousing interest, speaking humorously, being epigrammatic, using slogans, using questions, and speaking inductively and deductively as the situation calls for it.  Each of the lessons closes with exercises designed to help the reader practice the lessons gained in the pages.  The lessons are short but the exercise as a whole is intensely practical and written for those  who want a direct and concise guide on how to improve their public speaking.

This book is a classic example of the practical focus many books took in the early 20th century, and likely was read and studied by a great many people who became known for being excellent speakers.  The book talks about how to schooze with political and cultural elites and find common ground to build rapport, an important skill for someone who is looking to charm important people.  Likewise, the book talks about how speakers can use a practical knowledge of psychology to build interest in an audience as well as to master crowds through the use of wit and good nature, seeming to be above the fray and showing mastery of their own emotional state.  It is likely that this sort of book was read avidly by those with an interest in politics as well as sales, as this book clearly mentions both as applications of the instruction in this message.  It is quite likely that this course as a whole was used as self-education for those who did not go to college but wanted to better themselves through reading and application, and this book and the remainder of the books in its series are likely still immensely useful in that task.

[1] See, for example:

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Getting Meta

One of the names I commonly choose for characters in games is the name Metanoia, a somewhat obscure word transliterated from the Greek word for repentance [1].  The reason the word is obscure is not because it is unimportant, but because repentance is not exactly the most popular concept in the world.  Repentance implies a change of direction, a recognition that one has done wrong and needs to act differently.  It is hard to repent.  We can be sorry for consequences, we can regret repercussions and results, but it is not an easy thing to genuinely repent and change one’s ways, to admit that one was wrong and to go in a different direction.  At least it seems like a particularly difficult thing to do in our day and time where it seems like people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid admitting they were wrong, from projection and misdirection to such glorious matters as the non-apology apology.  We might ask ourselves why this is the case, and wonder why it is that we see admitting wrong as making us feel bad, which is entirely unacceptable.

It is perhaps not coincidence, therefore, that we should see so much of a different kind of meta, a much less beneficial one, in a meta-narrative.  Our world is also full of meta-narratives.  Much can be said about an age based on its preoccupations.  Although I ruthlessly pare my news feed on social media, because of the great deal of negativity that comes from our news sources, there is still a great deal of negative patterns that I see reported in the news over and over again.  From time to time there are copycat problems that result from something being reporting and that encouraging other people to do the same thing, or for people to latch on to catchphrases.  Some years ago, for example, there was a rush of news stories about something called Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.  Nowadays, of course, there are story after story about suicide by cop and endless riots over hyped up concerns about overly aggressive cops which are, quite properly, treated with less deference by judges and juries than by media shills.  If it bleeds, it leads, but what does it lead to?

What power do we let meta-narratives have over our own lives?  We may give them far greater credence than they deserve, sadly.  For example, a desire to escape responsibility for the way our life has gone may lead us to create a meta-narrative that points to underlying patterns that somehow absolve us of any responsibility for what has happened.  Likewise, we may give ourselves enemies among people who have no interest in being our enemies because we have a meta-narrative that preemptively makes others into opponents without their having done anything.  If we have a narrative in our mind already, then it is easy to justify when things go wrong because we expected or feared them going wrong all along.  To be sure, there are times where we ought to expect difficulties and prepare for them, but there is no need to sabotage changes for success by assuming that something will go badly when it need not to badly.  We need not have blind optimism that leads us into trouble unaware, but blind pessimism that discourages us needlessly is just as bad.  We ought to have a worldview that is based on reality, not on either wishful thinking nor prejudice.

Ultimately, one type of meta generally precludes the other.  To the extent that we are motivated by a desire to be right with God and right with other people, we will give others the benefit of the doubt and judge, as much as possible, people and situations as individuals and not as monolithic cases where they are always going to turn out the same (bad) way.  Similarly, if we buy into meta-narratives, then there will always be someone else to blame in some sort of conspiratorial plot so the opportunity for repentance and personal reflection will simply not be there.  Much of the time, our concern for meta-narratives is simply not in correspondence with the truth, largely because these narratives are often made by people who are pushing an agenda and selectively choosing details to omit and focus on order to support that agenda.  Even where where may be some degree of truth in such narratives, it is often without any point or usefulness, because the only people whose behavior we can control is ourselves, and a focus on what other people are doing wrong, even where they are doing wrong, often distracts us from the much more necessary task we have of doing what is right regardless of what others are doing.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Our One Common Country

