Rectifying Names

a blog on publishing by Bruce Fingerhut

     1. Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
     2. The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
     3. “So, indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
     4. The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
     5. “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
     6. “When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
     7. “Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

Analects of Confucius, XIII Tsze-lu, Chapter 3, James Legge, translator

Is Weakness the New Strength? - May 12, 2014

There was a time when the acknowledged strength of states was seen as a product of their economy, their history, their strong leadership, and, in some, their willingness to aid weaker states to keep the peace. But the present is not one in which the natural powers of states result in natural leadership and strength. If the mark of power is to control events and put fear in the hearts of others, then the strongest states in the world are countries like North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia, and among the weakest are all the Western European states (with the possible exception of Norway), not one of which could protect its own people from an invasion from any state in the world, and, let us face it, the United States, which has reversed Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” policy. It is not so much that we have become really good at speaking; it’s just that we have become really bad at everything else.

“Leading from behind” is an exceptionally good example of an oxymoron. The very nature of leadership is to be in front. But once “leaders” noticed that leading is troublesome, difficult, expensive in treasure and lives, and often thankless, it was no wonder that they wish to hold on to prestige on the cheap. The result is everywhere to be seen. The world is a much more dangerous place now because of that failure. We no longer count weaponry, the ability of armies, the economic strength of the country, or even the history of the country in sizing up strength. Now it is wholly one of will and determination.

 W.B. Yeat’s famous poem, The Second Coming, written in 1919 at the close of The Great War, where horrific and inhuman destruction were seen as either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of Christianity, gives us the notion of time and place in his opening stanza:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The anarchy is evident everywhere in today’s world too. I see it in many nooks and crannies in publishing, but surely that is a small matter for the human race compared with the rise and fall of great nations. Each of us lives both in the great world and in the world he or she has made or at least accepted, and it is incumbent upon us to seek to improve that world, to cherish it and work toward what betterment we can muster.

Perhaps among our many duties to our world is a care for the promise of strength for our country, as we would seek principally for our children and grandchildren, but also for others for whom we owe devotion and hope. 

Yeats’s poem* closes even more devastatingly than it begins, caught up in what seems to be the emergence of the anti-Christ:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The burden of strength is always heavy and fraught with danger, but it is the burden we were given. God willing, we will have leaders who can bear it humbly and with purpose.

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The Occasion of Immortality - May 5, 2014

A great author, a wonderful man, a beautiful friend has died, and like everything else that Stanley Rosen has granted me, I find the situation of his burden now one that we, his friends, will share, as though it is one last good gift from him.

I “met” Stanley Rosen when he called me on the phone to order a book. It was in the very early period of St. Augustine’s Press, before we connected with the Chicago Distribution Center, and I served not only a publisher but as shipping clerk and most everything one could do. I was delighted that a man like Stanley Rosen would search out such a small and insignificant company, and I told him that I much appreciated his work. In what his friends will recognize as distinctively Stanley, he immediately said, “There are a number of my books that are out of print. Would you like to reprint them?” That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

As one who has spent his life in the midst of very smart people, I am aware that the ones who touch you most deeply do so for something exceeding their intelligence. It is their person. All of us have the occasion of immortality at some time in our lives, an immortality that, God willing, we will know in depth before long. For me, having the privilege of knowing and working with Stanley Rosen is such an occasion of immortality.

I like to think that the books we publish are meant for the ages, are there to stand in the place of great ideas that will outlast all of us and, perhaps, give those who are not yet born their own taste of the occasion of immortality. But in my best days I realize that the ideas and the writings and the hard work that so many have performed in life are secondary to their roles as persons, and that that is the true immortality that they have been granted and that we have been granted in knowing them. Stanley Rosen is one of the truly greats of my life, and I am honored and grateful and humbled to have his occasion of immortality touch my life, as it has the lives of so many.

Stanley has now passed into that great good blessing of becoming the student and to have his burden of being always the teacher lifted from him. He will still teach and he will still learn, and both will be good and just and full of happiness.

The circumstance of our death is no more significant than the circumstance of our birth. What matters is our life . . . what we have done and what we will do. Stanley Rosen has done much for many and remained an inspiration to all. 

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Were You There? - April 21, 2014

This is the time of the year when the tunes that rattle around in my head tend to be religious ones, whether it is the Mah Nishtanah (“what has changed?”) of the Passover or the popular Easter spiritual that begins “Were You There?” Both of these songs pose questions, and in both cases the questions point to actions that are anything but otherworldly but actions that change everything nonetheless.

