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Showing posts with the label history

Can the LEFT Return from its "Babylonian Exile?"

I would like to find some more books on the "post Exilic" career of the Jehudi elite, who returned to Palestine after a few decades of captivity in Babylon. They somehow managed to turn primitive Jawhism into Judaism, one of the most historically important religions of the world.

They returned to the unimportant province of Judah, where they could have been seen, almost, as foreigners. Apparently most of the "Hebrew Bible" (aka, Old Testament to Christians) was written during this post-Exile. And they did such a good job of it, with dramatic stories of ancestral heroes, that a Jewish identity was made solid and lasting.

But until I get a chance to learn more about this process, around 500--450 BC, I wonder how this example compares with more recent ones. How many times has an Elite been overthrown (taken captive, etc.) and then returned to its homeland, only to blossom into something much greater that it was, originally. 

It is a rare experience, is it not? Oh sure, t…

The Artfulness of Irony

Long-suffering readers know that I use the term 'art' in the Tolstoyan sense, not in the more conventional sense of 'that which is beautiful.' Tolstoy thought that art could be defined as words, images, or sounds that transfer emotions between people, regardless of whether these images are pretty or not.

Lately I have stumbled onto some Irony which is having quite an effect of me.  Consider first the bluffmanship of the Trump administration in trying to get Iran to give Trump the excuse for starting a war with them. It is the oldest trick in the book: and one that makes a mockery of the idealism of the writers of the U.S. Constitution. Those poor naive fools thought that if people governed themselves, they would stay out of the wars that kings and emperors loved to start.

What matters most is that Israel wants the stupid goyim of the USA to fight and weaken their enemy, Iran. And that is where the irony kicks in.

Some people think that much of what we now consider Judais…

The Beauty of Kindness

It is strange that I can't even think of the word to describe a certain episode, "The Dust Flower," in the second season of "Rawhide." It is centered on the predicament of an "old maid," who the cattle drovers ran into, by accident. I don't like rehashing books or movies, nor giving away endings. So let's talk about this episode on a different level. 

Many people have a condescending attitude to the 1950's, when this episode was made. They might be surprised to enjoy this episode -- after all the modern person is endowed with advanced and progressive attitudes about a Woman's role in society, while the episode was written in the out-of-date 1950s.

When you look at episodes written in the out-of-date 1950s, you actually seen the building blocks of many of the ideas that we associate with the 1960s. It is similar to the theme written about in Alexis de Tocqueville's "The Old Regime and the Revolution." 

Tocqueville discussed h…

The Wandering Holy Men of the Desert

If it is possible for the smirk to become seated permanently in the muscles and wrinkles of the human face, then I am running a risk right now. It is impossible to read a history of early Christianity and not see parallels with bloggers, vloggers, and self-proclaimed holy men of the winter camping scene.

But my smirking is not mean-spirited. I just find the parallels amusing. After all, times are so different now than 400 A.D.; and yet certain psychological drives persist. Why I even know one blowhard on the internet who brags about not using any heat in his camper! (grin.)

Should I give a list of quotes from the book? Maybe that would get too drawn-out. Perhaps it suffices to put in an endorsement for "The First Thousand Years," by Robert Milken (A Global History of Christianity.)

Asceticism is only one parallel between early Christianity and modern desert camping. Consider:

The growing pains in any movement; certain forms of decay.Fire-breathing rebellions against that decay.T…

Waiting For a Winning Streak with Books

Reading history books is not for sissies; nor for people who demand instant gratification. In fact one must expect to endure a great deal of drudgery before finally getting onto a winning streak.

I have done just that, recently. How refreshing it is to escape the cloistered writing of scholarly bookworms who have spent their entire lives with their noses buried in other people's books.

Contrast that with the chapter on Jacob Burckhardt in Michael Dirda's "Classics for Pleasure:"

In those days, many scholars refused to confine their efforts to some narrow field of specialization; in fact, they ranged across subjects with the swagger of adventurers, soldiers of fortune, condottieri.

