Pacific Crest Trials

May 13th, 2017

Pacific Crest Trials: A psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, by Zach Davis and Carly Moree★★★

Zach Davis wrote this book as a parallel to a similar book he wrote soon after completing the Appalachian Trail, called Appalachian Trials. Zach seems to admit that at the time of the writing of this book, he had not yet hiked the PCT, though his co-author and friend Carly Moree has done both the AT and PCT. Sections of this book are now written by Carly. This book focuses on the mind games that play on the hiker leading to an unsuccessful attempt to complete the entire trail. The book emphasizes appropriate mental preparation for the hike, discusses how one can avoid the temptation to bale out and return to the comforts of house and home, but also includes the mental problems that are common among those who complete the hike. Advice is good, in that it helps to know what sort of mental issues are going to be at issue. His solutions are often in need of great personal modification. To mentally prepare, he encourages hikers to truly examine why they are wanting to hike the trail, what they expect to get out of it, and what will be the consequences of failure. There are several addenda to the book, one written by Carly Moree on the differences in the PCT and AT and how one would adapt to those difference. Then, a fairly experienced and multiply accomplished thru hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas wrote a chapter on gear.

I appreciated the author discussing something that is usually not addressed in planning a long thru-hike, that of the mental issues of enduring the trail. Most people focus on gear, resupply, planning, and other matters, and this book conveniently informs one of the mental anguish that will occur, allowing the hiker to be prepared for these issues. The main author also runs a website, which is quite informative in preparing for the PCT. It might have been nice if he had at least once done the PCT, and one could tell that much material seemed to be cut-and-pasted from the Appalachian Trials book, in that it continues to reference the AT.

 

Bad Science

May 7th, 2017

Bad Science, Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tate, and is an enjoyable read. It is not about science, per se, but about research and science in health care. It is a book that I wish most people (who choose to be opinionated about health care problems) would read. The slightly less than excellent rating is not because it was a mediocre book, but for reasons to be explained below. The book is good because he hits at many of the issues that is encountered by popular medicine, whether it be conventional or alternative. So many people are deeply opinionated in things they know little about, and health care ranks at the top of the list. The book has 12 chapters, which I’ll briefly review.

Chapter 1, Matter, is an attack on a potpourri of crazy alternative health options, focusing on detoxification methods. Sadly, these treatments suggest that they are based on “science”, though worthwhile studies are virtually non-existent. Chapter 2, Brain Gym, attacks a ritual that I guess is quite popular in the British school system, but was exported from the US. In it, students go through a number of silly rituals to improve their “brain power”. Such a concept needs minimal argument as the method is so ad hoc and untested. Chapter 3 Homeopathy, is explored in a bit more depth. Goldacre’s biggest rant is against the extremely shoddy nature of their studies, as he begins to explore with the reader what it takes to engage in a legitimate clinical study. As a side comment, these were issues that were even of serious concern to the bench scientist. He spends some time introducing the issue of the Cochrane collaboration, and organization of scientist/statisticians which will take a given topic, research as many studies as possible that addressed the given topic, combine the studies through fancy statistical analysis, and then come to a conclusion. Chapter 4 is about the placebo effect, clarifying in many ways the power of a placebo. Chapter 5, titled The nonsense du jour, explores more about issues of bad science, how studies are poorly controlled, etc., but then focuses on nutritional studies and and anti-oxidants. Chapter 7, Nutritionists, develops an all out attack on people making ridiculous food claims, which are most plentiful. Chapter 8, The doctor will sue you now, goes into a personal story of Dr. Goldacre being sued by Dr. Matthias Rath for libel regarding Rath’s claims for the benefit of high dose vitamins, but lacking any substantial research to support that claim. Of course, the claim is so typical, that physicians and Bid Medicine are in collusion against alternative treatments, yet alternative treatment practitioners do not repel those claims by offering a legitimate scientific study. Which leads to chapter 9, Is mainstream medicine evil? Here, Goldacre takes a hard look at big Pharma, and instances where they have twisted or concealed data. The example used was of Vioxx, whose problem would never had been found if sloppy science was being used. But, Goldacre makes a claim that big Pharma has gone wrong in the past, and how pressures on the pharmaceutical industry will continue to manifest serious problems. In this chapter, I think that Goldacre was a little too kind to big Pharma. Yet, he also published an entire book attacking Big Pharma, so, perhaps he is leaving much to another book. Chapter 10, Why clever people believe stupid things, summarizes why very intelligent people, including those who have had scientific training, can be so wrong with healthcare studies. Not understanding randomization and statistics, preformed bias, drawing conclusions after the fact of the study all lead to wrong conclusions. This is probably the best chapter in the book. Chapter 11, Bad Stats, hits even harder on how study design, randomization, abuse of data, lack of critical thinking, etc., has led to so many false conclusions, and even major lawsuits, where the uncritical mind (especially lawyers) can draw conclusions from data that just isn’t there. Chapter 12, The MMR hoax, is a rant about the bad science used to suggest that the MMR vaccine is bad for you, causes autism, etc., etc.. His case is strong. I’m glad he didn’t attack the fight against the flu vaccine, whose science is pathetic. So, the book is good about detailing how bad science, bad statistics, and bad thinking can lead so many people (including very bright people, scientists, doctors) to wrong conclusions regarding issues related to health.

So, what did I not like about the book? I felt that Goldacre was completely lacking in humility, and his assumption that science can avoid issues of investigator bias are wrong. His assumption that with “good” science, all truth will be fore coming is fitting of a positivist mindset, which has been otherwise been thoroughly destroyed as a philosophic construct. Science depends on paradigms which so often are just plain wrong. It’s been shown that predictably, paradigms will change every 20-40 years, whether it be in health care, or in the hard sciences. He remains hyper-critical about everybody but himself. This is the greatest failure of this book, and Ben could use a dose of humility.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

October 24th, 2016

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Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi ★★★★

This is an autobiography of the conversion of Nabeel Qureshi from a devout Muslim faith to Christianity. Nabeel was born in the USA, but grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family belonging to a sect called the Ahmadi. Living in Virginia, he was challenged in his faith by a close Christian friend David Wood. David and Nabeel met in high school, and continued on together in college, until Nabeel eventually applied to and was accepted into medical school. Through a number of years and Nabeel seeking inconsistencies in his faith, he finally had a series of dreams which led him to become a Christian. The book is written in multiple very short chapters, and so is somewhat spasmodic or convulsive  in the way it is read. There is a lengthy appendage to the book. I appreciated this book as a means of describing the challenges of bringing a Muslim person to faith in Christ. Nabeel has written several other books, one on Jihad and another on the distinctives of Muslim versus Christian theology.

Because Nabeel grew up in the USA and to a small sect of the Muslim faith, he is somewhat lacking in seeing the result of a large community of regular Sunni or Shiite Muslims. I am not challenging Nabeel of deficits in knowledge of the Muslim faith, but note that having lived for a while in two Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Extrem Nord Cameroon), my picture of the Muslim faith in those countries (as can be found in most Muslim countries) is less romantic than his views. The people appear bound by an ugly task-master of an intolerant god, with joyless worship of this uncaring and merciless otherworld being. Nabeel shows a kinder, gentler Muslim faith more closely related to its Christian roots, explaining why it is dangerous to categorize all Muslims as dangerous jihadists. Note that I view the Muslim faith as a Christian heresy (which it is!). This kinder, gentler subset of Muslims probably represents a small minority of Muslims just as most “Christians” are Christian in name only. The only problem is in being able to sort out one from the other.

Qureshi shows the reader the formidable challenge of witnessing to the Muslim. The most important aspect is not in having an encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim faith and doctrine, but in simply being able to share clearly the Christian faith, including the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity, the formation of the canon of Scripture, etc., and to know why these doctrines are important.

Qureshi continues to write. He has appended this book to fill in 10 years of time since he first became a Christian. He frankly discusses the problems of his family rejecting him for his faith. He discusses finishing medical school, but deciding upon going into the ministry instead, and now works with Ravi Zacharias. Only recently in the news is it known that Nabeel has an advanced gastric cancer and probably will not live too much longer. It will be sad to see the loss of such an interesting person.

If You Can Keep It

July 7th, 2016

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If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas ★★★

I ordered this book on-line in February from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail in late June. I’ve read another book by Metaxas which intrigued me, leading to me to order this book. I found out about the book on Facebook, coming from Metaxas’ blog site. I typically appreciate how Metaxas writes, and so felt that I would enjoy reading this book. I’ve met and chatted with Metaxas, I find him to be most likable, and would love to engage in more conversation with him. He is bright, and mostly right-on. The other book by Metaxas that I’ve read was “Bonhoeffer”, a stimulating read, though a book for which I felt Metaxas would frequently draw erroneous conclusions, such as to state that Bonhoeffer was a martyr, which he most certainly was not. That discussion might be found in my review of that text. But, let’s get on with “If You Can Keep It”.

The book is seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. I’ll comment on the chapters after I briefly summarize them. The introduction presents the topic, titled by a phrase uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention. When asked whether we would be a republic or a monarchy, Franklin noted that we would be a republic, if we could keep it. Focused on that phrase, Metaxas seeks to restore through the book the zeal to keep this republic founded roughly 230 years ago. Chapter 1 begins the argument by noting that a republic can function only in the environment of moral people. Government cannot make us moral, and each citizen must hold the responsibility for personal morality. Chapter 2 introduces a concept borrowed by Os Guinness called the golden triangle. Specifically, the triangle is that freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom. Chapter 3 was simply a summary of the ministry of George Whitfield in America, leading to a spiritual revival. Chapter 4 notes how civilizations will have historical heroes that are venerated. He discusses the American heroes that are too commonly forgotten, such as Nathanial Hale, and the founding fathers, including Paul Revere. Chapter 5 builds heavily on the importance of moral leaders, contrasting the immorality of such leaders as Bill Clinton to that of Cinncinaticus, George Washington or William Wilberforce. Chapter 6 explores further the idea of American exceptionalism, and why it is important in thinking about our country. Chapter 7 is a plea that one must love their country (America) in spite of its faults. The epilogue recalls the sentimental experience of Metaxas seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor soon after the 9/11 tragedy.

What is the problem with this book? Several…

  1. Metaxas doesn’t express deep insights into the real nature of America, and with what has gone wrong. Perhaps the seeds of destruction were sown at the writing of the constitution itself? Perhaps America’s “exceptionalism” has been not the virtue of its wonderful constitution but its transitory moments where many Americans actually had a true faith in the God of Christianity? Perhaps many of the symbols that evoke sentimental emotions with Metaxas are false symbols, such as the statue of liberty, which is about as pagan as you can get. Not that I dislike Lady Liberty, but I acknowledge that the Christian faith has a seriously different concept of the entire notion of liberty and freedom than pagan or humanistic sources provide for. Metaxas almost hints on that in the book, but fails to follow through, lapsing back into a “God, mother and apple pie” notion of America.
  2. Metaxas confuses general morality with a Christian morality. He spends much time talking about the importance of American’s being moral, but fails to explain why any morality not grounded in Scripture is really a false morality. In essence, morality essentially becomes what the state deems to be good and right. If tolerance becomes the greatest virtue, so be it, because the state has declared it to be so.
  3. Public heroes are nice and important, but only in the light of how they lived consistent with Christian beliefs. I can hold Latimer and Ridley as far greater heroes, dying for far greater principles, than that of Nathanial Hale, or those that perished in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Heroes now tend to be sentimental figures that do not inform the public into taking a costly moral stance. Metaxas completely confuses this in his book on Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, which might be noble, but certainly true heroes like David from Scripture had better restraint when an opportunity to assassinate evil Saul presented itself.
  4. The golden triangle, with deepest respect to Os Guinness, seems to be nonsense. There are no specific definitions of virtue (whose morality?) or faith (in what?) or freedom (from what or for what?). Faith in the Christian sense does NOT require freedom, but affords a much greater freedom than is offered by the constitution or any other man-created document or system of government.

Metaxas labors long about the importance of love for country, being sure to dismiss the “my country right or wrong” notion. He argues that you can love a country while hating the sins of that country. But, one’s love for country is far more complex than just “loving” America. Is he talking about America as a system of government? Do we idolize the good but seriously flawed constitution, the “living” document that now controls our country? Do we love it for its extreme secularism, that refuses to take a stance as a Christian nation, and supporting equally Islam, Buddhism, and even Satanism as legitimate religions of the land?  Metaxas doesn’t mention that our only real citizenship is a heavenly citizenship, and on earth we are strangers and pilgrims. It’s not that we are solely citizens of an other-worldly realm, but that we have dual citizenships, and must reconcile how to deal with that, being both members of planet earth and asked to care for the earth, yet members of a heavenly kingdom. Some have responded by claiming that the US system is too far gone, and moved to a country which tended for stronger Christian sympathies. Others have moved on to more oppressive nations, though with the thought that they are subject to a King that is not the prince of this world. Others, like myself, stay, realizing that this is my Heimat, my homeland, that I can have an influence for good in the community in which I live. I do not find America to be exceptional, but like the prophet Jeremiah, spend my time weeping that my nation could have made better decisions but have gone the way of inevitable judgment of a most serious nature.

I see our government as far more corrupt than meets the eye. I see the constitutional structure as fatally flawed in that it is primarily a secular humanist document, and we are now reaping the consequences of that structure. I see the loss of a public Christian morality as the essential loss of anything that once was good about our country. I don’t view ourselves as having a representative government, or that our votes have any substantial meaning. A plethora of events within the last twenty years have shown that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not exist in the USA, and that it will never return, save for a cataclysmic revival in our country. Why can’t Metaxas see this? I don’t know. I ponder the imponderable question as to how the majority of our “well-informed, greatest-nation-on-earth” citizens could vote in a fool and evil person to be their president. I find it even more confusing that some of my Christian friends voted and still stand behind that man, and will soon vote in an even more evil, corrupt liar. These Christian friends are very moral people as well as well educated intelligent folk, and so a generic “morality” just doesn’t explain how to fix America, as Metaxas’ thesis claims.

There is much that Metaxas says correctly in this book. I appreciate his insights into American history and his dissatisfaction with the current status of our country. I appreciate his appeal to return to a moral stance. I would find it easy to get along with Metaxas if we were to meet in public, and could easily become a good friend with him. I hope that with time and age, Metaxas would write a text about America lacking the sentimental statements and the sense that America is a city on a hill that we all wish it would have been. I would hope that Metaxas’ love for America would remain strong, but become more mature,  perhaps seeing America the same way that Jeremiah saw (and deeply loved) Judah.

The Challenge of Rainier

May 21st, 2016

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The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar (4th Edition) ★★★★★

I’ve seen this book around for many years sitting on shelves in the bookstores, but never bothered to purchase a copy to read. It seemed that the time was ripe. Mt. Rainier is in many ways my favorite mountain. It’s in my backyard, and I frequently bicycle its perimeter. I’ve climbed it twice. I’ve hiked the Wonderland trail twice. I’ve yet to have a truly bad moment on the mountain, even though rain has occasionally terminated an adventure on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is of particular note in that many of America’s most famous Himalayan climbers learned their craft on this mountain. It is frequently acclaimed to be the most photogenic mountain in the world. My love for the mountain has extended to all seasons, doing winter ski trips into the park, spending other times hiking the trails for the day, cycling around the mountain, and always standing in awe of it. Thus, learning more of the history of the mountain was most gripping to me. Dee writes very well, and it is hard to put the book down. He chronicles the first climbs of each of the main routes, the development of the park, recounts tragedies that occurred in the park, discusses famous and interesting characters who have climbed to the summit, and discusses the challenges of the park rangers in keeping the mountain safe for all who approach its flanks. Chapter 35, In Retrospect, hit a tender spot with me. Though my experiences on Rainier are far fewer and less intense than the author, we both share the deep sentimentality of the majesty and grandeur of the mountain, the respect for its challenges that it offers the visitor, and its desire to see it preserved from careless human ambition. I’d encourage any and all that have have fallen in love with Mt. Rainier to read this book, and to delight in the perspective of the mountain man on the greatest of American mountains.

Spandex Optional

May 6th, 2016

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Spandex Optional, by Peter Rice ★★★★

This is a short but cute little book about bicycle touring. It is an easy read, taking me about 2 hours to get through it on a leisurely basis. Peter discusses cycle touring from a non-traditional perspective. Some advice is not the best, such as riding any old beat up bicycle on a long distance tour. Much advice is great, such as just getting on the bike and doing it. The most salient theme was to simply RYOR (ride your own ride), using a similar phrase often used in the thru-hiking community (to hike your own hike); i.e., do it your way, as everybody will have their own individual style of doing a long-distance ride. It’s a nice read for anybody who feels that long-distance cycling must be performed in a certain fashion, such as wearing spandex shorts.

Just Ride

April 30th, 2016

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Just Ride, by Grant Petersen ★★★★

This is a cute little book of 89 chapters in 208 pages, giving advice on cycling. Grant Petersen founded Rivendell Bicycle Works, notes that he used to ride competitively, but now speaks strongly about the art of simply riding a bicycle and enjoying the endeavor. Advice fits into a number of categories, including how to ride a bicycle, what to wear, how to ride a bicycle safely, how to do the bicycle for health reasons, accessories for the bike, how to care for a bike, technical aspects of bicycle design, and philosophy of cycling. I disagree with some of what he has to say, but agree that his perspective on making bicycling an enjoyable pastime needs to be considered strongly by anybody riding a bike. It is a fun read, Grant writes well, and it will prove to serve as worthy advice even when he is not entirely correct.

Stealing America

April 12th, 2016

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Stealing America, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★★

This book is actually two narratives. The first narrative regards Dinesh’s stay for 8 months in an overnight retention facility, and the sentencing that led to that retention. Each chapter has stories from his sentencing or life in the confinement center. The second narrative spring-boards from the first narrative, in identifying how the US government is operating in an increasingly criminal fashion, akin to the hardened criminals that Dinesh met while at the detention facility.

The first chapter speaks of Dinesh being caught for a crime that seemed somewhat insignificant and something that is performed all the time, but felony charges are avoided because high profile people are aware of the minor technicalities in helping one avoid the label of “crime” to the “mis-deed”. Dinesh accidentally gave beyond donation limits by giving to a candidate through friends. He could have given massively larger funds through a PAC or other agency, but because he did what he did and had enemies, he was labeled a felon and ultimately condemned to 8 months in a confinement center, though avoiding up to 3 years of prison by paying his life earnings to a high profile lawyer. Having personally seen enough of the court systems, I can heartily agree with D’Souza that courts are a political sham; they are not blind, and justice is NEVER served in the courts. They are highly politically motivated by extremist liberal social justice warriors with an agenda. The myth of the American court system is screamed loud and hard in the sentencing of D’Souza.

Chapter two outlines the confinement center, a description of some of the people confined within the center. The description paints the guards and personnel that run the center as more pathological than the inmates. The criminals in the center, while they created heinous crimes (and oftentimes did not!), are described as less criminal than the people that run this country. The theme of “theft” and “stealing” is beginning to be developed in this chapter, where inmates may have performed robberies, but the grander robberies are daily performed in full public eye by our politicians.

The next few chapters begin to develop certain themes. These themes are based on the crimes that inmates committed, and how the politicians that run this country have the same pathological mindset as the inveterate criminals locked up behind bars. Gangsterism is one theme. Through their particular gangs (Republican or Democratic Parties), the once innocent politician goes from poverty to unbelievable wealth, which cannot be explained by their salary as a public servant. The reparations scam is another, where astronomical payouts to an undeserving dependent class of people are made even more dependent on the system, all under the guise of repaying groups for some hypothetical crime allegedly committed against their distant forefathers by people that have been dead for many generations. The greed and inequality scam is how the government feels it is their duty to level the playing field of inequality by the continual redistribution of wealth. The only wealth not redistributed is that of the leaders. Another scam is labeled the “You didn’t build that scam”, or as I would say, “it takes a village” scam. This supposes that you would never have been able to accomplish anything in life if it wasn’t for the government, failing to realize that the government would not have existed without yours and your forefather’s taxes being paid. The “you didn’t build it scam” give the government the permission to steal your earnings for redistribution.

D’Souza then switches gears and discusses the life of Saul Alinsky. Saul spent much time with Al Capone, learning first hand the art of gangsterism. This is relevant, because two characters, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both admittedly spent much time under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky, Clinton  writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, while Obama worked under him as a civic organizer. The criminal nature of Obama and Clinton are then both detailed.

The last two chapters bewail how America has been “stolen” from the people, and offering a solution as to how to crack the deception. He really doesn’t offer much, suggesting only that we need to restore the original America that did not steal from its citizens. I didn’t expect profound solutions from D’Souza, as he really doesn’t see the full impact of what has gone wrong with our nation.

There are some serious problems with the book. First, Dinesh identifies the “problem” as starting with Bill Clinton and exacerbated by the Bushes and Obama. In actual fact, the problems of corrupt government in the USA goes back to its founding, with founding fathers stacking the constitution in its own favor. I would identify progressivism as we know it as starting with Teddy Roosevelt and ultimately “losing it” with Woodrow Wilson. We are simply seeing the end result of a 100 years of deterioration in our government, making it unrecognizable should any of the founding fathers return from the dead. The second problem with the book is that Dinesh tends to think the problem of a stolen America to be primarily a Democrat problem. In actual fact, as recent events have shown quite clearly, the Republican party is way too similar to the Democratic party, and their politics tend to differ less than the politicians would like us to think. The Democratic Party is not the only criminal gang, but there are two criminal rival gangs fighting for preeminence on the public stage. As a side issue to the Republican party, D’Souza gives inordinate praise to president Lincoln, a man worthy of praise, but omits that he, more than any other president before him, established an uncontrollably powerful central government, much to our loss and giving rise to all of the problems D’Souza wails on in his book. By decentralizing government, empowering states and empowering the 10th amendment, reducing taxation and eliminating unwanted tariffs, Lincoln could have both abolished slavery and preserved the union without a war. The third problem is that D’Souza was affected by a wantonly corrupt court system in bed with the reigning politicians. Yet, he really doesn’t grasp the entire nature of how and why our court systems no longer administer justice or freedom. I am a little astounded as to why he is so blind to this issue. The fourth problem affects Dinesh as much as the country and that is a loss of faith. Dinesh fails to ever bring out that the primary reason America has gone the way it has, is that there is no longer a Christian morality, a Christian ethos, or a Christian faith in America. Dinesh, through his past divorce, seems to have somehow lost it himself. True, he still identifies as a Christian, but this book would leave you thinking that he only has a Christian gloss; there is nothing in this book that conveys a serious Christian mindset. By that, I mean a mindset that holds God in control of the universe, in control of politics, and a moral God that will judge the sins of the nation. His morality seems to be a morality that is entirely utilitarian in its function to maintain a civil society. This is not the morality of Scripture. I dearly hope that D’Souza will some day soon come to the realization of the problems above and write a book that can encompass a true reckoning of the spiritual and political state of affairs of our nation.

The book is a depressing book. It’s not that I’ve learned something new in the book. It’s that it’s all been reinforced from a person that tended to be very optimistic about our political system and the fruits of that political system. What’s most depressing is to grasp at how few people in America realize that we are a country that has gone off the cliff and is in free-fall without a parachute. People quibbling over whether Sanders or Hillary or Cruz gets the presidency are like kids playing on the deck of the Titanic during its final hours—”the boat’s going down children, and it isn’t worth haggling over whether Suzy stepped on the line in the hopscotch game”.

It is About Islam

April 6th, 2016

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It is About Islam, by Glenn Beck ★★

I’ve read several other books by Glenn Beck, and have disliked them, feeling that Beck writes in a superficial fashion, selling himself as a thoughtful analyst of modern thought, yet writing in a popular emotional, non-analytical mode. The reviews of this books suggested that it was different and that Beck had provided an essay that was competent in reviewing Muslim mindset and proposing thoughtful action. I was quite disappointed in my expectations. Beck is able to throw a mountain of facts and quotes at you regarding a subject, but his ability to condense those facts into meaningful discourse is lacking

The book is broken up into three parts. The first is a brief history of Islam. This was short and focused on Beck’s agenda in the book. The second part is an argument against 13 deadly lies of Islam, such as “Islam is not much different than Christianity or Judaism”. He offers quotes supporting the “lie”, and then refutes those “lies” with facts. The third portion of the book discusses action items.  All three sections of the book are weak, and perhaps they are weak because Beck has a tenuous starting point himself.

Beck is quite spirited in developing the idea that the Islam religion is a religion of hate, and out to conquer the world. There is probably a reasonable amount of truth in that statement. His action points include the following. 1. Understand the “enemy”. Correct. That’s why he wrote this book. 2. Don’t be afraid to speak. Sure, but when somebody like Donald Trump speaks strongly about dealing with Islam, you condemn them. Go figure. 3. Know yourself and your traditions. Fair deal, but what traditions are he talking about. In this section, he simply waxes further about the problems of Islam immigration into the US. 4. We cannot reform Islam – only Muslims can do that. But, that’s not an action point. And, the thesis of the book was that Islam is a religion of violence. So, essentially, the plea is for Muslims to quit being Muslim. Sure. Hell will freeze over before that happens spontaneously.

Beck has a serious problem refuting the Islam religion because he doesn’t understand the nature of Muslim theology, and how it differs from his own. As a Mormon, he belongs to a Christian heresy just as the Muslim religion is a Christian heresy.  Though Mormonism is not so violent as the Muslims are, it has occasionally engaged in quite violent acts in the name of their religion. It would be impossible for Beck to compare and contrast Muslim vs Christian theology, since Mormonism is as far from Christian theology as the Muslim faith is from Christian theology. He couldn’t possibly discuss comparisons of salvation by works versus salvation by faith in Christ, since Mormonism is salvation by works, just as the Muslim faith is salvation by works, hoping in the end that God just might look favorably on you.

So, I can’t recommend this book at all. There are other books about Islam, notably books by Nabeel Qureshi such as “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”that are actually worth reading. And, there are others. Don’t waste your money or time on this book. I should have known better.

 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

April 1st, 2016

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Grandma Gatgewood’s Walk, By Ben Montgomery ★★★★

This is a true and fascinating tale about a woman who married a very abusive man, had 11 children, and after her husband left her and the children grew up, she notified her children that she would be going for a walk. The year was 1955 and she was 67 years old. They had known their mother to occasionally disappear for a period of time, and so thought nothing of it. Eventually, she made it know to her family and the world as to what she was up to. She had decided to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. To allow that, she wore nothing but sneakers, some rummage sale walking clothes, and sewed herself a burlap sack to carry her scarce belongings, which she threw over her shoulder. She had a walking stick, an extra pair of glasses, since she was nearly blind, a blanket, and a large sheet of plastic to serve as a rain coat and shelter in the event that she could not find natural coverage from the rain. Her hike went from May until September, interrupted only by nosy and inquisitive news agents, and then, only once she was discovered as to what she was up to. It was a year of major east coast hurricane activity, so much of her northerly walk was drenched in rain and mud, and swollen rivers. She eventually made it to the tip of Katahdin, the northernmost part of the AT.

The story is broken up with three different dialogues. The most important was that of her actual walk, which was reconstructed from the notes that she took and the correspondence that she sent to her children. The second dialogue was flashbacks on her early life, going from childhood, to marriage, to a seriously flawed family life with a very physically abusive husband, 11 children, and much coping. Eventually she got a divorce, her children grew up, and she found herself alone, only to find her greatest enjoyment in walking. The third dialogue was discussion of the history of the Appalachian Trail, discussion of issues of the ecology of the trail, and the loss of a wild area.

The book is inspiring. It makes one wish to get out to walk. It is an easy but compelling read, hard to set down until the end. It was easy to follow the story lines in spite of the fact that they were broken up.

Since then, Grandma Emma Gatewood again did the AT a second time, becoming the first woman to ever hike the AT and the first person to ever hike it twice. She also section hiked it a third time, as well as walked from Independence, MO to Portland, OR following the route of the Oregon Trail. She did this while she was in her 70’s.

There is interesting discussion in the book about hospitality shown to her as well as mistreatment on her trip along the trail. Perhaps the book implies that people with crazy ideas need to be catered to.  Even in the 1950’s, most people that looked like “homeless tramps” were alcoholic, irresponsible persons. Grandma Gatewood was not alcoholic, but certainly expected assistance and handouts as well as shelter along the way. She could not possibly have done the trail in an entirely self-supported fashion, making her at least somewhat irresponsible. Yet, the book is still a good admonishment to show hospitality to strangers.

The book is labelled a New York Times best-seller. Like all labels of this sort, such as being a Pulitzer prize winning book or Oprah Winfrey book of the month club book, the label usually persuades me not to read the book. This book mostly stayed clear of political issues, but they could still be seen. As an example, the author spends much time speaking of the racial inequalities, and political machinations that transpired during the 1950’s. He happens to briefly mention the Republicans (never the Democrats) as associated with the segregation movement, without mentioning that the overwhelming majority of segregationists were Democrat. It is almost like taking the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” as reflective or based on history. In the Pirates movie, the pirates were the Spanish and the folk being robbed were the British. In real life, it was just the opposite. It’s as though history some day would have the Americans as killing off the Jews, with Hitler coming to rescue the Jews from a holocaust. New Yorkers, in their sophisticated sophistry, so often just get it completely wrong. Oh well. Read the book. Laugh about the historical or political mistakes. But get inspired to walk a long walk.

Slow and Steady

March 19th, 2016

Slow&Steady

Slow and Steady: Hiking the Appalachian Trail, by Robert A. Callaway ★

I read this book because the title and summary had appeal to me. I was contemplating a long thru-hike. The author was a physician like me. The author was about my age. And the author considering doing the hike with his younger brother, like me. Everything else is different.

I reality, this must be the worst account I’ve ever read of thru-hiking a long trail. I’ve read many accounts of both the AT and PCT, and this really is the worst account I’ve ever come across. In essence, it is how Robert managed to jamb approximately 80 separate 1-3 day hikes into one long season that ultimately covered the Appalachian Trail. His brother dropped out be fore he made it half way. He stayed in hotels roughly 30% of the time. His down days were massive. Only once did he do 20 miles. He admitted to becoming a bit more sociable in the conduct of the hike. His manner of hiking was horrid, like any Obama liberal (which he took time off during the hike to vote for). He shuttled two automobiles throughout the entire Trail, leap-frogging them along the way to get where he was going. Environmentally, I went apoplectic, thinking about the volume of exhaust and “global warming” Bobbie generated by his venture. In my book, it would be the worst way imaginable to complete a trail. He did accurately describe the trail as a trail for socialites—not exactly the reason why one goes into the woods.

On any hiking adventure, one must HYOH (hike your own hike). Bobbie indeed did that. The book was such a bore and so un-like I would imagine doing any thru-hike, that I would not even offer this to my brother, with whom I plan on hiking the PCT in several years. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody unless you personally know Dr. Callaway and just wish a chronicle of his bizarre journey.

Just A Farm Boy

February 27th, 2016

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Just A Farm Boy, by Samuel Jacob Feucht ★★★★★

First of all, I don’t dare rate this as anything less than five stars, since my father wrote this book. As he was getting up in age, we talked him into writing a book of his life, and the two oldest brothers Dennis and Lewis helped him get this produced and printed. Sadly, I only have one copy of this book, and the binding is falling apart. I will probably have it spiral bound, and then try to get the word processing file from Dennis. I hope that he still has it.

Dad had a very interesting life. He loved to tell stories, and this book reads very similar to how dad used to tell stories about his life. He was born in the northwest corner of Iowa on a farm with 14 siblings. He left home in his early twenties, first going to Illinois, then California, then back to the midwest, then a brief time back in southern California, before settling in to Portland, Oregon for the rest of his life.

Dad was a wonderful man. He was multi-faceted, and was able to survive frequent poor health with stomach problems, had some very unfortunate bad luck, such as being zoned out of business in Baldwin Park, CA, but overall, troubles did not seem to keep him down, and his faith in Christ sustained him.

Dad expressed a number of times how he often wished that he could have remained in southern California. The family couldn’t have been more grateful that he got out of California and settled in the beautiful northwest.

Though I had glanced over this book a number of times, I found that this reading of the book, complete at one sitting, filled in a number of episodes in dad’s life that I had either forgot about or simply glossed over. There are many areas of his life in which he should have given more details, such as details about his parents, his life in California, his coming to faith, his meeting mom, and their early life together, as well as events that surrounded our lives when we were very young children.

I wish that he had imparted to us more of his skill at the care of farm animals, but that wasn’t to be. It is not uncommon for me to be sitting around and realize that I miss my parents, both dad and mom. I’m grateful that dad took the time to chronicle at least part of his life for his children and posterity.

 

Institutes of the Christian Religion

February 6th, 2016

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Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: translated by Louis Battles (author John Calvin) ★★★★★

I initially started reading the Institutes in 1994, and got about ⅓ of the way through. Other books then became a major distraction. I restarted reading the Institutes from the beginning 2 years ago, taking a year hiatus in the middle for other books and issues, then returning to complete the entire 2 volume set at this time. It was a major undertaking, and something that I should have done years ago.

This is not a text that can be speed-read. There are many discussions of contemporary issues in Calvin’s time, that are now foreign to most of us. He takes up arguments against the Catholics which followed lines of arguments alien to today’s thinking. I was able to relate to his Anabaptist arguments, since I grew up Anabaptist. Calvin rarely ever addresses Luther and Lutheranism, occasionally simply mentioning side thoughts, such as when he was discussing the Lord’s Supper.

The style of Calvin’s writing is most interesting. Though at times he can be rather harsh in his words to opponents, this is found in most writings of that era, such as those of Lutherans, including Martin Luther himself. For the most part, Calvin writes in a very pastoral style. It is though he is delivering a 1520 page sermon. Calvin bleeds his heart and soul. You are never left wondering about how Calvin really feels about something.

Culture and society and the church have given Calvin some of the most nasty caricatures. He discussed as though his theology is 5 points (TULIP), and which of those five points should be accepted and which should not. (In reality, it is a logical all or nothing affair, but that’s another discussion.) The 5 points very poorly describe Calvin and his theology. Calvin spends very little time discussing such issues as predestination, limited atonement, irresistible call, etc. Though those doctrines are well established in the writings of Calvin, Calvin’s focus was on God, and not on five points.

Calvin is the probable author of one of the songs that we occasionally sing in church. I bring this up, because it best fits the heart and mind of John Calvin. The words are found below. If one reads it through thoughtfully, it gives the reader as good feel as to the nature of John Calvin. He is not the stern-faced hard-nosed preacher that developed a rigid exclusive form of Christian. His is a tender heart, seeking first and foremost to honor God, and to offer Him absolute supremacy and rule over earth. This is the Calvin that I saw in the Institutes, and a reason that everybody should read it through, all 1520 pages, some time in their life. As JI Packer noted, Calvinism is not just another “ism”, it IS Christianity. And I might add, Christianity at its best.

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.

 

What’s next. I now start Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, a 4 volume set, recommended by Pastor Rayburn, written 100 years ago, but recently translated from the Dutch. You might be waiting a while for this book report to come.

Trail Life

January 27th, 2016

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Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking, by Ray Jardine ★★★★★

Ray Jardine is the new godfather of backpacking, and has completely redefined the sport. Perhaps I might remind folk of Harvey Manning’s and Colin Fletcher’s texts…BackpackingManningWalkerFletcherBoth of these texts defined backpacking when I was a kid. And, both of them were the bibles of how to do it. I remember reading Manning’s text backwards and forwards, and following every step of instructions that he gave. His advice is still apropos to the weekend 5-10 mile hiker. For anybody other than that, Manning and Fletcher are now hopelessly obsolete. Ray Jardine, starting with a text that I have already reviewed recently, published in 1992, irreversibly redefined the art of backpacking. Jardine’s text is most relevant to the long-distance backpacker, but his advice is still relevant to weekend excursions. Ray has thrown out the heavy hiking boots, the heavy packs, the massive requisite arsenal required for survival in the woods in favor of a lean-mean but still relaxed strategy. There is no backpacking text today that will fail to mention Ray Jardine, or the “Ray-way”.

This book covers all aspects of backpacking, including equipment, clothing, food, hygiene, planning, obstacles, safety, etc., etc. It is relatively comprehensive. Besides his continual plea to go light, distinctives of Jardine include a number of defining issues. He has an extreme objection to brand names, and will even purposely remove labels from clothing, sand off labels from equipment, etc. He has a sterility fetish, being even unwilling to use silverware in a restaurant, and brings his own spoon to eat. His dietary advice is unique, usually quite good, but also a touch weird. I guess I’ll try corn spaghetti, but will never plan on eating it almost every night on the trail. There are too many other good foods out there, without having to resort to freeze-dried foods. Ray and his partner sew all their own clothing, as well as backpacks and other hiking equipment. I don’t plan on doing that. I would hope that commercial enterprises can provide us non-sewers with similar items.

Other than that, Jardine is a must-read for the new style backpacker, and this text is beautifully organized and illustrated. Thus, a very high recommendation.

More books about Francis Schaeffer

January 21st, 2016

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Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, by Colin Duriez ★★★★

I haven’t thought much about Francis Schaeffer recently, but realized through conversations with younger Christians that Francis Schaeffer is no longer a recognizable name. This is to the shame of the church that he and his thinking aren’t occasionally brought back to mind. For many of us that became Christians in the 60’s and 70’s, especially during the era of the Jesus movement, he was quite influential at shaping our thinking and world view. I have read or listened to other biographies of Francis Schaeffer and his work, including the Tapestry and L’Abri, written by Edith Schaeffer, listened to the Covenant Seminary course on Francis Schaeffer, by Jerram Barrs, and have met and spoke at length with Edith Schaeffer and Francis’ son-in-law Udo Middelman, have read his complete works at least twice and watched both of his film series several times, but have never met Francis Schaeffer personally. I also have many friends who have spent time at L’Abri, all of whom would say that their contact with Dr. Schaeffer was heavily influential at affecting the remainder of their life course. My own pastor had spent many hours as a child with Francis, being that his father was president of Covenant Seminary. With that in mind, I review this book.

Colin Duriez, who has spent a number of years at L’Abri and much time with the Schaeffers, is a most capable person to be writing Schaeffer’s biography, and can include personal anecdotes, as well as the result of an interview with Schaeffer toward the end of Schaeffer’s life, in 1980, and this interview is contained in the appendix of the book. The biography is short, and thus is going to be missing in some important details. Specifically, other biographies suggest that Schaeffer was more of a churchman than is presented in this book. He was quite involved up to the end with his Presbyterian denomination, which eventually became the Presbyterian Church in America. His books such as The Church before the Watching World and others witness Schaeffer’s true concern for the Christian church as found in denominations, even though Schaeffer felt as much at home in a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal church as he did in his native Presbyterian church environment.  Duriez speaks often and peripherally about Schaeffer’s philosophy, yet doesn’t develop it systematically. True, Schaeffer would identify himself as an eclectic mix of evidentialist, presuppositionalist, etc., and yet there is meaning to Schaeffer’s madness over and above trying to create a philosophy that was primarily evangelical in it’s intent. Words and thinkers (like Dooyeweerd) are thrown out without offering the reader at least some explanation as to why these people are being mentioned in the context of Schaeffer’s life. I loved the story of Schaeffer visiting Karl Barth, and wish that could have been further elaborated.

