Jan 29

The Mystery of Banking, by Murray Rothbard ★★★★★

This book starts out as a technical treatise on economics, explaining in fairly simple language and graphs how economics works in the real world. Rothbard then develops the history of banking in the Western world in the last 200 years, showing from an Austrian economic perspective where things have gone wrong. Rothbard is especially critical of fractional reserve banking, adequately showing how it amounts to nothing but dishonesty and theft. Rothbard shows how a return to the gold-standard is entirely doable, that the fear of not enough specie is unwarranted, even in a massive economy such as the USA. I admit that I didn’t follow all of the arguments, perhaps owing to my absence of complete familiarity with banking terminology. Even still, there is enough to glean from the book to sufficiently familiarize one with the root causes for the economic mess that we are now in. I’ll definitely be reading more of Rothbard. It is sad that Austrian economics takes such a severe hit from the so-called “conservative” politicians, who unknowingly mirror the thinking of their “liberal” colleagues. This book is a worthy reading, even for one conversive in economics. It’s free, you can easily download it and read it on your iPad, so there is no excuse.

Tagged with:
2 Comments »
Jan 29

De Profundis

By Kenneth Feucht books No Comments »

De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde ★★★

It is hard to rate a book like this. I like the style in which Oscar Wilde writes, but he excels in being bizarre, sometimes  exceeding Franz Kafka. This book, as a select collection of  letters written from two years in prison, is more  autobiographical than an intentional work of literature. The book was actually heavily edited, leaving out names and other items. Oscar Wilde apparently had a homosexual tryst with a young man of royalty, and was convicted. He spent time in three prisons during the two years of his sentence. The letters give one a feel for the intimate Oscar Wilde.

Wilde is superb at describing intimate emotions, such as his disgust with the prison system. You obtain a strong sense of the pathos that Oscar experienced in trying to survive and remain sane during the two years of inprisonment. One can also see an evolution in Wilde’s thinking. Early in the book, he talks with disdain about God and religion. Later, he spends his entire time waxing eloquent about religion and the virtues of Christ. I would scarcely call it a conversion.  Wilde had no remorse over the consequences of his actions, neither had he remorse over his sin. God is a pantheistic, all-loving, gentle, non-challenging, non-moral creature and so sin is not an entity to contend with. Though Wilde experiences great grief over his actions, it would be the same grief and pity that the typical American experienced while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ; one felt pity for the sufferings of Christ, but a pity that would have been similar if a cute little puppy dog was needlessly slaughtered, like the pity over the death of Old Yeller. Mel Gibson, like Oscar Wilde, failed to realize the difference between grief for someone or something else’s suffering, and the grief and sorrow that one should experience for sending Christ to the cross because of one’s sin. In the closing paragraphs of the book, Wilde describes his plans for when he leaves prison. He will smell the flowers, meditate on the seashore, and behave as a different person. Inside, it is the same old Oscar. The book is a delightful account of the psychology of Oscar Wilde, which should not be emulated or repeated in the reader.

 

Tagged with:
No Comments »
Jan 24

The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking, by Bill Briwa (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★

The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts, by Steven Durfee (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★

These are two separate series offered by the Teaching Company, but because of their similarity, I’ll be reviewing them together. Briwa also did a short series on healthy cooking, which will be briefly reviewed later. Both chefs are prize-winning in their fields, and both teach at the Culinary Institute of America. Both series comes with accompanying hard-bound texts with the exact recipes for what is being cooked. Both are very well done, with clear teaching and superb examples of various dishes discussed. Watching these DVDs makes you want to get into the kitchen and attempt some of the recipes, realizing that a few of them can be a little bit tricky. They’ll have to be tried out on ourselves before we invite guests and then serve them something that flops. The only reason I would have liked to have given each of the series a few less stars is that they were way too short. I hope that Briwa and Durfee would be able to produce a lengthier version of this set that is more comprehensive of the styles of cooking and types of dishes that could be made in a normal home. There was great entertainment in watching these videos, but hopefully you dear reader won’t be tortured by our first experiments in gourmet cooking.

Tagged with:
1 Comment »
Jan 24

Babbitt

By Kenneth Feucht books 2 Comments »

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis ★★★

I don’t recall who recommended that I read Babbitt, but it was that recommendation that led me to download it free and read it on the iPad. Written by Sinclair Lewis in the 1920’s, it was one of the books that led to Lewis obtaining the Nobel Prize in literature. Thus, I assumed that it must be an epic, monumental read. It was nothing of the sort. Lewis was born around the turn of the century in Minnesota, and seemed to have rebelled against his upbringing. Writing satirical novels about the culture of middle America, Lewis achieved temporary fame, leading to his death by alcoholism.