The Passover song begins by asking why this night is different from all other nights, and is followed by what is known as the Four Questions, though it really constitutes four answers. Recited by a child, these few sentences are the central reading of the entire Passover seder, for it shows that the slight changes in our lives to “keep the Passover” harken back to great changes that were salvific for the Jewish people, freed from slavery to Pharaoh, given the Ten Commandments, and led to a new land, “flowing with milk and honey.”

The leader of the seder reminds the gathering that, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had personally gone forth from Egypt, as it is said, ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.”’

Were you there? Think about this: the Passover is perhaps the greatest early moment in Western civilization in which an event occurred to people which is totally meant never to be repeated . . . an event for all time, once and only once . . . an event that is not a recurring one . . . an event in which God entered into the lives of all ordinary humans, and thus is the one event that can never be duplicated. It is the event that made the Hebrews the people of history, showing what a true beginning is. All the other religions of the world took natural events, from full moons to solstices to the yearly overflowing of the Nile, as the recurring world of the gods, but the Hebrews had an event that would never be reenacted but would always be remembered “as if he had personally gone forth.”

So when we ask, “were you there,” the answer is, “Yes,” in spirit, in remembrance, in gratitude and thanksgiving, in the glory that is God.

Before going to the most famous execution in history, let us look at the second most famous, at least in the Western world, that is the death of Socrates in 399 b.c. The story of Socrates’ execution, by drinking the poison hemlock, was recounted in the incredible dialogue of Socrates’ most famous student, Plato. The dialogue, the Phaedo, is largely a conversation between Socrates and his disciples on the heavy matters of life and death. Socrates had already turned down a chance to escape his fate through self-exile, which, no doubt, would have pleased most of the 500 jurors who had convicted him, since capital punishment was often meted out with the understanding that the convicted person would leave Athens and never come back. Socrates took his civic duty and his citizenship more seriously than he took his life, and refused to leave.

Socrates as described in the writings of Plato had a notion of an afterlife, albeit one closer to reincarnation than immortality. But what he said in the dialogue left his disciples with hope on the one hand and admiration on the other. After he drank the hemlock, his last words were to his follower Crito, “We owe a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don’t forget.” (Asclepius was the god of healing.)

As a grad assistant many years ago, I was approached by a student who wanted to do some extra credit to assure his A in class. I told him that he need not do that (he was one of the best students I had), but when he insisted, I asked him what other work in philosophy was he reading at the time, so that he could write a short paper on that as his extra credit. He told me it was the Phaedo, and I happily agreed to let him use that work, but I cautioned him with these words, “The Phaedo is not supposed to change your mind. It is supposed to change your life.” He did not write the extra credit. He still got an A.

Were you there? It turns out that Plato, the author of the Phaedo, was not. He was ill that day. But no one can deny that, in truth, he was there, and we are all the better for his being there.

And so we come at last to the event that produced the song “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” . . . the story of Easter. Both the story of the Passover, some 1200 years before the birth of Christ, and that of the death of Socrates, about 400 years before that birth, were ones that we could ask, were you there? But they were also about rebirth in some way, whether it was a return to Eden (less the immortality) or a reincarnation. These rebirths were more communal than individual. They gave us hope that the society would prosper and continue after we were gone, that we could actually achieve what Camus much later called a “happy death.”

But Easter was much more than communal advancement or reincarnation. Unlike the reasoning we could use for the triumph of Passover or the happy death of Socrates, Easter starts the world all over.  There is no need to search for ways out to give us a positive answer to the question, “Were you there.” Dismas the thief was there, and he was given paradise. Peter who denied Christ three times was there, and he remains the central figure of the resurrection.

And so, the answer is obvious. In all this, we were there.

The next blog will appear on Monday, May 5, 2014.

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Let This Cup Pass from Me - April 14, 2014

Today is the first day of Passover, celebrating the central event of the Jewish people, the salvation of the Twelve Tribes of Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh, leading to the gift of the Ten Commandments, and culminating with the promise of a new life in Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey . . . in short a virtual re-creation of Eden, less Eden’s promise of life everlasting.

It is a story of a journey and should be understood in that light. From West and East, one of the central historic ideas engages the question: Is life a journey or a battle? The central poetic tradition of Western tradition in Greece, or Eastern tradition in India concerns these two trials. In the West it is the Iliad and the Odyssey; in the East is it the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. But both speak of life as battle or life as journey, as we face the questions concerning action or serenity, of offense or defense, almost, one could say, of discord or concord.

