January 2013

The Mystery of Banking

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.

Die Profundis

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 imprisonment. 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, as 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 like 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.

Tell It On the Mountain

Tell it on the Mountain; Tails from the Pacific Crest Trail ★★★★★
Betsy and I have watched a number of PCT movies now, and this was the best. It essentially followed about 8-10 hikers, including some solo hikers, hikers who have done the PCT many times, and one who did the first PCT yoyo, which is from Mexico to Canada and then back to Mexico. It showed a number of couples attempting the hike, some of who made it, and some that didn’t. The photography was great, the realism was great, and the storyline was great. It mentioned the dangers of the trail but didn’t overwhelm you with what was bad about the PCT. You felt like you were there with the hikers. There are supplements to the regular film which focused on several of the hikers, as well as one of the trail Angels. This is a film that can help one in planning out a trip, or if one simply wishes to enjoy the trail vicariously through others. Thus, one should enjoy watching this film even if they had no intention of every subjecting five months of their life to the daily grind of a hike.

Cooking Class

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 come 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 fewer 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.


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 1920s, 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 maintain 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 afterward, 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 return 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 1920s according to Lewis lacks originality, is dreadfully goal/success oriented. Unfortunately, Lewis paints two straw characters. Though he is noted to 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 that, 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 an 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 meaninglessness 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 the same mistakes.

Die Thomaner

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 accommodation 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 repertoire but have spent many 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 atheist 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.

Noch ein Jahr vorbei

Another year has gone by. The time is now for letter writing and receiving lengthy chronicles from your friends as to their activities over the last year. The chronicler must not only detail accurately the past year but make life interesting enough that other people will be interested in reading the narrative. Bragging and hyperbole tend to force a loss of interest in the reader, yet is what is thought by the writer as the characteristic that makes the recall of a year interesting. I’ll try to avoid that. I’ll be following the rough outline from last year, so if last years’ post bored you to death, stop reading immediately and find something more interesting to gawk at.

Last year…

1. In March, the Miami breast cancer conference and SSO meeting both occurred in Florida close together, so I went to both. The Miami conference was a bore, and the SSO conference in Orlando was fun, only because Peter Tate was there.
2. I went to Dayton with Russ in late April, and a week later to the ASBS with Betsy in Phoenix. Another ho-hum meeting was attended, though I did go to every talk and paid close attention to all.
3. June was spent enjoying Germany. Betsy went with and got to meet Katja and Hannes, as well as Hille. We spent time with Robbie Rayburn and with Heinz and Debbie Fuchs. It was a super trip.
4. July had the occasion to do Eagle Creek with Patrick and Andrew. Later, Betsy and I flew to Iowa to see Alex and Rachel. It was a delight.
5. August was the month for Diane’s wedding. Herbert came to visit. It was a delight having him around. Herbert is like a brother. I can talk to him, have fun with him, ask him advice, yet he is not offended by our differences.
6. September was started with the plan to ride bicycles from Eugene to Missoula with Russ. For various reasons, the trip was terminated prematurely in Grangeville, Idaho. It has caused me to re-think how I do tours.
7. The first part of November was the trip of a lifetime to Israel and Jordan with Betsy. Dr. John Delancey was a wonderful tour guide and made the trip particularly interesting.
Each of these trips has a blog page that you could surf to, so I will not reiterate what has already been said.

Plans for next year…

1. Betsy and I hope to visit the Heins in Oklahoma in February.
2. I will be doing a bicycle ride with the ACA in Death Valley in March.
3. In late May, early June, Jonny and I will be going to Germany. The goal is mostly to visit the Bach sites with Jonny, as well as touch base with old friends.
4. I plan on meeting Dr. Peter Tate and Dr. Ara Pridjian, old friends from residency, in July, to ride bicycles in Northern Michigan. Peter may throw in some sailing, which I’d love to try.
5. In September, Jonny and I will be doing an ACA ride called the Sierra Sampler, riding along the east side of Yosemite.
6. I’ll throw some meetings in there.
7. I was invited to China to teach surgery and English. This is in the tentative stages, and so have no definite plan yet. Meanwhile, I am vigorously learning Mandarin. Ni hau!

Music, Reading, Bicycle Riding, etc.

As of 31DEC2012, I yet have 57 days, 15 hours, and 06 minutes of “unheard” classical music to listen to. I have heard everything at least once, but am working through my entire collection. Last year, I had over 90 days of music, and have added 5-7 days of music since to the collection, which has been listened to, including the Teldec Complete Bach (reviewed previously). Betsy and I will spend several evenings a week watching movies. We worked through the Joan Hickson editions of Miss Marple and should be reviewed shortly. We are working on the Poirot series now, and detecting patterns in the writing of Agatha Christie. We have also watched a large portion of the Tom Baker years of Dr. Who.
For reading, I have gotten to I Kings in the through-the-Bible read, starting in mid-November. I am also reading Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. A review will follow, but I will note that Hodge tends to address contemporaries that I have never heard of, making it less interesting than I had hoped. I am only about 20% through, so it might pick up. I wished to read Reymond’s systematic theology next but was highly encouraged by Pastor Rayburn to attack Bavinck’s 4-volume set.  I’ll be reading more photography and photoshop books, and also want to have a slight mastery of Filemaker. That’s for next year.
Betsy and I made a fairly monumental decision to return to Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, under the pastorship of Dr. Rayburn. It was a tough decision since we had friends at Resurrection Presbyterian Church and appreciated the work of pastor David Scott. Going back to FPC gave Betsy and me the sense of returning home. There are those who might suspect a multiplicity of motives for our change of churches, but those suspicions would simply be conjecture that would probably not be true, so please do not read too much into our actions.
There are a few other details coming up in our lives that would be best recounted after they occur rather than before. We anticipate another grandchild with Diane and look forward to the day when Rachel and Alex successfully adopt Lily. That will mean another trip for us to Iowa.
I now have an updated model of the TacX trainer (bicycle virtual reality trainer) in the garage which works better than the last, by not crashing so often. It has allowed me to use the bicycle I usually ride on to train, while giving me many strenuous, sweaty hours during the rainy season to still be riding my bicycle. The other “toy” of note has been my dream for a while. I got a Canon 6D for Christmas. I originally wished for a Canon 5DMarkIII, but the 6D had some options, such as GPS, which makes it an ideal travel camera. It is a full-frame, and 20 megapixels. I hope to use my bicycle riding and hiking to be an opportunity to get many more photos.
With Obama still in office, it has left some uncertainty regarding medicine. Medicare reimbursements are dropping by 29%, which means that we learn to live off of less and consider other alternatives to medicine. With an insane tax structure, I have no interest in supporting Obama’s government, and so will take off as much time as possible to still maintain a surgical practice. Already, I am giving away nearly all of my abdominal cases, doing abdominal surgery only when I take call. ObamaCare has a way of taking the joy out of medicine. Pastor Rayburn last Sunday emphasized the wish that each of us grow stronger in Christ, and walk closer to Him. As I age, the days of my life look shorter and shorter. Rather than going out with a bang, I seek what John the Baptist said of Christ, “He must increase, and I must decrease”. That is my prayer for all that read this blog.