Reading: Sea of Skulls

Vox Day’s Sea of Skulls
The prologue and opening chapter feature a stomach churning horrible attack on a local feudal lord’s holdings and a subsequent rape of the only survivor by orcs and a favorable description of a intimate union between a sorcerer and a young woman who possesses latent magical talents. Because of a dire shortage of magical practitioners in the land (they are born, not made, it’s genetic) the King has insisted that all females who show any magical ability must come the Kingdom capital and live at a sort of elevated, special brothel where they consort with magicians until they have birthed 2 magical children, whereafter they may regain their freedom and marry if they wish. They lose their magic in the process.

The male character in this coupling is relieved that in the performance of his ‘duties’ he has happened upon a lass who isn’t a ‘whiner’ about her horrible lot in life, but is making the best of the situation by using her time for self development with an eye to improving her station in life when she is allowed to marry. To be fair, the whining remark is the viewpoint of a character, not necessarily that of the author. I don’t know what he thinks (and am not interested in arguing the question). It is the kind of thing you’d expect from the character. Also this series is Day’s answer to George R. R. Martin and his fans, and as such and by comparison the rape scenes here are practically children’s fairy tales.

While I can, through the eye of cold logic, see the merit in the king’s plan (sorcerors are an integral part of the kingdom’s defense and an orc army the likes of which has never been seen before is sweeping through the land, a scourge against which all defenses have proven useless) and the merits of making the best of what cannot be helped, I am a human and not a robot and I found the ‘whining’ comment distasteful ,to put it ridiculously mildly.

However, that said, once on the other side of those opening scenes, I found the rest of the book a rollicking good read with much to recommend it. It’s part two of a series, I read the first and liked it. The third isn’t published yet.
Middle Earth meets Roman Legions meets Middle Ages, and it’s a surprisingly effective and enjoyable mix. Aside from those first two bits, I recommend it without reservations.

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Religion as a Museum Piece

Filipinos Writing: Philippine Literature From the Regions, edited by Bienvenido Lumbera

I am thoroughly enjoying this anthology and most of the editorial commentary and background information. I have checked it out from the school library and will probably have to check it out again.

However….

“Missionary and bureaucratic reports during the Spanish period highlighted the ‘barbarism’ of the Ygolotes, while American ethnographic surveys usually reinforced Western concepts of the irrational and therefore incomprehensible ‘primitive.’ These colonial records served colonialist ends. “
….
In the 1900s Americans built roads and enabled more travel in the region “The insulation of many villages came to an end as migrants from the lowland provinces began to settle in different parts of the region and Christian culture intruded into native lifeways.”
Isn’t that an interesting choice of verbs? The Christian culture ‘intruded’ all on its own. He could have also said ‘was embraced, and subsequently the natives altered their lifeways” or created new lifeways. Or you could more neutrally merely observe that Christian culture, once introduced and accepted by natives, prompted changes in the culture. There are reasons why it was more likely to have been accepted, even welcomed, than to have ‘intruded’ like a thief in the night, unwelcome and unwanted:

“Although there are differences in their religious pantheons (of the various ethnic groups living in this area)
The peoples of the Cordillera are one in their interpretation of the relationship between human and supernatural beings. On the whole, they consider the supernatural world as hostile to the world of mortals. The gods are generally regarded as spiteful beings, and their anger or displeasure is often cited as the cause of various afflictions. They must therefore be constantly mollified through prayers, sacrifice, and rituals. This attitude toward the deities is also extended to the spirits of the dead, who are frequently blamed for the misfortune of mortals. They too must be appeased. Also widespread in the Cordillera is the belief that communication between human and supernatural beings has to be mediated “(by priests or shamans).
..The lyrics of the ballads and even of many ritual songs are remarkable for their concreteness, with the imagery that establishes the connection of these songs to the affairs of daily life and to phenomena of the spirit world. This is especially so in the case of songs and chants recorded in the past, when the integrity of communal life had not yet been sullied by concerns extrinsic to the community, and native singers could still tap a rich repository of metaphors in the social and ritual life of their .. village… Many recent samples gathered by teachers and researchers lack the sensuousness of the old pieces. Even more disturbing is the disappearance of many types of songs and chants because of changing mores and the spread of Christianity in the Cordillera. As more Cordillera natives embrace the Christian faith and adopt the lifestyle of lowland Filipinos, the number and frequency of traditional rituals diminish. The decline of ritual activities is naturally accompanied by a decrease in the folklore associated with rituals. Nowhere is this decrease more dramatically shown than is the mythology of the Cordillera peoples. “
The editor speaks of sad loss of much rich religious ritual (the old religion, the one which held the natives in bondage to spiteful gods who constantly require appeasement to keep them from mucking up your life and spoiling your crops and striking you or your loved ones dead, and who must be placated and communicated with via shamans, mediums, and priests, and some ceremonies are only for the rich), in a culture which was formerly “permeated by religious ritual in almost every aspect of life” One people group included over a thousand deities and “as to be expected, a complex system of rituals and myths has developed around the major divinities and the lesser gods of this polytheistic society.”

