Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Chaos of Cults by J.K. Van Baalen

Joy to the World! on YouTube.

The Jordan River

The Wailing Wall 

Sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane
The Chaos of Cults a Study in Present Day IsmsThe Chaos of Cults a Study in Present Day Isms by Jan Karel Van Baalen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My edition of this book was published in 1953. Baalen's writing style is a bit quaint, and can also be a little confusing when he speaks from the first person when describing the traits and doctrines of the various groups.

Baalen devotes 11 chapters to as many different cults, going into their history, founders, dogma and how they deviate from Christianity.

In the first chapter, Baalen defines the term, "cult". He explains that they are religious groups who claim to belong to the Christian religion while denying Christianity's essential beliefs. This excludes other world religions that make no pretense to being Christian, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam or any other non-Christian belief system, for that matter, although he does include certain groups that claim to embrace all belief systems, such as Bahai and Unitarian/Universalist groups.

What are Christianity's essential beliefs? The divinity of Christ, his sinless life, death and resurrection, the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, salvation through faith, not works, works produced by faith, not vice versa; the inerrant, inspired word of God: the Bible. These are the essentials. Non-essentials can characterize various Christian denominations, but these essentials are non-negotiable.

After the first chapter, he then devotes the next eleven chapters to religious groups that claim to belong to the Christian religion. He describes each one, how specifically they deviate and why their doctrine is false.

These chapters include: Spiritism, Theosophy, and the Liberal Catholic Church; Rosicrucianism; Christian Science; The Unity School of Christianity: Baha'ism; Mormonism; Destiny of America; Seventh-Day Adventism; Jehovah's Witnesses; Buchmanism; and Unitarianism/Modernism.

I looked up some of the names I was not familiar with to see if they were still active. Buchmanism, also known as the Oxford group and, since 2001, Initiatives of Change is still around. Buchman was pro-Hitler because Hitler was anti-communism, because he equated communism with the anti-Christ.

Destiny of America is today known as British Israelism and was continued in American by Herbert Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God. This cult believes that the Anglos of England are the lost tribe of Israel.

The other groups still exist, although I'm not sure that Seventh-Day Adventism is still considered a cult. However, there are certain sects that have branched off Seventh Day Adventism that are legalistic and believe that not observing Saturday as the Sabbath will incur the wrath of God.

The chapter I found the most significant was : Unitarianism/Modernism because this cult has infiltrated most mainstream Protestant denominations where the Gospel of the Bible has been watered down to a "feel good about yourself and try to make good life choices" philosophy.

Even though the book is dated and has a stilted writing style, I found it informative and interesting.

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Self-Portriat in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams

Tis the season.  Here's some Christmas Renaissance Music.

Oh, OK.  Here's a few more photos of Israel.  I took so many you're going to see them all year round, I think.

At Jericho, I got to ride a camel.

He was a friendly camel.

Here are the remains of the oldest city in Israel, Jericho.  Do you see the burn line?  That level dates back the time of Joshua.  "Joshua fought the battle at Jericho, Jericho, Jericho..."

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning RaceSelf-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have always been fascinated by race: what constitutes race; how do people self-identify; how important is it, and how has it impacted culture and history.

Thomas Chatterton Williams grew up in a bi-racial home. His mother was a white woman, the daughter of a conservative preacher, and who attended Wheaton College in Illinois. His father, a black man, grew up in the South. Williams grew up in the northeast and led, what some would call a privileged upbringing.

It sounds to me rather that he grew up in a household with a father who expected him to succeed and he did. He attended college in New York City and while still a student was offered an advance to publish a book on race. Because I listened to this book on Hoopla, I am unable to refer to specific facts, such as what university he attended and whether it was this book or a previous book he wrote that was published while he was still in college, so for the sake of accuracy, I won't say.

Being a man that considers himself black while not looking black (many people, especially in Europe assumed he was an Arab) caused Williams, maybe not an identity crisis, but certainly led him on a journey, the fruit of which is this book.

What does it mean to be black? Is it cultural? Genetic? Both? Williams himself married a white French woman. How should their children view themselves? They look less black than he does.

So are they black? What is the "black experience"?

