Meeting After Meeting

I am not someone who spends most of my life involved in meetings.   There are good reasons for this, among which is the fact that I am a somewhat antisocial person who can only spend so much time around most people before wanting a place to hide so I can read and write to myself.  Yet today I managed to find myself in five meetings, about three different subjects, and if I managed to enjoy much of the conversation I have to say that it would not have been the day that I would have planned for myself.  I get the feeling that the person responsible for running most of those meetings would have preferred not to have had meetings as well but they were requested of him and thus were requested of me as well.  I normally spend this day of the week engaged in different activities–mainly processing commissions for one of the companies I work with.  As I process this company’s commissions every fifth day of the week, there is a certain pattern and a certain rhythm to it, and between meetings I would pull the statements so as to prepare myself for when I get the chance to process the commissions, likely tomorrow after I run some errands.

At any rate, it was worth pondering why it was that this day of meetings was not a total waste even if there were many things I would have preferred to be doing than draining my work laptop while waiting for one group of managers after another to show up to talk about comp plans for their agents.  Still, the meetings were definitely informative.  For one, those managers who knew me were able to joke around with me, which always makes the time go better.  Some people did not know that I was still around even if I am far from where the agents are located.  This is perhaps a trivial sort of information to share, but it is certainly enjoyable.  If meetings do nothing more than allow people to get to know each other better and listen to concerns, then they are not useless, as such things have always been important for political reasons.  And if I was not the person conveying the information in the meetings, it was still worthwhile to share some lighthearted and witty banter to make things work out better, something that I feel comfortable about providing to any social occasion.

The most interesting takeaways, though, involved the concerns that the sales managers had when it came to translating the legalese of the comp plan into something that their agents would understand and that would not end up frustrating or upsetting them.  Framing expectations properly can be a difficult task, and that is certainly true when it comes to money.  For example, it can be difficult to properly communicate with someone that if they get money on a card that they will have to pay taxes on that later on and that will make their check smaller.  Likewise, it can be difficult to frame a true-up as not being a bonus, and helping people not spend money that they have not yet made.  Letting people know of the importance of writing good business so as to preserve a good placement rate and persistency also attracted a lot of comments from the sales managers about their current and past agents and their various worthwhile or lamentable sales practices, all of which was told and listened to in good humor.  Helping the managers to better understand how to communicate things with their employees is definitely useful.

There were some takeaways, that would lead to further work on the part of my department, though.  For example, it was necessary between the first and second meeting to update the comp plan with tables that showed the types of insurance that were being sold.  Perhaps most useful, though, was finding out that medicare agents were having to do customer service duty on their main line and were being dinged for it on their conversion percentage.  This was not something that our department had been aware of, and if it turns out that the line in question does not have any paid calls going into it things will likely be changed, albeit quietly.  When one gives a meeting to inform others and manages to learn something useful that would otherwise not be communicated to us given our remoteness from the sales processes, that is always something that I appreciate.  Perhaps not everyone would appreciate such learning opportunities, but I consider them to be among the most worthwhile things about meetings at all.  For if one only gave out information and never took it in, how would one be able to do things better?

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Book Review: Storey’s Guide To Raising Meat Goats

Storey’s Guide To Raising Meat Goats:  Managing, Breeding, Marketing, by Maggie Sayer

This is an interesting book, at least for those who have some interest in animal husbandry, that suggests to the financially-minded goat breeder that there can be some income found in growing goats for meat and that there are some opportunities to encourage people to eat more goat.  This book indicates at least that a substantial amount of that effort will require either raising goats that are meaty and capable of appealing to unmet demand for goat mostly in ethnic areas and in trying to convince Americans to use the French term for goat meat because it doesn’t have the negative connotations of goat in the minds of Americans.  I find such things pretty risible myself, because there are plenty of tasty goat dishes and it is lamentable to see the way that snobbery is a threat to the expansion of business opportunities for those who think that there could be three times as many meat goats merely to meet unmet demand for the meat among immigrant populations.  That is a lot of goat, and it appears that few people, for whatever reasons, are raising those goats at least in my own observation.

