Pimsleur Mandarin 1

Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese 1 ★★★★
I have found the need to learn Mandarin, since I may be going to China for several months to teach at a medical school. There are many methods and courses out there for learning Mandarin, and in the end, opted for this course. The Pimsleur method has many strengths to it, in that it focuses on teaching language like a child may learn a language. It offers the need to continually respond and recall words and phrases learned in the past. It allows one to learn a language while driving a car, or doing other activities. It also overcomes the greatest problem with learning an oriental language, in that it doesn’t waste time doing the most difficult activity, which is learning the writing system. Mandarin is fundamentally an easy language to learn, in that there is importance to word order, but otherwise, the grammar is very simple. There are no verb tenses, no noun forms, no articles, no genders to learn. There is the problem of many words sounding very similar to western ears, and tonal qualities of the word can completely change the meaning of the word.
I am not giving the Pimsleur series 5 stars for a number of reasons. Even for all of its strengths over such language programs as Rosetta Stone, it still doesn’t achieve the excellence of  French in Action. There are reasons for this…
1. It ignores the value of the written word. This is problematic because a) I often think in terms of words and sentences and visualize what I am trying to say by visualizing in my mind the written word. The Pimsleur technique assumes that this sort of thinking doesn’t occur, yet it does as a child learns to read and write. b) The vocabulary of an auditory language problem is going to be limited, and the ability to interact with other language learning means, such as dictionaries (in Pinyin) and other resources becomes impossible unless one venture outside of Pimsleur and learns Pinyin or written Chinese characters.
2. It doesn’t do well at developing the didactic part of learning a language. It is true that all aspects of a language can be learned by intense use, such as a child would learn a language. But, it is also true that adults can learn a language faster by grasping the rules of the language ahead of time.
3. Because of the absence of written text to accompany the teaching, it is hard to review what one had learned. It is true that reviews of words and phrases are constantly being mixed in with learning new words, but it is difficult to predict when a review will occur. At a minimum, Pimsleur should have a summary review about every 10-15 units, but it doesn’t.
In spite of these shortcomings, I will continue to use Pimsleur all the way through the third section but will supplement Pimsleur with other Mandarin language texts.

The French Chef

The French Chef, with Julia Child ★★★★★
These are selected episodes taken from a television series starting in 1963, and running for many years afterward. The first episodes are in black and white, with a different theme song from later editions. All of the series represents Julia Child, teaching one how to cook. She has the delightful ability to entertain the viewer, often giving laughs with her bloopers and crazy comments. All the same, she has the ability to make cooking appear to be delightfully simple. The episodes are filmed lacking modern techniques and are usually produced in a single 1/2 hour segment, without stopping the camera. Thus, Julia usually has on hand multiple stages in the given recipe until she reaches the end product. Occasionally, you’ll even go on tour with her to France to see how it’s all done there. In all, it’s a delightful and entertaining series, and we will probably be watching other Julia Child productions out there.

War: With Andrew Wilson

Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, taught by Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★★
The Art of War, Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★
These are two series on war strategy taught by Andrew Wilson. The first series provides a chronological account of the most influential thinkers on war strategy, including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Jomini, Mahan, Corbett, and others. Wilson first defines what he means by strategy, and compares that to the often confused tactics. He allows one to see how thinking about war, including when to conduct a war, the expected outcomes of the war and what one expects to accomplish by war, when it is best to not engage in war, how to pick your enemies, how to play your friends, etc. all have evolved, and involve the greater spectrum of what we view as a war strategy.
The Art of War is a more thorough summary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. These additional six lectures to the above 24 lectures, including 2 on Sun Tzu, include little in addition of great value except to the most curious.

Making Healthy Food Taste Great

The Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great, by Bill Briwa and Connie Gutterson of the Culinary Institute of America, The Teaching Company ★★★★★
Perhaps you noticed that we already reviewed a Teaching Company Video series with Bill Briwa. That series was 24 lectures long, whereas this one is only six lectures long. Bill is an awesome instructor, and the help of the Culinary Insitute nutritionist fills us in as to how a gourmet chef actually manages to cook gourmet food at home while keeping it completely healthy. The series was enjoyable to watch, and Betsy found the series most inspiring. Briwa spends much time discussing how different grains can be incorporated into the diet, and how to plan left-overs (planned-overs) for cooking successive meals. Thus, grain-like barley can be cooked and then incorporated into various different schemes. Though a few of his productions did not look terribly appealing, for the most part, the meals appeared to be most savory, and not the bland horrid taste that someone would expect from something really healthy. The series also comes with a hard-bound cookbook to make it easy to begin various healthy menus immediately.

