Book Review: The Reluctant General

The Reluctant General: A Novel About Ancient Israel, by Herb Sennett

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular book is a novelization of the story of Barak and Deborah, and the Israelite effort to overthrow the oppression of King Jabin of Hazor. The novel itself focuses on a few elements, mostly the Isrealites but also attempting to reconstruct a picture of Canaanite Hazor. The book seems to present Hazor as an imperial sort of city, with a pride in its massive armies having fought against Egypt as well as seeking domination over Israel by attacking both to the north and to the south. There are some aspects to this story that make sense, but others that do not. For example, even websites that have pathetic anti-biblical worldviews are able to recognize the presence of Egyptian statuary in the Hazor that was likely destroyed by Barak’s army [1], and the fact that Hazor would have had Egyptian statuary suggests that it may have served not as a mighty imperial capital but rather a base where an Egyptian-supported army sought to put down Israel through a Canaanite client-king. The novel does not appear to have any idea that this may have occurred, which suggests some blindness about the historical context of the time of the Judges.

That said, despite these quibbles, a lot of the novel comes off as plausible, if a bit convenient, like killing off Deborah’s husband, making Barak a passionate widower, and throwing them together with romantic tension. The battle scenes, particularly the ambushes and unconventional warfare and spycraft practiced by both the Israelites and the Canaanites would appear to correspond with biblical practice [2]. Likewise, the author’s portrayal of the Israelites as subsistence level farmers without a lot of weapons definitely corresponds with the biblical account in the time of the Judges and the early monarchy. Despite a bit of an overly didactic approach, there is a lot to appreciate about this book.

Where this book particularly succeeds is in the female characters. To be honest, most of the male characters seem to be posers. Barak is the eponymous reluctant general until he gets bloodthirsty to protect Deborah and pronounce that Hazor is herem. Lapidoth (that is, Deborah’s husband) is a decent but rather unspectacular man who seems much older than his wife (at least that is my impression, as she is portrayed as being in her early 30’s in this novel, and he seems like at least ten to fifteen years older as a farmer somewhat set in his ways, but a kindly man). Too bad Lapidoth is conveniently killed to provide for romantic tension, as he deserved a better fate. The women in this novel, from the brave Deborah to Sisera’s harpy-like mother to the vengeful Jael to Jabin’s wife as the victim of domestic abuse, are far more sympathetically and realistically drawn. Count this as one of several novels I have read that seem to focus particularly strongly and well on women. I suppose I cannot complain when others do that in their writing, though, given my own writing.


[2] See, for example:

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Today an online course started that dealt with a subject I have decidedly mixed but intense feelings about, and that is the subject of resilience. Resilience, for those who are not aware, in the context of developmental psychology, is based on the two factors of risk and adaptation. It means that despite hardships including trauma, war, poverty, and other difficult problems a young person or adult is basically doing alright in life–has high achievements, good physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and is able to fulfill the tasks that are expected in life (social skills, reading and writing and other educational achievements, forming close relationships, as well as rites of passage and religious commitments like baptism and learning religious texts and the like). Those who know anything about my own personal life are aware that this subject is very fraught with a lot of very deep and complicated feelings.

Resilience is not only an aspect of individual life, but it also involves larger systems. Even the resilience of a person often involves larger networks or contexts. For example, a person doing well after trauma or disaster (like war or hurricanes) will often involve the resilience of family, community, churches, businesses, and even nations as a whole. People can cope better with difficulty if they have a better social and familial network from which they can draw resources and encouragement and support. On the contrary, when larger systems break down and prove themselves not to be resilient–when families split up, when communities fail, when churches split, greater stress is placed on individuals, which makes life more difficult on people, greatly testing their resilience and making it more difficult to cope with the burdens and stresses of life, of which there are many. Yet there are some people who show themselves to be admirably resilient despite having lived harrowing lives of immense difficulty, thanks be to God.