This book is about 300 pages and is divided into fifteen chapters and several appendices.   The author begins with a discussion of why people should raise meat goats (1) and then discusses the preparation one needs to do before one begins (2).  After that the author discusses which breed to choose based on a variety of factors (3) as well as where and where not to buy goats for one’s farm (4).  There is a discussion of selecting breeding stock (5) as well as how to think like goats when it comes to handling, feeding, and behavior (6).  A chapter is devoted to goat hauling (7) as well as the housing and facilities required by goats (8) and how to properly feed them (9).  A chapter is spent on keeping goats healthy and taking care of them when they are ill (10) as well as the parasites that can afflict them (11).  The author discusses various options for livestock guardians (12) to protect goats from predators as well as the breeding of meat goats (13).  The book’s chapters then end with a look at the marketing of meat goats (14) and the promotion of one’s goat business (15).  Seven appendices then follow on the DEFRA’s code of recommendation for the welfare of goats (i), photographing goats (ii), identifying oats (iii), trimming hooves (iv), adding a milk goat for kids to take care of (v), clipping for shows (vi), and emergency killing (vii) before the book ends with resources, a glossary, and index.

The book offers a variety of ways for people to raise meat goats for fun and profit, and those ways are worthwhile to investigate for those who are interested in engaging in animal husbandry.  For one, one can raise goats for the show circuit as a way of increasing the value of purebred and fullbred lines, although there are certainly costs involved in putting animals up for show.  The book helpfully offers tips on how goats need to be certain weights and ages to meet certain markets’ demands.  The book even discusses the use of goats to pull carts and bear burdens for camping and other overland expeditions.  Truly goats can be trained to do a diverse set of tasks and this speaks highly of their intellect as animals and the way that they can be profitably grown, even if breeding remains at the core of successful goat raising, requiring a great deal of attention to multiple births so as to raise enough goats to make it possible to sell them to other optimistic souls.  I wonder if this is how my grandmother had to reason when it came to the cows that were on her farm, for this sort of book with its shrewd financial advice would have appealed to her own business interests.

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Book Review: Raising Goats For Dummies

Raising Goats For Dummies, by Cheryl K. Smith

One can learn a lot about the preoccupations of an author by reading their books.  And although one might think that a book in a series like this one would be devoid of individual personality, that is far from the case.  If there is one thing above all that I learned from this book, I learned that the author cares strongly about the fact that one cannot feed goats and sheep with the same minerals because goats require far more copper than sheep do, apparently.  I did not know why this was the case, but the author felt it necessary to repeat it several times, so from that I can infer that the author failed to realize this and had some goats suffer accordingly from a lack of copper, and perhaps even had sheep suffer from having too much copper, thus learning a difficult and likely expensive lesson.  Of course, having learned that lesson, she wants everyone else to learn it as well, and this is only one of the many quirky lessons that this book contains regarding keeping goats, which are nothing if not pretty quirky animals, it must be readily admitted.

This book is a bit more than 300 pages long and is divided into five parts and nineteen chapters.  The book begins with a friendly introduction.  After this the author spends some time encouraging the reader to get acquainted with goats (I) by discovering the joys of raising them (1), some vital goat statistics that may be of interest to the reader (2), knowing one’s goats in terms of anatomy and behavior (3), and getting one’s property ready for goats so that they can be properly sheltered (4).  After that the author talks about bringing goats home (II) through building shelter (5), knowing what to feed goats (6), choosing, buying, and transporting goats (7), working with goats (8), and handing routine care and important tasks like castration and dehorning (9).  The author discusses goat health and breeding (III) by outline some basic health requirements (10), addressing common health problems and ailments (11), discussing breeding and the care of pregnant goats (12), and working with kids (13).  The author does not stint on the discussion of profit motives (IV) in chapters that look at the sale of goat milk (14), goat meat (15), as well as fiber, breeding, and weed control (16).  Finally, the book ends with the part of tens (V), which include ten common mistakes that goat owners make (17), ten tips for showing a goat (18), and ten misconceptions about goats (19), after which there are some goat-milk recipes in an appendix and an index.

