The World Has Gone Mad, As Demonstrated By Today’s Full Color Mailer

Today, we received our weekly or bi-monthly (I’m not sure which) full color advertising mailer. For some reason, I paid attention, and I am sorry I did, for it is evidence that the world has gone mad.

On the cover, a Papa John’s advertisement for a pizza that is like a burger:

Inside, an Arby’s advertisement for a burger that is like a pizza:

You know what? I may be an old man, but when I want one, I order it and not the other.

Don’t you like taco pizza? Shut up, he explained. Also, I might be prejudiced against the particular combination of pizza and burger because about forty years ago, I awakened at 2 am vomiting copiously after having eaten frozen pizza burgers.

Still, this is not the singularity I was promised in the 21st century.

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Book Report: Shock Waves by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverDo not confuse this book with the John Sandford novel Shock Wave. I didn’t until I was looking at the names of books I’d already read and thought perhaps I’d read this novel before and mistyped it.

At any rate, this book is a bit of a skip from the earlier ones I’ve read: The last, The Bone Yard was #75, and this is #81. As I get later into the series, the numbers skip by higher increments. I wonder if the books lost their popularity after the middle 1980s enough that there aren’t a lot out in book sale circulation (or if the covers changed colors enough so that I don’t recognize them). So I’m likely to miss some series business, such as changing the focus from the Mafia (again) to aliens or something.

Within it, Bolan travels to New York (Long Island) to rescue an informant who has been captured from the witness protection program by the mob. He finds a local boss has called together a klatsch of capos to crown himself the boss of all bosses. One of the Ranger Girls has accompanied a West Coast capo to the meeting, and her attempt to communicate intel blows her cover. So once Bolan starts shooting, he has to watch out for a couple of friendlies.

The book is a bit talky: Everyone gets a chapter to think about Bolan and what he’s doing. Although there are interesting elements to the plot–one of the West Coast capos calls in reinforcements who arrive just as Bolan sets it off–they’re not handled very deftly. And the book climaxes quickly with the big shoot-up set piece.

So it’s a basic Bolan book: A hard site, a soft penetration, a hard invasion, finis. With a lot of extra talking instead of suspense or tension.

Perhaps it’s best that I not find too many of the later books in the series (by later,, I mean “the back three quarters”) as they’re keeping me from reading important books that make me feel smaht. On the other hand, they do break up the smahtness. So I’ll continue reading a dozen or so of these a year. Almost like I had a subscription!

The end material of this 1985 book is also interesting. In addition to the subscription offers (with free bumper sticker), Gold Eagle has a tease for its Automag magazine about men’s adventure fiction (which must have flopped, as I can’t find anything about it on the Internet, although the people who named the magazine certainly picked a name that would yield search engine results for actual semi-automatic magazines and gold coins in the 21st century–but then again, SEO in 1985 was very primitive indeed). There’s also a contest for a Jeep CJ and a Gun Data Sheet for some obscure rifle.

Also, the book uses the phrase the war on terror to refer to Bolan’s earlier exploits in attacking terrorist groups. Which made it seem a little more contemporary than the book is, but when I was reading those books (in the middle 40s to, what, late 60s? #70?), the same terrorist organizations and countries remain hotbeds of terrorist activity today. So the books remain too timely in that regard.

These books are not only quick and sometimes interesting reads, but they’re wonderful bits of 80s nostalgia.

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Back to the Past

So, I’ve done something I haven’t done in almost twenty years: I got a membership at a video store.

Now, gentle reader, you might remember my December rant on the limited catalogs of streaming services (What I Want To Watch, When I Want To Watch It). I still feel that way, but I’m pretending to be frugal now. I had to watch Johnny Mnemonic for a writing assignment (which I read back in 2006), and of course, Amazon Prime and Netflix don’t offer it. My beautiful and sultry wife has a membership at the local video store, Family Video, so we went there to get a film for the boys and to see if the shop had Johnny Mnemonic. They did.

So the boys and I had a little time one morning last week, so we returned the films we’d rented, and I signed up myself to be a member.