Resilience can involve one of two different measurements. The first way that someone can be resilient is to bear well despite immense trauma. This would be someone who has lived a difficult life and who has still gotten good grades, is still a service-minded and productive member of society who has a good job, has married and has a family, has a strong faith and religious practice, and has basically been successful despite being handed a poor situation in life to deal with. Alternatively, someone can be resilient in the sense that things go poorly at first and then turnaround later on. I suppose that there could be mixed cases, where some aspects of life went well throughout and others were subject to a turnaround. That is, after all, what I hope for in my own life, that the relatively consistent areas of life will be blessed by areas that turnaround. It could happen, after all.

When I think of the protective factors that have helped me, the following are fairly prominent:

Relationships with friends, neighbors, others)
Mentor or teacher
Intelligence; good cognitive skills; smart, wise
Motivation, determination Hope, optimism
Self-control skills, self-discipline
Religion, faith, spirituality, religious practices
Talent (such as musical, athletic, artistic)

This is not to say that such areas have not caused difficulty at times (my musical and writing talents have certainly been implicated in traumas and difficulties in my life, but rather that such areas are coping mechanisms that have helped to make life possible to endure, and even at times and in some ways to thrive. Obviously, much more could be said about this, but I suppose, given the delicacy of the matter, I must leave it implied as to why this is an area of interest to me. Nor do I think I am alone in that strong interest.

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Book Review: Allegiant

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Reading this book, the last book of the Divergent Trilogy (which has four books if you count the series of short stories told from the perspective of Four, which I have not read yet but may read in the future), there is a bittersweet sense of loss and completion [1]. Being an avid reader of dystopian teen fiction (there are so many reasons for this), I have noticed a certain set of patterns related to the most popular members of that particularly popular subgenre of literature. The pattern is that when idealistic and decent young people rise up and help create a better and less corrupt world than the one they were born into, there are harrowing prices to be paid. Good and decent people will die–here it is one of the main characters, and a particularly noble one at that–and furthermore, those who survive into the new and better world will be horribly damaged by their experiences. I cannot help but feel that this sort of fiction appears to educate young people both on the need to retain a sense of hostility to the sort of corruption that comes from the adult world, including abusive parents (but also including noble and self-sacrificial ones, showing a great deal of complexity), along with a realistic sense of the price that is to be paid for nobly standing up against the evil that is around us. One wonders how much the lesson sinks in; in reading such fiction I find a lot of people not very different from myself, people whose personal life bears the scars of choosing to stand up against evil and face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that result from such a stand.

This novel is particularly jarring, simply because it contains a series of seemingly non-stop uprisings where the main characters are uprooted from their home city in search of a mission that ends up being a lie that leads them into a further corrupt world that is a small part of a still larger corrupt world that reveals their own lives as being experimental subjects dealing with the problem of genetic damage. What purports itself to be a better society is still a deeply hierarchical and unjust one that actively hides the existence of warfare among regular human beings as a way of preserving a two-tier system of society that shows a harsh divide between haves and have nots. The result is that this novel features a baffling and complicated series of uprisings in the search for justice that ends up in the sacrifice of some people and an ultimately rewarding ending that provides new hope for the future, and also plenty of damages for those who remain. We need our hope tempered with a realistic understanding of the price of seeking justice and truth in a world that does not appear to value either of them to any great degree.

It is unclear what exactly the reading audience of this book will get out of this book. The political truths of this novel come about as a rather sudden and uncomfortable element to the largely self-contained world of the first two novels, and they would appear to bolster concerns about government espionage on its citizens as well as propaganda, symbolic of our immense cultural mistrust of government. For those who want to see Tris and Four make out, there are a lot of makeout scenes, most of which attract fairly juvenile comment from the other characters. There is a lot of family drama as well, and some comments about various social issues. There is so much going on, so insistently, that it is uncertain exactly whether the author believed that romance is merely something that happens in the middle of all of the other drama of our lives. There are precious few models of happy relationships for young people to emulate, given the massive mood of crisis that fills this entire book from beginning to end. This book is already a fairly long one, but it would have been good to see some better role models about how people are supposed to live after successfully dealing with the problems of our world. This is, admittedly, a small quibble, as this novel is probably satisfactory, with one notable exception, to the majority of its readers.