The author, like most authors I have read concerning animal husbandry, do not tend to think of raising animals as a good way to earn a lot of money, which makes sense given my own personal experience in such matters, but all the same there are clearly some goals in self-sufficiency and there are profits that can be made from goats depending on how one goes about it–raising goats for meat or resale, for example, or having goats that can make money as show goats.  Beyond this, though, the book is written with a broad perspective and so while it may not contain as much specific information about the sorts of goats one may want to raise, it does cover goat raising in a broad enough way that it can inform those who wish to learn about the various types of goats that can be raised:  dairy goats, meat goats, show goats, and work goats among them.  The book also does a good job at providing information on how people can be well-informed in terms of making shelters and preparing their property for goats as well as keeping goats healthy, which is by no means as easy a task as it should be in an age where multiple births are often necessary to balance one’s expenses in taking care of goats.

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Book Review: The Dairy Goat Handbook

The Dairy Goat Handbook:  For Backyard, Homestead, And Small Farm, by Ann Starbard

What accounts for the appeal of goats?  As is the case in many aspects of existence, there is a wide disconnect between the importance of goats worldwide, where they apparently account for up to 80% of all meat consumed in the world, and their relative rarity in the United States, where aside from Texas hardly any state has any sizable amount of goats produced for either milk or meat.  As someone whose family was for generations dairy farmers in rural Western Pennsylvania, it is easily comprehensible to me why someone would want to milk goats.  I’m not saying that it is something I would want to do myself, but more something that I think is worthwhile to know about and something that should be appreciated.  If I am not likely to drink a lot of goat milk, goat cheese is often fantastic and those who help make food I enjoy are definitely people I am interested in celebrating.  And goats too, are well worth celebrating, and this book does a sound job in writing about how to take care of them and appreciate them and to consider which goats would be best suited depending on one’s circumstances and goals.

This book is a little less than 200 pages and it is divided into twelve chapters.  The book begins with an introduction.  After this the author discusses how one gets started (1) on goats and chooses among breeds (2) that one would wish to own.  After that the author discusses feedings goats (3) and then on matters of herd management (4) and business (5) so that one can spend one’s money in a somewhat intelligent way while one is raising animals that are likely not to make very much money.  After that the author discusses breeding (6) and birthing (7) and kid care (8), all of which are likely to be important as one wishes to grow one’s herd or to sell animals to others.  After that the author discusses health care (9) and then moves on to a discussion of milk and milking (10), and dairy products (11) that one can gain through dairy farming with goats.  Finally, after a chapter on the world of dairy goats (12), the book ends with three appendices that deal with kits (i), resources (ii), and record sheets (iii) before a glossary, index, and some information about the author.

The author has done solid work in this book of providing a guide for dairy goats that provides a reader with enough information to think soundly about the sort of operation that one would like to have.  Not everyone is going to want to raise goats with the same level of careerist ambitions, but the author quite sensibly examines enough aspects of raising goats that those who do intend on taking the task seriously will be able to do so with some wise counsel.  The author also notes, intriguingly, that many goat breeds do not like the rain and will even hide from the rain, which probably accounts for the reason why goats are not grown as often in a place like Oregon as one would otherwise expect from an animal that is as quirky as the goat is.  Indeed, in reading between the lines in this book it is very clear the sorts of ways that someone would make money from goats, namely in selling them to others, as well as in saving money in kind for using the otherwise expensive milk for milk and cheese for oneself and one’s friends.  For most people raising goats, like other animals, is likely to be an unprofitable experience.

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Movie Review: Patterns Of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle: Part One

As someone who saw and enjoyed the previous movie in this series when it was also released for a Fathom exclusive [1], I have to say that this is the sort of film that I can easily appreciate.  The filmmaker, who has a second part to this film already lined up to premier in early May, is an appealing sort of figure as someone who has strong and somewhat unconventional opinions but politely and doggedly pursues truth without being particularly offensive about it.  Generally speaking, he manages to have interviews with people of diverse opinions, some of which he agrees with more than others but all of which help him to understand the nature of viewpoints and also to avoid causing offense by presenting his own views.  That said, the mildness of the filmmaker, who makes an appealing writer and director as well as moderator of a variety of different people who present wildly different ideas about the Exodus, should not disguise the fact that his views are quite different from most.  If he avoids coming off in an extreme fashion, that is likely because a great many people confuse the extremism of people’s opinions with the vehemence that they defend them with, and the author is nowhere near vehement in his discussion of anything.