“biased accounts say the natives of the Cordillera are lacking in morals. Many native cultural practices and forms of social behavior which are strange to the biased outsider are immediately ascribed to the native’s deficiency in ethical standards. This is, of course, a misapprehension. Cordilera myths are full of references to codes of conduct and social values which must be upheld by every member of society. The significance of moral norms may also be found distilled in the rich proverb lore of the region.”
It’s always odd to read accusations of bias from an equally biased but unaware observer, but what I find quite astonishing is how many pages it took before we learned, almost in passing, that among these ethical values, codes of conduct and social values was the practice of head-hunting. And in a culture which prized head-hunting and the warrior spirit, one ethnologist who had been collecting riddles from one group laments that with the onslaught of contact with the outside world, the head-hunters now include ‘disturbing images like guns and soldiers.’
We could speak also of the death of Christianity, and lament the sad loss of much rich religious ritual in American or European cultures which formerly were also permeated by religious ritual in almost every aspect of life”. Which of these ethnobiologists would share my sorrow that the education of the young is no longer firmly rooted in Christian traditions, that nearly all the citizens of every town can no longer be seen at worship together with other members of the community in their various congregations, that public prayers are scorned and our codes of conduct and social values have been altered by the intrusion of popular culture and lawsuits forcing small bakeries, pizzerias, and photography studios to participated in celebrations that are anathema to their own ‘native cultural practices, forms of social behavior, and ethical values.’ This not respect for these natives as fully faceted human beings with free agency and deep spiritual needs and desires. It is respect for them as museum exhibits and collector’s pieces.

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With apologies to my eldest, who is housesitting for two years

A while back I read that the best way to propagate avocados from seed is to put them in a ziplock bag with a wet papertowel or maybe just a bit of water, and put them in a dark cupboard for a couple weeks, maybe even 3, I don’t remember precisely, and after some time in the dark and quiet of some kitchen cupboard, you check on them and they should be sprouting so you can plant them as per usual.

I don’t remember just how long ago it was that I read that. I don’t remember which kitchen cupboard I put them in. I don’t remember how many seeds I did this with (we made guacamole that day). I think there should only be two. Almost certainly not more than three.

I did this a few months ago when we were still in the states.  The thing is, I just remembered it yesterday while contemplating whether or not I might grow an avocado tree in a bucket here in the Philippines.

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Watts: Discerning the judgement of others on books

Previously

Basically, he’s been discussing under what conditions should you let somebody else’s opinions of a book inform or sway you. This is worth thinking about, and thinking about carefully. What he says applies not only to books but other forms of media as well.

XI. When you hear any person pretending to give his judgment of a book, consider with yourself whether he be a capable judge, or whether he may not lie under some unhappy, bias or prejudice, for or against it, or whether he has made a sufficient inquiry to form his justest sentiments upon it.

It’s not enough that you respect his or her opinion as a capable judge- you must also consider whether or not the person attempting to convince you of the merits or demerits of a given book has any reason to be biased one way or the other, and also, whether he has actually made a careful investigation. For example, I have seen more than one discussion which goes something like this:
Reviewer: This is a terrible book, the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she promotes _____ism, and everybody knows ______ism is problematic because of x, y, and z.
2. Response: I am not sure I agree with you. I think you misunderstand _____ism. Have you read McGillicuddy’s meaty explanation of it?
3. Reviewer: No. Why should I? _______ism a bankrupt philosophy.
4. Responders give some reasons, pointing out that Reviewer’s version is not really accurate and McGillicuddy could set him right on some areas he has misunderstood, and perhaps an hour later, maybe, on occasion so long as a day or two, the reviewer also tears apart McGillicuddy. He gives no evidence of changing his understanding on a single point, which is a huge warning sign that his mind was already made up, regardless of what McGillicuddy actually says. Also, in most cases, nobody can do justice to McGillicuddy or anybody else upon such a short reading under such prejudicial circumstances. Reviewer is clearly not reading for understanding, but for ammunition, and to a man with a hammer that he badly wishes to use, every issue is a nail.

In internet debates of this nature, pay attention to the time stamps. Has Reviewer really given the question adequate time and attention? Usually, given the time stamps of when Reviewer admitted he had never read anything by or about McGillicuddy and when Reviewer writes as a newly minted expert on McGillicuddy (and his preconceived prejudices which he already revealed)- it would behove any careful reader to take these opinions under advisement and to withhold judgement until the reader has herself given careful time and attention to McGillicuddy.

In other words:
Though he be a man of good sense, yet he is incapable of passing a true judgment of a particular book, if he be not well acquainted with the subject of which it treats, and the manner in which it is written, be it verse or prose: or if he hath not had an opportunity or leisure to look sufficiently into the writing itself.

