Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka ‘Aina I Ka Pono

In 1843, there was what diplomats call an “incident” in the Kingdom of Hawaii. A rogue captain, Lord George Paulet, in charge of the HMS Carysfort, sought to protect the rights of British citizens in Hawaii by demanding the cession of the Hawaiian Islands to British rule, which was granted at the barrel of his cannons on February 25th. As might readily be imagined, this was protested by the Hawaiian king, Kamehameha III, who appealed to Paulet’s superior officer, and even more ominously, by the United States, which sent a few warships to challenge the British over dominance of these islands, which would be annexed a little more than 50 years later after a pro-American coup overthrew the native monarchy in favor of American interests. The British, no doubt a bit chagrined by Paulet’s activities and not interested in a naval confrontation with the United States and with a restive local Hawaiian population, decided to respect Hawaiian sovereignty and the independence of the islands as, at that point, confirmed, on July 31st. In his public speech to his people upon being restored to his throne after the brief British takeover, King Kamehameha III uttered the words which would become Hawaii’s state motto over one hundred years later, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina I ka Pono.” This phrase can be translated various ways, most commonly “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness,” or perhaps more accurately in the context it was given, “The sovereignty of the land is preserved through righteousness [1].”

What did the Hawaiian king mean by this statement? We know, for example, that this phrase is used in a contemporary fashion by the Hawaiian sovereignty movement to seek the restoration of freedom for Hawaii from American rule, although demography would appear to doom any such attempts, given that the native Polynesian population of Hawaii has been swamped by East Asian and North American migrants. As much as we may decry the loss of freedom that results from such massive migration, and seek to regulate it in an orderly fashion elsewhere, a commitment to republican government requires that the opinions of the people on the ground be considered, and not only those who were original inhabitants of an empty land. The perpetuation of sovereignty, after all, requires attention paid to demography and numbers, and while it is fashionable not to remember the earliest commands of mankind, one of them was for mankind to be fruitful and multiply, something which some of us (myself included) are not particularly skilled at, and which those peoples who neglect to pay attention to it, like the native Hawaiians, find out to their great discontent the repercussions of that neglect. It was just for the British to return sovereignty back to the Hawaiian king, and right for that same Hawaiian king to make sure that British citizens’ rights and safety were guaranteed, but the response of Hawaii to seek cheap foreign agricultural labor from foreign countries and the resulting loss of sovereignty that ensued ought to be a warning to others that the desire to perpetuate unequal power simply because of original presence in the absence of the numbers to back up that power is likely to end in failure.

Aside from these issues, there is a point in which King Kamehameha III was certainly correct, and that was that for one’s realm to continue, righteousness is required. We should note, as a point of fact, that the righteousness was clearly absent in Hawaii’s royal court during the course of the 19th century, for which anecdotal evidence abounds. One part-Hawaiian chieftess, Elizabeth Keawepo’o’ole Sumner, a child of an adulterous punalua [2] relationship that her father had with his wife’s sister, married a wealthy but polygamous Chinese merchant who had a previous marriage dissolved due to her adultery, and this same chieftess co-wrote a love song with the future Queen of Hawaii Lili’uakalani called Sanoe, about a married woman who carries on an adulterous affair with an unknown man. Numerous female students of the Royal School during the 19th century were expelled and put into hasty shotgun marriages due to pregnancies during their studies, never a good sign of public virtue [3]. Another king, an alcoholic, died of TB after a short reign, leading to instability in the royal succession. King Kamehameha III, it should be noted, was certainly not an upright and moral man. He had first wanted to marry a half-sister, like his older brother had, but this incestuous union was condemned by the growing influence of advisers and missionaries, and he had a couple of illegitimate children himself with a mistress who happened to be the daughter of one of his father’s advisers. And this is not even to mention the other aspects of royal immorality. Suffice it to say that if righteousness was required for sovereignty to endure, that the royal family and elite of Hawaii clearly lacked the moral excellence to preserve their rule in the face of continual pressure from imperial powers like Great Britain and the United States.

Yet let us not pick on the Hawaiian monarchy, as if this was not a general problem. The monarchy of many nations, and the political leadership of nations, whether monarchical or not, are full of evidence that righteousness is lacking. Nor is there a great deal of room for the ordinary people of the world to mock their elites as corrupt without also pointing the finger at ourselves. Where is there righteousness for any realm to endure in our present society in any segment of society? To be sure, we may find that people emphasize some aspects of righteousness and downplay or ignore or are downright hostile to other aspects of righteousness. Someone may point to godly principles of justice in dealings with others, while another may point at areas of personal morality, or the demand to respect authority, but where do we find any sort of widespread call to demonstrate love for God and love for fellow man through obedience to the whole standard. As it is written in James 2:8-13: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” As children of the Most High, we are all royalty, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and honor accordingly. Let us behave worthy of our station, so that our lands and our sovereignty may endure.

[1] A more detailed discussion of this matter can be found here:

http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.5/cgi-bin/hdict?e=q-0hdict–00-0-0–010—4—-den–0-000lpm–1haw-Zz-1—Zz-1-home-Ea–00031-0000escapewin-00&a=q&d=D1766

http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.5/cgi-bin/hdict?e=q-0hdict–00-0-0–010—4—-den–0-000lpm–1haw-Zz-1—Zz-1-home-pono–00031-0000escapewin-00&a=q&d=D18537

[2] A punalua marriage is one in which all of the brothers of a given family marry all of the sisters of a given family in what amounts to a polyamorous relationship.

[3] See, for example:

Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke (1970). Mary Atherton Richards, ed. The Hawaiian Chiefs’ Children’s School: a record compiled from the diary and letters of Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke by their granddaughter. C. E. Tuttle Co. p. 279.

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Book Review: A Noble Masquerade

A Noble Masquerade, by Kristi Ann Hunter

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

I don’t often read romance novels, but when I do I make sure they are witty and clever historical romances [1], like this Regency romance from Georgia author Kristi Ann Hunter. This novel has a lot of strong elements that make for a good Regency romance novel. There are sisters fighting over male attention, one of whom is approaching spinsterhood and hides her deeply passionate nature underneath a reserve of shyness and awkwardness but pours her heart out into letters that, when accidentally sent, cause extreme awkwardness, while the young sister is catty and flirtatious and enjoys using her beauty as a form of tormenting gentlemen. There is a secret romance between a widow and her brother-in-law, and a case where a woman, who is a sister to a Duke, thinks she is falling in love for her brother’s valet, which would be highly inappropriate, only to find out that he is a Duke but also a spy who has been working for the government in order to break a pro-French spy ring during the Napoleonic War. There is fighting, there are smelling salts, there are witty conversations over dances and in horse-drawn buggies, and there is a wink and a nod to Jane Austen’s work herself.