This film begins rather slowly, and takes a lot of time to get to the point where one can see any sort of evidence at all for the Exodus ideas that are being presented.  The author correctly notes that there is a distinct difference between what he calls Egyptian reasoning and Hebrew reasoning in terms of how big God’s actions being conveyed are and how large of a miracle would be involved.  I would tend to be strongly in the Hebrew view myself, but the filmmaker is fair-minded with those in the Egyptian camp and notes that some people have a bit of overlap.  The best moments in this particular film are the little moments where the author reveals himself to have a sly and ironic sense of humor, such as when he and one of the people who believes in a Gulf of Aqaba Red Sea crossing explore the Sinai peninsula to find it is flat enough to walk through fairly easily and also prone to rain during the time of the spring, allowing for crops and people to find water in accordance with the biblical account.  If this film doesn’t provide quite as much evidence as one would hope to support its conclusions, it does at least provide some interesting food for thought about the plausibility of a longer Exodus journey made in considerable haste followed by a slowing down as Midian and Mount Sinai was approached, and that is a solid start.

If there is one area where this film falls short of its predecessor it is with regards to the quality of the post-film panel.  The first film had a diverse panel where there was significant disagreement between the perspectives involved, including Jews and Christians as well as those who were neither.  In this particular panel, which the moderator viewed as the best panel ever, were three people whose viewpoints were practically identical and who never once disagreed with any of the others.  That said, if the panel was a bit more of an Amen corner than I prefer from such things, the film did a much better job of being diverse in its interview subjects, some of whom were in the last film, and some of whom make entertaining cameos.  It is unclear if the Red Sea Miracle really needed to be a two part film, as there could have definitely been some editing here to capture the best scenes.  But as far as films go, this is an easy documentary to enjoy so long as you appreciate the Bible

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/01/21/the-power-of-a-pattern/

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Book Review: The Well-Educated Mind

The Well-Educated Mind:  A Guide To The Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer

I must say that having read the expanded version of this book that it is not quite as good as I remember it being in the past.  That does not mean that this book is by any means a bad one, it just has the distinct whiff of someone who is not quite on the right side of education.  This would be a better book except that the author feels it necessary to indulge in the sort of identity politics within literature that dilutes the classics and allows everyone to feel as if they have contributed to great literature.  Even so, for those who are looking to enjoy self-education, this book as a lot to offer and most of the selections are sound even if there are some questionable choices of what makes for a classic that were likely chosen to appeal to those engaged in self-education who might not appreciate self-education that is not suitably diverse enough to show some selections that they can identify with.  If this is to be lamented, the author has certainly shown herself willing to engage in the sort of identity politics so as to make this book appealing beyond its usual target audience.  If that is something I do not always appreciate, certainly there are others who would appreciate it more.

This book is a long one at more than 450 pages with ten chapters, all of them pretty large.  Beginning with some acknowledgements, the book can be divided into two parts.  The first part of the book looks at the preparation for self-education in adopting the approach that is necessary to educate oneself in reading great books (I).  This task is accomplished through chapters on the training of your own mind that comes from reading good books, which the author assumes are likely to be unfamiliar to many people (1), the wrestling with books that comes from reading (2), keeping a journal of ideas that come from books so as to have a written record of what one has read and how it has affected the reader (3), and final preparations on starting to read (4).  The rest of the book discusses reading works that allow one to enter the great conversation of literature (II), which include books in the following categories:  novels (5), autobiography and memoir (6), history and politics (7), drama (8), poetry (9), and science (10).  These chapters are all organized in a similar fashion, with a discussion of the course of a given genre and how it was shaped by various ages and their preoccupations, as well as a list of representative books in each category that are worth reading.  The book then ends with permissions and an index.

What is it that allows someone to be good at self-education?  The author makes the point that anyone who can read a newspaper likely has the raw skill to read a work of classic literature, and the books included here as examples of classics are sufficiently broad that self-education is a feasible if ambitious project if one wants to be well-rounded.  Some of us find it easier to read certain kinds of books–the author seems to think that certain forms of literature are easier while I have always found it easier to read poetry, plays, and nonfiction despite their relative spareness as texts and their lack of the sort of literary qualities that the author values most highly.  The author also uses a technique of multiple layers of reading that allow the reader to gain a great deal of insight out of works.  To be sure, not all works are worthy of the sort of deep reading that she advocates for self-education, but deep-reading is a great way to be self-educated in general as it means that one is getting the most out of one’s reading materials, and that is only for the best.

