Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Justin Trudeau, "Common Ground" (2014)

Notes will follow, eventually.

Pg. 119 - "...the blogger, who had been telling his readers I was destined for failure, gave me a respectful nod on his website for taking the time to answer his questions. This was a small thing... but it reinforced my belief that today's activists and supporters expect and deserve direct engagement through the digital media."

Pg. 152 - With regard to progress on issues related to Canada's relationship to First Nations' peoples: "With the notable exception of Paul Martin, who through the Kelowna Accord created a framework and principles to tackle so many of these problems... significant progress has eluded most of our prime ministers."

Pg. 185 - A "First Nations prayer" that Justin Trudeau read at his brother's funeral:
O Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.
I stand before you: one of your many children,
I am small and weak; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made, my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brothers, but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes,
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

For those interested in this book, you might also read my comments on related titles:
- Peter Newman, When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada
- Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics
- Lawrence Martin, Harperland
- Brian Topp, How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot

Alex Beam, "American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith..." (2014)

The full subtitle for this book is: "The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church."

Page numbers correspond with my digital version, and do not likely reflect hard copy pagination.

Benjamin Moser offers a good analysis of the book in the New York Times.

Some observations that I found particularly intriguing:
54: “The Saints helped the Saints; that was a core tenet of Joseph’s religion. In response to a revelation concerning Enoch, a grandson of Adam and Eve, Joseph encouraged his flock to “consecrate” all their property to the church, which in turn redistributed the collective wealth to families in need. This was pure communism, and it benefited many Mormons who followed Joseph to his first religious base in Kirtland, Ohio, having left their belongings behind them. By 1844, in Nauvoo—Joseph’s “Zion” on the banks of the Mississippi—Joseph had abandoned the law of consecration but had substituted tithing in its place. Observant Mormons agreed to donate one-tenth of their goods or services to the bishop’s storehouse for redistribution to the needy. Joseph often staked newly arrived families to (cramped) living quarters, a house plot, a larder full of supplies, or a portion of a working garden. Converts understood that their fellow Mormons would help them get on their feet, which partially explained the Saints’ missionary successes.”

65: “Around the time that the mass baptisms were ramping up, Joseph embraced Freemasonry, with a passion. There are plenty of reasons he would have opposed Masonry. Upstate New York, where he lived until age twenty-four, was a hotbed of anti-Masonry. The European fraternal order, which had established a beachhead in the New World during the eighteenth century, was widely denounced as a shadowy, atheistic cabal aimed at creating a secret world government. William Morgan, famous for publishing the Masons’ secret codes and rituals in the widely disseminated 1826 book Illusions of Masonry, lived in Batavia, New York, and was supposedly drowned by hostile Masons in the Niagara River. (In a curious twist of fate, his widow, Lucinda, became one of Joseph’s first plural wives.) New York even had its own anti-Masonic political party, which fielded a presidential candidate in 1831. The Book of Mormon, wholly composed in upstate New York, repeatedly condemned the “abominations” of secret societies, with “their secret signs and their secret words . . . [that] they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms” (Helaman 6:22). On the other hand, Joseph’s father and brother Hyrum were Masons, as were several other prominent Saints. It was hard not to notice that almost everyone who was anyone in southwestern Illinois—the lawyers, judges, and leading businessmen—were also Masons. So, with considerable fanfare, Joseph became an entered apprentice mason on March 15, 1842. After obtaining a waiver from the usual twenty-eight-day waiting period, he attained two higher degrees the following day.”

71: “In April 1844, he preached the most famous sermon of his life, what some regard as one of the most famous sermons ever preached in America. As if on a whim, Joseph turned nearly 2,000 years of Christian belief on its head at a funeral service for his loyal colleague King Follett. Joseph had laid the groundwork for a new world order, and for the foundational ritual for his entire church, but that was in secret. Now, speaking in Nauvoo’s East Grove, under a massive canopy of elm and chestnut trees, he unpacked some of the most radical Christian doctrine ever preached on the American continent…Joseph started out with his boldest statement: “We suppose that God was God from eternity,” he shouted. “I will refute that idea. God that sits enthroned is a man like one of yourselves.” “It is the first principle to know. We may converse with him and that he once was a man like us. God was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh. I defy all hell and earth to refute it.” Joseph referred to gods in the plural, because he explained that gods evolved from men and were not created ex nihilo, out of nothing. The raw material of godhead was a form of free intelligence that preexisted our creation. From intelligence, God became a man, then perfected himself to become a god. So did Jesus Christ. And so, Joseph said, can you. “You have got to learn how to be a god yourself in order to save yourself,” he proclaimed, “ —to be priests and kings as all Gods have done–by going from a small degree to another—from exaltation to exaltation—till they are able to sit in glory as with those who sit enthroned.” This became the “doctrine of eternal progression,” the Mormons’ supremely optimistic belief in the perfectibility of men and women living on earth. Joseph freed his followers from the strictures of predestination and the inevitability of sin.”