It reminds me very much of when I was young. Right after I moved out of my mother’s basement (at twenty-six, because I was a millenial before being a millenial was cool), I lived in an apartment just down the way from a Blockbuster video. I didn’t get a cable package, as I didn’t watch that much television, but I did have a couple evenings that I wasn’t spending with my sultry girlfriend/fiancée. So I’d go down to the Blockbuster and pick up a couple of movies to watch.

I like to browse; I like to go to book stores/music stores/movie stores to look at the covers, to pick them up and read the backs, to weigh my options–Waterworld or The Postman? (Just kidding–that night, I rented both and had a Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic marathon.)

After I converted my beautiful and sultry girlfriend/fiancée into a beautiful and sultry wife, we had a little more money to spare, so I often spent Friday nights or thereabouts at the local Best Buy nearest our home in Casinoport browsing DVDs to buy. When my beautiful and sultry wife was traveling for business, I’d plan a night in with two to three films.

But it was the same thing: Wandering amongst the cultural commodities, picking and choosing and weighing what I wanted to watch very soon. You don’t get the same thing with choosing films from a menu.

So I’m reliving my younger days in these holdouts from the past, again.

What have I rented so far?

Johnny Mnemonic; The Medallion with Jackie Chan; and Frontera, a Western with Ed Harris. To be honest, rentals are like 2 films for $1 for 5 days, and given my current lifestyle, it’s a bit challenging to watch two whole films in five days. The last film I watched before Johnny Mnemonic was XXX with Vin Diesel, and it took me like three weeks to watch the whole thing in two parts.

But I’m a little hopeful that the video rental thing will get me watching a few more movies, which will be a nice change from all the reading I tend to do (and get myself a little in a rut and a little bored doing). Perhaps it will help me with the Jeopardy! online test this year (but given that the online test is later this week, probably not!).

Wait a minute, Brian J.! Don’t you have a cabinet full of videos that you’ve picked up over the years from garage sales and whatnot that you have yet to watch?

Well, yes, I do. But I also have bookcases full of books I have yet to read, and I still go to the library from time to time (every week, sometimes several times a week). Sometimes the video store (and the library) offer me a bit of novelty that I don’t get from my own shelves when I have to pick something out to watch (or read). I’ll get to the things I own, too, I hope.

At any rate, it’s already given me two bits to relate: One amusing, and one of hope:

First, the day my boys and I went in, I sent them (old enough now to be out of my sight in a store) to pick out a couple films while I leisurely browsed for my two films (for a dollar). I circled behind them somehow, and I caught up with my eight nine-year-old striding for the back corner of the store. “Oh,” he said, “I thought I’d find you in the Adult section.” I looked up, and high on the wall, indeed, is the word Adult, and there’s a labyrinth leading to a section cut off from the main selection by high walls and a corridor. He didn’t know what he was saying. I think.

Secondly, now that both my beautiful and sultry wife and I are members, we’ve provisionally planned to go to the video store to pick out a film to watch together. My heart flutters, not only because she’s beautiful (and sultry when she wants to be), but because this is what young people did when we were young: A half hour at a video store, the choosing leading to the culmination in watching the film itself. It was more of an event than simply selecting something from a menu.

I guess I’m old-fashioned because I’m 1990s-fashioned.

Hey, what’s with the whole “and sultry” thing? Mr. Hill, in another forum, said “Brian J. used to toss around the word “sultry” in those days, and he wasn’t kidding.” Clearly, I have been remiss and am looking to bring the universe and my compliments of my wife back into balance.

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One Pound, One Year Later

Last summer, my youngest son found an English pound on a playground. But this pound had a hole drilled in it to be used as a necklace. So I resolved to make a little necklace for him using the pound.

Did I mention that was last year?

With the impulse to do something about it, gentle reader, I put it on my desk. As you know, I have a series of posts categorized Five Things On My Desk because I often have strange and interesting things on my desk for a long period of time.

To be clear, I have a huge corner desk here with a probably twenty square feet of surface area, and a couple of printers and whatnot for small things like coins to disappear under, not to mention the cubic feet of papers, magazines, unopened mail, and, what is that, a bag of AC adapters my mother-in-law gave me over the weekend for some reason? So, in my defence (as the British might spell), this little coin has been hiding under things and occasionally surfacing when I clean off the desk, only to resubmerge quickly.

