Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Mars Game

The Mars Game is a projected basketball game between the inhabitants of Earth and those of Mars, winner gets to destroy/enslave the other. Each planet sends its best five. Whether teams can practice, scout each other, have substitutions, or be coached is never part of the discussion.  One game.  Five best. We don't know whether Mars has players who are eight feet tall and 150 lbs, or four feet tall and can hit from  50 feet.  They might be much more speedy.  They might live for 700 years and have played together for 100.

It may not be the most important measure of a player - though were it to become a real game it would certainly become that - but it is interesting because it removes many of the side issues that come up in discussing who is The Greatest Ever. That ongoing discussion among tipsy and irritable fans can quickly turn into Who was the Greatest Champion (Bill Russell) or Who Had The Greatest Career (Kareem Abdul Jabbar). Which position is most important? Who made his teammates better? Who was the best all-around player? Who had the greatest season?  Who was best at his peak? The arguments are sometimes mere pretenses for choosing the hometown boy, or actually about what is the proper criteria* for evaluating players.

If someone wants the discussion of who is on my all-time baseball team, I find I cannot choose unless certain questions are answered.  Do you mean best season, best few years, best ten years, or best career?  If a single season, under what rules and era conditions will they play?  Do they get a chance in this time-travel league to adjust for a year? I would have similar cautions about choosing a basketball team.

The Mars game bypasses most of that. For the Mars game I am choosing Wilt Chamberlain first, even though he irritated me and I loved Bill Russell.  You might choose Russell or Jabbar at center if you had to play against Mars for years. But one game, I'm choosing Wilt, and it's not close.  I do have some qualms about not knowing whether there is a three-point shot, because that does bend the game significantly.  I imagine I would hedge against that by choosing Steph Curry second, even though there are ten players better than him. Though I would ask Wilt what he thought before making the pick.

Chamberlain is not who I would have chosen even as recently as last year, but I have been looking at old film and become convinced. He leapt higher, and with grace.  He may have blocked twenty shots in a game and regularly blocked ten. He was immensely strong. He was adaptable.

For the record, I am choosing Lebron well before Michael Jordan, even though I find him irritating as well.

*Every chess match is a furious argument about how chess should be played.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Faith Versus Works

In following a Wikipedia rabbit-trail about the stunning mathematician Ramanujan, I came across the Iyengar, a caste of Tamil Brahmins.  Scroll down to the section "Schism," to see something similar to a classic Christian controversy.  I liked the image of the cat-people versus the monkey-people.

Texas

I spoke with a woman today who was referring to a friend with the last name of "Houston."  I wasn't sure I had caught it, so I asked "Houston?  Like the city?"

"Yes," she said "but she doesn't have anything to do with Texas.  She's not a racist."

People might think things but not say them out loud, unless they believe that all the important people agree with them. It takes a special arrogance to say some things out loud. Yet I suppose, if you can stereotype at that level, you are already beyond the point where reason will affect you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Castaway

In reading about Ruffle Bar, off the Brooklyn bank of the Hudson, I came across an urban "survivalist" story in New York magazine.It's about what you'd expect fora young urbanite, who apparently did not belong to the Boy Scouts.
The morning of the launch is hot and muggy, but the wind starts to pick up and cool things down as we cast off from the shore in Duke’s inflatable dinghy. Broadsided by the increasing gusts, we take the better part of an hour to get the wilting rubber boat across the choppy gunmetal waves. Unbeknownst to him, Duke is testing my heterosexuality to its very limits. He’s a spry, charismatic, Mad Max–era Mel Gibson doppelgänger, with seadog tattoos and a mischievous glint in his eyes. My scrawny frame and fey affect make me slightly embarrassed to be in such rugged and self-assured company. I make a conscious effort to butch up, pretending not to be bothered that I’m sitting in an inch of chilly seawater that’s filled the bottom of Riley’s overloaded vessel. Duke hands me an oar, and we paddle the final 150 yards canoe style, enabling me to feel at least a little useful.
It is not quite a caricature, but it's close. He also brought a camera, apparently, to show off his hasty shelter.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Judgemental

I have argued against the validity of a person claiming to be tolerant when they are clearly intolerant of POV's they consider intolerant.  "I can tolerate anything but intolerance," and all that.

