May 31

Who’s Afraid of Opera: A highly opinionated, informative, and entertaining guide to appreciating opera, by Michael Walsh ★★★★★

I recently read and reviewed another book by Michael Walsh (Last Stands), and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and conservative outlook on the arts, politics, and life. I didn’t think that a Time Magazine writer could possibly be a conservative. Walsh wrote a previous book titled Who’s Afraid of Classical Music, and which is supposed to be read first. Amazon just happened to mail me this book first, and since I’m between historical tomes and desired some lighter reading before setting out to hike more of the PCT. So, it’s this book, Walsh’s book on classical music, and a few other short historical texts.

I loved this book. I admit that I do NOT have a similar taste in music to Michael Walsh, but that doesn’t distract from the general points he is trying to make. I love many of the operas of the bel canto era, and he does not. None of the operas of Bellini, Donizetti, or Rossini were seriously discussed. Walsh liked many of the newer operas available, including some 12 tone works, serial works, and minimalist works. I have not found minimalist works as compelling, or interesting, or even expressive. Like Walsh, I’m not ready to throw out modern pieces. I’ll give Phillip Glass a chance, as I didn’t object too strongly to his classical works. Walsh minimized the work of Händel, which I also concur with. Sadly, Walsh did not mention the obscure operas of Bach, the most notable being the Coffee Cantata, which is really an opera disguised as a cantata to escape the radar of the Lutheran critics of his music. Walsh also misses out on the creative forms of music found in the background of movies. Indeed, Shostakovich wrote many film music scores, many of which are classical works of art in their own right. Wagner, more than anybody, set the stage for the background music for films for which we can be grateful. We have abundant examples of highly creative film scores, ranging from Ennio Morricone to John Williams. One cannot go to the concert hall to listen to the music of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, yet it is most brilliant and creative, which in part makes the film as much as Clint Eastwood makes the film.

Walsh offers a capable defense for opera. He starts by trying to define “opera” while admitting that opera can be challenging to define. As an example later in the book, he would define most of the Broadway Musicals and A. L. Webber productions (like Phantom of the Opera) as actually opera productions. He is probably correct in doing so. Walsh discusses how to listen to an opera, and specifically what it is like to go to an opera. Naturally, one MUST do their homework before entering the opera hall, having a clue as to what the opera is about, rather than trying to discover that at the time of the performance. Walsh gives a listing of some of his favorite operas, many of which I agree with. There are gems that he totally misses out on, such as Wagner’s Parsifal, and the mid-career operas of Verdi (La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto), which he aren’t as bad as Walsh suggests them to be. Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz was given only a passing mention, even though it was most influential in affecting the operas of both Verdi and Wagner, as well as everybody after Verdi and Wagner. And, it’s a delightful opera with lots of great music. Walsh shares many anecdotes that he had while acting as the Time Magazine music critic, meeting influential musicians and opera stars, and encountering the vagarities of an art medium in flux. Walsh mentions the personal hell that each opera star must go through in a performance schedule. Indeed, he is correct that opera has got to be the most challenging and demanding of all the possible art forms existent today. He was most humorous and provided several nights’ worth of delightful reading. I will be looking forward to reading his text on classical music (which should have been read first!).

No Comments »
May 20

Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard ★

There is so much wrong with this book that it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve always had a sense of Bill O’Reilly being a neoconservative hypocrite, but this book more than confirms it.

My first complaint is the book itself. The print is 14/16 point serifed text, with block headings using a very old decorative typeface that is close to illegible. A large text typeface as used in this book suggests the Bill has little to say but wants to make it appear as a full volume text. Secondly, the style of writing is written as though it was a movie script aimed at the reading level of 8th grade—scarcely a scholastic work. The chapters were short, incomplete, and often written in the style of historic fiction; details were added that contributed nothing to the overall aim of the book. Even a chapter on the death of Wild Bill Hickok had little to do with the subject of the book. Several maps were repeated, some maps were entirely useless, and nearly all of the maps were misplaced in the text, not being in proximity to the running narrative, leaving the reader constantly in search of the appropriate map for the text at hand. It is as though the book was just randomly thrown together in haste to achieve publication. Bill should have done better than that. But then, maybe he couldn’t?