Those who like Regency romance novels will find much to enjoy here. There is romance, a compelling historical context with the Napoleonic Wars and the general morally dissolute nature of the aristocracy of the time, and the usual gender politics about what was ladylike and not ladylike to do, and the class divide between masters and servants, with all the proprieties and ironies that resulted from those social barriers. As this book is written by a contemporary lady, writing an openly avowed Christian romance no less, a great deal of work is spent in subverting certain proprieties while maintaining the overall decency of both the male and female romantic leads. There is a lot of fretting here about God’s plans, and about trying to resign oneself to solitude while being positively desperate for genuine love and affection. A lot of people, male and female, can relate to that. A contemporary author, seeking to create a spunky and worthy heroine, is often not willing to allow her to be subject to the immense restrictive protocols that existed for courtship, and yet if such an author seeks to present her character as virtuous and noble both in character as well as in class, this requires immensely convoluted plots, such as this excellent novel possesses, and which I will endeavor not to spoil for those who want to read it. This is true for the lead romantic male of this novel as well, who is appealing to his future partner first as the loyal but unknown friend of her beloved older brother, and then in his disguise, and finally under his own complex but decent face.

A novel like this should be enjoyed on its own terms. While Jane Austen wrote about her own environment, about the places she knew best and the sort of people that were in her family and in her painfully small social set, and wrote about them with considerable wit but also a great deal of sadness, given that she never married but wrote optimistic but realistic romances with heroines not unlike herself, an awfully sad fate for such a deserving lady, contemporary authors of Regency romances do not write with the same personal stakes. Rather, this novel is an example of historical fantasy, written with a great deal of our own contemporary worldview (particularly as it relates to women) coloring the way that the past is portrayed. One of the joys of reading a good novel like this one, though, especially given the context in which it is set, is the opportunity to read good letters, even if they cause great personal awkwardness. At least on a couple of occasions in life I have wanted to write a letter like this, not that it would do any good: “Your Grace, I am deeply ashamed at the letter you received. I cannot imagine what you must be thinking. Please know that it was never meant to be posted, and I hope that, should our paths ever cross in the future, you will be able to forget this ever happened. It is a silly childhood habit I have of spilling my thoughts to people I do not know. I find it much more cathartic than the mere keeping of a journal. It was a simple misunderstanding that caused this rambling to wind up in the post. My deepest apologies. Yrs, Lady Miranda.” Such characters in novels like this are not so different from us, after all.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/book-review-after-a-fashion/

Posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Welcome To My Eruv

Last Sabbath, I was not present at services on account of being at the Men’s Weekend not far from Corvallis [1], so I was unable to do my customary sermon review as is my fashion. That said, one of my friends in the local congregation figured I needed to hear the message enough to send the cd to me in the mail, and so I was able to listen to it yesterday evening. A great deal of the message discussed the issue of boundaries, a frequent if often unsatisfactory area of personal concern [2], and the message was introduced with a discussion of something known as the eruv, which is a characteristically Jewish public-private space that allows for the carrying of burdens in public as if one were in a private space, but which also involves a certain collective treatment of space that turns the private public. While the speaker brought up the concept of the eruv, his analysis of it was more an examination of one particular manifestation of it in New York, and with a somewhat critical attitude of the way in which Orthodox Jews seek to find clever and legalistic ways around the strict boundaries of the law in order to live lives that are both godly and practical. It is not my intent to merely recapitulate the message, nor is it my intent to comment on any supposed but potentially ominous personal references in the message, but rather I would like to focus on the way in which the difficulty of boundaries in contemporary society springs from the fact that so many of our own lives, including my own, have come to be lived in an eruv, rather than in a world where there is a sharp divide between the public and the private. Much personal difficulty to myself, and to many others, has resulted from the failure of this essential boundary. It is therefore to the larger context of public and private space, and to the eruv as being symbolic of our contemporary semi-public, semi-private space, that I wish to discuss, as its relevance to the message is something that was perhaps not even recognized by the speaker himself.

Over the last few months, I have written a little bit [3] about the difficulties that have come to a particularly well-known and very large family who acquired a certain amount of fame due to a reality television show. Normally speaking, we would assume that decent and upright people, even those with abnormally large families, would be fairly private people. We would expect them to, if they homeschooled their children, exist at peace with their neighbors, involved in a local congregation and in their local community, but not be people of particularly obnoxious fame. Yet the contemporary phenomenon of the reality television show has allowed many people who would ordinarily have been of perhaps local curiosity to receive national, if not global, fame, with money and other benefits as a result of that increased visibility. To be sure, many of the people who have engaged in such matters have sought or at least welcomed this increased reach and the economic and social benefits that have resulted from this increase in status. Yet something has been lost with all that has been gained. Reality television show, as it relates to families, puts television cameras, editing, the creation of some kind of narrative out of what are often disparate events, into what is normally a private space, namely one’s own home. If such shows allow for reputation management, and the turning of what was normally left to the judgment of others into something that at least was possible to influence privately, they also turn one’s private life into a public spectacle, and make previously private people into public figures whose private life becomes the fodder for public gossip consumption. This is not an unmixed blessing.

Yet this phenomenon is by no means limited to those who parade themselves on television, or who receive any kind of economic benefit whatsoever as a result of their visibility. Rather, we must freely admit that inasmuch as many of us have privatized the public space by creating a space for our own private judgments and opinions and experiences and expression, so too many of us have in the process made ourselves uncomfortably private figures, and what we have gained in the reach of our voice we have lost in the reduction of privacy and in the acquisition of at times unwanted personal notoriety as a result of that obvious public reputation. Whether we are taking endless selfies of ourselves and posting them online, basking in the glow of flattering comments of our attractiveness but frustrated by the resulting damage done by acquiring a reputation as being too attention-hungry or flirtatious, or whether we post Youtube videos promoting recreational drug use and share them on social media when we have taken sick leave from work, or whether we turn our complicated and often difficult personal life into the fodder for thoughtful and reflective but often provocative blog posts, using the resulting views as an easy way to gain a seemingly endless supply of free books, we are all part of this uncomfortable tension between the public and the private, engaging in private personal behavior that is nonetheless in the public sphere and that acquires public hostility and benefit or harm to our public reputation.

