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review 2016-08-09 08:44
Is the Pope Christian?
Julius Excluded from Heaven - Desiderius... Julius Excluded from Heaven - Desiderius Erasmus

This rather short dialogue is written in the style of the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (though it is nowhere near as rude and crude as his plays) and is a simple interaction between Pope Julius and St Peter (with Julius' guardian spirit providing some snide comments as the dialogue progresses) after Julius arrives at the pearly gates and discovers that the keys to the kingdom of heaven that were given to St Peter are not the keys that Julius happens to have in his pocket. Basically it is a criticism of what the church has become in Julius' time and how Pope Julius, the supreme authority in Western Christendom was simply another power player in the political world of the time, and as such while he may go around with the title of 'Most Holy Father', it is just that – a title given to him by the world and nothing more.


Once again, as I was reading this dialogue I could not help but see how similar the church of Erasmus' age and the church of today happens to be. Sure, the church is supposed to be a moral compass, but in our day and age this moral compass seems to require a lot of recalibrating. For instance we have the church running around condemning people for 'sexual sin' and abortion, yet are doing nothing to actually provide support and assistance for those in real need, nor are they condemning unrestrained greed, corruption on politics, or environmental destruction. Also, like the church of Erasmus' age, it has become little more than a boys club, and while positions in the church may not be purchased directly, we still see such positions being handed out to the 'most worthy' individuals in the congregations, usually though who are quite well off. In fact I was told of one particular church that would hand out to elderships to those who had happened to have succeeded in life (which usually meant that they were giving a substantial amount of money to the church).



Pope Julius


Then there is the question of indulgences, namely where the church would sell admissions to heaven in the after life, and it didn't just rest with the living, you could also buy indulgences for the dead. The funny thing is that we see things like that going on today – did you know you can buy real-estate on Mars? To me it sounds a lot like an indulgence, namely something that somebody purchases that actually has no value whatsoever. Okay, you can apparently 'name' a star, but my research revealed that the name of the star does go on record, and it is a fundraising activity by an astronomical organisation (though I still haven't gone ahead and named a star after Schrodiger's Cat). As for the church, they may not sell indulgences directly, but there is a doctrine that goes around that basically says the more that you give to the church the more that God will bless you now and in the life here-after – what they are suggesting is that it is like the stock market – we buy into the Church and God will pay us dividends now, and also guarantee an entrance into heaven.


Another interesting thing that is raised is how the Pope can't actually do anything wrong, even if he does things that are wrong. It sounds remarkably similar today were the wealthy are able to get away from crimes much easier than those of the lower classes. As a friend of mine suggested most serial killers are white because they are less likely to be searched, or questioned, by authorities than are people of colour, which means that if somebody of colour happens to have the tenancies that give rise to being a serial killer they are usually caught, and taken out of society much sooner than a white person. Mind you Julius' position went much further in that being the Pope he could simply wipe away any consequence of any sin that he may have committed. In a way it is also similar with the concept of war crimes – I do not know of any post World War II Western leader that has been brought to The Hague for committing war crimes, but then again war crimes are only ever committed by the loser in a war.


As for the political nature of the church, well it seems that this is also the case today – one of the reasons that the church has become so powerful in the United States is that it has taken control of the Republican party, but even here in Australia, elements of the church have put their claws into the political system, and whatever their moral position is, it is their economic agenda that has me concerned because it is an agenda of small government, light taxation, and limited regulation – they may wish to make homosexuality a crime and punish people having an abortion by charging them with murder, but they will do little for the child once it is born and condemn them to a life of poverty and destitution. They also hate welfare because they believe it leads to laziness, and that those who are poor are poor because they are there by choice, not because of some other circumstance in life.


Another example of how the church interferes politically is with a program the Australian government developed to attempt to deal with bullying with schools, however the Christian right were so incensed that 'it promoted homosexuality' that they canned it, despite the fact that bullying in schools has a tremendous psychological effect upon the victims and the families involved. Sure, they might jump up and demand that we stop playing the victim, but as soon as society turns against the church all of the sudden they start screaming persecution.