[1] See, for example:

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In My Tribe

So, today was quite a busy day, and a day that tended to fit around two contexts that are frequent in my life. In the morning, I got ready while one of my roommates was watching Master & Commander so that I could get ready for my ensemble group practice, which was at some distance from my home. I picked up one of the singers in one of the several ensembles I am in (perhaps too many) and was able to talk to him about some musical issues that I felt needed to be addressed, even if they were of a potentially awkward nature. He was pretty gracious about agreeing to make sure that the issues were addressed before the Feast. Despite having to drive a bit out of the way and then return to the site for our practice, I still managed to be early, which generally pleases me. Since there were some people who were not as early, I practiced my solo first, and got it basically ready to schedule so that I can somewhat shrink the amount of music that I am working on.

Shortly, the rest of our group arrived to practice “You Are Mine,” which we are hoping to get ready for the Feast. This piece received a lot of practice, and by the time we finished up with that song we were working on polishing up dynamics, so I feel pretty confident about that song as well. We even had the time to work on some of the Feast numbers for two of our people who were not as familiar with the songs and then did parts for another song, but the little girls who were still there were quite tired, exhausted even, and because we were loud and the kids were unable to keep their eyes closed with all of the sound of talking and singing going on, we called it a day after about two and a half hours or so of practice, which was pretty successful, I would think. Of course, there was much to do afterward, so I chatted with the person I dropped off at home and then went out to run my other errands.

One of the errands I had to run was in support of a local independent bookstore in St. John’s. I had been informed a few days ago about some of their financial troubles and their need for bookbuyers to help them out, and being a prolific reader, I figured I would help out, as I consider myself a member of a community of readers in the Portland area and like to support independent options [1]. Although they did not have the series fiction I was looking for, they did have some books that I found interesting, so I picked up the following books that I may read and review at some point:

Ripples Of Battle, by Victor Davis Hanson
Four Queens, by Nancy Goldstone
A Medieval Family, by Francis and Joseph Gies
The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers, by Thomas Fleming
The War of the Two Emeprors, by Curtis Cate

The bookstore was mildly amusing. Ahead of me in line there was a mother and daughter who were getting some books. The daughter seemed particularly interested in reading a new Tamara Pierce album and the mother said that the book would never get to her and that the daughter would be useless as far as productive tasks because she was such a reader. The daughter seemed unusually proud of herself for being a bibliophile, which is a good thing, but I thought it was a bit unkind for a mother to make fun of a young lady (she was a young teenager, or perhaps even a somewhat tall preteen–she was about my height but seemed somewhat young) for being a reader. There are far worse habits for people to have, but seeing as these people were strangers, I did not wish to insert myself into the situation, even if it was rather a shame, I felt, to hear a mother make fun of her daughter for a good habit. Of course, after I finished my purchase I went off to find a quiet place to read for myself. In my tribe, we spend a lot of time dealing with books and music, and with the people we meet as a result of those two things, and all that entails.

[1] See, for example:

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Separation Comes From Preparation

Even though I live in the Pacific Northwest, I have not been particularly knowledgeable about the approaches and mindset of the players of the Seattle Seahawks [1]. Today, the fellow who gave the sermonette (who happens to be a big Seattle fan) talked about the playing philosophy of Russell Wilson (who strikes me as the cerebral sort of quarterback), quoting Wilson as saying that “Separation Comes From Preparation.” Given the fact that all teams on the NFL level are made up of very talented players, I took this comment to mean that separating from those who are very similar in skill level requires an attention to detail, and preparation so that one has an advantage in mental insight and in knowledge and in practice. The fact that the speaker sought to explicitly connect this diligent practice that is common to athletes or musicians with our Christian walk was something to give a lot of food for thought.

