Aug 25

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer ???

This is the second book I’ve read by Jon Krakauer, the first being Into Thin Air, a story of a disastrous climb on Everest. Though Krakauer has a very likeable writing style, he is not always the best at contending for historical facts. The Everest climb story held some extremely slanted and monocular views of events that clouded an unbiased appraisal of what really happened on Mt. Everest. In terms of the Everest climb Anatoli Boukreev offered a much more believable account. Both of those books (Into Thin Air, and The Climb) have been previously reviewed by me. Krakauer makes similar editorial mistakes in this book.

Under the Banner of Heaven, according to Krakauer, was intended to be a critical historical review of the Mormon church. During his investigations, the book instead morphed into two intertwined stories, both complementing the other, of the development of the Mormon church, and using that history to offer insights into the murder of a mother and child in the heart of Mormon-land. The two main accomplices in the murder, the Lafferty brothers, committed the crime under the rationale that God gave them clear instructions to do so, based on their Mormon faith. While exploring the history of the Lafferty family, Krakauer necessarily unveils a large contingent of strict Mormons that are part of break-away sects that also practice polygamy. The details of these colonies, scattered throughout the Western United States, Western Canada, and Northern Mexico also bring to light the complex thinking that leads people in the Mormon faith to proclaim that God has spoken to them. After all, they are simply following the example of their leader, Joseph Smith. Many of the “fundamentalists” manifest an extreme political viewpoint that fits neither “right- nor left- wing” ideology, that of absolute freedom of the individual with limited government and extreme patriarchy ruling over an extended family.

This book has strengths and weaknesses. Krakauer is a poor historian in not adequately exploring the various interpretations and viewpoints to an event, before discussing why he chose a given viewpoint. Krakauer is superb at writing a good story, and, criticisms aside, does a very capable job of noting how bizarre the Mormon faith happens to be, and how quickly it can transmogrify itself to suit the needs of the moment, such as abolishing polygamy or accepting blacks into the eldership of the church. The story fits other readings that I’ve had of Mormon history, and it defies explanation as to why Mormons would hold so tenaciously to a belief system that hides its past and pretends it really doesn’t exist. This, in and of itself, makes the book very much worth reading.

Krakauer makes a mistake at the end of the book by trying to wax philosophical. His spiritual mentors, of whom he freely quotes, are Karen Armstrong and William James. Specifically with James, Krakauer accepts the notion of religious experience being nothing other than a psychological event. Yet, he (and James) fail to notice that all human experience is essentially psychological, including whatever scientific knowledge we may possess. Like the miracle worker who has events come true when commanded, the scientist notes that his theories lead to “events” that come true that furthers their faith in the religion of science. That is a dangerous road to take, because it deconstructs any possible experience of anything, whether or not you define it as sacred or secular.  The assumption is that since there are  “quack” religious groups, all religious groups must be suspect. Even worse is the assumption that because there is not 100% uniformity of opinion as to truth regarding “god”, “god” must not exist or is at least unknowable. Similar arguments could be made against the sciences, since any disagreement suggests that ultimately even scientific truth is unknowable. Epistemological nihilism becomes the only truth. The underlying assumption in all of James statements is the God simply does not exist, or is absolutely and totally unknowable.  Thus, his arguments of the psychological nature of religious experience is a circular argument that offers no proof for or against God, nor for the veracity of the experience. Christian doctrine suggests that there is a connection between the “5th dimension”, or the “alternate universe” and ours, and in that alternate universe, a battle is raging with forces both good and evil, the good eventually winning. Religious experience could be encountered from either the good or evil forces, and the ultimate determination for the side may be evaluated through God’s word to man in the form of the Scriptures. Using Scripture as an ultimate reference point, the Mormon doctrines don’t stand, and suggest any religious experience of a Mormon nature be through the evil forces that wage battle against the good.

Krakauer spends a chapter discussing the issue of the insanity defense that Lafferty’s lawyers gave to prevent the execution of Dan Lafferty. This legal argument continues to rage. Public legal assumption is that any belief structures that extremely differ from normative must be proof of insanity. This denies the possibility of a person simply being evil. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Ze Dung, Pol Pot, and W. Churchill all must have been insane since they all lived the most desperately evil lives (though Churchill managed to maintain a sense of acceptability!). It is interesting that even in illiterate third world countries or among savages, a concept of insanity exists, and that insane people are clearly seen and identified without the aide of a psychiatrist.

The appendix offers Krakauer’s rebuttal to a response by a high ranking elder in the Mormon church to Krakauer. This elder appropriately identifies Krakauer’s weaknesses, yet fails to see his own dismal historical weaknesses. It is clear that the Mormon church will force an interpretation of history that best suits their own agenda, rather than the known facts of the historical events.

All in all, this is a good book to read. It is a good reminder of the consequences of reacting against the whole of society, as many I am personally acquainted with have tended to do. It is also a warning against the Mormon church, which appears quite innocent, yet there is something rotten in the church from its very inception, that troubles the church today.