In fact they also love crying out how they are being persecuted – you cannot criticises the church, or what it does, without being told that you are persecuting the church. However they claim unfair when the left calls them bigots for their stance against the LGBT community. I have been to churches where criticism is shut down through a variety of ways – you are denying Christ, you have unworked out sin in your life, you obviously don't understand the Bible, we cannot change our position because once we do it is a slippery slope into liberalism. No wonder people are deserting the church in droves.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1723181899
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review 2016-08-07 23:07
Let Stupidity Reign
Praise of Folly - Desiderius Erasmus,Betty Radice,A.H.T. Levi

Well, what better book to read when you are in the Netherlands than Erasmus' tributed to stupidity. Okay, I'm sure he is not being serious, though it is difficult to tell at times, particularly when he suggests that by being an idiot one does become healthy, wealthy (but not necessarily wise – actually, that would be quite the opposite). Actually, healthy is probably not necessarily something that comes either, but certainly wealth seems to come to a lot of people who simply don't seem to have all that many brains, and that a lot of people are running around with pieces of paper that seem to claim that they are actually really intelligent, but in reality are complete idiots. Actually, that is not at all surprising because my Dad, who was an academic, has actually confirmed that one thing that academics seem to lack is common sense – they may have a university degree, but they haven't made their way in the school of life where they learn that doing stupid things doesn't necessarily pay off.


Actually, what Erasmus was getting at was that in the Europe of his time it seemed to benefit one a lot more to be stupid than to actually be wise. For instance, there are a lot of philosophers out there that don't seem to have all that much to rub together – actually being an artist doesn't seem to do all that much for you, at least while you are alive: as people seem to suggest, the only famous poet is a dead poet (and I suspect that is also the case when it comes to other artists, unless of course you happen to be Justin Beiber, but then again I guess he goes to prove that Erasmus actually has a point).


Look, everybody could rile against bankers, lawyers, and the like, but the problem is that as long as there is money and trade they are going to be with us – which is probably why Lenin, rather unsuccessfully mind you, tried to do away with commerce. Actually, we need to also consider the world in which Erasmus was running around – it wasn't like today where the bankers, lawyers, and such, would actually be the rulers of the country – that was the job of the aristocrats (the Netherlands was still a couple of hundred years away from becoming a republic) – however they still managed to dig their fingers into anything and everything that they could (and if you wanted to see a prime example of stupidity then you need look no further than the aristocracy). It reminds me of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut – the job of a lawyer is to move money from one point to another and take some for themselves, though the reality is not a bit but as much as they can get away with (they'll take all of it if they can generate enough billing hours).


Yet this is the foolishness that Erasmus is poking fun at – the fact that people are so caught up with the acquisition of wealth that they don't actually see the beauty of the world around them. In fact as long as they can surround themselves in a bubble of niceness (such as the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – and that is a classic example – the city itself is beautiful, but jump across the straights of Malacca you will see an industrial hell hole – externalising to the extreme), it doesn't matter what goes on outside of their circle of comfort as long as it doesn't disturb that circle. However this is foolishness to the extreme – they want their comfort but comfort doesn't necessarily equate with happiness. I have lived in a big house with a swimming pool, but as soon as all my friends left after a three day party I was all alone again, and it all fell apart as well (and it wasn't as if I had money either – I didn't – it was just that I managed to score a room in a really cool sharehouse, and when I everybody moved out I was left with the entire house to myself).


They say that there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people, and I am sure this was going through Erasmus' mind at the time. The thing that makes a person stupid is because they don't ask questions, and the reason that they don't ask questions is because they don't want to seem to be stupid, but by not wanting to appear stupid they make themselves stupid by not asking any questions. At other times the reason they don't ask questions is because they believe that they already know the answer, or if the answer is wrong that is irrelevant because as far as they are concerned if that is their answer then that is the correct answer. Have you ever tried to argue with a stupid person? If you have then you'll know what I mean (though, of course, because we don't accept their answer, and their answer is actually right, then it makes us the stupid person).