Part of the problem has been that there has always been a sharp divide between public reputation and private honor. Presidents and kings, for example, were known to be scoundrels in their personal lives, squabbling with their children, deeply disloyal to their wives, and engaged in all kinds of moral and economic and political corruption. That corruption was always kept behind closed doors, though, and it was necessary for people to maintain a reputation for probity by being discreet where they lacked honor in their personal lives by being decent. Generations of people, especially men, grew up with this standard being displayed, and the double standard that resulted was one of the elements that led to the rise of early feminism. While properly decrying the double standard that existed between sordid personal lives totally lacking in honor and the reputation of upright and even sanctimonious moral probity, many of the social trends of the past century have resulted in the decline of behavior to match its most sordid elements, rather than any attempt to behave in such a way that we may be worthy of the reputations we seek. This is not to say that such work is easy—it is particularly unpleasant and difficult work consisting of frequent and pervasive restraint, and a great deal of personal discomfort, but it is honorable work nonetheless. What recent changes in media, whether in the proliferation of amateur digital photography, blogging, or amateur videography, or reality television for that matter, have done is to remove the wall that formerly protected the outside world from seeing the private world inside our minds, inside our hearts, and inside our homes. Quite honestly, this is a world that many are compelled and horrified by at the same time, as this growing candor, without any corresponding growth in decency, has shown everyone just how screwed up everyone else is. And once we have seen that, we cannot ever forget it.

Again, this comes with a price. Part of that price is paid in a loss of respect for people in offices. We may have always known that various powerful and influential people were corrupt, but when we have the evidence in reading their e-mails, listening to them on audio, or seeing them in video, our respect for such people necessarily is reduced. Since people regularly seek honor and dignity from offices to bolster their personal reputation, when the people who hold offices are shown to be unworthy of that honor, our natural and human tendency is to lower our respect in those offices. It is entirely to be expected that people, like the gentleman who gave the sermon message last week in my local congregation, should wish to bolster respect in institutional authorities in an age where contempt for authority of all kinds is a serious menace. The message is necessary, and even those of us who struggle deeply and openly to respect authorities [4] must admit that insofar as we respect the moral position of the Bible, we must accept that it consistently requires a respect for authority in all spheres of life, to be done as much as possible without murmur and complaint, regardless of the justice and honor of the people who hold such offices. That said, at times it seems as if the arguments are too self-serving, and that oftentimes what is in fact an often unconscious mimicry of a declining social standard of deference and respect for authority, or the result of deeply scarring and horrible personal trauma, is taken as a personal attack. In such a realm, the distress of those who are alarmed by insecure authorities is read and interpreted as seditious and rebellious, with the full attention and hostility of the institutions they govern falling on such unfortunate blunt speakers of truth and strong personal opinions.

The problem is larger than any of ourselves. The problem is, how do we behave in the absence of trust in others, a concern for the sensitivities of others, or honest and open communication with other people about where their lines exist and where ours exist and what is the best sort of behavior for all of us to engage in to both graciously accept the freedom of others to live so that they do not continually offend us, and also to live in such a way that we do not continually offend others by being rude and insensitive? Our public lives and private lives used to be separated by very high walls and hedges, so that it was possible, even normal, for people to live different (albeit hypocritical [5]) lives on different sides of those walls. Those walls have been torn down, mostly in ignorance of the full ramifications of that decision by those who have sought increased control of their public image and the profits that have come to making one’s private life more public. Having torn those boundaries down, with growing hostility to public standards of restrictive decorum that hid certain more unsavory aspects of private life from public scrutiny, and with a growing desire to be respected and honored for who we are, warts and scars and all, we do not know how to live. People see aspects of our private life that would have made previous generations shudder in absolute horror, but without having earned that access through goodwill and through building up trustworthiness. We disrespect any public proclamation of virtuous standards in the knowledge of widespread private vice, evil that in different ways cuts through everyone’s personal life. Yet the only way we have of arresting our moral decline is to make the restraint and polite graciousness that has in times past been accepted public decorum the exacting standard of our private lives, which are no longer private. We cannot do this alone—we will need all of our own strength, all of the encouragement we can get from trustworthy friends and family members, and all of the aid possible we can get from our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. If we cannot rebuild the walls that once protected our private lives from public scrutiny, we must live our lives in the fishbowl with as much honor and dignity as we can summon, in the knowledge of the horrific stress it places on us all, even as it makes our lives a more public example for others to follow, if they wish. Welcome to my eruv—and may I be paid in coin in this world or in the world to come for the vulnerability that comes from welcoming you inside. May you prove yourself worthy of my trust.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/building-the-temple-a-review-of-the-2015-oregon-mens-weekend/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/book-review-boundaries/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-cut-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/on-the-right-side-of-the-line-for-a-change/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/dont-cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/are-you-gonna-cross-that-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/blurred-lines/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/jesus-loves-you-more-than-you-will-know/

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/honor-your-father-and-mother-that-your-days-may-be-long-upon-the-land/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/the-christian-duties-toward-authority/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/let-another-take-his-office-a-musing-on-authority/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/1-timothy-517-25-let-the-elders-who-rule-well-be-counted-worthy-of-double-honor/

[5] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/the-lost-chord/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/the-whores-of-northern-malaysia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/virgins-and-whores/

Posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Prayer, Power & Results!

Prayer, Power & Results! by Abolaji Muyiwa Akinbo

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

This is a self-published book from an American-educated Nigerian-born pastor who happens to live in Florida, so if one tempers one’s expectations accordingly, one will not be bothered by the minor orthographic errors, changes in font from page to page on occasion, and omitted words in long series of fairly similar sentences included in this book. As a prolific reader of material across the landscape of self-professed Christians, I make it a special point from time to time to read books that spring from a different culture than my own, not least because it provides perspectives as to what others are dealing with, which helps to provide for better perspective. This is the second book from this particular author I have had the chance to read [1], and like the previous book it happens to be strong in dealing with spiritual warfare, to the point where its discussion of demonology is far beyond my own knowledge of different classes of spiritual hosts, including mysterious “star hunters.”

In terms of the author’s overall approach, the organization of the book provides a significant hint that this book is more about seeking power, and speaking in a commanding fashion, than it is about prayer as it would be recognized by most people (at least most people who I happen to know). The first third or so of this book gives a justification of prayer based on a series of extended metaphors, and stories, some of them drawn from scripture, some from the homely stories of ordinary life. This mixture seems to be suggestive of the way that this book is a blend of the author’s own native cultural traditions along with the overlay of scriptural truth and language. This is not to criticize the author in any way, for this is a tendency that all of us have, but it is most noticeable when looking at others rather than oneself. The remaining more than 2/3 of the book is taken up by a dense array of short and often pointed sentences that alternatively praise God, seek to induce God into giving some kind of blessing, or rebuke some sort of diverse array of evil spirit, ranging from spirit wives and the aforementioned star hunters to spirits of addiction and despair. To give at least some flavor of the contents of this second part of the book, these contents consist of a given theme, like praying against insomnia, or prayer for ministers and minister’s prosperity, or a prayer for a spouse, or triumph over anxiety, to give but a few examples, a few scriptures, and then between one and three pages (in general) of short sentences, most of them with bolded words and ending in an exclamation mark, to shout out to God or Satan and his demons. Needless to say, it should go without saying that this book features a lot of shouting.

