Updates & Book Reviews for April & May

Update

I realize it has been a few weeks since I provided any updates on blogging or any new book reviews here at Pax Plena. Regular visitors may have noticed that lately I’ve put more effort into tweaking the design of the site than actually uploading new content.

As any mildly narcissistic blogger will admit, this lack of focus isn’t good for a number of reasons.

First, I suspect deep down, most people don’t really care how the site looks so long as the content is interesting. And yet, my own neuroses have left me obsessed with pushing the boundaries of a minimalist site while wanting all of the bells and whistles of a site made for web 2.0. This creates an unfortunate dilemma: I can sit and adjust html and css codes for hours, but what I really need to do is write and create content for the blog. Of course, if you have any thoughts on how to improve Pax Plena, or some cautions about the aesthetic direction I’ve taken with the layout – I would really like to hear your ideas. My personal tastes lean toward a minimalist design and layout, but I welcome any challenges to my preference.

Second, my foray into web design and my lack of new content is not without reason. My dissertation is blessedly nearing it’s end, like a sheep being led to the slaughter – to keep the Easter imagery alive. Minor heresies aside, I’ve spent the better part of three weeks doing dissertation stuff – handing in final chapters, doing final edits, checking footnotes, getting feedback from professors, etc. – all in hopes of nailing my defense next Tuesday. My work continues apace, though I expect that the defense will be a curiosity for many in the Indian law community. Most folks studying Indian law do not apply libertarian critiques to the Federal Indian law system. My work tries to accomplish this while building a philosophical framework for advancing Indian rights under libertarian principles.

For those interested, my defense is next Tuesday, April 10th in the Law School’s Rountree Hall, Room 215 from 10AM – 12PM. During the first hour, I will hold a public lecture about my work followed by a question/answer session. If the topic at all interests you, feel free to attend the lecture, meet me, and ask a question or ten. The last hour of the event, however, is closed to the public. There, I meet in camera with my dissertation committee to field questions, and talk more in depth about my work. Assuming all goes well, after that meeting, I should become the 12th person in the world to hold a Doctorate of Juridical Science in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy.

For those interested in my academic work generally, I’m planning to release a series of posts detailing my research over the past year. I hope to get these pieces published as a book at some point, but for now, I plan to share some of the ideas once a week or so via blog post when my dissertation is finished. My hope is to make the posts fairly easy to read so that even those without an Indian law background can understand the issues and begin to construct an informed opinion. Topics will include many of the major problems of Indian rights in the U.S. including – reservation poverty, ambiguous property rights, economic underdevelopment, lack of law and order on reservations, gender roles within cultures, and the role of technology in traditional societies.

Book Reviews

Because of my web-design misadventures, and the time consuming nature of my dissertation of late, I realize that book reviews have taken a backseat to mi vida loco. To rectify the imbalance, I wanted to give a quick preview of coming attractions.

First off, special thanks to Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc. for keeping me in the loop on new and newly released books. Meryl is a top-notch publicist that has the patience to get even miscreants like yours truly up to speed on good books that deserve a second look. Some readers may recall that Ms. Zegarek was my contact to review Ian Morgan Cron’s Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me. She also very graciously offered me the chance to review Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer. While I am more than half-way through, this remains a project that is still very much in the works.

So here’s a few book reviews you can expect to read – ideally by the end of April.

Book Review 04/2012

Karen Spears Zacharias, A Silence of Mockingbirds: the Memoir of a Murder. Release: April 1, 2012.

Ms. Karen Spears Zacharias is a former investigative journalist chronicling the heartbreaking murder of a young girl. The story is especially meaningful and touching given the author’s close relationship with the mother of the deceased child, and even the accused murderer himself. Look for a review in early April.

Book Reviews Nov and Dec

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Release: August 30, 2011.

As the title suggests, this book is a biography of famed WWII era pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The author tells a compelling narrative about Bonhoeffer’s life, beginning in the early years of his childhood through his death at the hand of the Nazi regime. It really is a fascinating read. I had hope to have the review done late last year, but life and work managed to get in the way. Look for a review sometime during the middle of April. I owe this one to Meryl.

My Struggle  Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book One. Release: May 1, 2012.