The conclusion of the book comes down to a criticism of the church. Like [author:Martin Luther], Erasmus went to Rome and was horrified at what he saw. In fact he completely ruined his career by writing books such as Praise of Folly, however I will leave it at that because I am reading the next section of the book, and I will deal with criticism of then church therein.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1718547399
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review 2016-05-22 09:55
Shelley's Political Rant
Queen Mab: With Notes - Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was Shelley's first long poem and it was written initially to his first wife (the Queen Mab of the title) when he was 19. All I can say is that if this was his first poem then Shelley's ability is impressive. However, the nature and contents of this poem did actually get him into quite a lot of trouble, no doubt due to the attacks against the king and also the significant atheistic overtones, and it is not that the atheistic nature of the poem is subtle: it is quite blatant, though it is not as if Shelley was necessarily walking new ground, particularly since Blake and others were writing along these lines prior to him.


Mab of the title possibly comes from the reference to her in Shakespeare (which, according to Wikipedia, is the first major literary mention of her). No doubt Shelley would have been familiar with the reference, and in Romeo and Juliet, she is described as a fairy who grants dreams of wish fulfilment to those who are asleep. Maybe the nature of the title reflects Shelley's desire to see a better world where the lower classes do not live under the heel of the ruling class. Unfortunately this has not necessarily come about, even though since Shelley's time social welfare has moved significantly from where it was then and the poorer classes, at least in the Western World, live much more luxurious lives than they did back then. However, there is still a massive distinction between the haves and have-nots, and still an underlying goal in regards to the pursuit of wealth.


One of the interesting things that I have picked up while reading this poem is how political and social criticism is nothing new, which is obvious, but having lived through the period of the Bush administration where political and social criticism reached a level of popularity which I had not seen before, it is interesting to reflect on this style of commentary in ages past. In a way, this period of history also saw a rise in such commentary, particularly since Europe had just been through the French Revolution and the United States had formed a republic out of a rebellion against the English throne. However, it was not the American Rebellion that had been the counter-point of this agitation against the ruling class, simply because it was a rebellion of the wealthy merchant classes against the aristocratic classes. What France has signified was a rebellion of the lower classes (though the leaders of the rebellion were still bourgeoisie) against the aristocratic classes, and the desire for a real democracy, not based upon land ownership (as was the case in the United States) but based upon the fact that everybody is a human being and in that everybody is equal.


It wasn't as if Shelley was writing anything new because writers before him, such as Rousseau, had already been exploring these issues, and even then writers as far back as Jonathon Swift, had been writing allegorical criticism (since in those days writing in the style of Noam Chomsky would have got you in a lot of trouble). It is not even as if he was a Romantic poet in the style of Wordsworth and Colleridge (though we know that there was a lot of influence from that sector) though he does use the romantic style to forward his political agenda. Even then, one questions whether Shelley had much of an impact in his day, but then in many cases such agitators generally do not live to see the effect that they have during their lifetime (Martin Luther King didn't).


Another interesting thing that I have noticed is how Shelley rails against Christianity in this poem. The idea is that the concept of God the Father is a reflection of our understanding of our father from when we were children. However, the tyrant God, as many view him to be, is a reflection of the tyranny of the day. The tyrant God, which is what Shelley is attacking (and what many agitators have attacked before and since) is a means of control over the population. In the same way it is as the idea of the divine right of kings was a method to prevent rebellion against a king because to rebel against the king is the same as rebelling against God. This is something that is still practised today, particularly if you look at parts of Romans which indicate that rulers are raised and deposed at God's whim, and to attempt to remove a ruler yourself is to go against God.


However, I do not believe that such passages indicate that God is a tyrant God, but rather a God of order. Nor do I believe that the passage is saying that we have to accept the ruling of any authority without questioning or challenging it. What I believe that it is talking about is armed rebellion, not political agitation. We do see that in the New Testament that where governments order us to behave in a way contrary to the Gospel then we are to question and challenge that order. It is not challenging the government, but seeking to replace a government through rebellion. Further, there are reasons for this warning, and these reasons necessarily come out in other places, and I have written about these dangers elsewhere as well so I will not necessarily dwell on them here.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/580508169
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review 2016-04-05 14:01
Ankh-Morpork Goes to War
Jingo (Discworld, #21) - Terry Pratchett

I have to admit that I'm quite surprised that I have now read 21 of the Discworld books. Okay, that actually isn't much of an effort where I'm concerned considering that for some inexplicable reason I ended ploughing through a large majority of the Xanth books, and also pretty much read every Forgotten Realms book (and a few Dragonlance books) as soon as they hit the shelves. Okay, after doing English Literature at university I must admit that my taste in books has changed quite a lot since then, however it is always good to read something that is not all that serious, and Discworld certainly fits the bill.