In terms of evaluating this book, there are a few matters that stand out. For one, the author in this book (as in the previous work of his that I read) takes spiritual warfare far more seriously than most people. Despite the fact that I sometimes find his manner of expression infelicitous, he certainly does focus on praising God, on beseeching God for blessings, and on rebuking the demonic world particularly strongly. In reading this book, though, several matters of either concern or critique came easily to mind. One of these is that the book offers little in the way of structured and organized discussions of prayer. Rather than a thematically connected set of statements that form a coherent whole, even the longer series of prayers here either offer repetition with slight difference or mere random collation, as in the rapid fire prayers at the end. Any logical flow, aside from the general theme of the collection of prayers, is largely coincidental. Additionally, the use of prayer to seek to induce God is dangerous ground, especially when one considers that one of the prayers in this book is a request for God to banish all unscriptural thoughts. The scriptures provided are generally useful, and if some of the language of the short comments is unbiblical and indeed even hard to understand for those who do not share the author’s cultural background, the book does contain enough thoughtful material to be worthwhile both as a cultural artifact as well as an attempt to encourage others to take prayer seriously. There is much to be said for that, even if far too many of these prayers cross over some dangerous borders into the territory of the prosperity gospel or the message of books like The Secret.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/book-review-parents-loose-your-children-from-bondage/

Posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

If I Could Melt Your Heart: A Reflection On Frozen Conflicts

A little while ago I discussed the research of Zbigniew Dumienski concerning protected states (also known as microstates) [1] and some of the reasons why a nation would prefer to allow freedom to very small and mostly neighboring areas rather than attempt to rule over them themselves [2]. Today, I would like to return to that subject and examine the contemporary problem of frozen conflicts and how their existence has demonstrated the difficulty in solving these problems because of a fundamental asymmetry between the approach of different parties in a frozen conflict, and on the impossibility of compromise between the de facto and de jure status of those territories in dispute. These frozen conflicts are present in our world to a great degree, and can be found mostly as artifacts of a colonial history, often in cases of a strong ethno-religious divide, that have made peace impossible. The international community, for a variety of reasons, has largely sought to avoid granting legitimacy to these various states, and the response of individual nations appears to be highly dependent on contextual factors without there being any overarching moral or philosophical justification for statehood on a consistent basis. I had once thought to examine frozen conflicts as part of an overarching doctoral dissertation on diplomatic and military history and the often frustrating conflict between military matters and diplomacy when it comes to the search for international legitimacy, and this deep interest accounts for my dealing with it today, and from time to time, at least briefly.

In many cases, the proliferation of unrecognized states appears to be the result of successful campaigns of divide and conquer by imperial nations. At other times (most notably in Western Sahara and Somaliland, as well as Northern Cyprus) a division appears likely to be based in part on colonial history overlaid on existing tribal or ethnic differences combined with the result of tyrannical behavior on the part of the core part of a nation that alienates a substantial and concentrated minority that seeks freedom through secession. Examples of this sort of division, where regions have a differentiated history due to imperialism of some kind, where politics (often of an ethno-cultural nature, though not exclusively so, and often with religious overtones as well) lead to frozen conflicts and some kind of breakaway republic and where the resolution of that division is impossible because of the persistent divide between de jure and de facto arrangements that defy resolution. However these conflicts are caused, which is often the matter of a case by case determination through historical analysis, such matters are worthy of a lengthy examination, as it appears as if there has been little written at length about frozen conflicts in the broader sphere, while most of the existing literature is of a journalistic nature and has been published about specific cases [3]. In examining the subject, it would first be worthwhile to examine what makes a frozen conflict of the type that we want to examine—those that hinder the recognition of independent nations, so as to be able to determine the basis for their being frozen, and perhaps suggest some means for their unfreezing.

What makes a conflict frozen, by my definition, is the persistent inability to reconcile a status on the ground (de facto) with the legal and diplomatic position of the international community (de jure). Examples of these conflicts are legion and they are present in all parts of the world, and they may persist for decades [4]. Time does not heal these wounds, nor lead to any reconciliation between warring parties, aside from a change in the will on those parties to persist in their sullen hostility to do what is necessary for either reconciliation or amicable separation. Any situation where there is a gap between an actual “line of control” and a legal boundary as defined as a line on the map [5], there is a frozen conflict, whether it is recognized or not or whether it is dealt with in any fashion. It ought to be of little surprise that many of these conflicts exist in the post-Soviet sphere, whether we are looking at more active conflicts like the Crimea or Donetsk conflict between Ukraine and Russia, or the conflict between Transdnistria and Moldova, or that between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or that between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabagh area, to give some of the most obvious examples that come to mind. In all of these cases, persistent ethno-cultural differences, sometimes with religious differences overlaid on top of them, are the result of the lines on maps not corresponding with identity, and with the behavior of successor states to more sharply defend their own legitimacy as independent states acting in ways that alienate minority peoples in their own states, who in turn wish to split off in turn. Rebellion is a contagious habit, and those who successfully split off from a larger entity often find to their sorrow that the bonds that unite them are not necessarily strong enough to keep them together once they have separated from others. Even more tragically, those nations that are the entities a new nation has split from are often allies of movements that wish to divide those successor states in turn, as it keeps those states weak and keeps alive the possibility of recovery of those territories at some future time, as it is easier to conquer a number of smaller and weaker states than to conquer fewer and larger ones. Additionally, a large nation with imperial ambitions, like contemporary Russia, may see in supporting the legitimacy of various successor states the possibility of these states achieving legitimacy in the international community, and thus providing friendly and supportive votes in international institutions that operate via the principle of one nation, one vote, similar to the way that protected states tend to be friendly votes for their benign neighbors.

In all of these cases, we see consistent patterns. There is often either the threat of or the actual history of abusive behavior within a given state between one group of people who controls the government and some particularly organized minority group that has a well-defined territory and a strong regional identity. There is also the fact that these differentiated and often hostile groups have been thrown together through malicious or incompetent lines being drawn on maps in ignorance or disinterest about the identities that exist on the ground and their boundaries and limits. When nearby nations have a strong reason of their own to support a breakaway republic once a conflict exists, whether one is looking at the United States’ decisive support for Panamanian independence from Colombia (thanks to the lure of the Panama Canal), or Russia’s similarly opportunistic support for breakaway states that weaken those whose separation weakened it. Nations can behave surprisingly like people, and bitterness can lead peoples who deeply hated others separating from them to actively support those who leave the ones who left them. Let us never forget that vengeance and pettiness are not only the province of emotionally immature people, but of the institutions and nations ruled over by those emotionally immature people as well. It is this same emotional immaturity, on a large scale, that accounts for the fact that decades can go by without any resolution of these conflicts.