Knausgaard has been fancifully called the Norwegian Marcel Proust. Having spent some time leafing through In Search of Lost Time, I’m not sure I agree at this point. But the largely autobiographical work is nonetheless compelling, if a bit laborious in places. While I’m not very far into the work, I suspect that each page will be a mini, literary cosmos all its own. And that’s the benefit of such a book really. Sometimes it’s just nice to simply enjoy the language of a work for the sheer joy of language itself. Look for a review by the end of the month.

As always, thanks for your patience. And stay tuned for more…

Thoughts on Blogging, and Time

Wasted Time

Earlier this week my wife was twenty minutes late getting out of work. I took my typical 11 mile bike ride to reach her office by 4:30PM, only to swelter for twenty minutes in 106 degree heat. By the time she emerged from the cavernous enclave better known as Tucson Medical Center, the water in my water bottle tasted like a hot cup of tea, minus the tea.

To understate matters, I was upset. But not with my wife. The lone thought that came to mind over and over while I baked on my favorite bench was how much I hate wasting time. The situation was a bit like Dostoyevsky’s white bears, no matter how hard I tried not to think about wasting time, I ended up thinking about wasting time. This may seem a bit compulsive, and it really is, but I realized from a young age that time is the only thing in life that you can’t get more of. You can get more money. You can acquire more possessions. If you are lonely, you can fill your life with with more relationships. The super lonely, like former NY Gov. Spitzer, can even pay to fill their lives with more relationships.

But as ex- Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated yesterday, you can’t get more time, and that’s why time is life’s most important commodity.

It’s a bit dramatic to say that a few minutes in the sun profoundly shifted how I think about blogging. But in some ways it did. Over the past week I started thinking seriously about this blog, the time I’ve devoted to it, and most importantly what I hope to see from it – not only in the coming days and weeks, but in the months, and hopefully years still to come. While I have changed templates, and layouts many, many, many times, I have never tried to make the blog anything more than it is: a place where I can opine, and hold court on whatever topic strikes my fancy. And I’ve done this for nearly seven years, come December 24th.

In that time span, I’ve made just under 2600 posts. My traffic has gone from an anonymous voice crying in the wilderness (NH) to a voice with a slightly bigger bullhorn, crying in a different wilderness (AZ). Our readership is still fairly modest, averaging only about 2500 hits per month. But that’s still much better than when I averaged only about 40.

Given that our blog isn’t very topical, it’s probably a small miracle that anyone reads Pax Plena at all. The bulk of my posts concern politics, music, faith, book reviews, cycling, and the occasional Lolcat of the Week. But Pax Plena isn’t devoted to any one of these topics in particular. Still, in the greater blogosphere, the actual range of blogs and their topics is as wide and as varied as the internet itself. Some blogs are very narrow in scope, covering niche areas like the intersection of life and career building, and the affairs of a specific technology company (guess which company). Stiil, other bloggers cover broad topics like Indian Lawpoliticstechnology, cycling, faith, minimalism, sports, sport teams, etc.

I guess my conclusion is that that after seven years of blogging, it’s time to start narrowing down the focus here at Pax Plena. To be clear, I’m not worried about missing out on traffic. That’s not the point. But I am interested in developing the blog into something that is more engaging, more interesting, and more useful to readers. I want Pax Plena to maximize the effort and time I put into it. And I think I can do this with a couple of adjustments.

Let me add, I don’t feel these seven years have been wasted. (Although, I have, at times, been wasted during these past seven years.) I sincerely appreciate each and every hit that comes my way. You readers make the whole exercise worthwhile. My itch for change stems primarily from the fact that I don’t want to waste the next seven years of blogging because I didn’t create a vision for Pax Plena when I had the chance.

My task over the next few weeks will be to figure out what exactly this means in terms of content, and quality. I suspect it will mean higher quality pieces (e.g., no more short posts containing only snarky links for your perusal). And, in terms of content, I suspect that the blog will cover a narrower range of topics, in effort to become more topic-specific. Or at least more topic-specific. But for you the reader, this simply means what it always means. Stay tuned.

And, regardless of which direction the blog takes, let not your hearts be troubled. Lolcats of the Week are here to stay. Your blogger loves you.