Yet I think I understand it, thinking about it on my walk today.  I am judgemental of people who are judgemental.  I don't much judge sins, as I am deeply aware of human frailty and root self-centeredness. People do lots of terrible things.  I don't pretend to be able to keep my temper and gently encourage repentance on all of them, but I think I tend that way.  Yet I lose my temper quickly at those who are quick to accuse and quick to assume bad motives. Those who are quick to adopt the prophetic voice and call the church or the nation or the world back into righteousness.  Some Christians have been the conscience of the larger group, and done great good. Just be sure you are right in that prophecy, and not just stating the preferences of your family, your group, your tribe.  Because the penalty for false prophecy is supposed to be death. Remember?

I very much don't like it when folks too readily set themselves up as a judge over others - when they claim to be simply stating facts but are being insulting; when they claim they know what Jesus would have others do.

I'd rather err on that side.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

K-Pop

Young woman at church is suddenly fascinated by the boy-band BTS.  Some of the band's songs show more of a hip-hop influence, especially in the dance moves, but the tune with the most hits - 230 million and counting - sounds like Europop to me.


In fact, it reminds me of this, from Romania 13 years ago.

Androgynous-looking boys practicing masculine displays are age-appropriate viewing targets for girls. Safe pretending to be dangerous. It's been true for some time.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Owen Barfield on C S Lewis

On C S Lewis, by Owen Barfield

Barfield was one of Lewis's longest and closest friends, an Inkling and one of the companions on the walking tours of the 20's & 30's. Lewis praised his intellect and declared he was much indebted to him for opening out ideas of imagination to him early in his career. I have much wanted to like Barfield, and he seems a decent individual, but I have never much warmed to him.  I have never found anthroposophy in the least persuasive, too reliant on mysticism and even a bit occultic. He seemed to my naive mind a bad influence on Lewis, though I suspect Jack was up to the task of resisting anything heterodox.

I did learn some things from this collection of nine essays.  I was surprised to learn that Lewis's expression and tone of voice changed little while conversing.  He was not dramatic. Barfield denies he was much influence on Lewis after the initial years, and despite Jack's characterisation in Surprised By Joy of "The Great War" as an ongoing intellectual battle, Barfield claims they never discussed the items of contention after the 1930's at all.  He concluded that Lewis kept up the discussion himself, in his own thought, not needing much assistance. This would be consistent with the view of the other Inklings, especially Tolkien, that Lewis liked many books which were not all that good, because he supplied a good deal of the imagination and logical argument himself.

That's about it. I gained something from the 1st and 2nd essays ("C. S. Lewis" 1964; "C. S. Lewis in Conversation" 1971) and the 8th ("The Five C. S. Lewises."), but the rest were of little interest.  Unless you are already much taken by philosophy, and its discussions of precise definitions of unusual terms, or the influence of Coleridge's thought - or if you are well-enough versed in anthroposophy that its topics come naturally to you, I don't recommend the book.

Collusion and Obstruction

Andrew McCarthy continues to provide clarity. I appreciate him giving some credit to his opposition, that their acts might not have been simply partisan and evil, even if they are wrong.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Testament Gods

I covered the Old Testament understanding of not having other gods and not making any graven images, in Molten Gods last week. After the Captivity in Babylon those were no longer an issue, though they were still used for divination.  Divination continued to be a problem up until Jesus's time, and continuing on into our days as well.

From the Catholic Catechism: All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. (Emphasis mine.  Oh well, there goes my preferred superpower of time travel. Though I suppose any superpower might have the same effect.)