The story of Moses’s obedience to God and his demand that Pharaoh release the Hebrew people is chock full of activity, of course, but it is the activity of God, not the Jewish people. Even the very name, Passover, indicates not a battle but a waiting for the hand of God to clear the way for the journey to follow. For the people of the Twelve Tribes, this is a journey, culminating in leaving Egypt, traveling through Sinai, arriving at Mt. Horeb and receiving the Commandments, then wandering 40 years in the desert of Sinai before arriving in this land of milk and honey.

The central historic event for the Jews is a part of the central historic event for the Christians, i.e., Easter. The events of Easter take place within the context of Passover, and the only question is whether the Last Supper was a Passover seder or occurred on the day prior to the first night of Passover. Everywhere there are moments in the Easter story that harken back to that of the Passover story: a man without weapons or armies or power of any sort arrives out of nowhere to demand a new life for people, he faces great powers that refute his demands but he remains stalwart in the face of grave difficulties. We could say much more, but the point I wanted to make is that whereas Passover is essentially a journey, Easter is essentially a battle. One could not simple leave Jerusalem and solve the problem, and from the moment Christ descended from the back of the donkey he rode into Jerusalem, there was unmitigated war: He is betrayed, slapped, cursed, rejected in place of a murderer, beaten almost to death, taunted, and put to death in the most brutal and ignominious way.

Jesus, of course, did not strike back, He remained unwarlike, full of love for others, a man of peace. How could this be a battle?

In the Passover seder, there are four glasses of wine to drink. The fourth and final glass is taken after the Passover supper and in conjunction with a prayer for the Prophet Elijah, for whom a glass of wine is placed in the center of the table. A young child opens the door to let the prophet in. This is the same Elijah that people thought Jesus was calling when, on the Cross, he began the twenty-second psalm with Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani  (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?). These people did not help Jesus because they wanted to see the Prophet come, the Prophet whom tradition said would usher in the Messiah.

In the Last Supper, Jesus left the room without warning before that fourth glass was taken, left it presumably because there is no purpose to open the door for Elijah in that room, the room already occupied by the Messiah. Instead, he left for the Garden of Gethsemane, there to pray alone that, if it be the will of the Father, that “this cup will pass from me.”

The cup did not pass, the Messiah remained, the battle was won, a new Eden awaits.

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The Essential and the Expendable - March 31, 2014

In the economy that we have had to live with for over five years, many have lost their jobs, many have lost full-time work while keeping or getting new jobs, many are holding on to jobs that they might well have left in better times, and very many young people are not getting the start-up jobs that in better times would be their important entrance into the ways of work. In short, this economy has not simply hurt people solely in the here-and-now, but the problems of today may well impact their future. Think of what it is like for people who have (officially, at least) no full-time work, who are living on paltry unemployment insurance. It does not take an Einstein to understand that a person who has been out of work for a year or two is much less likely to be hired than one who has taken work beneath his/her background or knowledge.

Employers have their own set of problems, of course. We are used to hearing of the complaints about Obamacare, but a little forethought will show us that even though bad times like this, with lots of out-of-work people, may be a boon for some employers, for most, whose companies are not aiming at hiring low-value employees at sub-low salaries, this state of affairs is no boon. The fact that an enormous number of young people are not able to find work and, thus, not able to gather the experience of initial work, will mean difficulties for employers in the future.

When a society’s natural way of life (and that most definitely includes, even centers around, work) is thrown into a tither, both the best and worst in people come to the fore. I believe that for every exploiter there are many who go out of their way to help friends, family, neighbors, and even those unknown.

But another phenomenon occurs too: the notion of essential and expendable are often redefined for some people. What was clearly an understanding of the job-worth of a person may become, shall we say, less clear in times of stress.

I know of a good number of people who, in normal times, would be safe and satisfied in their jobs but who now are cautious at best and frightened at worst. They may have seemed to be essential just a few years ago, but now no one seems to be essential. Many have become expendable.

This state of affairs, I fear, may be because there is a tendency to change the meaning of terms. The essential was this particular man or woman, and all of a sudden it becomes this or that job. But the nature of essential is that it applies to a human being, not to a specific work experience. An essential person is one who, no matter what his or her age, is able to learn a new skill or add a new task or take on a new responsibility. Once we look at the essential as a task, not a person, we soon find that nothing is essential, because tasks change all the time, but people are permanent.