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Book Review: Educated

Educated, by Tara Westover

I have to admit that when I started reading this book that I was a bit concerned about the tack that it was going to take.  I figured that it was a given that the book was going to trash the upbringing that the author had and that the author was going to show herself to have completely rejected the insights of her upbringing in exchange for the blandishments of the world that she had been denied because of her childhood experience.  That is not exactly what this book ended up to be.  To be sure, there is plenty of rejection here, and plenty of abuse that the author recounts, especially at the hands of one of her brothers.  But the author looks at her family, most of her family at least, with a great deal more graciousness and humor than one would expect.  The author also notes, and this is important, the way that she has been shaped by her own family and recognizes herself in the experiences of the other women she is related to, and even if she no longer lives in remote Idaho, she knows that she carries the past with her and that she has been shaped by it.

This book is divided into three parts and 40 chapters over the course of more than 300 pages.  The first sixteen chapters of this book focus on the author’s childhood as she struggles to develop her gifts in the total absence of formal education growing up in Idaho as the daughter of a large family that struggled with mental illness with a paranoid anti-government patriarch who (like some of my own relatives) deeply feared the coercive power of authorities and whose efforts at self-expression were complicated by her isolation.  The second part of the book explores the author’s experiences in college as she attempts to overcome the problems that resulted from being uneducated in a formal sense and having some major gaps in her understanding.  By the end of the second part the author has a bachelor’s degree and has managed to gain some allies in BYU and gain at least some understanding of life in the wider world, at least to the extent that Utah can be considered the wider world.  In the last part of the book the author explores her graduate school experience and how she used her Mormon background as a way of paving new ground in tying her own religious history to the larger intellectual history of the 19th century, which is something that this reader at least could not fail but to be impressed about.

If the Mormon experience is one I do not particularly have, the author resonated with me because of the fact that I view my own sectarian history similar to the author as a means of demonstrating how it is that even marginalized religious groups are part of a larger historical conversation and engaged in the greater efforts of cultural communication, even if they are likely ignored by either those who focus narrowly on internal politics within religious groups or those whose lack of religious beliefs and a lack of interest in religious matters leads them to marginalize such matters altogether.  Those who have come from difficult family backgrounds and struggled to keep their spirits up in the face of life’s challenges and also seen in education a way out of cycles of generational failure will find much to appreciate here.  Instead of finding a book that I could hate read with a relish (something I have been known to do from time to time), I found a much more ambivalent book that mirrored my own ambivalence concerning the legacy of my background and upbringing on the man that I have become, and that echoed my own refusal to either straightforwardly reject the past altogether or to seek to copy after it in my own life.

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Book Review: What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?:  And More Essays On Standards, Grading And Other Follies, by Alfie Kohn

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The author is right that this book is about follies, but not necessarily in the way that he claims.   Just as everything in the contemporary world is the subject of massive fighting, so is education, and the author seeks to present the point of view of leftist activists while demonstrating his folly to everyone who hasn’t shared the kool-aid he is continually sipping from while having written this book.  It would take at least a sizable pamphlet to discuss all of the massive flaws of logic and reasoning, but suffice it to say at least briefly that if the author is seeking to present himself as a well-educated product of our contemporary education system, including the education of teachers, he is more eloquent as a statement of crisis in the education system than anything he writes about in this book, for if such a person as the author can seriously believe himself to be educated and capable of teaching others then we clearly need some massive changes, although it should be noted that they need not necessarily be either the leftist activism the author would support or the sort of changes that he laments concerning his phobias of standardized tests and being held accountable for the performance of students.