There are a few things that get described as other gods in the NT.  I could make the argument that the Book of Jude is largely a warning that worshiping other gods leads to disobeying all the other Declarations.*

Jesus identifies money, or Mammon, as a rival god.  Matthew 6:24-34
v. 24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Also Luke 16:13)
We might regard wealth as something of a cross between a physical and an abstract God, but Jesus names him and makes it sound personal, as if he were talking about Zeus or Apollo. Perhaps he was only using it as a common metaphor, but I wouldn't want to count on that. It might be someone He knew personally.


Paul is talking about the more familiar types of gods that we see in books for students about "Myths of Many Lands" or the like when he speaks in the agora.  Acts: 17:24-31. Key verse is 29, Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. But that does hearken back to the household gods of the OT as well.

The Epistles in general go on to describe gods more in the way we are used to: sets of behaviors, especially greedy or sexual, that take over our lives and become "gods" to us, even if they aren't named Venus or Freya. (Though Revelation makes a strong tie-in with sacrificing to other named gods and sexual immorality Revelation 2:14  Revelation 2:20)

Colossians 3:5 
 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Galatians 5:19-21  In part
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft

Philippians 3:19 
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

Ephesians 5:3-6  v.5
 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

As I mentioned before, the commandment against adultery may not refer only to family harmony, keeping promises, and being loyal, but to refraining from worshiping other gods.  The whole town may be going out to do that for festival, and they may think their fertility cause for their flocks and fields is jeopardised by your abstaining, but you are not to join them.

*Eventually the whole list comes in.
James 4:3-5  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God

Romans 1:18-32

I think that covers the territory.  In contrast, God has chosen to speak, not through idols, or temples, or even magical ceremonies, but in words, actions in history, and actions of his people.

So here's the exercise.  What gods are behind the other commandments? Stealing is connected to wealth, certainly - though security, laziness, or revenge could also be motives.

What god is worshiped when we bear false witness, or don't keep the Sabbath?  Scratch them down.  It's a fun, and I hope revealing exercise.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Revolt Against The Masses

Good interview with the author, Fred Siegel. I had not known he was previously liberal.
Collins: Do you think the liberal elite today see themselves self-consciously as the ruling class of one nation, as Americans primarily, or do you think they see themselves as distinct from other Americans, maybe feeling they have more in common with the global elite? Are they almost embarrassed by their own society?

Siegel: Very much so. Something happens in the 1990s. The elites of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles meld together. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street all come together, and for the first time you have something like the British establishment. The British establishment could organise itself more easily because it was centred on London. For decades the American elite was divided among different coastal cities, plus the ‘third coast’ of Chicago, and it wasn’t until space collapses due to technology that you have the creation of this unified American elite. That unified elite is overwhelmingly liberal. Three hundred people who work for Google were part of the Obama administration at one time or another.

So this elite comes together, it looks across the Atlantic, it looks across the Pacific, but it doesn’t look at the heartland. The rest of the country recognises that.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Criticism and Oppression in Young People

Treating people badly can take many forms. They are not the same emotionally, and I don't know how we measure which is worse.  It is hard to be ignored.  It is hard to have insults to your group not noticed because they are fewer, or more vulnerable. It is hard to see other groups have privilege when yours does not. (It is hard when you have that impression, true or not.)

It is hard when some people at your school or in your town target you because of the group you belong to. It does still happen that jerks will make racist comments or sexist comments, or make effort to exclude or insult.  However, in those situations one usually has others who are emphatically not like that - friends who deplore such things and talk back to it, who make a renewed effort to check in with you to make sure you're okay.  You don't get to choose who is in your highschool or your town, but you can create a peer group that insulates you from bad treatment. It's one of the lessons you learn as a teenager, actually, to seek allies when you are isolated, even if you are shy, or be stuck enduring it.

Going to college or into a young adult social network is different.  That is now your peer group. When people there target you for your race, your sex, or your sexual choices the situation is more dire. There is less room for escape and adjustment.  I thought of this when I saw the Campus Reform report about the Dartmouth student who claimed a program was biased in favor of females. Thirty organisations condemned him,* plus many individuals.  They attacked not only his statements - which is perhaps fair and good debate, but his white, male, cis-ness.  "White tears" and all that.