For Burckhardt, the Renaissance in Italy is essentially an age of energy and charisma, when a man was "forced to be either hammer or anvil."
Contrast that with overly verbose historians, who drown you in microscopic details that never add up to anything. So many of this type have no pe…

Do Novelists Write Better History than Historians?

More than once on this blog I have laughed at all the history books I read, and wondered what excuse there could be for it. There are so many dry facts to wade through -- so many meaningless details!

That is even true of the excellent history book I am reading right now on the battle of Stalingrad, by Anthony Beevor. Just before reading Beevor I had read Vasily Grossman's novel of the battle of Stalingrad, "Life and Fate."

Actually it was an overly thick novel, difficult to read with all those Russian names. But at one point, towards the end, the novelist described the German retreat, during their denouement. Corpses of men, dead horses, burned out farmhouses, mud...

Suddenly the road and the ruined house were caught in the rays of the setting sun. The empty eye-sockets of the burnt-out building seemed to fill with frozen blood.This image literally took my breath away -- and leave it to a Russian writer to come up with something like this! What point is there in reading abo…

The Local Librarian as a Travel Wonder

From time to time I write about the special magic that sparkles the reading of the right book at the right place.

At the moment I am in Quartzsite, AZ, reading William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention." It came from ransacking the history section of the local public library.

The world changed so much after the Industrial Revolution. We seldom think about it, except in the negative sense that Romanticists and modern Environmentalists like. 

For instance I knew next to nothing about the steam engine or James Watt. The whole topic never seemed interesting before.

But Rosen's book does not wallow in microscopic details about the steam engine itself. Instead, he uses it as the focal point for big picture trends that preceded it. For instance, he talks about coal mining, another topic that a spoiled and jaded modern never gives a thought to.

But there is something about camping on the rocky desert ground of Quartzsite that …

November 11, 1918 to 2018, A Century of Progress?

If I were a student of American popular culture, I would follow the Media today just to see if anybody cares about the Great War ending 100 years ago. It is possible that a few of them do. But don't hope for too much in this country.

But if you look at a wider circle, there is some good news. With the exception of the USA, most of the combatants of the Great War are not addicted to war anymore. They don't seem to see it as inevitable.

Perhaps the USA is the exception because its people didn't suffer invasion or privation during the world wars. And its corporations made a lot of money during both world wars.

It is also good news that Bolshevism -- one of the miserable legacies of that war -- is dead.

There is some sad news to offset some of this: the Mideast is still a mess, thanks to the policies and agreements that arose during the Great War.

On a personal level I am going to commemorate the day by reading some of the excellent anti-establishment opinion pieces out there, toda…

Bringing a History Book to Life

Every time it happens, it delights me: how a book becomes more interesting if it overlaps with some observation or experience in real life. For instance, I am nearing the end of David Irving's, "Hitler's War."  Although my interest in the book was waning, it perked up when I talked to a couple tourists in a huge German tourist tank, who had invaded our campground, and rejected it.

Consider Germany's debacle when they invaded Russia in 1941. How could one of the most "advanced" nations of the world fail to conquer a backward, third-world nation like the USSR? It's not that I disagree with the explanations offered by historians, but thinking of that type pulls you away from the reality of how personalities actually think.

Consider the German tourists today who drove in with one of those huge military-like, "Outdoor Expo" RVs that outweigh three Panzer tanks of World War II. I joked that he shouldn't have any trouble crossing the little mou…

The Historian, the Photographer, and the Babushka

I've read quite a bit of Russian history the last couple years. In part, it is a rebellion against the 'Boris & Natasha' silliness in the news -- not that an attempted soft coup d'etat is silly. And there were other reasons.

By now it is reasonable to ask whether all this history-reading is time well spent. Although the odds were against it, Google helped me find some Russian photographs to complement my reading.

Take a look at this photograph from Beyond Sochi: Photos Of Russia By Russians

Would you agree that this is not a trivial postcard of the type you have seen on the internet a million times?

Doesn't it make you feel like you are right there, in the babushka's shoes?

Now think of Tolstoy's essay, "What is Art?", wherein he argues against the common notion that Art is about beauty, and instead, claims that art is the transference of feelings to the observer, by means of pictures, sounds, and words.