Duriez mentions frequently Schaeffer’s love for art museums, with an affection for modern art. Schaeffer appreciated some of the contemporary filmography, but tended to be highly selective in what he considered worthy of review. Duriez also mentions Schaeffer’s love for contemporary rock music, and knowing the words to many songs for the big rock groups of the 60’s and 70’s. Oddly, Schaeffer had a particular distaste for much music such as that of Wagner, and many 20th century musicians. Schaeffer rarely ever mentions Bach’s music as formative of a broader Reformed Christian community. This selection of particular appreciation for the arts has permeated Schaeffer’s disciples, almost to the point that they view Schaeffer as their cultural pope. I find that to be a touch disingenuous.

Outside of my criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. Schaeffer is sadly being forgotten by the Christian world, and it is to our detriment. Nobody within Christianity has yet risen that was as capable as Schaeffer at providing both a philosophical justification for Christianity while demonstrating the need for Christians to be obedient to the word of God. His was not an ethereal philosophy, but very practical, since it emphasized the need to never divorce religion from experience or history.

 

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Francis Schaeffer, A Mind and Heart for God, edited by Bruce Little ★★★★

This short book was taken from a conference given in 2008 in Wake Forest, NC, which included five talks. I’ll briefly mention each talk.

Francis A. Schaeffer: The Man, by Udo Middelmann. This is a very brief but delightful summary of the life and thinking of Schaeffer.

Francis A. Schaeffer: His Apologetics, by Jerram Barrs. Jerram surveys the apologetic methodology of Schaeffer, concluding that Schaeffer was most interested in evangelism, and never ever thought of himself as an apologist for the faith. Thus, Schaeffer avoided debates, and avoided fixing himself within any apologetic category.

Francis Schaeffer in the Twenty-first Century, by Ronald Macaulay. This talk addresses the question as to whether Schaeffer was a prophet in foreseeing future troubles in the world. Schaeffer would have vigorously denied being a prophet, yet his cultural predictions have essentially become true. Schaeffer was particularly sensitive to a culture that advocated freedom without a Christian basis for it, or a Christian church based on religious sentiment rather than a dynamic belief in the word of God. Macaulay hits hard on Schaeffer’s war against contemporary pietism, which I appreciated. This was a delightful chapter to read, but am left wondering what Schaeffer would have been saying in today’s world. It is different than 50 years ago, in that, now that truth is universally accepted as unknowable, people no longer ask questions. The solution to any crisis in life is now resolved not by seeking philosophical consistency, but by seeking a hedonistic resolution for the moment without concern for future consequences. I would wonder regarding Schaeffer’s approach to the current political scene, now in a truly post-Christian scenario. “Speaking the truth in love” is going to take a different form than Schaeffer manifested throughout his life, perhaps being more pointed such as found in Christ’s, or perhaps Jeremiah’s ministry. What would Schaeffer say to a culture now overrun by the anti-Christian culture of the Muslim faith? I don’t believe that we could predict his response, and even if we could would still wish to defer to guidance from Scripture. Again, Schaeffer should not be treated as the political-cultural pope of our age, and he would agree with that if he could speak from the dead.

Francis Schaeffer: His Legacy and His Influence on Evangelicalism, by Jerram Barrs. Much of this talk focused on Schaeffer’s evangelistic method as it affected Jerram Barrs himself, as he became a Christian under the influence of Schaeffer. Barrs offers 8 points that characterize the nature and style of Schaeffer’s evangelistic methodology.

Sentimentality: Significance for Apologetics, by Dick Keyes. This talk has come under criticism from Amazon.com reviewers as being only peripherally related to Schaeffer, and not directly about him. Yet, I really enjoyed this talk, and felt that because it so heavily reflected Schaeffer’s thinking, that it was a worthy inclusion in this text. Sentimentality is displaced emotion that is directed toward the self. It denies a world that is not fallen, and does not result in appropriate responses. Though not mentioned in this chapter, my first thought was the outpouring of emotion when one watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion, yet I’ve to hear of even one life changed from this emotional Sintflut. Keyes discusses the result of Christians controlled by sentimentality, and how to deal with the sentimental person, by bringing them back to reality through some point of contact with reality.

I wonder how many more Francis Schaeffer conferences will be seen in the future, especially as those who lived in the 60’s and 70’s and were influenced by Schaeffer now are becoming a dying breed. Hopefully, his thinking will live on through such institutions such as Jerram Barr’s Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary. The history of institutions devoted to a good cause seem to be rather sad. Just look at such institutions as the YMCA, which is now neither young, doesn’t know the difference between a man or woman, is definitely not Christian, but sadly remains an Association. Schaeffer’s books will live on, and hopefully will be read by our children’s children for many more generations. I pray that someone in a future generation will rise and capably question the culture, and be able to confront the culture as Schaeffer was able to do a half century ago.

The Phantom Tollbooth

January 15th, 2016

PhantomTollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster ★★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Stan Pense. I had never heard of it. It is really a children’s book, designed for the 8-12 year old kid. It is also a fun book for adults. The story revolves around Milo, a kid who is bored at school, at home, and just can’t figure out anything fun to do. A box shows up in his room, which on unwrapping and assembling the contents, results in a tollbooth to a strange land, where Rhyme and Reason, two princesses are held captive. Milo, with the accompaniment of a “watch dog” and giant bug, encounter the insanities of a land without rational thought processes. The author has a beautiful way of playing with words, using phrases that play on homonyms (such as which and witch), or play on the various meanings of words. An example is when Milo and his friends end up on the island of Conclusions, which you can only arrive at by jumping. The book is a delightful read, and would be a useful means of getting children to make use of their time, study hard at school, and try to think in an orderly, rational way.

Immortal Fear

January 14th, 2016

Immortal Fear

Immortal Fear, by H.S. Clark ★★★★

Howard is at it again, writing another medical thriller. I have reviewed his past book, Secret Thoughts. As a reminder, Howard Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I practice, so have gotten to know him fairly well. He writes a lot like how he thinks. This book is a murder mystery, related to the last book only through the central character, Dr. Powers, an anesthesiology resident at an academic center in Seattle, WA. This time, Dr. Powers notes the connection of a string of murders, identifying that they seem to be connected through some sort of blood/tissue born pathogen. The evil mastermind behind all of this will remain for the reader to discover. Howard does write an interesting although sometimes fascinating and spell-bound story. He takes particular relish at expounding on the details of moments when the anesthesiologist needs to do his thing. This is an enjoyable and recommended read, especially if you know Dr. Clark and love medical mystery thrillers.

Wild

December 24th, 2015

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed ★★

After being completely uninspired by the movie that was based on this book, I found this book at Half price books for quite cheap, and decided to see if the book was any better than the movie. There are definitely some notable differences between the movie and the book, and many of the questions that I had with the movie were answered in the book. Cheryl writes well, and it is an easy book to read at a fast pace, and yet catch everything she has to say.

In summary, the book is a brief story of her life up to the present, with a large focus on the 3-4 months it took her to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. By “hike”, she also did a lot of hitch-hiking, skipping sections, and straying from the trail. Half of the book is not on the trail narrative, but the flight of thoughts as Cheryl recalled her past life leading up to her hike of the PCT. Essentially, she grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who was dumped by her mother and two siblings when she was 13 years old. She held a persistent love-hate attitude toward her father and mother, which was further exacerbated when her mother died at age 46 of ovarian cancer. Cheryl’s life went into a spiral from there, dumping a husband that loved her, engaging in sex with any asker, taking up mainline black tar heroin, killing her first baby, and then getting the wild idea of hiking a segment of the PCT.

Cheryl started her adventure without any preparation or hiking experience. Her personal determination pushed her through, in spite of her aches and pains. It was inspiring to see that she accomplished her goal in this book.

The serious problem I have with this book relates to the subtitle “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. I noted a kid that was truly lost, but I never saw a moment where she actually “found” herself. Her seriously maladaptive behavior habits persisted through the end of the book, including fits of anger, willingness to do anything to be loved, unwillingness to give of herself for any friend or stranger, serious inability to manage her money and her time, inability to control her insatiable habit of escaping reality through drugs, alcohol, friends or personal torture, and inability to have an honest personal reflection on her own problems and the reasons that drove her to despair in the first place. She treated her siblings and parents (both biological and other) in a highly utilitarian fashion, and the entire book focused on Cheryl and herself, not Cheryl in a world to serve and show love to.

The entire significance of her partial hike of the PCT is shadowed by the fact that she doesn’t mention later attempting to actually do the whole trail from Mexico to Canada in a serious fashion, without hitchhiking half the way or bypassing large sections. Perhaps she has, but she doesn’t mention that in the book. Her inability to truly come face-to-face with herself in an honest fashion leaves me wondering why I would expect her new marriage, even though it also involves two children, will ultimately to be any better than her last, or  any better than that of her mother and biological father. I wait pensively for the final outcome, or the outcome of her children who will also be trained to avoid reality. I am a touch mystified that the Pacific Crest Trail Association has made her a poster child, considering that she is anything but what one would consider an exemplary thru-hiker.

Or, did the PCTA choose Cheryl because perhaps she had a nice writing style that caught Oprah’s attention? I have yet to find a book that Oprah recommended that I would rate highly. Perhaps Oprah and I have polar opposite value systems? Is it that Oprah likes to see people that are caught in their own personal sewer in life? Does she like to think people who dishonestly air dirty linen without baring their true souls are admirable, those that blame their circumstances and never acknowledge their own guilt? Is it that Cheryl is a feminist, other values be damned? Is it that Cheryl would use her sexuality to play and control men, and yet when men responded to her flaunted sexuality she felt threatened? Doesn’t this fit the Oprah styled mindless group-think of our generation?

This is not the story of a lost child finding redemption, and I mean to be using redemption in a non-Christian or religious fashion, similar to Max finding redemption in the Freischutz opera, or Tannhäuser finding redemption in the opera after his name, or der Professor and Elizabeth finding redemption in Goethe’s Faust. We might witness a slightly more organized or purposeful Cheryl at the end of the story, we might have a Cheryl who has been able to calm the scream of demons from her past shouting in her head, but we don’t have a Cheryl that has become, taking the figurative language that Cheryl borrowed from John Newton, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see”. Perhaps Cheryl needs to meet the Jesus of John Newton, and not the Jesus of the PCT?

Two more PCT books

November 29th, 2015

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The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion, by Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith ★★★★

I had previously read and reviewed Berger’s book on hiking the triple crown. She is trained as a classical pianist, but has written numerous hiking and scuba diving books. This is an updated text, with the help of Dan Smith, of a previous edition that she authored. Rather than offering strategies for hiking the trail, this is a book offering more descriptive aspects of the trail itself. She goes section by section, starting in Campo and ending in Manning, BC, describing the trail, the wildlife, plants, geology and other items of interest. She gives suggestions on sites to see, where to do layovers, problems that one might expect, as well as short hikes in each section for the week-end PCT’er. She writes well, and this book was quite an easy read, yet giving solid advice about the trail. Since I am quite familiar with many segments of the Oregon/Washington trail, she seemed to be right on about her descriptions. She’s honest about telling one about the great as well as horrible segments of the trail, giving advice on how to deal with that. I liked her writing style. Though the subtitle suggests that this is a book that one would bring with them, that would not be a good idea at all. Read it before, know its contents, and then bring your maps as the accompaniment.

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The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook, by Ray Jardine ★★★★★

For those in the know, Ray Jardine is the godfather of ultralight backpacking. At first I thought it to be a foolhardy and dangerous way to manage a backpacking trip. Since reading many books on ultralight backpacking, I am now realizing that it is the smart way to go for long-distance hiking, though with a few exceptions. Jardine writes well, and he reads well. He started life professionally as an aeronautical engineer, but is quite experienced with the outdoors, being into rock climbing, having hiked the entire PCT both north ways and south ways multiple times, and having taught for many years as an Outward Bound instructor. This book was an invaluable read, offering page after page of sage advice. Ray tends to be a little bit nutty in spots. His methods of hygiene, especially in restaurants, is rather strange. His dietary habits are peculiar, especially with his love for corn pasta. (Yes, I will try corn pasta on my next pack trip, but fail to find it physiologically superior to other forms of nutrition). Oftentimes, Ray offers advice that he doesn’t follow, but he will usually give you an explanation as to why he is different. Toward the end of the book, there is invaluable advice on how to strategize your PCT hike in both a south and northbound direction. Sadly, his advice on PCT planning is not reproduced in his subsequent publications, and this text, written in 1992 and updated in 1996 is somewhat outdated. I wish he would update his PCT specific book. Other bits of advice need to be taken as advice only. For example, I do agree that the lightest shoes possible are imperative, yet, my Vasque hiking books are the only backpacking shoes I’ve ever been able to wear and not get blisters. I recently tried some trail running shoes for a backpack trip that was quite short and flat, and was cripple up with foot (arch) pain for weeks afterwards, though I never got blisters. He advises sewing your own backpack, sleeping quilt and some clothing, which I will have to pass on. As an older hiker, some attention to sleeping comfort is in order, which might add a few more ounces to the pack. Hopefully, I can keep my basic pack to under 12 lbs, rather than 8.5 lbs that Jardine shoots for. That 12 lb weight would still be an advantage to me. Of course, having somebody to hike with allows one to unload some stuff on the partner, like the tent or the stove and stove fuel, which seems to be the way to go. I appreciate Jardine’s stance against horses on the trail, which truly destroy any footpath, and remove the true wilderness experience for the adventurer. I disagree with Jardine regarding safety aspects for the trail, such as signage, and occasional shelters in high risk areas. I also have no issue with occasionally creating a trail with dynamite. I am quite sure that Jardine has enjoyed the Eagle Creek alternate to the PCT in northern Oregon, or the Kendall catwalk, both of which required a few sticks of dynamite to our betterment. Perhaps an explanation for my stance is that we are required to care for the earth, but that the earth was created for our enjoyment– it is an anthropocentric view of the universe, but which doesn’t give us license to pollute or destroy earth as we have. In all, this is one of the “must-reads” before attacking the PCT.

Of the three books that I’ve found most helpful, this, Berger’s, and Yogi’s handbooks, Yogi’s rates #1, with this in second place, good for its ultralight advice, but outdated regarding PCT planning advice. Berger’s is a close third.

Bike Touring and Bikepacking

November 29th, 2015

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Bike Touring and Bikepacking, A Falcon Guide, by Justin Lichter and Justin Kline ★★★★

I recently reviewed several books that Justin Lichter had written on ultralight backpacking, and so found this book of interest since I also love bicycle touring. It is easy to read, and very well illustrated. The emphasis seems to be mostly on cycle touring off of the pavement, and often in unusual situations, such as through the snow, or in remote foreign countries. The book has helpful advice on food, camping, and how to maintain your bicycle. Much of the advice was repeated from his other hiking textbooks. Though he has several chapters on choices for bicycles and panniers, these are insufficiently detailed to be at all meaningful. I appreciated the book since it is taking bicycle touring to further levels, with off the road or gravel road excursions. I find the book not entirely satisfying since it is very cursory on bicycle details, and the camping aspects could be found in any backpacking book, including his own books.

More PCT media reviews…

November 14th, 2015

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Are You Ready to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail? by Jim Hill ★★★ Read on Kindle
I have already read (and reviewed) several chronicles of people who hiked the PCT. I selected this since it was highly recommended on Amazon.com, and was done by a person close to my age. Jim had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, and wrote a book on it. I presume he will next hike the Continental Divide Trail and write a book. Jim writes well, and it is fun to follow his story. He doesn’t talk much about planning the hike or decision making during the hike, and tends to lapse on details about the trail that would have been quite easy to chronicle. He spends minimal time describing how he approached various problems on the hike, such as water in the desert (just “toughed it out since I was from New Mexico”)  food issues, bear and critter issues, river fording, or issues of communication. You learn a lot about a dental problem half way through the hike, and other trivial problems that Jim deals with. The result is book that is not terribly helpful at helping one plan a complete hike. The story is fairly uneventful (which one would want when the thru-hike the PCT) and so lacks in those qualities which make a book a gripping tale.  It is nice to see that an old goat like myself can comfortably do the PCT, and for that, it was an inspiration.

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Lip-Smackin’ Backpackin’, by Christine and Tim Conners ★★★★
This book is mostly a cookbook for trail food. Many of the recipes called for much home preparation, including using a food dehydrator, and a few expected a modest amount of attention to the stove while on the trail. Many of the recipes were not particularly appealing to me, but probably would do fine on a hike, as we all learn that one’s appetite changes quite extremely once one is in on a trail for more than a week. Thus, some of these recipes will definitely be worth trying out. The greatest value in this book is the first 42 pages, where the authors talk about planning and preparing meals for the “big” hike. With those concepts in mind, it would not be challenging to come up with a set of one’s own recipes for a successful trail gourmet.

WildWild, starring Reese Witherspoon, based on the book by the same name, authored by Cheryl Strayed★★★
This is movie that Betsy and I watched on DVD, and is apparently based on a true story. Reese does a good acting job, and quite hilarious at times, such as her first attempt to put on her massively overweight backpack. I give the movie four stars for the acting and cinema photography, and one star for the story line itself. It  is not a book that I would be interested in reading. Cheryl apparently was living a rather screwed up life in Minnesota, and decided to take a long hike on the PCT to resolve issues such as problem marital and sexual relationships, the death of a mother, and drug addiction. In spite of very poor mechanisms for resolving problems (such as losing a shoe), she amazingly survives the trail, and completes the PCT from Mojave to Cascade Locks. I did not enjoy watching a pathological person behaving in a pathological fashion… it wasn’t cute. I did enjoy Reese’s acting, and the filming was phenomenal. It makes me want to do the trail some day before I get too old.

The Snapping of the American Mind

November 14th, 2015

SnappingKupelian

The Snapping of the American Mind, by David Kupelian ★★★★★

The title of this book had an immediate appeal to me, since I also think that we are now witnessing mass insanity with the American public. Kupelian works for an internet news site called World Net Daily, and is one of the contributing editors to the site. He also has written several other books, one that I have previously reviewed, “The Marketing of Evil”.

Kupelian takes aim at a number of aspects of American “group-think” that has gone off the deep end. These include…

a) The media is the first subject of attack, noting how it has become malignant in its attack against what they consider outside of their personal worldview. Whether it be promoting hate for conservative politicians, or obscene anti-religious erotic art, or labeling conservatives as terrorists, the loss of civility in the media has been heavily influential on snapping the minds of its audience.

b) We have blurred our historical values to be unrecognizable and definitely anti-Judeo-Christian. A replacement with Marxist philosophy has happened almost unnoticeably, and is often confused with just another variety of Christianity, a kinder and gentler version.

c) Government and other movements sowing seeds of disinformation in society that is intended to unsettle the foundations of our current government and bend the minds of the hoi polloi into a socialistic mindset. Discussion about the Alinsky revolutionary methods of confusing the public and breeding revolt are explained and developed.

d) Words have become meaningless. The traditional meaning for normal words no longer mean what we “think” they mean. This has bred such confusions as the movement for political correctness and Orwellian opposite definitions (eg freedom is slavery, war is peace, etc.).

e) Urban vs. rural issues. Kupelian notes that the radical division is not with conservatives vs liberals, or Democrats vs Republicans, but almost entirely urban vs rural. The way our nation votes and acts can almost be predicted on whether you live in the big city, or out in the countryside. Cities have become the hotbeds of confused ideology.

f) Kupelian discusses the drug wars, in which I slightly disagree with him, in that he labors long over marijuana, which has been a silly drug to outlaw, and certainly not as destructive as alcohol. Yet, he is correct that drugs are a problem in American society with our massive use of anti-psychotic, antidepressant, anti-ADH, anti-whatever drugs that are hawked on the public.

g) America seems to be addicted to anything and everything, from drugs, to overeating, to pornography, to alcohol, to whatever, and that rather than call it a “sin”, it becomes medicalized and treated as an illness like the chickenpox.

h) America has allowed itself to become entirely confused as to gender issues. Developing the idea that kids can mis-interpret themselves in the problem of anorexia nervosa, it seems to follow that gender identity issues may be similar. Except that the new American public thought sewer, children should be allowed to be confused regarding sexual identity. How sexual identity issues could be promoted and institutionalized  remains a massive delusion.

Solution? Kupelian first argues that America needs to get a grip on themselves and wake up to the problem. He frets at a solution, since “while a deluded president can be replaced at the next election, one cannot replace a deluded population”. Kupelian discourages defeatism and encourages making one’s voice noted, whether at the voting booth or in public forum, or in acts of public disobedience. He encourages taking care of the self, whether it be by nutrition and exercise, meditation or rest. The gist of his encouragement is to rise above anger and bitterness, and combat the current world system as a faithful Christian.

This summary is very short, and the book is loaded with facts, figures and stories of either the mindlessness of our society, or ways in which people have enacted to “fix” our system. I agree with his analysis of the problem. His stated solution is weak.

One item that might be contended with in this book is that when he argues that the American mind has snapped, he makes the bold assumption that his own mind hasn’t snapped.  Without a reference point, it is impossible to know whether one is personally insane, or the remainder of the world is insane. David provides (without actually using this terminology) that his reference point is the Almighty God as found in the Judeo-Christian Bible. The ultimate judge of mankind will be eternity, and I believe that that judgement will be a personal judgement by an infinite personal God. Thus, though many devout Christians with a liberal political mindset will take offense of much of what Kupelian has to say in this book, I appreciate that Kupelian argues from a Scriptural base without a strain on Scriptural interpretation, and that most conservative Christians regardless of theological or denominational stance would agree with the Scriptural spin that Kupelian offers. The only disagreements may be in the solution(s) to the problem, and not identification of the American problem.

Four Books on the PCT and backpacking

November 2nd, 2015

After visiting Stehekin and seeing groups of thru-hikers on the last segment of the PCT, a long desire to some day hike the PCT has again resurrected itself. This may be problematic, in that a) I’ll need to find somebody to do it with, b) I’ll need to get Betsy’s support, c) I’ll need to find 5-6 months from April through September to take off to do this. Possible? Yes. Probable? I don’t know. I also wish to do some long-distance bicycling in the near future. There is a bicycle route (called the Sierra Cascades route) that roughly parallels the PCT, which I would do first, and have already talked my kid brother into doing it with me. After that, we’ll have to see if I still have the flame for grand adventures. Let me know if you are interested in joining me!

PCTGray

The Pacific Crest Trail, by William Gray with the National Geographic Society, published in 1975 ★★
This book was read by me mostly out of historical interest in the trail. It was written when the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) was still under development, and many sections of the trail had not been fully carved out. I believe that the entire trail happens to now be intact, and often different from where Gray hiked. From reading the book, it sounds like he did not do a “thru-hike”, that is, a solid hike from Mexico to Canada, but hiked in sections, mostly to glean photographs and stories for the National Geographic Society. He also engages about ¾ of the book in detailing character sketches of people he met on of the trail, or in proximity to the trail. Thus, it fails as a description of the PCT itself, but is typical of the writing and journalism that one would find with National Geographic Society publications. It’s cute to see that the people in the photos are all typical for 1970’s hippies.
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Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook 2016-2017, by Yogi (aka Jackie McDonnell) ★★★★★
This is the best book that I’ve read so far on the PCT, and is much a reference book (the entire last half of the book is intended to be torn out of the book to be taken with you on the hike) as it is a how-to book and book detailing what to expect on the trail. Yogi (her trail name) includes comments from other thru-hikers regarding how they did the PCT. Yogi covers diverse actions as to what to carry in your backpack, what to wear, how to do camp, how to plan, how to resupply, and how to stay out of trouble. Because she includes comments from other hikers, you realize that there will be no one set way to do the PCT. Most importantly, one learns what NOT to do, like overpack, under hydrate, or not be prepared. She writes well, and seems more connected than any of the other PCT advice books that I’ve seen. The reference section is absolutely invaluable, and is exactly what one needs to know. As an example, she has rough maps of the resupply towns, so that one doesn’t need to wander aimlessly to find where the local hotel, restaurant or grocery store might be located. Reading the book is almost like having Yogi actually there, giving you advice about how you might survive and succeed on your first thru-hike. Long-distance through-hiking has a completely different style than a 2-14 day backpacking trip, including what you eat, how you camp, and how you treat yourself. Yogi gives great advice on these differences, and how to have a comfortable and good time while doing that. Hopefully, I will meet Yogi on the PCT. She’s a real inspiration to get out there and just do it!

TrailTestedLichter

Trail Tested, A thru-hiker’s Guide to Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking, by Justin Lichter ★★★★
This book is very similar to a book I reviewed in 2013 by Andrew Skurka on ultralight backpacking. Similar to Skurka, Lichter is a “professional” hiker, i.e., he seems to spend more time hiking than working at a “job”, and has thru-hiked the Triple Crown (Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and PCT) with repeats of those listed, as well as other long distance hikes, foreign and domestic. Justin (Trail name “Trauma”) details style of thru-hiking, as well as offering equipment recommendations. Many of these recommendations seem to have a sponsor influence, but at least he lets you know that. The book is well written and well illustrated, with many personal anecdotes. I acquired it as a package deal from Yogi.

UltralightLichter

Ultralight Survival Kit, by Justin Lichter ★★★
This book repeated much of what was in the book Trail Tested. It is a small, short book on many of the problems and dangers one can encounter on the trail, and how to deal with them. Hopefully, one is moderately aware of everything in this book before they set out alone on the trail, as I’ve encountered many of the issues that this book brings up. If you own Trail Tested, this book is mildly superfluous. It was also part of the package deal from Yogi.

Four views on the Historical Adam

October 12th, 2015

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Four Views on The Historical Adam; edited by Caneday, Barrett and Gundry; contributors Lamereux, Walton, Collins, Barrick, Boyd, and Ryken ★★★ Read on the iPad Kindle app.

This book addresses the issue as to whether there actually two real people, Adam and Eve, that once existed, were the very first human beings, and were responsible for producing the entire human race. Four views are provided, though, in reality, there were only two views, one being that there was not, and one being that there was a historical Adam. Two variants of that belief structure were discussed. Those that argued against a historical Adam held to theistic evolution in several different forms, and those who argued for a historical Adam held to either an old earth or young earth creationism. I read the book with the stance of old-earth creationist, and this book did nothing to either supplement nor dissuade my concept of what I take the Bible and science to be really saying, save to reinforce my thinking that theistic evolution is definitely on the wrong track. Though I personally know one of the contributors (C John “Jack” Collins), I’ve never discussed this topic with him, and so doubt the acquaintance influenced my personal belief structure (he took the stance of a real Adam in an old-earth creationist scheme).  The book has one fatal flaw, in that one’s belief regarding creation/evolution tends to influence one’s belief regarding Adam, and the two issues cannot be separated. Thus, the issue of creation/evolution is a primary issue, with the issue of Adam being secondary to one’s creation belief. It is impossible to separate the two, and so the book is as much an argument for a view of creation as a view of Adam’s existence.

Rather than to detail arguments for each position, I’d like to simply pick out a few high points and then offer my personal reflections. Lamereux was the first discussant, taking a view that there was no historical Adam, and providing an evolutionary creation view. Lamereux is desperate to persuade the reader that he indeed remains a devout “evangelical” Christian by starting with a lengthy recounting of his conversion and orthodox beliefs. Oddly, he is deeply offended by remote suggestion from the young earth creationist (Barrick) about the validity of his Christian faith, ending his rejoinder with some a off-handed and inappropriate response to Barrick. He seemed to be behaving like Shirley McClaine at the Oscars, desperate for others to show their approval of her performances by commenting how much some people really loved her. Collins was a delightful read, though he perhaps spends too much time trying to find contemporary movie quotes to drive his points home – they are entertaining and effective all the same. I am a little bit puzzled at everybody’s response to the young earther for not being “scientific” enough. Barrick approached the issue of Adam from a nearly strict biblical perspective, and why would somebody complain about that?

The last two contributors, Boyd and Ryken, provided a “pastoral” perspective of the issue, Boyd arguing that it really doesn’t matter, and Ryken arguing that is really DOES matter what we believe about Adam. These comments were probably unnecessary and did not contribute to the value of the book.

Reflections on the book
I read this book at a scientist (PhD in cell biology [Anatomy]) and a Christian, and only peripherally interested in the creation/evolution debates. From reading the Amazon.com reviews of this book, it seems that most reviewers did not change from pre-existing stances regarding this book. The quality of the discussion was measured by how vigorously a discussant agreed with the reviewer’s existing beliefs. As mentioned before,  I find it strange that Barrick came under fire for choosing to offer a solid biblical (though perhaps wrong) argument, without offering a biblical/exegetical rebuttal. This suggests to me that the fundamental problem is not the issue of who could make the best logical argument, but rather, whether the readers have all lost faith in the preeminence of Scripture as the only sure authority in life. Several contributors seemed to regard the scientific concordists as synonymous with morons and buffoons, using it as a derogatory insult if perhaps somebody actually had the naive notion that the bible lacked scientific error (i.e., that passages that had “scientific error” were automatically designated as “poetic” in genre and thus to not be taken literally).

As a scientist, I love science, and had great delight in working in a laboratory, and extracting new truths from the world. I have nothing against science, but never allowed science to trump Scripture. Science was always viewed through “scripture” colored lenses. My work in science also demonstrated how unreliable science can be. I am deeply troubled by how both Lamereux and Walton demonstrate a stronger, more unwavering faith in the scientific methodology than in Scripture itself. They express lofty confidence in the same science that I consider dismally weak. If my PhD thesis were based on the same strength of argument and evidence as most evolutionary theory, it would have been summarily rejected. Lamereux’s conversion to evolutionism seems to have equal eminence to his conversion to faith in Christ.

Schlossberg (Idols for Destruction) has noted that the greatest enemies of the church have come from within the church, by its own members. Thus, a testimony of faith in Christ only makes me a touch wary when the Christian seems to be talking biblical nonsense. I have heard and met Francis Collins at serious medical conferences, delighted in his scientific talks, and appreciated his witness for Christ, yet remain concerned as to how the BioLogos evolutionary theology concept is destroying the church. Two of the book editors quoted J.G. Machen in the opening preface. They did not mention that Machen was at one time a student at Tübingen in Wittenberg, Germany, and nearly persuaded to convert to liberal theology through the pious behavior of the extremely devout professors at the university. Devout they were, but their teaching has destroyed much of the church, and forced Machen to develop his stance against the theological liberalism of Germany. I suspect that (to my dismay)  theistic evolution will eventually gain a stronger stance in Christian circles, and the 21st century scientific believers will have completed the destruction of Scripture as begun by the redaction critics of Tübigen.

There are controversies within the realm of the strict Biblicists, and I’m not saying that all is totally clear. Was a flood a flood that involved the known world, or did it involve the entire earth? What exactly was the tower of Babel and what happened there? What was the time frame for the diversity of languages in the tower pericope? Were the days of Genesis “God days” or 24 hour periods (I prefer the God-day reading, based on Augustine’s argument for a philosophy of time that explains this [see Paul Helm Eternal God for a discussion of this issue]). There are many issues of controversy where the Hebrew or Greek isn’t perfectly clear, and I defer to the language scholars for a most plausible explanation, so long as the arguments remain Biblical in their substance.

Boyd foolishly argues that one does not need to believe in Adam to be saved. Nobody will disagree with that. Yet, he doesn’t offer what   fundamental quantity or quality of belief is required to be saved. To believe in Christ is to believe in his Word, and to trash Scripture is to then believe in a non-Scriptural christ that doesn’t exist. I can’t define where the edge of the cliff is which defines the dividing point of orthodoxy from heresy, and can only encourage Christians not to tempt the edge of the cliff by challenging the ultimate authority of Scripture. To not believe in Adam makes the garden pericope and fall pericope to be a fanciful fiction on the order of reading the Gilgamesh epic, which in turn makes it logically impossible to explain the need for “salvation” and for a “god-man” to die for man.

Lamereux does not express logical conclusions that could come from forcing “scientific” conformity to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have seen the argument that since God  MUST remain faithful to his own created laws of creation, that he would never interfere with the evolutionary process, or any other natural process that occurs in the created universe. This means that miracles (as we would call them) in Scripture could not have happened. So, how did things in Scripture occur? God used space aliens with advanced scientific knowledge to cause the so-called “miracles”. Even the virgin birth of Christ was a result of space aliens, who abducted Mary, harvested her DNA and excised the “sin-gene”, then impregnating Mary to create the Christ. If you are laughing your head off right now as to such preposterous claims, you might wish to wake up and realize that such claims are MORE believable than the Francis Collins Biologos theistic evolution claims. Once God (and his word, as found in Scripture) are demoted, and science and the “laws of nature” given preeminence, then many claims, regardless of their outlandish nature, acquire credibility. To this end is where I fear the 21st century church is going.

The Greatest Comeback

October 12th, 2015

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The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Patrick Buchanan ★★★★

This is a delightful book to read, providing the reader with an inside view on the workings of politics in the circle of the presidency. Patrick Buchanan could provide that for Richard Nixon when he ran for president a second time in 1968, as Pat was one of the principle speechwriters and policy setters for Nixon during his campaign that led him to the White house in 1968. One gets the feel for the internal in-fighting among each of the two parties, and strategies that Nixon took to lead to his victorious campaign for the presidency. Principle tactics included taking great pains to  bring unity to the Republican party, avoid the radical fringes of the party, but to never ever bad mouth or speak thoughtlessly of other members of the Republican party. Pat provides a description of Nixon that is much different from that of the press, and even that of Chuck Colson in the books he wrote about his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Nixon, though occasionally moody, tended to be thoughtful, conciliatory, eager to seek and take advice from both his close confidants as well as liberals that he disagreed with. Patrick is a touch self-serving, in that he was probably as responsible as anybody for Nixon’s ultimate success. Contrary to the belief of some, there is not painted an internal conspiracy that pulled Nixon into the presidency, that is, unless Buchanan was lying through his teeth in this book. I trust Buchanan as having a high level of integrity, though perhaps unaware of the internal machinery that ultimately drives this country. At the very end of the book, Patrick Buchanan suggests that a sequel is in the works that details his knowledge of the ultimate downfall of Nixon—I will greet it with even more interest than this book.

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital

June 7th, 2015

CountyAnsell

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, by David Ansell ★★

David Ansell offers his personal reflections as a resident and then junior attending in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. This book was to complement another recent read by Dr. Guinan et. al. titled The History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital. Having been a resident in surgery at CCH from 1982 to 1989, this book was of great interest to me. I do not recall ever having encountered Dr. Ansell, but there was minimal contact between the surgical and internal medicine residents at the County. Part of the reason for that was the highly inconsistent care that our patients received under the internists at CCH, necessitating that we as surgeons care for most diseases that would usually fall in the realm of needing an internist.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I appreciated DR. Ansell’s candor and honesty, which was not always seen in the History of Surgery. Ansell was willing to speak at length about the wantonly corrupt Chicago politics and how CCH was considered by the politicians as a nuisance rather than a necessity for the county. He spoke at length about a system completely overwhelmed, and yet ignored by the powers in public office. He gives a nice feel about the frustrations of a doctor in that system trying to do the best to provide for the patients that come under his care.

Unfortunately, Ansell is over-burdened by his ideology, and this has controlled his behavior as a CCH physician to an extreme degree. Ansell is at least honest about how his was a public agitator, and often acted against his superiors to promote his vision of “the good”. Yet, he remains completely blind to how his personal politics and behaviors have perhaps made matters worse rather than better for the poor of Cook County. He labors hard to expose the corrupt Democratic machine that runs Chicago, yet offers no alternative to that Democratic machine, speaking very demeaningly of the other political party. His oft repeated delusion that “health care is a right” (i.e., and not a privilege) suggests that Ansell will not be happy until at health care in the US is reduced to the quality found at CCH, so that there is an equalization of care among the “rich” and the “poor”. I’m sure that even then Ansell would be a dis-satisfied character.

I was particularly annoyed when Ansell spoke so disparagingly of my mentor, Dr. G. Dr. G. happened to be Bangladeshi in origin, probably one of the finest surgeons I had ever met in my life, and a role model of acting in a thoughtful and non-discriminatory manner. The entire episode of his interaction with Dr. G. suggests to me that Ansell was more a blind ideologue than a brilliant innovator. This is not unusual for the Chicago system, and we are now having to suffer under a community activist but now national Führer from this same corrupt Chicago  system.

That Ansell now sits on the Cook Country Board for the hospital is testimony that Stroger Hospital will be the same failure that its predecessor was.  I wish that Ansell could spend a lengthy amount of time working in a truly destitute health care system, such as I have done in Extrem Nord Cameroon or in Bangladesh, to see that a bleeding heart doesn’t solve the problem of disparity in health care. Ingenuity does allow for solutions that Ansell (and for the most part, the entire American health care system) will not allow. This has nothing to do with financial reasons, but rather for legal, sociological, political and ideological obstructions to providing for the poor.

I’ll mention just one example. Ansell heavily criticizes the large open wards that once were at Cook County Hospital. I’ve never had a patient complain about that, and we as physicians would work hard to preserve the privacy of our patients. Yet, the large ward allowed a nurse to quickly assess in a few glances if everything was ok. I would frequently ask a patient to watch out for the patient in the bed next to them if they were doing poorly, and to report that immediately to the nurse. A little care was able to prevent the spread of infection from one patient to another. The total cost of care was vastly less for the same quality as the private rooms that we now have throughout the US.

I read this book a bit frustrated and with great disappointment–Ansell seemed to care for the indigent patient of CCH, but allowed his personal ideology and obnoxious behavior to dominate his stay at the County. For that reason, this book would  be most fittingly titled “Clueless at County”.

A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital

June 4th, 2015

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A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital, edited by Patrick Guinan, Kenneth Printen, James Stone, and James Yao ★★★

This book was of great interest to me, since I did my residency at Cook County Hospital during the years 1982 -1989. At that time, we were never given much of a history of the place. There was the operating amphitheater which was being used as a large storage area. There was Karl Meyer Hall, which was rarely used except as a place to grab some food at the 1st floor cafeteria, as we usually slept in unused beds at the hospital when on call. There was Karl Meyer’s residence, which was then being used as the trauma office. We were never really told much about Karl Meyer, or how Cook County Hospital created so many legends. Thus, I found the book of great interest, and since I prefer to read books on my iPad, that is how I purchased the book. I have mixed feelings about the book.

First, the book was exceptionally poorly edited. Spelling errors and other errors were everywhere. The organization of the book created multiple repetitions, and a clear linear timeline of history of CCH was never well developed. The most early history, being that before the 1915-2002 building was erected, are sketchy at best, and not well laid out. I don’t get a good feeling as to how surgery developed in Chicago, and since Cook County Hospital was so dependent on the rise and development of Northwestern, Rush, University of Illinois, and Loyola University, the history of those residency programs should have been better described. The book is written in a manner that if one never set foot in CCH, they would have no clue as to what was being talked about–the book’s value is primarily for former surgery residents of CCH.  I get the feeling that the book was haphazardly slopped together without much thought for the potential audience.

Secondly, I was left with the feeling that surgery training at CCH was rather haphazard and chaotic, that instruction came mostly from the chief resident, and that attendings were not often present, owing to the voluntary nature of the surgical leadership. To some extent, that actually was my experience at CCH, with a mixture of absolutely superb attendings (such as Dr. Abcarian and Dr. Jonasson) and absolutely horrid, possibly even incompetent attendings, whose names will go unmentioned, though some were mentioned with praise in the book. The attitude of the residents at the time of my residency was of pompous arrogance that the CCH residency in surgery was the greatest in the world, and  that it was one of the few that truly produced consistently great surgeons. I didn’t see that at all. Perhaps the punishment of the system led some residents into a minor form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the abused become attached and fall in love with the tormentor. This book hints at such a possibility. Unintentionally, the book does more to disparage the training one received at CCH rather than compliment it.