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Aug 14

Tea

By Kenneth Feucht books, FeuchtBlog 1 Comment »

I have given up most of my coffee consumption and turned to tea. At first, I used tea bags, and had about 10-15 different varieties. I was always in amazement when Dr. Liao would decline having tea, as he commented that he just didn’t like the taste of the tea that I brewed up. So, I asked him to bring me back some good chinese tea on his next trip to China. He did, and brought me a box that had eight different flavors.

Since then, I’ve slowly evolved into using only tea leaves. You can see my tea cabinet. Only a portion of the teas I brew are visible, and some are actually just using old containers.

I brew the tea in a white ceramic pot or cast iron pot, kept warm over a tea candle apparatus.

I use a Finum strainer for the tea. These are very nice, since you can remove the tea leaves after the appropriate infusion time, and can reinfuse the leaves quite easily. The lid also serves as a convenient base to prevent tea from getting on the counter.

At the office, I use a larger ceramic pot, with a hot water pot to boil the water.

Learning how to properly brew tea takes practice, experience, but a good book also gives one an idea as to techniques for making the perfect pot of tea. The book below also discusses the various types of tea, their origin and their differences. Generally, there are Chinese vs. Indian teas. Africa does produce some teas like Rooibos, which I’ve found to be quite distasteful. The Chinese/Indian teas vary from black, Oolong, green, flavored (like Jasmine), mixed (like Earl Grey), or moldy (like Pu-Erh). Pu-Erh tea is actually quite interesting, in that the 2-5 infusions are all quite good. The tea smells like a barnyard, but the taste is very nice.

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, by M. Heiss and R. Heiss ???

This book is a good introductory summary for the tea lover. Happy brewing!!!

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Aug 14


Alaska 01-07AUG2011

This trip had several objectives. The first was to meet with Dr. Lattin and give a breast cancer update talk at his hospital. The second was to achieve a brief rest and relaxation while meeting friends, including not only the Lattins whom we met in Bangladesh, but also the Bankers, who attended Resurrection Presbyterian church with us in the past. We spent 3 nights in Anchorage, followed by three nights in Soldotna with the Lattins.

The first day in Anchorage was to simply settle in. We drove downtown, and shopped for moose hats and other Alaska paraphernalia. Betsy fell in love with the moose.

The second day, we drove up to Wasilla, and then out towards Tok. The mountains were stupendous. In the evening, we met with Jeff and Ellen Banker, and went out to eat. The seafood was incredible! The beer was quite good also.

The third day was mostly resting. I met with Jeff again, still recovering from hand surgery, and ran up to the top of Flattop Mountain. The most distinctive feature of Flattop Mountain is its flat top.

The fourth day, we checked out of our hotel and headed down to Soldotna. The drive is quite beautiful, with the seashore on one side, and immense mountains on the other side.

The fifth day, I gave my cancer talk. Later, we went out to dinner, and then drove to the beach in Kenai. We were able to see Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt.

The sixth day was a walk for life for Betsy and Anna, and a fishing trip for Jason, Nathan and myself. We drove down to Homer, and took off on a chartered boat out into Cook Inlet.

We spent much time with the kids.

Joshua

Noelle

Esther

I let Nathan run around with the camera for a bit, and noted that he wasn’t taking care to compose his shots. To illustrate the importance of adequate view in a photo, I took a photo of him. Included are photos Nathan took of the parents.

Nathan

Dad according to Nathan

Mom, according to Nathan

It was sad for Betsy and I to leave Alaska. It was more enjoyable than our last visit, and suggested returns, especially with friends. I also noted that the roads typically had quite wide shoulders and thus makes it quite conducive to cycle touring. All we need to worry about are moose and bear.

Special thanks to the Bankers and Lattins for making this trip quite special.

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Aug 14

The Liszt Collection, produced by Deutsche Grammophon, multiple performers ????

This is a hodge-podge 34 CD collection from the Deutsche Grammophon archives, presumably reflecting the best of Liszt. It was probably produced for the bicentennial year of Liszt’s birth. Sony has also produced a 25 CD collection, as well as the recently reviewed Leslie Howard complete piano works of Liszt. Sadly, nobody has ever compiled the entire production of Liszt like has been done for Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and other composers. This collection has all superb performances, as well as superb recordings. It is a very worthwhile introduction to Liszt for the classical lover who would like to get into Liszt.

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Aug 14

The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon ???

A recent conversation with Jeff Banker during a hike/climb of Flattop Peak in Anchorage, AK led to the issue of free will and providence. This movie came up in the discussion. It is suggested that there is a bureau of people who have enough insight in the makeup of all people in order to ultimately have plans for their fates, as well as the fate of the world. It is as though they are god, yet, unlike the Christian God of the Bible, is constantly changing his plans, not totally aware of the future, has no actual control over anything, can be worked around, has no prevailing moral code of operation, and is limited in his insights, judgement, and power to actually determine the fate of events. Damon is not his best in acting, and was much better in the Bourne series. I am quite sure this movie reflects a sense of providence/predestination equivalent with most people’s thinking, including Christians of the Arminian persuasion. This movie is an excellent argument that such a god is no god at all, but rather just a little more powerful version of the human being.

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