While I thought Williams was fairly even-handed, even though his political slant veered away from my own, neither did he jump on the bandwagon of "evil whitey who is the source of all the black man's problems". He points out that authors, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes in a way that assumes every white person is a type rather than an individual and any interaction with black people can only be racially motivated-whether with hostility or kindness (they're only being condescending) really only serves to create racial division and mutual suspicion.

Williams protests against seeing anyone as a "type". We are just individuals and if we are going to accomplish racial unity, we're going to have throw out the old paradigms.

He believes this can be accomplished in a couple of ways. One, as the population of bi-racial people grow, there will be more and more people like himself that cannot view themselves as either black or white but as both. In other words, if we blur the lines of racial divisions to such an extent, people will not be able to view each other in such delineated ways.

Secondly, he believes race is an artificial construct. Humans created the concept of race, when, in fact, there is only one race, the human race. As people change their views on this, racism can one day be eradicated.

I think with the first point he is right to an extent. I recall a concert venue in Detroit that wanted to charge white people double. Backlash resulted in rescinding the policy, but what was not given enough media attention, in my opinion, was that not only white, but many bi-racial people refused to attend because it meant one of their parents was being treated unfairly.

I also agree that race is a man made construct that has an entrenched history and clearly delineated cultural lines. Instead of helping to erase those lines, many "woke" people today of all races seem to want to persist in the hatred. Maybe it gives them "raison d'etre", I don't know.

However, I must also point out that, human nature being what it is, if America became populated with a new race, people would only find other things to hate about each other.  Look at the African countries.  They have been beset with tribal warfare for hundreds of years, probably thousands, and it has nothing to do with race.

So it is indeed bold of Williams, while still very much liberal, to take an unpopular stand about race and its definitions and the repercussions of those definitions.

To complain, I will say I felt there was a little too much naval gazing. Surely every minority does not go through life with their wrist against their forehead, muttering "What am I? How do others view me?"

Most people of any color or combination thereof, surely have more meaningful things to do with their life. We cannot control how others view us. We are only in control of how we deal with the good and ugly things that life throws at us.

I think primarily the difference between Williams and myself is that he is an atheist, therefore must turn to Utopian hopes and ideals, while my identity is that of a child of God and this life is very short. Focus on eternity.

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Double Blind by John Rowan Wilson

Here is Handel's Behold the Lamb of God from Messiah.

I love people watching.  Here are a few of the people I watched while in Israel.  These photos were taken in the old section Jerusalem near the wailing wall.

The Double BlindThe Double Blind by John Rowan Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book came with a group of books I bought on eBay. I only wanted one of the books, but it is serendipity that this book arrived as well.

The author, John Rowan Wilson, was a medical doctor and his stories, at least this one, circle around some sort of medical problem.

In this case, a surgeon, Peter Mayne who is now working as an administrator for the Royal Ministry of Health, must travel to a tropical island off the coast of Africa where a rogue doctor is testing a vaccination against encephalitis on the population. After three deaths, a local priest demands that the testing stop until it is ascertained whether the vaccination caused the deaths.

There are many elements to recommend this story. Wilson is able to weave medically technical information into a well-written plot and create an exciting, fascinating story.

The term "double blind" concerns studies where both doctors and clients do not know if a test drug or a placebo is being administered for the duration of the trial. (Results are studied afterward, and by impartial third party experts.) This prevents psychosomatic responses from the patient, and bias from a doctor who is eager for his medication to work.

Mayne's job is to travel to the island of Cajara, investigate and determine whether the local doctor, Martin Farrell can continue with his study or if the blind needs to be broken.

As if this particular assignment wasn't difficult enough, there is also a personal element. Peter and Martin were friends in Catholic school together. Martin married the woman Peter loved. Due to certain other acrimonious events aside from this, Mayne and Farrell fell out of contact. This interpersonal dynamic only adds to the tension that inevitably results from such situations. Now Mayne must confront a man he has not seen in ten years and also the woman he once wanted to marry.

If the plot line were all the novel had to recommend it, fine and well, but this is much more than that. This novel is one of the most excellent studies in psychological manipulation I have ever read.

As we read about Mayne and Farrell's childhood relationship and subsequent reunion, we see a well-fleshed out character study of narcissism that threatens to become a borderline paranoid personality disorder in a man who also is brilliant enough to play mind games that divide people into his slavish devotees or sworn enemies. His enemies initially started as a devotee until they ceased to be useful.