But when I put three months’ of children’s certificates, greeting cards, and ribbons into binders (this is what passes for “scrapbooking” at Nogglestead), I found it again. So I thought, “All I need is a jump ring (a jewelry term because I have made some jewelry in my day, son) and a chain, and I can finally make that necklace.” Which I am sure I first thought a year ago.

But, as fate would have it, I found a gold jump ring on my kitchen counter behind the fruit bowl. Nogglestead, verily, is the Trenchcoat Schtick writ large. From whence came this golden jump ring behind the apples and oranges? I’m not sure. It could be one of the boys’ key chains elsewhere awaiting repair. No matter: The key chain is not on my desk, and the pound is, so I know which takes precedence.

So we’re off to the hardware store for a chain. Instead of a nice piece of steel links or gold links to hold it, I think a bit of light chain would be better. So I measure out 18″ of #3 in gold and pick out a connector, when suddenly I’m in a Marx Brothers (or, in my case, Marx Children) bit as Harpo pulls a chain, and it starts to completely unreel from its holder. He stops it, starts to reel it in, and brushes another reel. This reel, and one that is not close to it, start to spill their chains onto the floor as well. I hand the bag with the chain and the connector to my oldest child to hold and slowly reel in the chains. When I’m done, I find the oldest child was too cool to hold the bag, so he’s dropped it on the floor and wandered off, presumably to find sharp things to fidget spin into a hospital visit.

I pick up the bag, gather the children, and we depart. Later, I unload the bag on my workbench, and the connector is gone. I mention this to the older child, who apparently saw that it had fallen out of the bag when he dropped it, but did not mention this to me or, you know, put it back in the bag.

So we went back to the hardware store the next day to replace it. Which is something noteworthy in itself: I put the $.13 connector on the counter by itself, laid down a quarter, and got change. That will probably never happen again.

After the second trip to the hardware store, I got the chain looped in and linked, and now the laddie has his necklace.

Which remains sitting on his bookshelf, because he’s not as excited about having a necklace with a British pound on it as he was, oh, say, a year ago.

But it’s off of my desk. And it’s a project completed years later, which means this post goes in the DeRooneyfication category.

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Book Report: Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh (2013)

Book coverI forgot to bring a magazine with me one day while taking my children to the library, so I picked up this book by a prolific Vietnamese monk.

The book focuses on the mindfulness aspect of Buddhist practice. Basically, the book is 150 pages of reminding yourself to take a breath and focus on your body and your mind in the moment. Which is not unhelpful, of course, as that’s pretty good advice. The book contains a couple bits on other Buddhist practices, but it doesn’t delve too deeply into the pure philosophy of Buddhism (the ontology, epistemology, or theology). It’s not even as focused on sitting technique as, say, Start Here Now.

So, basically, it’s take a deep breath and be aware of yourself in the present moment.

For 150 pages.

Although I’m not interested in Buddhism as a pure philosophy, I like reading about the practical applications, such as the mindfulness and a bit of the meditative aspects of it. So I’ll probably pick up books like this from time to time to remind me to take a deep breath and to be mindful. But then I’ll get sixty pages into them and think they’re being repetitive. When they’re probably just trying to be reinforcing, mantra-ish, and perhaps a bit hypnotic.

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Book Report: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes translated by Donald A. Cress (1637, 1998)

Book coverI’ve been listening to a lecture series on the Great Ideas of Philosophy, and as we’ve gone along, I’ve recognized the many of the seminal works mentioned as items on my to-read shelves. So I picked up this book because it’s not very long. Also, it’s at a turning point in history, right as the Middle Ages are ending and the Enlightenment is about to begin (although you could dispute with me the dates where this occurs, but I’m having none of it: this is my blog, and if I want to make interpreted remarks, I will, thank you very much). Also, it is only 44 pages, unlike, say, Being and Nothingness.

At any rate, the book includes the two big things one remembers from Descartes: I think, therefore I am (Section 4). That animals have no souls (Section 5).