Thirdly, there were many historical inaccuracies (or, perhaps, incomplete truths) in the book, at least related to the years that I was a resident. The real reason for Dr. Baker’s departure goes (and should go) unmentioned. The cause for Dr. Jonasson’s departure was greatly misrepresented, since she was fired by the Cook County Board, as we were told at the time. I’m left wondering about the real cause for Freeark’s departure, since he never again set foot in CCH. The editors chose political correctness, rather than indicting the most politically corrupt city & county government in the United States for poor management of their hospital. The “dirty laundry” of Cook County Hospital was swept under the rug, leaving us only half a history of the place. Other details were minor errors. For instance,  I remember some of the windows of the operating room still being able to be opened, and battling flies in the operating room. (Even in the 1980’s, we still occasionally used the windows at X-Ray view boxes and as air-conditioning units!) There is a mention of contending with the AIDs problem in the 1970’s, yet it wasn’t until 1987 that we knew enough about the HIV epidemic to take any actions, such as actually wearing gloves in the trauma unit when doing procedures.

Fourth, there was much history that was glossed over. What about the county jail on the 8th floor of the A building? How did the A building come to be? How did the Fantus Clinic emerge to the place and character that it was throughout the 1970’s – 1990’s? Could one have elaborated more on Karl Meyer and his living arrangement in the hospital? Surely there were anecdotes about the highly quirky elevator operators and other employees of the hospital that formed a special characteristic of the place. Many people with great histories were glossed over, such as Dr. Lowe in trauma, and way-too-short  histories of certain individuals such as Dr. Abcarian, Dr. Walter Barker in thoracic surgery and Dr. Jonasson, all true giants in the world of surgery.

There was much good in the book that made it enjoyable to read. I appreciated the elaboration of the development of various departments of the hospital. Most relevant were the development of the trauma unit and blood bank, both being nation’s first. Having worked in many of the departments mentioned, such as the orthopedic, colon rectal, thoracic, pediatric, and burn services, I would have appreciated having a better understanding of the history of the department when I was still a resident. Thirty years later, it is still fascinating to read about how these departments came to be.

The personal stories at the end of the book were a total delight. These stories and vignettes of the old County hospital make for the best memories. When I started surgical residency, one of my first encounters was with Dr. Robert S., who had just graduated from the County residency, and was then doing a fellowship in Cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Illinois. He would spend countless hours with me, relating stories of the Greeks, of cases that he had done, and how things worked at CCH. I am sure that virtually every resident that graduated from CCH has a book full of stories, myself included, of unusual and interesting events that transpired while serving at CCH. For me, there were stories in the ER dealing with drug addicts and prostitutes, the trauma unit with famous (infamous) criminals, with survival tactics while working the floor or taking call, with various quirks of attendings (both good and bad), and with living an experience that nobody could ever repeat at this time, since there is no more CCH.

It was with great sadness that I learned that the old hospital was removed and a new, much smaller facility was built in its place. Many of the buildings needed to be removed or were completely obsolete, such as the nursing building and Karl Meyer hall, as well as the Children’s hospital and the “A” building. The Children’s hospital also held the burn unit, and was so run down during my time as a resident, that it was downright spooky to go into. The only thing good about that building were the elevators, which were fun to ride. But, it is only fitting that the new hospital be named Stroger Hospital, as it is no longer Cook County Hospital. Cook County Hospital has died, and a new beast has arisen in its place. It is unlikely that Stroger Hospital will generate any surgical giants, save for total happenstance. Thus, I am delighted that a history of the old Cook County Hospital, written by those that had a long experience with the place, has been produced. For all its faults, this is still a history worth reading by those who have spent a few years of their life within those halls.

Two Brass Players’ Advice Books

March 13th, 2015


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Prelude to Brass Playing, by Rafael Méndez ★★★★★

Brass Playing is no Harder than Deep Breathing, by Claude Gordon ★★★★

These two books are very similar, in that they are written by the best of the best trumpeters of yesterday, offering advice to young (and older) students regarding improving their playing. Such topics as care of the horn, warming up, practice style, developing breath, developing embouchure and tone, increasing one’s range and speed are all covered. Mendez writes as though he was speaking directly to you, covers advice for the very young beginning trumpet player and their parents, and is more thorough than Gordon’s text on the nuances and discipline of trumpet playing. Both are worthwhile reads for trumpet players of any experience.

Bach Among the Theologians

March 4th, 2015

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Bach Among the Theologians, by Jaroslav Pelikan ★★★★★

This book explores the theology of Bach, written by an eminent conservative Lutheran theologian who taught church history at Yale University. It is a delightful easy read. JS Bach, while known as indubitably and unquestionably as the greatest composer to ever have walked terra firma, also had an interesting theological side to him. Bach was known to have an exceptionally large library of theological texts, and most of his texts were heavily annotated by him, as seen as column notes in all of his books in his own handwriting. An analysis of his musical output demonstrates that this interest in theology had a highly significant impact on the music that he wrote. In particular, Bach was caught in Germany during the struggles of Pietism (centered in Halle, not far from Leipzig), and the Aufklärung (Enlightenment) mentality. Pietism sought for a strong personal religion without the public sphere and without “fancy” music, which Bach strongly opposed, while in conjunct with the Pietists, pleaded in his music for a strong personal relationship with God. Contrary to the Aufklärung, which sought to “de-mythologize” the Scripture, Bach sought through his music to emphasize the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in opposition to Aufklärung thinking. Thus, Pelikan would call each cantata of Bach also a sermon in music by Bach.

Pelikan provides marvelous insights into the theological culture of Bach’s time, and shows how Bach confronted culture with his music. Much of the second half of the book details Bach’s thinking in the two existing Passions and the H-moll Messe. With the H-moll Messe (B-minor mass), Pelikan shows how Bach thoroughly “Lutheran-izes” the mass, making it a more Catholic mass than just the confines of the Roman Catholic church. Pelikan’s final discussions counter a contemporary move to make Bach an essentially secular thinker, highlighting the much smaller volume of Bach’s secular works. Even here, Pelikan is able to show that Bach is thinking sacred in his secular music, and that it is impossible to strip Bach of a religious, theological context.

This book is a must read for anybody that enjoys Bach and delights in vast array of music that he produced. It also gives one a greater interest in not only listening to the cantatas, but following along the words of the cantatas to hear the “sermon” that Bach is preaching through music.

Trumpet for Dummies

March 4th, 2015

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Trumpet for Dummies by Jeffrey Reynolds, PhD ★★★★

I generally would never give a “for Dummies” book above a 2-star rating, but this volume served a useful purpose for me, was informative, and easily readable, and so gains 4 stars. Reynolds give a very brief history of the trumpet, a description of how the trumpet works, and a brief description of the “language” of music. He thens spends a few chapters on how to learn to play the trumpet, and some advice on trumpet technique and beginning lessons. Later chapters deal with the paraphernalia that goes with a trumpet such as mutes, mouthpieces, etc., and how to care for your trumpet. Final chapters deal with mentioning current great trumpet players and general encouragement to develop the art of trumpeting. As a lesson book, it fails, as one needs nothing more than a good teacher, as well as a copy of Arban’s Conservatory Method and whatever other supplementary texts the teacher prefers (mine used Colin’s Lip Flexibilities and some of the Claude Gordon & Herbert Clark books).  The CD is designed to help with the early trumpet lessons, and I never took it out of its jacket, as I had no use for it. Reynolds gives good advice to the budding trumpet player, as well as a panoramic view of the world of the trumpet. It was a worthy purchase.

Andersens Märchen

November 22nd, 2014

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Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★

Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects, and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.

Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

Life is a Wheel

October 17th, 2014

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Life is a Wheel, by Bruce Weber ★★★

This book was given to me by my brother Gaylon in order to inspire us to bicycle across the USA someday (soon?).  Bruce Weber is a journalist for the NY Times, and spends most of his time writing the obituaries. He rode his  bicycle across the USA in 1993 as a much younger kid, and now at age 58 has determined to attempt the task again. This time, he will be frequently visited by NY Times personnel to document his trip, and blow-by-blow accounts will be published in the Times.

He takes off from Astoria, riding south, then through the Columbia River valley, up through the Palouse, across Idaho, across Glacier National Park and then northern Montana and North Dakota, descending in Minnesota and Wisconsin into Chicago, boats across Lake Michigan and rides through Michigan down into Indiana and Ohio, slowly weaving his way back to home in New York City.

This book has some strong merit. It definitely put the bug in me to do a trans-America bicycle trip. He relates that as a limited cyclist, he was able to survive nicely during his three months on a bike on the road.

There is more that I disliked about the book than liked.

1. His choice of routes was often very strange, and much different from what I would have done. He spent much time backtracking and traveling in very un-interesting environments. The object of cycling is not to see if you could possibly put yourself to sleep while riding a bicycle.

2. I could tell within the first few pages that Weber was Jewish. I felt like I was reading a bicycling counterpart to Woody Allen, who constantly “somatacized” his problems, and used a shrink in order to resolve those matters. Bruce writes about his health and mental problems almost with a sense of indifference, which is liked by New Yorkers but deeply disliked by me.

3. The diversions from the bicycle riding story were deeply annoying. I didn’t care to spend a whole chapter on his good friend that just died. I wasn’t interested in two chapters of a stupid ride in Viet Nam. I didn’t care about learning in-depth details of mother and father, which didn’t seem to relate at all to the bicycle riding experience. Fortunately, Weber avoids politics for the most part,  but can’t help but suggesting that he is a flaming (and clueless) liberal.

The bottom line is that Weber has provided additional motivation for me to ride across the USA. He has also instructed me to avoid many of the paths that he has taken. He is not a person that I would wish to take a long trip with, or for that matter, even to become a close friend with him. I’m sure he feels the same way about me. Perhaps the book should have been titled “Life is all about me on a wheel”.

The Space Trilogy

October 17th, 2014

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The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) by C. S. Lewis ★★★

This set of books was read on my iPad. Each book stands distinct from the other two, but need to be read in the order noted in order to make sense. Generally, I tend to give C. S. Lewis a 5-star rating for everything he writes. There is also a 5-star quality to much of what is contained within these stories, but the quality just doesn’t approximate what C.S. Lewis does elsewhere. In brief, Out of the Silent Planet is the most enjoyable read, and contains the most story telling. In this book, the lead character who is found in all three stories, Ransom, is kidnapped by two academic types who figure out how to make a spaceship to fly to Mars. On Mars, Ransom escapes the grasp of the two kidnappers, and encounter many alien types until he finally encounters the answer as to why he was brought to Mars. Mars is a world where the creatures have not experienced the “fall” as Adam and Eve did on earth. Perelandra is the story of Ransom now traveling to Venus, only to encounter one of the two kidnappers from Mars. he also encounters a very distinctly different female, in what amounts to be an pre-fall Adam and Eve story, with the kidnapper as the satanic tempter. In the end, Ransom kills the professorial colleague, and saves the planet. Throughout the first two books, Lewis would make lengthy divergences from the story to allow dialogue of a philosophical nature to transpire. Oftentimes, it is just not fitting, such as at the end of Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is over twice as long as the other two books, and is a story about an academic center in England which sells itself out to outside concerns (N.I.C.E.) and eventually degenerates into auto-destruct mode. This is probably the story closest to reality, in that it seems to be exactly what is occurring today in academia. I’m sure Lewis was writing from personal experience, but turning the experience into a science fiction tale in order point fingers at academia while not directing the criticism to any particular person or institution. This book was also the hardest to read, as it starts very slowly, and if you haven’t read it before, have a hard time determining where the story is leading you.

The philosophic statements in the three books are profound and make this trilogy a worthy read.  Lewis is especially hard on academia, but rightfully so, as he was able to predict where academia was heading and identify the driving factors that cause academia to fail in its mission.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

September 7th, 2014

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe ★★★

This book is said by many to have been one of the most influential books in all of American history. I don’t doubt that. It is actually an assembly of articles that Stowe wrote for a magazine, eventually assembled into book format. It is written like a true story, though it is a fiction supposedly assembled from examples of how slaves were treated in the antebellum south. Unfortunately, I would not call it great literature, and is definitely written with a strong political slant to it.  The book has two main stories to it, the first being a slave lady with her child that escapes to safety. Then, there is Tom, the good boy who always does what he is told, who ends up being sold to a tyrannical slavemaster, leading to his death.

The book is written in an inflammatory manner designed to show that while slaves may have kind and loving owners, the entire system of slavery was rotten to the core. Uncle Tom had some kind owners, yet the picture is always lurking that he is essentially nothing but somebody else’s property, and that only pure luck gave him sympathetic owners. Stowe uses religion heavily during the narrative, emphasizing that Tom was a very religious man. This seemed to be directed at southern theologians who vociferously contended for the religious propriety of slavery as an institution.

What do we make it this book 150 years later? We know the outcomes now, and so are somewhat prejudiced in our reading of this book. Needless to say, when Union armies came close to slave lands, at least 1/6 of the slaves would run to the union front. There are simple reasons to explain why it wasn’t 100% of slaves, as confederate lost cause writers try to impress on us that most slaves were loyal to their masters and would have stayed with them out of contentment for their situation. The fact is that the south did not take careful measures to protect abuses in slavery (if slavery itself is not itself considered a serious abuse). There is a large movement today to resurrect the thinking of the lost cause writers, and strangely, this is found most prominent among libertarians, who are the most vociferous about individual rights. Arguments in these camps abound about how the civil war wasn’t about slavery but instead state rights, taxes, or Lord only knows what. They love to make Abe Lincoln look worse than the devil himself. It would have been best if America did not have to go through the bloodiest war in its history with the civil war. Thomas Fleming in his book A Disease in the Public Mind (reviewed recently by me) identifies the real cause of the war was mass public insanity regarding the issue of slavery, both in the south and the north, that led to this war. This book about Uncle Tom flamed the insanity in the north, and southern intrenched arrogance inflamed the insanity of the south. Needless to say, I do NOT have southern sympathies, while contending with the issue of slavery without the inflammatory nature of this book would have been a better way to go about it.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

July 1st, 2014

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The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, by William Shirer ★★★

This book was read on my iPad. It is a fairly large book, taking me a while to complete it, thus, the absence of many other book reviews on my blogsite. Shirer was a journalist in Berlin, leaving Berlin approximately 1940-1941 (he doesn’t say exactly when), and then observing from the sidelines. The book is fairly well researched, and heavily referenced. After the end of the book, a 1990 afterthought is included by the author. He had noted that the book was on the best sellers list for a number of years, and purchased in many countries except for Germany itself. This Shirer felt was a sign that the German people still remained clueless as to the nature of their goose-stepping militaristic nature, and he expressed fears that the re-unification of Germany was going to lead to yet another rise to power and German world war. Perhaps the person the most clueless is Shirer himself. Throughout the book, Shirer writes not as an objective historian, but as an opinionated, biased journalist. Shirer seems to let his thinking and emotions get in the way of solid historical reporting. As an example, he shows his bitter disdain for the personality of Von Ribbentrop, rather than seeking to describe his personality and then letting the facts speak from there. He describes many episodes of secret meetings where he seems to be cognizant precisely what transpired. He makes warrantless broad assumptions about the German people that don’t serve his commentary. Here is an example, quoting the book, ” One gets the impression that … many … “Good Germans” fell too easily into the trap of blaming the outside world for their own failures, as some of them had done for Germany’s misfortunes after the first lost war…”. Excuse me, but the blame does spread around to all the European nations as well as the US. Or, of speaking of Mussolini, “…as dictator, he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by … false ambitions. The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism.” Such comments leaves one feeling whether they could take anything that Shirer says seriously. He truly couldn’t be serious in implying that the mass of German people were uncivilized, unsophisticated, not down to earth?  There are many more examples throughout the book.

Shirer provides a nice flow through the book and it is very readable. There is a wealth a facts that need to be selected out in writing any historical account, and the fact that huge numbers of texts have analyzed the Nazi phenomenon attest to the fact that even 60 years after the fact, we are still grappling with the problem of made Germany do what it did. Shirer provides a completely wrong explanation, but feeds western, and especially US arrogance in the matter. To divorce himself from the reality of Germany, Shirer had to paint the Germans as a different creature, perhaps even a different species or genus. To this date, political situations are so often compared to that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The left and right of politics continually hurtles the accusation at the other of being just like the Nazis. Why isn’t Stalin and the Communists equally brought up as a examples?Or Mao Tse Tung? Or the Japanese emporer? Or Napoleon? The list could go on at length. Germany is used as the example because sub-consciously, they are a people the most like us. They, more than any other modern country, developed the ideas of ethics that shape our world. They developed our philosophy, our music, our culture, etc. They, more than even England, gave us our work ethic, and our sense of obedience to authority. The rise of Nazi Germany seems to be a great puzzle, yet it isn’t. We see ideas in politics today reinforce that the events of the rise of the Nazi state happen on a smaller scale every year in Washington, D.C. We claim that the German people should have known and risen up, yet we don’t rise up, as our freedoms are constantly eroded, and our government increasing behaves in a dictatorial fashion that we have no control of. We claim a moral superiority to the Germans of the first half of the twentieth century, yet truthful soul-searching suggests that we aren’t much different than they.

To end it, Shirer ends with the execution at Nuremberg of the main Nazi officials. Specifically, Ribbentrop, who Shirer completely despised,  is reported as to have flippantly blurted out to the American Military pastor, “See you later” as though he was making a colossal terminal joke. Actually, the full quote is as follows… “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul”. Then he turned to Gerecke (the Lutheran pastor) and said “I’ll see YOU again”. In the book “War and Grace”, Don Stevens recounts the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran Pastor in the military from Missouri, who was assigned to be the chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. In the process of his encounters with Goering, Rosenberg, Ribbentrop, etc., he noted that not a few felt genuine remorse for their actions, and found faith in Christ, including Keitel, Fritzsche, von Schirach, Speer, Raeder, and after much struggle, Ribbentrop. Many Americans sent Gerecke hate mail, detesting the fact that he would minister to the Nazi war criminals. Yet, the additional story from Stevens only strengthens the impression that the Nazis are us. We might have done exactly what they did in the circumstances. The story of the Nazis is a sobering story that should make all of us weep, and not arrogantly state that “they” are a breed of another kind. For that end, a book like this is worth reading.

For All the Tea in China

June 10th, 2014

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For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose ★★★

Sarah Rose provides a most interesting story of the adventures of a Mr. Robert Fortune of the British East India Company in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s, stealing prized tea plants from China and exporting them to the Himalayas, under the immediate control of Great Britain, to permit them to compete with China in the tea industry. Also taken was the technology for growing and processing the tea leaves into great tea. It is a most fascinating story that is not often told. Fortune had several very unfortunate attempts, in part from bungling up the tea plants and leaves in the process of shipping them to the Himalayas, as well as incompetence and ineptitude on the part of arrogant British horticulturists, even when told by Chinese coolies what they were doing wrong with the plants.  Sarah’s writing style attempts a mix of pure historical reporting and historical fiction, leaving one certain that the tales of Fortune’s adventures were probably just approximately recounted in this book. Sarah maintains a heavy pro-British bent in her reporting, going very light on the evils of the British empire in their dealings with China (such as with the Opium Wars), as well as the Indians. This poor historical accounting even goes to British competitors in the west. When she speaks of the development of porcelain in the west to compete with fine “china” from China, she drools over Wedgewood and British porcelain manufactors, she blindly forgets the role of the Germans (especially the town of Meissen) in re-discovering and developing the European porcelain industry). A perfect example her Western blindness can be quoted from near the end of the book…

” By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them [the Chinese], it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices. He democratized a luxury, and the world has been enjoying it ever since”

That quote sounds warm and fuzzy except for a few glaring details. Now that China is reportedly “stealing” technology from the West, I suppose that they can use the same justification, since they are simply spreading Western technology at a much lower price. It is hard for me to have a sympathetic ear toward the west when they rail on China being an aggressive competitor in the markets. We are simply getting our own medicine back on us 150 years later. Most of the world has a better memory than Amerikans.

Cambridge Illustrated History of China

April 28th, 2014

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Cambridge Illustrated History of China, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey ★★★

I purchased this text from Amazon.com as a used book to read before and during my trip to China with Betsy and Dr. Liao. It arrived very heavily marked up with multiple pages folded over, not exactly what the seller suggested. This text is fairly comprehensive of all aspects of history,  and includes many  beautiful illustrations and helpful maps, unlike many Chinese history texts. The author attempts a newer style of history taking, focusing on “the man/woman in the street”, and de-focusing on the rulers and leadership. Unfortunately, it leaves the history of China seriously poorly explored, since the actions of the emporers had an immediate effect of the man in the street. Ebrey spends much time discussing the development of Chinese art and poetry, yet even that is poorly explored. I was left with a very poor impression of having learned much from this text about Chinese history.

The Divine Revelation

February 16th, 2014

DivineRevHelmThe Divine Revelation, by Paul Helm ★★★★★

This short little book is guaranteed to tie up hours of one’s time reading. It is a thoughtful reflection, not on the theology of divine revelation, but of the philosophy of divine revelation, i.e., is such an activity possible or probable to have happened. Helm writes mostly against the thinking of Karl Barth, and the post-modernists, both of whom, in many ways are similar is attesting for the unique role of the recipient who must turn the mere words of the Bible into spoken revelation. This book is not for the faint-hearted, as it is not written for easy bedtime reading. Perhaps philosophy majors will find this book to be light reading. Helm will challenge you to think through each word used.  As an example, he speaks of infallible truth, and then probes whether or not that is not a redundancy, since infallible and truth (at least in his [and my] world) is synonymous. Helm realizes that certain things are not logically provable, and doesn’t take the approach  of “proving” that special revelation (that is, revelation which could never be acquired by any other means) has occurred, but demonstrates the logical possibility of special revelation, as well as its consistency with Scripture. Not to be begging the question or arguing in a circular fashion, Helm has no problem arguing for the internal consistency with special revelation as found in Scripture as being its own proof. Certainly, the Scripture has more consistency than anything else out there.

I’ve now read and reviewed a number of Helm’s books. His books on providence, time, and special revelation stand as his major works. All are worth reading. Since he lives close (Vancouver, B.C.), I’d dearly love to meet him some day, or perhaps get him down for a mens group meeting at church. He is staunchly reformed in his thinking, and, as others have stated, probably the foremost Christian philosopher alive today. I would certainly agree. I might also refer the reader to Helm’s blog page, which always provides interesting reading ( http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com ).

 

Fixing Your Feet

February 10th, 2014

FixFeetFixing Your Feet, by John Vonhof ★★

Having had many blisters from my years of backpacking, I was quite eager for some advice on how to prevent blisters from happening, and what to do about it when they do occur. Thus, with this book recommended, I eagerly plunged into its 260 pages, hoping for concrete advice that would prevent the painful foot sore from ever happening again. The advice was quite mixed. The author repeatedly (and correctly) noted that everybody is going to have a different fix. Then, he repeatedly repeats much of what he says again and again and again. This book is not intended to be read straight through like I did. Considering that its on its 5th edition, my presumption is that the author started to throw in chapters here or there, without ever re-reading the book to see what he was duplicating. About a third of the book is taken up with anecdotes by other athletes regarding their worst blister stories, or their solution to a bad blister—not terribly helpful. Vonhof’s focus is on the long-distance ultra-marathon runner, including those people that run extreme races like the Death Valley run (which goes from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney), or the Marathon de Sables in southern Morocco across the Sahara desert. There was very little advice for long-distance backpackers who do not have massive support teams and need to consider weight as an important variable in preventing blisters.

The book was marginally helpful, as advice acquired here was available from most backpacking books. The first several chapters offered a summary  of all that was essential in the book. Subsequent sections on prevention and treatment of foot injuries of the long-distance runner, and not terribly applicable to hiking. Climbing foot problems were never mentioned where many of my blisters occurred, when the foot was in a very stiff and waterproof boot by necessity. Neither was mentioned foot problems with cross-country skiing, a unique time when the foot must be flexible but very warm.

If there are any changes to this book in subsequent editions, I recommend several things. First, the author should actually read through his book, and delete the bountiful repetition that occurs. Second, anecdotes need to be more selective, and advice ranked and categorized better. Advice was all over the board from not doing something to only doing the same thing, to extremely crazy things. We don’t need to know about the bizarre things that might have worked on one person, but rather what generally works, and what could be tried if general advice doesn’t work. Second, the author should create sections specifically for certain activities, since every activity is going to have different solutions. Thirdly, complex problems that require specialty treatment need to be stated clearly as such without lengthy details.

 

Hugh Latimer

February 1st, 2014

HughLatimerHugh Latimer, by Richard Hannula ★★★★★

This is a very short book, and can easily be read in a single evening. It is part of a  large series of “Bitesite Biographies”, so I presume is intended to be short and sweet. Dick Hannula is an elder in our church and also principal of the church high school. He is currently giving a sunday school series for the adults on the general content of this book. Latimer, with Ridley and later Cranmer, were burned at the stake by Queen Mary. Through the faithfulness of many of the early English reformers against incomprehensible odds, a candle was lit which led to England soon becoming a solidly reformed country. Mr. Hannula writes almost like he  speaks, and thus you get the feel when reading this book that Dick is speaking to you. Latimer is definitely a fascinating character, being the best mouthpiece of the Reformation in England. He possessed the preaching skills to persuade many to leave the heresies and false teaching of Rome and seek their comfort and trust in the Christ of Scriptures alone. Latimer also had an overwhelming concern for the poor, unlike most of the clergy of England who used their posts in the church for their own personal advantage. This is a good read which will leave you loving the man Hugh Latimer, and is a  brief episode of history that all English-speaking people should be aware of,  a nice reminder that the gift of religious freedom that we presently enjoy was won over many of faithful souls being burnt at the stake.

 

Cutting for Stone

January 20th, 2014

CuttingForStoneCutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★

This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.

Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.

This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.

 

Secret Thoughts

January 12th, 2014

SecretThoughts

 

Secret Thoughts, by Howard Clark, MD ★★★★

H.S. (Howard) Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I work, and he had been in the process of writing novels for a lengthy period of time now. This novel is a suspense thriller with an anesthesiologist, Paul Powers, as the detective, trying to solve a mystery of cyanide poisoning, leading to the death of a number of people, including a colleague of Powers, Valdimire Zhazinsky, who was a radiologist. As the mystery plot thickens, Paul is soon branded as the main culprit.  Paul departs on an international whirlwind effort to clear his name and to identify the real killer. I will not give the entire plot away. The text is not lengthy even though the book is thick since it is printed in rather large type, and so can be read in 1-2 evenings. Howard does an excellent job of keeping the action moving and keeping the reader in suspense.

One side story relates to the experimental use of a hypothetical drug picafentanyl, which puts people to sleep (like the real drug, fentanyl, which is commonly used in surgery). The problem with picafentanyl is that is secreted by the breath, and thus, when used, puts everybody in the room asleep. Though this novel kept me well awake, the next time Dr. Clark starts to put me to sleep in surgery, I’ll suspect that he might have been popping a bit of picafentanyl.

 

The Secret Providence of God

January 12th, 2014

Secretprovidence

 

The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg, and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.

Calvin

 

Where did he ever get that hat?

Lloyd M Nyhus

January 7th, 2014

LloydNyhusLloyd M. Nyhus, MD, FACS, Surgeon, Mentor, Visionary for 20th Century Surgery, by Michelle Rapaport with Donald Wood, MD, FACS ★★★★★

This was a delightful book to read because it was a part of my own personal history, as I had trained under Dr. Nyhus. Dr. Don Wood, of whom I had also gotten to know well, does a wonderful job of outlining Dr. Nyhus’s life from childhood to his death. Certainly, as one of the best known and great surgeons of the 20th century, this book was well due to Dr. Nyhus. My office still contains signed versions of the textbooks that he had published, and it was an honor to have trained under the man.

A book of this sort certainly could not contain many of the little things that made Dr. Nyhus a delight to work under. Every summer, we had a Department of Surgery picnic, for which I was in charge about 4 of the 8 years I was in Chicago. These were delightful events, for which I always made sure we ordered some Weisswurst for Dr. Nyhus. He would also have all of the surgery residents over to his house for a backyard picnic once a year, which was special. I always appreciated when he would randomly pick me to attend dinner at the University Club for a distinguished visiting professor. Nyhus had a delightful knack for making the residents feel like his boys.

This book is not a history so much as a tribute to Dr. Nyhus. It is written like an Egyptian pharaoh would write a history, in that it was not inclusive of the struggles and challenges of life at the U of Illinois. Nyhus, as the Delta/TWA professor of surgery was gone so much, that even though I was on his service a number of times, only operated with him 3-4 times in the total five years of my residency. Bombeck had several heart replacements, and in spite of that, was a chain smoker of such a serious degree that he rarely could tolerate more than 5 minutes scrubbed with me in the OR before he needed to step out for another smoke. Donahue was an attending than one never turned their back on.  Levitsky was blind as a bat, and very pompous. I shan’t be too negative. Olga Jonasson was technically the best surgeon of the group, and a delight to train under, even though she was as tough as nails. Dr. Abcarian was just an all-round wonderful surgeon to work with. Dr. Das Gupta was ultimately the best of the best of the whole bunch in my estimation, being a role model for me of excellence both in the operating room and in the laboratory. I usually end up calling myself a Das Gupta trained surgeon. Dr. Wood was in Das Gupta’s division of surgical oncology, and was one of most special attendings for me, in that he was not only a competent teacher and surgeon, but an example of the Christian faith in the world of academic medicine. There are many other surgeons under Nyhus that were not mentioned in this book that were true pillars in the residency, such as Drs. Nelson, Barrett, Sharifi, Briele, and Walter Barker, to name a few. Das Gupta, Wood, Abcarian and Jonasson deserve the highest honors in the grand scheme of things, though they would be too modest to admit that.

Regardless of any shortcomings, and they were minor, I consider it an honor to have trained under Dr. Nyhus. This book is a well written tribute to a man who could assemble a diverse bunch of surgeons to make without a doubt the best surgery residency in the world during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I feel blessed to have been a part of that experience.

 

Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors

January 6th, 2014

ChronicleChinEmpChronicle of the Chinese Emperors, by Ann Paludan ★★★

I’m trying to fill myself in with a little Chinese history in anticipation of a trip to China in April. This book was written more as a reference text. It is not  a very comprehensive text. The focus is entirely on the emperors of China, with occasion call-outs for special interest topics, examples being the pottery in China,  the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, various movements in China, etc. The book, if read from cover to cover, reads quite erratically with many gaps, such as a description of the warring states period. This text would be best used in conjunction with a formal history text to learn the most about Chinese history.

A Disease in the Public Mind

December 25th, 2013

DiseaseFleminghA Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming ★★★★★

I really didn’t wish to read another book about why the civil war was fought, but I loved the other books by Thomas Fleming that I had read, including The New Dealers’ War and The Illusion of Victory on the 2nd and 1st world war respectively. One grows weary of the discussions over the true reason for the civil war. Those with a southern sentiment with argue with religious conviction that it was not about slavery. Others will argue that it was about state’s rights. The most recent study by a well known tax historian made a very plausible account that it was about unfair taxation. Fleming addresses all of these issues, but mostly maintains a persistent thread through the historical accounts as to issue of slavery. Interestingly, Fleming seems to take neither a Northern nor Southern stance, but notes that both groups had lapsed into a spiteful sentiment towards the other, coupled with a religious fervor that disallowed compromise or discussion or resolution.  The preface paints the real dilemma of assigning a war clause, since neither the North nor the South had a large population eager to go to war to either abolish or maintain slavery. But, the issue of slavery became a form of public insanity, a disease of the public mind.

Fleming notes that slavery was a contentious issue from well before the Revolutionary war.  Slavery had no geographical boundaries, and both North and South at one time had slaves. The founders of the constitution realized that slavery would become a contentious issue, and some of the fathers of the Republic set their slaves free voluntarily. Everybody in the few years following the grounding of the constitution felt that slavery was inconsistent with the constitution, and wished for its eventual demise. Yet, over time, “religious” fervor in the north maintained an uncontrolled vitriolic tongue, while southern politicians hardened their once pliable stance on the right of slavery. The Senate and House became hotbeds of contention, with extensive discussions about nullification and the extent of federal power (but, all related to the ultimate issue of slavery), with the New England states first expressing the idea of succession. Over time, the radical abolitionists became irrationally cruel towards the south, all in the name of the Christian god. Conversely, the south developed the irrational fear of a race war similar to that which was experienced in Haiti, even though the circumstances in that island were much different that in the south. Even headed thinkers predominated on both sides, who refused to accept that the war was over slavery—for the north, it was the preservation of the union, and for the south, the preservation of their homeland. Both sides retained a pompous arrogance in the correctness of their part of the struggle at the war’s end. The anguish of the war stood largely on a few people, Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee being the two most spoken of in this book, both wishing a benevolent resolution of the conflict and of the anger that generated the war. The apotheosis of both men, Lincoln and Lee, by the north and south respectively, would probably have been greeted with disapproval by both men, who were greater than the prevailing thought of the time.

This book also adds some food for thought, that I’d like to add as a side note to the book review. It is interesting that the strict Libertarian camp (e.g. as found in the Lew Rockwell webpage) unrelentingly attacks Lincoln for diminishing the constitution and strengthening big government. The Libertarian blindness to unrestrained capitalism without a strong Christian moral base leaves for the naive thought that man is intrinsically good, and will always make consideration for the betterment of his fellow man. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and the wealthy will tend to dominate the weak at the expense of the weak. Libertarians will also argue that the constitution never demands the preservation of the union, yet it has always been interpreted as such, starting with George Washington himself. The constitutionalists bewail the notion that all we need to do is to return to the first principles of the nation—yet, the founding fathers clearly understood the defects in the constitution, and how decisions contrary to the strict interpretation of the constitution were made very early in the nation’s history. Theonomists will acclaim that the rule of God as stated in Scripture give the only laws that should exist in a nation, and that no laws should be added and no laws should be subtracted. While it is true that the law of God is perfect, the universal application of the civil laws of the OT in a godless society is a grand fantasy. Much more could be said about what would make a perfect government in an imperfect world, but the answer would always be that there is no perfect government either prescribed in Scripture or experienced in the history of mankind.

In the Civil War, both sides were fighting in the name of the same Christian God. Both sides used Scripture to defend their actions. Both held contempt for the other side as being evil and moral deviants. Both sides refused to acknowledge the Christian standing of their “opponents”. Our generation is noting the destructiveness of “love” without orthodoxy. The civil war generation showed a seeming opposite, the desire for “orthodoxy” without love. Though the disease changes, the USA persists with diseases of the public mind that cloud our ability to be true Christians. The civil war is a war that should have never been fought, but brought on by extremist zealots actions north and south in the nation. But, isn’t that true of every war that the US has fought? The war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, the Spanish-American war, WWI and WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, The Afghani and Iraqi wars; all of these represent the cry of a very few people for armed conflict. “Let us do evil, that good may come of it” is the equivalent of “the War to end all wars” or “glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” as soldiers slaughter their fellow Christian man for not thinking exactly the same way as they do.

Read the book. It is interesting history, and an interesting perspective on the Civil War, that is essentially not a “new understanding” but a well articulated stance of the possibility that is was nothing than widespread (north and south) public insanity that led to the war.

 

Bach: Music im Himmelsburg

December 15th, 2013

MusicInCastleHeavenBach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner ★★★★★

Gardiner is not especially my favorite conductor, but he does a fantastic and compelling job of writing this book. The text is partially a biography of Bach, but also partially a critique of his music, and commentary on music in Bach’s time. Gardiner conducts well, but he writes even better, and this book was difficult to put down. The first half of the book is more narrative, and the last half is more exploration of the cantatas and major choral works of Bach. What are you left with? A kid born in a small town in rural Germany to musical parents, orphaned when he was 9, lives a few years with his oldest brother before being thrown out, hikes up to Lübeck with a buddy and attends an orphans school for a year or so, comes back to Thuringia, and gets measly employment. In his first job, the city mayor asks Bach to include a bassoon solo for the mayor’s son, which Bach does—the solo happens to be too difficult for sonny boy and so he attacks Bach in a back alley and daddy naturally sticks up for sonny. Obviously, Bach didn’t put up with that. He spends time in prison. He has serious employer problems. He survives a war. He has problems with wayward children. I could go on and on. Gardiner paints many personal facets of Bach’s life that turns him into a real person, and erases the massive quantity of hagiography written about him. Bach also was an avid theology reader, and well versed in the writings of Luther, as well as in Lutheran commentaries on the Scripture. As mentioned, the later part of the book explores more the actual choral compositions of Bach, focusing especially on the Passions of John and Matthew, as well as the B minor mass. Fortunately, I was familiar with these pieces and could follow the text. I caution the reader not familiar with Bach’s music to spend some time working through his cantatas and major choral works while you read the book to get the full effect of the book. This book was a total delight to read, and so much so that I purchased additional copies for my musical friends. Hopefully, they develop as much appreciation for Bach as Gardiner has.

 

Prodigal Press

December 7th, 2013

ProdigalPressProdigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media, by Marvin Olasky and updated by Warren Cole Smith ★★★★

I received this book in the mail for free from World Magazine. It is an update from a book Olasky wrote in the late 1980’s, and acting as the justification of him starting World Magazine. Betsy and I are subscribers to World Magazine, but will probably be allowing our subscription to lapse for reasons I’ll mention later. This is a good book and worth reading, though deficits make it not the great book it could have been. There have been a slew of books attacking the media empire, the best being written by a Jewish person, Neil Postman, titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. Many books on press bias have been published.

Olasky does a wonderful job of developing the history of the press in America, elaborating on how many newspapers used to be specifically Christian newspapers, until taken over by a liberal editorial staff. He discusses about how the shift in court ruling of the libel laws has ultimately made it far more difficult to win charges of slander or libel, even when the press intentionally or unintentionally lies about the reporting of “facts” in a story. Olasky then looks at specific areas of reporting, such as the manner and style in which disasters and crises are reported. He explores how the press crusades for various public issues, the one most specifically mentioned was the issue of abortion.

Unfortunately, Olasky persistently considers being Republican and being Christian as being synonymous, and that attitude is very strong in this book as well as in his World Magazine. Such thinking could not be farther from the truth. In pro-life issues, Olasky rails against abortion, but is completely silent against the many wars the US fights, and people we murder (usually overseas) all in the name of homeland security. He campaigns for compassionate conservatism, but is completely silent about the corruption in government that creates money out of thin air (the Federal Reserve), and causes the economic instability that ultimately forces an increased need for redistribution of wealth in either a voluntary or involuntary fashion. Even in terms of reporting issues, Olasky has a horrid neo-Conservative Republican bias, seen in the last election as his total failure to offer democratic candidates a possible positive defense, and even worse, excluding candidates like Ron Paul from any discussion what-so-ever. For that reason, I found World Magazine to be a poor source for news, unless I wished to know about the actions of some altruistic group in Limbo, Arkansas. Honest discussion of issues from differing Christian perspectives is completely lacking, and the internet becomes the only place where I might find my sense of balance on serious issues of political and public concern.