Our One Common Country:  Abraham Lincoln And The Hampton Roads Peace Conference Of 1865, by James B. Conroy

The author states in the acknowledgements section at the end of this book that no one had ever written a book on the Hampton Roads Conference of 1865, the long-forgotten conference that foundered when eminent Confederate peacemakers Alexander Stephens (the Confederate Vice President), Judge John A. Campbell, former Supreme Court justice and Assistant Secretary of War, and Robert Hunter, President of the Confederate Senate were unable to come to terms with the remarkably generous peace terms of Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of State William Seward.  There is good reason why.  This is a book that wants to share a lot of context, much of which is interesting but not to the point.  In the end, the book, like the Conference, had a lot of hopes but not a lot of action, and has the melancholy air of what might had been had the Confederacy been less stubborn [1].  Had the South been wiser, though, they would never have gone to war, much less fight on for months after knowing that their defeat in conventional warfare was certain.

This book takes a largely chronological approach to the abortive efforts from both Union and Confederate leaders to make a principled peace before the eventual victory in 1865.  At over 300 pages of material, though, it has the tendency to ramble a bit.  Some of the stories, like the backgrounds of the main people involved and their experiences during wartime, are great stories, and probably make the book as worthwhile as it is to read even if they are somewhat tangential to the main point of the book.  Overall, I think the book’s loss of efficiency in telling its story in order to tell the stories within the stories that show both Union and Confederate leaders as human beings, acting as human beings toward each other, is a worthwhile trade-off that serves to the benefit of the book as a whole.  Most of this book consists of short chapters that tell the stories of various leaders on both sides as well as the halting efforts to set the context for peace and then try to sell that peace to the most important parties blocking the way, Northern radicals who the author calls Jacobins (a rather ferocious term) on the one side and Jefferson Davis on the other side.  Ultimately, those who wanted to block peace got their way, and the South was destroyed in a fashion that ended up causing a great deal of lasting damage to the United States.

Overall, I think, the author has as his aim the demonization of Northern radicals who have been rather popular of late, the humanization of many reluctant rebels on the side of the Confederacy, and the showing of Abraham Lincoln as a principled man genuinely interested in peace far to the extent of his cabinet and many political leaders among the North.  It is unclear whether this book or its presentation of Lincoln as a savvy man focused on peace will take hold within the general public, but as a book this is a compelling look at Lincoln’s humanity even towards his enemies, something that was in very short supply in 1865.  Among the more touching moments of this book is the way that the author tells the story of a nephew of Alexander Stephens who, by Lincoln’s effort was freed from prison camp, given the liberty of Washington until he felt up to traveling home, and a pass through Union lines.  His experiences and his arrival home to encourage his uncle who was awaiting capture at his home by Union troops is among the more poignant moments of a book with many such moments.  This is certainly a book that takes a long time making its point, but it makes for a powerful read.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Enemy Never Came

The Enemy Never Came:  The Civil War In The Pacific Northwest, by Scott McArthur

This book is a rough sort of work, written by a competent historian who nevertheless falls short of the most eloquent practitioners in his craft.  As a resident of the Pacific Northwest deeply interested in the Civil War [1], there are few sources that deal with the period.  As this author relates, recordkeeping was not very complete and few historians have taken the time to write lengthy discussions of the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest, which was far away from the centers of fighting.  That is not to say that the story is uninteresting, as there is clearly something of interest in the way that the Civil War helped to encourage the settlement of the Pacific Northwest, often from people who wanted to escape the Civil War and its division.  It was said of Idaho, for example, that it was filled with deserters from the Union and Confederate armies, although verifying that sort of statement is impossible and likely was at the time.  If you wanted to escape the Civil War and its horrors by traveling to the Pacific Northwest, you were probably serious about not being found.

