October 2013

Church History Lecture Series

Ancient and Medieval Church History  (35 lectures)★★★★ and Reformation and Modern Church History (37 lectures) ★★★★★, by Dr. David Calhoun
These lectures were downloaded off of the Covenant Seminary website and can be obtained for free. The series is excellent and taught by one of the giants of church history, David Calhoun. Ancient and Medieval church history was excellent, but a bit too brief. The Reformation and Modern church history lectures also could have been much longer, yet were delightfully informative, even for someone quite aware of the history of the church. David is a masterful lecturer and holds one’s attention without difficulty. He does take some interesting viewpoints, such as coming down a bit soft on Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. This is in spite of him admitting that he felt that Francis Schaeffer (who was one of his teachers at L’Abri) was one of the greatest theologians of all time. Dr. Calhoun is known as the historian of Princeton Seminary, having written the definitive history of that institution. His insights on American Christianity are fascinating and instructive. He will take you through the most interesting vignettes of church history, including recommending fishing books. For being free, there is no reason to not download and listen to Dr. Calhoun lectures—you will be ably instructed by a true master theologian, historian, and teacher.

The New World Order

The 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 doomsayer’s 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. It 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 supranormal 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.

Thoughts About the Pacific Crest Trail

The reader of my blog site may notice below that I have reviewed a series of movies and books related to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and then the Cascades. It is over 2650 miles, and typically takes 4-½ to 5 months for a hiker to accomplish this, doing roughly 25 miles/day. I wish to offer an explanation now for these posts.
If you look through many of my distant past posts, typically end-of-the-year posts, you will notice occasion mentions of dreams for epic adventures. It is not a mistake that the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings trilogy and Der Ring des Niebelungen 4-opera series are my favorite books and operas. They all represent epic adventures. Whether it be a bicycle trip that completely circumnavigates the United States or a thru-hike of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trail, such an adventure has been a dream since I was a kid. I remember well as a teenager hearing the account of Luke Huber backpacking around the world. Such a thing could never be done in today’s world. Even then, 40 years ago, Luke was able to do it since he carried a Brazilian passport and not a US passport. His slideshow tale has stuck in my mind as though I had just seen it yesterday. It was a venture like I would have longed to have done but never could have been possible for me.
So, the question remains as to whether I would ever be able to accomplish an epic adventure? Two issues affect my decision. The first issue is Betsy. Regardless of every other affection and desire that I have, Betsy remains the most important person that I have in life, dare I say, even more important than my own personal satisfaction. Outside of my love for God, nothing exceeds my love for Betsy, and my desire to be with her and enjoy her. Since she would not be able (or desire) to accomplish an epic thru-hike or epic bicycle venture, I must judiciously tailor my plans and expectations. The second issue is my own personal health, which is good, though I still require low doses of antihypertensive medications.
A third but non-issue is the economics of such a venture, which relates more to being able to get away from work for 3-6 months in order to accomplish such a task. I just discharged a patient from my practice who I treated for #####; he worked for REI in the warehouse in Sumner and was an avid outdoorsman. He explained the REI policy that all employees at 15 years get to take a 1 year Sabbatical, and then they take a Sabbatical every 5 years after that. I couldn’t believe my ears. I had no clue that one successful corporation in the US actually has some sane employment policy.  When I took a Sabbatical in 2009, it was after a maddening 4 years of medical school, with a minimal break to start 8 years of an insanely busy residency and fellowship, with a minimal break to start 2 years of life as a military doctor, with a minimal break to start (by 2009) 14-½ years of hard slave labor. You can add up the numbers easily enough. Yet, my Sabbatical in 2009 was considered most unusual. It was one of the smarter things I ever did in life, besides coming on my knees to the cross of Jesus Christ and asking Betsy to marry me. If one considers that a Sabbatical occurs every 7th year, then the year 2016 should be my next Sabbatical year. I’ll be 62 years of age then, and ready to hang it up for good. I will actually retire somewhere between 2016 and 2020 when I will be forced to retire since I have no intention of re-certifying with the American Board of Surgery. This will get me plenty of time for epic adventures. In terms of cost, the trail is cheaper than daily life at home, especially (when cycling) one plans to spend most of their nights tenting, which is no problem for me.
I cannot speak for the Appalachian trail, but for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), there are some good arguments against performing a thru-hike. “Thru-hiking” means that one goes from the very beginning to the very end of any given trail in a single setting, i.e, doing Mexico to Canada from start to finish in a single year, without formally leaving the trail. In order to do that, one must start in the southern California desert at the start of the hot season, hit the high Sierras a little early in the season, when snow still covers most of the trail, arrive in Yosemite at the peak of the bug season, hit Oregon in the still rainy season, and then hope and pray that nothing interferes with your schedule to make it through the North Cascades before an early winter snowstorm. Ideally, Oregon and Washington are best hiked in July and August, the high Sierras in June/July and not May/June, and the desert in March. This means that to thoroughly enjoy the PCT, sectional or chunk hiking is the way to go. You can’t write books or make movies or spend hours bragging of your sub-epic venture, but at least you will not have turned backpacking into a chronic enduring painful drudgery.
There is a third alternative to thru-hiking and section hiking, which is chunk hiking. While thru-hiking attacks the trail in one grand solitary attack, and sectional hiking deals with short excerpts, chunk hiking is to tackle a larger section than section hiking, such as doing the entire state of Washington or Oregon in one setting, or California in several settings. Brian Lewis, in one of the books reviewed below, discusses chunk hiking, suggesting that chunk hiking gives the hiker the best of all worlds, being able to tackle sections of the trail at the right time of the year, while not engaging in the insanity of a 4-6 month ordeal and still maintaining the spirit of a thru-hike.
Chunk or thru-hiking demands a completely different style from regular hiking. Most importantly, much less weight must be carried. Every ounce of weight matters. Nothing frivolous can be engaged. Light-weight stoves or tents are not light enough. Certain things cannot be sacrificed, such as clothing, but even then, extreme prudence needs to be exercised to carry only one change of clothes, and then wash them once every week or two. Meals are typically eaten cold, unless at a re-supply. Since there are long stretches of trail uncrossed by road, a 7-9 day supply of food must be carried, while considering 5000 cal/day to be the norm on the trail. Most people do not use hiking boots, but rather use hiking shoes.  Resupply needs to be accurately planned out beforehand since one will not carry all the necessary maps at once, clothing and equipment change on the different sections of the trail, and shoes wear out, hikers usually go through about three pairs of shoes.
So, perhaps my epic adventure should be done on a bicycle, and leave the PCT to sectional or chunk hiking. It would be cool to do the Pacific coast trail down to San Diego, and then return on the Sierra Cascades trail back up to Canada and then home, using the path outlined by the Adventure Cycle Association (Pacific Coast & Sierra Cascades). That trip would parallel the PCT on a bicycle and would take about 3 months total, which is entirely possible. For now, I am planning a week-long backpack with Jon or someone else next year, hopefully doing the Wonderland Trail in reverse from what Jon and I did several years ago. I would also like to do part if not all of the Washington Parks (Adventure Cycle Association) Route around Washington State. Other planned ventures will be mentioned in the year-end report.

