Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
My Rating: Put it on your list
Level: Quick and easy read, fairly short.
Summary
Away in the dark near future, there is a still a profession called ‘fireman’, but they don’t save houses from burning (houses are fireproof now), but now they start fires. Not for houses, but for books. The book follows the story of one of these firemen as he starts to question why they are doing what they do, and instead starts saving and hiding books. After he is found out, he becomes the victim of the system he used to be a part of.
My Thoughts
This is a classic of dystopian fiction. The scary thing is, though some elements are over the top, much is too accurate. Bradburry rightly predicts (originally published in 1951) that books won’t be banned by the government or people in the majority for challenging the status quo, but instead, books will be questioned or banned for offending some group or another. We see this happening today, especially with elements of history that people do not like. He also predicted the heavy use of what are basically headphones. I went for a walk this morning and noticed every one of the dozen or so people I saw had headphones in.
As a big book-reader and someone who isn’t paranoid about the government, I see Bradburry’s vision as much more accurate than something like 1984. He was even wrong that the government would actively burn books by the will/request of the people. We don’t have to worry about that now, people just stopped reading them. Hell, people buy digital books, so you can’t even burn them anyway. But it doesn’t matter, in the most recent Pew study (2014) 23% of people hadn’t read a book in the past year. That’s up from 8% in 1978, the first year they asked. The median number of books read a year by American adults is 4. We don’t need to burn book, and the government doesn’t need to ban them. We are doing this to ourselves. We have 100 of channel showing pointless shit on TV and endless ways to stalk people we don’t even like on facebook and twitter, who needs books?
Maybe his most accurate portrayal was related to this. One of the characters in the book, whom the police watch due to being ‘peculiar’, lives in the only house that doesn’t glow blue at night. The family has their lights on and can be seen through the window sitting around talking, everyone else has their lights off and is watching TV, so that only a low, flickering blue color can be seen from the street. Where he is wrong is that no one thinks it odd now, but most people likely never think about it. I know I never did, but now if I walk around at night, I notice all the windows from the back of the houses and some of the bedrooms are dark and flickering blue. It becomes kind of eerie if you look or think about it too much.
 Anyway, over all, the book is a bit over-dramatic at times, well not being dramatic enough in others, due to un-imagined technological change. The concepts are great and the portrayal of why life could be like in this dystopian future is frighteningly accurate at times. I as I said above, it is a classic in the genre, and a book to put on your reading list.

Flags

I wrote a little about flags last summer. That post was mostly about my personal history with the Georgia and Confederate Battle Flags. I do want to do a quick hit on it and then talk about the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and the National Anthem, mostly because Confederate images have been in the news since Charlottesville this summer, National Anthem is up again now that football is back on, and mostly because I trying to help my pastor with a sermon series he’ll be doing soon about ‘power’, which includes economic and political power.

I went through the history of the Georgia flag in my previous post, so I just want to focus/expand here on one point. In the original post I pointed out that the Confederate Battle flag gained popularity in the 40’s through the Dixiecrats and that Georgia changed their flag in 1956. I think I should expand on that a bit. It is important to remember what happened in 1954 (after the close of the Georgia Legislature Session) – Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, and the Brown II in 1955 (also after closure). I’m not going to go into great detail about what these were, if you aren’t familiar (and American) you really need to go read it and educate yourself, but basically Brown overruled an old case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and ‘separate but equal’ and essentially ruled that school could not be segregate by law. In Brown II, the Supreme Court said that desegregation must occur with ‘all deliberate speed’. Schools have to desegregate and do it now.

So, how did the Georgia Legislature open in 1956? With this statement from the governor during the State of the  State:

There will be no mixing of the races in the public schools and college classrooms of Georgia anywhere or at any time as long as I am governor….All attempts to mix the races, whether they be in the classrooms, on the playgrounds, in public conveyances or in any other area of close personal contact on terms of equity, peril the mores of the South….the tragic decision of the United States Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, poses a threat to the unparalleled harmony and growth that we have attained here in the South for both races under the framework of established customs. Day by day, Georgia moves nearer a showdown with this Federal Supreme Court – a tyrannical court ruthlessly seeking to usurp control of state-created, state-developed, and state-financed schools and colleges….The next portent looming on the horizon is a further declaration that a State’s power to prohibit mixed marriages is unconstitutional.