This book is less than 200 pages long and about the only positive thing that can be said about it is its brevity and the author’s honesty in admitting his activist and progressive bias.  The book ends with a preface and the author’s unsuccessful attempts to grapple with the conflicting opinions about goals for education.  The author then provides three essays on the purposes of schooling (I) that discuss what it means to be well-educated (1), the author’s hostility towards the business of schooling (2), and the author’s anti-achievement bias (3).  After that the author discusses standards and testing (II), which the author is unsurprisingly hostile to, with essays on the relationship between harder and better education (4), the author’s hostility to standards (5), the author’s concern trolling for the supposed victims of standardized testing (6), the author’s belief that learning is sacrificed by an interest in getting high scores (7), and the author’s premature celebration of the end of the SAT (8).  The third part of the book then discusses grading and evaluating (III), with essays on the author’s hostility to grade (9), the supposed myth of grade inflation (10), and the author’s hostility to people congratulating students for doing a good job (11).  It is perhaps fortunate that no one has to tell the author good job for this book.  The author provides three essays on moral, social, and psychological questions (IV) such as the legacy of American high schools (12), September 11  (13), and Abraham Maslow (14).  The author then stumps for various activist causes for school reform (V) with essays on his beliefs that certain types of reforms are needed (15) to make students more compassionate and caring, the rotten apples of education (16), the folly of merit pay (17), and a plug for activist teachers (18), after which there are credits and an index.

Perhaps what is most notable about this book are the false premises and false dilemmas that fill nearly every page of every essay.  The author claims that private school succeeds because it is allowed to be choosy in terms of its students, not noting that such standards account for all of the public school programs (like the IB Program I went to as a public high school student) that tend to work.  Likewise, the author claims that the contemporary high level of tests are what makes school less intrinsically worth learning, as does grading, not remembering that school has seldom been a place for intrinsic love of learning to blossom, which self-education does nicely without the leftist indoctrination.  The author completely ignores homeschooling in the false dilemma he engages in against private schools or, presumably, some sort of voucher program that would give parents meaningful choices.  Even the author’s statements that a majority of educational attainment results from factors outside of the classroom itself backfire by suggesting that our society, if it wants to do well by parents, would do better to strongly encourage families to be and remain intact rather than adopt models that make the state a surrogate husband or parent to the harm of children.  There is scarcely anything the author talks about that he manages to get right, demonstrating why it is that having an education that focuses on facts and panders less to feelings would have done the author good, much less the poor children who the author disastrously screws up in his classrooms through his misguided activism.

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Shen Yun: A Case Study In Marketing

If you are like me and you watch more YouTube videos than is probably good for you, then you are probably as familiar with I am about advertisements that for at least the last few years have sought to advertise Shen Yun as being an amazing show that captures the feeling of thousands of years of Chinese history.  Like most people watching the advertisements–and this may be intentional–I figured that the shows themselves were one of the ways that China sought to ingratiate itself with the Western world by providing cultural excellence that promoted Chinese perspectives and that would make ordinary Western audiences with perhaps more than enough disposable income think more highly of China itself because of the athletic and artistic excellence of the ballets.  I must admit that I have yet to see such a show myself, but they are precisely the sort of thing that I would enjoy being modestly curious about such matters, so long as I was able to watch them for free or very inexpensively.  It is therefore unsurprising that I get so many advertisements about them because I am at least somewhat in the target demographic for culturally exotic art and music that could be trusted to view such efforts at least somewhat sympathetically.

It so happens, though, that Shen Yun is not at all the sort of Chinese culture that is endorsed by the contemporary Chinese government.  Now, I did not find that out by investigating the show out or going to it, but rather it so happens that the recent coronavirus scare has made it very important for the people responsible for promoting Shen Yun to let their audiences know that the dancers and musicians involved in these shows who promote themselves as being part of a long and noble tradition of Chinese culture are not Chinese nationals and have not even been to China for years.  In doing a bit of sleuthing after seeing such announcements, no doubt meant to reassure potential customers that they will not be subjecting themselves to the threat of a feared global pandemic by observing such Chinese culture, I found out that the show itself was associated with the Falun Gong religious movement.  Admittedly, I do not consider myself to be particularly knowledgeable about life in China or its religious history, given that I have never been outside of the Hong Kong Airport within China’s political borders, despite my fondness for studying ancient Chinese military history.

One thing I do know, though, is that the Chinese are not fond of the Falun Gong religious movement.  Although I am by no means particularly sympathetic to Buddhist practices and regularly criticize them when they are promoted by New Age psychologists and other related people who wish to promote such ideas as being worthwhile spiritual practices to adopt in the name of mindfulness, I can recognize that both genuine Christianity as well as Falon Gong tend to receive the same sort of treatment by Chinese authorities.  This is, it should be noted, not very good treatment, including lengthy spells of imprisonment in the laogai archipelago as well as having their organs harvested for Bodies exhibits to bring the joy of plasticized body organs to Western audiences.  While it is little surprise that Shen Yun would be associated with ancient religious culture seen through a modern light, this is also not something I am particularly hostile to.  I remember once even viewing in Thailand a similar native ballet that used a story in the Ramayana as the source of a touching and skillful ballet performance [1].  I would expect something a bit similar in term of the blend of Western and Eastern dancing technique as being something that I would be able to appreciate without a great deal of approval for the Falun Gong as a religious movement.  Perhaps other people would draw the line differently.