Let me guess that there are none among the critics at Dartmouth who were ever attacked in this manner by their peer group. They may have had people in their home towns make any number of terrible statements (though I wonder how many, really).  But not the college-bound cohort they hung around with for eighteen years. Shunning by that group is meaner, more brutal, and - I mean this seriously, not just for effect - less civilised. It has more of the mob in it.

*This seems a new development.  I'm not sure there were thirty organisations total at William and Mary when I was there, and certainly not thirty which would think it was their place to make any sort of political statement.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Military Parade

My first reaction was against it.  It sounds like May Day in the USSR. Yet my second, third, and fourth thoughts were more positive. We attended the Edinburgh Tatoo, and there didn't seem to be anything troubling about the display.  A parade might not be that different.  The parades of my childhood included military groups, including bands - sometimes current, sometimes veterans.

I think bands and uniforms would be more important than tanks, other than a few to to be cool so that boys can go wide-eyed.  Drill maneuvers with rifles, specialty units, long massed lines marching in unison - it doesn't sound so bad.  It might end up falling flat and looking a bit ridiculous.  But this is exactly the sort of thing that Donald Trump intuits better than the rest of us reason. It might be inspiring.

I also remember the predictions of how terrible the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall would be greeted when it was first proposed and then built.  It was dark and grim, and its sinking into the ground looked like a celebration of failure, we were told.  Well, it didn't work out that way, did it? We don't really know what will inspire us sometimes.  It will b e a great inconvenience for the active military.  I get that.  But it might work magic on the rest of us.

Deployed

Kyle texted me from drill that his reserve unit will be deployed to South Korea this year. No details yet.

My first thought when Chris said nine years ago"I'm going to join the Marine Corps," was My son is going to die. He didn't, and didn't even go to a place he got shot at. But I just had the thought again. My son is going to die. The odds are well against that for a couple of reasons, yet you still think it.

Recently Heard

...though I imagine it goes back over a year ago. "Donald Trump is arrogant enough, and unprincipled enough, to think he can do business with Don Corleone. Hey, you can work with that man. He's always been a great guy to me, always follows through on what he says. That would ordinarily disqualify him from the presidency, except...

Hillary Clinton is Don Corleone."

Molten Gods

In the Jewish description of the Ten Commandments, they are called Declarations, and the first one is I Am The Lord Your God, which I told you last September. (There is a table of how various groups refer to the commandments at the link.) I like that emphasis, that the first thought is the covenant relationship, not a direction of what God's people should do. The Second Declaration, then is
“You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

That's quite a bit of commentary, isn't it? No one worships Odin or Aphrodite these days, though some play at it. There are still Hindu gods of the River Ganges, or of death, or of the sky, who are still worshiped with a capital W, and there are animists in may places who worship something like local gods.  These are the first thing we think of these days. The second thing the modern mind goes to is a quick jump to abstract gods, such as money, or power, or beauty. But those would not be the first things the Hebrew children in the desert would have thought of.  "Gods," at that juncture, usually meant household statues, carved or crafted, and painted or decorated as well as one could afford. These statues were chained to pedestals so they couldn't get away.  They had food placed before them and ceremonies performed in their honor, so that they became the embodiment of those gods, which would hear the entreaties of their owners, or speak through them.

These would be what the household gods that Rachel hid from her father in Genesis 31 were. The Jews were still prone to hedging their bets, apparently. If Laban could not find those gods, he would have to have new ones made, and that could be expensive. YHWH in Genesis seems focused on convincing his chosen ones that he is their personal god, and the best god.  He repeatedly suggests that there is more to that story about who He Is, but being their god, who cares for them specially, is the high note. This seems to be the only part that Lot, for example, ever understands. He behaves with little righteousness, but he does get that there is only one god he should be worshiping. There is some of this in Exodus as well, though signs of the Great Reveal are all over the early story in that book. The idea that YHWH might be not only the most powerful god, as demonstrated by the plagues overruling the Egyptian gods, but the only one that has any actual power has become clearer.