The essentials are not unlike those spoken of, in an admittedly more terrible situation, by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, those who give their “last full measure of devotion.” It may be difficult for us to see it this way, when people, employers and employees, must husband their wealth, abandon their pride, and concentrate on the importance of their families, friends, and those dependent upon them. This is its own devotion. And devotion, like all that is essential, is a product of human proportion, which tasks can never supersede.

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Bankrupt the Bastards - March 17, 2014

We are living through a period now in which the questions of war and peace are or should be in the minds of many. The American people are tired of war, it is said, likely thinking that the cost in treasure and especially in blood far exceeds the perceived benefits. Our politics have switched around 180 degrees in the past half-century or more. Now it is the Left who wants to build that fence around our country to keep those annoying foreigners away, and the Right who wants to pursue peace-through-strength.

Ronald Reagan walked away from the Reykjavik Summit in October, 1986, saying he would not eschew plans for a truly strong defense against intercontinental ballistic weaponry (the Left called it “Star Wars”). Within four years, the Cold War was over. The Soviet Union was bankrupt in ideas, in strength, in rubles. Gorbachev decided against any actions that would self-immolate his country. It was probably his easiest decision ever, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 (others, like Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, to say nothing of Ronald Reagan, won the war but not the prize).

Of course, Norway (a country I love almost as much as I love our own country) keeps choosing numbskulls from the Storting (their Congress) to be in charge of selecting the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Gorbachev was one of the good choices compared with, say, Le Doc Tho in 1973 (he, at least, declined the award, making him the last honest monster the committee ever chose), Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992), Yasser Arafat (1994), Jimmy Carter (2001), Al Gore (2007), Barack Obama (2009, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”), and even that incredible gang of peace-keepers, the European Union (2012).

The only people who are never chosen by the Committee are the people who don’t just talk about peace, but produce it. And that means people who advocate strength. The first American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize (the only one who might well have deserved it) was Theodore Roosevelt (1906), whose dictum, “speak softly and carry a big stick,” may well be the most easily understood way of understanding the meaning of “peace through strength.”

So now that the American people are fatigued with overseas problems, and our leaders-from-behind don’t want to bring up untidy problems like a growing nuclear proliferation, incursions and land-stealing from one country into another, mass-murder on a grand scale, constant treaty breaking. Can we build a fence that large?

Ronald Reagan built up our defense so that we would never use it. He ended a forty-year Cold War without firing a shot. In trying to keep up with America, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself. To this day, it remains a third-world country with first-world weaponry.

America is still a first-world country, and the only superpower on the planet . . . at least for the time being. When dealing with foreign countries, there are three possible aims: to be loved, to be respected, to be feared. Only the first of these is extraneous.

Now we are blessed with a president who is certainly the most knowledgeable expert in bankruptcy in our history. It’s time for him to start bankrupting them instead of us.

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Capitalism and the New Class - March 17, 2014

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

—John Adams

On the day he died, John Adams was told that the date was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Adams’ response was, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” Adams died that day at approximately 6:20 PM. His last words were reported to have been, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Adams and Jefferson had been opponents in early public life, but later became close friends. Though Adams did not know it, Jefferson had preceded him in death by five and one-half hours.

John Adams’ exhortation, cited above, shone in the persona of his son, John Quincy, the most self-controlled and self-effacing of America’s presidents. When Quincy later lost his reelection bid to perhaps the least self-controlled man to become president, Andrew Jackson, Quincy’s humility allowed him to run for Congress. His purpose in life was to work for the benefit of the country, not necessarily to be the person in power. As for his control and humility, his dying words say it all, “This is the end of life. I am content.”

Giants walked the earth then. I am reminded of the giants now that so few have graced our public square.

A group of our friends have joined my wife and me in seeing Fr. Robert Barron’s DVD Catholicism: The New Evangelization as a Lenten program. During the second meeting, one of the primary parts was a long interview with Brad Gregory, who teaches history at the University of Notre Dame. His interview was powerful enough to have several of us buy his book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. I have barely begun to read the book, but it is clear from the interview that we saw that one aspect of his critique is that capitalism, as though emanating from the Protestant Reformation, played a part in family breakup and moral decline, with the secularization that replaced religious self-control.

Soon after that interview, I read a very interesting article (“Multiply and Be Fruitful,” National Review) by Jonah Goldberg, who wrote of the great Joseph Schumpeter’s comment that the capitalist Family Man seemed to breed the anti-capitalist Ungrateful Man, who eschewed business for the life of the lawyer, journalist, poet, social worker, writer, teacher, academic, activist, etc. Capitalists take risks but, one might say, stay grounded, but their critics count those risks and escape the sanctuary of home. As Goldberg put it, “Lawyers move out of the house; failed inventors never leave the basement.” The ungrateful kids of capitalists tend to agree with Balzac: “behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” The results are everywhere to be seen, as Americans more and more seem to be giving up the creation of things in favor of the creation of laws and controls.