"Between the honeymoon and the final, inevitable disillusionment there was a stage, always distressing to watch, when the first doubts began to appear, when the idea began to obtrude itself that the association with genius might have certain disadvantages."

The evil genius in this case has the ability to leave everyone he comes into contact with shaken and second-guessing themselves, even those who have wised up to his true character, which is the case with Peter Maynes. He long ago figured Martin Farrell out, but every conversation was still an exhausting chess game.

The story is narrated from Mayne's point of view so we get to read his thoughts, which are quite perspicacious in his ability to read others.

Wilson also deftly draws an accurate picture of colonial countries and their relationship with the Mother Country. What responsibility does England have toward 3rd world countries where the life expectancy is thirty? Is it permissible to use unapproved drugs on the local populace, with their consent, especially since the death rate is already so high in large part due becoming infected with encephalitis from mosquitoes?

But what if the vaccine is infecting people with encephalitis, rather than inoculating them? Is the life of an islander worth that of a patient in the U.K.? Are third world citizens the new clients of the slum hospital clinic?

I also like how Wilson shows the various types of well-meaning First Worlders who live on the island. The priests are there to save souls and advocate for those that have no voice. The governor is there to make sure everything meets with mainland approval. The doctors are there to provide health care. While each is a type, Wilson manages to personalize them. No one is lampooned; everyone is multi-faceted, allowing the the reader to sympathize with each character, even the ones they might generally deplore.

There are a few odious types, at least that is how Wilson paints them: The rabid Socialist who is there to radicalize the people and make them revolt against their oppressors. What I found insightful was showing how unintentionally condescending they could be to the natives (of course you're primitive, ignorant and backwards, poor things, but it's England the Imperialist's fault).

The only failing I found was the romance. I understand inserting a love triangle adds an extra element of tension that allows one to see yet another side to an insecure and devious personality, but frankly, he needs to stick to what he does best, analyzing human nature. The romance between Mayne and Farrell's wife, Barbara, in addition to being adulterous, is awkward, stiff and painful to witness. If he had left it out, I would not have missed it.

Thankfully, the romance is mostly marginal.

Other than that quibble, I enjoyed this story and will be looking for more of this author's works. Probably not an easy challenge since I'm sure most of his books are out of print.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Yesterday's Papers: A Harry Devlin Mystery by Martin Edwards

I hope you enjoy:
Pahud & Langlamet play Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto

My dad reading Pat McManus to my mother.

For Thanksgiving week I traveled to Florida to visit my parents.  As I said last time, the day I left for Israel, my mother was admitted to the hospital.  My mother is now in a rehab place called The Manor where they are trying to get her to walk and balance.  It was a nice week.  Every day I went and visited her.  

In the mornings we sat in a courtyard at The Manor.  I sat in the cafeteria with her where we met some very interesting people.  The two men there are Vietnam Vets.  Bill (at the table) was an airplane mechanic for the cargo planes.  He was stationed on almost every far Asian country during the war.

The other, Bob, was a boom operator on B-52s and F-4s. He said it took three officers to get him off the ground so he could lie down and pass gas.

My dad, also a career airman (he spent the Vietnam War in Turkey) is just out of sight.

In the afternoon I checked my mother out and we watched the sunset on a beach just down the road from The Manor.

In the evening my father read to my mother in the commons room at the manor while I painted.  I was painting Christmas cards.  A group playing dominoes at a nearby table were listening to my dad read.  They then oohed and aahed over my Christmas Cards so naturally I had to give each one a card, with their name on it.

I could tell you a story about each of those people at the table playing dominoes and maybe I will in a later post.  I had not had so much fun since I was in college, getting to know so many different people.

But on to the review:

Yesterday's Papers (Harry Devlin)Yesterday's Papers by Martin Edwards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Finding this book at an Ollie's store was a happy accident. I got it for a dollar and I could not resist the edition put out by Crime Classics.