What are we preparing for? There is a lot in our lives that can be seen as preparation. There are some people who in reading the Bible have come to the wise conclusion that we are born to rule as human beings (see, for example, Hebrews 2). More complicated is the fact that we are born to rule but also to be loyal and trustworthy members of the royal family of God. This presents all kinds of complications, given that we must be people of honor and integrity in whom others can rely in being honorable and just in our conduct, and also people who must be able to handle authority over us well and be capable of trusting appropriately. Those who cannot be ruled, who cannot deal with authority over them, will not be trusted to be in authority over others. An enfant terrible makes a terrible tyrant when full grown. As much as some of us (myself included) struggle to trust others effectively, it is a worthwhile struggle to continue at as long as it takes to get it right, because of the cosmic implications at stake.

This sort of preparation is equally true with regards to the less cosmic but still important matters here on this earth that we all prepare for. Abraham Lincoln said, “I will study and prepare and my chance will come [2].” This is a sensible quote and my own view as well. At some point, one has to deal with a matter in experience rather than in study and preparation, but often practicing the right kind of behaviors in life can pay off in ways that others cannot easily recognize, and that we do not recognize until the time has come. Sometimes we do not know exactly what we are preparing for, or when it will take place; all we can do is do the best we can and develop the character and patience we need until our chances come, for whatever it is that we are preparing for. Life is full of unexpected surprises, and we never know what chances we will have, or what will be the results of our thoughts and words and deeds. Yet having certain preparation and discipline ahead of time allows us to be ready when those chances arise, because we are already ready for them.

We may never be world-class athletes or musicians whose performances are in the public eye and whose preparation is essential for the happiness of entire countries or regions or cities. We may never find our lives playing out on the grand scale that draws the attention of dozens, much less hundreds or thousands or millions, or even billions. That said, we all have areas in our life where self-discipline and practice can make our lives better, and we should all take the opportunities that life presents us to grow and mature, to see our blind spots and prepare for the sorts of things that life throws our ways. After all, athletes spend time breaking down tendencies and looking at video work to analyze their own actions and reflect upon them as well as look at future opponents. We should all reflect the same ourselves, considering what is at stake in our own lives.

[1] See, for example:


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A Henry Tilney Moment

There are many cases in my life that resemble moments out of Jane Austen novels [1], and today there was a reminder of one of Jane Austen’s less famous novels, where part of the plot involved the sartorial interests of someone who is not normally associated with being particularly concerned with excellence in clothing. That is surely the case for me, and I am generally amused when like Mr. Henry Tilney (one of Austen’s wittier and more obscure romantic heroes) I am able to surprise others by being somewhat informed on good fashion, because such moments do not happen very often and they are always enjoyable, especially given that there are very few occasions where I have ever been in costume in my life (and mercifully, few of those occasions have ever been recorded for posterity). For those who are not aware of Henry Tilney and his wit, here are some good quotes from him.

Here is this quote about the desirability of ignorance:

“Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.” [2]

Here is a quote about writing in a journal every night:

“How are the civilities and compliments of every day to be related as they ought to be, unless noted down every evening in a journal? How are your various dresses to be remembered, and the particular state of your complexion, and curl of your hair to be described in all their diversities, without having constant recourse to a journal?” [3]

Here is a quote about the power of women, not particularly gallant:

“Man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal.” [4]

Or this comment about smirking:

“Now I must give you one smirk, then we can be rational again.” [5]

Here is Henry, more gallantly this time, about the difficulties between his father and mother:

Henry Tilney: Your imagination may be overactive but your instinct was true. Our mother did suffer grievously and at the hands of our father. Do you remember I spoke of a kind of vampirism?
Catherine Morland: Yes.
Henry Tilney: Perhaps it was stupid to express it so but we did watch him drain the life out of her with his coldness and his cruelty. He married her for her money you see. She thought it was for love. It was a long time until she knew his heart was cold. No vampires, no blood. But worse crimes, crimes of the heart.
Catherine Morland: It was stupid and wicked of me to think such things as I did … [5]