Make your First Thru-Hike a Success

Make 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 smartphone with him. The smartphone 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 imagine anybody typing 3-5 paragraphs a night on a Kindle. I could see a mini iPad filling that role, but not a smartphone.
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 updated 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.

Walking the West

Walking the West-Hiking 2600 miles from Mexico to Canada, A documentary by Myles Murphy ★★
This is a video account of two guys, both foreigners, one from New Zealand and the other from Ireland, who met while working in San Francisco and decided to hike the PCT together. Neither had done much backpacking before in their life. They give a highly realistic account of the venture, and this film won several film awards. Oddly, it paints nearly the entire trail at its worst. Though not specially mentioned in the film, it seems like the two guys went from being best friends to worst enemies during the 2600 miles of the hike, often separating from each other, and not really supporting each other. The filming I presume was accomplished by a third person who would meet the hikers along the trail, as I’d hate to think of anybody lugging a movie camera along. The film emphasized the value of the trail to help one “find” one’s self, even though the preponderance of the film was a downer. I’m puzzled as to why this film would receive a high rating, save that people sometimes enjoy watching others be miserable.


Skywalker, 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 a 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 Pacific Crest Trail

National Geographic Pacific Crest Trail ★★
National Geographic utilizes their abundant photographic skills in order to document the act of thru-hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain range. The cameramen latch onto several hikers (and horseback riders) in various stages of the event to catch their ongoing impressions. Generally, the hikers are caught in their best, and not their worst moments, and so the hike achieves a Hollywood-style glorification. The filming is wonderful, with the sections of the trail caught in its best light. Especially noticeable were the helicopter views of several hikers achieving the summit of Forrester Pass. Unfortunately, this view might have been a little later in the year than when thru-hikers generally hit Forrester Pass (there are in most descriptions more snow and black ice on the pass), and it is seen from a helicopter, a view generally not seen by thru-hikers. Many marvelous sections of the trail are missed in this all-too-brief “documentary”, and a glorification of an arduous feat that I presume none of the cinema photographers or scriptwriters of this film had ever attempted. The film is too short, too expensive, and too unrealistic to be of any value of actually picturing the PCT.

The Institutes of Calvin-Lecture Series

Lecture Series on Calvin’s Institutes, by David Calhoun, given at Covenant Seminary ★★★
I will soon be reviewing a very lengthy lecture series by Dr. Calhoun on church history and will be giving him 5 stars for that series. Indeed, Dr. Calhoun is one of the premier church historians of the later part of the twentieth century. The church history series displays his absolute brilliance, both with his knowledge of the history of Reformed thinking, but also displayed in his several volume set on the history of Princeton Seminary. I believe Dr. Calhoun has since passed away, and in both this and the history lecture series, Dr. Calhoun speaks of suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. The series on Calvin’s Institutes followed his church history series. In the church history series, he is very lively and dynamic in his speech. In this series, it sounds like he is worn out and lifeless. When I started the series, it almost sounded like Dr. Calhoun was bored with the topic. Then, I realized that Dr. Calhoun was not his old self because of his illness. Since I hold Dr. Calhoun as one of the giants of church history, along with Dr. Schaff, I would have never given him only three stars for this series, except that the lecture series was also terribly recorded, and there were sections that I simply could not follow what Dr. Calhoun was saying. The lectures are all almost 1.5 hours long, and there are 24 of them, so it is quite lengthy to work through this series. Calhoun gives all too brief of a summary of the breadth and depth of the Institutes, essentially working from to back cover of the final version of the Institutes. For Reformed (Christian) thinkers, the Institutes are a must-read some time in one’s life. Thus, it will be the next systematic theology that I attack. At Calhoun’s recommendation, I will be reading the McNeill translation. This lecture series is a wonderful supplement to reading through the Institutes.

Illuminati: Facts and Fiction

The 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 effect on politics and society today. He also discusses areas that he thinks have minimal to no evidence, or people that are truly 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 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).