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Beginner's Pen

Jonathan Erdman. Writer. Wayfarer.

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

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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.

Berners, this isn’t the end

Bernie Sanders just passed the torch to Dr. Jill Stein, and this political revolution continues stronger than ever…The Green Party’s Stein is now the liberal establishment’s worst nightmare: a trustworthy and inspiring progressive candidate who stands for ideals and principle. No more of Clinton’s prison lobbyist donors or FBI criminal investigations, just an honest woman named Jill Stein who states “Berners, I repeat: this isn’t the end…Not by a long shot.”

Dr. Stein also correctly states “If you don’t want to vote for a warmonger or racist billionaire, there are more options.” It might come as a surprise to Hillary voters, but most Americans are tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. Ultimately, when Bush administration officials are voting for Hillary Clinton, progressive politics needs a savior.

This excerpt from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-just-made-jill-stein-the-most-powerful_us_57860e7ce4b0cbf01e9eddc6

All Violence Is Not Created Equal

All violence is not created equal. One day we hear of yet another black person killed by a cop and the next we read of a black man ambushing police officers. Many of us feel comfortable denouncing both as equally tragic: at the end of the day innocent people died and we mourn all loss of life. It’s a travesty that a black man was killed and an equally terrible thing that officers were killed. To me, though, this can’t be the final word. It’s not an apples to apples comparison. Continue reading “All Violence Is Not Created Equal”

A grand, ungodly, god-like man

As inspiration for my own novel, I’m looking to Melville, specifically to his infamous Captain Ahab, “a grand, ungodly, god-like man.” Ahab is obsessive to the point of insanity, seeking to extract vengeance from the epic white whale. It’s Ahab’s intensity and energy that pushes the narrative forward, farther into the deep oceans of the high seas. In the story, Ahab is Shakespearean in scope, making for a rich metaphorical discussion, but from a writer’s perspective, there’s something about Ahab that is also a little more difficult to put a finger on. He doesn’t quite fit the bill as a traditional antagonist. He’s ungodly, yes, but ultimately, Captain Ahab’s fight is with himself. Continue reading “A grand, ungodly, god-like man”

Feeling the Bern in Fort Wayne, Indiana

A series of events brought me back to Indiana for a short two days, and I found myself (quite unexpectedly) walking the streets of downtown Fort Wayne, looking for a coffee shop to do some work on my novel, but before you could say “Hoosier,” I was marching with a group about a hundred strong, all of us caught up in that Bernie fever.

Continue reading “Feeling the Bern in Fort Wayne, Indiana”

Article: Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism

A big reason that politics interests me is because it reflects cultural trends, and the bonkers way that this election is going suggests that America is changing. The Atlantic has a short article, Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism. Excerpt:

While grassroots Democrats and Republicans remain divided over the size of government, increasingly, what divides them even more is American exceptionalism. In ways that would have been unthinkable in the mid-20th century, the boundaries between American and non-American identity are breaking down. Powered by America’s secular, class-conscious, transnational young people, Democrats are embracing an Americanism that is less distinct than ever before from the rest of the world. And the more Democrats do, the more likely it is that future Trumps will rise. Continue reading “Article: Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism”

A Yuge Difference: Is America ready for Bernie?

Bernie was on Saturday Night Live recently, and there’s a skit I love, featuring Larry David (of Seinfeld fame and Curb Your Enthusiasm). The scene is of a sinking ship. “Women and children first!” yells the captain. “Really?” Larry David says, incredulous. There’s a good bit of back-and-forth between Larry and the Captain, as women and children are loaded onto the life raft. Larry can’t seem to convince them to take him on the raft before the women and children, and he worries that he’ll not make it on the raft, so he finally plays his trump card: I’m really wealthy, he says. “I’m worth more than all the rest of you put together.” That’s when Bernie steps in, dressed as a commoner. Continue reading “A Yuge Difference: Is America ready for Bernie?”

The Trump Card

As a kid I remember singing a song about being in the Lord’s army. It was a fun song, probably one of my favorites. It was an action song, I think that was the appeal when I was such a young kid. There were these dynamic movements that had all of us Sunday School kids marching like we were in an infantry, spying on the enemy, and taking aim and firing a gun. That was a long time ago. Tomorrow I go on a meditation retreat. It’s a far cry from the Lord’s army or Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that flirts so coyly with the idea of a holy war against Islam. I am, quite literally, going to sit on my ass for ten days.  Continue reading “The Trump Card”

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