Book Review: The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas J. Fleming (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas J. Fleming

Four Stars

“In their loves and losses, their hopes and fears, they are more like us than we have dared to imagine.”

A worthwhile addition to the histories of our founding. Superficially what seems trivial reveals deep of relevance for understanding both the founders and the product of their labors.

“Newspaper ethics in the nineteenth century did not put a high value on accuracy. ‘Faking’ a story … was accepted journalistic practice.”

The universal themes seem to be of men driven almost to monomania, often to the neglect of wives and family. In several cases, it is impossible to know the man without knowing the wife. Most were dedicated to their spouses. Sadly, those who had sons or grandsons almost universally begat individuals who embarrassed them, improvised them, and broke their hearts. Their daughters seem to be woven of finer stuff.

“Nothing is ours which another can deprive us of.” Thomas Jefferson

Well-conceived, well-researched, well-written.

“Dolly [Madison] concluded that a woman who waded into the contentious side of politics aroused the always lurking hostility between the sexes and won no friends for her side of the argument.”

America Made Great Again

image from suggest-keywords.com

image from suggest-keywords.com

America is not great because of it large, talented population. Nor of its huge gross domestic product. Nor its arsenal of nuclear warheads. Nor its vast natural resources. Many other countries enjoy some of those benefits and burdens.

America is great–and proves its greatness every day–because it respects its own limitations, most recently by a ruling by the government’s courts against the government.

The leader of the government may not like the ruling. He may appeal the ruling. He may berate and ridicule the judges, but … but he will abide by the ruling.

America is great because the most powerful man in America is not above the law.

And the least powerful is not beneath the law.

The Times May Be Changing, But Not the Divisions

The Times May Be Changing, But Not the Divisions

Not only do we live in an increasingly black and white world, but the polarization of American politics flips our values with every change of administration. Yesterday’s truth becomes today’s lie. What was formerly good is now condemned. Just because the party of the person sitting in the Oval Office has changed.

Folks now aghast at Trump’s coziness with Putin denied revelations that the Clintons fronted for Russian oligarchs buying American uranium mining companies. The people who used to complain about the size and cost of Michelle Obama’s entourages are mum about the expense of maintaining multiple Trump households. The test of “false news” is not truth, but consonance with my preconceptions. Who checks the fact checkers?

The filter of faction is highly polarized. We aren’t aware of our own bias because our sources of news and opinion pre-filter information before it reaches us. We think we’re reasonable. We’re not biased, only those other folks.

The filter we look through is the first thing we don’t see.

Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Four Stars

“Sometimes even bad advice can point a man in the right direction.”

Eight stories bound to stretch your imagination if not your horizons.

“Maturity means seeing the differences, but realizing they don’t matter.”

Original, thought-provoking fiction in a range of times and contexts.

“When you love someone, you don’t really see what they look like.”

 

 

My Seven Wonders of the World, #3

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Temple Mount of Jerusalem

 

(AVRAHAM GRAICER, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index)

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem has been a focus of history and religious devotion and fanaticism for three millennia. Three faith’s hold it to be the site where Abraham offered his son (Genesis), though they disagree which son was offered. It was the site of Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s (Nehemiah?) and Herod’s temples in the tenth and sixth centuries BC and first century AD.

Some assert that Herod’s Temple was only the second, as the building of the third temple will supposedly trigger the Apocalypse, but historically Herod’s Temple was the third Jewish temple built on this site. Calling it a reconstruction of Zerubbabel’s sanctuary would compare to Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #1

Noodling around the internet “researching” something else, I ran across a New Wonders of the World list. Based on a poll run by an outfit in Switzerland, it was mostly a popularity contest. Several of the listed “wonders” can be rejected outright: neither the Statue of Liberty in New York nor Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro are wonders. Large statues, but neither the largest nor the most significant. Too modern. Ditto the Eiffel Tower. Petra and the Taj Mahal at least showed endurance.