The end of the book provides advice on how to deal with a nosey press reporter, wishing to dig mud on you. It is worth reading. Perhaps the best response to inquisitive reporters is to not exchange with them at all. The internet has provided a much better voice and information source for people than the press, including World Magazine. The press should be treated in the way they’ve deserved as an irrelevant information source.

 

 

Thirteen Words, Three Rights

December 7th, 2013

ThirteenWords ThreeRights

 

Thirteen Words, and Three Rights, by Edwin Vieira, Jr. ★★★

These two books will be reviewed together, since they probably should have been published as a single text. They follow on the heels of a book I recently reviewed by Vieira on judicial supremacy. These two volumes were written within the past several years, both pertaining to similar subjects. In Thirteen Words, Vieira discusses the subject of the right to bear arms, as stated quite clearly in the second amendment. He then develops the idea of the militia in terms of the definition intended by the founding fathers. State militias were intended to be managed by the states, conduct their business entirely independent of the army, and provide the ultimate “homeland security”. Vieira calls for the resurrection of a true state militia, where the citizens of the state are encouraged to be armed, and serve as the protection against the enemies of the state and to balance the power of the central government.

In Three Rights, Vieira expounds on the right to resistance to bad government, the right to restoration of good government, and the right for renewal of the nation. These rights are found explicitly in the declaration of independence, and not in the constitution itself. Essentially, it is the people’s right to revolution against bad government. Vieira develops the thought that this is not anti-government, and not to be confused with insurrection, which the constitution explicitly protects against. Vieira completely fails in drawing a strict definition of the difference between a revolution and an insurrection, both intended to overthrow what is perceived by some to be bad government or a misinterpretation of the government. Indeed, perhaps the reason that these three rights are NOT a part of the bill of rights, is that the declaration of independence was written with revolutionary fervor, an emotion that bodes poorly when actually trying to form a stable government.

Both books were written as single chapters, and manifest free-flowing thought, rather than a highly organized argument. This is contrary to his book on overthrowing judicial supremacy, where he actually thinks things through in a methodical, sensible, and more reasoned fashion. He often uses conventions in these two books that I am not familiar with, such as the frequent use of three asterisks (***) to suggest something, which I thought was perhaps trying to make an emphasis at that particular point. He frequently speaks of “the good people of the USA”, which I’m not sure what is meant by that—except to emphasize that he certainly is NOT a Calvinist, who believes that people are at their core intrinsically bad, with government designed to control that badness. The predicament of today is that most people really don’t care that the government today is for the most part operating in an entirely unconstitutional fashion, since their personal lives seem to have sufficient affluence and contentment to not warrant a revolution. Perhaps Vieira is writing for the future, when people wake up to realize that they’ve sold themselves into slavery to the state. Until that happens, both books are nothing but wishful thinking.

Handbook for Touring Bicyclists

December 7th, 2013

WooldridgeBicyclesThe Handbook for Touring Bicyclists, by Frosty Wooldridge ★★

Somewhere on the internet, I found this book as a highly recommended review of cycle touring. Frosty is apparently a self-acclaimed adventurer as well as gourmet cook (though he is also vegetarian). Thus, he combines his passions for adventure, bicycling and cooking into this book. The book is in two main parts, the first on touring tips and the second on touring cooking. Touring tips includes advice on packing saddle bags, bear proofing your camp, etc. The second part, on food, talks about purchasing food, carrying it, and a list of his favorite recipes. While I found a few helpful hints on packing and food management, there really wasn’t much in the book that I could say was informative. Frosty talks a lot about himself and his own personal tastes, but doesn’t provide a useful handbook for either the novice or serious touring cyclist.

 

Reading Plan

December 6th, 2013

ReadingPlan

 

Reading Plan, by James Price ★★★★★

Jim is an elder at church, who wrote an app for iPads and iPhones to allow for yearly through-the-Bible Scripture reading. It allows you to select among a number of reading plans, and also allows for a number of digital versions of the Scripture. This year, I read through the Scripures using the ESV (Olive Tree) and the McCheyne reading plan, which takes you through the Psalms and New Testament twice, and the remainder of the Old Testament once. It was a nice way to go. The Reading Plan app will keep track of your progress. I typically get a bit ahead of things, and actually started in June, finishing in early December. It was read on my iPad.

bible-reading-plan

 

For Christians, it is inconceivable that they not read the Scriptures on a regular basis, and to not bias themselves to particular passages or chapters. After all, ALL Scripture is inspired as the word of God, and so all Scripture should regularly be read. It is not a tall order to suggest that the Scriptures be read on an annual basis. There is no better way than to use the McCheyne plan with the Reading Plan app.

Next year, I’ll be using Craig DesJardin’s reading plan on the same Reading Plan app. Craig also goes to Faith Presbyterian church, and came up with a thematic reading plan, which is the default reading plan for Price’s app. I highly recommend that you download the app, and start reading NOW!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

November 27th, 2013

HatfieldRockBetween a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield ★★★★★

Mark Hatfield is well-known to me, as he was the two term governor of the state of Oregon, and then long-term senator in Washington, D.C. from Oregon, best known as a Republican who was anti-war, and very out-spoken against the war in Viet Nam. Mark was also very outspoken as a Christian, coming from Baptist roots, and growing up on the Oregon Coast. In WWII, he served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and he was among the very first GI’s to hit the Japanese mainland and see the destruction of the two atomic bombs. These war experiences had affected his thinking regarding the nature and toll of war, leading to his Pacifist position. Wikipedia has a fairly even-handed description of his life ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Hatfield ) including a few episodes later in his life where he possibly succumbed to the siren-call of political power.

This book expresses the agony of many of the decisions that Hatfield had to go through as a governor and then as a senator. He expresses the challenge of not being overwhelmed or tempted by the power-structures of Washington. Hatfield, in speaking once at a Presidential annual prayer breakfast, was reprimanded by his dear friend Billy Graham, only to have Mark remind us that even Billy Graham perhaps compromised his message in order to “buddy-up” with the power-elite in Washington D.C..

Hatfield

This book has both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest point is that Hatfield continually and freely expresses a Christian world view. There isn’t a chapter or page that doesn’t refer to Scripture or the Christian mind-set in his thinking. This book, written in 1976, could never be written today without the widespread public condemnation of the liberals and the press.

It’s weakness is that Mark expresses a naiveté which is a bit inexcusable. Others, such as Francis Schaeffer, have written extensively by the year 1976 when this book was published, and quite heavily on many of the issues that Mark brings up, including war, social concerns, world hunger, the environment, economic wealth distribution, and the like. Schaeffer does a far superior job of arguing a solid case for Christian involvement in all of these areas. Hatfield gets his main orientation rather from Jim Wallis and the Sojourners mind-set, which I fear is more guilt-manipulation (a term used by David Chilton as the title of a book counteracting a Sojourners thinker Ron Sider in a  book titled “Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger”) than truly thinking things out in a Biblical fashion. Hatfield inadvertently acknowledges this in an essay toward the end of the book dealing with world hunger, where he gives a number of action points for dealing with world hunger. I then quote “The final change must come from within our hearts”. Actually, a true Christian response doesn’t make the heart change last but first.

Hatfield gives in royally to confused liberal thinking in many points. He is overwhelmed by Malthusian principles, but then, who wasn’t in 1976? He decries strong central government, but his solutions usually demand an even larger central government. He condemns the United Nations, but simultaneously calls on the UN and similar institutions to solve problems of world hunger, war, over-crowding and poverty. Hatfield definitely flunks in his understanding of economics. Interestingly, he was a friend of Murray Rothbard, and held to many libertarian type economic principles, though this book betrays any form of libertarian thinking or consciousness for fundamental economic principles. As an example, he notes that world hunger is due to poverty, but seems clueless as to the causes of poverty.

The first 9 chapters of this book is a polemic against war, with a few other side issues, such as capital punishment, thrown in on the side. It is also a personal tale of the anguish and agony that Hatfield would go through in attempting to resolve these issues from the stance as a politician. The last chapter in the first part is titled “The purist and the apologist”, where Hatfield  discusses the issues of thinking as a purist through social issues, while simultaneously thinking in a pragmatic fashion for practical solutions of world problems. He admits both sides as partially correct, but tends to create a straw-man of the apologist which he then attacks. The second part of the book, which are the last four chapters, discuss 1) the destruction of war and nuclear weaponry, 2) the meaninglessness and futility of Washington power-structures, 3) the need for a Christian environmental movement, and 4) the approach to world hunger.

This book gets five stars for being unique, in that it is about the only book that I know written by a prominent political official that expresses their heartfelt thinking from a Christian world-view. Even though he gets many things wrong, he also gets many things quite right. He doesn’t give strong arguments for his thesis, which I can easily forgive him for. His identification of the problems in Washington, D.C. have since vastly compounded themselves, and I’m sure Hatfield would be horrified by what is now going on in the national capitol. It is a book to read and weep over. Nearly every legislator, executive branch official, and judge has lost the Christian world-view, and we are only the worse for it. Without God’s grace, we will probably never again see a high political official like Mark Hatfield with a heart for God as well as a strong heart for those he served.

 

Great Wars and Great Leaders

November 25th, 2013

RaicoGreatWarsGreat Wars & Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Ralph Raico ★★★★

Sunday school is currently covering the issue of Christian involvement and attitudes towards war. I had given away most of my ethics books on war, but the class had resurrected questions in my mind. Several reviews, including this, will be dealing with the issue of war.

Raico comes from a Libertarian perspective, a perspective that I don’t entirely agree with. Yet, I stand strongly behind his stance against war, though not always for precisely the same reasons. This book doesn’t contend directly with the morality of war, but instead simply reviews the wars of the 20th century, including the 1st WW, 2nd WW, and then cold war. He focuses heavily on Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, FDR, and Truman, in all desiring war for the political means of self-promotion. Simultaneously, he more than sufficiently develops the extreme and astronomical hypocrisy of the people mentioned in stating their objections to war while purposely forcing war to become inevitable. Raico spends much time alerting us to the wanton hypocrisy of WWII, with us lambasting Hitler and his murder of innocents, without mentioning that Stalin killed vastly more Christians (for being Christian) than Hitler killed Jews (for being Jewish), that Churchill’s bombers killed unbelieveably more women, children, and civilians than were ever killed by Nazis, and that FDR (and Truman’s) atomic bombs made the petty crimes of the Nazi Nuremberg war criminals appear trivial.

From a Christian perspective, these are legitimate issues that are not addressed by the church, which smugly still believes in American exceptionalism and the impossibility of American erring in foreign policy, especially in establishing America’s interests throughout the world.

Patrick Buchanan does a better job of documenting the Churchillian hypocrisies, but Raico does a superb job of putting things together better, especially in dealing with the decisions of Truman, John Foster Dulles, and the henchmen which, in the name of Christ, repeatedly lied to the public and promoted a war fever—this fever pretended that America was on a Christian Crusade defending the name of Christ, rather than actually defending state interests in banking, oil, and other international commerce.

If we consider the destruction of Germany as evidence on God’s judgement on that nation for abandoning faith in Christ, I fear how much worse will be the lot for both Great Britain and the United States. This is a book worth reading, which I’m sure the neo-conservatives will attack in force. Niall Ferguson (reviewed previously by me) will deny British culpability in the fashion of an ostrich, being so convinced that the (English-speaking) white man’s burden is to save the world by policing and conquering the world, not realizing that salvation is in one person only, who happens to be currently ruling supreme. “He who sits in heaven laughs…” Meanwhile, Churchill and FDR will be occupying space in hell just below Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

In terms of developing a defined stance against war, I can’t say that I’m strictly a pacifist. I’m strictly pro-life, as defined by Scripture. I will defend life, including if life comes under attack in any form. I will defend the life of both Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim, and even atheist, if there in no justification for termination of their life. Scripture defines when human life can or should be taken, and allows for personal defense. Those who argue a “holy war” perspective, such as Harold Brown fail in argumentative consistency or in providing even one remote historical example. There remains no correspondence between the current conservative American Christian in regard to military stance and Scripture. The strict pacifist also fails at being hypocritical. The Pacifist wishes for police protection, yet would never place themselves in the position of serving as policemen, possibly even killing somebody in the protection of law and order. To them, they fundamentally deny original sin, or the sinfulness of all mankind. They live in a hypocritical fantasy world.

The end of this book was a set of book reviews, which were disorganized, and did not necessarily follow the logical thought process of the book. They would have best been left out, or else summarized for their content distinctive of what was written in the book.

My next read will be Mark Hatfield’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I have no idea how Hatfield will develop his ideas, though I had tremendous respect for him as governor and senator for the state of Oregon. Coming soon at a blog site near you…

 

How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary

November 22nd, 2013

ImperialJudiciaryHow to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary, by Dr. Edwin Vieira Jr. ★★★★★

This book was chosen to be read by me, as it pertained to thoughts I was having about the “mis-balance” of powers that we currently observe in the function of our national government, particularly, that the judiciary has tended to create law, rather than just interpret the law, and to do so outside of the boundaries permitted by the constitution. Vieira, as a constitutional lawyer, develops an argument against our current court system in a manner better thought out than even Andrew Napolitano, who was recently reviewed by me. While Vieira may not be as public of figure as Vieira, Vieira deserves a much greater audience, and more seriousness given to his appeal in this book and others that he has published. Napolitano seems to have a strong public forum, since he is functionally a libertarian with leanings toward natural law theory, though he does claim to be a devout Roman Catholic. I have no clue as to Vieira’s religious sentiments or beliefs, but would be forced to identify him as a strictly natural law theorist, in part because he constantly reminds us of the statement in the Declaration of Independence which offers that “the Laws of Nature and [ ] Nature’s God” is the entitlement for their grievance. Vieira, like Napolitano, utilize much legal jargon, mostly in latin, but easily defined with the Apple computer dictionary.

The book is divided into two parts, the first being the argument that 6 members of the Supreme Court, Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, O’Connor, Souter and Stevens committed high crimes and treason, but making a judgment under the veil of constitutional authority, while defying the constitution in seeking the authority of European and international law decisions. Specifically, the court case mentioned was Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court charge was against a law on the Texas books forbidding homosexual sodomy. Vieira does a masterful piece in demonstrating how the Supreme Court ruling defied the US Constitution, and went against all previous court judgements. Vieira shows how permission of international court rulings as a basis for American law has since been frequently used to overturn the very substance of our constitution, and will eventually lead to the death of many of our freedoms.

The second portion of the book is a thoughtful and reasoned consideration of how we should react to this. Vieira discourages adding more law to the books to strike down the Supreme Court ruling. The constitution already has provision for dealing with an “imperial” judiciary, and more laws will only lead to the proliferation of even more laws. Rather, Vieira reminds us that in the Marbury v. Madison ruling, the court allowed that they had the ability to strike down unconstitutional laws generated by the legislature, but also opens the door for either the Executive or Legislative branch to do the same with the courts, in that all three branches of government are responsible for upholding the constitution, and no branch has a monopoly on interpretive “rights” to the constitution. The constitution affords the states the ability to object to court rulings, should they deem them to be unconstitutional (state interposition). The constitution also allows for impeachment of court members, and Vieira notes the absence of the Legislature or Executive branch to a renegade Supreme Court as also being negligent of constitutional duty to uphold the constitution. In his last words, he states that “if the House of Representatives cannot muster sufficient forces to put through even a basically toothless remonstrance to Lawrence, it should consider changing the nation’s emblem from the eagle to the ewe”. True story. Anybody serving in public capacity, whether it be as a lawyer or judge, serving in public office, or simply acting as a public commentator on political issues, MUST read this book.

Lest I leave the reader of this review with an absence of the humor and color of Vieira’s writings, it becomes sensible to offer a series of his notable quotes from the book. All of the following below are quotes from the book, and will not be referenced.

Whereas, a judicial decision such as Lawrence is “the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture”–and perhaps not even the original product of the Justices themselves, but of their clerks, who come wet behind the ears from the intellectual hothouse of that “law-profession culture,” infected with the latest communicable viruses of “good thinking” in “the culture war”.

If [ ] the Justices can incorporate foreign law–or even intergalactic legal principles drawn from episodes of Star Trek–into the Constitution, [  ] the sources of their inspirations are ultimately beside the point, the inspirations themselves becoming “law” of each case simply perforce of their enunciations.

…the “living Constitution” provides no excuse for promiscuously interpolating foreign law into constitutional interpretation–unless the Preamble can now be read a a mandate “to form a more perfect Union [with foreigners], insure [international or global] tranquility, provide for the common defense [of a New World Order], promote the general Welfare [of people throughout the World] and secure the Blessings of Liberty to [a global community, according to foreigner’s ideas of what constitutes Liberty].”

Truth, not power (or worse, the hubris of office), is the touchstone of constitutional jurisprudence.

Besides the logic of the situation, WE THE PEOPLE can imagine hundreds upon hundreds of possible decisions of judges that no one free to leave a lunatic asylum would dare to defend as constitutional…

There are many, many more quotes. Read the book. It’s worth it.

 

Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

November 16th, 2013

SkurkaGearGuideThe Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide, by Andrew Skurka ★★★★★

This book is well written, and well printed, in a style fitting for National Geographic. Skurka is a professional adventurer, and advocates the ultralight technique, having developed a number of devices himself, including an alcohol stove made out of a cat food can. While the book is titled as a gear guide, it is really much more than that. Skurka offers numerous anecdotes of mistakes that he has made, including being horribly mis-packed for his first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when he was just a kid. The book abounds with advice on making the ultralight hike an enjoyable experience, whether hiking in the rain, desert, or frozen tundra of northern Alaska in winter. Skurka writes well, and the book was a joy to read. In addition, his appetites seem to parallel mine, as he doesn’t call for bizarre recipes for the trail. Rather, his advice on food, as for shelter, clothing, shoes, backpack, and other equipment is very common sensical and something I would identify as consistent with the way I would tend to do things. This is not a book on the subtle details of backpacking, such as planning a trip, route finding, camp-building, etc. Skurka focuses on the experience of hiking, and de-emphasizes the experience of camping. Camping advice will best be found elsewhere.

 

Ultralight Backpacking

November 16th, 2013

LightenUp

UltralightBackpackLighten Up! by Don Ladigin ★★★★
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, By Mike Clelland ★★★★

These two books are written in a very similar style, with the same illustrator (Mike Clelland). They really should be published together, as they are complementary and fit together. Either book could be read in a single evening. Both books are packed with advice on the reason to ultralight backpack, and how to do it, without endangering your life. The advice contains great common sense that one usually doesn’t think about, and is contrary to what is sold as typical backpacking advice. Not all of the advice is anything that I would follow. Some is a little gross, as advice NOT to take toilet paper, but to use rocks and other implements to wipe yourself. Yuk! I’ll pass. Mike is a vegetarian, and gives advice on food that sounds awesomely unappetizing. Other ultralight books do a better job of advising what to eat. All in all, both books were most helpful, and will be used for upcoming pack trips in the following years, as well as for bicycle trips.

Democrips and Rebloodlicans

November 8th, 2013

DemocripsDemocrips and Rebloodlicans, by Jesse Ventura ★

This must be one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time. I had hoped that Jesse would have provided a reasoned argument for his thesis, which is that the two political parties are both corrupt and since he’s had problems with a third party, then the elimination of all political parties would best serve America. Instead, Jesse goes on a mindless rap, mostly about the Republican party. The only two books more worthless than this one were those two written by another politician from his state, Al Franken. Ventura’s absence of balance is quite staggering. While I have no love for the Republican Party, Jesse puts his entire book into detailing the corruption of the Republican party. I’m sorry, but the Republicans have no premium on corruption, and the Democrats make it quite a bit easier to document blatant corruption. The bias in this book  is so overwhelming at times to be unnerving. When talking about how Mitt Romney was a member of the renegade Mormon church, and how the Mormon church was a vast conspiracy of evil out to destroy Amerika, he blithely fails to notice that the president of the senate, a democrat, Harry Reid, also is a devout Mormon.

Jesse rants and rages about the morality of the Tea Party, how they are a bunch of moralist Christians corrupting the American society. That Santorum is a member of the Catholic church, and lives in the same town as some Opus Dei members insinuates Santorum as a part of the Conspiracy Dark Side. Really. Jesse hates anybody that would admit that they are a Christian, but says nothing about those who are devout Muslims, Buddhists, etc. To stand against abortion, or for the ten commandments, means to Jesse that you are forcing your morality on the public. Jesse proudly admits that he believes that “religion is the root of all evil” (page 210). Jesse waxes long and hard about Rushdooney and the Reconstructionists (not realizing that Ron Paul’s first economic advisor was Rushdooney’s son-in-law), even attacking Francis Schaeffer as a moralistic fool. Jesse’s discussion of the history of religion in America leaves something seriously to be desired. I think Jesse held his breath to long underwater as a Seal.

Jesse shows confusion in so many areas. He rages against foreign policy statements made by Pat Buchanan. He strongly supports a serious graduated income tax, with a 95% tax on the super-rich. He devotes an entire chapter on the media bias towards Republicans. Really! Nobody ever told him that 95% of the press overtly admit that they are liberal democrats. He rages against the electoral college, thus manifesting a totally cluelessness as to why our government was established with indirect vote rather than direct vote of certain people.

Jesse was recently interviewed by Ron Paul on the Ron Paul channel, where Jesse spoke of his favorite topic, that of corruption in government. In this book, Jesse has an entire chapter on his support for Ron Paul. The serious problem I have with Ron Paul is the same serious problem that I have with Jesse. Ron Paul was recently asked if he uses religion as a guide for his decision making, and he stated adamantly that he does not. So, where does Paul and Ventura get their ethics? Answer: out of thin air. Unfortunately, every other candidate in this last election for president, both Republican and Democrat, were either wantonly corrupt, had horrid economic and foreign policies, or were simply clueless as to anything salient. I guess we are stuck with Oliver Cromwell’s dilemma—when stacking the parliament with Christians, the parliament became entirely inept at running the country. But, advice from Ventura is totally useless. Don’t waste your time reading this book. You’ll regret it if you pick it up.

 

The School Revolution

November 5th, 2013

SchoolRevolutionThe School Revolution, A New Answer for Our Broken Education System, by Ron Paul ★★★★

This book is a lengthy and massive appeal for homeschooling. The arguments presented by Paul are good, but could have been better. We live in an age where every parent should now seriously consider removing their children from government schools. Paul suggests that kids learn to be more independent and disciplined, and that they tend to transform from needing teachers to self-educating themselves at an earlier age with homeschooling. He spends perhaps too much time stressing education that corrects the mistakes of government school, especially in economics. This list could have been much longer, including literature, and the sciences. Paul makes an appeal for his own homeschool curriculum, which he is currently working on, though he admits that it is geared for only the top 10% of students. In that curriculum, he expects students to be fluent at posting videos on uTube and essays on their personal website—actually not a bad idea. He suggests that the internet can be a valuable source for education in today’s world. I am concerned that the internet provides the same pitfalls as government schools, and must be used judiciously. In summary, this is not a bad book, but is a slight bit ideological that home schooling is a simple answer to government or private schools. Yet, I think that every parent should now seriously weigh the possibility of home schooling quite seriously.

 

Bad Religion

November 3rd, 2013

BadReligionBad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics, by Ross Douthat ★★★★★

Ross Douthat is coming next Saturday to speak at Faith Presbyterian Church (09NOV2013), and so I thought I’d read the book that will be the focus of his visit. Fortunately, this was loaned to me by Dr. King, who happened to have a copy. Though it is a fairly meaty book, I managed to read it in a weekend, allowing me time to cogitate and ruminate on the main points of the book. Oppenheimer has reviewed the text for the NY Times, and seems to have missed some of the most salient points of the book,  though he mentions that Ross does an excellent job of attacking both the religious right and religious left in this country. Ross speaks as a Catholic, and holds a strong affinity for the traditional Latin mass and pre-Vatican II liturgy and practice of the church. Douthat’s writing style requires a bit of warm-up, and thus it is hard to connect with the book in the first few chapters. The focus of the book is on Christianity in the USA, and thus Judaism and other religions naturally are not mentioned at all, nor is Christianity in other countries mentioned. Throughout, Ross continually brings in mention of political party involvement in the religious scene, and religion in the public square.

The first four chapters attempt to present the public square of religion in a semi-historical sense, beginning with roughly the turn of the century,  the work of liberal theologians, to the semi-reforming influence of Karl Barth, and with discussions regarding a variety of topics such as the sexual revolution and the crisis of racism. The next chapter (The Locust Years) details the fall of the mainstream denominations, including the Catholic church, into  liberalism. The next chapter on accommodation details how Christianity tried to make itself acceptable to the community by accommodating in morality, ethics, and liturgy to a populist approach. This was shown as a  dismal failure. The Resistance chapter then speaks of the response of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant, to waning church populations,  and the attempts at rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants.

In part II, titled “The Age of Heresy”,  the chapters range from discussion of the loss in Catholic and Protestant circles of a sense of the text of Scripture, demonstrating both cluelessness as to what Scriptures say (a Glenn Beck illustration is given), and a desire of those like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels to resurrect “lost” gospels and create an alternative Christianity. Chapter six, “Pray and Grow Rich” focuses mostly on the religious right, and their prosperity gospel or mentality for such, even when (like  pastor Rick Warren) they overtly deny a prosperity gospel. Conversely, chapter seven, “The God Within” shows the religious left as forming new spiritualities which abandon all sense of Christian morality, to focus on the inner self, a cross between eastern mysticism and western psychobabble. The final chapter, “A City on a Hill” bounces back to the religious right, with inclusion of both republican and democratic parties, and attacks the mentality that views the USA as God’s last hope on earth, the sole island of faith in the world, and the sole defender of Christian value, and the exceptionalism of being American.

In a concluding chapter, Douthat gives an all-too-brief summary of a solution, which includes returning to the ancient faith, and developing an improved communication between the Catholic and Protestant conservatives. He discusses  the need for Christian culture to re-engage in the arts. He also stresses the importance of being Christian rather than party affiliated.

I have minor problems with the thesis of Douthat. While I appreciate his perspicuity  at identifying the problems of public faith in America, I think that some Calvinist glasses could have given him a better insight into all that has gone wrong. Essentially, we are witnessing a rebellion against God, and re-defining our commitments to other conservative Christians and to the church is only part of the answer. The personal sin of unbelief and repentance from that sin is not mentioned in the book. Return to the idolatries of Catholicism and the counter-idolatries of traditional Protestantism will only deepen our dilemma. His focus is not on truly Biblical solutions, including resolving the economic and social conundrums that bedevil our society. Is there a Christian economic? I tend to agree with Gary North that there is. How do we as Christians publicly deal with the sins of homosexuality, intolerance which comes in the form of political correctness, a court system that is a hotbed of injustice, civil servants and politicians that are corrupt to the bone, wanton greed thrown off as free-market Capitalism, the role of the church vs. the state in provision for the poor, etc., etc., etc.? To those questions, we will never have perfect answers in our lifetime, but perhaps Douthat will address in future writings.

In terms of critique of the Protestant church, Douthat is an addendum to Machen, Schaeffer, and David Wells. Francis Schaeffer remains the best voice yet in offering solutions to the hard questions of Christian life in the public square. Douthat excels at giving us a little bigger and better picture of the transmogrifying public religious scene that includes the Roman Catholic presence. Thus, it is very well worth reading.

ADDENDUM: 09NOV2013 I just got back from talking with Ross Douthat, and hearing him speak for 1.5 hours at Faith Presbyterian Church about his life and this book. His goals and objectives for writing the book are well accomplished. Douthat is not only articulate and quite brilliant, but very humble, soft-spoken, and caring. It is quite clear that his commitment to the orthodox Christian faith takes first place in his life. He was a joy to listen to, but also quite thought provoking about how we present ourselves as Christians in the public square.

 

New World Order

October 31st, 2013

DiceNWOThe New World Order, Facts and Fiction, by Mark Dice ★★★★★

Mark Dice is the guy you see on uTube interviewing people on the beach in San Diego. Typically, he will have them sign some sort of crazy petition, or ask them something quite obvious which they get wrong, such as whether Obama is a Republican or a Democrat. This book is one of his works of passion. It is an easy to read text, and displays Mark as a sensible person, and not a looney tune fearing the end of the world. It is sad that this book was published in 2010, and much of the more fearful concerns he had at that time, such as government surveillance of citizens, has really been shown to be true. It was the work of Snowden and others that left us all realizing that much of the doomsayers cries were true.

Mark uses the term “New World Order”, yet there is no such thing as a new world order. What he complains about in this book has been going on since the dawn of time. Today, we see events happening before our eyes, that often have had no good explanation. The news, which is supposed to be critical and investigatory, tends to be superficial, contrived, and predictable in their reporting. Is it any wonder that we are left in a quandary regarding figuring out what really is happening. Is is sad that the more critical Christian news agencies such as World Magazine lapse into the same errors as their secular counterparts, and offer no real alternative to the mainstream news media. Mark shows no evidence of having smoked odd substances in the past, or having his brain overheated in the sun of San Diego. He doesn’t believe in space aliens, and supra normal phenomena.

The brief outline of his book is as follows…

1. The idea of the New World Order – actually old world order, with some new intentions

2. Secret societies that tend to promote the idea of a “new world order”

3. How the “rulers” remain above the law

4. The unreliability of mainstream media in reporting what is really going on

5. The moral decline of society, seemingly encouraged from above

6. Banking

7. One world currency

8. Population control

9. Single world religion, the rise of atheistic satanism

10. Singe world dictator

11. Global police state

12. Global surveillance

13. Elimination of the right to bear arms

14. Elimination of US national sovereignty

15. Population monitoring in big brother fashion

16. Medicating the public

17. Science issues, including MK-ULTRA,  means of mind control and placing thoughts in ones’ mind

18. Global warming

He ends with the conclusion that our best defense is to start by keeping our eyes open, and knowing what’s going on. The book is brief, but believable, since much has come true since Mark wrote the book. It is not a call to escape or run in fear, but to rise and fight, and to be prepared. It is a book worth reading.

 

Make your First Thru-Hike a Success

October 29th, 2013

BrianLewisThru-HikeMake Your First Thru-Hike a Success, by Brian Lewis ★★★★★

Lewis is a fellow native Northwesterner, a person who had done the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trail thru-hikes before writing this book. It is written as an advice book in an entertaining narrative style to help one plan and accomplish a lengthy thru-hike. There are multiple links in the books to reference sites. It is his personal advice, and seems to be great advice at that. This was probably the most enjoyable book that I’ve read as yet on hiking the PCT, and is very easy to read. His advice on going super-light yet not minimalist is good. He gives advice on planning the trip, what to expect, what to wear, what to eat, what equipment to have and not to have, and a prudent way of caring to caches. He includes a lengthy bit of advice on wearing hiking shoes-not hiking boots—interesting, something that I’ll have to try. He gives advice about engaging loved ones at home to help the hike go better.

Brian’s trail name was Gadget, since he noted that he carried a smart phone with him. The smart phone acted as gps device, watch, phone, data device, mp3 player, and Kindle book reader. Brian also maintained a lengthy chronicle of his adventure, which I find puzzling, finding it hard to imaging anybody typing 3-5 paragraphs a night on a Kindle. I could see a mini iPad filling that roll, but not a smart phone.

The book that everybody recommends including Brian, that I have yet to read, is Yogi’s guide to the PCT. That book is large, expensive, and up-dated every other year or so to remain accurate, since things change. Once I get closer to a serious decision regarding a thru- or chunk-hike, then Yogi will be purchased and read.

 

Skywalker

October 29th, 2013

SkywalkerSkywalker, Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Bill Walker ★★★★

This is a book I read in Kindle, having downloaded it for free off of Amazon.com, and is Bill Walker’s account of walking the PCT. Bill Walker is an entertaining writer, and easy to read. He is realistic about what it takes to do the PCT, describes life on the trail as though you were there with him. He does an excellent job of describing both the beauty and misery of the PCT. Having been caught in many of the scenarios that he describes, such as miserable nights under attack by mosquitos, blisters on the feet, nights drenched in rain, I could feel for him. Bill went by the pseudonym Skywalker on his hikes, a tradition popular with  thru-hikers of both the Appalachian as well as Pacific Crest trail. Bill apparently lives in central Georgia, and notes that the trail was his first exposure to the pacific NorthWest. Fortunately, he did get a few days of sun in my part of the world. Bill noted that he worked in the financial world, and before the Appalachian trail, which he did a year or two before the PCT, he had never backpacked before. Bill likes to wax philosophical during his accounts and provide select history of various regions, something that did not really help the flow of the story. The story seems to be especially preoccupied with accounts of encounters with other thru-hikers, especially noting their free sexual escapades. This provides for amusement, mostly in showing the broad range of personalities and types of people that attempt a 6 month thru-hike. Bill had problems with blisters early in the hike, delaying him for three weeks. Thus, when he reached northern Washington state, heavy snow was already hitting the trail, a signal that he should have aborted his effort; he just doesn’t realize how bad things can really be in the mountains. This entertaining and un-glorified account of  a nearly complete (he skipped about 450 miles of trail for various reasons) thru-hike of the PCT is a worth-read for anybody thinking about the trail.

 

The Illuminati: Facts and Fiction

October 29th, 2013

IlluminatiThe Illuminati: Facts & Fiction, by Mark Dice ★★★★

Mark Dice is the guy you frequently see on uTube interviewing the riffraff of Southern California, while having them sign ridiculous petitions, such as to turn the country into a Nazi state, or to have everything under surveillance. He is excellent at humorously showing the cluelessness of Southern Californians. In this book, he attacks a favorite topic of his, the secret societies of the world. Though he labels the book “The Illuminati”, he only weakly shows how all the secret societies of the western world tie together, but discusses their origin and affect on politics and society today. He also discusses areas that he thinks have minimal to no evidence, or people that are true looney tunes paranoid about anything under any rock. The book is put together more in an encyclopedic fashion, rather than a linear discussion of a topic. Thus, he discusses a broad range of topics, from secret societies to space aliens. He spends much time in detailing secret societies in film, the news, in modern music, and in modern literature. The sad part of the book is that he only spends a few pages detailing a solution. Most importantly is being aware that such societies exist, and that they play a huge role behind the scenes in affecting the news and politics of the day. Secondly is to not fear such societies, that the biggest enemy of such societies is their exposure to the world. Thirdly is to be prepared. Food, water, guns and ammo, and gold are invaluable. Fourthly is to live a moral, righteous life. I probably would have placed his fourth item as first and foremost. Darkness is repelled by light, and the light of Scripture is the brightest light in this world. The book is best skimmed, but not to be laughed at. I will be reading one other book of his, “New World Order”, before moving on to more cheery topics, so expect another review soon (Dennis).

 

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology

October 22nd, 2013

Hodge

 

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology ★★★★

Several aspects of this review need to be separated. First I will comment on the media of the book, and then on the contents of the book itself.

This book was downloaded from Amazon.com. It is a large text, over 2700 pages in printed type, fitting into three volumes. I have the printed version, but decided to read the Kindle version instead, as it is more convenient. There are several serious problems with the Kindle version. It was a scanned edition, and the typos in the text are extremely numerous, and oftentimes very bothersome. Secondly, Charles Hodge quotes much latin, none of which is translated. He quotes and personally translates the German and French, but assumes that the reader will have a command of Latin. That was probably true in 1870, but absolutely not true in 2013, and thus any appropriate reproduction of this book should now have the Latin in translation.

Charles Hodge was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1851 to 1878. His thinking has heavily influenced evangelical thinking up to this present day. There is no doubt that Hodge is truly one of the great Presbyterian/Reformed theologians of all time. This set is his magnum opus, and a very fine display of his thinking. First, the problems with his writing. Hodge was affected by the science of the day, and often explores science. He often discusses the leading scientific and philosophical thinkers of his day and refutes them. Unfortunately, none of those thinkers are well-known today, and the subjects to be refuted would not be considered relevant today. The beauty of his writing overwhelms the problems. The style of writing is more similar to that of Michael Horton than of Louis Berkhof. Hodge attacks relevant topics, and leaves other topics only briefly discussed. He is not encyclopedic like Berkhof. Sometimes, he will ramble in philosophy. Otherwise, he might even quote scripture. Often, he will have a blend of both. At no time did I find him affronting my Reformed faith, but rather agreeing with it. Hodge is most masterful at tackling difficult theological issues, and the greatest beauty of this book showing how one can think through difficult theological issues in a very logical but Scriptural fashion. For Reformed thinkers, it is a must read at some time in ones’ life, just at Calvin’s Institutes should be read at some point in time.

I started reading this set late last year, interrupted by numerous other books. Nearly a year later, it is finally completed. I must now go on to read other texts. I am reading some history and hiking books on the iPad, and will begin Calvin’s Institutes, Battles’ version, soon. I made it nearly half way through the Institutes, and now need to start over and complete the task. It will probably take six or more months. The other theology texts waiting include Reymond’s recent systematic theology text, and Bavinck’s systematic theology – four volumes!, as recommended by Rob Rayburn. Stay tuned.

The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook

September 23rd, 2013

LongDistanceThe Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook, by Simon Doughty ★★★★

I purchased this book from Powell’s Bookstore. It is written from a British perspective, easily seen on the cover where the cyclists are headed towards you on the right side of the road. Doughty covers the whole gamut of long distance cycling, with touring being only a small aspect of that. He discusses bicycles and equipment, training, nutrition, and safety on the road. The book is well written and well organized, but not oriented around a specific type of cycling, thus is not a book that applies to many people. There are more specific touring books or long-distance road racing books that better. It is nice to see things from a British perspective, which is slightly different from the contents of a cycling book written in the USA.

 

Napolitano Three-in-One

July 27th, 2013

Napolitano3in1Three in One (Constitutional Chaos, The Constitution in Exile, and A Nation of Sheep), by Andrew Napolitano ★★★★

Napolitano can be a quite depressing writer to read. These three books, while published separately between 2003 and 2007, deal with similar issues, and have a very similar writing style, making them completely appropriate to publish together.  Napolitano, in these three books, gives the reader a barrage of documented court cases which show how the courts have ignored the constitution in their deliberations. Constitutional Chaos deals with how the government is the largest lawbreaker of them all. Free speech is gagged, respect for private property is not held, government will commit crimes in order to supposedly catch criminals, and often will force somebody into a crime in order to convict them. Worse, the government will bribe witnesses, intimidate witnesses to force convictions, and will deny a person habeas corpus, all while pretending to be operating in good faith with the constitution. Napolitano describes his journey away from being a die-hard Republican into thinking both parties are accomplices in destroying the constitution The Constitution in Exile continues the theme, this time providing a broader history of court cases from history, starting with Marbury vs. Madison, showing how the courts have engaged in judicial review, an activity not permitted by the constitution. Napolitano ends with a discussion of the PATRIOT act, showing how it has essentially removed any sense of right to privacy, all in the name of security. A Nation of Sheep extends the privacy issue, and argues with bewilderment as to why the US public would let the US government get away with what they do. The public doesn’t seem to understand that a small amount of security is coming at the cost of all of our freedom, the reason a revolutionary war was fought. The picture of the United States taking liberty to defy international law (often of which was written by the USA), in engaging in torture, subterfuge, absence of habeas corpus (no trial) paints a messy picture of the US being a rogue state of which we would easily condemn if it wasn’t ourselves. These books are a very depressing but realistic wake-up call, worth reading if you consider yourself concerned about the USA.