This is especially troubling because the resolution to these problems in general appears remarkably easy to conceive of, and this solution has been tried over and over again, with a great deal of success, in situations as diverse as the separation between the United States and Great Britain to Belgium and the Netherlands to Singapore and Malaysia. It is a multi-step approach with long-term harmony in mind. First, if one has an intransigent region that simply refuses to be governed by us, does not trust us, does not respect us, and does not like us at all, the best thing to do is to let them depart, to not insist on ruling over them, but only demanding a cessation of hostility and the provision of an open door and open communication as neighbors. In the context of a cessation of hostilities and a recognition of mutual freedom from the burdens of conflict, and in the context of rebuilding friendly relations through communication and trade to overcome the previous history of conflict, then cooperation on areas of mutual interest can occur. It is only by changing the situation, though, that one can resolve the conflict, and that situation can only be changed by coming to terms, and agreeing on the reality that exists. Whether this occurs through a peace treaty (like the Treaty of Paris between the United States and the United Kingdom) or whether it occurs through a recognized and internationally monitored plebiscite (like the votes that led to the independence of South Sudan and Montenegro, for example) is immaterial. What is important is that at some point there needs to be a recognition of an unpleasant reality and a coming to terms with it, in the hopes that the changing a frozen conflict to open separation can allow for the potential for greater future unity once trust and goodwill have been built up. The only way that trust and goodwill are going to be built up, though, is for the state of frozen conflict to cease, and for it to be replaced by a spirit of warm neighborliness. Why this is so hard for people to understand and apply is a far more complicated matter.

[Note: I would like to take the opportunity to wish a happy birthday to Transdnistria, which unilaterally declared itself a Soviet Republic on September 2, 1990, to an unequal mixture of ignorance and disdain.]

[1] http://ams.hi.is/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Microstates_OccasionalPaper.pdf

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-on-the-legitimacy-and-viability-of-mini-states/

[3] See, for example:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/22/frozen-conflict-spreads-across-globe

http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=133740

http://www.economist.com/node/12494503

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/27/opinion/ukraine-crimea-russia/

http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/10/pakistani-rogue-policy-on-kashmir.html

http://www.defence.pk/forums/central-south-asia/233237-pak-india-dialogue-single-point-agenda-kashmir-pkkh-tv.html

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/new-country-watch-list/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/when-maps-lie/

Posted in Church of God, History, International Relations, Military History, Musings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Foreigner

There are a lot of genres that have a beef about being neglected by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, like Electronic/Dance and Progressive Rock, among others. Yet Arena Rock, the album-oriented rock of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, with its undeniable influence in terms of catchy radio-oriented singles, and successful albums supported by large tours, the picture of success as a contemporary Rock & Roll band, has been notably absent from the inductions to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for reasons that are surely not accidental. Bands like Journey [1], Boston, and others, along with Foreigner, have created songs that have endured for three or four decades through constant radio play and live performance, along with karaoke status, covers, and the like. Foreigner is one of these bands, and a band that is hungrier for critical recognition than most. From its initial naming of itself as Foreigner because as an Anglo-American band, it would always be a foreigner wherever it went [2] to the anecdotes recorded in one of their several successful best-of albums (The Very Best…And Beyond) that demonstrated how Sting [3] supposedly stopped his “Dream Of The Blue Turtles” session to hear Foreigner record their only #1 hit “I Want To Know What Love Is,” and that Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols once made his girlfriend at the time dance all night to “Hot Blooded,” Foreigner has always sought to be given the recognition they have deserved from their popularity, but that critical recognition has often been lacking, even among those who recognize that their success was on the level of such bands as Led Zeppelin and Van Halen [4], both of whom have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and despite the fact that they are still one of the best selling bands in the entire world, with over 80 million albums sold, and even if their music is considered “a wonderful document of what ‘70’s rock looked like in a landscape that was already being shaped with album-oriented acts and AM radio stations that pushed for a much more self-serious brand of pop music [4].”

The Influence Of Foreigner

The influence of Foreigner can be understood in several ways. First, the influence is in the music, whether one looks at the ornate pop of “Cold As Ice,” the edgier fare like “Urgent,” and “Hot Blooded,” or the ballads like “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “I Want To Know What Love Is,” or “I Don’t Want To Live Without Your Love.” Their songs are regularly played on ‘70’s and 80’s radio, and remain enduringly popular to this day as covers. Bands and singers as diverse as Tina Arena (“I Want To Know What Love Is”) to Soul Asylum and Jorn Lande (“Break It Up”) have covered their songs. The second level of influence is in the way that their career has served as a template for many bands to follow after them—record successful and well-crafted singles aimed at a variety of formats, including a balance between mainstream rock and adult contemporary, support these albums and hit singles with long arena tours, and continue touring even after the hits stop coming, and frame the titles and songs of albums around matters of personal drama (this is similar to the behavior of bands like Yes [5] and singers like Taylor Swift) to ensure interest in the personal drama that is behind the music. A third level of influence is in the fact that the band itself, and its music, is a chronicle of the tension between a longing to be respected as a macho and muscular man (“Rev On The Red Line,” “Urgent,” “Hot Blooded”) and the desire to find loyal love among the societal collapse of trust and marital/relationship fidelity (“Dirty White Boy,” “Say You Will”), as well as the harm to one’s peace of mind and health that come from being too driven as musicians (“Long, Long Way From Home,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” “Juke Box Hero”). Here we have a band with popular and enduring songs, a sustainable career model that continues to bring them a solid income and catalog sales, and a worthwhile place as commentators of contemporary pressures on musicians and men. Together, that is a picture of strong influence, for if their music reflects the influence of time, their ability to sing about it so well influences others in turn.

Why Foreigner Deserves To Be In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

For one, the bands of the caliber of Foreigner during their heyday: Chicago, ELO, Journey, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen are either in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or deserve to be. There is no question here that we are dealing with an elite band with close to a dozen enduring songs that remain mainstays on classic rock radio. Not forgetting that they almost had a top 40 hit in 1996 with “Until The End Of Time [6],” they hit the Top 10 of the Pop, Mainstream Rock, and Adult Contemporary charts with songs like “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “I Want To Know What Love Is,” “That Was Yesterday,” “Say You Will,” “I Don’t Want To Live Without You,” “Heart Turns to Stone,” “Lowdown And Dirty,” and “Soul Doctor.” Many of these songs remain popular on the radio even today. Turning aside from the hit singles, there is the reality of their stellar album sales, with two multi-platinum and one platinum compilation albums, along with five multi-platinum and one platinum studio album. This is the sort of career success that ought to be a shoe-in for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, regardless of what one thinks about power ballads [7]. Foreigner deserves induction for their music, for the fact that the music touched a nerve with the public and has endured, and for the societal importance of their music and their model being a template of success in the music business.