So, I jotted down a list of seven wonders, then realized that I had actually seen only four of them. How can I judge the wonder-value of something I’ve only seen in photographs? Therefore, I started over, listing seven manmade structures which moved me when I experienced them. Rather than just list the seven, I’ll devote a short article to each. Along with a picture. Unfortunately, I visited some before the era of digital photography and, while I took pictures of each, I’d be hard pressed to find them now, and they’d be slides, prints or negatives.

The current mode would start at number seven and work up to number one, but that doesn’t work because, even if any of you have seen them, there can be only one greatest manmade wonder of the world. Even the ancients agreed. In fact, this group of structures was ancient when the ancients made their list. And is the only surviving wonder of the original list. I’m referring, of course, to:

1. The Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt.

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commons.wikimedia.org

The Giza Pyramids are perhaps the only “gimmee” on the list. No one who sees them can miss their gigantic proportions and simplicity of form. When I saw the Pyramids in March 1983, I was prepared beforehand to be underwhelmed because I expected them not to live up to the hype. We stayed at the Mena House Hotel (a significant historical site itself) just down the hill from Khufu’s Pyramid. (The Mena House starts on the edge of the picture, by the golf course.) The first afternoon we walked up the hill to see for ourselves.

Approached that way, Khufu’s Pyramid shields those of Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu’s Pyramid isn’t just big, it’s so big that your sense of proportion is jarred. Impressive? It’s as impressive–no, more impressive in person. In addition to the three great pyramids Continue reading

On Human Nature and Political Ideologies

Not so simple as the Great Thinkers think.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

This paragraph in the “Human Nature” chapter of my Introduction to Philosophy textbook speared me, considering the turmoil before, during and continuing after our most recent elections. It’s a long paragraph so bear with me. I’ll split it at points to add more white space for emphasis and where my mind flipped thoughts from ‘right’ to ‘left’ instead of its usual on-edge position:

Your perception of human nature determines even how you think we should set up our society. Ask yourself this, for example: Should our society be based on capitalism or socialism?

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Reducing the Bureaucracy

A federal hiring freeze is a good start, but the Washington bureaucracy–including the Pentagon–needs a ten to twenty percent authorization reduction, not just current bodies.

C. Northcote Parkinson noted in the 1950s: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” The number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done”.

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” Ronald Reagan

Also called a self-licking ice cream cone.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Third Eagle by R. A. MacAvoy (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Third Eagle by R. A. MacAvoy

Three Stars

“Ten years climbing a ladder to find nothing at the top.”

A young man who lives in a niche of a niche culture, chucks all aside one day and leaves: leaves his job, his home, his planet. Unprepared? Does being a galaxy-class martial arts expert count? Some.

“Hearing his death described as inevitable moved Wanbli not a whit. Everyone’s death was inevitable.”

Excellent sense of otherness. Language drift, Wacaan culture, day flower species. Then the earthies show up.

“An excellent translation of what [the stars] would look like if massless directionality were Continue reading

Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Four Stars

“All because he stole something that should have been his to start with.”

This is historical fiction as it ought to be written: a vivid portrait of the times woven from many factual threads as well as period appropriate people and ideas. But this is no history, rather an engaging, enjoyable fiction. Each chapter opens with an epigram from some primary source draw from letters or journals of that time. The story also explores the lot of the common soldier encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that brutal winter of 1777-8.

“My humors fell out of balance, and I became tetchy and sour-minded.”

The voice of the protagonist, a young black male fleeing from slavery and joining the fight for American independence, sound authentic. Written to simultaneously capture the attention and persuade young readers.

“Even from his grave, Father could be an annoying fellow.”

A fictional treatment of American slavery risks either sugar coating what was an awful reality or demonizing everyone and everything involved. Anderson draws a clear line against slavery while exploring the varying attitudes and justifications of that day.

“The land which we have watered with our tears and blood is now our mother country.”

A good, standalone read, even though it is the sequel to Chains.

“If our luck does not turn for the good on its own,” she said, “we’ll make it turn.”