Saturday, April 13, 2013

The redeeming and corrupting power of technology

From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of TechnologyFrom the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very helpful in terms of defining technology and evaluating it from a biblical perspective (even highlighting tech. in the Bible). Author is both a techie and a Christian. Opened wide my understanding of technology and the ways it transforms us (and not just in the obvious ways).

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The quintessential American

Samuel Adams: A LifeSamuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book cites the claim by others that perhaps Samuel Adams is more the father of our country than George Washington. The book seems to endorse this claim.

Adams is pictured as an unselfish patriot who sacrificed greatly for the independence of the colonies and for the good of his beloved Massachusetts. More than just working for the cause of independence, he was one of the fiery initiators of the revolutionary movement. And at times when others, like fellow Bostonian John Hancock, seem to flag in their enthusiasm for the cause, Adams continued with pen to agitate for something better than the status quo in the colonies’ relationship with Britain.

Much of Samuel Adams’s work was done through articles submitted to the Boston Gazette. In the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of the Constitution can be found the phrasing of ideas that were earlier written by the pen of Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette and his letters.

Central concerns for Samuel Adams included godliness and property rights, which included the notion that taxation without representation is morally wrong. Adams pointed out that taxing the colonies without adequate representation in Parliament amounted to denying the full rights of the British Constitution to the colonists, thus making them second-class citizens, little better than slaves.

The book highlights Adams’s Puritan Congregational faith. Many times throughout his life Adams likened the American struggle for independence to the Exodus. Pictures drawn from all over the Bible were employed by Adams to frame the Revolutionary movement. Further, even when at times all seemed bleak, Adams was confident that God would providentially order the success of the Revolution simply because the Americans were more virtuous than the British. And he continually urged upon his town (Boston) and his commonwealth (Mass.) the importance of devoting themselves to virtuous living.

I was surprised to the extent Stoll went throughout the book to portray Adams’s faith. Almost excessive. Maybe I felt that way because I’m not used to it in a biography of that nature. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t excessive. Stoll mentions that a few of Adams’s contemporaries got tired of his religious fervor, so maybe Stoll’s emphasis on it is not unbalanced. It was nonetheless refreshing to me.

Samuel Adams served 7 years in the Continental Congress, and his work was among the elite. There was no question that he contributed much to the work that body did, as he served on more committees than anyone else did and was considered a leader among leaders. Prior to that he served in the Boston Town Meeting. He served on the Constitutional Convention for the development of the Mass. constitution. He also served as state representative, lieutenant governor, and then, when Gov. John Hancock died, governor for 4 consecutive years (that office being a 1-year term).

Adams and Hancock worked together at times, and at times they were cool toward each other. The author believes some of their coolness had to do with their economic positions—Hancock quite wealthy, Adams quite the opposite. They did, however, reconcile and worked together as the top two executives of Mass. Adams also got along well with his cousin John. They spent much time together during the years of the Continental Congress, and they were very much in agreement on most things. In later years, political differences would surface, as John was a Federalist, and Samuel was not.

A great book about a great American, perhaps the quintessential American.


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

I liked reading Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. The book answers most, if not all, of the questions listening to the musical on CD left me with.

SPOILER ALERT: WHAT FOLLOWS WILL EXPLAIN MYSTERY

The phantom, or the Opera Ghost (O. G.), is neither. He is a flesh-and-blood man who is highly skilled and grotesquely ugly. His skill with trap doors and architecture and the technology of the day helps to heighten the impression he creates, that he is a ghost. He is also skilled in singing, composition, and ventriloquism.

He lives under the opera in a house he build on the underground lake there. He is in love with Christine Daae and seeks her hand in marriage, and he does so through music and moving her to pity as well as through force and manipulation and threats. She acquiesces in order to save her true love, Raoul.

The phantom, whose name is Erik, is several times described as having a death's head, and he smells like a corpse. Several times Christine has to fight to overcome her revulsion. Erik wears a mask around her, and he wears a fake nose among other things when he's out in public. His mother apparently hated him due to his appearance, which obviously plays some into his psychological makeup.

Another man who lives quietly in the Paris Opera House is "the Persian," who rescued Erik from a Shah some time back when the Shah had Erik build him an ingenious house and torture chamber and then decided to kill Erik so that only the Shah would know its secrets. The Persian has quietly learned many of Erik's secrets in the Opera house and helps Raoul when the latter seeks to rescue Christine.

The book closes with Erik visiting the Persian some time later to inform him that he is dying. Christine allowed Erik to kiss her, maskless, on the forehead, and she kissed him back. Grateful because she showed him that one act of genuine love, he let her go to marry Raoul. Christine and Raoul have since disappeared to the north.

The author tells the story as one who has investigated the whole story of the Opera Ghost and is now reporting it as a whole for the first time. For quite a while you're led to believe that there is something supernatural in this whole affair, but gradually, explanations bring things into the realm of possibility. Carlotta's croaking on stage, for instance, was a result of Erik's perfect ventriloquism.

There are parallels with Frankenstein that would be interesting to explore. A man who is so physically deformed that no one can stand to be in his presence is turned into a monster as a result.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A technical, informative read on Tolkien's writings

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the CenturyJ.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book discusses Tolkien's development of the Middle-earth universe that is the setting for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Shows how Tolkien's philology was the basis from which he developed his many stories. This book is pointless to read if you haven't read at least two of the above-mentioned works. Sometimes technical, usually interesting.

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