These particular quotes help demonstrate the character of Henry Tilney as someone who is a keen and somewhat critical observer of others, as someone with a certain philosophical turn of mind, a taste for deliberate and somewhat heavy irony, as well as someone who is ultimately humane and generous in his spirit towards others, and someone who does not like others who are cruel and mercenarial in their motives. I happen to admit that it is an immensely flattering thing for me to think of myself as being somewhat like Henry Tilney, a man of honorable behavior towards others, and a bit of sound knowledge about clothing, at least enough that he could sensibly advise his younger sister on clothes and be a sensitive person to her own tastes and social well-being. It’s not a bad thing to be well-versed in many areas, at least if it can provide a good opportunity for conversation as well as the chance to help others and show a quirkiness that reflects a side that others do not tend to see very often. That is a part of what makes life fun, after all.

[1] See, for example:





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The Perks Of Being An Outsider

I have often mused about being an outsider [1], and most (though not all) of these posts have reflected on the isolation that often comes when one feels on the outside, even if one works very hard to connect other people together. Today, though, I read a book [2] about the relationship between the United States and the nations of East and Southeast Asia that demonstrated that American hegemony in the Western Pacific in the post-WWII world was tolerated precisely because the United States was an outsider. It was precisely because the United States had quickly given up its imperialistic desires for territory (with the independence of the Philippines in 1946) and because it had established a reputation for consistently seeking open freedom of the seas for the well-being of everyone since the mid 1800’s in Japan and the Hay Doctrine in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to the present day, showing itself an honest broker for peace for more than a century. This is not to say that the United States has been perfect in its role as global hegemon, but that it has behaved with considerable honor as well as a devotion to moral standards that have served the interests of others and not only itself. The fact that America’s dominance depended in large part on its role as an honest and honorable power with a devotion to openness whose vulnerability required the permission of others for that power to be exercised for the benefit of all made it a far more acceptable hegemon than a nation like China with its history of seeking to dominate others.

It was hard not to see this insight as an explanation for one of my own persistent strategic problems, and that is the nature of building trust as an outsider. Of course, just as the United States is an outsider who pursues friendly and mutually beneficial trade and security relationships and friendly diplomacy with others, so too is the case for me. Simply because one is an outsider does not imply that one is isolated, but rather that one’s home territory is far away from one’s involvement in a given area, which is certainly the case for me in my life at present. Likewise, the way that the United States has behaved as an outside power in the Asia-Pacific Region is the way that I have instinctively behaved in my own life, with a commitment to being just and fair and honorable in my conduct, friendly to all, and committed to openness and transparency in the pursuit of my aims with the goal of building trust with locals despite the differences in approach and perspective. Given that trust is a deep problem in my own life, it seems striking that I would pursue the sort of strategy that is the characteristic way that an outsider builds trust–through open candor combined with a sensitivity to the well-being and interests and concerns of all, be they young or old, big or small. I suppose I am a true American after all, even in the way that I have turned being an outsider into an advantageous position at times in dealing with my own longstanding struggles.

It is striking at all that this particular solution appears to relate as well to the biblical command for us to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15-16), citizens of the Jerusalem above (Philippians 3:20). In other words, we are supposed to be outsiders here, involved and responsible and concerned for the well-being and interests of others (as well as ourselves), but whose main attention and identity is to be from another place. Likewise, we too are supposed to be concerned with the weightier matters such as justice and mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23, Micah 6:8). Just as Joseph, Mordacai, and Daniel (to give but three examples) rose to great authority even in corrupt heathen realms through their commitment to honorable behavior and responsibility combined with an outsider status that kept them from being the pawns of corrupt local political elites, so too our outsider status in this world can be an advantage in being able to serve responsibly those realms and institutions whose leaders desire character and integrity more than corrupt crony politics. This may be uncommon, but it is no less treasured when such honorable leadership may be found.

