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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 2016-04-04 14:03
Sound Advice for a Budding Ruler
The Prince - George Bull,Niccolò Machiavelli

Having now read this book three times I sort of wonder how Machiavelli's name came to represent a sort of politics that involved deceit, manipulation, and backstabbing, because for those who claim that this is what the Prince is about have probably read the wrong book, or probably not read the book at all. Somebody even suggested that The Prince was satire because they could not imagine that anybody would suggest such actions to anybody, especially if that person was seeking to live a virtuous life. To the person who claims that The Prince is satire my response is that Machiavelli is deadly serious. He was not laughing when he wrote this book, and his audience were not laughing when they were reading it. As for the person who claims that the book is about scheming and manipulation, I respond by asking them to show me where it says that because after the third time I struggle to actually find anything of the sort. Further, in response to them, I will also suggest that if you are a ruler then you ignore Machiavelli's advice at your own peril.


Before I go further to expound upon what Machiavelli is advising in this book we must first look at the context in which it was written. I say this because if we apply Machiavelli's principles to the modern day you will probably find yourself in The Hague being charged with war crimes. To be blunt, we simply cannot apply Machiavelli's advice as written to the modern world, in the same way that we cannot act in the way Joshua (of the Bible fame) acted when the Israelites invaded the promised land.


Now, Machiavelli was writing to a Florentine Prince in 14th Century Italy (which puts us right in the middle of the Renaissance). Now, today we live in a world with instantaneous communication where there are a handful of powers that dominate world affairs, and is governed by a basic parliamentary style institution (which we call the United Nations). However, that did not exist in Machiavelli's time. These days there are effectively four superpowers (Russia, China, Europe, and the United States) and practically every other country will throw their allegiance behind one of them (usually for protection against the others). Any alliances that exist between the superpowers are tenuous at best (though Europe and the United States do have a reasonably strong relationship, though it does not mean that Europe will always vote in accordance with the US's wishes).


However Renaissance Italy was much different. While the church still had power, it was in decline. Gone were the days of Pope Innocent III where kings would fear excommunication for even thinking in opposition to the Pope, and gone were the days when the Pope sat securely on his throne in Rome, however the church still held sway over Western Europe. Still, it did not come down to the church having control, but which noble family had control over the church (one could easily swing the church over to your side by installing your man in as pope, as the Medici's, among others, had managed to do on occasion). There were some large kingdoms, such as France and Spain, that could influence control, but in many cases these kingdoms were not exactly powerful, and one could protect oneself by playing them off against each other. There was also Venice, which was a very powerful maritime power, but when it came to domination over the land, it was quite weak. Venice's navy was powerless against landlocked principalities such as Florence and Milan. Northern Italy (as well as Germany) were not unified nation-states, but a collection of city states and principalities that would forever be at each other's throat, and while there was a titular 'Holy Roman Empire' he was effectively powerless. In fact he did not even have his own army, but had to rely upon the generosity of his allies to attempt to exert control, and as Phillip of Spain discovered when he was elected emperor: ruling Spain and ruling the Holy Roman Empire involved a completely different skill set.


Now that we have an idea of the political situation of the time, let us now consider what Machiavelli is actually saying. The theme that runs through the book is how to be an effective prince and how to survive: to do that you need to be respected (loved and feared) and not hated. Machiavelli is very clear on this point because if you are hated then you are not long for this world. Remember, Renaissance Italy is like 'The Game of Thrones' on steroids, and as it is said in The Game of Thrones, 'when you play the game of thrones you either win or you die'. That, my friend, is 14th century Italy.


Now, it is clear from the first couple of pages of this essay (because that is what it is) that Machiavelli means what he says. First he says that there are two forms of government, the principality, which is the rule by a human, and there is the republic, which is the rule by a constitution. He points to another book he has written, The Discourses, which deals with the republic, so he skips over that system of government and focuses on the idea of rule by a human. The main difference is that where the state is ruled by a human, the human can effectively do what they want. The only restraint on their power is the potential that they are removed from their position, usually by force. They cannot forfeit their role simply by breaking the law because they are the law. One of the things that he warns against is living in excess, namely because that generates hatred among the subjects, and when that happens all they need to do is to either rebel and thus overthrow you, or petition one of your enemies to come and remove you.


Machiavelli also makes extensive use of examples of other princes, both modern (in his time that is) and ancient. Now, all of the ancient sources that Machiavelli had we also have so we can easily check his references, however with a number of the modern examples we only have him to rely upon. However you can be assured that his readers would have been well aware of the political situation at the time. Simply put, he could not make them up. In any case it is very clear that he is not writing to an idiot, but to an intelligent person that would be quite well aware of what he is talking about. Further, he also appeals to common sense, but uses examples to prove why that course of action is wise. For example, he talks about using auxiliary troops (that is borrowing an army from another prince) and why such a course of action is foolish. The reason being is that if you lose you are going to have another prince that is somewhat upset with you because you have weakened his position. However, if you win, then you have a neighbouring territory that is occupied by a foreign army that is more than likely not going to leave. As such this situation is a lose lose situation.