This set the tone for the legislative session, one in which they voted to change the flag to include something that Dixiecrats and (recently, but not originally) the KKK had taken up as a symbol of protest. The Senate Research Report about the flag is an interesting read on the history. There is also a great reminder that another proposal that came after Brown was that the State would close all public school rather than integrate and send residents a tax refund to help them pay for private schools (which could still legally discriminate). This sounds frighteningly similar to the current attempt of a ‘voucher’ system for homeschooling (which wouldn’t become legal in Georgia until 1984).

All that to say, I think people can disagree about confederate monuments and their place in society, I’d just ask that people think seriously, especially in the historical context, about what they mean. I think statues to people are weird on their one, but most people disagree, so if a statue to a Confederate general or Colonial was put up in the 1890’s and he was also influential in his state (governor, president of a flagship university), there are legitimate reasons to have some pause about removing them. If a statue was put up, a flag redesigned, or streets renamed in the 1940’s-60’s, you should have very serious reservations about supporting them and truly question the motives behind them.

This, as always, is already longer than I had anticipated writing, so I’ll pivot quickly to the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and then a quick thought or two on the national anthem.

Let’s start with Francis Bellamy a Christian Socialist most famous for writing the base of what would become the pledge. His version:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Fun fact – Bellamy was opposed to ‘state’s rights’ and the Federal system in general. That is the meaning behind ‘one nation, indivisible’; he, as a socialist, preferred a much more centralized, singular form of government that would make broad laws and states would not make any.  The purpose of the pledge is literally to indoctrinate people towards loyalty to the state.

In 1923 the words ‘Flag of the United States’ were added so all the immigrants knew which particular flag.  The Pledge was recognized by the Feds in 1942 and added tot he flag code. In 1943, Supreme Court said it was not compulsory to say the pledge, after a court case brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The last change game in 1954, when the phrase ‘under God’ was added – see my review of Kevin Kruse’s book One Nation Under God for more.

Another fun fact, the Bellamy Salute was dropped in the 40’s due to it’s similarity to Hitler salute,  and the flag code was amended to require your hand over your heart instead.

As a libertarian minded Christian, I have a problem with pledging allegiance to a symbol of the State. I only vaguely remember saying the pledge growing up. I do not think it was every day, and looking back, I’m not sure it was said every day. I have the impression that it was more or less up to a particular teacher. When we did say it in high school, many people sat or didn’t say the words, because it seemed like an odd tradition. That all changed my senior year with 9/11. Then it was said everyday all the time.

Anyway, on to the National Anthem. People are kneeling now instead of standing, and it has become such a big deal that our President tweets about it and even sends the VP as a PR stunt to leave when it happened. We can ignore, for the moment, that over six million tax payer dollars were given to billionaires for them to promote patriotism with their ‘non-profit’ over the past few years – read the Senate report here. Doing a little research, it looks like the Anthem was pretty common at sports events following WW2. However, players actually even being out on the field for the playing/singing wasn’t required until 2009. A good place to start on the history of playing the Anthem would be this article from Politifact.

I’m not even sure what I want to say about this. As Christians is this really something with which we have a problem? Do we support compulsory patriotism? Or requirements to pay tribute to the state? I don’t think so. As I mentioned with the pledge above, I’m not big on the government requiring things like this. Instead, I think the effectiveness for which it has brought attention is one reason why certain people are so mad.

It also bothers me how much some people are opposed to protesting in general. This is a peaceful, non-violent, non-disruptive way of trying to call attention to a very serious issue in America. Now, it has kind of been hijacked and is arguably more about the President and his seemingly disbelief in the right of the people to protest. I’ve heard some of the objects – I’m not opposed to them protesting, it’s how they do it – but that is straight up bullshit. I don’t believe that for a second. That is a very common sentiment people try all the time, in all aspects of life. You pretend you are alright with an idea, just not the execution, but ultimately you will oppose any tactic they take. My question for people would be, how would you like them to protest? What would be the acceptable way? Also, do you appreciate the irony that one of our greatest rights that the anthem is and this country is suppose to represent is the right to free speech and to protest?