 

Theodore and Woodrow

July 27th, 2013

Theodore&Woodrow

 

Theodore and Woodrow, by Andrew Napolitano ★★★★★

This book was read on my iPad using the Kindle interface. I gave the book five stars even though it has it’s problems. The title is a little bit deceptive, in that not much is discussed about Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. My first impression was that this book would provide a history of these two presidents followed by descriptions on the damage they did to the US constitution. Instead, Napolitano organized the book as each chapter revolving around a particular freedom that was lost, spending a few paragraphs showing what Teddy or Woody did to “start the ball rolling”, with explanations of where we are today. Sixteen chapters range from the rise of the state controlling education, regulating us to death, creating racism, issues with labor laws, international politics, etc. etc. are all discussed and shown perhaps not to have started by Teddy or Woody, but to have brought into the mainstream of governmental influence by these two characters.  Napolitano doesn’t blame everything on Teddy and Woody, as  destruction to our constitutional freedoms began soon after the constitution was ratified among the various states. This is a quite educational book to explain how we possibly got into the mess that we’re in, worth reading by anybody interested in politics of the USA.

The Hobbit

July 7th, 2013

HobbitThe Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien ★★★★★

I believe this is my third time through the Hobbit, this time read entirely on my iPad via Kindle. It is a great book to read when engaging in an adventure, and this time it was a bicycle ride with an old friend in upper Michigan. Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit, called on by the wizard Gandalf to assist the dwarves in freeing their native homeland from the dragon Smaug. Tolkien skillfully combines the excitement of an adventure, with its many obstactles and dangers, as well as the excitement of the discovery of new lands and new friends, to induce one to leave ones’ comfortable habitat and journey to unknown lands. Tolkien skillfully mixes an exciting story with profound moral lessons to teach the necessity of doing what it right, even if it is costly. This, along with the Lord of the Rings, will remain one of my favorite books of all time.

The new Hobbit movie (which will be a trilogy, and only the first portion so far offered to the public) takes many liberties but remains reasonably faithful to the text of the story.

 

Tyranny Busters

May 16th, 2013

BenoitTyrannyTyranny Busters: The Sham and Shame of the Federal Income Tax, by Michael Benoit ★★★★

Michael Benoit sent this book to me a few months ago, and I finally found some time to read it. He is from California, has run for political office a few times in the past, and remains politically active. Benoit discusses the nature of the difference between direct and indirect taxes (since the constitution defines them as different!). Benoit struggles with the income tax, determining how it can legally be a graduated tax, since direct taxes much be apportioned equally as according to the constitution. He also struggles with trying to define if the law really does say that he need to pay an income tax.

This is a wonderful book that was educational in many regards to me. I don’t consider it particularly fun struggling with the nature of tax law. Benoit does it quite capably, yet is cautious in his recommendations. I presume that he has a grasp on the rogue, un-constitutional nature of the IRS. His main education in this regard has come from Otto Skinner, who seems to be attacked viciously by the group called Quatloos!, found on www.quatlosers.com. The only argument Quatloos seems to make against Skinner is that it is obvious that all people need to pay taxes and everybody knows that. Actually, the Quatloos argument is self defeating, since a substantial portion of our population, the 50% “poor” and the filthy rich (George Soros, etc.), pay almost no tax. It seems like some people “know” that you can avoid taxes, or not be legally responsible for paying them.

I defer to my brother’s attempt to define the US tax code. Multiple letters to the IRS were never responded to asking specific clarification of tax law. Perhaps Quatloos needs to speak with the IRS and inform them as to the precise nature of tax code. My brother depended mostly on the writings and advice of tax and constitutional lawyers Larry Becraft and Edwin Vieira, who seem to have a grasp at the true morass of our tax system. It is difficult to imagine our current system lasting much longer before the system breaks, leaving us either under anarchy and a new revolution, or under a Stalinist style police state. I’m grateful for those like Benoit with the courage to speak out and attempt to fix the system before it fixes us.

 

The Law

May 16th, 2013

TheLawThe Law, by Frédéric Bastiat ★★★★★

Frederic Bastiat was a Frenchman that lived from 1800-1850, and has been heavily influential on many economists and politicians since then, including our own Ron Paul. This book was sent to me by Michael Benoit. There is no better way to review this book than to provide for a series of quotes, either from him, or, one that would have been from him if he was still living.

Bastiat6 Bastiat7 Bastiat5 Bastiat3 Bastiat1

Bastiat4

I recommend without reservation reading The Law. It is a wonderful polemic against socialism and statism, with lessons that all Americans should learn, before they try to persuade themselves and others that we live in a free country.

 

 

English Standard Version Bible – Round 2

May 16th, 2013

esv-hcThe English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, by God ★★★★★

It isn’t fair rating the Bible. The Bible rates us, and not the other way around. The rating is more for the translation. I have an unfair prejudice in that I happen to personally know a number of people involved in the translation, but I really didn’t let that cloud my opinion. It was my first complete read-through in electronic format, reading the ESV on my iPad through the Olive Tree program.

I used to read the bible through on a yearly basis. Then, peripheral reading became important, and now I’m back. I actually started re-reading the ESV in November of last year, so that this was a less than 1/2 of year read. I learn something new every time I make it through the Bible, so I am constantly realizing how much I need to spend daily time in God’s word.

My next read will also be in the ESV translation, but I’ll be using Jim Price’s program to help me through. Jim studied physics at UCLA, eventually became highly successful in business, and has written a program called “Reading Plan” as an iPod app. He is now an elder in our church. It’s nice in that his program connects with most electronic bible versions, and has a vast assortment of reading programs for getting through the bible in a year. I plan on doing the Mc’Cheyne plan next, as it puts you through Psalms/Proverbs and the New Testament twice in the year.

 

Eternal God

March 3rd, 2013

EternalGodEternal God: A Study of God without Time, by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed the book God and Time-Four Views where Paul Helm was one of the contributors, and who argued for a classical interpretation from Augustine of a timeless God, who exists completely outside of time. This book is a further elaboration of his statements referred to in the four views text. Helm wrote an additional four chapters from the original edition to answer some of the criticisms of his work. Various criticisms still exist (e.g., see the review of this book at http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/eternal_god_a_study_of_god_without_time . The criticism that Helm remains aloof to new thinking on time is a poor argument; see my most recent review on the physics of time. The criticism of Helm lacking a philosophical grasp of time is completely unfounded. Though Helm prefers to remain biblical in his arguments, he seems to consider philosophy as a subset of theology, thus is entirely philosophical in his response. Helm realizes that he simply cannot provide a perfect answer as to how a being outside of space and time can think, move, act, create. Much of his argument is to show that answers other than his own do not make matters any more explainable. One could end up with a God that is not omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, but the sacrifice  leaves a god in man’s image and not the God of Scripture. William Lane Craig attempts to create a hybrid God, that can emerge from timeless existence and enter time. Helm adequately shows that this concept still leaves many philosophical inconsistencies. The book was a slow read, in that I am not used to endless philosophical terminology, yet it was easy enough to grasp where Helm was going, and thus is readable for those outside of the philosophic profession. It’s a wonderful read for those willing to venture into topics rarely ever addressed in sermons or devotional texts.

 

The Mystery of Banking

January 29th, 2013

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.

De Profundis

January 29th, 2013

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.

 

Babbitt

January 24th, 2013

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.

Against Christianity

November 25th, 2012

Against Christianity, by Peter Leithart ★★

This book is Peter Leithart’s latest publication, and with the provocative title, decided it was worth reading. It wasn’t. I have generally appreciated Leithart’s thinking and writing, but this book was a let-down. The preface begins with praise for various theologians, all in the new perspectives on Paul camp, various ethicists (Yoder & Hauerwas) and historian Wayne Meeks.  The NPP theologians have certainly created a stir in the Reformed Theology camps, yet seem to offer a diminishment of the gospel of the Reformers rather than a new enlightened perspective. I wouldn’t call them heretics, but I’d definitely identify them as outside of the Lutheran/Calvinistic tradition. The two ethicists’ writings often lead one to question whether they believe in the God of the Bible. Hauerwas was incidentally poked fun at because of his foul mouth in the final chapter, not exactly illustrative of one who would serve to develop one’s ethic. This doesn’t mean that Yoder and Hauerwas are to be dismissed, as, for example, Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens is a superb, must-read classic. Meeks also leaves one wondering whether he truly believes the Scriptures to be the word of God, and would be better placed in the camp of theological liberalism. One would almost wonder why Leithart left out Barth and Kung as among his heroes?

The first chapter is titled Against Christianity. Leithart identifies that the word “Christianity” is never mentioned in Scripture, and then selectively identifies “Christianity” as meaning the rituals, cultus, and behavior that Christians experience. Leithart then waxes long against Christianity being a privatized religion, emphasizing instead the cultural and community aspects of living as a Christian. Salvation, according to Leithart, happens in an ecclesiastical context, stating “The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The church is salvation” (emphasis Leithart’s). The theme against the “McDonalization” of Christianity, Christianity rather being a counter-culture to the world, and against all that the world represents. It is opposed to both political conservatism as well as liberalism when the focus is not on the kingdom of God. While I am in general agreement with Leithart’s thesis, his rough edges tend to diminish his message. I disagree that the church is salvation without clarifying what one means by that. I don’t feel that we trash the word “Christianity”, or replace it with the word “Christendom” as he has later in the book.

Chapter 2 is titled Against Theology. The chapter can briefly summarized as Leithart being opposed to a theology that does not beget worship and service. Leithart is definitely NOT against theology, and the title of this chapter is deceptive, since Leithart would take very strong statements against muddled or poorly done theology, no matter how devotional it leaves the practitioner. Leithart says nothing new that many others haven’t already said. JI Packer in particular comments that “there is no God in Berkhof” because Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is good but dry and technical, implying that theology should spontaneously lead to praise and worship.

Chapter 3, Against Sacraments, is not against sacraments, but against the way in which they have evolved in the Christian church, though Leithart also implies the entire ritual of Christian worship as part of the sacrament. Speaking against the Reformers who promoted the preaching of the word above the sacraments, Leithart actually calls for a return to an elevated significance to the sacraments as a form of public worship, and against privatized religion. Leithart then discusses at length whether the sacraments are symbolic or reality, and the answer is that they are totally both.

In Chapter 4, Against Ethics, Leithart speaks not against ethics, but rather spends his time developing an alternative ethic for the church. And this ethic, like the chapters before, is an ethic of the counter-culture church. He refers back to patristic church life making a positive identity in the world by clashing with the accepted Roman ethic. Leithart calls us back to a truly biblical ethical system.

The last chapter, For Constantine, begins as a polemic against the many writers, such as Hauerwas, who have concluded that Constantine was the start of the downfall of the church. Leithart sharply notes that such writers provide only the most pessimistic approach to Christiandom being a seasoning on the whole of society. Yet, Leithart’s argument in this book is quite incomplete. I suppose he expects you to read his Defending Constantine, which is not a bad book but off the topic of this book. He ends by noting that the spirit has abandoned the church, but, somewhere and somehow the church will rise again.

So, how do I provide a global summary to this book? Leithart presents nothing new in this text that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. Oftentimes, the reader is left wondering whether Leithart has been smoking something just made legal in the state of Washington. He reads in a disjointed fashion with a chip on his shoulder. He is out to prove an issue, and not to solve a problem. Thus, in spite of my appreciation for the writings of Leithart, I find it difficult to give this book more than 2 stars.

Gulag Archipelago

November 18th, 2012

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ★★★★★

This book details the Soviet prison system between the years 1918 and 1956. It was written based in part on the personal experience of the author, as well as the numerous contacts that Solzhenitsyn had with Zeks (prisoners) in the system. The book was originally written as three large volumes, but later abridged by the author to be one volume, though still fairly large. I read the book on Kindle.

I won’t labor to detail chapter by chapter the contents of this book, but note instead that the author offers a mix of very detailed history of the soviet prison system, as well as a commentary as to the effects of this system on the Zek. Solzhenitsyn offers deep insights into the philosophic effects of the brutality of the system, that condemned those to prison for no good reason and no respectable trial, and lead to the death of countless, perhaps millions of innocent people. Solzhenitsyn shows how when the state becomes more important than the individual, absolute tyranny occurs.

Solzhenitsyn writes in a very moving, heart-felt manner. His insights are most valuable. The parallels with the way the US is going leaves me no doubt that the Gulag story will someday (perhaps soon) be seen in America. Solzhenitsyn does not appeal to revolution, as he saw first-hand how revolution only leads to deeper tyrannies. Instead, he calls for an internal revolution, a realization that ones’ relation with God is the only thing of importance, responding to the world in a moral fashion, which they will not be able to know how to handle. Those who are politically active would be well-served with a copy of this book in their hand.

Conspiracy-A Biblical View

November 18th, 2012

Conspiracy-A Biblical View, by Gary North ★★★★★

This is the best conspiracy book that I have read so far, and probably the last for a while. He will freely admit that there are “conspiracies” out there, yet he won’t titillate the unctions of the extremitists that feel that there is a conspirator or one of his agents under every rock and behind every tree. This book was downloaded free from Gary North’s website, and was read in .pdf fashion on e-books for iPad. The book is dedicated to Antony Sutton and Otto Scott. Sutton was the author of a recently reviewed book by me, who sacrificed academic advancement to tell the truth. Otto Scott is an author that I once met and mostly writes Christian perspectives on political matters. His book on Robespierre is first-class.

In the preface, North notes “at long last, a growing minority of Christians has begun to understand the theological and organizational nature of the cultural and civilizational war they are in, and have long been in, unbeknownst to most of their predecessors” and then quotes Pat Robertson’s book on the New World Order. North notes that “The issue here is the new world order. Jesus Christ inaugurated a New World Order. His followers call it the New Covenant. No other world order will ever replace it. But, there are rival orders and would-be orders. They have their spokesmen.” He then quotes George Bush, but notes that George Bush, in calling for a NWO, misses a few hundred generations, back to ancient Egypt and before. So, North quotes Isaiah, “You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fea. And He shall be your dread.” Isa 8:12-13. Again, “most historians have substituted some variation of cosmic impersonalism – the rule of impersonal forces – for the biblical concept of cosmic personalism: the rule of God. Conspiracy historians have usually substitued a rival version of cosmic personalism: the rule of secret societies. The thesis is the same…”. By now in the introduction, the reader should already have a good idea as to where Gary North is going.

The Introductory chapter first compares open vs. secret ministries, noting that Jesus was always open, thus putting the church in direct opposition with secret societies. North then develops the thesis of the existence of secret societies, none of which should be doubted. He asks “Then comes the inevitable question: Who is covering up? And why? Why the conspiracy of silence? Is all of this crazy? Or is some of it correct? What should the serious Christian think about conspiracies?” Chapter one develops arguments that show the reality of conspiracies, but quotes heavily from CS Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength whic talks about the secret government organization N.I.C.E. that is clandestine, and intends of suppressing the liberties of mankind, a suggestion that even CS Lewis took conspiracies seriously. The end of chapter again brings the reader back to a biblical viewpoint, noting that the conspiratorial time frame has been going on since Cain and Abel, with the fundamental ethical issue, “Which God should men worship?”. “There is one conspiracy, Satan’s, and ultimately it will fail”.  Chapter two discusses the biblical doctrine of human leadership, as modeled by King David. North then discusses the myth of the “will of the people”, as though the democratic process controls what happens in a western government. Yet, the people remain clueless (naive) as to how things really work. North diminishes the idea that our salvation comes through education, but rather, through a return to a biblical morality. I’ll quote one of North’s examples. Why did the sixteenth amendment on the federal income tax go through (perhaps/probably even illegally!)? The public was sold the bill that they should sock it to the rich. A moral public would have objected to that. It might not have been coincidental that the sixteenth amendment passed just at the time that theological liberalism was taking root in American society. North notes that moral principles are skirted by the plea for “value-free” (moral-free) solutions.

Chapter three delves into the theology of the conspiracy. He notes “the chief premise of the modern conspirator is this: Man, the savior of man.” After attacking Marxism, North notes that Christians must not hide and “wait for the rapture”, but need to become politically active. Because man is fallen, it is necessary to convey limited power to the ruling class, with absolute authority given only to God. North concurs that our constitution is correct in limiting power of the governed, which is why the constitution is now being skirted about by the ruling class. North realizes that there must be a sustaining religion that governs society. The church and state must remain separate but in alliance. Contrary to Marxism, “ethics is primary, not economics or political power”. North then viciously (and properly) attacks the system of fractional reserve banking, showing how it guarantees corruption. Later, North comments, “The motivation of conspiracies is simple: to be as God”.

Chapter four discusses specific conspiracies, but notes that should the various conspiratorial organizations be suddenly terminated, our problem would not be solved because other organizations would rise to fill the void. More important, according to North, is to be aware of their presence, and that their presence is contrary to Scriptural norms. The next chapter details how conspiracy historians have fared and failed in the course of history. An informed public is contrary to the intentions of the ruling elite. He uses numerous examples, one of which is the US entry into WWII, after heavily funding Hitler.  The role of the council on foreign relations is heavily mentioned. Yet, to believe in secret events that influence political policy and decision making, one will recieve the sarcastic accusation of Rockefeller “I never cease to be amazed at those few among us who spot a conspiracy under every rock…”. Chapter 6 notes that there have been people willing to take the insults of Rockefeller and speak the truth. Carroll Quigley is heavily quoted, as well as James Billington. The response of the elite scholars goes in three phases 1) It isn’t true, 2) It’s true, but irrelevant, to 3) We knew all about it years ago. Chapter seven notes disruption of the conspirators, as the public becomes aware of the inside actions of the power elite. North calls for a counter-offensive of a) self-education, b) morally grounded mobilization, c) cut off the funds to the State. Chapter 8 calls for the replacement of evil with good. North appeals to replacing the power elite with godly men. Victory comes through steady, long-term replacement. Action begins locally, by being a member of a committed church. It comes through raising children in a family and not educated by the state. It comes through becoming politically active. It comes through educating others as to what is really going on.

I appreciate this book since it puts a strong biblical perspective on conspiracies. They are not something to fear or run from, but to fight again, since the fight is a theological battle. In this regard, a previous book that I reviewed by Leithart remains completely consistent, contrary to comments to my review that are posted on this website. And, I’d expect that, since Leithart studied under Gary North at one time. The reality is that there is only one conspiracy that has existed through the ages, but manifested in various ways, shapes and forms. Christians should seriously realize that many of whom they deem to be “christian” are a part of the “other” side, and that political party doesn’t separate the Christians from the pagans. This book is free, it is easy to read, and clearly offers a solution to the “conspiracy”. There is no excuse to not download and read it. (That means you too Dennis! Please read the book before commenting! It’s a price that you can afford)

Brotherhood of Darkness

November 18th, 2012

Brotherhood of Darkness, by Dr. Stanley Monteith ★★★

Dr. Monteith has a engaged in the collection of information on conspiracies for many years, in order to write this book. He provides a very brief overview of the many “conspiracy” groups out there, and how we should respond to them. This is an easy-to-read, short, four chapter book, the last chapter taking up about half the book. Monteith first emphasizes the importance of grasping the concept that politics and world affairs are not necessarily occurring the way the news states that they are. Perhaps there are people and groups that are influencing how things happen, that go unnoticed by the general public. Chapter two dashes through a lengthy array of groups that have influenced state politics throughout that last several hundred years, including various bankers such as the Rothschilds, the trilateral commission, etc., etc.  He notes the influences that have brought on the world wars, but particularly notes how the Jews have often been unjustly the scapegoats. Needless to say, the amount of evidence of support from the Western world for the two world wars, and to the rise of communism can no longer be disputed. The ultimate question as to why the Rockefellers, Wilson, Roosevelt, and others dumped billions of dollars into the Bolsheviks and subsequent Soviet state may not ever be answered, yet the fact that without their activity, wars and oppressive states would never have existed. Chapter three elaborates on chapter two, providing further evidence, mostly based out of Quigley’s book Tragedy and Hope. Chapter 4 becomes more esoteric, elaborating on the role of the Masons, and then of occult Satanic organizations in attempting to form a one-world government. To this he is correct in that the struggle is not against the various states, but against the world and the people of God. I find it diffult to disagree with Monteith on this point, yet am perplexed as to his ultimate solution. How does he propose we fight these clandestine organizations? Certainly the call to godly living in implicit in his argument, but what does he propose we do about the Bilderbergers? Should we greet their meetings with bullhorns such as what Alex Jones is doing? Should we stop paying taxes and leave the country as brother Dennis did? Should we engage in public nuisance protests such as the Occupy movement? Monteith leaves one in the dark. Perhaps the next book on conspiracy that I review provides a much better approach to this subject, with a means of forming a personal response that is both effective and biblical.

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

November 18th, 2012

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Carl Trueman ★★★★

This is a short but sweet little book that can easily be read in one setting. It consists of three talks that Trueman gave regarding the status of evangelicalism. This was read on my iPad while on vacation to Israel.

The first chapter delineates the problem of defining evangelicalism. The issue is focused around a Wheaton professor who declared that he was returning to the Catholic church, yet still was able to sign the evangelical creed of Wheaton college. Chapter 2 focuses on several problem points for evangelical scholars. One is maintaining doctrinal intregity while competing for excellence in academia against liberals who tend to denigrate a strict biblical approach. Another issue is the weakening stance of evangelicals on morality, caving in on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. The third chapter concludes that with the loss of doctrinal basis, there really is no such thing any more as an evangelical. To quote the last sentence, ”

The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel. Until we acknowledge that this is the case—until we can agree on what exactly it is that constitutes the evangel—all talk about evangelicalism as a real, coherent movement is likely to be little more than a chimera, or a trick with smoke and mirrors.”

Trueman offers nothing new in what many other conservative scholars have been saying about the crisis in conservative evangleical Christendom. His style of writing is enjoyable, yet the content is weighty and holds serious concerns. I can’t recommend this book among the many others with a similar topic out there, with authors such as Os Guinness, DA Carson, and even Francis Schaeffer.

Minority Report

October 29th, 2012

Minority Report, by Carl R. Trueman ★★★★

This book is a minimally cohesive set of 16 essays written by Carl Trueman, and published as a single volume. Though the subtitle reads “Unpopular thoughts on everything from ancient Christianity to Zen-Calvinism”, I wouldn’t necessarily classify anything he says as distinctly unpopular to the conservative reformed movement. Trueman writes as a church historian, and his fundamental thesis is how our loss of a true historical perspective prevents us from having a correct present and future perspective. This is now the third book that I’ve read by Trueman, and  appreciate his writings as reflective of a slightly different than straight American conservative perspective. Unfortunately, his love for classic rock and roll and socialism in government clouds his thinking from being Biblical. He is a mix that provides both humor and seriousness to otherwise quite serious and vital topics.  Rather than summarize every one of the 16 essays, I’ll simply provide some highlights of the book that caught my attention.

Regarding his discussions with Rushdooney regarding denial of the holocaust, he states “the perplexingly popular (in some circles) Rousas J. Rushdoony, with some of his more distasteful followers” who perpetuate [such myths that the holocaust did not happen].

“American public morality is increasingly that of the marketplace, and moral truth is that which the cultural market forces permit, or, in some cases demand. Think for examples, of the recent emergence of phenomena such as gay gay tourism and gay television channels. Would these things happen if they did not provide opportunities for moneymakeing…” Then speaking of the new radicals in society “like pouting teenagers in pre-torn designer jeans and Che Guevara tee-shirts, they look angry and radical but are really as culturally conformist and conservative as ta tall latte from Starbucks”.

“I have a colleague who prayed for world peace at a recent service and was admonished for praying an “unAmerican” prayer. The fact that there is such a term as “unAmerican” is itself interesting. There is no real equivalent as far as I know in other countries with which I am familiar: what would “unDutch” or “unBritish” mean, I wonder? This is because “American” is not a term which speaks primarily of geographical location or a birthplace but rather of a set of values. Such values can be defined in various ways; but, however that may be done, “unAmerican” is regarded by all as a pejorative. That it can be used in a church context about a prayer for peace gives one worrying pause for thought…” Later, in talking about churches that also push a political agenda, “Bluntly put, if I have to buy your political manifesto in order to buy your gospel then your church is indulging in a dangerous confusion of categories and excluding individuals and groups from its congregation. They are excluded on grounds other than that of simply being outside of Christ. A gospel that is too American in this sense is no gospel at all”

At least three essays are spent on the issue of prominent Protestants converting back to Catholicism. To that he says “I find myself in smypathy [with the Catholic converts in] the problems described as part and parcel of some trajectories of evangelicalism (the reinvention of Christianity every Sunday, the consumer-oriented worship styles, the overall intellectual superficiality and banality of evangelical approaches to theology, to hisotry, to tradition, and to culture); yet I still disagree with those individuals who see conversion to Rome as the answer. I would want to argue that conversion to confessional Protestantism is at least worth a glance as oanother option before deciding to throw one’s whole lot in with Rome. Confessional Protestantism has a heistoric, creedal integrity, it takes history seriously; it refuses to assume that the latest pulp evangelical primer on postmodernism is an adequate basis for ditching the whoe of its tradition; and it wants to take seriously what wthe church has said about the Bible over the centuries..”.

I’ll cease quoting at this point. As a set of essays, the book lacks the cohesivity that I expect when somebody binds a smattering of writings together into one volume. Such an act in itself tends to trivialize the subject matter. Yet, Trueman is enjoyable to read, and provides a slightly different from mainstream through definitely Reformed position on life.

 

America’s Secret Establishment

October 27th, 2012

America’s Secret Establishment; An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones, by Antony Sutton ★★

America’s Secret Establishment is an exposé of the secret society located at Yale University called the Order of the Skull and Bones.  Sutton managed to obtain a modest amount of documentation and information detailing the character and nature of this very obscure society, where even the most inane details of the society are considered top secret. The Order initiates only 15 people per year, all male, and thus maintains a tight seal on the membership and activities of the Order. For the most part, much of what Sutton had to say about the Order was entirely conjectural, since information was not available. What Sutton was able to determine was the membership of the Order, and thus to identify influences in America and throughout the world that these individuals played. Through extrapolation, Sutton was able to conclude that the Order had every intention on turning the world into one massive socialist state, the New World Order.

Though Sutton is quite informative about the Skull and Bones, his book left too much out to make it of value. First, he concludes that the Order controls every aspect of American society, not only from politics, but religion, economics, business, education, and law. This is hypothesized, since there happen to be members of the Order who are prominent lawyers, and high up in politics (presidency), and religion (control of Union Seminary). Yet, the Order tends to pick top of the Yale class students who are active in sports, highly sociable, i.e, the most-likely-to-succeed candidates. Thus, Sutton’s identification of members of the Order being involved in all aspects of society is slightly more profound that saying that there is an Ivy League or New England secret society conspiracy. That is not to say that I don’t find it bothersome that so many prominent leaders in society are members of a secret society. Unfortunately, our act of taking the Order seriously only increases the sense of significance that society members maintain.

The first chapter is a review of the evidence for the society, and the known structure of the society. Sutton makes it clear that this is not a right or left-wind political society, in that it has members from both stripes, including many liberals, as well and George Bush and William Buckley.  Chapter 2 tries to show how the Order has attempted to destroy education in America. He does this first by complaining against the new methods of teaching reading. He then outlines how educational theory came from Germany, and was brought into the US in an attempt to make every schoolchild a servile entity for the state. The basis for education, Sutton would say, is Hegelian. Perhaps it is also Kantian. Sutton has to blame all defects on Hegel, since it was Hegel that gave rise to both Karl Marx (socialism) and Adam Smith (capitalism). Plus, Hegel explains (according to Sutton) why the Order can make entirely opposite actions and be internally consistent—they merely are trying to create a Hegelian dialectic of two opposites, that will lead to a resolution, and the Order profits off of the entire process of resolution. The secret society of the Illuminati is occasionally thrown in, even though this society was eliminated in the late 1700’s. I guess Sutton figures it still lives on as a super-secret society, and the parent of the Order as well as the Fabian Society in England.

The third chapter delves into the Order creating war. Sutton leaves enormous gaps. He was able to identify various members of the Order acting as banking personnel that provided loans to both the Bolsheviks and to Hitler. With Hitler, it was a matter of shear corporate greed, and I doubt a conspiracy was involved, even members of the Order might have been involved in the secret trades with Hitler. With the Bolsheviks, it is another story, as Sutton presupposes that those Bankers that operated in Russia were able foretell the future of Soviet communism. It seems (correctly) that members of the Order perhaps saw an advantage of a strong Bolshevik influence in diminishing Western trade, such as with competition for the supply of oil.

The fourth chapter attempts to prove that the Order of Skull and Bones is deeply entwined with the occult, and is a Satanic society. He mentions certain rituals, and certain symbolism within the Order headquarters that offer unquestioned “proof” of such occultism occurring. Such may be the case, but Sutton’s evidence is flimsy, at best. The use of skull and bones, the note that initiates take a bath naked in mud, etc. seems more sophomoric than representative of a deep evil.

I read this book with the understanding from brother Dennis that Sutton was one of the more insightful investigators into the secret societies and conspiracies that are besetting America. Perhaps, but this book is so weak as to be laughable if it wishes to develop that thesis. Sutton so often has to provide conjectures. He suggests that there is a big circle of influence, through the Council of Foreign Relations, a tighter circle of the Order of Skull and Bones, but then, even in the Order, there is only a select few in the inner circle that truly control the Order, and thus control the world. This suggests that there is a substantial chain of command between circles, yet Sutton provides no evidence that this exists. Sutton must constantly bring back Hegel in order to explain why the Order seems to continually act in odds with itself. I find this reasoning entirely non-convincing. Even Christ noted that a house divided cannot stand, should the person be the devil himself.

After reading this book, I quickly reviewed another conspiracy book in my library, Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier.

This book does not seem to be intended to be read cover to cover. It covers a number of families, including the Rothschilds, Onassis’, Kennedy’s, DuPonts and Russells. Springmeier is a mostly self-acclaimed preacher with two years of bible school. He notes how these families have intimate ties with Judaism, Roman Catholicism, the Jehovah Witnesses, and Mormons, and thus indites them all as part of the conspiracy. He is able to trace various families, and thus hypothesize regarding secret influences that these families have held on society.

The ultimate bottomline is that as I read more and more about the secret societies that rule the world, and create their own wars, stock market collapses, educational failures, etc., etc., I am less convinced that there is anything organized and controlling. I am more convinced that there is much out there that we will never know about; secrets exchanged, deals engaged, money, weapons, and technology transferred, all against the law, but all supporting the notion that all of mankind is fundamentally and to the core, evil. So it is not surprising that evil desires darkness to work its dirty deeds.

Sutton even admits that the John Birch Society has disagreed with him regarding the absolute significance of highly organized conspiracy. I agree with the JBS that the Order feeds the system with individuals that hold their own interests to the disadvantage of the rest of society. But, I must return to my book review by Peter Leithart, and heavily criticised by brother Dennis. Dennis even had the audacity of calling Peter Leithart an idiot, and simply did not understand the fundamentals about how the world really works. My final conclusion is that Leithart is the wiser, and perhaps the idiot is one who simply cannot believe that others might possess the more Scriptural insight. Perhaps Dennis did not realize that Leithart had studied under Gary North, and sits in the Reformed camp. To reiterate, Leithart emphasized that the “us” and “them” are not the people vs. the conspirators, but it is the people of God vs. the people of the devil. Leithart has a correct (and Reformed as compared to Anabaptist) sense of how Christians should interact with society. While the Anabaptists (and Dennis) create a gnostic sense of body/soul dualism, the Reformers see mankind as a monism, and that interaction in society is not in itself wrong. Thus, Christians can be active in politics, in public debate, in working to offer a Christian influence to society. To hide will not avoid the tarnish of secularism as the heart, even of the Christian, will remain to corrupt and destroy.

For those texts that are loved and devoured by conspiracy theorists, I have yet Caroll Quigley’s Tragedy & Hope. It may be a while before I get to that text. I plan to read yet a book by a physician on the brotherhood of darkness, as well as a book by Gary North on conspiracy theories. This whole subject of conspiracy theories looks interesting, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree that there is a handful of bankers and politicians that operate in a clandestine fashion to pretend that they “control” the world. Those who seek world domination are the greatest fools, failing to see how God controls them, and laughs at them. It is worth memorizing the second Psalm, that couldn’t have summarized things better, …

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

 

Affirming the Apostles’ Creed

October 25th, 2012

Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, by J.I. Packer ★★★★★

Packer takes 18 short chapters to briefly summarize the meaning of the apostle’s creed. This book is written more in the form of a devotional book or introductory text to the Creed. It is not an advanced analysis of the origin and substance of the creed. Still, Packer never writes fluff, and this book is pure solid meat all the way through. Packer has a way of bringing home the truths of Scripture to help one understand why every bit of doctrine is of vital importance. This book is worth reading for anybody of all ages. Betsy and I read the book together each morning before going to work.

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

October 20th, 2012

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by Carl Trueman ★★★★★

This book is small and short, a compilation of a series of four lectures he gave at a conference in Wales in 1999. Contrary to the other book I had just reviewed by Trueman (Republocrat), I loved this book. It is light reading, in that it is composed as lectures. Trueman spares no punches. Trueman’s concern is the church, and these lectures are addressed to both intending to go into the ministry. The first lecture addresses the relevance of the Reformation in our day. Trueman addresses excesses, both in forgetting the lessons of the Reformation, but also the excess of idolizing the Reformation, and putting a halt to the principle that we need to be ever reforming the church. Perhaps both excesses are just as dangerous. The second chapter addresses the Bible as a book of sorrow, and speaks of how our fun-loving entertainment culture makes pleasure/happiness our goals even from the pulpit perspective. The third lecture refers back to the Scripture being our sole guide, and how ministers must have a total command of the Scriptures, including a mastery of Biblical languages and systematic theology. The final lecture wraps up with a discussion of our assurance in Christ, and how today’s world seeks to identify that assurance through either actions or feelings that we experience, rather than focusing completely on Christ.  This book is a highly relevant read, a reminder of the faith that we have but are so quick to forget.

Durch die Wüste

October 19th, 2012

Durch die Wüste, by Karl May ★★★★★

Durch die Wüste means “Through the Desert”, and is the first of many adventure novels published by Karl May, written at the end of the 19th century. It is an adventure story along the lines of Indiana Jones, and probably served as the model for Indiana Jones and other similar movies. The adventurer, Kara ben Nemsi travels from the North Saharan desert across Egypt, to Mecca, and ends with him preparing to enter Kurdistan, thus the sequel is Durch Wilde Kurdistan. I read the book in order to better understand German, and it was great at being about 98% understandable, with only a few parts completely passing me by. I’ll probably continue the novels, but the read is rather slow. It took me about 3-4 months to get through this book, and was read on my Kindle. The book is highly recommended for those learning German.

 

None Dare Call it Conspiracy

October 18th, 2012

None Dare Call it Conspiracy, by Gary Allen ★★★

Who doesn’t want to rule the world? While madmen like Dr. Evil, Pink Panther and James Bond villians, and others have been made the brunt of Hollywood comedies and spy films, it perhaps distracts us from the fact that there may be people who would like to rule the world. Some have been accused of desiring world domination, like Adolf Hitler and Mao TseTung, but history and available evidence suggests otherwise. It is unfortunate that those least accused of desiring world domination are those most obscure to most of us. The effort of this book is to point out those groups and individuals. Allen begins the book by simply stating that the evidence is so overwhelming of a mass conspiracy, that doubting the conspiracy suggests that one is blind to the facts. Yet, Allen fails to provide any substantial proof in this book that such an entity exists. Allen focuses mainly on the international bankers and Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), of which the bankers have an intimacy. Little mention is made of the Bilderberg group, the Club of Rome, the Jesuits and Illuminati, and other hypothetical world conspirators. I’m sure there are many more groups out there. I’d like to rule the world, so, I guess that I am a one-man conspiracy. Allen is prudent enough to disengage himself from the more dark shadowy groups out there, like the Illuminati and Masons. Allen has a good point in this book. It is in the bankers best interest to have a controlling influence on politics, while not having to have a public face. It is in the interest of CFR members to control world policy to their best interest. If one calls it a conspiracy that the bankers and CFR (and Bilderbergers) are intimate, perhaps there is a conspiracy out there.

Much discussion was given to the banking influence at fueling world conflicts. Allen discusses what many already know that bankers such as the Rothschilds were funding both sides of the conflict in both WWI and WWII, and have done much to force conflict to happen. Allen might have included many other major conflicts. He fails to explain precisely why banking would be interested in funding the weaker side of a conflict, knowing that the money will be lost forever. He also fails to include the host of other factors that fuel the wars and conflicts that occur in today’s world. I simply cannot accept the statement of so many conspiracy theorists that it was the bankers were the predominant factor that created the major conflicts of the world. It had to have been greatly multifactorial, with banking simply facilitating and encouraging on the conflicts.

Is it the conspiracy (Allen calls them the Insiders without telling you exactly who they are) that is leading the world to various forms of socialism, whether it be national socialism, fabian socialism, or international socialism (communism)? I doubt it. I can see how fabian style socialism can be desirable by the super-rich such as Soros or Rothschild, since it allows them to control decisions that ultimately serve their own interests. In other forms of socialism, everybody loses except for a single few people. How communism would be desirable to bankers escapes me, yet Allen suggests that ultimately bankers and Insiders would like the entire world under strong socialist monetary control.

Worst for this book is failing to understand that man is inherently evil and self-oriented, and that any position of power will ultimately seek to further one’s own best interests. Allen fails to suggest that events, circumstances, economic cycles, wars, poverty and wealth follow certain paths and laws outside of any evil minded masterplots, and that in all aspects, whether in the big or the small picture, God is in control. So, people will think that they are in control, only if we remain blistfully unaware of them.  Allen provides part of the picture, but not the big picture, of what’s going on out there. And for part of the picture, it is worth reading. The book is a little bit dated, written in 1972 when the USSR was still going strong.

 

Between Babel and Beast

October 14th, 2012

Between Babel and Beast, America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, by Peter Leithart ★★★★★

This is one of the better books I’ve read in a while, and so will spend more time than usual in offering a review. It is uncommon that I would order more copies of a book soon after completing it, in order to encourage others to read the book, but this book is an example of such a text. It is a must-read for Americans. I  enjoy reading Leithart, even though our denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) has occasionally attempted to label him a heretic for his stance on federal vision, an entity that I’ve yet to have a competent theologian adequately define for me.

I’ve been  interested in the dynamics and politics and religion since it is an election year, and the politicians are out selling themselves. Some theonomists would argue that there is no difference between politics and religion (such as Rushdooney), since the only legitimate government is a Christian government that follows the civil law of Moses. Such will be the case when the saints alone rule the earth in their original condition absent of original sin. Until then, we must always differentiate between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Leithart asks a penetrating question as to how the kingdom(s) of man treats those of a Christian faith. Do the various nations of the world act against God’s kingdom or in support of it?

The introduction to the book first explains the purpose of Leithart writing the book. In a way, it is a sequel to another book he wrote titled “Constantine”. This book was reviewed by me previously. Before beginning the book, Leithart gently reminds the reader that he (assuming that the reader is an American Christian) is first and foremost a Christian, but also a reminder that America is a part of the city of man. He will elaborate on that much further in the book.