The photograph is an excellent example of Art…

Achieving Lift-off in a New Organization

From time to time I revisit the metaphor in the original "Star Trek". The guest star was Joan Collins. The Enterprise boys encounter a "Time Portal", that showed images of the Past in quick succession. If they jumped through at just the right second, they would be transported back to the time and place of the images.

When fantasizing about that sort of transportation, it is easy to choose a time and place: I would go back to the very beginning of any significant mass-movement in history. They would all be fascinating. Imagine traveling with St. Paul, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, France in 1789, Lenin, or Hitler before they showed up on historians' radar screen. (I suppose Gandhi's early career is known best.)

What makes this timely enough to write about is my involvement with a couple new organizations. Real world experience may easily be more informative than a shelf of historical lumber. 

As an example consider the 1200 page book I am currently reading about the …

500 Years of History to Size Up

Recently there has been a timely opportunity to wrestle with the Big Picture: the Protestant Reformation had its 500th birthday. Secondly a quirky election (for a Senate seat in Alabama) makes you wonder how American culture looks from the perspective of a European post-Christian. Thus there are two timely examples to think about the last 500 years of the Decline and Fall of European Christianity.

I cannot answer these issues in a brief post. But I do want to advertise them as an opportunity. Many important questions are ignored even though we know that they are important. They are big, and take too much hard work. This is how the timeliness of the news, or our outrage at news coverage, can be used to spur us on to the Difficult. It's the best use I know of.

For my part I am reading Hilaire Belloc again, in part because the English-speaking world is already saturated with the Whig Interpretation of History. I need to hear history from the Catholic viewpoint to be 'awakened from …

My First Experience at Appreciating Metaphysics

"The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."Good old Ben Franklin.  Thus he dismissed metaphysics from his life, and went on to accomplish real things. I reached the same conclusion years ago. So it is ironic that, relatively late in life, I've actually enjoyed a book about metaphysics.

Hardly a day goes by when there isn't news about Islamist terrorism. I am actually sick of the whole topic. Consider how much of your short life can be wasted on following the news on this subject, and yet, you end up understanding nothing! But being buried under trivial and repetitive news makes a person suspicious that something fundamentally important has been overlooked.

This put me in the mood to go back to the early days of Islamic thought. Where and when was the fork in the road for Islamic thinkers? Why did they take a different fork than Christian ones?

After reading Robert Rei…

How Someone Should Write History

I should probably offer an excuse for talking about a book about the French Revolution, lest somebody say, "Yea but how is that, like, relevant, man?"  The answer is that much of what we call political news and "current events" is really just fighting the French Revolution all over again.

Details. Do I ever hate details in history books. Consider a book on the causes of the French Revolution: the author could grind through the legal system, economic conditions, etc. All very important of course. But what a tedious bore!

Consider the rather different approach used by Simon Schama, in "Citizens," A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Old-regime France had been no stranger to public ceremonies and spectacles. But your place near the viewing stand was controlled by the aristocratic pecking order.

Then, in the 1780s, public spectacles saw a radical change. Balloons became the high-tech rage. Once they were in the air, it all viewers had the same view.
In other wor…

When a Significant Book Strikes You

Occasionally the lyrics of a song can make a great impression on the listener. They aren't just trying to rhyme. Nor are they wailing about their frustrated lusts and infatuations. The thoughts are important and fundamental, and they managed to make them so concise that they fit into a song. Incredible!

Books can be like that, too. The 'soul' of the reader is so weary of being insignificant flotsam, rushed along by the cultural effluvium of the times. If it manages to get even a glimpse of a truthful Big Picture, then life hasn't been wasted.

That is the effect that reading a book had on me, recently. The book was Pat Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War." You may enjoy the book even if you don't agree with every opinion of his.

Here we are, a century after the 'Great War,' and we are still suffering the consequences of World Wars I and II and the Cold War. None of the fundamental assumptions of the American Empire ever get tal…

Understanding the Driving Force of a Movement

For a traveler of the interior West, few books are more natural to choose than Wallace Stegner's "Mormon Country." Nevertheless I had never read it until recently, after a friend put it into my hands. Stegner did an admirable job of being unprejudiced about Mormonism per se. Clearly, he was more interested in the human story of the Mormons than theological doctrines, and rightly so, considering the drama of the Mormon story.