O’Reilly offers no critical analysis of the historical events but panders entirely to the new liberal notions regarding the Indians. He always sympathizes with the Indians, and fails to point out that the Indian encounters with white man were a clash of radically different cultures. It’s not that a foreign entity encroaching on their land was an Indian novelty. Until the white man arrived, the Indians were in a constant war with each other for territorial dominance. Even before the final demise of Crazy Horse, he attacked other Indians that didn’t quite suit his fancy. The Indians had no concept of land ownership, leading them to imagine that their concept would be accepted by the European settlers who had a strong Biblical and Asian/European sense of property and land rights. The Indians were true savages. One never declared a truce or surrendered to the Indians. This was true from the start of Indian-settler conflicts. One did not expect the Indians to spare the elderly, women or children. One expected the Indians to savagely mutilate the dead; killing them wasn’t enough to meet their brutal, uncivilized tastes. The Indian “gods” were also savage, calling for self-mutilating rituals in situations such as in preparation for battle. Little mention was given to the French-Indian War, which set the stage for conflicts with the white settlers. Indeed, the Indians were used by all sides, French, Spanish, and British, as well as Americans, to accomplish their ends. Soon after the first settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts, conflicts with the Indians arose, mostly generated by the Indians themselves. The Indians widely practiced raiding (stealing) at any opportunity, and did not fit with the Western moral system. If the Americans could not be trusted, then neither could the Indians. The Indians had the opportunity to assimilate yet chose to wistfully hope that their lives of roaming the forests and plains would never come to an end.  The demise of the Indian world was from an absence of foresight on their part. Indeed, O’Reilly refuses to suggest that Indian behavior was troubling at best. Instead, they were the poor victims of a Christian culture.

It is true that there was some tendency for the white Americans to view the Indian in the same context as the negro, being somewhat less than an authentic human being. This was not discussed. Indeed, the greatest failure of this book was the need to write as responsible historians and at least make an attempt to give us a mindset that existed in America at the time of the Indian wars. O’Reilly does nothing of the sort.

I am thoroughly amazed at the number of Amazon reviewers that lavished praise on this book, some reviewers even calling it a great book or one of Bill’s “best” books. I haven’t read any other of O’Reilly’s books, and after reading this tome, will probably not pick up anything else that O’Reilly has written. Only a few reviewers saw the book for what it is, a piece of trash. Don’t waste your time or money on this book, as it isn’t worth it. There are better Indian war histories out there.

No Comments »
May 17

The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, by Walter Borneman ★★★★★

Like many topics that were taught in public schools, the French and Indian War was a war that was very poorly taught, and most Americans know little about when it occurred and the circumstances surrounding this conflict. Though the Europeans call this the 7-year war, it actually transpired over the span of about 9 years, from 1754-1763. The major players in this conflict were the British, the French, the native American Indians, and the American colonists. Spain was a minor player late in the war, becoming involved and losing Florida while gaining nothing. The French and Indian War was rightfully the very first world war, as it was fought throughout the world, on the high seas, in North America, in the Caribbean, in Europe, in the Mediterranean, in India, and in the Philippines. The war was essentially a struggle for world hegemony, a war to decide whether it would be France or Great Britain that would have world domination. Indeed, it was this war that turned Great Britain into the British Empire. At the beginning of the war, such details were not entirely clear. The British always maintained domination of the seas, and French ineptitude on the high seas cost it dearly. Yet, on land, the French mostly had the upper hand, having much better strategies and war delivery. The British suffered greatly under incompetent and weak generals, and when victory was won, such as at Ottawa, it was a weakly held victory that could have reversed hands quite easily. The French were not as interested in maintaining a North American colony as they were in maintaining military superiority on the European continent. The French lost North America due to their naval weakness, yet it was that French navy that decided the fate of the colonies in helping the British lose the colonies for good. History has its’ ironies. The Indians were another significant player in all of this. The Indians were used most effectively by the French. Indian favor was gained by giving them lots of gifts. When the British decided to cut off the free gifts, the Indians went on the rampage, where they remain to this day. It was partly the French and British attempts to manipulate the Indians that ultimately led to the issues that we currently see in forming a sensible Indian policy. British policy at the end of the war with colonists directly resulted in the revolt that led to the Revolutionary war. Those policies included forms of taxation to the colonists, as well as prohibition with the westward expansion of the colonies.

This is history worth knowing, and worth knowing well. Borneman is a master storyteller that keeps the reader interested. He writes well, and this book would be a very reasonable choice for those out there for learning about this most interesting war.

No Comments »
May 09

09MAY2021  The PCT trail awaits me. I leave in 50 days.

I plan to return to my mission of eventually hiking through the entire Pacific Crest Trail, section hiking it over several years’ time. I would have preferred to have thru-hiked the trail in a single season, which I attempted in 2019. That ended up in an aborted mission for a number of reasons, the greatest being that it was a very high year for snow, and most of the people that I hiked with were either flip-flopping or dropping out. I ended up skipping around a bit, and yet the snow still seemed to be a deterrent issue, either from failure to melt creating dangerous conditions or from recent melting causing the number of mosquitos (misery) to be intense.