In this mere beginning of my reading on the subject, it occurred to me that scholarly publishing, sloshing around in its admittedly tiny shoes, has a way to trod between the pathways of the Family Man and the Ungrateful Man. No one with even a modicum of knowledge of such matters could possibly confuse scholarly publishing with a “legitimate” business. Take one of the most obvious examples: scholarly publishers need to sell their products, at least enough of them to be able to afford manufacturing other products to sell, but it is amazing how little the criterion of sales potential plays in the decision to publish. I don’t think I have ever published a book principally (much less wholly) because of its sales potential. This situation is greatly ameliorated by scholarly authors, none of whom seeming to expect getting into new tax brackets because of their publications. The semi-comforting statement I heard in the beginning of my years in publishing, that you’ll never grow rich in publishing, but you’ll never go bankrupt either seems now to be half-true (unfortunately, the true part is the first half of that statement).

There is much meat and more juice in these writings, and much to ponder about our future. Perhaps John Maynard Keynes’s famous phrase, “In the long run, we are all dead,” might suffice for him; he had no kids and, therefore, had no family future. But the United States has an enormous abundance of kids, a lot of them selfish and ungrateful, and they will have a future . . . or, at least, they deserve one.

We are unlikely to see the likes of John Adams (or his son) ever again in politics. Perhaps that is very sad, but in giving us a remembrance and a model, we become aware of the giants who were and can hope for the ones who may yet be born.

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Pleasure, Pride, and Power - March 10, 2014

I was all prepared to write on another non-publishing theme, namely, strength and weakness in foreign policy, a timely topic, no doubt, but the homily I heard today on the Three Temptations of Christ seems to me to be even more timely, recalling all time past and all to come. Nothing I have ever read or heard about the Temptations compares with Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” section of The Brothers Karamazov (here is a link to a small section of that magnificent passage, in which the Grand Inquisitor lectures a silent Christ in what He should have done). But Fr. John did well by his parishioners to explain much about this remarkable Biblical passage (Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13).

The three Temptations deal with Pleasure (“command these stones to become loaves of bread), Pride (“throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the Temple), and Power (“fall down and worship me”).  In each case, Christ was offered the very stuff of our dreams: to be lionized, granted great friendship and pleasure, hailed and honored, and, finally, all the power in the world. In each, He rejected the offer, always quoting scripture for His reason for rejecting, always without sorrow or regret, always with clarity of purpose and understanding of what He was rejecting. We might well say that what He rejected was . . . everything: riches, goods of the world, overwhelming honors, and power beyond the reach of any man. All were rejected in the name of those reasons most ignored or scorned in our modern, sophisticated world, namely, obedience and honor.

In short, what Christ turned down are the things we all want. What he accepted are the gifts we avoid giving. What could it be that would suggest to us that we reject such goodies in favor of a pat on the head? I for one do not think that our intrinsic moral self-commands are strong enough in individuals to keep us, on our own, on such a pass. And doing it for pride of place is, in itself, the self-evidently wrong reason, a reason for rejecting pride. No doubt there are some people with greater self-control, greater goodness for others, greater natural kindness. But rejecting the whole world for what the whole world might well find valueless is certain, in the end, to garner disapproval and eventually hatred. Mark 8:36 provides an answer: “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

As is so often the case, St. Paul (in Romans 6:20–23) succinctly put this in perspective:

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Of course, there are very few St. Pauls, and the world is full of Fausts.

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Conceding from Behind - March 3, 2014

Like many Americans (not to say Canadians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians, and numerous others), I have stood back aghast as a Third World country . . . albeit one with Third World nuclear weapons . . . ignores our warnings, openly ridicules our president and secretary of state, and runs roughshod over its own promises. Of course, we have become expert witnesses in seeing promises broken too, so that has become a moot point, but ridicule and snubs have not been openly directed to any leader of our country in more than a century.

The seemingly countless foreign-policy blunders that Americans have witness recently made me realize that making good decisions are generated by more than mere intelligence (I say this without comment about the intellectual prowess of those running our foreign policy). Good decisions involve some sort of moral thought and action, even if we as bystanders may disagree with the moral basis of the decision. In short, it involves more than strict logic, but may involve many non-logical (I do not mean illogical) attributes, including taking note of past decisions, knowing and noting who is being affected by the decisions, and having concern over the reputation not only of the decision-maker but of the nation, the company, the organization, the family, the person in charge.