Why Foreigner Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

It’s clear that a lot of the people responsible for nominating Rock & Roll Hall of Fame acts do not like AOR and Arena Rock acts of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, deriding such popular and influential and enduringly loved bands like Foreigner, Journey, and others as “corporate rock.” Clearly, it is only prejudice that stands between Foreigner and everlasting glory of being played in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s jukeboxes in Cleveland, which is where they deserve to be. A band that tries so hard and works so hard, despite a career filled with all kinds of fluke accidents, including a reunion effort cemented by the LA riots in 1992 and band personnel issues due to brain tumors and colorectal cancer, deserves at least some recognition for sheer grit and determination.

Verdict: This is a no-brainer. Foreigner deserves to be in. Specifically, the original six members of the band (Lou Gramm, Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Ed Gagliardi, Dennis Elliott, and Al Greenwood, along with replacement bassist Rick Willis [8]) deserve to be inducted, which would include all of the core members from their first album in 1976 to 1991’s Unusual Heat, except for temporary replacement singer Johnny Edwards. Again, it’s not that complicated. If one wanted to throw in inductions for Bruce Turgon and Jeff Jacobs as well, who were with the band for 1994’s Mr. Moonlight and the next decade after that, that would be fine too. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. The core seven of the band’s most popular period, though, definitely merit induction.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-journey/

[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20120321191538/http://www.foreignerfiles.com/overview/faq/part1.htm

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-sting/

[4] http://www.popmatters.com/review/188289-foreigner-the-complete-atlantic-studio-albums-1977-1991/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-yes/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreigner_discography

[7] For the record, I happen to like them a lot:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-the-power-ballad/

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreigner_(band)

Posted in History, Love & Marriage, Music History, Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On The Revisionist History Of Classic Rock

One of the more popular formats of radio is the classic rock format. Whether one is looking at music from a particular decade, like an 80’s station, or one has a “Jack” format that plays hits from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and beyond, there are some similarities that these stations have, beyond the fact that the formats are often designed by radio consulting firms working for large companies. Among the most obvious of them is the fact that such stations present a picture of the past that is heavy with revisionist history. To be sure, most people who listen to the nostalgic music of the past, hearing the soothing sounds of music from their youth, or their parent’s youth, as the case may be, are not consciously aware of the fact that classic radio is largely an anachronism that presents as a unified whole that which was separated originally, and also presents the music of the past through its contemporary relevance and popularity. This gap between the past as it actually occurred and the past as it is remembered is, of course, a very large and complicated problem, large enough to fill books. The problem of the music history of classic radio, though, is at least small enough that it can be broached here, to be expanded and revisited if necessary in the future.

The core of classic rock is the music of the 1970’s, which was, as every decade’s music is, a complicated affair. In the 1970’s, there was a sharp split between more polished and commercial music on AM radio, whether easy listening (what we call adult contemporary nowadays) or album-oriented rock and pop music in general, and more daring rock and disco music on FM radio. While both of these strains contained very popular musicians and hit songs and albums, they existed on parallel planes—by and large, people either focused on listening to songs on AM radio or on FM radio, and among the various genres within them, whether that meant listening to urban-oriented disco and R&B stations or outlaw country or mainstream pop. There were, of course, stations that attempted to play hit music of all kinds, but it was mainly the American Top 40 with Casey Kasem [1] and similar shows that allowed people to listen to a variety of music at the same time, whether one was listening to Led Zeppelin or ABBA, Dan Fogelburg or the Bee Gees. On the charts these songs may have been adjacent from time to time, and on the album charts they certainly were, but in radio, there was a great deal of segmentation and segregation. It should be noted that this is exactly the case today. If you listen to hit radio, for example, you will likely only hear songs that have “crossed over” with a short playlist of maybe 20 to 40 songs that play over and over again, and may not even include all of the top 40 songs in the country. Similarly, if you listen to an adult contemporary station or an alternative station, you will listen to songs, and enjoy songs, that will be played in moderately heavy rotation for months and months, and years and years, without having ever been played on a top 40 station or appearing high on any sort of mainstream pop chart whatsoever. An example of this would be a song like “Such A Rollercoaster” by The Bleachers or “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage The Elephant, to give two examples at random.

One may not think this is important, until one contrasts contemporary hit radio with the way that it appears through the filter of nostalgia. This is true for several reasons. For one, there are a lot of songs that are popular in a given period whose popularity is not enduring because the songs are viewed as novelty numbers whose popularity is a sign of temporary insanity rather than something that anyone wants to remember in following decades. For example, the song “Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner hit #2 and was held from the top spot by Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” and Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” but has endured better than either of those two songs in the intervening decades [2]. Likewise, a song like “In The Year 2525” or “Macarena” can be a #1 hit for weeks, or even months, but with the passage of time what was once a popular and enjoyable song becomes an embarrassment that no one wants to be remembered, and so such songs become trivia items and are not part of regular rotation. In contrast to this, a song that was not particularly popular originally may receive heavy airplay because it becomes an icon of a given time, even if at the time it was released its airplay was not all that impressive. For example, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nik Kershaw didn’t even make the top 40 of the Hot 100 chart, but both are well-remembered, the first song because it became a fixture at baseball parks [3] and the second because it had an inventive music video that was played during the mid-80’s on heavy rotation on MTV at a time when Britpop was particularly popular on that station. Likewise, “Tiny Dancer” became a particularly popular song as a result of its inclusion in the Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous,” giving it a retrospective importance that far overshadows its original single sales and radio airplay. Classic radio’s pattern of revisionist history allows music that was once popular but has since become an embarrassment to be forgotten in exchange for those songs which have gained in stature by being recognized for their qualities even if they were neglected when they were first released. It gives radio deejays an opportunity to give a different picture to the past as remembered than it was originally experienced, by placing next to each other songs that would have never appeared on the same stations at the same time when that decade was still around, and giving attention to songs that were widely ignored at their first release before being polished off and given attention by later filmmakers and cultural figures.