229: “…the dissidents were calling out Joseph’s startling new theology unveiled in the King Follett sermon, his contention that God was once a man who lived on earth, and advanced spiritually under the tutelage of a preceding god. This was indeed blasphemy against the established Christian church, but could a prophet guided by heavenly revelation blaspheme his own theology? Joseph had already rewritten both the Old and New Testaments and created holy rituals, all of them inspired by his direct communications with God.”

259: “Joseph was recapitulating the famous argument of the King Follett sermon, that just as God was the father of Jesus Christ, “you may suppose that He had a Father also.” “Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. . . . I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it.” He then cited biblical examples of the plurality of gods, claiming, for instance, that “Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many.”* Smith also applied his modest knowledge of Hebrew, pointing out that “Elohim,” the Old Testament word for “god,” is a plural form, and is almost always used plurally when God, or Elohim, creates the world. It was a stretch to argue that the Old Testament Israelites were polytheists, although Joseph did just that. “In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation,” he declared. “The word Elohim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods. The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us; and when you take [that] view of the subject, it sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness and perfection of the Gods.” Biblical scholars have called Elohim an example of the “plural of excellence,” akin to the “plural of majesty,” better known as the “royal we.”

Monday, 29 December 2014

Anthony Tucker-Jones, "The Afghan War" (2014)

Subtitle: "Operation Enduring Freedom 2001-2014."

Some observations I found useful:

Pagination corresponds to my digital version, and should not be seen as consistent with the hard copy.

18: “The very day after 9/11 Bush declared the attacks on the American homeland as acts of war and requested Congress provide the resources to fight the terrorists wherever they might be in the shape of $20 billion. Congress’s response was to approve double this sum. The following day US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, confirmed that Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, was a key suspect.”

20: “Initially, al-Qaeda had planned hijacking a total of ten planes with the intention of crashing them into targets on both coasts of the US. The targets would have included nuclear power plants and tall buildings in California and Washington State. This could have been devastating, but as it was just four planes had the desired effect. The US asked itself what had it done to inspire such an act of hatred by militant members of islam? The international community was also put on notice that such outrages would become more commonplace in the world’s capitals over the next decade.
Following 9/11 the international community immediately rallied to the US. The very next day UN Security Council resolution 1368 and General Assembly resolution 56/1 called for immediate international cooperation to bring the perpetrators to justice. They also called for much broader cooperation against global terrorism and this was followed on 28 September 2001 by UN Security Council resolution 1373. Enacted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it required every member state to undertake seventeen measures against all those who support, directly or indirectly, acts of terrorism.
For the very first time the NATO invoked its mutual defence clause on 2 October 2001, whereby an attack on a member state is considered an attack on all.”

76: “NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003 and expanded its area of responsibility from Kabul to encompass the country’s southern and eastern provinces three years later. This meant bringing the 12,000 American and other Coalition forces in the region under NATO control. It gave ISAF responsibility for the whole of Afghanistan, with around 40,000 troops. The upshot of this was greater integration in the south with the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom. However, the two operations continued to be directed separately, the rationale being that ISAF had a stabilisation and security mission, while OEF was overtly counter-terrorism.”

94: “ISAF was created in accordance with the Bonn Conference in December 2001. NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation on 11 August 2003, ending the six-month national rotations. The Alliance became responsible for the command, coordination and planning of the force, including the provision of a force commander and headquarters on the ground in Afghanistan. ISAF’s mandate was initially limited to providing security in and around Kabul. In October 2003, the United Nations extended ISAF’s mandate to cover the whole of Afghanistan (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1510), paving the way for an expansion of the mission across the country.”

127: “Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) thrown up by the British army’s deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in the provision of a plethora of new military vehicles. Force protection became the primary focus for armoured vehicles, rather than the more traditional mechanised warfare role. While offensive battle groups still played their part, getting forces from A to B and conducting patrols unscathed in the face of a mounting IED threat became a greater priority. In total some 2,700 vehicles were supplied to the British army during the period November 2008 to April 2011 consisting of 18 different types.”

149: the international intervention in Afghanistan was in many ways a unique operation. While the application of air power and special forces brought the Taliban down, Coalition ground troops were needed to keep the resurgent Taliban at bay and safeguard the fledgling democratic government in Kabul. Like the Balkans Wars of the 1990s, Afghanistan became an unwelcome and often unpopular open-ended military commitment that dragged on for over a decade. As with the war in Bosnia, the campaign in Afghanistan only achieved a precarious peace after more and more ground troops were sucked in.”