Somewhere in the book, Stegner said (more or less), "After the faith had subsided a bit, the driving force was still there." But then he didn't say what that driving force was! That is really the question that interests me. Although the non-Mormon reader today may have no interest in Mormon theology, it was important to the Mormons of the time. Their great efforts were predicated on a theology that convinced them...but of what?

Stegner can be forgiven for not really explaining what the Driving Force was. It is difficult to look back into…

Why Is It Easier to Appreciate Things, With Time?

Surely I am not the first person to notice that he can now appreciate things that he used to yawn at, or even positively dislike. Perhaps it really is true that 'it is a shame that Youth is wasted on young people..."

For example, the other day I came back from a tour of a historic ranch, in arid Arizona, and rewatched the movie, "Jean de Florette." I liked it the first time I saw it, 30 (!) years ago. But this time I was cooing with pleasure. How do you explain this?

The movie is easy to like -- despite being French: dry rural scenery in southern France, farms and old stone buildings, a musical score inspired by Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" a beautiful girl, and a depiction of a different way to live, about a century ago. Even the story was pretty good, which is the last thing you have a right to ask from a movie.

But such things were true 30 years ago when it was made, and when I first watched it. So what has changed? Earlier in the day, two RV friends…

Finally, a Success at Reading a Russian Novel

It is always a bit of a triumph when I survive a Russian novel, in this case a historical novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "August 1914". A worthy book.

I'd like to do something I haven't done before on this blog: show what I've been doing most of my adult life when I read a book. What good is a book if the words go into one eyeball and out the other? In order for the book to have any effect on your life, you must retain the best parts of it -- its juicy but condensed nuggets of goodness. And then you can digest and assimilate these nuggets into your own organism.

To mix metaphors, let's look for the book's classic quotes, its pemmican of wisdom, and turn them into building blocks for our own mental skyscrapers in the future. 

p. 107/622:  He had not expected to find much to hearten him at Second Army Headquarters...Vorotyntsev was still depressed whenever experience confirmed the invariable rule that every headquarters was staffed by people who were selfish…

Immortality in a Threatening Wind

What a nice morning it had been: moderately cool, calm, and sunny. Coffee Girl and I had just finished a mountain bike ride up an arroyo where, at the beginning of my travel career, I had stumbled onto a "cliff dwelling." Not an official one, of course. But it was possible to imagine turning it into a cliff dwelling or emergency shelter. Back then I took a chance in dragging my trailer upstream in the gravel arroyo, with only my rear wheel drive van. And I camped there that night, and made a fire in the little cliff dwelling, and amused myself with making shadows on the ceiling. (Plato would have been impressed.)

Alas, the cliff dwelling seemed less romantic today than it did way-back-when. This stung. Did it mean that my travel lifestyle had become too predictable and tame?

We laid down for the usual post-ride siesta, relaxing to a movie with a good musical score. But it became difficult to hear the movie because of the howling wind. What the hell was going on, out there!? Si…

The Flag Controversy and the Meaning of Travel

Somehow I have gotten sucked into the thankless and unpopular task of shaming reforming the travel blogosphere. After a thousand-and-one microscopic how-to details, somebody needs to ask What is the Point of travel? What does it mean? What are the fundamental benefits?

In fact it has long been recognized that 'travel broadens your perspective.' That's an interesting word, perspective.

So let's light one candle rather than curse the darkness when it comes to the Confederate flag controversy that has been raging the last couple weeks. As a young man I spent some time in the South. My background was that of a typical, smug, brainwashed yankee -- from the Land of Lincoln, no less.

I had a part-time job at a Holiday Inn as a bus boy. Many of the cooks and waitresses were negroes, the first negroes that I had ever been around. One night, a pretty young negro waitress pulled me over with "...kaBLOOnie, I have a friend who would be just perfect for you..."  Actually she…