There is something gained and something lost in this perspective. For one, the organic wholeness of a given age of music is not often that is possible to experience at the time without the benefit of hindsight. What is a mere fad and what is a lasting and influential pattern requires time for the good and the bad to be separated, to see what aspects of a given song are copied, to see which artists endure in popularity, to see what songs capture the feel of an age. For example, “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival did not even crack the Top 10 during its run on the charts, and this from a band that somehow managed to get 5 #2 hits (without a number one), yet the song is widely remembered as a song expressing discontent with apparent inequalities about how the college-educated children of wealthy families were able to gain deferments from Vietnam while less fortunate sons were sent to fight and die in the rice paddies and rain forests of Southeast Asia. What may make a song uncomfortably topical in the present, and therefore less popular than escapist fare, makes it a fitting document of the past in retrospect. Yet if we judge the past by our memory of it, we whitewash the shameful and embarrassing aspects of it, covering over the bad haircuts and fashion, and playing up the quirky and unusual aspects of the past that were ignored or derided at the time but whose worth over time became easier to understand. In revising the past, we make ourselves appear better discerning and more tolerant and open to a wider view of the world than was the case at the time, viewing with fondness in retrospect what we were ignorant of or hostile to while it was first occurring. Unless we are unusually honest, it is easy to neglect that the past, as experienced, is not so different from the present as it is experienced today, in that we are often deeply divided, involved in our own little worlds, and all too often tragically ignorant about the most important trends in culture and society until after their effects are clearly seen. Someday, those who are young now will realize when they are old, when their fond memories of youth become the subject of nostalgic radio formats reminding them that they are young no longer, and that their memories have become music history.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/keep-your-feet-on-the-ground-but-keep-reaching-for-the-stars/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_a_Girl_Like_You

[3] http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5216466

Posted in American History, History, Music History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Non-Book Review: Mercenaries And Their Masters

Mercenaries And Their Masters: Warfare In Renaissance Italy, by Michael Mallett

As someone with a personal interest in mercenaries [1], I was glad to be able to review this book for the De Re Militari when my previous book review on the War of the Roses was posted. The history of mercenary warfare in Italy is colored by the perhaps ironic moral disapproval of mercenaries by Machiavelli. One knows that one has an uphill battle for legitimacy when Machiavelli considers one’s activities to be immoral. Throughout history, and this is by no means limited to Italy, mercenaries have gotten a terrible reputation. The Swiss, of course, fought as mercenaries for centuries, largely because arable land and opportunity overseas were limited as citizens of a landlocked republic largely without natural resources. The money to live has to come from somewhere, and if it comes from fighting someone else’s fights, so be it. The soldiers who fought for blue and gray, and the contemporary “civilian contractors” (among whose illustrious company in Iraq was at least one relative of mine) were all in the same line of business as the famed White Company and others who hired out as military experts to fight battles for elite urban republics like Florence and Milan, which were blessed with a great deal of material wealth but not a great deal of egalitarianism or popular support or patriotism.

The title for this book bodes well. After all, in history, it is the mercenary that has gotten the worst of the trade, having sacrificed honor and reputation for a few florins and evanescent fame. Yet what we have here is a clear case of mutually advantageous service. Many mercenaries fought because it was better to make good money as a professional soldier in a world where their skills and their lack of class status made it hard to make anything close to the same living other ways. For those who were skilled at fighting and were too proud and prickly in their own honor to return home to be mere serfs or peasants, it was appealing to make decent money and live a good life, if a dangerous one, fighting in an area where there were continual wars over towns and villages and over different sides in arcane internecine political struggles. Can a man be blamed for taking up someone else’s offer to be a swordsman or pikesman for hire because his skills are in demand because of the problems of others, and is it just for his “master” to be free to sanctimoniously condemn mercenaries while simultaneously employing them to their best effect, for the preservation of rule by himself and his haughty house over some Italian city-state?

It is my hope that this book, which does not look overwhelmingly long at about 250 pages of core text, addresses these concerns thoughtfully. There is much that deserves a fair hearing, the social context of mercenaries (their national and class origin, for example), the reasons why Italian city-states preferred mercenaries to civilian town levies, the reason why mercenaries were the ones who got the bad reputation rather than the much more wealthy and powerful interests that hired them, and what influences mercenaries have had on contemporary combat. As is often the case in life, those who are merely the obvious symptoms of larger social breakdowns often suffer blame rather than being seen as the canaries in a coal mine that hint at much greater malaise within a society than their own presence and conduct alone. That is a lot to ask for in a book, but let us hope that this book fulfills on a large part of those expectations.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/unser-leben-gleicht-der-reise-eines-wandrers-in-der-nacht/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/book-review-the-german-element-in-the-war-for-american-independence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/a-dishonorable-profession/

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Book Review: Dataclysm

Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, And Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us About Our Offline Selves, by Christian Rudder

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Broadway Press in exchange for an honest review.]

In many ways, this book is deeply fraught with tension and even contradiction. The author claims not to provide a rah-rah case for big data or a lament, but spends a great deal of the book touting the benefits of understanding data and lamenting the loss of privacy. The book claims to honor the data representation excellence of Professor Tufte [1], but most of the graphics provided are a little thin in actual data points, even if they may have a lot of dots without labels showing on scatter graphs. Perhaps most egregiously of all, the author claims not to have an obvious bias, but spends a great deal of this book praising Howard Zinn (a Maoist historian most famous for his travesty A People’s History Of The United States) and promoting morally corrupt left-wing social agendas. If that’s not a bias, I don’t know what would qualify as a bias, particularly given his partisan sniping at more conservative cultural figures.

Concerning its contents, the book is divided into three parts. The first part looks at what brings us together, but not really. The first chapter looks at the different ways that men and women behave when it comes to seeking relationships. Men are more fair when it comes to judging attractiveness along a bell curve, while women think that somehow only about 16% of guys are above average looking (such harsh judges). Unfortunately, the statistics show that while a woman wants a man to grow old with her, men tend to find women at their most attractive in their late teens and early twenties, no matter how old they happen to be. The author then comments on the ways that it is good to inspire strong feelings, whether positive or negative, and the sort of relationship patterns that work best and worst. The second part, what tears us apart, looks at the different searches that are most popular among straight men and women and gay men and women, and also among different races, as well as the way in which rage and public stoning find themselves far too common on the internet, stories many of us can relate to personally. The third section, what makes us who we are, is largely critical of those people who focus on personal branding, and brings up some thoughtful question, but is largely written with a contradictory tone of smug superiority and alarm at the fact that it seems difficult to do anything to prevent the loss of personal privacy for very little gain to people (companies and governments) who cannot really be trusted. Considering the seriousness of this matter, the fact that the book spends most of its time talking about the frivolity of OK Cupid profiles is a failure to focus on what is most important.