Regardless, though, of what my feelings would be regarding the show itself, I find it fascinating that in order to market this show in the current climate that it is necessary to simultaneously tie the “divine rhythm” of Shen Yun with the lengthy course of Buddhism and related religious movements within China while simultaneously distancing itself from contemporary China with its hostility to the religious beliefs of the performers and organizers.  Whether or not all of the people dancing in Shen Yun are themselves practitioners of Falun Gong is a matter beyond my knowledge.  But seeing the difficulty of a company in simultaneously claiming Chinese culture and legacy as a major drawing appeal to those of us who are at least somewhat curious of Chinese culture and are generally prone to approve of high culture no matter its origins and disclaiming any tie or association with the nation of China or its current public health crisis is deeply fascinating to me.  Whether or not it should be fascinating is, of course, a question that I am too biased to answer fairly.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/03/25/your-princess-is-in-another-castle/

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Book Review: The Essays Of Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Essays Of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In reading this book it is easy to see why Emerson was celebrated in his own day but why he has a less than stellar reputation as a philosopher in our own day.  As someone who reads the book from the point of view of a Christian, the author appears to be engaged in the most banal and superficial sort of philosophizing that I would fail were I teaching a class on the subject.  Yet to those who fancy themselves as contemporary philosophers the author appears to be preaching, however unsuccessfully.  In reading this book from the hindsight of 150 or more years, this book reminds me of what would happen if a blogger of indifferent skill was given a platform to write op/eds for some hack publication like the New York Times or Washington Post and thought that this was validating his (or her) abilities as a writer, only for a collection of those works to be made for future generations to ponder at the incomprehensibility that someone of such vague and laughably incorrect generalities and abstractions could be thought of as a wise guide.  Indeed, that is the most baffling thing about this collection, that the author was apparently thought of in his time as a guide to anything.

This book is more than 350 pages and consists of two different series of essays.  The first series of essays takes up a bit more than 200 pages and contains some well-regarded essays, even if they come off badly in hindsight.  After an introduction, the first series includes essays like History (1), Self-Reliance (2), Compensation (3), Spiritual Laws (4), Love (5), Friendship (6), Prudence (7), Heroism (8), The Over-Soul (9), Circles (10), Intellect (11) and Art (12) that provide a lot of hot takes about deism and the author’s views on art criticism, generally in tidy essays of about 20 pages or so in length so as to be short enough to not be authoritative dealings of the subject matter the author has unwisely chosen to tackle.  The rest of the book is taken up by a smaller set of essays that are equally overambitious in title and not nearly ambitious enough in content, namely The Poet (13), Experience (14), Character (15), Manners (16), Gifts (17), Nature (18), Politics (19), and the author’s thoughts on Nominalism and Realism (20), which is about the most serious philosophical essay here.  After that the book ends with an index and leaves the reader wondering why the author thought himself qualified to pontificate on these subjects.

That is not to say that this book is horrible.  If the author comes off as callow and superficial, there are worse things to be than a fount of insight as to the superficial thinking of one’s era.  Indeed, this book is more useful as a historical document of conventional wisdom during the middle of the 19th century than as a record of philosophy.  People read Plato or Aristotle or Augustine or others like that because they have some sort of insight to provide, however flawed their perspective and worldview.  In the case of Emerson, though, his writing is solely of interest because it demonstrates the way that supposedly enlightened and progressive people in the mid-19th century thought of themselves and various other topics.  And just as is the case for our own journalists and pundits who spout off contemporary received wisdom, future generations will look at our own philosophizing the same way that we look back on Emerson’s and wonder why in the world anyone ever paid to see what that person had to think about anything.  And they will shrug their shoulders and be glad that they got the book from the library so that they didn’t have to pay for it themselves.

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