Even then He does not seem to insist on the Israelites getting that concept.  It is enough that He is theirs exclusively. Farther on in the Hebrew scriptures he hammers the point home, in Jeremiah, in IIChronicles, in IKings, in Psalm 115: 3-8; and a great many places in Isaiah 17:8; 37:19; 40:19; 41:29; 44:9-20 (more detailed);  These are created things.  They don't hear you.  They don't speak. They have no power. God uses the phrase that they were made by human hands, even your own hands, as a repeated illustration of their powerlessness.

That choice is significant, because the "other gods" that we worship in our day are often things we have in some sense made by our own hands: an education, a business, a family, a fortune, a house.

Further notes, before I move on to the gods of the NT in another post:

It has always seemed frankly incredible to me that the recently-rescued Israelites could so quickly revert to worshiping another god, a golden calf.  Bull-gods were worshiped all the way from Spain to India. One feature was that the god that worked through them sometimes used the bull as a steed or a throne. They may have imagined they were doing something that honored YHWH, even though they weren't quite following directions. Something similar is seen in I Kings 12:25-33 with King Jeroboam. The golden calves were not so much gods themselves, but an announcement that the real God was to be worshiped in the northern kingdom, not in Jerusalem.

Temples to other gods functioned as larger, and more important versions of the household gods. If the ceremonies were done properly and the right food was given, the god was believed to come and inhabit the place. The Jews were instructed to not even look like they might be worshiping in the manner of other peoples. As many of the ceremonies were fertility rites, the command against adultery may be about more than supporting family life.  It may also be intended to keep Jews from any semblance of fertility rites to other gods.

We seem to have finally learned not to rely on household idols by the end of the captivity in Babylon.  However, they were still used for divination, even though this was expressly forbidden.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Media Bias

I wrote for years about media bias, before it became such a front-and-center topic with really good journalists and writers covering it. In the early years, I was among the few voices, churning out examples and offering tie-ins, because there was a news-desert of really nutritional information. I gradually got away from that, because I was only echoing what others said better.

In the context of Mollie Hemingway's reporting of very big events that are being systematically ignored,
These investigations have resulted in the firing, demotion, and reassignment of at least six top officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice. And all of those personnel changes were made before even the first official reports and memoranda from these investigations were made public.
...I think I have some value-added this time.  I count some serious moderates - usually somewhat conservative but appalled by the actions of prominent conservatives, or previous liberals who feel the national Democrats have become insane - among my friends; also my extended family is almost entirely textbook liberal elite - arts and academia, Seven Sisters, government bureaucrats, nonprofit executives. They think they are enraged by Trump, and a nation that has betrayed them by electing Trump. They were 60-99% just as enraged by every other Republican presidential candidate or member of Congress, but they are beside themselves now.

I submit that their rage has another source.  The media they follow reports only some of the facts, plus a lot of speculation of what they hope will be the facts. Truth does not always win out, but it does have a slow power that public relations, spin, and wishful thinking has to constantly beat back. The moderates slightly, and the liberals entirely, are enraged because events take them by surprise. The 2016 election was the most glaring example of this, but it happens over and over to them.  They read the news about Trump/Russia collusion a year ago - it looks like at least some of it must turn out to be true, even if much of it is fevered an exaggerated. They figure that the FBI and the DOJ must be mostly reasonable and doing their jobs, even if there is some unsavory political business here and there.  Or at the worst, an Eric Holder or a Loretta Lynch might be well over the line, but this is balanced by some Republican somewhere doing the same thing.* Accusations to the contrary seem completely out of left field.  Of course they sound like conspirazoid nutcases. Everyone knows that these are fevered imaginings. 