Although the list of books written about big data and its implications is a fairly long one [2], this book has a promising niche among those who are interested in both big data as well as a mildly libertarian or even socialist streak. The author has done a lot of work to make this popular among the slacktivist class of readers, even if he makes fun of them for not being more concerned about matters of privacy, and the content of this book, which focuses on relationships, sex, racism, and left-wing talking points like the “male gaze” and other aspects of the contemporary outrage culture, ought to appeal to its target audience. Unfortunately, perhaps, for the reader, I find the author’s use of the flood imagery in cataclysm, which was used first to describe the flood of Noah, to be all too appropriate for the content of this book, and in a way that is seemingly unintentional. As this book was clearly not written for me, the best thing to do is leave it aside, and let others who are more appreciative of such material mine it for salacious cocktail party trivia.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/book-review-envisioning-information/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/book-review-visual-explanations/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/book-review-the-visual-display-of-quantitative-information/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/book-review-the-cognitive-style-of-power-point/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/book-review-beautiful-evidence/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/book-review-big-data-work/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/book-review-dataism/

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No Line On The Horizon

As someone with a relentless need to communicate by spoken and written word, the medium of language in which that language is conveyed has long been of great personal interest to me. In many ways, the language that we use is like the water in which a fish swims, or the air around us which we breathe. Unless something is a drastic problem, it is a matter we seldom notice. While doing some idle reading today, as is often the case in my free time, I came across a discussion of the last remaining Doric Greek language, mutually unintelligible with the Modern Greek, that is spoken fluently by only a few hundred mostly elderly people. A few generations ago, the language was spoken by perhaps a hundred thousand rural Greeks or more, but the lack of official recognition for the language, and the realization that the language is an isolated and low-status dialect, and the fact that culture and education are in Modern Greek and not this hardy survivor of the language spoken by those who dwelled in the ruins of Mycenaean society more than three thousand years ago, has led to the immense loss of fluency in this language among the formerly isolated areas of rural Greece where it was once spoken commonly. The knowledge that one’s native language is backwards and stigmatized tongue is a powerful incentive to learn a higher status language so that one can pass as cultured and civilized and not be looked down on like some sort of uneducated rube. As a child of the Appalachian Piedmont who grew up in rural Central Florida, and who has lived far from these native lands for long stretches of my life, it is a problem I know particularly well, and deeply personally.

Yet language is more than a way to pass as a member of an elite culture or to suffer stigma for sounding vulgar and uneducated. Language also helps us to make sense of our world, and expresses a great deal of our private assumptions that are not often explicitly examined. When I learned Spanish, for example, I found that there were at least a few ways that even with a fairly high level of conversational understanding, that there were ways in which my extremely high level of American English thinking was very contrary to the Spanish which I was trying to learn. An example of this is the fact that Spanish contains an entire sense of subjunctive verbs that describe possibility but not certainty, a lack of certainty that is entirely lacking in English. Naturally, with alarming regularly I would discuss matters in the indicative sense, whereas the people I spoke to who were native speakers of Spanish would speak in the subjunctive sense, and my speech and writing would come off as particularly definite and more than a little harsh. To be sure, it was not done maliciously, but the sharpness and perhaps harshness of my own mind is reflective of the particularly pointed and precise and definite language that comes most naturally to me. Mine is a language of sharp edges, not of blurred lines, as is my mind. Additionally, a few other aspects of learning Spanish were notable, particularly the way that one does not say that one dropped something, but rather that it fell, a phrasing that tends to reduce responsibility, blaming gravity for what an English speaker would consider a matter of negligence or inattention that is blameworthy. Language expresses powerful aspects of mentality, and when one masters a given language, part of that mastery involves thinking naturally and instinctually through that language, so that one has adopted the perspective and approach of that culture. This aspect of one’s language being a lexicon of one’s way of thinking and behaving that is merely expressed in the spoken and written word is the legitimate reason why people tend to think of those with other languages as threatening others, because the difference in language implies a difference in thinking and a difference in mindset, and unless one is a part of a culture that values multilingualism (Switzerland being a notable example of this), such differences tend to create tensions and difficulties within the body politic, whether one is speaking of the United States or the nations of the Balkan peninsula.

Previously, I have written much about the difference in language that results from the shift in language in looking at Greek and Hebrew [1]. Given that the Bibles that most of us (and I assume I am writing to an audience of people who do not speak the koine Greek or biblical Hebrew or Aramaic) read are in English or whatever other language we are most familiar or trying to gain mastery in, the shift in meaning that results from moving from one language to another are often muted by the fact that those various other languages have all been translated into the language that we read. As a result of our failure to recognize the mindset of languages, we are prone to struggle with the experiential nature of knowledge in the biblical Hebrew [2], and likewise we tend to fail to properly recognize that the precision of Paul, for example, does not permit his words to be twisted to the extent that they commonly are without our suffering greatly as a result of that violent misinterpretation of text. We ought not to think this is a problem only for biblical texts—anything that is spoken or written can be violently misinterpreted, because a great deal of context is necessary to understand where a person is coming from, what tone they are using, what they are really talking about, so that we can meet them and come to terms with them and profit from their communication with us. When we lack the comprehension of where others are coming from, and lack the interest in seeing them as they are or were, then we will inevitably depart from their intended meaning in our misinterpretations.

How do we go about saying what we truly mean? First of all, we have to know what it is, in fact, that we actually mean. This is not a trivial or straightforward task, as we often do not really know what we are looking for, or what we are really aiming at, or we may be unwilling for one reason or another to say what we truly think or feel because we will feel stigmatized by it. And so our language will be couched in polite or vague terms that seek to deflect or disguise the true reality within us. Such a task may be necessary and proper for reputation management, but it greatly hinders our ability to be understood, and reflects our unwillingness to engage with those around whom we do not feel safe being ourselves. Our language, rather than simply being a medium for communication, becomes a method of disguise and obfuscation, as we seek to become skilled enough in language to pass ourselves off as something creditable or praiseworthy or elegant or cultured when that may not be the case. Additionally, we may find that the languages we are trying to speak do not accurately express the reality in our minds, which will lead us to either find the best equivalent possible or encourage our creative thought processes to the extent that we are willing to create and define terms to bring to life what we are thinking and feeling that does not yet have any known expression in the real world. In so doing, we enrich our communication when we can convey more precise and accurate communication, accurate in tone, accurate in meaning and extent, accurate in intensity. Sometimes, though, that means we need to work on the language itself, to better shape it according to our own hearts and minds and spirits, and to convey it to those who care about what we have to say in the first place.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/on-the-difference-between-greek-thought-and-hebrew-thought/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/when-greek-minds-try-to-understand-hebrew-texts/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-two/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-three/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-four/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-five/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-six/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/my-people-are-destroyed-for-lack-of-knowledge-part-seven/

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