Beginner's Pen

Jonathan Erdman. Writer. Wayfarer.


Back in the neighborhood, with some old friends

Santa Cruz Mountains

Here I am, bright-eyed and busy-beard, with a wise old Redwood, trees that can grow for a few thousand years. I’m going to miss Alaska, but it feels nice to once again be in Northern California.

1sentenceReview of Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

2016-10-16-19.07.12.jpg.jpegA classic novel, an important novel, and a novel historically set just before the implementation of Apartheid, Cry, The Beloved Country illuminates a nation on the fragile edge of possibility, a nation whose white power structure would soon choose to plunge the nation deeper into darkness and chaos, and yet in this novel, Alan Paton does what great novelists do: he illuminates the people living the reality presenting both a panoramic of perspectives along side a nuanced and detailed examination of the subtle textures of diverse peoples, cultures, and points of view in collision, all struggling among and against each other, grappling with their fears and seeking a way forward in a time where wisdom and compassion were so desperately needed.

Smokey lake on a brisk Alaskan fall morning


Coldest morning of our camping trip in the Kenai. The weather has been good to us, despite how late it is in the season. By Alaskan standards, snow can fly at any time in October, so we were pushing it to try to squeeze in one more week, but the weather has been fantastic. I’ve have been in McCarthy since March — not even so much as a trip to Glennallen (the closest town, four hours away) in the last seven months — so it’s been enriching to me to get out and explore! This pic is from a campsite in the Kenai Wildlife Preserve, Kelly Lake, where we were the only campers. Fog in the early morning makes the lake look smokey and mysterious.


Taking a few days to tour the Kenai Peninsula. The weather has been amazing, especially here in Homer, where the bright sunny beaches make me feel like I’m already back in California. This is the view from our campsite in Homer (out the back of our rented mini-van), where we can see the Pacific Ocean spread out before us in a campground we have all to ourselves.


Well, this explains a lot…

Just started a fascinating nonfiction book, Sapeins: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a sweeping and epic tome, but it’s highly readable, even entertaining at times, if you have the kind of sense of humor that allows you to roll your eyes and chuckle at your own species.

Here’s a quote I thought was worth passing on:

Genus Homo’s position in the food chain was, until quite recently, solidly in the middle. For millions of years, humans hunted smaller creatures and gathered what they could, all the while being huned by larger predators. It was only 400,000 years ago that several species of man began to hunt large game on a regular basis, and only in the last 100,000 years — with the rise of Homo sapiens — that man jumped to the top of the food chain.
That spectacular leap from the middle to the top had enormous consequences. Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump. (pages 11-12)



1sentenceReview of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism (2010, nonfiction)

81w6sfnazvl._sl1500_.jpgThough the ideas and facts presented by Ha-Joon Chang in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism will doubtless make many of the dogmatic and almost-religiously-pious “free-market” capitalists cringe, we are in desperate need of alternatives to the economic status quo of the last 30 years (it’s been an unfolding catastrophe), and as economic works go, this is the most accessible yet insightful book you are likely to find — the writing is witty, light, playful, yet academically sound and analytical — from an accomlpished economist who is an honest critic of capitalism while at the same time considering himself a believer in capitalism, such that Chang says (with characteristic irony and playfulness): capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others;  hence if you are looking for explanations for and alternatives to the failed ideas of the cliché dogmas of so-called “free-market” capitalism, this work will not disappoint. #1sentenceReview

Review – Searching for Sugar Man (Film, 2012)

What if Bob Dylan had never sold a record? Imagine that.

Imagine that none of us have ever listened to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters. What if one our most icononic musicians had cut two albums – just two – but we’ve never heard the songs, we’ve never heard ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or ‘Watchtower’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blue’? Try to picture an America where no one in 60s counter-culture had ever heard ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, because maybe Dylan had to hang it up early because his albums just didn’t sell, so he had to be realistic and work a construction job to provide for his family. And maybe way back in the day you actually worked with Dylan – think of that – but instead of being an icon, he was just “Bob” to you, one of the guys, and that was a long time ago. He used to play music, you recall, he mentioned that, but you actually never heard Bob play, come to think about it. Then one day you discover that those two albums he cut all those decades back are super sensations overseas and that they’ve have helped to inspire a resistance to totalitarian rule in a land far away….See the rest of my review at Cinema Faith.