Thus, when they gradually prove to be true, it's not only a shock, it prompts the idea that there must be something very bad going on behind the scenes.  Because the wrong people are in the dock while the others are winning their court cases, walking away from what were believed to be Watergate-level crimes, only paranoid explanations fit the data. The Washington Post  told them one set of things was very likely to happen and the other set of things was entirely ridiculous.  Yet the ridiculous events came to pass.  That can only mean that someone, somewhere...

I have to wonder if the explanation will be offered that people in the federal agencies, who know which side their bread is buttered on, cooked the books in order to give Trump the results he wants.  That is, that there IS a Deep State, and it suddenly flipped to be on the president's side. If that seems insane that any reasonable person could even entertain that idea, consider the fact that the left now thinks that the FBI is an honorable and reliable agency that should be listened to, which Trump and the Republicans are trying to destroy, because they are getting worked up about two highly-politicised investigations. The nerve. (I will note that I am also worked up about the fact that the FBI forensic lab has been so slipshod and lazy over the last two decades that they are far less accurate than a coin flip in their conclusions.  Conclusions that mean prison time and even death for the accused.)

They are enraged because their sources told them one reality is true, but in the slow grind of events, a different reality prevails.  Looking at it that way, I would be too.  And so would you. I have long said that the journey out of liberalism is a painful one, because it is a personal one.  You not only have to change an idea here and there about gun control or tax reform. The whole of your image about yourself gets called into question. Note that leaving liberalism will not mean you become a conservative.  You might become libertarian, or rear-guard liberal, or apathetic, or activist Christian, or meditative, or anarcho-monarchist like Tolkien, or a dozen other things. Becoming a conservative isn't that difficult.  In fact, it is so suspiciously easy that one suspects (as I do) that it can't be the answer to a complex reality either.

*There often is.  It usually turns out to be a state representative from South Dakota or a writer for a conservative website you never heard of.  Same thing as a cabinet member, sure.

Bermuda and Same-Sex Marriage

Bermuda is the first country to repeal same-sex marriage.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Paul Archambeault, RIP

Everyone from Manchester and points nearby from 1980 onward recognises Paul Archambeault's work, pen-and-ink pointillist drawings of historical locations:  Dorr's Pond, The Ledge, Pine Island Park, Ash Street School, Weston Observatory. I can't find any online, likely because of copyright and and artist's need to make a living. I'll see what I can dig up.

I knew him mostly in 1975-76, in my first born-again days - his as well - when he hung around the young men's communal house, affectionately know as the Dix Street Boys. He was just twenty, but took off that summer to draw his way across Pennsylvania, sketching houses, then being invited in for dinner and sometimes a bed when the owners marveled at it and paid him to finish it. It seems a tough way to make a living, but he had a method, knowing how long he had before it was time to move on and start sketching another house.  When he could, he would sketch 2-3 at once.

He moved to Windsor VT and I haven't seen him in 10 years. A gentle soul, forever young.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Ten Commandments

I have a ton of information from my Ten Commandments class.  I just can't seem to make it into posts.  It will come, I hope.  Sneak Preview:  Most of the information about honoring one's father and mother seemed unworthy of putting it into the Top Ten of rules by God. Most writers could only say "Well, it's a good thing, because er, they gave you life, and it's sorta like honoring God."  One of my students - himself a Philosophy professor - gave me a chapter from The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis by Leon Kass. Remember him? Kass spends more time on this commandment than any other, and derives most of attitudes for a good society from the Sabbath and Mother/Father commandments. The key was not to think about my mother, my father, and the terrible parents we hear about, but to put this in the context of the really horrible parents and children of Genesis, and how the commandment slowly turns that wheel.

Shoulder

"The shoulder is four rooms which have no doors to each other." Orthopedist to my my wife this morning.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Quillette

I have read half a dozen agreeable articles and three I disagreed with over at Quillette since the beginning of the year.  All have been on interesting cultural topics, not tied too closely to the 24/7 news cycle, but on more medium-term trends.  The writing has been pretty good.  Recommended.