Babbitt is the story of a go-getter real estate salesman in the town of Zenith, a generic large town located in the mid-west. Babbitt is successful, but not flagrantly so, seeming to be bedeviled by those few people wealthier than him. The initial descriptions in the book paint him as a man lacking true character, constantly hassling with his two children and wife, yet not really heading anywhere in life. He goes to church, but most of his life is led in superficial goodness, while never being ashamed of pulling less-than-honest slick real estate deals to get ahead. His relations at the athletic club, the Presbyterian church, and other social community groups maintains his status in society, while demanding little of him. His one friend, Paul R. and he decide to depart on a several week getaway up to Maine, to be met later by the wives. Not long afterwards, Paul ends up in a quarrel with his wife, shoots her, and then ends up several years in prison while she gets religion. Later, Babbitt’s wife takes a long leave of absence, allowing Paul to participate in some trysts, leading to him on a fast downward spiral of alcoholism and liberalism, rejecting everything conservative about his past. Only after his wife returns and lands in emergency surgery for appendicitis does Babbitt realize the errors of his ways and returns to his conservative, superficially high-moral friends and is restored to their company.

Lewis spends much time painting religion as either the occupation of deranged and troubled individuals, such as Pauls’ wife, or as a superficial gloss of morality without any depth of substance or meaning. Realizing that he also wrote a satire on American religion (Elmer Gantry), it is clear that he has a distinct anti-religious agenda. Lewis desires to paint the typical American as culturally naive and socially stagnant. Life for the typical American in the 1920’s according to Lewis lacks originality, is dreadfully goal/success oriented. Unfortunately, Lewis paints two straw characters. Though he is noted have done “research” for the writing of his book, he perhaps paints a description of himself rather than that of any typical 1920’s American. True, Lewis was a liberal socialist and Babbitt was a conservative Capitalist. Other than than, the character of Babbitt is really that of Lewis. If only Lewis could realize how his life would descend into absolute meaninglessness and eventually “suicide” through alcoholism. The straw man of American religion that Lewis paints is even more sorry. It is true that in the 1920’s already, the mainstream churches of America had lost their heart and soul, and Lewis saw that clearly. Unfortunately, particulars don’t form generalizations, and his jabs at Billy Sunday (called Rev. Monday in Babbitt) are frequent and sadly uninformed.

Perhaps the greatest strength in a book like Babbitt is to induce one to question one’s own life. What is it that gives it meaning? Where does one find escape from ennui, trivialness, absence of direction? It is the religion that Lewis attempts to satirize that offers his only chance of escape. In the Koheleth (Ecclesiastes), the preacher explores the idea of everything being futile and meaningless. Solomon was able to resolve the issue of meaningless in life in a way that Lewis was not.  Lewis has unknowingly become the object of his own satire. Pity him and do not make his same mistakes.

Tagged with:
2 Comments »
Jan 11

Die Thomaner

By Kenneth Feucht Media, Movies 1 Comment »

Die Thomaner, a DVD documentary of the St. Thomas Boys Choir in Leipzig ★★★★★

David Miller on Amazon.com makes a review of this DVD as one of the best music documentaries that he has yet seen. I would concur. This is a one year documentary of the life of students at this 800 year old school in Leipzig, Germany, the most famous cantor being none other than Johann Sebastian Bach. One experiences the brutal testing necessary for entry into the school, the first days of homesickness, the gradual accomodation to a daily schedule that allows for minimal free time, the daily pressure for practice and perfection in music, the world tours, the excitement of performance at special times such as at Christmas and Easter, and the final end of year departure. Boys will enter at about 8-10 years of age, and leave between 16-18 years of age. During that time they will not only have mastered the Bach repetoire, but have spent many of good days on the soccer field, as well as excelled in the Thomas Internat (boarding school), which includes more students than just the 93 or so Thomanerchor Jungen. During those years, you see those who were faithful turn to an athiest belief, while there is a trend the other way, with many being so affected by Bach’s music to making a profession of faith and undergoing confirmation in the Evangelische Kirche. The angst among the students as well as the current cantor (Cristoph Biller) are well portrayed. This movie is a moving commentary on these incredible youth, worth showing to your own children when they are somewhat reluctant to practice their music lessons as they should.  The German is fairly easy to understand, with undertitles that are reasonably accurate translations.

Tagged with:
1 Comment »
preload preload preload