This year, I hope to do several sections. I plan on starting from Walker Pass and working my way up to Donner Pass. I am not totally decided on whether to go from Donner Pass to Old Station this year, being that resupply may be slightly problematic. If I skip Donner Pass to Old Station, I will jump up to Castle Crags (Castella, I-5) and proceed up to Callahans (I-5 in Oregon/Ashland). After coming home, I would like to complete further sections of Washington State. I have changed my plans a number of times in the past few months. Should I resupply over Kearsarge Pass/Independence, or push on? Should I stop at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) or go another day and resupply at Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR)? VVR is much more friendly to thru-hikers, but is slightly more off of the trail, and demands yet another mountain pass and 20 more miles of hiking, which is added on the 156 miles you’ve already gone from Kennedy Meadows South without a resupply. Should I stop at South Lake Tahoe, which demands a hitch-hike to and from the trail, or should I do a limited resupply at the Echo Lake Resort? Other decisions will probably be best made while on the trail.

Many further decisions await me in the weeks ahead. Exact equipment remains a question. I’ve tried out several other packs and love the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. I’ve strongly considered switching stoves but ultimately decided on sticking with the JetBoil stove that I’ve used before. It heats water faster, uses less fuel, handles wind better, and only weighs a few ounces more than the more popular trail stoves. It is not as good of a cooking stove since you cannot simmer the heat, but then I generally do minimal cooking on the trail outside of heating up water or cooking Ramen noodles. How should I carry my bear canister? Inside or outside of my pack? What foods am I going to prefer to eat, knowing that one’s appetite seriously changes while on the trail? Questions, questions, questions.

Because I am going to be hitting a more challenging portion of the trail immediately after starting, I realize the importance of getting into trail shape. I plan on doing an overnighter or two. I will continue to run (more like… 1-2 mph crawl) up trails in the area at least 2-3 times a week. Hopefully, that will also get my excess weight down, and it seems to be working. This activity has also been fun and has allowed me to explore a lot of new trails in Western Washington.

Assembly of resupply boxes has occupied some of my time. It is hard to predict exactly what is going to be needed for each new segment of the trail. So, you over-plan a little bit, knowing that some of your goodies will be left in a hiker box. Too much of anything can become nauseating on the trail, and balance is most important. A person’s physiology changes drastically while on the trail. In 2019, I discovered that I was getting profoundly hypotensive, which ended when I stopped my anti-hypertensives and stayed only on aspirin and a few general vitamins. Like many hikers out there, aches and pains force one to consume mass quantities of vitamin i, ibuprofen.

I will not be doing hike-a-thon activities this year.  In 2019, I was participating in a hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage, an organization that is dear to my heart and worth hiking for. We did not coordinate well enough the development of a support structure, were late at setting up the structure for raising support, and then struggled with a terrible year to actually hike the trail (because of snow). Because this year is going to be piecemeal, it will add to the complexity of raising support. So, I am not going to engage this as a possibility for Huguenot Heritage or any other worthy organization.

Betsy has been my greatest support through all of this and has put up graciously with my adventure. She does not share my passion for the trail, preferring to engage in gardening and home pursuits. I am able to reassure her of my personal safety through the use of new technology, the personal locator beacon (plb). I have my Garmin InReach mini set to send a satellite signal every 30 minutes while I am on the trail, identifying my location. Thus, she is able to see my progress as I move further and further north. I am also able to send her messages via satellite, and she is able to send messages in return. As an aside, a few people will be receiving my daily plb notifications. PLEASE DO NOT respond unless it is vitally important or an emergency: each response takes up electrons on my device and I don’t have a wall socket at night to recharge anything. I will be up to 11 days away from the ability to recharge my devices. Back to Betsy. Part of the rationale for me section hiking rather than doing a pure thru-hike is that I will still have a moderate amount of time this summer with Betsy. She just happens to be my most favorite person in life, and life on the trail is always thinking of her.  She also contributes to my hiking by mailing resupply packages at the appropriate times, and for dropping me off and picking me up from the train station. Bless her soul for helping me.