The first three chapters with its conclusion are a history of empires from a biblical perspective. Beginning with the first empire ever, Babel, Leithart outlines in the first chapter the evolution and children of Babel through the book of Genesis. Babel is not used in a particularly perjorative sense, but simply to define an institution that is the “city of man”, a political state or empire established on earth. Introduced in Genesis is also God’s imperium, God’s rule on earth, found in those faithful to Him. The promise to Abraham to build him into a great nation echoed that counter to the Babel that Abraham came out of. Chapter 2 continues with the children of God (Israel) being delivered from the Babel of Egypt. The allusions to the similarity of Abraham being called out of Ur were emphasized. Similarly, the call of the Jews out of Babylon/Persia back to the land of Israel was again likened to the exodus of Moses. Leithart spends much time in Daniel, first discussing how empires could be beasts (by mistreating God’s people) or not, such  as Cyrus returning the Jews back to the homeland. Thus, the conclusion was that the Old Testament was not against empire, but against rival imperialisms, “rival visions for the political salvation of a human race”. The third chapter continues into the Roman empire, with both bad news (the execution of Christ and martyrdom of the saints) with good news, such as with Constantine and most the emperors after him supporting the Christian church, and allowing it to behave freely. Good news included protections in the apostolic period, where Paul appealed frequently as a citizen of Rome, and Rome protecting Paul, giving him free transport to Rome to build the church there.

Chapters 4 & 5 comprise a new section, titled “Americanism”. Chapter 4 (Heretic Nation) describes what it means to be American, holding “an assurance that the declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution establish the best political order the world has ever seen, the last best hope of mankind… Our national self-consciousness is a “Messianic consciousness””. Chapter 4 is a lengthy chapter that I will inadequately summarize. Leithart discusses how with the rise of Constantine and eventually the fall of Rome, the struggle for identity of the roles of church and state have been prevailing themes. Church historians, including Eusebius emphasized that Constantine was like another Moses, delivering the people of God. Thus a transformation occurred on how church and state regarding each other. Such examples include Pope Gregory VII instituting the concept of a holy war. As national identities became more prominent in Europe,  the state played on this notion, leading to many religious wars. The puritans sought delivery from this, sailing to America to form a new hope for man, a new world order, a nation that could be religiously free and beacon to the world; essentially, it was the formation of a new “Israel” , and puritan reading of scripture had a strong nationalist bent. Leithart offers many examples throughout American history of politicians likening America to the new “Israel”. Leithart continues, “Americans are today biblically illiterate, but biblical cadences continue to echo in our political rhetoric, setting the terms of our nation purpose and mission. It was no accident that President Bush memorialized the first anniversay of 9/11 with a Statue of Liberty speech full of intertexual links with the opening verses of John’s Gospel… Bush like many American Christians, has so instinctively and viscerally identified Jesus with the spread of American-style liberty that he can hardly distinguish them.” American wars were referenced to “Americanist typology…  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord,” … fighting and dying like Christ not to make men holy but “to make men free””. Concluding, “Sacrifice American style can only go on and on. For in Americanism, this fourth great biblical religion, there is no final sacrifice, no end to bloodshed until we have rid the world of evil, until the American creed becomes the creed of humnity. In this too, we are a heretic nation”. Chapter 5, summarized briefly, mixes quotes which adamantly state that we are not an empire and we do not interfere with the affairs of other nations, with the examples that prove that we do everything but that. Starting with Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, Monroe’s doctrine, speeches from Washington, he shows the extreme political hypocrisy. Sadly the examples of history do NOT start with our involvement in WWI like we are typically taught, but rather from the inception of our empire, with the war against the Barbary Pirates in 1803, to our involvement in conflicts in the Philippines in 1813, our treatment of the Indians, and our development of manifest destiny, all show our early and aggressive entanglements around the globe.

Part III of the book, labeled between Babel and Beast, everything is attempted to be put into context of how Christians should view America. Chapter 6, American Babel, starts…”Europe’s secularization is its long retreat from Christendom, the disestablishment of the church, the decline of active Christianity, the migration of the holy from the church to the nation. Americanism is impervious to secularization of the European variety because America was never part of Christendom to begin with”. The growing spirit of the importance of the American message in the world is then shown by Leithart in numerous historical examples, one example being that of John Foster Dulles, a very devout Christian, who helped form the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and felt it important for America to make the rules for how nations should behave with each other. In all points “American policy must estabish, ensure, and maintain the dominance of America. Whether the dominance was of American ideals or America as a great power dictating the terms of a world made comparatively little difference”. Later, Leithart states “Anyone who thinks that apocalypic political rhetoric is a thing of the past, or who thinks that Americans have given up thinking of ourselves as a messianic nation, … has not been listening carefully to the rhetoric of the war on terror. . . Americanism is a mythology that justifies American power and explains–sometimes explains away–American action… Scratch Americanist rhetoric, and the reality beneath the skin is often un-American and undemocratic. These inconsistencies are perhaps inherent in Babelic imperialism: Babels call the nations to a glorious vision of a single tower and city ands speak with a single lip, but the aim is finally to promote Babel’s interests and advance Babel’s power.” Many examples of America advancing their influence in the world contrary to our own states principles are given. Leithart offers a lengthy diatribe against our stated agreement from the 1923 Hague conference against using warfare, most notably aerial  bombardment, as a means of inflicting injury on civilian populations. The offenses  against warfare against civilians since 1923 are too numerous to mention, but perhaps one needs to be reminded of the true story of Kurt Vonnegut in Dresden at the end of WWII. It makes one want to weep. Chapter 7 finally asks whether America, as an empire (Babel), is a good empire, or an evil one (beast). He mentions how the US has done great good, mostly through our citizens (eg., Voice of the Martyrs, intervention on Afghan converts, etc.), something no other nation would have done. The tone quickly changes as to how much of our foreign aide has gone to nations who aggressively suppress Christianity. In effect, much of America’s actions seem to be detrimental to the kingdom of God (the church) on earth. He ends with the sober admonitions, “we play with beasts, and our Americanist lenses do not allow us to see the danger. We fund our favorite beasts, then turn a blind eye when they devour the saints. It is a dangerous position, not only for the Christians who suffer at the hands of our allies, but also for the United States. Those who consort with beasts might become bestial, and beasts do not long survive”. “As far as Christians are concerned the only appropriate response is to repent of being Americanists…”.

Unfortunately, most who read this book, or the summary that I offer, will either a) object vehemently to Leithart’s admonitions, feeling that he is unfair to the American experiment, or b) somehow feel that we are beyond or above this book. None of us are above the admonitions in this book. Americanism has pervaded us to the point of being beyond recognition. Leithart does not call us to leave the U.S. We cannot establish a haven elsewhere in the world as such an action is nothing more than repeating the error of our ancestors in coming to America. He is quite perceptive about identifying the political mis-thinking of much of the American church, and to that we must give our undivided attention.

As a side note, Leithart does not hold to conspiracy theories, or a dark mind working behind everything. He would be the first to identify the crisis of Babel results from original sin, which is unescapable in this life. I would agree that Americanist ideology is the second tier above that, as Leithart identifies in this book. The corruption and influence of the trade and banking system is only subservient to the ideology of Americanism, whether it be to oppress poor nations by import tariffs, or create wars to promote the military industrial complex. Those who feel that the bankers control the world are naive to the ideologies that control the banking systems. Whatever your take on this book, the reader will find it thought provoking, and well organized. To Americanism, we must weep and repent.

 

Christless Christianity

October 9th, 2012

Christless Christianity, by Michael Horton ★★★★

By now, those who follow my blog might have noted that I have recently reviewed now three books by Michael Horton. I believe this to be the last, at least for a while. I tend to pick up an author and attack a few of their books before moving on, and that’s what I’ve done with Horton.  Like the book just reviewed on the Christian in culture by Horton, this book is another “me-too” book, this time discussing the loss of Christ in the American church. Horton is following in the heels of a number of superb writers on this subject, including Schaeffer, Carson, David Wells, Os Guiness, just to name a few. Yet, Horton does a superb job of putting things together, so he is not entirely repetitive in the task at hand. Several chapters in this book are superb, including the discussion of “smooth talking” and of a “personal Jesus”. Horton excels at developing the theological basis for the problem in the church, as well as the fix. Fundamentally, whether the church is liberal or conservative, they have the same problem, though manifested differently. Both conservative and liberal Christians have focused on the individual, the personal relationship, the walk in the garden with an experience that “none other has ever known”. What is lost is the church, as people turn inward to their own spiritual experience. The church meanwhile attempts programs and strategies for recruiting the member. Rarely do they ever consider returning to what Christ asked the church to do, which is simply to preach the word and to administer the sacraments. Horton likens it to a form of gnosticism to be focused on inner spirituality, while ignoring the church as Christ’s body on earth. Horton uses many examples to develop his thesis. In several chapters, he focuses on a particular person, including Joel Osteen in particular and his focus on happiness rather than the gospel. This book is worth reading for a theological insight into the status of the American church, and is a quite easy read that can be accomplished in several evenings.

Where in the World is the Church

October 9th, 2012

Where in the World is the Church? A Christian view of culture and your role in it, by Michael Horton ★★★

Michael Horton, in this book, resurrects discussion going on since 1951 when Richard Niebuhr published the book Christ and Culture. In that book, Niebuhr discusses the various in which Christians have viewed their dynamic with culture. Five different approaches have been categorized by Niebuhr, and Horton latches onto the last, with Christ as the transformer of culture. In successive chapters, Horton explores the Christians’ interaction with philosophy, the arts, science, work, and then politics. Horton offers advice that he need to engage culture, but in a manner that our Christian orientation tends to be the influencing aspect to the culture that we encounter. Such a book as this has been written many times before, with different perspectives on the Christian’s involvement with the world. My frustration with the book is Horton’s avoidance of defining fundamentals. In the sciences, he speaks little of the presuppositional bases that influence how we make observations about the world about us. In the arts, he fails to discuss the possibility that art can be communicating something quite wrong. As an example, Horton would be very cautious about calling pornography art, and would be quite opinionated about such artworks as “Piss Christ”. Francis Schaeffer did a better job of exploring the fundamental philosophy behind any given artwork, whether it be painting, literature, or music. Our engagement with culture mandates discernment. Horton spends much time discussing “Christian” art or “Christian” science, presented by many as though it offered something better than what culture typically gives us. I agree that such overtly Christian art is usually cheap, if not disgusting. Horton calls us as Christians to engage the secular arena in a manner that preserves our Christian base.

Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace

October 7th, 2012

Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace, by Richard Lee Spinos ★★

Rick Spinos requested that I read and review this book for him, and I have agreed to do that for him. So I offer my review. Rick and I grew up in the same denomination together, which was in the Anabaptist (Amish-Mennonite) tradition. They held to an “Arminian” type of theology, with a strong emphasis that one could lose their salvation. Rick went on to be a missionary sent from his Richland, WA congregation to Brazil, and since has become a pastor to a Charismatic church in south Florida with a focused ministry to those of the Portueguese language.

The introduction to the book defines the nature of the book. Spinos sees the Calvinists as a “once-saved-always-saved” group, and thus offering an antinomian license to live as one pleases, and the Arminians as legalists constantly fearing losing their salvation, and thus living with multiple codes and rules in an attempt to obtain holiness. Spinos wishes to clarify issues with an appeal and case for holy living.

The first chapter discusses the nature of grace, and introduces the idea that all Christians have eternal security. Chapter 2 provides a further argument that through grace, Christians indeed have security, and that they need not fear losing their salvation. Chapter 3 discusses the kingdom, and he seems to suggest the millenial kingdom, where Christians obtain the reward for the good things they have done. Chapter 4  and 5 elaborates further on this, but run together. The fundamental idea of these chapters is that we are saved by grace, but our reward for works will be received in the Millenium, and are gained by our actions in life.

Chapter 6 continues elaboration of obtaining rewards, and ends with a discussion of crowns. At one point, it is mentioned that the number of converts we win decides the nature of crown we have. There are also a limited number of crowns, and so, it is possible that somebody else is super-good (and persuasive?) and will take our well-earned crown from us. These are the crowns that will be worn during the millenial age. Chapter 7 furthers elaboration on holiness in the millenial age. Spinos does not make it clear, but it sounds like the saints are still sinful, and yet absolute and strict perfection is now demanded of them. He doesn’t explain how this will happen. He mentions that  the not-so-holy saints will suffer some of the fires of hell in order to be purified. Pope Benedikt would concur. Chapter 8 develops the holiness theme by a discussion of cosmology in Genesis 1 and with the question of God’s purpose. Ultimately, Spinos concludes that God’s purpose is to populate a earth with godly people. Besides the liberties taken to expand upon the “gap theory” (the time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2 where Satan hypothetically ruled the earth until God destroyed earth), he takes liberties to explain God’s ultimate purpose. Contrary, the bible clearly delineates man’s purpose or chief end (to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever), but never places God in dependence upon man or defends a purpose for God as Spinos does. Spinos, like Scofield, will unabashedly admit that mankind can alter the plans of God, quoting him from this chapter “God’s will and central plan was temporarily delayed”. Living for God generates those who are more successful than others, and become “overcomers”. Such a theology cheapens grace, and minimizes the nature of sin. Spinos does not paint man like Isaiah who responded while in God’s presence, “Woe is me, For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”. Spinos’ godly man has notches on his belt from the souls saved and victories won. He has done God a favor, and God rewards him for that.

Chapter 9 is a short encouragement for evangelism and discipleship in order to grow the church. The assumption is that we are responsible for converts, i.e., we, and not God, calls people to faith in Him. Chapter 10 is a question and answer session. Here, the author affirms his stance on eternal security, suggests (insufficiently in my estimation) that his teaching is not synonymous with purgatory. Spinos ends with the 21 questions to ask a pastor before joining a particular church. This is a deviation from the thesis of his book and a terrible distraction, and so will not be commented on.

SUMMARY & DISCUSSION:

There are a few problems that I will discuss. Spinos’s fundamental thesis is based on a dispensational eschatology. I realize that to many, dispensational premillenialism is a litmus test for orthodoxy. Yet, the church had no idea of such thinking until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Worse, the millenium becomes for Spinos as a protestant form of purgatory where the bad saints spend time in outer darkness where the good saints reign with Christ and are improved to the point of being able to enter eternity. Dante, as well as most Catholics would agree heartily with this. Spinos counters this unconvincingly later in the book, since the theological ground for his thinking is identical to the Romish purgatory. Regarding eschatology, I happen to be an amillenialist, a poor name for the doctrine, since every amillenialist believes in a millenium, just not the same millenium that the dispensationalists teach. For Spinos, this is so important, the last statement in his book is regarding details of the tribulation/rapture. Again, the church had no concept of dispensational premillenialism until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Popularizers like Hal Lindsey are now up to their twenty-whatever revision of their eschatology books, as they tend to change every year. Lindsey does not give me a doctrine that I wish to adhere to.

Spinos contrasts Calvinism and Arminianism, and discusses how both can be correct. Yet, the Calvinism that Spinos describes in nothing like the Calvinism that I know and which is taught in most conservative Reformed Christian circles. Rather, it is like the pseudo-Calvinism of the dispensationalism camp of Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, Chafer, Walfoord, and Dallas Theological Seminary that confuses Calvinism with antinomianism.

Spinos does not seem to flinch at all when speaking of the doctrine of merits, failing to remember that the Reformation that brought us back to a biblical form of Christianity was fought largely over merits. To say things another way, quoting Paul, Gal 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Calvinists as well as Lutherans would argue that we have an imputed righteousness, as our own righteousness (and merits) remain as filthy rags. We stand before the judgment seat, as the old hymn says, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne”. This is a righteousnes that is not partly Christ’s and partly ours through the good works that we have done.The hymn writer could not have said it better.

Perhaps, Spinos needs to ask what he means by salvation. Salvation is presented in Scripture as past, present and future. In the present, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation includes many aspects, including our call, justification,  faith in Him, adoption into God’s family, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. I presume that although he never uses the work “justification” in the book, he is using “salvation” as solely referring to justification, and that salvation is (quoting the Westminster shorter catechism) referring to an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. In like manner, our pursuit of holiness would be termed sanctification, and again quoting the catechism, is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. It is not an infusion of righteousness, nor is it the acquisition of merit.

Spinos may find it odd, that after sitting under the pulpit of a strict “Calvinistic”- (i.e.Reformed – 5 point Calvinist) preacher, I never once yet heard the phrases “eternal security” or “once-saved-always-saved” except to speak against such concepts. I’ve heard many sermons on hell and our need to walk holy lives, which happens typically every Sabbath day. I’ve never heard a sermon telling me about the secret formula or second blessing that can make me holier. The sermons I hear are regarding the heinousness of sin, and need to live in covenant with God. I also hear that once we stand before God, we will have no merits to claim, no works of holiness will be good enough to satisfy the heinousness of even the most trivial sins that I’ve committed. We have nothing to give God but what he’s given us already. Luther knew that, which is what drove him away from the system of merits and start a reformation in the church. Sadly, it is human instinct to want to have something to attribute to ourselves, and we sink back into the semi-Pelagianism of the medieval church. This unfortunately is the state of the church today, as we have forgotten the heritage of Luther and Calvin.

Why should we live holy? I offer three short reasons. 1. God commands it. Read “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by JI Packer, who is also, if you wish, a “5-point Calvinist”. 2. God prescribed a holy life as ultimately offering us the greatest joy and best life here on earth. 3. We are in covenant with God, Him to be our God and us to be His people. The assurance that we have that covenant is in our desire to serve Him and live holy. If we lack that desire, even though we also desire strongly to sin, then we should doubt the possibility that we are even saved. The fifth point in Calvinism is often misquoted as “perseverance of the saints”, which is transformed into some strange antinomian doctrine of eternal security. It is everything but that, but is more accurately stated as “perseverance of the saints in holiness”. God will keep us, but He will keep us in holiness, sinful though we may be throughout life. Spinos’ answer that holiness accrues merit that gives more blessings in the millenium results in a very cheap form of grace, that can easily be passed on and still ultimately make it to heaven. This is fundamentally the doctrine of the Roman church, which is why the Catholic church is in the pitiful shape that it is.

Spinos senses a tension in theology, which is proper. Most of Scripture has tensions. We are saved by grace. We are saved by works. Both are true. God calls us. We “accept/believe” in Him. Both are true. God predestined everything that ever had and will happen in the universe through all eternity. Yet, we have have free will and responsibility to choose on our own. It doesn’t make sense to finite minds, but both are true. Most doctrines of Scripture have this tension. It is not good to attempt reconciliation of the two polar truths. To over-emphasize salvation by grace is to lead to the antinomianism of the dispensational school. To over-emphasize salvation by works is to lead to legalism and to underestimate the depth of our depravity. Such tension in life is spoken of by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and covered most adequately in the book by JI Packer referred to above.

I laud Spinos for his deep desire to walk according to Scripture and live for God. He writes in a clear format, and the book was fun to read. I hope that some of these comments will not be viewed in any way as malicious but simply to point out the doctrinal issues that I encountered in the book.

The Christian Faith

October 4th, 2012

The Christian Faith, A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, by Michael Horton ★★★★★

This book is truly a tour de force, a massive compendium of 990 pages of Horton’s thoughts on various topics in systematic theology. It is not an easy read, though it is quite an enjoyable read. From the very first pages where Horton waxes philosophical, he issues barrage after barrage in defense of the historic Reformed Christian faith. The manner in which the book is written makes it better to read the book cover to cover rather than in individual topical style. It is not like a typical systematic theology text, in which a given topic is presented, the various contending viewpoints presented, and then a defense for the author’s position is offered. Occasionally that form is followed, such as with the discussion of the atonement. Oftentimes, the book has a looser format. It is like Horton is writing a running commentary on the themes of systematic theology. Thus, this book would serve poorly as a basic textbook of systematic theology, but should be manditory reading in conjunction with Berkhof or Reymond, or other contemporary systematic theology texts that follow a more traditional outline.

Horton offers a mix of quality of chapters. Occasionally, he gets bogged down. He can introduce concepts that are simply assumed, such as when he refers to differences in Greek vs. Latin thinking, without explaining the nuances of these differences. Some chapters are quite superb, such as his discussion of the union with Christ, which is developed better here than in any other theology text. His discussion of the creation of the world and man is very weak, and might even have a tendency of leaning toward theistic evolution. The discussions of eschatology seem to focus on a few contemporary authors such as Grudem and the dispensationalists, without fully developing the Reformed amillenial, premillenial, and postmillenial positions. The chapters on the doctrine of the church and the sacraments are superlative, but not comprehensive.

JI Packer stated in his systematic theology class that the textbooks of systematic theology need to be re-written every generation, as the role of systematic theology is to provide in contemporary words the eternal doctrines of the church, while at the same time confronting the contemporary challenges to that theology. In this respect, Hortons’ Systematic Theology shines. Horton has no fear of tackling modern thought, and Karl Barth, as well as modern theologians are very frequently quoted and either rebutted or used in support of his argument.

Even though I label this a systematic theology “running commentary”, it was a challenging but absolutely most enjoyable read, and most thought provoking. It sustains my highest recommendation.

Republocrat

September 13th, 2012

Republocrat, by Carl Trueman

Republocrat, Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, by Carl Trueman ★★

I read this book based on recommendations of readers at Amazon.com and several of the reviewers. The book has a good deal of truth to it, in that Trueman refuses to takes sides with either the Republicans or the Democrats. He successfully points out the hypocricy of the Republican Party, showing that their antics and behavior tend to be as immoral as the Democrats, pointing out when the Republicans turn a blind eye on their own immorality. Specifically, Trueman spends an entire chapter attacking Fox News, which tends to be the darling child of the conservative right. Trueman is also honest enough to offer his own bias, including his love for socialized medicine and heavily restrictive gun laws. He comes from England, and views our system in a very British manner. Trueman tends toward social conservatism and economic liberalism, though it would be unfair to say that as a blanket categorization of his position.

He strives hard to demand use of words that are specific to their meaning. His pet misused word is “Marxist”, claiming that Marx’s system is simply that of the economic resolution of dialectic tensions throughout history. Actually, anybody that has read Das Kapital realizes that it is more than that, in that Marx prescribes an entire economic system, and not just the philosophical basis for that system. Trueman fails in his own plea, in that even in the last paragraphs of the book, he speaks of Havel living in a “Marxist” state, suggesting that Marx offered more than a philosophical theory of economics. Trueman repeatedly uses the words “Capitalism” and “capitalist”, even though those are perjorative words coined by Marx himself, and tend toward the same meaningless statements as accusing somebody of being a Marxist.

Trueman’s greatest flaw is his inability to visualize anything beyond the political divides. As an example, he spends a great amount of time praising the British health care system, and asks whether it is better to have health care controlled by politicians vs. Capitalist insurance companies. In reality, the British system is bankrupt and a very poor example of an ideal health care system. I need not belabor how euthanasia and extreme waits for care are now bedeviling the British system. Neither need I suggest that the American system that has insurance companies so heavily regulated that they are no longer capitalistic systems need to be mentioned. Trueman fails to mention that both systems are woefully broken and worthy of being completely dismantled. Third party indemnification is the problem, not the solution, whether that third party is the government or the insurance company.

Truemans understanding of economics is a dismal lacuna. He fails entirely to see the problems of economics in the modern state, and the absence of morality of forced redistribution of wealth and artificial creation of “money” by the state. He praises the economic liberal pastor of Scotland ministering to Scottish miners living in poverty, yet becomes no different than American mega-church pastors that cater to the felt needs of their congregations.

I was extremely disappointed with this book. From the praise that so many conservative Reformed theologians gave to this book, it is clear to me that Reformed theologians should stay out of politics and stick to theology. This is seen clearly when JG Machen, a great Reformed theologian, lauded Woodrow Wilson, one of the worst presidents of all time. Trueman is caught in that same muddle. He argues for Scripture as a basis for viewing our politicians, but immediately lapses into sentimentality. Perhaps the only author that has been able force a biblical interpretation on economics and social issues of the state has been Gary North. Even though I don’t always agree with North, I always appreciate the fact that he refuses to tend toward sentimentality and forces his statements to maintain a biblical orientation.

In summary, Trueman does a muddled attempt in giving a Christian view of American politics. He is successful in showing that the Republican Party is not the moral or Christian party, but he fails entirely in offering a Christian alternative for thinking and action. Thus, I don’t consider the book worth reading.

Honest Money

August 9th, 2012

Honest Money, by Gary North ★★★★★

This book was read on my iPad in e-book format. Gary North offers very basic economics, but does diligence in seeking a biblical answer to the creation, flow, and use of money in an economy. North was an advisor to Ron Paul, and I’m sure influenced Paul significantly. I appreciate North’s insights into the economic scene, as well as his desire to avoid labeling himself an Austrian or free-market economist. I dreaded the possibility that he would have a lengthy appeal for return to a gold standard, which he does not. Instead, he suggests that the market itself can decide standards that determine value. Thus, the state would have no role in fixing the price of gold, silver and other commodities. In addition, the state would be removed from its role in the manufacture of “money” or the operation of banks. While this is radically opposed to our banking system, it seems far more reasonable than the current system, which, like all historically similar systems, will lead to collapse of the entire monetary system. North’s words will unfortunately be heeded by all too few people, and the government will continue to enslave us more and more. This is a book that can be obtained free from North’s website, can be read in a single evening or two, and should be on everybody’s must-read list.

Thinking with Type

August 9th, 2012

Thinking with Type, by Ellen Lupton  ★★

This book had an initial very strong appeal to me, that quickly wore off. While the title of the books seems to suggest that the principle topic of the book is typography, it is not. Rather, it is a manual of modern design ideas. Ellen suggests that her goal is not to encourage readability, but to encourage the reader not to read. I quote “Although many books define the purpose of typography as enhancing the readability of the written word, one of design’s most humane functions is, in actuality, to help readers avoid reading.” This thinking is quite consistent with the decontructionist philosophical school that she tends to often quote, especially with Jacques Derrida. That is fine and dandy, except that the fact that Ellen is writing something suggests that she hopes that somebody will read what she writes. She is correct about one thing, that this book was not easy of the eyes to read. Her efforts to be different or unconventional made it very tense to get through her book. The book is laden with illustrations and the first impression of the plethora of examples of design that she provides is that they are cute. Subsequent impressions of her examples are less complementary, in that they are a tremendous strain on the reader (user, if you wish) to interpret the message being conveyed. Unfortunately, as she has received many favorable comments on Amazon.com, there will be many budding young graphic designers out there trying to establish their position in the world of graphic design, and are spurred by this book to be bizarre rather than effective in communicating an idea. If one has no ideas or thoughts to communicate, then this book is excellent for you. Allow your imagination to run wild, defy any convention, and never think about whether your message (if you have one) has been sent to the “other user”, i.e., the reader. I can only presume that most “readers” of this book actually never read the book, but only looked at the “pretty” pictures. Her design style has much tension to it. It is crowded, busy, disorganized. The important readable type, such as the announcement of an event, is not immediately obvious, or written quite small and at an obtuse angle, making it a challenge to identify a purpose for the illustration. Deviations from convention rarely are effective at conveying or symbolizing anything, such as when she decides to arbitrarily and occasionally defy the text box of the main text. Perhaps the only value of this book is to suggest that deviations from convention can occasionally improve the efficacy of communication of a message, and for that it received two stars.

The Complete Manual of Typography

August 2nd, 2012

The Complete Manual of Typography, second edition by James Felici ★★★★★

This book was read in the .pdf version on an iPad 3. The quality of the book in .pdf format was excellent, and it worked well for me, the only difficulty being figuring how to get the file to my iPad, as it would not e-mail.

Amazon reviewers have attacked this book for being a bit outdated, and not providing a significant update from the first edition. I have not seen the first version and so cannot make comments on that. The artistic aspects of typography do not seem to change much over time, and so I’m not sure exactly what is being referred to. Felici does provide a rather broad survey of typography, though certainly not a comprehensive discussion of the topic. He engages first in the history of typography, goes on to discuss the nature of hot type, and then the changes that have occurred in the world of cold type. There is much discussion about the nature of typefaces and fonts, with comparison to typewriting. Part II of the book discusses the particulars of how to set type, mostly laboring on how to provide an artistic look to a typeset piece, while elaborating on the conventions foreign and domestic for type. Felici remains mostly program-independent, in that he offers general principles rather than laboring over how to accomplish a task using Quark vs. InDesign vs. anything else out there. The last two chapters were on the use of style sheets (not really typography) and resolution issues for print vs. screen and web presentation.

I appreciated Felici’s focus on the art of typography rather than the mechanical principles of producing a page of type. For the mechanics of typesetting, I’ll read an InDesign or Quark text. It is unfortunate that typography is so seldom viewed as an art, even among those who take pride in their printed works. I can speak of that first-hand. I entered a typography apprenticeship immediately after high school, and obtained by journeyman’s card along the way. With that, I worked by way in various typesetting houses and printshops through college and medical school. Even after becoming a surgical oncologist, I still enjoyed playing with InDesign, reminiscing on the very first edition of Aldus Pagemaker, even though my avocation was elsewhere. My typography days were at the bitter end of the cold type era, and I was trained in the use of linotype and handset type as well as phototypesetters, our shop using an Alphatype machine. This machine was a veritable nightmare, constantly breaking, and rarely accurately providing a smooth baseline of type. Entering type went to a magnetic tape that gave one no clue as to the entry, and mistakes had to be corrected a line at a time, as there was no backspace like on a standard computer. One was so grateful to just get the manuscript in print, that artistic elements were often overlooked. The linotype colleagues were no better in that occasionally a few lines of type were reset to eliminate a river or distracting element, yet artistic elements were more lip-service than actively sought. It is a touch amazing how much more critical one is allowed to be, and how much greater control one has over the type with a program such as InDesign. I lack any sense of nostalgia for the “good ole days”. I still have my two volumes of lessons from the International Typographical Union, a union that no longer exists, and soon few if any people will be alive that have any clue about the operation and maintenance of a linotype machine. The two volumes from the ITU sought to instill an artistic sense into the typesetter, and was mostly effective based on the technology of the time.

The Complete Manual of Typography was a joy to read, written in a very easy style, occasionally repeating things in different chapters, but mostly allowing a cover-to-cover read, after which one will have a fairly decent grasp of contemporary typographical art and style.

Adobe Illustrator CS6 Classroom in a Book

July 25th, 2012

Adobe Illustrator CS6 Classroom in a Book ★

There are no authors given to this book, as it is presented as the Adobe official training workbook from Adobe Systems. Many of the Classroom in a book series are reasonably decent at giving the new user a first glimpse at the use and capabilities of whatever Adobe program is being presented. This book, in contrast, is very poor, though the scarcity of stars is not entirely the fault of the book, since Adobe Illustrator itself is a terribly buggy program that needs more work. For instance, smart guides would only intermittently work for me, with no explanation from the Adobe website as to the nature of the problem, and many others have complained on the website of this bug. This book starts with chapter 0 offering a quick tour of the capabilities of Illustrator. It was the most confusing chapter I’ve ever read, and the suggested one hour to get through the chapter took about 4-5 hours. Most of the chapters would take at least double the suggested needed time. I suppose they timed somebody entirely familiar with the program. Throughout the book, very precise details are offered, though they never build on previous chapters for shortcuts or easy ways to accomplish a task. Many times throughout the book, an important detail was omitted, or perhaps a detail was accidentally skipped 20 steps prior, and no means of correction were possible, save for starting over. The book persuaded me of the horrid inadequacies of the Illustrator program. I remember with sadness how easy it was to use Corel Draw, which is unfortunately no longer available for Mac users. My only hope at this point is to try another Illustrator instruction book, and see if it can make better sense of this crazy program.

Malachi-A Prophet in Times of Despair

July 18th, 2012

Malachi – A Prophet in Times of Despair, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★

I had reviewed another book by Maoz about the book of Jonah, and it was excellent. This book is quite similar. Baruch Maoz offers a distinctly Jewish perspective to his discussions of the text, often of which are quite informative. Maoz covers the basic themes of Malachi, as to how the Jews possess a religiosity, but they have lost their heart for loving God. Malachi offers prudent advice on returning to God, and the promises God gives for faithfulness to Him.  Maoz has a very Reformed form of theology,and this colors his thinking all the way through the book. The essential theme is that the OT is quite relevant for today. It is not made of lesser stuff than the NT. His final statement brings the entire book of Malachi together,

“As I hope you will see, the New Testament teaches the same principles as does the Old. It is not difficult to preach the Gospel front he Old Testament without resorting to spiritualization or any of the interpretational manipulations that are so common in modern Christian pulpits. If we will but allow the Old Testament to speak for itself, it will inexorably lead to the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah”.

I couldn’t say it better.

Guns 101

July 15th, 2012

Guns 101 by David Steier ★★★★

Now that Obama has threatened to take guns away from us, it became time to purchase a few weapons. This book does a wonderful job of addressing multiple issues of gun ownership. Why buy a gun? (Not necessarily to kill people or animals!) What type of gun or guns should one purchase? What is the meaning to all of the sizes of ammo out there? How does one care for a gun, and obtain the necessary skills to use a gun? All of these questions are answered in very simple terms and heavily illustrated in this book. For the person purchasing their first guns, this is a great book to read before one lays down bucks on the counter. The only reservation that I have with the book is the author’s love for .357/.38 size ammo, and his preoccupation with competition shooting, most notably Cowboy Action Shooting.

Photographic Multishot Techniques

July 15th, 2012

Photographic Multishot Techniques, by Juergen Gulbins and Rainier Gulbins ★★★

This book goes through a long list of types of photography that would utilize merged (but not composited) photographs to improve on the original photograph. Such examples include HDR photography, panoramic stitching, extension of the depth of field, and improvement of the resolution of the image. Each of these techniques are discussed in the context of various programs that are best at performing the function described. Thus, unless one had and were to use, for example, PhotoAcute for focus stacking to improve the depth of field of the photo, the book would not be as meaningful. I enjoyed the book all the same, since the Gulbins spent much time discussing the techniques for best obtaining various photographs. As examples, they discussed the use of the focusing rail for extended depth of field, and the techniques and equipment for rotating a camera for panorama shots. Always, they also emphasized the proper camera settings to best snap the shots. I enjoyed the book, and the photographic examples were superb. It also will probably guide me into downloading some of the stand-alone programs mentioned in the book. None of the stand-alone programs are cheap, and Photoshop has improved its act with subroutines for image merging and processing. Thus, I’ll drag my feet, and sort out how well Photoshop CS6 can serve me before rushing off and purchasing other programs. But, I’ve already started to use this book’s advice on photographic technique for HDR and panorama photography.

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography

July 15th, 2012

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography, by Ferrell McCullough ★★★★

Ferrel McCullough is one of the early masters of HDR (high dynamic range) photography, and his mastery of the subject is well displayed in this text. The text is short and easy to read, as well as heavy illustrated. McCullough discusses the art of identifying a scene worth recording for HDR, the equipment and technique necessary to obtain the set of shots that provide the base for the merged photo, and then the techniques for obtaining the finished product. The book was written in 2008, when the highest update on Photoshop was CS3, which has quite mediocre HDR subroutines, and so was not discussed much. Adobe has improved since then. The two main HDR programs discussed were PhotoMatrix and FdrTools, and he noted that he tended to use both of them, since they both provide different outcomes to the photo. McCullough includes at the end of each chapter an array of photographs from other photographers, which was a nice touch. This is a good book for the photographer starting in HDR.

Digital Photographer’s Handbook

July 15th, 2012

Digital Photographer’s Handbook, 4th Edition, by Tom Ang ★★★★

This is a delightful compendium of “how-to” in photography, and the advice is quite sound. Ang discusses equipment that one should use, photographic technique, as well as some photoshop and post-camera methods for improving the shot. The book is filled with many examples of photographic technique, some of the examples of which are rather normal photographs – something that would be found on a personal webpage and not in an art gallery. This gives the book  a more practical touch for the average photographer. There were many of his photos that I simply didn’t like. The beauty of the book is that there are so many examples of his work that one would appreciate the bulk of most of the photography in the book. The book was written in 2008 and thus is a little bit dated, for example, discussions on problems of dynamic range and the use of HDR techniques. There is a 5th edition book just out, which I’m sure brings the reader up to date. In all, this is a nice book of technique and ideas for the intermediate amateur photographer.

Adobe InDesign CS6 Classroom in a Book

June 28th, 2012

Adobe InDesign CS6 Classroom in a Book ★★★★

I show my age when I recall purchasing one of the original Aldus PageMaker programs. It was nice, because it treated type like a typographer would have, rather than an amateur using a word processor would do. Each upgrade seems to get better. InDesign CS6 is now focusing on the ability to publish eBooks and automated .pdf files. Much of the print typography functionality has improved significantly but mostly unnoticeably if one were to simply upgrade from CS4 or CS5 to CS6. Yet, it is easy to tell that Adobe has worked with professional publishers in order to make their life easier. This book offers a very superficial review of those improvements, and the broad spectrum of functions that are contained within InDesign.

Classroom in a Book is designed for the earlier amateur, and goes through steps to familiarize a person to InDesign in a painfully slow fashion, though not so painfully slow to one who has never used the program before. Much of its treatments of subjects is very superficial. While this book contained many more explanations about various functions than its Photoshop counterpart, it still lacked in giving the learner a good idea as to how to get something done. Its technique of walking the reader through various projects does better at informing the reader of InDesign functionality,  than teaching the reader how to really use the program. Learning to use InDesign is best accomplished by simply using the program, and  reading other texts. This book provided great ideas and vision for future publications, and was great as a re-briefer for InDesign after not having used much of the built-in power of the program. Thus, the four stars.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book

June 23rd, 2012

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book ★★★★

This book was used by me as an adjunct to upgrading from CS4 to CS6 and not having used Photoshop to much in the last year. I felt that this would be the quickest way to catch up on the latest and greatest of Photoshop, and indeed, the text is oriented toward giving a VERY brief survey of much that Photoshop has to offer. For the absolute novice, it is a 5-star text, in that it will labor over the minutest details of the way in which the complete CS6 system operates. It’s greatest deficit is that it is almost entirely a mechanical instruction book (“click this, slide that, push this, etc.”). Missing are the explanations as to why you are doing certain things to achieve your end. This book MUST be complimented with any of a number of standard photoshop texts for photographers that tell you where to go once you understand the mechanics of photoshop. There were several chapters which simply were inapplicable to me, since I have the basic photoshop and not the extended version. Discussions of 3-D effects (which I’d prefer to do in Illustrator anyway), editing video (much easier in many other programs like Premier), or editing for the web (please, I’ll use Dreamweaver if I need to write web stuff) betrays the fact that many of the Adobe programs are unnecessarily overlapping/redundant. The book served its purpose with me by re-familiarizing me with Photoshop, and thus the 4 stars. If you are at all familiar with Photoshop, don’t waste your time on this book.

Lightroom 4

June 23rd, 2012

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, by Nat Coalson ★★★★★

I previously read Martin Evening’s book on Lightroom 3, which was also excellent. Now that I’m using Lightroom 4 with the massive new added functions that Adobe put into the program, I felt it worthwhile reading a new text on the topic. Coalson approaches Lightroom similarly to Evening, giving great advice as a working photographer. The book is definitely different from Evening’s text, yet both are quite clear, and well describes the steps for performing any desired function in Lightroom. I found that I learned a lot more about Lightroom by re-reading another text on the program, that will allow the program to be more useful. How many times have you looked at a function or command or area of Lightroom, and wondered why it was there. Coalson offers a fairly comprehensive review of much of what Lightroom can do for you, and what it can’t do. I would recommend either text for the photographer to learn about what the program can do for you. If you are an occasional photographer, then don’t waste your time and stay with iPhoto.

