August 2011

Under the Banner of Heaven

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 likable writing style, he is not always the best at contending 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 an 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 further 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 suspected. 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 that 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. The 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. The 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 aid 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.


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 to have 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!!!

Alaska 01-07AUG2011

This trip had several objectives. The first was to meet with Dr. Lattin and give a breast cancer update talk at his hospital. The second was to achieve a brief rest and relaxation while meeting friends, including not only the Lattins whom we met in Bangladesh but also the Bankers, who attended Resurrection Presbyterian church with us in the past. We spent 3 nights in Anchorage, followed by three nights in Soldotna with the Lattins.
The first day in Anchorage was to simply settle in. We drove downtown and shopped for moose hats and other Alaska paraphernalia. Betsy fell in love with the moose.
The second day, we drove up to Wasilla, and then out towards Tok. The mountains were stupendous. In the evening, we met with Jeff and Ellen Banker and went out to eat. The seafood was incredible! The beer was quite good also.

The third day was mostly resting. I met with Jeff again, still recovering from hand surgery, and ran up to the top of Flattop Mountain. The most distinctive feature of Flattop Mountain is its flat top.
On the fourth day, we checked out of our hotel and headed down to Soldotna. The drive is quite beautiful, with the seashore on one side, and immense mountains on the other side.

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

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

We spent much time with the kids.
I let Nathan run around with the camera for a bit, and noted that he wasn’t taking care to compose his shots. To illustrate the importance of an adequate view in a photo, I took a photo of him. Included are photos Nathan took of the parents.
Dad according to Nathan
Mom, according to Nathan
It was sad for Betsy and me to leave Alaska. It was more enjoyable than our last visit, and suggested returns, especially with friends. I also noted that the roads typically had quite wide shoulders thus making it quite conducive to cycle touring. All we need to worry about are moose and bear.
Special thanks to the Bankers and Lattins for making this trip quite special.

The Liszt Collection

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

The Adjustment Bureau

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

Wagner’s Ring

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 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 the emergence of 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 with Greenberg. Lee seems to idolize Wagner as a deep thinker. Greenberg instead views Wagner as the most profound of composers but simultaneously the evilest 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

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 works 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.

German Military Marches WWII

Großdeutschland. Stormtrooper Marches. ★★
Both of these albums were taken from historical archives. Thus, their quality is ok to quite poor. The recordings could have been cleaned up a little better, but were not. Many of these marches and songs are quite difficult to obtain. Of note, the Horst Wessel Lied is not available in Germany. It is illegal to have the tune or to play it. It was hard enough to procure here in the US. For my German friends…
Bitte zur Beachtung! Passen Sie auf! Dieses Lied ist nicht erlaubt auf Deutschland. Hör es nur mit Kopfhörer. Wenn der Staat wisst, das du dieses Lied gehören hast, kannst du bestraft sein. Du werdest in Gefängnis geworfen sein, und der Schlüssel weg geworfen. Hör auf eigene Gefahr!
01 Horst Wessel Lied (Nazi Party Anthem – choral) 1
First, a clarification. I wish to compare this song with the French and American National anthems.

German originalEnglish translation
Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!SA marschiert mit ruhig, festem Schritt.Kam’raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,Marschier’n im Geist in unser’n Reihen mit.Die Straße frei den braunen Batallionen.Die Straße frei dem Sturmabteilungsmann!Es schau’n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen.Der Tag für Freiheit und für Brot bricht an!Zum letzten Mal wird Sturmalarm geblasen!Zum Kampfe steh’n wir alle schon bereit!Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen über alle Straßen.Die Knechtschaft dauert nur noch kurze Zeit!Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!SA marschiert mit ruhig-festem Schritt.Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,Marschieren im Geist in unseren Reihen mit.The flag on high! The ranks closed tightly!SA marches with calm, firm steps.Comrades shot by Red Frontand reactionariesMarch in spirit within our ranks.Clear the streets for the brownshirts,Clear the streets for the stormtroopers!Millions are filled with hope, when they see the swastika,The day of freedom and bread is dawning!The storm warning is sounded for the last time!We all stand ready for the fight!Soon Hitler’s flags will fly over all streets.Our bondage will only last a short time more!The flag on high! The ranks close tightly!SA marches with calm, firm steps.Comrades shot by Red Front and reactionariesMarch in spirit within our ranks.