How is it that an outsider builds trust? In all of these cases, there is a commitment to openness, with the understanding that in the absence of having a long history, that it is essential that others know you are acting according to principles and without hidden agendas. Likewise, a commitment to honorable conduct as well and service and good behavior tend to build goodwill with others. Additionally, being an outsider of ability and honorable conduct often leads to great responsibility because of the advantages of being an outsider, like not having an established power base within a given area that would destabilize the well-being of the institution or society as a whole, whose power is reliant on others and not a source of potential vulnerability. Sometimes it is worthwhile and comforting to realize the perks of being an outsider. After all, if that is what one is, one needs to make the best of it, both for ourselves and for those around us.

[1] See, for example:


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Book Review: Vanity

Vanity: A Snow White Story, by Sonya Writes

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Like the other stories by this author [1] in this series of fairy tales retold, this story features a one word title and is about a young woman dealing with the struggles of life. In this particular case, the story deals with a young woman who becomes a princess and comes from a family with a father who physically and verbally abuses her mother. Poignantly, the story’s central lesson begins when the young woman believes that her father must think her ugly because she looks like her mother, even as her mother leaves because of the abuse, abandoning Cassius (a rather manly name) to handle the duties of womanhood while young. Fortunately, she finds herself a mentor in a kindly neighbor who offers to teach her well. Sadly, her broken family situation leads her to desire to be told she is beautiful out of insecurity. Perhaps insecurity rather than vanity would be a more precise title of this story, as vanity makes it seem more sinful, while insecurity makes it easier to relate to given the fact that many people suffer vulnerability and problematic longings as a result of abusive family experiences.

This short story, fitting as a deconstructed fairy tale, introduces a prince early in the story and immediately marries him off–to someone else other than the main character, who accepts this without jealousy. Then Cassius watches Snow White be born, a rather invisible observer, concerned about her father’s anger over a late dinner, only to find him dead when she returns home. Despite her grief, Cassius (known as Aunt Cassie) becomes close with her niece Snow White, only to find that Guinevere (the princess and Snow White’s mother) has died in childbirth. Somewhat shockingly, the widowed king Augustus finds Cassius beautiful only a few months after the death of his wife. Intriguingly, Cassius’ skill with handling Snow White in a sisterly fashion, with kindness and tenderness, makes her seen as a fit wife for the widowed young king. Unfortunately, trouble comes about when the Seven Dwarfs give the king and his new bride a magic mirror that will answer one question honestly per day. The rest, as they say, is an intriguing and dark twist on a familiar tale filled with adultery and enchantment, and ultimately a happy ending that does not involve the death or misery for the vain and insecure stepmother of the beautiful Snow White.

What is most remarkable about this story is that even though the story focuses on women (Cassius and Snow White and Mrs. Guinevere in particular), the main lessons in the story are of most use to men in their roles as husbands and fathers. The heartache and agony at the heart of this story relates intimately to the failure of men to be loving and considerate fathers or loyal and honorable husbands. The book deals rather sympathetically with the insecurity that result from spousal abuse, abuse of children by parents, and the treachery of adultery. It is very possible that these are subjects that the author can relate to all too painfully herself, and insecure young women from broken families whose longings for father love drive them to intense desires to be thought of as lovely and beautiful often lead to tragic outcomes are sadly a frequent phenomenon in our deeply troubled world. Sadly, there are not many honorable princes to help care for such young women, but this world is not often as kind as even the most realistic of contemporary fairy tales.

[1] See, for example:

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Non-Book Review: Fire On The Water

Fire On The Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific, by Robert Haddick

This book was one of the books I have picked up from the Naval Historical Institute [1], and in many ways it resembles the last book I received from them, “Rebalancing US Forces,” which shares with this book a strong concern for the Pacific region of the world and also of China’s ambitions and threat to the United States and its well-being, as well as the well-being of other nations, who are far better off with American hegemony than they would be under China’s vastly more exploitative domination. This book has the task of seeking to show to Americans that efforts at countering China despite our relative cultural wariness that our handling our responsibilities is better than letting someone else seek to ruin the world.