The Idiot

June 17th, 2012

The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. WP as his favorite Dostoevsky work. The story revolves around a sickly, epileptic prince named Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin, but is often simply referred to as “the idiot”. An idiot he is not, but a kindly, reserved fellow. The story has him returning from Switzerland for recovery of his health, when he comes into encounters with multiple females. Ultimately, he becomes romantically engaged with several, though not be actively seeking them out, but rather by becoming an inheritor of a large sum of money. The story has a fascinating ending which I won’t reveal. Like most Dostoevsky novels, you won’t easily predict the ending until you get there. Worthy of reading, I should soon be reviewing the Russian “made for television” version of the book.

 

The Prince

June 17th, 2012


The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli ★★★★

Machiavelli lived in Firenze, Italy and wrote this piece in 1513 as observations of politics as seen in the church and in the state. He spares neither the pope nor the regional princes in his comments, though mostly makes comments on the behaviors of rulers in achieving power and maintaining power. Though the word “machiavellian” has sinister connotations of slyness and craftiness, this did not pertain to Machiavelli’s behavior, but simply what he saw happening in Italy up to the year 1513. Machiavelli proposes nothing, but does note what behaviors have led to stable empires, and what behaviors have caused ruin to the same. The previous blog contains some quotations from the book, giving one a sense of his writing. Perhaps machiavellian behavior has become the norm in successful politics, though it seems as though much of the solid, non-devious advice of the book goes unheeded in today’s politics. The book is a worthy read, and is short enough to be read in 1-2 evenings. I read the book from the Kindle reader on my iPad while on the airplane to Düsseldorf.

Adobe Acrobat X Classroom in a Book

May 21st, 2012

Adobe Acrobat Classroom in a Book, by the Adobe Press Team ★★★★

So you want to learn Adobe Acrobat X. There is the matter of learning about why one would use Adobe Acrobat to create .pdf files, and then the matter of learning about all the functionality of Acrobat. What started as a simple and lame (but expensive) program to create simple flat .pdf files has emerged into .pdfs that can read themselves, play movies, act in a secure fashion to limit access, and provide output for production printing facilities. This book has come under criticism for being a bit simplistic. The intended function of the book was not to provide a comprehensive manual of Acrobat function, but rather to get the reader up to speed with the main functions of Acrobat, and to that it does a superb job. A few of the exercises get a touch tedious, but the book is easy to finish in several nights, leaving the reader a global feel of the possibilities with this program. Because the book forces you to do hands-on actions, you learn much better than just reading a description of all the functions that Acrobat offers.

The Intolerance of Tolerance

May 6th, 2012

The Intolerance of Tolerance, by D.A. Carson ★★★★

It takes no brilliance to figure out what this book is about, and Carson does a masterful job of showing how the new definition of tolerance is truly anything but tolerant.Carson starts by showing that tolerance has changed meaning. The historical meaning of tolerance was to endure, bear, or put up with the differing beliefs of others. The new definition means to accept as equally right or true the differing positions of others. Carson shows how this change has evolved historically, and what it has meant in the destruction of morality, public discourse, and the very fabric of society. Finally, he offers a Christian response in ten points, several including using the new “intolerance” as an opportunity for evangelism, remaining entirely civil in public discourse, and finally, being willing to suffer while trusting God for standing up for the truth. The book is a thought-provoking read, and shows a cultural grasp of what Christians might expect if they wish to engage the world in the public square. I’ve always enjoyed the books of DA Carson that I’ve read, and this text certainly maintains his high standard as a premier Christian author.

Understanding Photography Field Guide

April 15th, 2012

Understanding Photography Field Guide by Bryan Peterson ★★★★★

This is a great little book that I mostly skim-read. Peterson writes well, and covers a plethora of subjects in the small soft bound book. There are several things that make this book a good read. First, the book is loaded with little gems to make your photography easier and better. It is not a comprehensive manual on how to take special types of shots, but simply offers the best advice for just about any circumstance, whether it be macro photography, night photography, people pictures, etc., etc. The second thing I really appreciated with the book is how Peterson would often show a very bland shot, and then show the same shot taken with a few tweaks that turn the scene into a phenomenal photograph. He tells you exactly what he does, giving all the camera setting information for you to know the precise conditions of the photo. It is a fun read, not the best book for a photography novice, but a very helpful read for a middle of the road photographer.

 

The Emperor of All Maladies

April 2nd, 2012

The Emperor of All Maladies, A biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee ★★★★★

After having been in the cancer field for over 25 years, this book still was able to provide insights and stories in the “war” against cancer that I was quite unaware of. Dr. Mukherjee starts with a review of the most primitive and ancient treatments for cancer, which typically were to do nothing, or even worse, to attempt to do something. He does a masterful job of describing how the nature of cancer slowly has come to be understood over time. Mukherjee elaborates on the earliest attempts at surgery, followed by attempts with radiation and then chemotherapy for cancer. Occasional serendipitous successes often led to either skepticism or unbridled optimism regarding possible cancer cures. Mukherjee paints a masterful picture of interacting actors in the scene, including physicians attempting against the advice of colleagues in the first chemotherapy trials, colleagues outright rejecting too aggressive of researchers, drug companies hesitant to engage in the development of expensive new drugs, and public opinion spinners all interacting to generate the interest and then funds to permit cancer research to occur. Mukherjee, being a medical oncologist, definitely provides a serious bias towards the defeat of cancer through finding just the right chemicals, receptor blockers, and pathway interrupters. Though he writes with a conservative tone, one is still left with the idea that all we need is a short amount of time and another godzillion dollars and cancer will be in the past tense for everybody. I heard that statement at a major medical meeting from the head of the NCI in 2008, alleging that with the current progress, we would not see a cancer death after the year 2012–that leaves 9 months for them to find a cure.

I appreciate how Mukherjee refrains from being totally inclusive and chasing every possible storyline, but selects out the main channels, such as the driving forces for the development of the NCI and American Cancer Society, while omitting the development of such groups as the Susan Komen breast cancer story. He’s honest in noting that for the most part, we still remain in the primitive stages of finding the solution to cancer. His stories orient around the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and that is understandable. He beautifully paints a personal face to oncologic care through his stories of patients, both under his care and other physicians. This book can be understood by both physicians and lay alike, and a most worthy read.

Life Together

March 25th, 2012

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer  ★★★

 Bonhoeffer wrote this book on returning to a Germany that was then contolled by Hitler. Through his experiences in the community at Finkenwalde in 1938, he writes of the nature of Christians living together. He describes a community that is focused on reading the Scriotures together, and prayer. He discusses the role of loving each other, and confessing sin with each other. He develops the necessity of Christians living in community. Though he doesn’t specifically breach the issue of “church”, it seems to be implied in all that he says, as well as what you see in Bonhoeffer’s life.

The House of the Dead

March 25th, 2012

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was written soon after Dostoevsky finished a three year term in a Siberian prison for his alleged revolutionary activities. The story is written from the viewpoint of a nobleman for whom you are never told his crime, and owes the state 10 years of hard labor. Much of the book is oriented around the first few weeks in the prison, the description of the prison hospital, the celebration of Christmas, and various prisoner stories describing events in prison or the crime that bought their prison sentence. It is a dark read, though with jocular moments, and a prelude to the even darker writings of prison life by Alexander Solzhenitsin. The book does end well, with a brief description of the release of the story-teller from prison, though that was preceded by the tale of an attempted escape. Dostoevsky excels in his ability to do  character descriptions.

Again, this Mobile Reference version is filled with multiple typographical errors from the scanning of the originals. Usually, one may figure out the proper intended word, but sometimes it was not possible. I would discourage anybody from purchasing this set. It might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied

March 18th, 2012

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray ★★★★★

The is a wonderful little book written on the doctrine of redemption. In the first section on redemption accomplished, John Murray covers the act of God redeeming us, explaining why Christ needed to die, the nature of what it accomplished, and for whom Christ died. The second section of redemption applied covers the items in the “ordo salutis”, including calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ, and glorification. John Murray gives brief answers to false teachings, but mostly sticks with expounding on the doctrines in their positive aspects. It is not a simple read in that every sentence is loaded, but it is a book that anybody could pick up and understand. It’s one of the better summaries of the doctrines of grace that I have encountered. Murray is deeply Reformed in his thinking, and these doctrines could be summarized as the core of Reformed thinking.

 

The Gambler

March 18th, 2012

The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This is one of Dostoevsky’s shorter novels, and follows a young student from Russia tutoring children of a Russian General while living in a small gambling town in Germany. The student inadvertently gets the gambling bug when asked to make bets at the local casino by a lady friend of his. This leads to a disasterous episode in the students’ life, characterized by moments of extreme wealth and extreme poverty leading to a short episode in prison. The extreme wealth dissipates quickly through either inability to control the irresistable gambling urge, or by squandering the wealth rapidly on friends and careless living. Perhaps Dostoevsky was writing this partially autobiographically, since he also had a period of compulsive gambling, which he managed to kick. The book generally has a dark, somber tone to it, though a middle section where rich grandmamma comes to visit and suddenly gets caught in the gambling craze offers a comic interlude.
I read this book on Kindle. I have seen the opera The Gambler (Der Spieler) by Prokofiev in the distant past, and so will have to dig the disc out of the memory vaults and watch it again. The book can easily be read in several nights, and doesn’t have periods of lengthy dialogue or monologue that are typical of the longer Dostoevsky novels. This edition of the works of Dostoevsky is VERY poorly edited, with numerous spelling mistakes. They obviously quick scanned a text, and offered no proof-reading. You get what you pay for. The edition itself should be only 1 star.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

March 13th, 2012

Enjoy Every Sandwich; Living each day as if it were your last, by Lee Lipsenthal, MD ★

I read books or watch movies given to me by friends with great reluctance. Unless I’ve known you a long time, I typically find that the differences in world-view or likes tend to not mesh. This is an example of a book given to me by a friend who felt that it was most significant in his life. He felt this to be a great gift as well as source for meaningful conversation the next time we meet. It was a great gift, though I truly found that I could not connect with the book. Here is why.

Enjoy Every Sandwich is the autobiography of Dr. Lipsenthal, focusing mostly on the last two years of his life, when, at age 51, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, went through typical cancer treatment with the addition of some New-age medicine, only to die slightly more than two years later. Lipsenthal candidly expresses his thoughts from the last two years of life, and his desire to enjoy life to its fullest is appreciated.

Where Lipsenthal fails is in his ability to understand fully the nature of his experience. He describes his “battle” against cancer as his war on cancer, and his dying as simply fulfilling the Kübler-Ross stages of dying. The war metaphor for cancer I find especially troubling. We never speak of the war on flu, or appendicitis, or diabetes, or dental caries, and when the war metaphor is used, such as in political campaigns or the war on drugs, it is usually by a government entity trying to dupe the public into cooperating with their silly nonsense of creating a straw enemy that trillions of dollars could be wasted in order to “fight”. It’s as though Adolph Hitler and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus were comparable entities. Regarding the Kübler-Ross stages, that is total nonsense. The emotions that a person experiences when dying are multiple and far more expansive that Kübler-Ross describes, and the variability in the order of progression (stages) is as multiple as the Betz cells in her brain, though they might be few.

What I found even more disturbing with this book is the authors’ absolute obsession with himself. He is one of the most self-absorbed narcissists that I have ever read. There is no dimensionality in his life, and the cancer doesn’t make him progress as a person. Such moments as when he threatens to leave his wife if she didn’t start connecting with his alternative medicine – New age medicine thinking was typical of his overwhelming self-importance. All that really mattered was himself. Lipsenthal doesn’t end life with notions of higher aspirations, or the feeling that the impact of his life gave others a fuller meaning, other than dragging his family and friends into the inexorable hell-hole spiral where he was headed. Following Buddhist thinking, he could give no meaning to his pain and suffering, and thus had to form a “universe” in which the pain he was experiencing was not actually real or of value. Then I think about the person Lipsenthal, he is exactly the person I would avoid, and choose not to befriend. His inspiration comes from rock music, sports, and himself. His world had no meaning and had no dimension outside of himself.

Yet, it is his advice on health care alternatives which are the most disturbing to me. Lipsenthal generates an amalgam of native American spiritism, Buddhism and spiritism, new-Age thought, mysticism, and Wiccan thought into a form of “spirituality”. True, Christian religion was mentioned, but his thoughts on Jesus and advice from scripture were most in line with what the Scripture uses to describe Satan and his lies. Indeed, Lipsenthals paranormal mystical experiences prove only that there is something out there beyond what science itself can discover. It fails to show that there are contesting “spirits” in this spiritual world, good and evil, and that evil is a true oncologic entity, not just something that the Buddhist can wish away into non-existence. Lipsenthal is most worried about happiness, which only makes sense if you conclude that there is no such thing as truth, true meaning, redemption, or morality. His second to last chapter is on love describes a love that is alien to my thought on true self-sacrificial love, as well-described in I Corinthians 13. His love is a narcissistic love, a love for self, and the warm fuzzy feeling that perhaps others also love him, and that he loves them in return.

I remain at a total loss as to how mankind can give up the eternal truths of the Holy Scriptures, and buy the rubbish of the new spirituality. In a sense it is no wonder, because Scriptures remove your focus from yourself and places it on God alone. Christ makes impossible demands on you, yet gives you the strength to live right, and forgiveness through his death (substitutionary atonement) to allow the triune God to treat you as though you did nothing wrong in His eyes. All that you must do is believe in Him. So simple. So true. But, it is so contrary to our very human nature that wishes to do the work for our personal salvation, to merit God, to become intrinsically good, to be a “self-made” person, and to honor ones self as god. For the Christian, our duty is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We give Him glory in our health and also in our sickness, as we trust Him as an all-loving God, the embodiment and ontological definition of true love. Though He has ordained all that comes to pass, we find meaning in our lives by orienting our lives, and the lives of those we come into contact with, in a worshipful relationship with our creator God. Sickness and death are a great evil, but God uses the evil that comes upon us in a meaningful way. Life in its totality becomes a joyous experience  as we live it coram deo. I  offer only one alternative author, C.S. Lewis, in his two books A Grief Observed and Surprised by Joy, autobiographical accounts that give an alternative view of the world, our existence in it, and suffering. As a cancer doctor, I can give countless examples of seeing both miserable deaths and meaningful deaths. Of the meaningful deaths, the death of a Christian holding fast remains the most overwhelming. Lipsenthal has offered a cheap imitation to the truly significant life. I pray that readers would find the shallowness of his thinking and discover the true riches of life and death as found in Christ alone.

Dostoevsky biography

March 9th, 2012

Fyodor Dostoevsky, by Peter Leithart ★★★

Fyodor Dostoevsky was read on Kindle. This book is a biography written as a fictional novel. Peter Leithart desired to hold relative historical accuracy, and did this by including numerous references to particular  Dostoevsky quotes. The style of historical presentation is through a fictitious dialogue, and thus one wasn’t sure exactly what was fiction and what was truth about Dostoevsky may have actually said and did. It is not a bad way to present a complex historical character, yet one was always left wondering where Leithart was actually quoting Dostoevsky, and where he was taking artistic license. This book works best if one is quite familiar with the life and writings of Dostoevsky. Since I have just started reading his works (Crime and Punishment, and Brothers Karamazov so far), I can grasp stories taken from those novels, but left clueless during the book dialogues that reflect other works. Leithart leaves Dostoevsky as a most fascinating, and in ways most admirable character in spite of his numerous flaws. This book is best read after the reader has gained moderate familiarity with the works of Dostoevsky. The dialogues will explain the thinking and philosophy of Dostoevsky, and this is most interesting, because that is how Dostoevsky presents concepts in his novels–through the dialogue of different characters.

The God of Miracles

March 8th, 2012

The God of Miracles, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

The subtitle to this book is “An exegetical examination of God’s action in the world. Collins, in this book, attempts to form a Biblical basis for God’s interaction with the world, and to describe the nature of possible interactions with the world. To accomplish this end, Collins presents the three leading camps of thought that describe the nature of God’s ongoing interactions with his creation. They are providentialism, supernaturalism, and occasionalism. Collins begins by describing what we would consider to be unorthodox views of Gods interaction with the world, such as with Deism, which simply put, states that God puts the world into motion and then leaves it alone. Thus, miracles and supernatural interactions with the world do not and cannot exist, according to the Deist. To summarize the three “orthodox” stances, providentialism holds God to have created the world with such intricacy that unusual events are built into the creation and no event violates the natural laws that God built into the world; supernaturalism believes that God created the world with intrinsic laws that govern its normal behavior, yet God interacts with the system and is not bound by the normal laws that govern the system; occasionalism holds that there are no automatic laws that govern the behavior of the universe, but that God is active at every moment in its operation, so that unusual occurrences (miracles) are simply a part of the normal behavior of God in the universe.

The remainder of the book provides arguments for and against each position. First, Collins defines terms such as nature, miracle, and causation. Then, he explores Scripture to see where instances in support of each of these three stances might occur. Collins summarizes with a leading toward supernaturalism. The last chapter of this book discusses primarily the issue of intelligent design and how it fits into Christian thinking about the creation and sustenance of the world.

This book was written before “Science & Faith” but is supposed to be an academic attempt as the same subject matter as Science & Faith. I actually found this book easier to read, and provided better pause for reflection than the Science & Faith text. Both texts are complementary with minimal duplication in discussion, and thus both books are strongly recommended by me. I realize that Collins has come under attack from both the liberals and the 7-day creationists for his stances. I find Collins 100% committed to Scripture, and no way diverting away from proper exegesis of the text. He provides an excellent defense against those who truly deviate from a strong respect for the Scripture as God-breath words, an example being the theistic evolutionists. I would hope the reader maintains a critical but unbiased mind in reading his texts.

God and Time – Four Views

February 26th, 2012

God and Time, Edited by Gregory Ganssle, with input from Paul Helm, Alan Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Woltersdorff ★★★★

This book was a most fascinating read, though there were a few parts where the argument was not properly followed. Ganssle had assembled a very capable set of Christian scholars, all of them notably orthodox, yet all taking different views on the nature of time, and God’s relation to time. They vary from Helm claiming that God is entirely outside of time, to Woltersdorff, who asserts that God is a creature of time, with Padgett and Craig taking middle views, claiming that God in various ways inserted himself in time, or became a creature of time only during the creation episode, and otherwise is a timeless being. There are two main camps of thought regarding time. The A-series camp claims that time is “tensed”, or process theory of time, and God participates in time, though possibly not in the same manner in which we experience time. The B-series camp claims that time lacks true tenses, or, is “tenseless”, or static, and that God exists entirely outside of time. The B-series adherent would claim that for God, all moments in time in creation exist equally, thus, a million years ago is as real and “present” to God as “now” and as a million years from now. Arguments from each of the discussants point out the problems and tensions that occur with each view. I tend toward the most traditional formulation, as propounded by Paul Helm. I found it fascinating that the two most Reformed scholars (Helm and Woltersdorff) had the most opposite views – I would have thought otherwise.

I find that the greatest challenge is to comprehend the possibility of anything existing outside of space and time. As Emmanuel Kant correctly identified, it is impossible for the constructs of our mind to think outside of space and time. A similar puzzle in understanding God is to try to understand the nature of the trinity. Any explanation of the trinity falls short. Time is a concept with similar problems. Did God create time? Is time intrinsically tied to our concept of space? How can a God that is timeless interact with people that know nothing but existence in time? How do thought processes occur outside of time? Or, does God think? Does he have emotion? What exactly do we really mean by the impassibility of God? If God is the fullness of emotion, how does emotion happen in a timeless environment? How did the timeless being interact in time? How could the incarnation occur if God is timeless? Does a “piece” of Him enter time? Why would a God beyond time care for such insignificant “timed” creatures? Are you really forced to adhere to the concept that creation has no beginning or end if God is timeless and “events” thus do not occur with him?  Contrary, if God himself is characteristically in time, how does he know the future, and all things? Does time then become a “being” or entity that even God is subject to? I don’t think so. But, such questions are beyond comprehension and explanation to me, similar to trying to understand the trinity. After reading this book, I will leave the concept of time and space to remain an inexplainable mystery, not worth philosophizing over. I am left in ultimate awe, and will spend eternity in amazement over the goodness of God, the “other” beyond time and space who cared for us miserable sinners. Soli Deo Gloria.

 

A Prophet on the Run

February 22nd, 2012

A Prophet ont he Run: A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Jonah, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★★

Rev. Maoz is a Reformed pastor in Israel, growing up in USA but moving to Israel fairly early in life. This book is a set of sermons that he gave to his congregation in Israel and later translated from Hebrew into English.

I rarely ever read devotionals. Streams in the Desert, Our Daily Bread, and others are contentless pep-talks that get me nowhere. This book is totally different. Maoz does not labor over speculations or technical details, but simply expounds on the word before him. He doesn’t explain the chiastic structure of the book or delve into the factual basis of the whale but simply assumes it to be true. He doesn’t speculate on the change of appearance of Jonah while living inside a whale and how that might have affected the Ninevite audience. Moaz does spend much time at simply looking at the text and elaborating on what is speaking in the book of Jonah. Though I’ve had pastors preach on Jonah, I’ve never had them find the goldmines of truth in Jonah as Maoz is able to do. Maoz is able to show how Jonah closely matches our own personal lives of trying to give God instruction, and define who he should be merciful to. He shows the overwhelming graciousness of God, with both Jonah and Ninevites, in that neither of them desired God’s will, yet both in God’s sovereign grace were drawn to him.

After each chapter, Maoz includes a prayer, summary of the chapter, and then questions for reflection on the material just read. This short book shows how one can take an academic approach to the Scriptures, and yet glean a massive harvest of personal instruction for our daily lives. It is a pity that there are so few expositors of Maoz’s ability. I will soon be working on his book about Malachi, and hope that he translates many of his other sermons on books of Scripture.

The Brothers Karamazov

February 20th, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Translated b y Andrew McAndrews ★★★★★

This book was read on the Kindle, downloaded from Amazon.com. The Brothers Karamazov is the tale of three brothers and their eccentric father, living in a small town in Russia. Each of the three brothers turned out to be somewhat different from the others, and the first 1/3 of the book is a character development of each of the brothers in turn as well as the father. The second third of the book details events which lead up to the murder of the father, and the dilemma of deciding who did it. The final third is a detail of the courtroom drama and conviction of one of the brothers. The book has many long sections of prolonged narrative and tends to move very slowly, yet constantly manages to keep you on the edge of your chair. Dostoyevsky is a true master of suspense and development of the characters in his books. He spends much time describing the smallest, insignificant details, many of which become important much later in the novel. It’s a dark novel, and seems to be somewhat autobiographical. Dostoyevsky does not spare describing the human condition. The novel itself receives 5 stars.

The Kindle edition receives only 1 star. Oddly, the bargain basement Kindle version of this novel (which I have in the Complete Works of Dostoyevsky on Kindle) is better indexed than this version was. The individual sections (books) were indexed, but not the 10-14 chapters in each section. Kindle has the tendency of occasionally jump randomly to another portion of the book, and returning to where you were reading can be a challenge. Oddly, Kindle does not have a “reset the synch” function for the farthest page read, and so to re-synch will often put you in the last pages of the book, rather than where you were last reading. I’m not entirely convinced that the Kindle is ideal for book reading, save for when traveling.

I will now be reading “The Gambler” and “The Idiot”, after which I’ll retreat to the more somber works of Solzhenitsyn, “In the First Circle” and “The Gulag Archipelago” as well as Shirers’ “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. This is my novel reading schedule for the next several months. You’ll have to wait for reviews for the  more serious reading that I do. I welcome reading recommendations.

Science and Faith

January 26th, 2012

Science and Faith, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

This book must not be confused with the book “The Language of Science and Faith” by Francis S. Collins, a book that would not even be worthy of one star even though written by a highly “eminent” scientist. Jack Collins here produces a lay language masterpiece, originally intended to help homeschool parents discuss issues of science, creation, geology, evolutionary biology, the social sciences, the question of miracles, etc., from a biblical Christian perspective. Jack is completely effective, while not betraying the faith as Francis S.C. has done. This book supplements other books by Jack Collins, including “The God of Miracles” which is supposedly a more technical version of this text, as well as texts that I have previously reviewed on this site. Jack Collins has a masters in electrical engineering from MIT, as well as numerous other degrees, and now teaches Hebrew at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I happen to know him on an acquaintance basis.

Collins tackles a formidable enterprise in his endeavor to show that the Christian faith and much of what we learn as science are not in opposition with each other. The first two chapters of the book are a basic philosophical discussion of the intention of the book. Collins then undertakes to discuss the creation narratives with a scientific perspective, especially addressing his preference for viewing the days of creation as days in God’s time, not ours. He has a chapter discussing the problem of man’s fallenness in observing the world. He discusses the issues of God’s providence and miracles in the face of the post-Hume worldview of the impossibility of miracles. He even includes a chapter on environmentalism and how Christians should view the world. Subsequent chapters deal with the age of the earth (he is in the “old-earth” camp), evolution and the development of animals. Two chapters are devoted to the defense of intelligent design. He concludes with thoughts on the social sciences. Finally, the book is ended with a discussion of the culture wars and our approach to the sciences. Though the entire book was excellent, the last two chapters were the best, and it is worth sticking with Collins to the end of the book. He especially notes how Christians have been in bitter attack against each other over minor differences in their view of the entire creation scenario.  About the only thing I wished he would have discussed would have been flood theories, the tower of Babel incident (especially since Collins is a philologist), and some of the other Biblical miracles that often come under attack by the scientific community (eg., Jonah surviving being eaten by a big fish). This book is one of the must-reads for anybody strongly engaged in the sciences to help form a Christian basis for their scientific thinking.

Historical Theology

January 18th, 2012

Historical Theology, by Gregg Allison ★★★

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text is deficit of any historical context. This is a serious deficit to an otherwise excellent systematic theology textbook, and Allison attempts to provide in this text what Grudem left out. Each chapter is arranged topically following the chapters in Grudem. This creates a textbook of historical theology that has strengths but also serious weaknesses. Oftentimes, a theological discussion demands the environment of multiple topics, such as the Christological controversies of the 2-4th centuries which cannot be discussed void of the trinitarian controversies. This leaves  a text that is only half complete. Allison’s text would not be good for a neophyte in historical theology, as he would loose the entire nature of many controversies. For this reason, JND Kelly’s text for early church theological developments, or  Schaff’s History do a far better job of giving the reader a flavor as to the content of  the historical debates. Allison’s text would work better if designed as an advanced text, but this would mean a very large section for each of the topics covered, accompanied by a large amount of repetition. Many areas are woefully incomplete, such as a very poor discussion of subordinationism, the iconoclastic controversy, and the rise of covenant theology, just to name a few. The text has strengths in that it is easily readable, and could act as a jumping off point for further reading. As a primary historical theology text, others do better when they stick to a chronological discussion rather than a topical agenda.

 

Crime and Punishment

January 12th, 2012

 

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★★

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve actually sat down to read a novel, and I’m not exactly sure why I chose Dostoevsky or this book, but I’m grateful that I did. This book was read on the Kindle. It is the story of a student-intellectual self-driven to poverty, and then committing a double murder. Most of the book engages in his thoughts and actions in the weeks after the incident until he finally breaks down to turn himself in. The book moves quite slowly most the time, with the necessity of reading through quite lengthy dialogues and monologues. Yet, there is a sublime virtue in this book that truly makes it a great novel. Dostoevsky is a complete master of the art of describing pathos. One reads in a cold sweat. One feels guilty even though not the criminal. The reader experiences the anger, depression, the dilutions, the decisional uncertainty of the characters. In most novels, you are a fly on the wall, watching the scene. In Dostoevsky, you are the character, you are in the brain of the character speaking.

Dostoevsky had an interesting upbringing, being born in Moscow in 1821, and dying in 1881. His parents died (perhaps his father was murdered) when he was young, and he scraped for himself. He almost was executed as a political criminal, spent 4 years in a prison camp in Siberia where he became a devout Christian, and spent the rest of his life writing novels in the realist mode, describing the true Russia of the time. Dostoevsky artfully brings up topics of the basis for morality, the existence of God, and the Christian faith. The point of sanity in the sea of insanity through this novel is the few characters with a Christian faith, such as Sonya. Raskolnikov’s sanity exists only in the last paragraphs of the book as he inquires of the Christian faith. The book ends as though there would be sequel.

I’ll be reading much more Dostoevsky in the months ahead. I’m now working on The Brothers Karazamov and will then attack others, so sit tight.

Born Again

December 28th, 2011

Born Again, by Charles Colson ★★★

Here is a book that I’ve suggested others read, yet have not (until now) read the book. It is the second book which I read on a Kindle.

This book is a truncated autobiography of Chuck Colson, known of Watergate fame. It details his rise to power within the Republican organization through low-handed politicking. Eventually, he was chosen to be one of the special consuls for Richard Nixon. He served through Nixon’s first term, and then intended to go back to his law practice when the Watergate scandal hit the fans across the country. During the time between Nixon’s second term and the Watergate scandal, pressure on Colson eventually led him to seek counsel from a friend when he became a Christian. Colson eventually was convicted, and served 7 months in federal prison, before getting released to then focus on prison ministries.

There are many aspects of this book that can be addressed. Certainly, Colson offers his own running commentary on his view of Nixon, Watergate and crisis that occurred. Much of the book is Colson coming to know himself, and realizing that he had a tendency to take control of matters. His fall from (political) grace forced a rethink of his own political arrogance. In this regard, Colson was truly moving. Colson’s change of heart to truly desire God’s will is none other than miraculous, and a testimony that we all must take to heart.

Colson always professed innocence in the Watergate events. I tend to find his testimony as believable. Apparently, he had no clue as to what happened. Colson ended up being the first person to plead guilty, which he did because he felt he did obstruct matters of investigation of the Watergate event, done mostly to protect the president. Oddly, Daniel Ellsberg, who was giving away top secret state information got off scott free.

It is a little bothersome that by the end of the book, Colson ends up as a pentecostal. I certainly hope his thinking has matured a bit since his release from prison. He also tended toward social do-goodism, defending prisoners against an unjust prison system. Sadly, this has two sides, since too often punishment in prison is not commensurate with the crime committed. Colson has a tendency to focus on wrongful imprisonment, when typical imprisonment for many is only too kind. Colson does make a good argument against the explosion of the prison system in our country, yet offers too few of suggestions as to how to really fix that.

Being a lawyer, Colson goes way too soft on addressing the problem of law and justice in our country. He tends to suggest that there are a few bad lawyers that ruin the soup. In reality, the entire legal system is rotten to the core, and Colson simply won’t admit it. His own conviction was based on the most eminent lawyers in the land, who did NOT make the judgment against Colson based on either evidence or due process of law, but rather out of pressure from a small but very vocal public sentiment. Unfortunately, with the  loss of constitutionalism in our court system, we can only expect this to get worse with time.

I agree with Colson in that the prison system is way overused, and tends to serve contrary to its mission, which is to reform the inmates. Supposing that Colson was truly guilty of his crimes, the best punishment would have been 39 lashings, total disbarment, and obligatory public service of 7 years duration at minimum wage and no diminishment of sentence based on good behavior, though extension of sentence based on bad behavior could be enforced.

Colson was kind on the news media. The Watergate scandal was essentially a creation of the news media. Ellsberg should have been behind bars and is not, thanks to the liberal press. It is no wonder that the large news services are dying. I’ll shed no tears for CNN or MSNBC. Colson was kind on liberals. He tended to feel that anybody that called themselves brother were acceptable. Yet, content of belief does matter. I hope Colson has learned this since his conversion. Those belief structures will order our thinking as well as behavior. For Colson to find vehement enemies that suddenly become best friends once discovered that they are Christians is a terrible witness of the “worst enemy-best friend” people, regardless of how “spiritual” they conducted themselves.

So, I truly enjoyed reading the book, but gave the book only three stars for lacking the depth it could have had. Colson is a delightful writer, but I do not intend to read any more of his books, which I understand are quite a few at this time. I am most delighted at his conversion to the Christian faith, and see in Colson’s story a common tale that reflects God calling us to Him, and NOT us accepting Him. I wish that Colson could have seen that in his conversion. I’m glad that God saves us in spite of ourselves, and Colson stands as a most visible example of this truth among every one of us that call ourselves Christian.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

December 22nd, 2011

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe and ???? ★★★

This is the first book that I have read in electronic format, on a Kindle. I have mixed feelings about the Kindle, and then comments on the book itself.

The Kindle is a great idea. I received the Kindle Touch about a month ago. I really didn’t wish for a microscopic keyboard and heard that there were problems with the color edition of Kindle, so opted for the Touch. There are problems with it. 1. The touch mechanism doesn’t always work consistently 2. if you accidentally bump the screen or try to clean off the screen to read it better, it will react. 3. since you always have to touch the screen to read, such as with changing pages, the screen is always being made dirty again. 4. After reading Foxe, the Kindle has shown a drastic reduction in speed, and multiple crashes, almost like it got a virus.  5. There is no mechanism for reading in dark circumstances, as you need an external light to see the screen.  6. Maneuvering through a book that you are reading can be a challenge, especially if the table of contents is not well constructed. They don’t have a reverse function like surfers have, so that you can’t instantly go back to where you came from.  The advantages of the Kindle are 1. It’s a great idea, 2. when it works, it has great functionality, like keeping track of where you are in a book across all systems. My solution to the Kindle dilemma is to use Kindle on an Apple apparatus. I am just waiting for iPad3 to come out.

Now, for Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I didn’t realize until I contacted my book resource David Davis that the original Foxe is about 7000 pages, and anything we read is a serious abridgment of that text. In addition, since Foxe died in 1587, any details after that are additions to his book. Thus, the hardcopy edition of Foxe’s Book and the Kindle edition do not resemble each other at all in their organization. Strangely, Wikipedia, and most Google internet sources don’t clue you in to this. The Kindle edition has multiple stories up to about 1830, many of which are quite rambling. At the end are very brief biographies of the main reformers, which are too brief to be of any value. The greatest value of Foxe’s Book is in his discussions of the martyrdoms around the time of bloody Mary. There is prolific language against the Papists and popery, all of which should NOT be forgotten by the present day church. The Romish church has not changed significantly since the 16th century, and we shouldn’t forget that. The Pope and his minions have not made a kinder gentler church that has learned its lessons. It is a superb defense of the notion of protestantism.

The book and its “editions” has left out much, including Savaranola, the Scottish martyrs, and persecution of the church by protestants on protestants. The revisions include lengthy details of the Quaker movement, which was unnecessary, and lengthy details of a person in Lebanon who was under pressure to conform by the Marionite church. The quality of the additions to John Foxe are low, and should have been left out. So, read the book, but not the Kindle edition.

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

December 6th, 2011

Come Let Us Reason Together, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★★

I had met Baruch Maoz at church a number of years ago, and found him to be quite thought provoking regarding the nature of the Messianic Jewish movements. Maoz is Jewish, grew up in Israel, and now is retired, though served many years as a pastor and evangelist to a Jewish Christian church in Israel. I decided to read this book after noting how some Christians are quite enamored with things Jewish, many of whom incorporate Jewish traditions into a Christian worship service, and speak Hebrew phrases in an attempt to have a Jewish flavor to the worship. Maoz notes that there is a wide range of Messianic Jews, many of whom are actually Gentiles, to some who would not even call themselves Christians, to a few that would disavow the doctrines of the trinity.  Maoz notes several things.

1. Messianic Jewish movements often have the wrong focus, being more concerned about Jewish tradition than on the Lord Jesus himself.

2. Jewish tradition, especially in Gentile hands, is often seriously confused, misplaced, poorly performed, and oftentimes insulting to real Jews, of whom this movement is attempting to reach.

3. Rabbinic Judaism is to be adamantly repudiated, since it places focus on a works righteousness, and is definitely not Biblical.

4. Well intentioned Messianic Jews often do more harm than good by forcing a Jew-Gentile split, yet failing to adequately reach Jews. As evidence, it is noted that most Jews that came to Christian faith did it outside of Messianic movements.

While reading this book, there were many times when I wished to give it only 3 stars. It is very poorly edited, and often one will find incomplete sentences. The content and arguments in this book are superb, Maoz is highly competent, reformed, and exceptionally knowledgeable in matters of Christian faith and Judaism. This is a book that many should read and take to heart. Maoz skillfully focuses the attention away from traditional Jewish cultural practices, to focus on the Bible alone to guide worship and Christian practice.

 

Suicide of a Superpower

November 3rd, 2011

Suicide of a Superpower, by Patrick Buchanan ★★★★★

The prophet of doom and gloom waxes eloquent as he describes the many variables that will eventually lead to the downfall of America. Mr. Buchanan takes a very long and hard look at the many factors that have changed in society from the 1950’s when the USA was at its pinnacle of power to today, when even the smallest nations may do as they please contrary to the commands or wishes of the United States. In the course of the book, he has chapters that 1. first paint a picture of what’s going on, 2. describes our loss of faith in God and the break-up of our churches, 3. focuses in on crises within Roman Catholicism that is weakening their stand in the US, 4. the loss of traditional white values and cultures and replacement by a nation of minorities, each with their own subcultures, 5. the international failure of the West and Japan/China to have children leading to the poorest nations and Muslim nations to ascend, 6. details of how the quest for “equality” has been so muddled that its only result is an overall loss of freedom, 7. how diversity as an ideology is confused thinking and is absolutely contrary to unity, and how this so-called quest for diversity has destroyed much of American cultural infrastructure, 8. internationally how each autonomous group now desires autonomy and nationhood, causing massive destruction of many of the nation-states of the world, 9. more details on the loss of white America, but in particular, Buchanan focuses on how the Republican party has been painted as the “white” party, even though the Democratic party has been the most racist of the two parties, 10. a focus on foreign policy and how it’s failed us in the last 50 years, with an emphasis on our policy failure with NATO and the former Soviet Union and our need to get out of acting as the world’s defender. The last chapter is spent with Buchanan suggesting what we could do to restore hope to our nation. Buchanan spends much time 1. discussing the issues of import tariffs, of which he makes an excellent point that it is vital to balance our trade status with what our nations do to us, 2. elaborating how the illegal immigrant issue has eaten the heart out of America, though illegal immigrants tend toward a more conservative base than the liberal think-tank that fuels national policy, 3. hinting at how judicial activism in the supreme court has destroyed our true sense of freedom. There are only a few points that I would emphasize differently from Buchanan. Buchanan realizes the importance of national faith in the Christian God, yet fails to say that precisely, discussing instead our loss of community values and church-going. The Scriptures, in discussing the reason for the fall of Israel and Judah, have a stronger focus on the loss of personal morality and loss of orthodoxy among the religious elite. Buchanan notes that the Catholic church rose to prominence in the early 20th century, and then took a downward course in the 1960’s, blaming much of that downward course on the decisions of Vatican II. On this, I would disagree completely with Pat, since the American loss of faith started (as pointed out well by Francis Schaeffer) at the beginning of the twentieth century. The rise of Roman Catholicism in the 20’s to 50’s  represents more a loss of faith and placation of the conscience by providing an easy religiosity, rather than a shift back to Rome for more traditional values. For the most part, Patrick Buchanan gets most everything correct, and this is a book absolutely worth reading to understand what is happening and what will happen to our nation and the world at large.