Actually, while reading this, I had a brief conversation with a high school student who told me he didn’t like Descartes because Descartes said animals had no souls. I’d just finished the section, so I could explain in greater detail. Basically, it’s that you can build machines that will behave according to their parts, but humans are something else, as we can do things and communicate things that are outside of the physical parameters of our bodies. Animals, on the other hand, cannot. I conflate Descartes’ argument with something I recently read on the Internet about the language of animals, which says that animals can communicate through sounds, but they cannot create complex sentences that indicate conceptual thought.

I felt smart, anyway, being able to explain in more detail the argument. Without the pages and pages of explanation on the then-latest science of heart surgery prefaced with:

I would like those who are not versed in anatomy to take the trouble, before reading this, to have the heart of some large animal that has lungs dissected in their presence (for such a heart is in all respects sufficiently similar to that of a man), and to be shown the two chambers or cavities that are in it.

Well, I didn’t have advanced biology class, but I did see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so I was ready.

A lot of the discourse his explanation of what he’s done so far, and it ends with his talking about how he has not published a longer work after Galileo’s troubles, but he hopes that others will take what he has written and carry on other experiments according to his musings and using his method.

I’m glad to have read the discourse. As the conversation with the young man and the lecture series shows, it’s best to read the primary sources instead of relying on the summation of a thinker passed onto you by someone else. Also, the course helps put Descartes in context of when he wrote so that you’re not reading the book thinking it’s primitive and people have said this for centuries without focusing on when this was said and in what context.

So I’m pleased to have read it, and I feel smaht.

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A Home Office Quiz

Sure, it’s a twee listicle, but I’m treating this bit like a quiz. 14 Things a Professional Organizer Says You Must Have in Your Home Office:

  • Desk. Hah! I have two of them. A huge, overpriced monstrosity I bought ten years ago when I first went into business, and a smaller student desk that I bought twenty years ago when I thought I’d get into wood refinishing. As a matter of fact, I took off the handles and trim so I could jump on it right away, and I’ve left them off for these twenty (I exaggerate: 18, tops, since I bought it right after I got married and stuffed it into my hatchback at the time to bring it home).
  • Desk chair. Also, I have two, as the movers broke the cylinder on one when we moved from Old Trees to Nogglestead almost eight years ago. A couple of years later, I figured out you could order new cylinders off of Amazon, so I repaired it. It gives my beautiful wife somewhere to sit when she stops in when I’m working, and a place for a cat to nap other times. The other place the other cat wants to nap: The newer office chair where I’m supposed to be sitting.
  • Paper trays. I have both a horizontal tray as depicted and a file folder organizer beside it. Although the things that go onto the paper tray tend to stay there for years. Case in point: These forms to change beneficiaries on my life insurance that I’ve been meaning to fill out for several years now. After all, my mother died eight years ago, and she’s an alternate.

    Come to think of it, I have a second set of paper trays in my office hutch. I wonder what I have in there?

  • File cabinet. Again, I have two: One for personal things, and one for the business. I even pull files out of the personal files to store elsewhere every couple of years. Strangely, though, not my mother’s papers, which are still in the personal file cabinet, and a half drawer of note pads I inherited from my aunt and my mother.
  • Hanging file folders. Both file cabinets support hanging folders, although after several years they don’t hang as well.
  • Paper shredder. When I said I ate important documents, I was only kidding! The aforementioned shredder, though, is in my office.
  • Recycle bin. To be honest, I cannot claim this in good conscience as I remove my recycling as soon as it is ready for recycling.
  • Supply organizer. I have a pen holder with pens, pencils, a screwdriver, and scissors; I have a little tray with paperclips and rubber bands; and I have two cubbies in reach with tape, address labels, stamps, batteries, and whatnot. So I’ll claim this even if I haven’t spent money on a professional-grade supply caddy.
  • Computer. Yes, a few, as you might expect. I work with computers.
  • Backup hard drive. Yes, although I haven’t hooked it up since it was prone to prevent my PC from booting. I think that was a PC ago. Perhaps I should hook it back up. I also back up to a laptop I have here, so I can just go with relatively recent data in case of emergency without having to wait for a restore.
  • Extra set of cables. The laptop bag has the cables I need; the closet has a couple extra. And the store room, even after a couple rounds of winnowing, has backups to most things.
  • Wireless printer. This is particularly silly. I have one, but it’s hooked up by cable anyway.
  • Notebook or notepad. A couple grab-and-go, a couple note pads, and a couple dedicated notebooks. Check.
  • Supplies. Oh, so many, and for so many things I thought I might want to do in decades past.