In terms of its structure and organization, the book is full of chapters that seem a bit haphazardly put together.  Each of the chapters tells a compelling story with plenty of research, but the book as a whole appears a bit aimless and at times more than a little bit repetitive.  The book has at least a rough chronological organization, but it is rough.  The author opens with a look at the historical context of the Pacific Northwest as well as Oregon politics before the war.  The author then turns his attention to the outbreak of war, the withdrawal of federal troops to fight in the East, and in the slow establishment of local militia forces.  A few chapters follow about the draft, the suppression of the Copperhead press, and various organizations that agitated for expansion of the United States towards the south for the expansion of slavery.  Three more chapters follow about the relationship between settlers and militia and the local indigenous population along with various expeditions.  A couple of chapters look at threats from land and sea to the Oregon country before three more chapters look at the raising of soldiers and compare the life of civilians and the life of the soldier at the time.  The book ends with a look at the end of the war and the relationship between the war and the economy in the Pacific Northwest, and a few appendices, all of which take about 250 pages in total.

This is the sort of book that one does not read for the entertainment value of the text or for the elegant prose of the author.  This is a book that does its job competently–and that is giving the reader an awareness of the complexity of the Civil War experience in Oregon and surrounding areas that demonstrated to all the peripheral nature of the area to the United States as a whole as well as the effort that was undertaken to avoid inflaming local concerns while also counteracting centrifugal tendencies due to the area’s isolation and population.  Efforts by the Union to keep Oregon and its surrounding areas contented and loyal were successful and led to a short-term dominance by Republican political leaders that was only turned aside during the Reconstruction period.  That said, while the Civil War led to a great deal of growth and to ultimate success in the long-running Indian Wars of the area, little is remembered about the war in the area and the Pacific Northwest remains peripheral to studies about the war.

[1] See, for example:

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A Better Way

Yesterday I had the chance to talk before and after services with the gentleman who gave the sermon, who happens to be a friend of mine and occasional host of friendly dinners.  The subject matter of his message was a look at the birth of Jesus Christ–an appropriate topic as we approach the Feast of Trumpets, and a second chance on a debate about Christmas that he had undertaken with a former coworker some decades ago.  As someone who tends to relive conversations and debates, and as someone who is frequently engaged in debates, including about the subject matter of Christmas and the birth of Christ [1], this was definitely a message I could relate to and that was of practical use to me.  What I found most striking is that in looking over his previous debate where he and someone defending Christmas had talked past each other, the speaker gave a message that provided a worthwhile better way to debate with people who share some aspect of worldview with us.  In that light, I thought it worthwhile to briefly look at this three-step approach and comment on it.

The first step is to find common ground with one’s debate partner.  This ought to seem obvious but is not always done in debates.  Certainly I can think in many of my own debates that the effort to find common ground has not always been done.  Sometimes common ground has been assumed, to be sure, but it is not always deliberately sought.  If common ground can be found in a debate, it is likely the best possible outcome of keeping a debate within bounds.  Elements of common ground would include a common understanding of the terms in discussion, common authorities that can be appealed to, and common ends in mind despite whatever differences exist.  Putting focus on common ground puts a debate in a given context that keeps civility high and that encourages reasonableness in one’s discussion.  This is something that can be all too hard to find in most debates that fail to establish common ground that puts boundaries around a discussion and that shows the existence of a great deal of territory outside of what is in dispute and disagreement.

It is only after establishing common ground that one goes to the second step of criticizing the opposite viewpoint.  Looking at Christmas and other festivals like Halloween, May Day (Socialist Labor Day), Easter, and Valentine’s Day, the paganism of such festivals makes for easy criticism.  There are some of us, myself included, who tend to revel in this particular aspect of a debate, and this is where there are two aspects in tension that must be kept in mind.  The first is that the critical nature of many debates has a tendency of going very far and perhaps even too far, leading to enduring hostility because we and others may not be willing to accept criticism.  The second point, though, is that there are genuine differences that need to be debated and brought to light so that people can address them.  This life is full of difficult truths that people simply do not want to realize and that talking points fail to address.  An open and honest discussion of what is really in disagreement and what is really at stake is necessary for us to come to grips with the often unpleasant areas of division that exist within groups as well as within society at large.