Now, can we apply his principles to today and my response is that we can. One of the managers at my former work would give new team leaders a copy of The Art of War explaining that the principles that Sun Tzu uses to fight wars can also be used to manage a team, or even a department. I would suggest that the same applies to 'Il Principe'. Yet we simply cannot take the book as is and apply it literally simply because, as mentioned above, we will get into trouble (and we simply cannot invade and conquer our neighbour's team). However the principles of respect and hatred apply. As a manager we need to inspire respect within those we are managing, we cannot demand respect because that garners hatred, and by garnering hatred, we undermine our position. However we need to garner respect, and if that means making an example of a disruptive and rebellious team member, then so be it. In fact, that is expected, because once again if we don't make an example of a rebellious team member we end up undermining our own position.


In my time I have seen team leaders as leaders who have earned the respect of their team, and advanced. I have also seen team leaders act as bosses which results in them being removed or demoted. I have also seen team leaders play their team members up against each other, and while they survived for a time, their position was eventually undermined. Indeed Machiavelli does say that there are times when playing factions off against each other will strengthen your position, however it will not work all the time. In fact, while it may strengthen your position when you are at peace, it undermines your position when you are at war. Then there is fairness and justice (another theme that runs through this book) because by doing so may result in a perception of injustice, and indeed a team that fights amongst itself and stabs each other for their own personal gain (and to garner favouritism with the leader) may work in the short term but will ultimately fail. A team where each of the members respects and supports each other is an effective team (and I have seen that happen where a team goes from being at the bottom to being at the top) while a team that is at each other's throats will eventually find themselves collapsing in on their own disunity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/382851995
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review 2011-08-18 12:05
Dante in Hell
The Divine Comedy Part 1: Inferno - Dante Alighieri,Mark Musa

This is the first in a trilogy written by a Florintine poet and political activist during the renaissance. The other parts are Purgatory and then Paradise. Each one of them has the protagonist, the author himself, travelling through a series of 'circles' to his ultimate goal, which in the Divine Comedy is to the top of the seventh heaven. We will only concern ourselves with this part, in which he travels into the pit of hell, to the center of the earth, so that he may reach the Antipodes where the mountain of purgatory is located.

The entire poem, and it is a very well structured and quite difficult poem (even with commentaries and maps, which are very helpful to understand what is going on) is set as a dream sequence which Dante has on his 35th Birthday (which he describes as being the middle of his life, as reckoned by the Bible being 70 years). He begins in a dark wood, and he attempts to ascend to heaven, but then meets the poet Virgil (an Ancient Roman, considered by many to be one of the greatest poets; however I do not actually consider him that highly and would give that title to either Shakespeare or Homer) who tells him that the best way to reach his goal is to travel through Hell. While he is reluctant at first, he agrees, and Virgil, as his guide, takes him into the pit.

Now the entire poem is very opinionated and contains Dante's beliefs not only on who is in hell, but where everybody is located. There is an awful lot of political commentaries in here, and the deeper one gets, the more we note that contemporaries of Dante appears, and there is also a lot of commentary on what Dante sees as the future of Florence. Dante had been caught up in the political turmoil in the city (and there was a lot of such turmoil in that city at the time, which is not surprising with a city that became the centre of the Renaissance, and also a Republic and the birthplace of the modern banking system) which resulted in him fleeing Florence to Ravenna where he spent the rest of his life and wrote the this marvellous piece of literature.

One should note that the poets that Dante admires (such as Homer) are all located on the fringes of hell, so obviously he recognised their pagan status, but did not want to acknowledge their wholesale rejection of a knowable God. However further down, we come across people that he really doesn't like. Now, Dante's hell is divided into circles, but the deeper we go, the circles themselves become divided into further circles. Eeach of these circles (both outer and inner) represents a specific sin, though with the inner circles the sins there are effectively different grades of a general sin. Even so, these circles are divided into specific areas, so at the top we have the sins of the Leopard, which includes sexual sin, gluttony, anger, and greed. The next layer down we have the sins of the Lion, which include crimes of violence, whether it be violence against another (murder) or violence against one self (suicide). Now it is interesting that Dante considers these sins in a better light than the next lot, because he places a huge barrier between these sins, and the sins of fraud. Maybe because deceit is so malicious, and maybe it is because he himself had been deceived. Therefore, after the great barrier, we have the sins of the Wolf, which include hypocrites, flatterers, panders, simoniacs, and the like. This is all one circle but are divided into a series of 10 bowges. Finally, we come to the centre of the world, which pretty much include the traitors, who are buried in ice, the depth depending on the nature of their treachery, with Judas Iscariot and Marcus Brutus considered to be the worst of the worse.

I look at this book and say that it is awesome, a work of literary art, despite its intense difficulty to understand and follow because of its complex poetic form. However, it is masterfully crafted, and Dante, despite being a bit of a depressive, love struck over a woman that he can never have (as we shall see in Paradise) has left a story, and in a sense it is a fantasy, that will be with us through the ages. Is it designed, like The Great Divorce, to challenge us and to make us rethink the way we live our lives, maybe, but to me it does not have the same power as does C.S. Lewis' masterpiece. This, instead, is a fantasy journey of discovery through Hell as the author travels to find God.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/199143911
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