Missing from this list: Tidiness and organization.

But if I had all that, I wouldn’t have fodder for a category called Five Things On My Desk. Which I should revisit sometime after I clear the last five things I mentioned off of my desk.

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Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

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Book Report: Shopping Smart by John Stossel (1980)

Book coverYou know I’ve read some of Stossel’s more libertarian current events (then current) books like Give Me A Break and Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. This book is not in that vein: Before he was a correspondent on 20/20, he was a local consumer reporter in New York City, and this book stems from those reports.

Its subtitle is “The only consumer guide you’ll ever need.” Spoiler alert: It is not.

I used to say that the Internet really hasn’t changed things all that much, but I stand corrected. I came of age as the Internet did, so all the adult things I’ve had to do, I’ve had to do in the Internet age (although I have typed college papers on a typewriter and used a card-based library catalog). Chapters on buying a house and buying a car illustrate how much these things have changed. I generally know what I want before I go to the dealer or, although I tend to retain a realtor, I do a lot of looking myself through the MLS on to get a sense of prices and whatnot. So just from the research elements alone, consumers are already ahead of where they were 40 years ago.

So the book is more relevant as a historical document than anything else: You can look at it to marvel at the $5,000 cars and the 10-12% interest rates. The charts that have nine or ten major national carriers and their customer satisfaction rates (spoiler alert: The ones with the lowest survive the best). The appreciation of the new stuff that is old stuff by now (Tylenol, before the taining scare, as better than aspirin).

You probably have to have been there, alive and partially cognizant, in 1980 to really appreciate how much buying and selling has changed in the interim. Otherwise this book is nothing but one of those 1800s medical texts that people buy to decorate their homes with old books. With a disco-era pictures of John Stossel as the main decorating point.

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So, Almost 10 Years Later….

I took a quick look at an old post (Good Book Hunting: August 27, 2007, and I zoomed in on the picture of my to-read shelves in Old Trees, and I thought, Man, I need to get to reading some of those books.

My to-read bookshelves, 2007
Click for full size

I see a bunch of them on the shelves then that I have not yet read. Mostly because they’re big and colorful and draw my attention to them even today. Also, because they’re still unread. In my defense, such as it is, I have more than doubled the size of the to-read stacks since then, and most of the books I’ve read in the interim have been acquired since then.

Also, in my defense, amongst the books I bought that day, I have read:

That’s 10 of the 23 I bought that day, so I’ve got that going for me.

Amongst the things I can identify on the shelves, I know I’ve probably read most of the McBain books present; the Ogden Nash volumes of poetry; Seawitch by Alistair MacLean; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Hannibal: The Novel; a couple of the Gor novels; and probably more.

So I’m making progress, just probably not as much as I am making the potential for progress.

How many to-read shelves do I have today? Seven full bookshelves and a small bookshelf.

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Not Exactly The Lutheran Pope

Nigerian archbishop Filibus elected head of Lutheran church:

A Nigerian archbishop has become president of the Lutheran church.

Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus was elected as head of the Lutheran World Federation on Saturday at an assembly held in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

I was all like, wait, what? I attend a church in the Missouri Synod, and I know there are state leaders and whatnot, but an international president? I’d never heard of such a thing.

Because this fellow is the head of an umbrella organization, not a “church” but a collection of churches. In the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the Lutheran World Federation, but the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (yes, both places I have lived have their own synods). These last are more conservative denominations.

So it’s like calling António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations the Secretary General of the world.

But calling this fellow the head of THE Lutheran Church is good enough for journalism work. Which is below the level set by the government these days.