I’ll end this by saying the official position of the Monday Morning Theologian is that anyone is should be able to protest anything they want at any time so long as the protest isn’t violent or destructive (and to a lesser extent, take traffic in to account). It is un-American to criticize the way someone protest if they follow those rules. Debating what someone protest is great, and should be happening. Instead, in this case, we are getting a bunch of faux patriotism, ‘support the troops’ bullshit that is beyond counter productive. Finally, criticizing them on the ‘how’ only proves to me that people don’t have much else to say on the substance of the protest – that is the police brutality and the treatment of black people by the police in this country. I know our President disagrees with this, but I’d much rather have him argue the merits that say ridiculous think like the players should be fired for not standing during the playing of a song. Really think about the implications of his statements, whether you agree with the players or not, and how that impacts what we view as freedom in this country.

Book Review: Trade Up

Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy read, very short

Summary
I’m not entirely sure how to summarize this book, as I’m still not entirely sure what it is supposed to be. It is broken into three parts – My Journey, Your Journey, and The Destination. The first section is a brief autobiography, the second honestly just seems like some marketing points for his organization (Halftime Institute), and the last chapter has some interesting ‘actionable’ steps related to people who are looking at a life change. Well, I should say, some specific people, those that are rich and successful and whom are looking for what to do with the ‘second half’ of their life/career.

My Thoughts
I’m probably far too cynical than the publisher’s target audience for me to like this book. For one thing, I’m not rich or successful but instead a government (the worst kind) paper-pusher and part-time, pretend, internet theologian. I’m not an influence, nor are my circles large and powerful. I don’t know CEOs or professional athletes/musicians (though it has been said that Mrs. MMT has the voice of an angel). So, to be fair to the Niewolny/Baker Books, I was probably not going to get much from this anyway.

Neiwolny’s biography was almost too short and superficial to be of much value. Though, his passion for his organization and what they do is obvious, and that is always good to see. The middle section of the book seemed like some expounded talking points, or maybe a collection of speeches he’s made in his role as CEO of Halftime. For me, it was too motivational speaker-y, but I could see how it could get some people pumped.

The last part of the book is really what makes it worth it. It is short and reading is almost always worth it, but it is also practical. He lays out how to think/what to do if you are one of these people. However, I think it could actually be expanded. This section would be useful to retirees or some kind of second career empty-nester. I don’t think you have to be rich, but obviously being financially stable or even independent makes it easier to implement most of his steps. One of which, to his credit, he points out may be for you to stay at work. I think this is an often missed step for Christians, especially newer ones. Now, if you are big deal, Christian, and looking for a change, you should read this book and contact the Halftime people. Others, this could just be one of the many books/websites you check out. Overall, I recommend this book only if you are look for it.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Sex, Death, & Fly-Fishing

Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy

Summary
Another collection of musings from John Gierach. Topics include bass fishing, private ponds, walking sticks, British Columbia, and of course the title chapter – ‘Sex, Death, & Fly-Fishing’. I’d say spoiler alert, but the book was published almost 30 years ago, so that seems unnecessary. The title comes from the first chapter, and honestly, it is surprising poetic. It comes from the Mayfly hatch. The midge, a little bug at the bottom of the river, emerge out all at roughly the same time to mate, then eggs are laid and then all die. All of the bugs emerging and all the Mayflies dying/falling back to the water, leads to a feeding frenzy for the fish. This in turn leads to a great time for fly-fishing. Get it?

My Thoughts
Geirach is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I wouldn’t call it love/hate, because I don’t dislike him, just endlessly envious of his style and ability to write. I’m almost annoyed that he isn’t more famous, he isn’t even on twitter or the fishing blogosphere (interestingly/ironically, wordpress say that isn’t a word). I’m sure a guy who has written 15 books, including one called Trout Bum (my review), isn’t worried about the opinion of a guy born after he was already publishing books.

His books really are something like proto-blogs. Imagine a successful outdoor blogger who writes a number of interesting series of posts, then picks the best few series over a number of years, pulls them out, and cleans them up, his books are what you’d get. His writing is narrative and personal, but can also be surprisingly informative. He is a master story-teller in a first person, short-story style. For anyone even remotely interested in fishing, this book is another must read from Gierach.