The Mystery of Banking

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

Die Profundis

De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde ★★★
It is hard to rate a book like this. I like the style in which Oscar Wilde writes, but he excels in being bizarre, sometimes exceeding Franz Kafka. This book, as a select collection of letters written from two years in prison, is more autobiographical than an intentional work of literature. The book was actually heavily edited, leaving out names and other items. Oscar Wilde apparently had a homosexual tryst with a young man of royalty and was convicted. He spent time in three prisons during the two years of his sentence. The letters give one a feel for the intimate Oscar Wilde.
Wilde is superb at describing intimate emotions, such as his disgust with the prison system. You obtain a strong sense of the pathos that Oscar experienced in trying to survive and remain sane during the two years of imprisonment. One can also see an evolution in Wilde’s thinking. Early in the book, he talks with disdain about God and religion. Later, he spends his entire time waxing eloquent about religion and the virtues of Christ. I would scarcely call it a conversion.  Wilde had no remorse over the consequences of his actions, neither had he remorse over his sin. God is a pantheistic, all-loving, gentle, non-challenging, non-moral creature and so sin is not an entity to contend with. Though Wilde experiences great grief over his actions, it would be the same grief and pity that the typical American experienced while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ; one felt pity for the sufferings of Christ, but a pity that would have been similar if a cute little puppy dog was needlessly slaughtered, as the pity over the death of Old Yeller. Mel Gibson, like Oscar Wilde, failed to realize the difference between grief for someone or something else’s suffering, and the grief and sorrow that one should experience for sending Christ to the cross because of one’s sin. In the closing paragraphs of the book, Wilde describes his plans for when he leaves prison. He will smell the flowers, meditate on the seashore, and behave like a different person. Inside, it is the same old Oscar. The book is a delightful account of the psychology of Oscar Wilde, which should not be emulated or repeated in the reader.

Reformation Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

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 total command of the Scriptures, including 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.

Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul

Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul, by John Hale, through the Teaching Company ★★★★
John Hale is mostly an underwater archeologist and did much work in the Mediterranean Sea. This video course in 24 half-hour lectures, takes you on a “tour” of the mostly archeological aspects of Greece and Turkey, including the Greek Isles, showing where to go, what to see, and offering many tourist tips along the way. Hale is both entertaining as well as informative, and his teaching style is quite relaxed but never sloppy. Betsy and I both watched this series through, enjoying it totally. It provided motivation for someday going to Greece and Turkey.

Authority of Scripture

The Authority of Scripture, by Edward J. Young, as found on iTunes U, Westminster Seminary ★★★★★

This series is 12 lectures averaging an hour each. It was given during the mid-1970s, of moderate recording quality.  I found this lecture set to be totally awesome. I don’t understand why Dr. Young is only limited in his popularity, as he is a true theological giant. Young was a professor at Westminster Seminary, worked with JG Machen, and is best known for his lengthy commentary on Isaiah. Young gives some general lectures on Scriptural authority and infallibility, mostly in the context of discussing the attacks that have come upon denying the authority of Scripture. He spends a number of lectures on Genesis, discusses the issue of the authorship and authority of the Pentateuch, provides several lectures discussing the issue of the authorship of Isaiah, and then of Daniel. He speaks in a raised monotone voice, like an old-time preacher. Each sentence is thick. He has no trouble holding one’s attention. There are some particular aspects of this lecture series that I deeply appreciated.1. He doesn’t coddle with the documentary hypothesis. For those who are unaware, the documentary hypothesis claims that the Pentateuch is an assembly of writers, the Eloistic writer, the Jawistic writer, and the Priestly writer, with one other thrown in at times. The immediate way to spot a documentary hypothesis believer is when one speaks of two accounts of creation. Now, Young does a superlative work of demolishing the entire notion of the documentary hypothesis, showing how it is unnecessary, unScriptural, irrational, and inconsistent. Why so many conservative scholars give credence to the documentary hypothesis is beyond me. They should have had Prof. Young as their teacher.2. He doesn’t force a young earth/old earth distinction but completely destroyed the notion of theistic evolution. Young admits that when he gave the lecture series, theistic evolution was not yet been suggested, showing insight in Young’s ability to know what darling heresies might arise among conservative theologians. He was definitely ahead of his time. He absolutely demolishes the Francis Collins theistic evolution theory.4. His refutation of the Barthian notion of Historie vs. Geschichte is priceless. Young explains in detail Barth’s thinking, and it is best to just hear it from him.5. He is magisterial in his response to the 2 or 3 authorship theory of Isaiah, the other authors being a Deutero-Isaiah and a Tritero-Isaiah. Young makes clear that many of the so-called assaults on Scripture are simply nothing more than unbelief. Why so many conservative scholars have given in to these assaults, including professors at Westminster and Covenant Seminary, is beyond me. Young has every choice and humorous words for these folk. The series is a total must listen to series, and it is free. Just get into iTunesU and download it onto your iPod, and then enjoy some of the best teaching on Scripture available,  for the next 12 plus hours.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

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.