I will be departing to Walker Pass with much less anxiety than in the year 2019. By now, I am most familiar with the routine of thru-hiking, waking up before dawn, sometimes heating up a cup of coffee, taking down the tent and packing your pack, taking off on the trail, singing the doxology, gloria patri and Constantinopolitan creed, walking for 2-3 hours at a time before stopping to rest, eating food that would normally be completely unacceptable off the trail, constantly watching your Guthooks app to make sure that you are on track, going occasionally to the point of exhaustion before stopping, setting up camp, cooking supper, settling in the sleeping bag, killing all the mosquitos that happened to stray into the tent, writing the day’s trail blog, and then quickly drifting off to sleep. Each day repeats itself with new segments of the trail, new challenges, new discoveries, new horizons, new vistas, new photographs. Someday (soon?) I will have reached an age that will no longer permit me to go long distances on the trail. It’s hard to know when that day will come. Until then, I keep my head held high and walk with a thankful spirit that God has granted me the ability to do what I am doing. Cum deo ambulo. Deus mecum et vobiscum!

No Comments »
May 06

More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, by William Hendriksen ★★★★★

I read this book about 20 years ago and decided to re-read it because of its persisting value in defining how I read and understand the book of Revelation. Hendriksen speaks as an amillennialist, interpreting the book of Revelation as seven sequential parallel stories of human history from the first to the second advent. The overarching theme is that of the saints are more than conquerors in this world, a world that seems to totally beat down the Christian faith. When John wrote the book of Revelation at the end of the first century, persecutions were occurring and there was a great question as to whether or not Christianity would survive. Revelation gives seven recounts of Christians not only surviving but of coming out of the struggles of life as uber-conquerors. I’ve appreciated the amillennial view as a distinct improvement over premillennialism with its very bizarre means of forcing interpretations of Scripture that simply don’t flow naturally, and of post-millennialism, which forces a structure to Scripture that is highly inconsistent. I suppose that no view of eschatology is perfect, and even amillennialism has its inconsistencies, yet seems to read most naturally into the description of the present and future in the Scriptures. Some day it will all come clear, but until then, regardless of the view, our primary focus needs to be that of living holy, devout lives, never wavering from the truth of Scripture.

There is a sense of a story repeating itself in Revelation when reading the book from chapter 1 to chapter 22. Many times, the saints are drawn up into glory and evil defeated. These repetitions are easier to see once pointed out. They are as follows:

Revelation 1: An introduction to the book of Revelation
Revelation 2-3: The story of Christianity when viewed from the example of the churches (the lampstands)
Revelation 4-7: The seven seals (not referring to the Ingmar Bergman film)
Revelation 8-11: The seven trumpets
Revelation 12-14: Christ versus the dragon, the two beasts, and the harlot Babylon
Revelation 15-16: The seven bowls
Revelation 17-19: The defeat of the dragon and his allies
Revelation 20-22: Ultimate Victory through Christ and the new heaven and earth

A careful reading of the book of Revelation with the divisions as seen above will point out that we are simply seeing human history from different perspectives. The greatest perspective is that of Rev. 20-22, where the dragon (Satan) is bound, and the gospel able to go out throughout the whole world. This should excite the saints to no end. Amillennialism is NOT Pessimillennialism as has been proposed by others, but offers the most optimistic view of world history: Christ and the saints ALWAYS come out victorious against evil. The warnings in Revelation against the dragon (Satan himself), the first beast of the sea (world governments), the second beast of land (also called the false prophet, being the world religions and institutions of human construct), and the harlot Babylon (the seductions of wealth, economics, power, sex, fame, and unrestrained freedom), should alert the Christian of the attack on our faith coming in from all sides. We need not fear. We can peek to the end of the story and see how it will all come out. Those who are faithful are guaranteed to be more than conquerors.

I appreciated that Hendrikson did not just provide a summary interpretation of the book of Revelation, but also provided a framework for reading the book. His insistence in constantly bringing to mind the theme of the book of Revelation, of grasping the context and purpose for which the book was written, and of viewing Revelation not as a blow by blow account of the story of history but as providing general themes as to human history, all are relevant to having the best grasp as to what this book is saying. In reference to the last point of the book NOT providing detailed history, general events are those happening throughout the Christian era, such as the differing types of churches, the opening of the seals, the four horsemen, the blowing of the trumpets, and pouring out of the bowls, are all judgments from God happening throughout the Christian era, though perhaps intensifying at the end of our epoch. Henrickson is often very helpful at grasping the symbolism of the book, even though often I felt that many other alternative interpretations could still remain faithful to the text.

Others have since written commentaries on the book of Revelation based heavily on the model discussed by Hendrikson. The last generation of scholars has produced a new generation of excellent thinkers, offering fresh insights into this book that are not difficult to understand once one grasps the overall means of reading and interpreting Revelation. More than Conquerors remains on my list of top books of all time, and one that you also might consider reading.

1 Comment »
preload preload preload