Harry Devlin is a lawyer (or solicitor as they say across the pond), but cannot resist a good mystery. A man by the name of Miller approaches him and tells him of a miscarriage of justice that happened back in the sixties. A teenage girl, Carole Jefferies, left her home one night and never returned. Her body was found in a nearby park in the bushes. A neighbor, a socially awkward and anti-social teenage boy by the name of Edwin Smith, confesses to the crime.

Edwin in great detail describes Jefferies on the night of her murder, what she was wearing, what she was strangled with and why he murdered her (she rebuffed his advances in the rudest terms).

Later, however, Edwin recants, but no one, including his lawyer believes him. He is sentenced to be hanged, but tries to kill himself first. By the time he has recovered from his attempted suicide, the death penalty in the U.K. has been outlawed. Nevertheless, Edwin shortly afterward succeeds in killing himself. Case closed.

But now this strange little man, Miller, insists that Edwin Smith was innocent and he was going to find the real murderer. Would Devlin join him?

Devlin does.

Without exaggeration this may be one of the best developed mysteries I've ever read. I love most mysteries I read, but the ending often is a let down. It's more like, "Oh. (shrug) It was that one.

Not in this mystery. There are many positive elements and let me try to list them:

There is no dead time. While this is not a thriller, it's definitely told in a way that the author keeps dropping bread crumbs and the reader keeps following close behind picking them up. Each crumb is significant and leads up to something else later in the story. When we get to the climatic ending, we don't shrug. There are many surprises in store.

Secondly, the entire story takes place in Liverpool, home of the Beatles. The Murder takes place in the sixties, even though the time setting for the story is the nineties, thirty years later. Edwards nicely creates a realistic and interesting backdrop, intertwining the two time periods. It'd make a great movie for that reason alone.

Thirdly, the characters are interesting. And, perhaps even more importantly, the good guys are likeable and realistic- not perfect, but people you'd like to get to know. The bad guys are complex. They are more sad than evil.

With the exception of a couple who were just flat out evil, or maybe I should say, pathologically narcissistic. That also was entirely in the realm of what could happen in real life. No one was so over the top, you couldn't take them seriously.

The development of the story was neatly done, all the pieces coming together in a satisfying way.

Are there any negatives? Just one, for me. Here and there spattered throughout the story, the author chose to use some foul language.

It was strange, because it was infrequent, almost as though his publishing contract said he had to have so many f-words included. They didn't seem natural and were jarring.

Well, maybe one other. I felt he harped a little too much on the fact that the sixties were when homosexuality was repealed as a crime. I mean, did this law change anyone's lifestyles? No. It's like fornication (when it was illegal), it's an unenforceable law. Too much is made out of it.

Edwards admits as much by portraying characters who belonged to the "swinging lifestyle" then. In fact he makes an interesting point how many homosexuals became gatekeepers to the music world, determining the future of many artists and their acts. (Makes you look at the early David Bowie persona in a different light. Interesting that Bowie shed the "gay" persona when he became famous enough to have autonomy over his own career.)

Which is why I gave an otherwise marvelous mystery four out of five stars. Without the language it would have been my idea of a perfect mystery.

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And before we go a few more photos of Israel:

Here is the city of Capernaum.

What a treasure trove of archaeological digs!

Until next time, have a great week!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro

A favorite piano concerto by a favorite composer.  Notice how he brazenly brings in the orchestra in an entirely different key than the one the piano starts out in?  Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 4

And here are a couple of more photos of my time in Israel.

             Young man relaxing and reading in a parking lot.

Prow of the boat  on which I sailed across the sea of Galilee.  I prayed for my family and friends, especially my mother who has stage four cancer and had been admitted to the hospital the day I left for Israel.  I prayed she wouldn't pass before I got back.

                                      Sea of Galilee

You may have noticed that I have conveniently placed this week's book in front of my larger paintings.  And, exciting news:  I've been accepted in a local art exhibit.  It's called ArtWalk and artists, if accepted, are allowed to exhibit their work in front of cooperating businesses and stores.  I will be in front of Roma's, an Italian restaurant.  I hope I will be strong if no one buys my art. I'm so sensitive. I don't care about getting rich, but it would be nice if I sold enough to pay for my art supplies. Soon I will be adding a page to my blog where people can peruse and maybe buy as well.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New YorkThe Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a very long, thorough, exhaustive and phenomenal account of the man who made the public works systems and housing and parks in New York City what they are today. It deservedly won the author the Nobel Prize for literature.