Mind you, it isn't as if the Discworld novels would fall into the category of mindless pulp since Pratchett does a really good job a satirising the modern world. Okay, the Simpsons also did that, but I have to admit that the Simpsons really started to get to me because, well, it was way too close to home, and in such circumstances the satire probably doesn't work as well. For instance there are a number of characters in the Simpsons (such as Reverend Lovejoy) that I simply could not stand namely because there are people that are quite like him. However Futurama worked a lot better, namely because it was set three thousand years in the future, and the harsh realities of our world were softened by the fact that the satire was set in an unfamiliar place. Such is also the case with Discworld.


Anyway Jingo is about going to war. Not any sort of war, but a war that is based on the pride of a nation. It isn't one of those wars were a power will invade simply because the region has something they want, but rather because a nation has been slighted by another nation (that they don't particularly like) and as such they need to do something to save face. In all honesty it's actually human nature – we do that in our individual lives. If somebody makes us look silly in front of all our peers the we automatically want to respond in kind. Some of us will simply reply with a classic comeback, while others of us, who are not capable of such a feat, will usually respond in anger.


Such is the case with Anhk-Morpork. A chunk of rock suddenly appears in the ocean halfway between them and the nation of Klatch (which seems to be the Middle East, though it sort of has a Turkish flavour to it – though for all we know it could simply be France – they don't have pubs, they have beer gardens). Neither nation manages to lay claim to it before the other, so the tensions begin to ratchet up. This comes to ahead when one of the princes of Klatch is shot in the foot during a parade, and suddenly both nations want to go to war. The problem is that Ankh-Morpork doesn't have an army – it's not good for business because if you attack somebody then they aren't going to want to buy anything off you. However they simply can't let Klatch have a chunk of rock because, well, they will lose face.


Once again he have the night watch, but when Ventinari steps down as ruler of Ankh-Morpork, and Vimes is given extended leave because he sort of has this habit of digging to deep and exposing the political machinations that are going on behind the scenes, they suddenly find themselves on a boat (two actually), with Ventinari's pet inventor Leonard of Quirm (guess who he is) on their way to Klatch to launch a pre-emptive strike (with pretty much no army).


Of course Ventinari does manage to get out of this mess because, well, he is the very definition of cunning. I would suggest that the definition of cunning in the dictionary would have a picture of him next to it, but unfortunately I think somebody beat him to it:





Oh, Nobby Nobbs also gets in touch with his feminine side, and develops a longing for a relationship (not that a suitable partner reveals herself). Mind you, this is the guy, despite the fact that he is the only one left in the nightwatch after everybody else resigns, is still passed over for promotion. You sort of feel sorry for him.



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1586958760
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review 2016-03-13 11:32
Howard Zinn and the American State
Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics - Howard Zinn,David Barsamian,Arundhati Roy

This is similar to the Noam Chomskey book that I read which was a transcript of a radio interview. This book is a collection of interviews with Alternate Radio where Zinn discusses American History and where the United States was at that point in time. While the book was released in 2006, it contains a number of interviews post September 11 and the main theme of the book is that really nothing has changed with the American system of government since its inception. He believes that it is a militant government bent on war of the sake of war, and that the many wars that the United States has been involved in drains funds from the public purse to support what Eisenhower termed as the 'Military Industrial Complex'.


I have spoken about war elsewhere, and will do so again, however I will try keep my comments brief here. One of the things that I tend to disagree with the pacifists is that there is the idea of a just war, and that there are times when to is necessarily to go to war, obviously to defend the interests of yourself and your allies. However, sometimes it is necessary to go to war to attempt to prevent the aggressive tenancies of another power or idea, sometimes it is necessary to go to war to remove a tyrant. However it is not the question of war that I am raising, but how one goes about it. It is quite clear that while there was probably a very good reason to send troops to Vietnam, however the way the war was carried out was not. The same goes with Iraq, and it is with Iraq that I will now come to.