This series of thoughts, we must realize, affect our lives in business, in our social connections, as family members, and even as an individual. In publishing, for example, it involves concern not just for the company and the owner(s), but most assuredly for the authors and the employees, and certainly for the readers and buyers (these are not necessarily the same). All these whom I have named are people, but there are concerns beyond people, e.g., reputation, specialization, and that ineffable notion of the future.

I have seen small publishing houses thrive in fields in which success is very difficult and large publishers fritter away millions on manifestly stupid programs, programs that throw away the future for a mess of pottage.

Whether we are talking about government, private companies, schools, sports teams, church parishes, social organizations, or families, one aspect remains the same . . . you must have a good, decent (or maybe just good or just decent) leader, whether that leader is the decision-maker or the one who hires the decision-maker or has some other position of strength, that person should lead from the front, not from behind. Someone must be visible to the people who must carry out the program, someone must take on the most difficult and dangerous aspects of leadership, must face the possibility of failure, of defeat, and, if we are lucky, be magnanimous and humble in success, in victory.

Many people thrust into this world may not be the perfect fit for success, but one result is perfectly understandable: no one who concedes from behind will succeed.

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Knowing and Understanding: A Comment on E-Books - February 24, 2014

As I have said before on these pages, when librarians get together, they talk about technology, and when publishers get together, they talk about format (which is a type of technology). Many publishers nowadays have decided to publish e-books for one reason or another, some of the reasons good and some self-deceivingly bad. I belong to the generation that first started buying paperbounds in large quantity; the generation after that tended to buy only paperbounds, for a while at least. Clothbound books have by no means disappeared in America, though they are becoming or have already become rare in various countries in Europe. And just as the same extremists who warned of  the coming ice age made a neat and immediate transition to global warming and then to climate change (imagine, they figured out that climates do not stay the same from generation to generation!), so too the publishing Cassandras who predicted the end of the clothbound have taken up the end of the paperbound and, no doubt, will soon find that digital production has been supplanted by some wave that will instantly make us knowledgeable without bothering about thinking at all. The genius who, several decades ago, first warned me about the end of printed books informed me that the future was with microfilm.

I tend toward skepticism when it comes to format, perhaps because I tend toward skepticism about a great many areas and also because the changes that need to be completed before a true transformation takes place will take longer than I am likely to have on this earth. I am not skeptical about mortality.

Let me start with the skeptical view that it is my contention that the publishers most interested in e-books are often the ones who are less successful with printed books. From the publishers’ point of view, e-books are wonderfully inexpensive to create, and that alone makes it easier and easier to think that what is good for us is what will happen to us, and that the present generation of internet readers will transform from snippet finders to e-book readers. So we find ourselves in the world of automatic movement from what can be done into what must be done.

Of the Four E’s (entertainment, enlightenment, education, and edification), e-books are very strong mainly for entertainment. The fact that e-books are wonderful for finding answers does not automatically mean they are strong in the other three categories, since an answer without a full knowledge of the question is typically not education, and most definitely not enlightenment or edification.

E-books have great benefits to some readers. Certain types of books are very attractive using e-books, principally novels and other entertainment works but also on the other side of the reader divide with academic works that are filled with phrases to memorize or formulas that are the central answers to the work. Finding information using an e-book is very similar to that of finding information on the internet, although, let us hope, a bit more truthful.

E-books, because of their search mechanisms, are better for finding facts, but facts are not the same as understanding, which typically requires a quiet reconsideration of what was read. If, as Aristotle had it in his Poetics, a work is composed of a beginning, a middle, and an end, then perhaps printed works are better.

In short, it seems to me that e-books are for answers; printed books are for questions.

But whatever the type of book, both e-books and printed books have their fans and detractors. E-books have some obvious benefits: they are cheaper, more mobile, and very helpful in finding quotes or information within the book. In short, they are efficient. But efficiency has its drawbacks; e-books are too much like internet searches, where an answer is forthcoming quickly and, only sometimes, correctly.

Printed books, on the other hand, are works of beauty, stability, self-satisfaction, conversation-inducement, and self-definition. Indeed, they indicate something about the owner. No one has ever loved or cherished or even collected an e-book, and no one ever will.

Perhaps e-books, by their mechanism, are efficient, but printed books, specifically in not offering easy efficiency and thus making one work for understanding, are sufficient.

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