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Joey Comeau, "Overqualified" (2007)

Comeau's short book of cover letters written to various potential employers evokes an occasional chuckle, although when the author attempts to evoke some kind of deeper curiosity or pathos through vague references to a family death or tragedy, he left me cold. The threads are too confusing, too ambiguous, too inconsistent, and in the end, left floating without any kind of consolidation or clarification of their importance.

Frankly, Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members (discussed on this site) does much the same job, in a similar fashion, but in a much more readable text.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Murray Rothbard, "Betrayal of the American Right" (2007)

Rothbard is one of the pre-eminent American libertarian thinkers.

This title - written in the 1970s but not published until recently - offers Rothbard's assessment of the diversion of conservative thinking in the United States from libertarianism to statism from the late 19th- to the 1960s.

Rothbard offers a compelling, revisionist narrative history of the intellectual development of libertarian thinking in the United States. He particularly focuses on differences that emerged between libertarians and the Republican Party mainstream around the United States' participation in foreign wars.

Additional notes available soon.

The full text of the book is available at: http://mises.org/library/betrayal-american-right-0

Monday, 15 December 2014

Motley Crue, "The Dirt" (2001)

This book, authored by five members of the band, as well as collaborator Neil Strauss (who also assisted with Jenna Jameson's autobiography discussed on this site), chronicles the excesses (alcoholic, drug, sexual, hygienic, emotional, and beyond) of the band Motley Crue from its genesis to the end of the 1990s.

The book is eminently readable. One of the advantages is that it takes a "Pulp Fiction"-esque, post-modern approach to narrative; it offers multiple, divergent versions of events provided by various band members. This approach also serves to allow band members to introduce their own stories, whether it be about their childhood, their relationships, their insecurities, or their legal troubles. Allowing each member to offer their concerns and experiences as credible and unique makes the book more interesting than a straight, single, authoritative narrative. It also reinforces some of the discussion of band differences, collaboration, mutual suspicion, and flawed communication.

Generally, a fun book, a decent read, and better than much of the band's rather glammy version of West coast 80s rock (excepting - of course - their first two albums, which are fantastic).

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Wayne Larsen, "Tom Thomson: Artist of the North" (2011)

Larsen's book is a brief, easy-to-read summary of many popular stories regarding the life of Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson, who died in Ontario's Algonquin Park during the summer of 1917, under what has become described as 'mysterious circumstances'.

The book, as part of the Dundurn Press Quest Biography series, was conceived to appeal primarily to high school/junior undergraduate readers. This is important to note in evaluating Larsen's work. It is a basic form of biographical summary, written in clear and accessible language. He has not waded deeply into archival resources, and seems to have likely derived most - if not all - of the book from secondary sources.

The book is a fine introduction to Thomson's life, and certainly better than some biographies. That being said, it is not particularly demanding on the reader, and doesn't serve to challenge or question much of the hagiographic treatments of Thomson traditionally offered.

You can listen to a 2011 interview with Larsen here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Norah Vincent, "Voluntary Madness" (2008)

Vincent undertook to understand the treatment of mental illness by 'immersing' herself in three different American treatment centres: one a public urban institution, one a private rural institution, and one a private 'progressive' institution in the US mid-west. Not purely a 'tourist' or 'poseur', Vincent believes that she may indeed have some form of mental illness, but her problems are not so debilitating as to render her incapable of researching and writing a book.

Her narrative of time spent in these institutions is believable. She captures details of scenery and thought that those who have spent time in psychiatric wards and asylums, particularly as patients, will recognize. In this regard, the work provides excellent insight, something like the affirmation of experiential commonality that an addict finds in a twelve-step program. She offers the kind of insights that "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" can't, and yet affirms in many respects that the situation in America's psychiatric institutions has not greatly improved or even changed.

Her desire to understand mental illness, to document its treatment and challenge some of the premises under which treatment is premised, was not convincing, however. Her capacity to stand back (or willingness to believe that she was) from her own mental illness, and to achieve some kind of overarching or privileged critical position, is unconvincing. The very reality that someone was putting up thousands of dollars for her to enter and stay in these institutions separates her experience from that of many people who find themselves in them - particularly when entry is not voluntary, but as incarceration by court order. I would expect that forced membership in the asylum not only alters the experience, it alters the perception of the experience. While Vincent is critical of many of her peers in the 'system', she particularly directs attention to persons incarcerated in the final institution (the nicest of the three) who do not seem to 'want to get better'. Of course they don't want to get better! They were sent there by court order. A system for caring for mental patients based on force by its very nature is likely going to be much different than one based on a preventative healthcare model.

You can read a short excerpt at Smith Magazine.

The Guardian offers a very prescient review.