It is accepted that Sadam was a tyrant, and it is accepted that he murdered many innocent people during his reign. What made Sadam such a threat though was that he has industrialised his nation, and then geared his nation to war. It is true that there is a lot of oil wealth in Iraq, and during the cold war he would play the Russians against the Americans to get the best price for his oil. With the proceeds he then set about industrialising his country and his military, and proceeded to go to war with Iran. The Americans even provided him with weaponry to fight this war. However, it was after the war was over, and that his ally, the Soviet Union, had collapsed, that the United States discovered that he could not be trusted. The US has no problem with propping up brutal dictators, as long as the dictator plays by their rules, which usually involves opening the country up to corporate exploitation. Further, as long as the country does not embark on projects involving poverty relief, then that is fine as well. There have been a number of South American countries who have elected socialist governments in an attempt to address the poverty of the region, only to discover that the US government has not only allied with their political opponents, but armed them as well (the Sandanistas in Nicuragua and Salvadore Allande on Chile both ring a bell).


While it was a noble and just idea to go into Iraq to remove Sadam, this was not the reason that they wanted to do it. There are numerous other dictators (as mentioned) that are just as brutal and dangerous as Sadam, but they are on the US' side. Sadam clearly was not, so he had to be removed. Further, the reason to allow the Iraqis to determine their own destiny but to rather install their own corporate friendly government in the country and open up the population to the free market. It was also intended that the oil wealth of Iraq not go to the Iraqi's, but straight into the coffers of the oil barons. However, things did not turn out the way they expected. They expected that the country would be in such as shock that they could move in, change everything, install a Pizza Hut and McDonalds on every corner, and then move out just as fast. However, it did not turn out like that. Immediately after the government collapsed the people went on a looting soree, and six months after the invasion Iraq was on the brink of civil war.


One of the other important things that Zinn discusses in this book is history and education. This goes in hand with the idea of media manipulation. With the media concentrated in the hands of (I believe) seven megacorporations, and the expense involved in attempting to establish an alternate source, our understanding of the past and the present is presented to us in a sanitised package promoting the ideas that the complex wants us to accept, and to rewrite history in a way that we can never know the truth of what really happened. Take Vietnam for instance: it was an embarrassment for the US government, and they had to get out of there as soon as possible. What was more of an embarrassment was that the media was not controlled. We saw a similar incident in Somalia (which is ironically forgotten, and has been sanitised so that only the heroic actions of a small few are all that is remembered by what turned out to be another embarrassing loss). Now information from the warzone is much more tightly controlled. In Vietnam the journalists wrote about and filmed what we saw, and for the first time, on our television screens, we saw the true horror of war. However, come Iraq, journalists are embedded with American troops, and those that go out on their own are told that their life is in their own hands. There are even allegations that journalists who would not follow the official line and remain where they were told to ended up dead. The same went for human rights activists and other NGOs that went into Iraq. The powers that be do not want us to know the truth, and as such limit what we can find out. They will even resort to murder to keep the truth out of our ears (if we even are able to remember it).


Education is another thing that is under attack. Education is dangerous because it teaches people to think for themselves. With funding being withdrawn from public schools, and these schools becoming little more than daycare centres, the bulk of the population is being denied a right to education. It is only the wealthy that are able to afford a good education, and even then I suspect that what is taught in the prep-schools is a sanitised, official version, that is not questioned. I suspect that people in those schools are not taught to think but rather taught the official line, and are expected to follow it. There are numerous works on this issue of education, but one film that springs to mind is Dead Poet's Society. In brief it is about a maverick teacher that comes to a prep-school and begins to teach students literature. However, this backfires when the parents find out that their prized possessions (their children) have decided to become actors rather than doctors, and as a result one of the students commits suicide, and the teacher is blamed. It is interesting that none of the parents actually acknowledge that maybe they are in the wrong, it is much easier to externalise blame, and to tarnish another's name just to give one a sense of self-justification.


I have probably written enough on this book and on Zinn's ideas for now. There are other books in my collection that also deal with the issues that are raised here, and no doubt I will return to them soon.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/258819467
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