This is where one pivots to the third step.  After having established common ground and then made some serious criticisms about alternatives, one ends back on a positive note by providing alternatives that better address the concerns of one’s debate partner or the audience one is debating to than the alternative.  For example, the sermon speaker was dealing with someone who had a great deal of respect for the Bible as an authority but also wished to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, something that the Church of God has been rather wary about as a whole.  That said, both the festivals of Passover and especially the Feast of Trumpets provide a worthwhile way to honor the birth of Christ.  Passover allows us to set the birth of the Messiah in contrast to His sacrifice on our behalf.  The Feast of Trumpets, on the other hand, looks at the contrast between the first and second comings, which makes all the more sense given that Yeshua was born on or very close to the Feast of Trumpets given the temporal references in the Gospels.  When it is possible to take the needs and longings and desires of an audience seriously, and to come up with a better solution to those concerns than they themselves or those who presume to speak in their interests do, one has a great chance of changing the grounds of debate from the stale talking points of our times and situations.

What is the method of these steps in debate?  We begin with common ground in order to demonstrate that there is far more that is agreed upon than disagreed upon, keeping the rancor and unhappiness of the debate to a manageable level.  We then engage in criticism that avoids causing permanent breaches but that demonstrates the seriousness of what is at stake, a task of considerable delicacy.  Then, alternatives are provided that break through the rigid and stale conventional thinking that often rules in the disagreements of our lives and that answer the real interests of people in ways that they may not be aware of.  I happen to find this to be an immensely agreeable way to deal with debates and disagreements.  That said, there may be cases where one is dealing with limited common ground and where the interests of the people one is debating with aren’t really worth appealing to.  In such situations, one is likely to find debates and arguments unprofitable, with people talking at cross purposes rather than communicating in the ideal fashion.  Where this can be avoided, it should be avoided.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Money Consciousness

Money Consciousness:  Become Super Rich And Attract Infinite Wealth By Discovering Eleven Simple Ancient Principles Of Abundance, by Nathan Rich

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This is a book that is almost too short.  For a book of nineteen pages, there is a lot wrong with it that one scarcely knows where to begin.  For one, the author is trying to cash in on the widespread interest in the bogus law of attraction, and for another the author assumes that the reader is largely in agreement with principles of Hinduism (and Eastern religion in general [1]) such as karmic debt as well as the relationship between personal success and one’s relationships with family and one’s spouse–assuming one has one, which this author assumes.  Indeed, much of this book is based on assumptions, so the author baldly states various principles as well as hedges against making his claims specific enough that they could be falsified, the result being that this book makes sense only to those who come to it with a lot of context, but not too much context so as to understand that the same part of South Asia that the author views as a place of immense wealth is also a place of immense poverty, a criticism that we will return to.  Overall, this book plays on multiple senses of the word consciousness, something that may confuse some potential readers.

The nineteen pages of this book are filled with thirteen chapters–obviously they are short ones, beginning with an introduction about the philosophy of being rich.  After this comes a list of short principles, including:  realistic visions, relationships with parents and one’s partner, sacred words, keeping one’s house clean, respecting money, having the right system of conviction, having inner integrity and gratitude for what one has, agreeing with super consciousness and contribution, and having gratitude to one’s ancestors.  The author argues that Eastern thought like this has a basis, but it does not have a basis in all respects.  How do we know that our visions are realistic when they have not yet become real? The author advocates for a standard of measure that makes it impossible to criticize an existing social order.  If one is poor and suffering, after all, one deserves it by some karmic debt that has to be repaid through suffering in this life.  Those who are wealthy and powerful are virtuous, on the other hand.  There is little morality in here except for gratitude–and even this is selfishly organized–as well as having a high degree of honor for parents and ancestors.

What does one get out of a work like this?  As a reader I certainly read this from a critical outsider’s perspective.  There is a lot of bait and switch going on here, as the author encourages greed, but greed that is tinged with concern about one’s relationships as well as physical cleanliness and something approaching ancestor worship.  The author lures the reader in with appeals to the wealth of South Asia being supposedly due to their worldview without examining the dire poverty of much of South Asia in a contemporary fashion.  This book, ultimately, appears more as a pallative to those who are already successful as a way of justifying their well-being and removing any desire for something approaching social justice and something akin to the vile Statues of Omri discussed in scripture rather than anything that could be judged as virtuous or just in one’s dealings with others.  The author has a good name for this kind of work, but this is a book that while mercifully short still manages to have a lot of deep problems.

[1] See, for example:

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