 

Review—Two Bicycle Repair Books

October 23rd, 2011

The Blue Book (Park Manual) on bicycle repair is considered the standard for bicycle repair. Yet, there are other books out there, since the Park Manual seems to be fairly short, and sometimes confusing or incomplete. The two books reviewed below are alternatives. They offer different styles in their approach to bicycle repair.

Bicycle Repair, by Rob Van Der Plas ★★★★★

This book, written by a bicycle aficionado in San Francisco, is in a very easy to read, casual style, with multiple illustrations. It is the best book in terms of illustrations of any of the cycle repair books I’ve laid my hands on. In some areas it is slightly deficit, such as in not encouraging the use of torque wrenches whenever possible or when advised by manufacturers. It also is not as comprehensive on the different brands of cycle components out there. There are chapters on items such as the repair of internal gear systems and coaster brakes. The clarity and methodical nature of the repair instructions earns it a 5-star rating. This is a worthwhile book to have in one’s cycle repair shop.

Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, by Lennard Zinn ★★★★★

This book earns 5 stars but for a different reason than van der Plas’s book. The illustrations are hand-drawn rather than photographed, yet very well drawn. The book is much thicker and more comprehensive. Zinn is a bicycle builder in Colorado, as well as an editor for VeloNews. Using those skills, he holds a repair style more of what you would expect the best bicycle repair shop to have, following manufacturer’s recommendations. There are large charts in the back of the book for reference on torque wrench settings and other things. Zinn writes very well, and offers prolific sound advice for the care of the bicycle both in the shop and on the road. This book is also quite worth having in a cycle shop library.

Review of three cycle touring books

October 23rd, 2011

The bicycle touring season has come to a close in the Northwest, and so planning for next year needs to occur. Trip planning, repair of the bicycles and equipment, and review of current and future technologies all needs to take place. So, here are three books that I have just read, presented  in the order in which they were read.

Bicycling Magazine’s Guide to Bike Touring, by Doug Donaldson ★★★★

This book has a subtitle “Everything You Need to Know to Travel Anywhere on a Bike”. Actually, it is not a terribly comprehensive book on cycle touring, but written in magazine style, designed to hold a 30 second attention span. It is well written, interlaced with much humor. This book would be best for the early novice in cycle touring, the person who has never tried cycle touring before. It is a great introduction, and thus the four stars, rather than the 2-3 that I would have otherwise given it. The book did offer some advice unknown to me such as bicycle repair tricks in an emergency. Generally, it tended toward magazine style recommendations for tours and tended to recommend products advertising in Bicycling Magazine. It had lengthy advice for drafting (????, hello, this is touring, NOT road racing!!!!), exercises to do to get in shape (try just getting on a bike!), advice on picking a tour company (?, ok, sure….) and a lengthy chapter on nutrition, all of which seemed to be more filler material than good touring advice. Get the book if you have never tried cycle touring before, and you will be inspired. Otherwise, see below.

Bike Touring (A Sierra Club Outdoor Adventure Guide), by Raymond Bridge ★★★★★

This is the best bicycle touring book available, though not the most inspirational. Bridge writes in a straightforward but informative style. He provides the most comprehensive text, including numerous references to the internet and to other books on bicycling and related topics. The book is divided into three sections. The first paints the picture of what it means to cycle tour. In this section, he discusses the various types of cycle touring, including self-contained touring (camping out and doing your own cooking), as well as “credit-card” touring (staying in hotels and eating out everywhere). The second section is a comprehensive discussion of the types of equipment, beginning with the bicycle, discussing then bicycle components of interest, cycle touring clothing, repair tools, lights, locks, panniers and trailers, and camping gear. Finally, Bridge discusses in the third section the actual act of cycle touring, including route planning, and the style of self contained vs. supported (hotel) tours. There is a sizable resource guide at the end for additional books on cycling, bicycle repair, tour companies, map sources, etc. This book is well worth obtaining simply as a reference.

Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, by Stephen Lord ★★★★

This book is meant for the person who wishes to leave civilization and travel beyond the US/Canada or Western Europe and into the hinterlands of foreign countries. The book is divided into three parts, the first being an invaluable reference to planning such a trip, equipment, etc., etc. The second part provides recommendations for routes throughout the world, with a focus on Central Asia, South America and Africa. The first part are anecdotal tales written by various cyclists on their adventures in the greater world. This book has many inset stories and information pieces inserted throughout the text and written by different authors that provide personal experiences. After reading the book, I realized that I did not have an overwhelming interest in exploring Tibet, Outer Mongolia or Zanzibar on a bicycle. Should my mind change, this will be the first book that I consult.

Colossus

October 9th, 2011

Colossus, by Niall Ferguson ????

I had just reviewed another book by Niall Ferguson, and this book is actually quite complementary. The overall thesis of this book is that the USA is actually an Empire, and that that is a good thing. The first few chapters start with a history of the United States from the international perspective, showing how the USA has always stated a non-Empire status, while simultaneously behaving like an emerging empire. Even with statements from our recent presidents and some GOP presidential candidates that we are not an empire, Ferguson provides adequate details to show that they indeed are different from all other prior empires that the world has known, yet their very behavior in international politics is consistent with empire status. Ferguson then develops the theme of the Brjitish Empire, emphasizing its triumphs and failures as a world dominating force. Another recently reviewed book by me (The Rise and Fall of the British Empire) takes a quite caustic view of the British Empire. This book has a more balanced view, discussing how the empire status of the British was ultimately mutually beneficial to both England and the subject country. Most notably, the institution of the rule of law and honest commercial interchange was instilled in many countries that are now benefiting from that. The departure of the British often has led to greatly decreased GDP and oftentimes to civil war or catastrophes far worse.  Ferguson also delves into the negative side of empire, showing how England invested far more in foreign nations than they gained, ultimately leading to a diminished status of England in the world at large. He then discusses the positive and negative aspects of the USA as empire, specifically focusing on our near bankrupt status as a nation and the potential instability of both the European Union and the US economic situation. Yet he sees the need for a dominant force in the world that would promote the continuation of free trade and economic stability. Ferguson looks at matters nearly entirely from the viewpoint of an economist as ex-patriot Brit. Though he does briefly bring up the religious question of the loss of faith in Europe, he does not equate that in any way as being a potential harmful matter but merely as a fact of note comparing the difference between American and European society.  I would tend to be a bit hesitant to not attribute other factors as leading to the rise and fall of nations (see Isaiah 40:15-27). Thus, I would personally attribute the greatest danger of the USA is its loss of faith in the Judeo-Christian God.

Ferguson is a provocative read and very informative. I would recommend this book, though I do not entirely agree with everything he says. He certainly is quite thought provoking, and will certainly force one to rethink their stance of Empire, whether one comes from a liberal or conservative perspective.

 

The Ascent of Money

September 23rd, 2011

The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson ?????

The review reluctantly receives 5 stars in that I disagree with many of the suppositions and conclusions of the author. Yet, Ferguson makes a fascinating story of the money world that is quite worth reading. His writing style tends to lead to many thought provoking hours if one takes the time to consider the implications of money history. And, as the subtitle states, it is a financial history of the world. Ferguson presents six chapters with an epilogue questioning whether the financial world as we know it will persist. But, that question is not to be approached in this review, as I don’t have a clue. The six chapters neatly divide money history into 1. The history of stocks, 2. The history of bonds, 3. The history of central banks, 4. The history of the insurance industry, 5. The history of the mortgage market, focusing on the US, and 6. Globalization and its implications in the world of finance, including the role of the IMF and World Bank. Ferguson makes a good but not solid case against a gold standard in economics, though he never really challenges the gold standard as such. The strength of this book is that Ferguson is able to show how all monetary systems are not fool-proof, and highly subject to the foibles of man. Perhaps the world economic boon suggests that the economic system with corrections is the best that could be, though a serious crash, perhaps sufficient to enter the world into another dark age, might rule that out. My distress with Ferguson’s book is that he left much unanswered. How did civilizations such as Rome in times past build massive systems without stocks, bonds, derivatives and hedge funds? How was America able to be most successful in the pre-Jekyll Island days? Is it right that there is a massive surge in “money managers” that make ungodly sums of money for doing nothing but gambling? Shouldn’t money managers and corporate executives be held personally responsible for failures since the receive massive personal gain from success? I’ll leave those questions and many more to a subsequent book by Ferguson. In the meantime, go out and get a copy of this book to read-you’ll be glad you did.

Under the Banner of Heaven

August 25th, 2011

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.

Tea

August 14th, 2011

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!!!

Wagner’s Ring

August 14th, 2011

Wagner’s Ring: Turning the Sky Round, by M. Owen Lee ??

This is one of now many analyses of Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. Lee apparently is a Catholic priest, and these short essays were from radio commentary that he gave. This was read at the recommendation of a number of reviewers on Amazon.com. I found that Lee does an excellent superficial analysis of the plot, and suggests that the “deeper” meaning to be communicated in the operas is best seen on a psychological study of the Ring from the viewpoint of Wagner himself. Lee suggests that Wagner is attempting a Nietzschean twist on evolution, suggesting the death of the old gods, and an emergence of an enlightened mankind superior to our past. Having recently listened to Robert Greenberg’s analysis of the Ring as found in the Teaching Company recordings, I tend to agree toward Greenberg. Lee seems to idolize Wagner as a deep thinker. Greenberg instead views Wagner as the most profound of composers but simultaneously the most evil of all men whose ideology is repulsive. From what I know about Wagner, I think Greenberg is closer to the real Wagner. It is a pity that such amazingly beautiful music has a dark side to it, and must be listened to for the quality of the music. The underlying messages must be glossed over and the Ring watched solely for its superficial message, as Lee manifests in this short book.

The Battle

August 14th, 2011

The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future, by Arthur Brooks ????

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Lattin based on a World Magazine review, and it was a good choice. It is short, and can be easily read in 1-2 evenings. Brooks identifies that in America, there are essentially two types of people, 70% who prefer small government, free markets, and private enterprise, and 30% who prefer large government, socialism, and relative equality of incomes for all citizens. It is the 30% who seem to control government, media, and Hollywood. There are four chapters in this book. In the first, Brooks delineates the problem. Chapter two discusses how the liberals and media have it all wrong in discussing the cause for the economic downturns of the last century, showing how it was government and not “greedy capitalists” who caused the problem. Brooks doesn’t spare either Republicans or Democrats, and is particularly harsh on the statements and decisions of our current fool-in-chief, Barry O. Chapter 3 shows how working for a living rather than being on a government dole actually makes people happier, and concomitantly more productive. The last chapter offers a moral argument, that it is only right that one work for a living, and that forced government redistribution is immoral. While I agree with the global thesis of this book and most of the particulars, he fails only in not showing how our abandonment of God, religious structures, and Biblical moral framework has ultimately been the cause for America’s downturn.

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

August 13th, 2011

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Edited by Norman C. Nevin ????

This is probably the last evolution book that I’m going to read and review for a while. This compilations of essays were written by British authors, mostly as a response to Denis Alexander, and British counterpart to USA’s Francis Collins in advocating theistic evolution. The book was recommended by World Magazine as a top read of the year, so it made sense to complete my evolution reads with this text. In all, I appreciated the mixture of a strong Biblical response with the provision of a scientific defense for creation. The scientific data was a rehash of much that I’ve read in the past and recently reviewed volumes. If I hadn’t grown weary of creation vs. evolution texts I’d probably have given it a higher recommendation. I agree with World that this is a superb summary defense for a Biblical approach to creation/evolution.

 

Genesis 1-4

August 13th, 2011

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins ?????

This book offers a detailed analysis of the first four chapters in Genesis in an attempt to bring clarity to our understanding as to the events of creation and the first few years of man on earth. Collins certainly possesses the necessary credentials, having an advanced degree in the sciences from MIT, as well as further M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees in theology and linguistics. I have heard criticisms of Dr. Collins, mostly related to him having abandoned a Biblical approach to Genesis, and having caved in to the the god of Science. Thus, the reading of this text was done in a critical fashion. I have found that the exact opposite of his critics is true. Jack Collins is a breath of fresh air in conservative scholarship, neither giving in to modernist approaches to creation nor to traditional theories of creation. Instead, Collins maintains a prevailing stance of the preeminence of Scripture over science, and that is seen on each and every page of this text. True, he doesn’t subscribe to a 24-hour young earth interpretation of Genesis 1, yet, he offers substantial support to an old earth hypothesis that allows for a 6 day creation in God’s time.

The flow of the book is somewhat different from what I’m used to in that the sources, authorship, and purpose of Genesis is left to the end of the book, and for good reason for one reading the text from front to back cover. He initiates the book with his method of discourse analysis. He briefly explores the questions that Genesis is trying to answer. He then does a step-by-step analysis on a linguistic basis of the four pericopes of Genesis 1-4, interestingly and for good reason, including the Cain and Abel pericope and aftermath.

Collins concludes the book first with a discussion of source criticism, laying claim that even if one were to identify various sources, it doesn’t contribute to analysis of the book, since the book was masterfully compiled by Moses in a manner that leaves it as a unity rather than a fragmented mishmash. He then puts on his science background hat to explore the claims of Genesis in the light of modern science, but refuses to force science and Genesis into two separate realms. Thus the book concludes by showing how Genesis 1-4 establishes a very distinct Judeo-Christian world view.

My greatest appreciation for this book was that Collins always held a high view of Scripture, and never allowed science to preempt Scripture. Collins maintained a sense of humility toward questions that could not be answered in Genesis even in the light of the remainder of Scripture. Collins offers a forceful and cogent response to the source critics. Of particular note is the hypothesis that Gen. 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25 are two different creation stories that a redactor sloppily reassembled. Unfortunately, many “conservative” scholars have concurred with this hypothesis. Rather, Collins shows how Gen 2:4-25 was a masterful clarification of the sixth day of creation.

In all, this is one of the better books that I have read on the early Genesis pericopes, and I laud Collins for his perspicuity and insights over a controversial topic. This book is highly recommended to all who have a passing interest in the various debates regarding old and young earth creationism.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

August 13th, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins

I have recently reviewed one of Jack Collin’s other books on Genesis 1-4. This text addresses a limited portion of that other book, focusing on a theological as well as scientific argument for the existence of a single pair of people forming the source and basis for the remainder of humanity.  There is a moderate amount of repetition between this book and the Genesis 1-4 text, and yet sufficient distinction to make both books worth reading. Collins seems to mostly be directing his arguments toward the new thinking of Theistic Evolution, and specifically countering arguments of the BioLogos forum that states that man evolved from hominids in the distant past, slowing acquiring their distinction as humans with a relationship to god. Briefly, Collins engages in an analysis of the key Adam and Eve texts throughout Scripture, and substantiates the importance of a single Adam and Eve character for the development of the whole of Christian theology. Throw out the traditional Adam and Eve and you result in a Christianity of a completely alien character to what we know. Thus, Adam and Eve must be more than theoretical or abstract constructs.

Three appendices at the end of the book were of great value to read in addition to the main text, and thus must not be skipped. The first dealt with a discussion of other ancient creation and flood texts that archeologists have made available to us. The second demonstrates Collin’s mind in reviewing James Barr, showing Collin’s ability to glean valuable insights from a writer that tends to lace his writings with what might be called theological rubbish. The third appendix is a brief discussion of timing in Genesis.

This is a short book to read, and can be handled by the usual person in several long evenings. The insights from this book offer valuable arguments against much of the trends in theistic evolution, as well as theological discussions that must be the thinking of all orthodox Christians. I would advise that Collin’s other text Genesis 1-4 be read before this text, and hopefully someday he merges the two texts into one tome.

 

God and Evolution

July 25th, 2011

God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards ????

This text is written by a number of scholars at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA from an Intelligent Design perspective to counter the theistic evolution movement. Surprisingly many evangelical theologians and pastors have given their imprimatur to the theistic evolution movement, including Bruce Waltke, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Robert Schuler (?), Tim Keller, and Mark Noll to name a few. The theistic evolution movement argues that their stance is consistent with an orthodox reading of Scripture held in an inerrant fashion. This book seeks to establish that theistic evolution falls out of the traditional Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish beliefs.

The first emphasizes the importance of correct thinking on evolution. Richards  and West argue that errors in thinking on evolution has led to such heresies as gnosticism and deistic views of God. Richards identifies prominent Christian leaders like Tim Keller, who seem entirely inconsistent and poorly thought out on his evolution beliefs. Ultimately, the bioLogos movement tends to destroy more theological truths, including a rigorous view of the fall, and a denial that God is present and active in this world. Collin’s efforts to make evolution compatible with a strict view of Scripture has not engendered acceptance of the atheistic evolutionist crowd, primarily because evolution is much more than a scientific theory, but rather a complete belief system about the universe. Luskin spends a chapter detailing why theistic evolution will never appease the atheists in the crowd. Of greatest perplexity is Francis Collins’ strong reaction against the Intelligent Design movement. Attempts at reconciling science and religion had led to the proposal of differing spheres of influence (NOMA), which again reflects confused thinking since science and religion regularly overlap, whether one is a theist or an atheist. Demski investigates the claim that theistic evolution gets God “off the hook” for creating evil, yet argues that is does nothing of the sort, since God remains directly or indirectly “responsible” for evil. Witt then focuses directly on Collins’s position, focusing on his anti-ID stance. In the process, Collins must maintain that the so-called imperfections of nature attest to an imperfect or clumsy God who can’t get things right the first time around (as though theistic evolution solves the problem!). Wells feels that Collins prematurely caved into his atheistic buddies in the science world, but seriously compromised himself in the process by not promoting the notion of a God as immediate creator of the universe. Richards details the belief system of Howard Van Till, showing how Van Till suggested a mechanism built into the system from the beginning by God  which would lead to the tendency toward the evolution of life, called the “robust formational economy principle”. To me, this sound much like an anthropic-teleological principle, with the entire system bent toward the non-random formation of humans. Yet, Richards argues that this is not how we see nature to be, and forms very shaky theological grounds. In the end, Van Till offers more confusion than direction. Van Till himself has since abandoned an orthodox view of God, even being rejected by the now quite liberal Calvin College. Meyer summarizes by suggesting the theistic evolution fails to solve any of the questions that they attempt to solve, i.e, why nature doesn’t seem to have a perfect construction, as defined by our current concept of what an ideal, perfect world (or biological organism) would look like.

The remaining chapters are the Catholic and Jewish argument against theistic evolution. For the Catholic, much discussion related to medieval concepts of nomism vs. realism, Aristotelian thinking in the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and the formal positions of the Catholic church. For the Jewish crowd, discussion of great minds such as Maimonides and traditional Jewish thought through the ages was details. Klinghoffer suggested that while the preponderance of Jews, whether reformed or orthodox,  have blindly accepted evolution as an explanation for the world without conflict with the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent thinking, this is a result of very poor thinking as to traditional Jewish belief systems.

In all, this book is a superb tour de force contra the theistic evolution crowd. It avoids the young earth/old earth controversy and focuses entirely on the problem Christians assuming that science must speak first, followed by us conforming our theological beliefs to science. To this end, I fear that many conservative theologians are gravely in error subscribing to theistic evolution. It leaves me wondering how my own denomination (the PCA) could close a blind eye to Tim Keller (perhaps because he has a large successful church) while forming a witch-hunt in a minor theological dispute with Peter Leithart.

The Myth of Junk DNA

July 24th, 2011

The Myth of Junk DNA, by Jonathan Wells ?????

The issue of Junk DNA has arisen from the claims that theistic evolutionists make arguing that the presence of “junk” DNA is proof that the genome was formed to a large extent from random events. Junk DNA refers to DNA in the genome that does not seem to encode any sort of protein. It is well known that the preponderance of our genome consists of “junk” DNA, and for the most part, its function is not well described. Oddly, the amount of “junk” DNA seems to vary among species, and particular attention is made to the presence of unusually high quantities of “junk” DNA in the onion genome. Wells effectively counters the limpid arguments of such scholars as Francis Collins in noting many discoveries that have shown “junk” DNA to play a role in the genome. First, he shows that much non-protein-coding DNA is still transcribed, and plays vital roles in gene regulatory events, oftentimes during embryologic development. Secondly, he shows how introns (also identified as “junk” DNA) play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulatory events. So-called pseudogenes (genes which are active in some species but “defective” in others) oftentimes also are transcribed and involved in regulatory events. Further chapters detail how other aspects of non-protein-coding DNA are useful in sundry aspects of cell division and growth, such as the necessity of this “junk” DNA to permit centromere function. Wells makes no claim to fully understand the functions of the entirety of the genome, but insists that it is arrogant to ascribe an absence of utility for biological entities whose usefulness is not yet understood. He more than capably destroys the idea that junk DNA is an argument for theistic evolution and against intelligent design.

I took a class in graduate school in 1986 that was in the department of molecular biology and whose subject was pre- and post-transcriptional genomic regulation. Already, much evidence was known that seemed to be dismantling a strict Watson-Crick schema of protein production. Though much of the class was a little over my head in terms of research details, the basic concept of a much greater complex schema of cell regulatory events was already clear. Proteins, chromatin, large and small RNA elements all seemed to play a confusing role in turning genes on and off, in determining what would be translated, and what would be stable versus transitory mRNA elements. This book shows that our knowledge of gene regulatory events has creeped forward a touch. We are still left with an enormous vacuum of understanding as to how the cell truly regulates itself throughout its lifetime. Evolutionists, regardless of whether they are of the theistic vs. atheistic variety, glibly fill in the missing facts with the assumption that science will ultimately answer everything. In reality, they are creating a belief system which I call science-of-the-gaps, which is far more perverse than the God-of-the-gaps accusation directed toward creationists or intelligent design adherents. Creationists of all stripes will admit that science may offer some explanations of the large voids in our knowledge, and that doesn’t do violence to the creationist stance. Evolutionists would never concede that much of their gaps will always remain gaps, since their theory cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of the world as we see it. Their arguments are not won by the force of reason but by the force of arrogant proclamation. I commend Wells for offering solid reason to admit that there is much to yet learn about the genomic structure. Being head of the NIH does not confer Collins the role of science-Pope who can speak ex cathedra for God in matters of evolution, and this book skillfully demonstrates a lacuna in Collins’ thinking.

 

 

Bonhoeffer

July 11th, 2011

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas ????

Bonhoeffer’s is a story worth reading, and well told by Eric Metaxas. It is the tale of a young German growing up in the academic circles of Berlin, deciding to go into theology, only to break away from the liberal tendencies in theology as found in Berlin. Through experiences as a young pastor and student in Spain, London, and NY City, Bonhoeffer matures in his faith towards seeing God not as a distant “other” but somebody with whom daily life interacts. Changes in the German political scene with the rise of Hitler and state interference with the church caused Bonhoeffer to form the separate Bekennendekirche (Confessing church) movement, as well as the institution of a seminary to train young pastors. Bonhoeffer then becomes involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Though jailed initially for other reasons, he ultimately is executed for his role in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.  The books reads well, though often would be better served by leaving long quotes as footnotes.

Metaxas develops Bonhoeffer as a remarkable person, able to see through the vapidness of his theology professors, yet still able to treat them with respect and honor. Bonhoeffer was a man who operated on principle, with an ever deepening faith in God that controlled his entire life. Metaxas also paints Bonhoeffer as a person whose life raises serious questions. I will offer three comments.

1. Is he a model of virtue that we should all follow, especially in regard to our reaction to an evil state? My personal answer is that he is  not. Bonhoeffer, being executed for his role in plot against Hitler, and not for his role as a pastor, makes him an accomplice to an assassin and not a martyr. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer… yet if anybody suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed” IPeter 4:15-16a. The test of time proved that attempts to assassinate Hitler were providentially ineffective, and God was able to handle Hitler and his henchmen quite nicely at the appropriate time.

2. Bonhoeffer proposes a graded absolutist ethic, which is fraught with intense problems. His ethic is not novel, and is usually discussed in most ethics texts. In it, Bonhoeffer allows that a lesser evil (such as the murder of Hitler, or lying), is permissible in order to accomplish a greater good (freedom of the world from a tyrant) or to avoid a greater evil (the killing of masses of Jews). Unfortunately, this ethic essentially permits any action to occur, since all of our actions are designed to enact a “good”, either to ourselves or to a specific group. The arguments against graded absolutism would be very lengthy and not appropriate for a book review.

3. Bonhoeffer never divorces himself from the liberal camp, becoming at odds with Karl Barth not for his bad theology, but for his bad social approach to the Nazi regime. In his 1939 visit to New York, his identity with American Christianity was mostly limited to his exposure to the dead theology circles of Union Seminary. Bonhoeffer develops a deep spirituality, but this is in the context of social activism, and not in the context of seeking a correct theology. Never do we see a Bonhoeffer whose highest good is the truth. Put in a Christian context, Bonhoeffer holds that worship and obedience take precedence over truth, yet Bonhoeffer fails to see that in reality, they are indivisible, and orthodoxy and orthopraxy are intimately bound. Bonhoeffer’s interest in visiting Ghandi is puzzlesome. Not that Ghandi is not an admirable person, but that Ghandi does not provide a Biblical solution to man’s dilemmas and offers no explanation for the evil that comes out of man, which was soon to destroy Bonhoeffer.

This book is recommended as the spirited retelling of a life worthy of mention, and often an example for all of us in standing against evil. It is a warning of Christians to not compromise their beliefs in the accommodation to the state. It is a devotional plea to always live ones’ moments as corum deo. Thus, it is a book recommended to all.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

June 18th, 2011

The Heresy of Orthodoxy, by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger ????

This book was written as a defense of Scripture, and contra the Bauer-Ehrman thesis. In short, the Bauer-Ehrman thesis supposes that early Christendom consisted of many “orthodoxies”, and that the rise of Constantine and state church forced a given “orthodoxy” on the rest of us. Concurrent with this thinking, the numerous pseudographia and gnostic texts discovered in the last several hundred years have brought some theologians, Ehrman especially, to consider these texts as on par and equal in consideration as the Scriptures that we have. Also argued is that because of textual corruption, it is impossible to know exactly what the Scriptures are or should be. To this, Köstenberger and Kruger capably argue in opposition. The flow of the book is as follows. In the first section, the authors argue that there indeed was diversity within the early church, but that there was a prevailing orthodoxy, and clear conception even in the first century of heresy. The diversity among orthodox thinking was minor and not related to major issues of gnosticism, or the doctrines of God and Christ. The second section develops the idea that a canon of Scripture was apparent early in the second century, and even in the mid to late first century of Christianity, contra Ehrman who claims a very late concept of the canon of Scripture. It was clear early on which texts did not fit into the canon and which texts did. The last section discusses the preservation of the texts, arguing that an intelligent Christian population existed early on who could copy and read the text, and that although tampering could be seen in the text, it never significantly altered the overall meaning of the text. The book is a worthy read for those interested in one of the many battles occurring over the Scriptures today.

The Christ of the Prophets

June 16th, 2011

The Christ of the Prophets, by O. Palmer Robertson ?????

I’ve already reviewed a number of books by OP Robertson, and this one is among the best. It is not exactly the book I expected, but actually better than I expected. The layout of the book is quite simple, in that the preliminary chapters introduce the notion of prophetism in Israel, and the general theology of prophecy. The latter chapters run through the various prophets in a chronological fashion, giving a short summary of their environment, thesis, and end result. Overlaid throughout the book is a systematic attack on the new liberal thinking which has even pervaded the writings of many conservative biblical scholars. He shows how the new approaches of redaction and literary criticism tend to offer more confusion than clarity to a text, while simultaneously offering explanations for textual origin that are completely unsubstantiated. Because the Scriptures claim that validity of the prophet is determinant on the truth of the prophecy, to make claim that the prophetic words were written after the fact essentially invalidate the prophet and the Scriptures. Yet, conservative scholars will give in and allow for the claims of higher criticism. The only outcome of this is to allow academia to act as a front for unbelief. Robertson shows quite clearly that there is no reason or justification for not believing the prophetic words of the Old Testament at their face value. The attack on higher criticism found in this book makes it more than worthy of a reading. Robertson is not only the best of the best in academic thinking, but also the best of the best at being entirely Biblical in his thinking and approach to God’s Word.

Demonic

June 11th, 2011

Demonic, How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter ??

The first 20 pages of this book, I thought that I might be giving this book a 5 star rating. I’ve read (and reviewed) other Ann Coulter books, and agree with much of what she has to say. So, when I saw this book on sale at Costco, decided that it wouldn’t hurt to read it. As with other Coulter books, much of what she has to say could (and should) have been said in the first chapter. Ann doesn’t know when to stop talking. Though she brings up many historical tidbits that the press seemed to ignore about the liberal “mob”, her persistence tends to grow weary as she seems to go nowhere with her thinking. The second section of this book does a poor and brief recollection of the French revolution, and then attempts to correlate that with the behavior of modern Democrats (liberals). Somehow, Ann is convinced that the Democrats and Republicans are two difference species of animal. This leads to page by page arrogant rants as to how the liberals never do anything right and conservatives never do anything wrong. Her absence of humility becomes quite intolerable. Ann lives in her own world. She refuses to find any problem with Obama’s birth certificate, only because this is not a bandwagon that she can ride. She viciously attacks the non-neo-cons Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan for no good reason other than having properly thought out a Christian-constitutional approach to foreign policy. In her last pages of the book, she actually has the audacity to support the terribly liberal treaty of Versailles, probably the greatest mistake of the 20th century. Ms. Coulter should perhaps re-read history, including the history of the mob, which was used by various factions, conservative and liberal throughout the Greek and Roman empire. But then, according to Ann, the mob defines one as liberal. I’ll make sure I never go to a Republican rally, as they also try to engender a “mob” think. Though I agree with much of Ann’s rantings about the extreme bias of the press, better books have been written to develop this thesis. I too detest much of what is liberal in America, yet I find conversations with liberals oftentimes informative and thought-provoking. This is perhaps the last book I’ll ever read by Ann, as there are others that develop her themes much better and argue with consistency. As for Ann, a little humility might help. She needs to spend more time reading and listening, and less time talking. She might also be best served by getting married, though I’d feel a touch sorry for her husband.

Digital Landscape Photography

May 18th, 2011


Digital Landscape Photography, by John and Barbara Gerlach ?????
This must be one of the best landscape photography books that I’ve read in a while. Written in a very non-sophisticated style, John and Barbara offer page after page of highly practical advice on how to obtain better landscape photos. John uses the Canon system and Barbara the Nikon system, together giving a broad spectrum of tips for whichever system you use. Chapters range from discussions of camera systems, best choice of lenses, and other equipment issues, to composing the photo, seeking optimal lighting, setting the proper exposure, obtaining the best sharpness in the photo, to post-processing issues like producing HDR and panorama shots. They are not shy to mention which special equipment they might use, most of which is inexpensive and readily available in the USA. To supplement their discussions, multiple examples of their photography are offered, demonstrating how their techniques successfully produce splendid landscape photos. This is a book that will be re-studied from time to time, and not set to collect dust in some obscure portion of my bookshelves.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book

April 23rd, 2011


The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book, by Martin Evening ????
The book offers a comprehensive summary of all the functions of Lightroom 3, written by a professional photographer. The book is profuse with illustrations, making the book quite easy to follow along. Although I have been using Lightroom as my main storage/processing program for photographs for several years now, this book opened up many more possibilities for the way I could use Lightroom. Much of the functionality would apply more to a professional photographer, such of means of group processing large batches of photographs. Even still, Lightroom remains my preferred photograph program, and it was nice to learn how I could make it better serve my photographic needs.

The Time Crunched Cyclist

April 14th, 2011


The Time-Crunched Cyclist, by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg ???
Chris Carmichael is the primary trainer for Lance Armstrong. In this book, he suggests a program for those who are not professional cyclists, and thus find difficulty in riding their bicycle greater than 20 hrs/week. In the book, he proposes a program that can develop endurance training at only six or more hours a week. Much of the emphasis is placed on short extreme efforts in the saddle, and allowing enough rest between training periods to permit recovery. Carmichael offered a review of the basics of exercise physiology showing how that incorporates into the development of a training program. He also discusses other sundry aspects of training, such as nutrition, and weight training. The book is an easy read text, and written in a practical manner. It does seem moderately oriented toward younger jocks who wish to have a job during the week, and then still compete on weekends.

Against All Gods

April 12th, 2011


Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism, by Phillip Johnson and John Reynolds ???
Phillip Johnson is most noted for the book Darwin on Trial and the start of the Intelligent Design movement. He quit writing for a few years owing to several strokes, and now has produced a book jointly with Reynolds regarding new movements in the community of atheism. In particular, Johnson makes note of the new militant atheism, not trying to live peaceably with people of faith, but rather, viciously opposing Christians and those of all religious creeds or beliefs. Johnson writes in a conversational style for the first five chapters of the book. After Johnson, Reynolds offer reflections on how atheism has not given classical writing a fair shake, and how atheism misses the bigger point in the realm of education and aesthetics. I didn’t find his statements to contribute much to Johnson’s comments. This is not a book that proves valuable new insights. It does offer a glimpse into Johnson’s thinking as to the new challenges of the Christian community against its detractors.

Bike Snob

April 8th, 2011


Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, by Bike Snob NYC (aka Eben Weiss) ????
Eben apparently writes a regular column for Bicycling magazine. I’ve never seen his column, though I also don’t subscribe to Bicycling magazine any more. Eben offers many humorous anecdotes, mostly from his own life, that cover the world of somebody who rides a bicycle simply for the joy of it. He is able to insult just about anybody who rides a bicycle, including himself. At the same time, tidbits of advice are offered, such as to lock your bicycle well, and to not fall into the fad of riding a bicycle without brakes. This was a short and enjoyable read that most bicycle riders would enjoy.

A Biblical History of Israel

April 8th, 2011

A Biblical History of Israel, by Provan, Long and Longman ????

This book ended up being considerably different than I expected from the cover, yet was a delightful and very informative read. I had expected a simple biblical narrative rehash of what I already knew from reading the OT 15-20+ times through. This book did not take that approach. The first five chapters were a defense of doing history, especially biblical history. Current modern liberal theologians tend to identify the Old Testament as entirely unreliable in accounting for a true history of events in Palestine, for reasons that include 1) history in the Old Testament mixes theology and history and thus is unreliable, 2) events of the Old Testament don’t precisely match archeological findings, and thus the OT text is in error, and 3) redaction criticism suggests a late writing of biblical history, which must thus be inaccurate. The authors shrewdly work through each of these objections, showing that the OT can be truly used as a legitimate source for ancient historical studies. The second part of the book then works through the narrative structure of the history of Israel, in particular identifying when liberal scholars note a discrepancy and show how variant reads of the OT text, or extreme extrapolations possible lead to errors on the part of the liberal scholars rather than the text of the OT. A simple example suffices. A recent archeological work failing to show proper period pottery in random digs around Jerusalem was interpreted to suggest that Jerusalem was not occupied during the suggested reign of King David. This is as ludicrous as me digging in my backyard, failing to find Indian artifacts, and thus concluding that Indians did not occupy the Pacific Northwest-aruguments of negation rarely ever prove anything. My disappointment with the book (and this is a serious one) is that none of the authors suggest that the OT might be divinely inspired, in spite of the occasional but insignificant corruptions of the original text. The authors may have been writing for a theologically liberal audience that they wished to not confuse, but it still would have been better to admit your bias, unless the authors truly do not hold to the notion that the Bible is the Word of God. Is it really academic to demand a “scientific” approach to the OT when attesting to its veracity? I don’t think so. The authors occasional comment on the mistake of reading the history from the OT in a “literal” fashion as a mistake, yet fail to distinguish how their lack of literalism differs from the liberal school theologians. For example, they go so far as to suggest that [some of the prophecies and wisdom books may be products of a later period (i.e., inter-testamental period), but this is a matter of speculation]. In the end, in their attempt to find acceptance among liberal theologians, the authors are willing to sacrifice a high view of Scripture, which is precisely the first event that led to liberal theology in the first place. Oddly, it makes no sense to placate these higher theologians, since theirs is a willing decision to reject the claims of Scripture even when shown to be substantially more likely than not to be true. Unfortunately, these liberal theologians sit on the faculty of many seminaries and departments of theology, hiding their absence of faith in the God of Scripture through a smokescreen of “academic rigueur”.

The Rage Against God

March 19th, 2011

The Rage Against God, by Peter Hitchens ?????
This book was loaned to me by Jonny (son) as a “must-read”. Jonny was correct, in that the book is excellent. Hitchens dialogues his adventures from growing up in a nominally Christian home and school system, and deciding to become an atheist at the young age of 13. Over time, he pursued his personal ideology, spending time in the former Soviet Union as a reporter. Slowly, Peter was able to see the inevitable consequences of a militant atheistic ideology, compelling him to move back into the realms of being a Christian. Much of this book engages the reader in exploring the consequences of atheism, particularly as Peter saw it in the communist countries that he visited. He also discusses encounters with his brother Christopher, who is an outspoken atheist and well known in the liberal press. Peter Hitchens offers valuable insights into the consequences of atheistic thinking. He discusses at length the fall of the west from Christianity to atheism, and shows that it has served us no good. The middle segment of the book addresses particular questions that are raised against Christianity, such as the issue that religion tends to create wars and not peace, that religion tends to be very harmful to children, especially in regard to sexuality and the lust of pedophile priests, and that faith in God tends to breed gullibility. Each of these charges and others are capably answered by showing that atheism has a far greater challenge of answering these same charges. The book is a wonderful read, I appreciated much of what he had to say about politics and religion, and appreciate Jonny for introducing me to the book.

An Old Testament Theology

March 12th, 2011


An Old Testament Theology, by Bruce K. Waltke ????
This book was a heavy read taking me several months and a number of interruptions to complete the entire text of 969 pages. It was a very rewarding read, as Dr. Waltke was able to impart insights into the Old Testament text that few scholars would be capable of. Every chapter was a treasure house of new understanding of old and familiar texts. Dr. Waltke is truly regarded as one of the pre-eminent scholars of the Hebrew language and Old Testament theology, and is regarded as such by both conservatives and liberals alike. Yet, there is a dark shadow cast over this text. It seems like Waltke, in trying to appease all camps, will often give unnecessary ground to the liberal school of redaction criticism. For example, his discussion of creation is superb, yet he lapses into the theistic evolution interpretation of creation for no compelling textual reason. Throughout the book, he hedges. For Isaiah, he admits that Isaiah I, II, and III were possibly written by the same person, yet allows for a liberal interpretation that each book of Isaiah was written hundreds of years apart. His arguments against Solomon being the author of Ecclesiastes seems a touch weak. I could point out many other examples if I could have remembered them. This should not discourage anybody from reading this text as it is a goldmine of Scripture truth. One must only read the text with caution and discernment.

Digital Landscape Photography

March 6th, 2011


Digital Landscape Photography, by Michael Frye ?????
The subtitle offers a good summary of this text “In the footsteps of Ansel Adams and the great masters”. Frye apparently studied under Ansel Adams, and has brought Adams Zone system into the digital arena. This book is a delight to read for a number of reasons. 1. His photography is stupendous. 2. He has a superb balance between art and technique. Frye has top mastery of not only the art of visualizing light and composing a photograph, but also in taking it to Photoshop/Lightroom to make it a presentation print. 3. I appreciate examples where he shows his “not so good” photographs next to his final photo, to see what he was good for in order to make a prize-winning print. My only minor complaint is that I wish he would have included camera settings on the photographs that he took. This book is a “must-read” for any aspiring nature photographer. I hope that Frye will write further books on this same topic.