Is Robinson Crusoe Colonialist?

A blog by an old seminary friend, Chris. We discuss colonialism……Me: As I’m familiar with it, the Colonialism debate isn’t about whether or not the colonial power subjugated the natives and exploited their resources but whether or not, on balance, the colonial powers left their subjects in better shape or not. So, in India one might debate whether, on balance, being Christianized and modernized was worth the genocides, cultural chaos, and loss of resources and raw materials. Obviously, one of the more fundamental questions is whether or not the colonial powers themselves have the right to even comment on the question. Who were the Brits, for example, to determine for the Indian peoples what is good for India? What gave the Dutch and English the right to determine what was best for South Africa?

Chris M. Van Allsburg

This article by Dennis Prager, on Why the Left Hates Western Civilization (do please read it) reminds me of a conversation I once had an an evening soiree, where a professor of Literature and I discussed Robinson Crusoe.  As an enthusiast of the Western Canon of Literature, I prize Crusoe as a brilliant spiritual biography as well as a killer adventure story filled with ingenuity, economic wisdom, planning, and heroism.  I’ve taught some sublime tomes in addition to Crusoe to high school students, including Dante’s Inferno, and The Brothers Karamazov. 

However, I was told that Crusoe is actually a propaganda piece lauding the white, Christian male of British imperialism and colonialism.  This can be known due to Crusoe’s reference to the savage he rescues from cannibals—named Friday— as “My man.”  The professor repeated this phrase over and over and she seemed rather angry.  My

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Creating the Conditions for Chaos

There was something about seeing Donald Trump on the stage at the Republican convention that brought it home for me, seeing Trump in the bright lights, alone and bereft of opponents — alternatively barking or basking in the glow of his victory. It all made it feel legit, legit in a very creepy, skin-crawling sort of way, but more than feeling disgust was my heightened sense of urgency, an urgency felt by most people in the face of fascism or other forms or totalitarianism. With Trump on stage, we can see ourselves going down that road, and it’s all too real now. The most obvious political course of action: do anything to stop Trump. Continue reading “Creating the Conditions for Chaos”

The Disaster of Richard Nixon | The New York Review of Books

I was reading just yesterday about how Nixon prolonged the Vietnam war for no other reason than political calculations: he was looking for a way to get out with honor so that he wouldn’t suffer the political fall out. Perhaps something to consider before casting a vote this fall for a pro-war President like Clinton or Trump. Continue reading “The Disaster of Richard Nixon | The New York Review of Books”

Backyard Breakfast


A few vegetarian friends drop by in the morning to enjoy the all-you-can-eat salad bar in the backyard. It’s nice to watch them from the comfort of the cabin, but it’s also a good deal safer. Most people don’t realize that moose can be just as dangerous as bears. They are friends, but it’s best to give them a little personal space.

Light of the night

This is the light at midnight at the summit of McCarthy Peak on Fireweed Mountain. No flash or camera adjustments necessary, there’s just plenty of light yet for pictures and enough visibility to allow us to do a night trek. We started hiking at 7 PM, all to avoid the heat of the day because it’s been bloody hot here in Alaska this summer, again. After enjoying the summit for a while, we hiked along that ridge line that you can see in the background and eventually laid out for a few hours of rest (probably can’t honestly call it “sleep”). Then at about 3 AM we all woke at about the same time — roused by either the chilly ground beneath or the mosquitoes buzzing about —  to see the sun light pushing itself above the distant mountain, glowing yellow and orange behind the peaks in the east. Lot’s of bush-wacking at the beginning and end of the journey, lots of tumbles and falls, but we stumbled out from the thick brush at about 6 AM, tired, with a few new scrapes and scratches to show for it, and most importantly with another summit under our belt. 

Home grown, organic mosquito net

My new bushy, old-school Communist beard has some practical advantages, one of which is extra facial coverage to protect from mosquitoes. On this particular trek — up Fireweed Mountain — they were on us the entire hike, even at 6,000+ feet, at the summit.

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