I haven’t read the book yet (obviously, as I just got in the mail today), but it does look as if this book is one of those types of books that deals with strategy, and it’s not surprising that I should be interested in the book with its at attempt at painting a vision of the future, both a desirable and an undesirable one, to shape our present actions that will lead to the future that we find. As someone who has spent several years in Asia-Pacific areas like Los Angeles, Thailand, and Portland, I suppose I have spent the time in the right places to be concerned about the Pacific and the nations around it. This book appears to be more systematic about focusing on strategy than about talking about the geography of the Pacific, but we will see if the the two books dovetail in their ideas about what the United States needs to do.

It is hard to think that this book is optimistic, but there are some questions about what approach this book will take. It is possible that the book would seek to scare people into acting out of fear of China. That appears to me to be the mostly likely way this book is going to appeal to taking steps to seek to counteract others. How much does fear motivate our actions? I would rather be motivated by a love for others and a better future ahead than to be motivated by fear and hatred of others. Our lives are too short to be pulled about by wicked games, if we ought to recognize the dangers that are in the world around us. How to be wise and circumspect without being ruled by fear, and how to be inspired by a better future rather than apocalyptic visions like a Basil Wolverton drawing is a delicate and difficult task. Perhaps this book will manage it, perhaps not.

[1] See, for example:

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Viola Names

Yesterday I rented a viola from a local fellow who has excellent taste in Christian literature (and seemed particularly generous about letting me borrow a wire music stand once he knew that I also played music for my church), who runs a music store out of his house in the area of Rock Creek, not far from where I work. When I arrived, he was taking care of providing a 17 year old young lady with a cello, and I could tell she was a beginner at the cello, but clearly very musical, and she expressed an interest in using the cello to help her score work, which reminded me of an online friend of mine from the Los Angeles area who had similar musical interests.

One of my many quirks as a violist is the fact that I like to name my musical instruments, like I name computers and cars. Unlike computers and cars, which I give female names to (either some sort of pun on the color or brand or model name, or of a lady I think fondly of), I have tended to give violas male names. I am not sure of the reason for this, but I suspect that in part I consider cars and computers to be generally mysterious and sentient organisms whose will is distinct and sometimes clearly contrary to my own, while I have considered my violas to be almost as if they were an extension of my own character and personality, or of a loyal friend where there is no hint or chance of a disastrous outcome.

The viola that I own, which I have played since I was 13 or so, has been named Harold III for about two decades now [1]. I’m not sure the precise joke about why I chose the name of Harold for my first viola as a preteen, and then updated the number for succeeding violas as I grew in size and skill. That said, from how I remember it there was a combination of some naughty puns to the name and the shape of the instrument in its case as well as a reference to British and Scandinavian history that made the name particularly appealing to me as a boy. I am not sure if I will name this viola, which I have rented on a three month contract for a very modest price (which is the minimum amount of time allowed for rentals). The owner stated a price of around $350 if I decided to purchase the viola afterwards, which appears to be a very modest price indeed, given the fact that my own viola in Florida is worth in the neighborhood of $3000 or so. I suppose I will have to think if a rental is a close enough relationship to give a name, or if something needs to be owned. I suspect the latter is true, so I will withhold from naming the instrument for now.

The larger question, I suppose, is why I would be bothering to rent a viola in the first place, and why at this time. As it happens, I somewhat absentmindedly stated that I was a musician who plays the viola on my registration for the Feast of Tabernacles, and while I have borrowed a viola to play in the past (last year at the Feast, for example), this year the owner of that borrowed viola is going somewhere else. When I was called upon to play a solo for offertory music, though, for the Feast of Tabernacles, clearly I needed an instrument to rent and I needed it soon, because I will need to play at least a little bit to get back into speed before the Feast comes. So, my brethren at church will have the chance to see me play the hymns at church for the next few weeks as I try to retrain my fingers and shoulder to do what they need to do to make a joyful noise in about a month or so, another day in the life of a quirky musician, I suppose.

[1] See, for example:

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