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Book Report: The Tao of Elvis by David Rosen (2002)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books about a week ago, and I jumped right on it. I read it quickly because there’s not a lot of text to it, although perhaps more than in the actual Tao Te Ching.

The author is a Taoist Jungian psychoanalyst, so you can probably expect what you’re going to get: Presentation of Elvis as an archetypal Taoist king. The book consists of an introduction that stresses this, followed by 42 “chapters” (one for each year of Elvis’s life). Each chapter consists of a theme title page with an epigram, three or four quotes from the Tao Te Ching or other Taoist thinkers, three or four quotes from or about Elvis, and a couple paragraphs expounding on the theme. Themes include things like Knowledge and Wisdom, Home (Graceland), Innocence and Play, Work, and Success and Failure (see how important the serial comma is in that list, people?).

At any rate, it’s as much a book about Elvis as it is the Tao, really. Most of the bits of Taoism are taken out of their context, but after reading the Tao Te Ching, I can say they’re probably more appealing and understanding that way, without the next line that doesn’t really follow. That is, I read it more to see what Elvis said that the author of this book pulled out more than I read to see what the Taoist thinkers said.

I think the author tried a little too hard to tie the concepts together, and given the publication date (2002), I can’t help but wonder if he missed the sweet spot of capturing an audience with relevant knowledge of and appreciation of Elvis. Even my friend who used to be an Elvis impersonator is past that now, and he held on into the early part of the century (although living near to Branson, I know there is still some need and draw for them). And about the cover: Is that a yoga (Hindu) pose?

Which is not to say there aren’t lessons in the book: It introduced me to some Taoist thinkers beyond Lao Tzu, so it’s worthwhile in that regard, I suppose.

In other news, this book quotes the one book I have ever read on Elvis, Caught in a Trap by Rick Stanley. Although not as cool as when one philosophy book I read refers to another I’ve read, the cross-reference in my head is still somewhat cool.

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Household Tips from Brian J.: No Icing? No Problem!

When customizing a store-bought cake, you might find that you don’t have any white icing, or the white icing you have is from the 20th century and has crystallized enough that you’re planning to polish it to make jewelry to give to your beautiful wife for your upcoming wedding anniversary.

Don’t panic! You can use Elmer’s School Glue to customize your cake! It’s non-toxic and washable, which means your cake will be dishwasher-safe (top rack only!).

Good Lord, Internet people, I am only kidding. Please do not actually do this. I’m not sure how much non-toxic stuff one can ingest before toxicity occurs, but it’s probably more than nothing. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for this product is remarkably unhelpful. I did do some research on this post to see if I could find out if it would actually not be harmful if swallowed, but that fact is all No information on significant effects. Don’t eat. Don’t huff. Don’t Hoff. Don’t even read this post. It’s not funny after all.

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Musings on From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History

Course coverI’ve mentioned over and over that I was listening to a lecture series on Chinese history. Welp, I finished it. I also read the guidebook that came with the course, and if you’re wondering if I counted it as a book on my annual list, yes, I did. The lecture series itself was many hours in the listening, and the guide book itself is over 100 pages, so of course I did.

It’s a pretty interesting set of lectures, especially since my Chinese history was somewhat lacking. I read a couple of Wikipedia entries after watching the movie Hero, and I’ve looked at tourist books about China (like this one), but I’ve not really delved into it except where it’s intersected with Mongol history. Well, there was this book. But I’ve only dabbled in Chinese history. Not that listening to a series of lectures is much more than dabbling.