Watts continues:

Again, though he be ever so capable of judging on all other accounts, by the knowledge of the subject, and of the book itself, yet you are to consider also whether there be any thing in the author, in his manner, in his language, in his opinions, and his particular party, which may warp the sentiments of him that judgeth, to think well or ill of the treatise, and to pass too favourable or too severe a sentence concerning it. If you find that he is either an unfit judge because of his ignorance or because of his prejudices, his judgment of that book should go for nothing.

It does not matter how fine a person, how high your regard, how much you admire their expertise in some other area. Fairness and justice both to yourself and others demands that you consider all these things before agreeing with somebody’s opinions or judgement of a 3rd party or their work. Watts again resorts to one of his pseudonomynous personifications to demonstrate his point:
Philograpno is a good divine, a useful preacher, and an approved expositor of scripture; but he never had a taste for any of the polite learning of the age; he was fond of every thing that appeared in a devout dress; but all verse was alike to him: he told me last week there was a very fine book of poems published on the three Christian Graces, Faith, Hope, and Charity; and a most elegant piece of oratory on the four last things, Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Do you think I shall buy either of those books merely on Philographo’s recommendation?

Hint: The answer is no.=)

 

Next

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Reading Books, Since I’m Without Wi-Fi

A scent of Rumduol a Novel of Cambodia (this was free and it still is) – I think everybody with an interest in Asia, in Viet Nam, in orphans, in the poor, in child welfare, in missions, humanity, should read this book. Every adult anyway. It is never gratuitously graphic in the details, but there is child abuse, molestation, rape, and death. At the same time it is liltingly told, and it is a tale told with hope and gleam of redemption for those children.  More importantly, it has a vitally important message to think about.

It was just a little hard to follow at first. The format is one that switches time a little bit, and also goes back and forth following several different people and I wasn’t really sure who they all were at first or how to keep them straight, but once I fell into the rhythm, I fell all the way in, unable to put it down until I finished. it was a read that will stay with me for a long, long time.  Must reading, IMO.   Especially if you imagine that as a donor you have no responsibilities to ascertain the condition of the causes and children to whom you donate.  You are the person the book was written for, because immeasurable, horrible harm has been done in the name of that kind of charity.  Haunting read.  I will watch for more by this author.

Save or Slave, by Ian Davies, short, pithy book on living within your means.  Contains really good advice,  but this would make a better conversation with a mentor over the kitchen table than it does a book. It’s not well organized and badly needs editing, including spell-checking and punctuation and grammatical help- it is written by a Brit for Brits, but that’s not the source of the spelling and grammar issues, or the disorganized jumble of information.  Like I said, it would make a better conversation than it does a book.  As a conversation, it’s great advice for somebody young to take before they get into a financial mess, but probably won’t. I downloaded it for free.  I’d be irked if I’d paid .99 for it.

If you Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas- This is a thoughtful book about what it means to have a Republic like America and what it takes to keep it, with a focus on virtue, character, and heroes.  It’s similar to The Light and the Glory in some ways, without the over-reaching and with better scholarship and restraint. Good read for America high school and college students in particular.  It’s more expensive now, but I bought it when it was on sale for something like 2.99.  

Keith Laumer, two sci fi novellas or short stories: Greylorn, and Gambler’s, er, something or other. These are golden age era tales, and it shows.  I found them fun and enjoyable, although Greylorn in particular was dated to the point that the punchline has lost much of its punch (although that also made it kind of amusing).  These were free.  Laumer had some insight into the world of political diplomacy and deepstate and some of that is in much of his fiction (not so much in Greylorn, but definitely Gambler’s World).  I got these two for free (and you can, too), but knowing that he included a lot of the real life working of the Deep State in his works, much as Heinlein included how the political sausage is made in Waldo & Magic, Inc., makes me curious about other, longer Laumer works.

The Cinder Pond- this is a children’s story, completely improbable and also one that strangely glosses over some family deaths that in real life would be traumatic and scarring and horrific but in the book they are only mildly sad. It’s kind of strange reading it from an adult perspective. But I really enjoyed it.  I like this writer, I like her stories, I like their charm and their utter improbability.  It’s in the same genre as things like Baby Island, Dandelion Cottage (by the same author as Dandelion Cottage), it’s definitely a book for girls. It was .99

 

Books you might want to pick up while they are this cheap:

1.99: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

by Robert J. Hutchinson
Above links are affiliate links and help support us in our work here in the Philippines.  Today part of that work includes The Cherub and I walking to the school after lunch to read aloud and discuss books with two grade school classes while their regular teacher has some medical appointments. Every day, it includes the HM spending at least 9 hours meeting with students with special needs, their parents, and their teachers and helping them figure out how to work with those needs. Some days it includes reading the Bible in Cebuano with my helper, and some days it includes helping local evangelists publish and distribute a hymnal in their native language,including delivering it to mountain villages accessible only by motorbike or on foot.
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