French National Anthem

Allons enfants de la Patrie,Arise, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,Against us of tyranny
L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)The bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnesDo you hear, in the countryside,
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos brasThey’re coming right into our arms
Égorger nos fils et nos compagnes !To cut the throats of our sons and women!
Aux armes, citoyens,To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons,Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons !Let’s march, let’s march!
Qu’un sang impurThat an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons !Waters our furrows!
Que veut cette horde d’esclaves,What does this horde of slaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?Of traitors and conjured kings want?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,For whom are these vile chains,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ? (bis)These long-prepared irons? (repeat)
Français, pour nous, ah ! quel outrageFrenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
Quels transports il doit exciter !What fury it must arouse!
C’est nous qu’on ose méditerIt is us they dare plan
De rendre à l’antique esclavage !To return to the old slavery!
Aux armes, citoyens…To arms, citizens…
Quoi ! des cohortes étrangèresWhat! Foreign cohorts
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers !Would make the law in our homes!
Quoi ! Ces phalanges mercenairesWhat! These mercenary phalanxes
Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers ! (bis)Would strike down our proud warriors! (repeat)
Grand Dieu ! Par des mains enchaînéesGreat God ! By chained hands
Nos fronts sous le joug se ploieraientOur brows would yield under the yoke
De vils despotes deviendraientVile despots would have themselves
Les maîtres de nos destinées !The masters of our destinies!
Aux armes, citoyens…To arms, citizens…
Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfidesTremble, tyrants and you traitors
L’opprobre de tous les partis,The shame of all parties,
Tremblez ! vos projets parricidesTremble! Your parricidal schemes
Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix ! (bis)Will finally receive their reward! (repeat)
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre,Everyone is a soldier to combat you
S’ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,If they fall, our young heroes,
La terre en produit de nouveaux,The earth will produce new ones,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre !Ready to fight against you!
Aux armes, citoyens…To arms, citizens…
Français, en guerriers magnanimes,Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,
Portez ou retenez vos coups !You bear or hold back your blows!
Épargnez ces tristes victimes,You spare those sorry victims,
À regret s’armant contre nous. (bis)Who arm against us with regret. (repeat)
Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,But not these bloodthirsty despots,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,These accomplices of Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,All these tigers who, mercilessly,
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !Rip their mother’s breast!
Aux armes, citoyens…To arms, citizens…
Amour sacré de la Patrie,Sacred love of the Fatherland,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeursLead, support our avenging arms
Liberté, Liberté chérie,Liberty, cherished Liberty,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! (bis)Fight with thy defenders! (repeat)
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoireUnder our flags, shall victory
Accoure à tes mâles accents,Hurry to thy manly accents,
Que tes ennemis expirantsThat thy expiring enemies,
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !See thy triumph and our glory!
Aux armes, citoyens…To arms, citizens…
(Couplet des enfants)(Children’s Verse)
Nous entrerons dans la carrière[3]We shall enter the (military) career
Quand nos aînés n’y seront plus,When our elders are no longer there,
Nous y trouverons leur poussièreThere we shall find their dust
Et la trace de leurs vertus (bis)And the trace of their virtues (repeat)
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivreMuch less keen to survive them
Que de partager leur cercueil,Than to share their coffins,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueilWe shall have the sublime pride
De les venger ou de les suivreOf avenging or following them

Finally, the US National Anthem (I hope you know it already!)
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Notice that the anthems all tend toward violence, and the Nazi anthem is no worse than the French or American. The only redeeming value of the American anthem is the last stanza, which is unfortunately rarely ever sung. Francis Scott Key wrote other hymns, one which is still in the church hymn repertoire, “Lord with glowing heart I’ll praise thee”, but unfortunately is not found in many hymnals any more.

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

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 compilation of essays was 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

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 are 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 the 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 worldview.
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.