But I did get some insights and found some remarkable things. Including:

  • The fact that this succession of different groups controlling different regions could all be called “Chinese” history. You’ve got, for example, Mongols, Manchus, and various other tribes from outside the Chinese homeland taking over, succeeded by other non-Han peoples running things. But scholars continue to call it “Chinese” history. It would be like calling all of ancient Near East history Babylonian history (or Iraqi, perhaps) history–you’ve got different groups coming in and controlling the region around the ancient city of Babylon, but it’s Akkadian history or Chaldean history or whatnot. There’s not quite the enforced commonality you get in “Chinese” history. One has to wonder if that’s because in the 20th and 21st centuries, there’s a single Chinese government trying to control a large territoriy comprising different tribes’ homelands and to prevent fracturing or another tribe, so to speak, assuming power.
  • A lot of the tensions you find in the modern United States have repeated themselves throughout Chinese history. The tension about how much the government should control? See also the Discourses on Salt and Iron circa 81 BC. You see cycles of governments taking power, doing some good, and then focusing on the trappings of power in the capital city and leaving the rest of the country to fall into disrepair until the government falls, and the new government does some good until it becomes decadently focused on pomp, at which point….
  • A historian’s detachment to the present day can be misplaced. Historical deaths and brutality are just a story to me, but the deaths of millions by the present regime are not. However, the lecturer treats them all the same.

Is the lecturer pro-Communist China? Yes, but I suppose that’s either an occupational hazard or required to remain in good standing with the current government of China in case one wants to travel there for research. He calls the Long March epic and excuses a lot, including the millions dying in the Great Leap Forward, as though the bureaucratic overreporting were not a repeating motif in centralized government systems (If only Mao had known!). But Communist China is a small drop in the history of the reason, so it does not detract from the lecture series much.

So I’ll need to read more about Chinese history to cement what I heard. Also, I’ll need to read more and hear more to become more familiar with the transliteration of Chinese names and places. Listening to the lectures and reading the guide book afterward was a bit confusing as the spellings don’t match the pronunciations very well.

At any rate, worth my time, and sometimes worth going a little out of the way so I could finish a particular lecture.

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A Malady I Won’t Suffer, And A Quiz!

In the April issue of First Things magazine, David Bentley Hart discusses divesting himself of an extensive library:

I knew I would never be able to amass the literally hundreds of thousands of volumes that Gladstone and Disraeli each left behind when they departed this life, but at its apogee my library was around 20,000 volumes, which in our day, and within the practical material constraints pressing on me, was a fairly estimable hoard. Some of the books were rare and beautiful, many were ordinary, a great many superfluous, but I clung to all of them like a miser guarding the heaps of gold coins kept in his vault.

. . . .

In any event, it is all gone now, except for a few jagged fragments. In 2014, a natural catastrophe of an insidiously furtive and unanticipated kind overtook both me and my library, and ultimately (though in agonizingly protracted stages) the latter had to be liquidated. The bereavement of losing nearly forty years of accumulated texts, however, was not nearly as great as I thought it would be (allowing for the possibility that I am still in a state of shock). It turns out that all those texts are still out there to be read, and that many of them I did not need anyway.

Dear me, I shall miser on.

But the bulk of the piece is a reading list recommendation for a friend based on the books he had. I’ve recreated the list here, with the usual items I’ve read in bold and items I have not read but are in my library in italics:

  • J. A. Baker, The Peregrine and The Hill of Summer
  • Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl
  • “Lady Sarashina,” As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams
  • John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance
  • Ẓahir-ud-Din Muḥammad Babur, The Baburnama
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Violins of Saint-Jacques
  • Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten
  • Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte
  • The Ramakien
  • Longus, Daphnis and Chloe
  • Frederick Rolfe, Hubert’s Arthur
  • Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future
  • Pu Songling, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
  • Murasaki Shikibu, The Diary of Lady Murasaki
  • A. W. Kinglake, Eothen
  • Gyula Krúdy, The Adventures of Sindbad
  • The Kebra Nagast
  • Imekanu (Matsu Kannari), Kutune Shirka
  • Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations
  • Nguyen Du, The Tale of Kieu
  • Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
  • Kalidasa, Śakuntala (Abhijñānaśākuntalam)
  • José Maria de Eça de Queirós, The City and the Mountains
  • Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas
  • Ferdowsi (Abu’l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi), Shahnameh
  • Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight
  • Edwin Muir, The Complete Poems
  • W. H. Mallock, The New Republic
  • Victor Segalen, Stèles
  • Kamo-no-Chōmei, Hojoki

That’s right: I’ve never even heard of most of the books listed, and they’re not the sort of thing that you find at book sales in Southwest Missouri (although, to be honest, you would be surprised at whose books you might find here).