Is Moses a great man?  This book lets you decide.

Robert Moses grew up in a household run by his mother, who had extremely fierce opinions about fighting for the underdog. She raised her children to think like her, at least she expected them to. Robert Moses did, his brother did not, the sister did but wasn't useful. Therefore Robert got every single dime that his passive father made, which was a lot, and his siblings got absolutely nothing.

This arrogance and drive put Moses through Ivy League, Oxford and made him a prominent administrator over New York City's parks, housing and city transportation systems.

Caro's book gives a real insight into how politics and the power mongers who use politics work and think. Moses spent hours and months looking at all the laws and by laws on the books. Found obsolete rulings and used them to basically get himself in an un-elected position of power that had no expiration date.

He used people and developed a gigantic entourage that supported his power, and tirelessly and relentlessly held power over everyone from the governor of the state to the mayor of New York City.

But what really allowed him to become the despot over New York was the press. I found this very interesting. If the press is on your side, it does not matter if you're a saint or a monster, people will take their cues from what the newspapers' slant is. The New York papers always slanted in Moses' favor.

What I also found fascinating is how brutal Moses could be towards anyone who did not allow him what he wanted and how vengeful as well, yet he had loyal followers who genuinely believed that Moses was all he claimed to be, i.e. the "Savior" of New York. These men, or dupes, if you will, kept Moses in power for decades. By the time any of them wised up, they had no power or were useless to Moses and he discarded them.

First Moses ousted the Old Money that owned private property on Long Island and made it public property. He did this forcefully and gracelessly and not legally. And he got away with it for the above mentioned reasons. But his official response was that he was doing it for the common worker who lived in New York and had no beach to go to on the weekends. He used this excuse for the entire time he tore down property, built up parking lots, highways, created car to car traffic congestion and, let us not forget, pricey admission prices to access the beaches that eliminated the average New York middle class worker.

He did the same with bridges and highways. Instead of building them along deserted areas with empty tenement buildings, of which, New York had more than a few, he chose to build them in thriving neighborhoods, effectively ousting tenants and turning the neighborhoods into dangerous ghettos. He did this all over New York. Digging up parks, robbing families of what little resources they had to take their children to play.

Under the guise of "renovating" neighborhoods, Moses created a horrible homeless population and also isolated poor neighborhoods, condemning them to the category of ghettos. Jane Jacobs discusses this in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. By destroying, self-sustaining, vibrant neighborhoods, Moses was instrumental in creating grey, dead tenement neighborhoods where crime moved in and those who could afford to, moved out.

What's frustrating is how much of it was avoidable if Moses had made his highways and bridges in other unpopulated areas. But Moses marched to his own drum.

And he could be vindictive. Someone ticked him off about the Brooklyn Aquarium and Park and he effectively bankrupted them. The reason? Because no one messes with Robert Moses.

This went on for decades. We think of despots running third world politics. It also runs on smaller scales in cities and towns. It's not about money; it's about power.

Moses' downfall finally came in the sixties when Nelson Rockefeller became governor. Rockefeller did not need Moses' money and he was young and arrogant and Moses couldn't push him around. There was a new sheriff in town. Little by little, Rockefeller plucked every piece of development that was under Moses' authority.

He was finally left with running the World's Fair in Queen's and it was a dismal failure. Moses thoughtthe could push around delegates from other countries as he could officials in New York. Hardly anyone from Europe came.

Moses' private life wasn't much better. His wife and daughters were so neglected that they eventually fell from view altogether. His wife became such an embarrassing alcoholic that he stopped bringing her to dinner parties. Instead he brought his mistress, whom he married a few months after his wife finally died.

As hateful as Moses was, and it certainly helps explain the traffic situation in the Northeast, this book was such an eye-opener as to how politics work. It's not the elected officials you have to worry about so much as the ones that get themselves their own little dictatorships.

I would be interested in reading a good book as to what New York has done since the early seventies in an attempt to rectify any of the damage this one man incurred on one of the greatest cities in the world.

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Sorry, I'm keeping this one.  It reminds me of my parents' home in Florida.  We spend a lot of time on the beach when I visit them.

Until next time, toodles!