The article has little tidbits about each, and although some look like they’re in the sort of vein my mother-in-law, the former English teacher, might like, only a few of them looked interesting to me. As you might expect, gentle reader, with my recent fascination with Eastern thought and history, those would be the classical Japanese works.

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Book Report: The Bone Yard by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverThis book is the second in a row from the Executioner series that has an intricate plot, but this one was a bit more intricate than the writer could handle.

In it, Bolan is in Las Vegas. As he’s making a probe of a hard site, a bunch of ninja come charging out of the house carrying a woman over their shoulder. It’s ninja from the Yakuza who have come to hit the a Las Vegas mob boss, and they’ve carried away a woman reporter he was interrogating. Before they can interrogate her themselves, Bolan steps in and rescues her. She’s writing a series on the mob for the local paper, and somebody wanted to silence her. Turns out that she’s the granddaughter of the old Jewish mob boss who was neutered by the mafia but who was kept on as a hotel manager. He goes way back with the paper’s publisher, and the grandfather has plans of his own to cut down the mafia with his own imported mercenaries. And there’s the Yakuza moving in.

So there’s a pretty intricate plot going on with several moving parts, people with their own agendas, and whatnot. The author cuts between some of the players to get their thoughts on their next move, so it’s a bit more complicated than the books told solely from Mack Bolan’s point of view.

Unfortunately, the complicated build up is solved, ultimately, in a couple of basic Gold Eagle paperback set piece shoot-em-ups that really diminish what was going on and end it a bit abruptly.

The plot could have been so much more, but in the end (the abruptish end), it’s 180 pages of what it is, not what it could be.

Still, it’s keeping the series interesting.

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A Malady From Which I Will Never Suffer

When the Gospel of Minimalism Collides With Daily Life:

She recalls how, inspired by the virtuously clean-looking homes she saw pictured in Dwell magazine, she thought: “This is it. I am a minimalist. This is how it’s going to be, everything calm from now on.” And within two weeks, she had gotten rid of almost everything she owned and painted the whole place Decorator’s White, a life reboot. She went full-on Dwell, even building a chicken coop, the de rigueur symbol of suburban simplicity, in the backyard. A year after what she calls “the incident,” she wrote her first post on her blog, The Art of Doing Stuff, about the day she realized that she just “hated every inch of her house” — and how she came to view white as “the Botox of paint colors”: She and her home “look younger and fresher for it.”

But fairly quickly, Ms. Bertelsen fell off the wagon, sneaking items here and there — a pair of flea market midcentury lamps, an Empire chandelier — back to her 1,200-square-foot home. Even more, her venture into minimalism made her realize how much she enjoyed viewing the physical manifestations of memories, reliving moments through concrete reminders. “I want to see the drumsticks from the last Ramones show I went to in 1994, or the rock I picked up climbing a mountain in Vancouver,” she said. “I want to see the titles of all the books I’ve read.”

Some people just have to try so many things out before finding what works with them, including self-renouncing behavior.

A woman I knew once said to me, after we met again after not having seen each other for something like a year and a half–apparently, a long time when one is in their early twenties–“You haven’t changed a bit!” “I got it right the first time,” I said.

My beautiful wife has these minimalist urges from time to time, but so far I’ve forestalled divesting ourselves of the personal relics I relish so. Including a VHS for an inflatable fitness ball that our unwatched videocassette and DVD cabinet regurgitated for some reason recently. I thought, “We’re never going to watch that,” so I set it aside to ask her whether I could dispose of it or not. Several days later, I did, and she assented, but then I said, “Maybe we should make the boys watch it,” as they play with the fitness ball as though it were a ball and not a piece of fitness equipment. Enamored with that idea, the videocassette is slowly migrating itself ten feet from the table beside the sofa where I put it down because that was the closest surface when the thought of showing it to the boys occurred to me as I was taking it to the trash.

No, I shall never know the collision of minimalism with anything.

UPDATE: I should note I saw this on Instapundit’s Facebook today. Yes, I am friends with Instapundit, and sometimes he likes my statuses.

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