The Economics of Sex

October 13, 2016

Great video from the Austin Institute.

A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

September 22, 2016

I’ve just bought Andrew Klavan’s new book The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, and I’ve read about a fourth of it so far. A successful novelist and screen writer, Klavan does not write the kind of inspirational autobiography we’re used to . . . and that’s a  great, good thing.

King Arthur as he might have been

August 11, 2016

This summer I’ve been reading Canadian author Jack Whyte’s historical novel series A Dream of Eagles (The Camulod Chronicles in the USA), a retelling of the King Arthur stories. Whyte treats the story as sober history, placing Arthur in the chaos of Britain after the Romans left, and avoiding much of the later portrayal of the Camelot of the High Middle Ages.

Whyte’s characters are true heroes: possessors of the old Roman virtues, fierce in battle yet very human. Being cheap, I’ve lucked out so far and found library copies of the first eight electronic books. Just now I’ve bought the ninth and final one; I suppose I owe the author that much revenue at least.

Risen, the movie

July 15, 2016

The wife and I just watched Risen (2016) with Joseph Fiennes as Clavius, a Roman tribune charged by Pontius Pilate with finding the body of Jesus. The movie is well done: fairly faithful to the text of the Gospels, and very faithful to the gospel story in general. Clavius serves as the viewpoint character, a sort of “fly on the wall” to Jesus’ post-resurrection time and his ascension.

Imagine heaven

February 27, 2016

Mike Adams on near death experiences.

Go Set a Watchman

February 21, 2016

Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, died the day before yesterday. Imagine my surprise when I found that my local public library had an electronic copy of her second novel Go Set a Watchman available. I’m barely into the book, but it’s excellent. LATER: I won’t say much more here, because the whole plot turns on an enormous spoiler. But now I can see why this novel, written first, couldn’t get published at the time. And yet it works perfectly as a sequel. Once you read Mockingbird and fall in love with the characters, Watchman lets you find out what happened to them in later years. I’m glad someone persuaded Harper Lee, rightly or wrongly, to publish. May she rest in peace.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

February 21, 2016

I have known about this title for years but read it only recently. It sounds like a humor book, but it’s really a police procedural, a dark comedic treatment of the life of Detective Meyer Landsman. The work is set in an alternate world where the United States nuked Berlin, the Arabs chased the Jews out of Palestine in the late 1940s, and many refugee Jews live on a reservation in Alaska. I found the plot a little hard to follow, and the descriptions a little flowery, but overall enjoyed the work.

Hard-wired for religious belief?

February 19, 2016

Based on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 1), and also based on observation, I’ve long believed that we humans come by our belief in God or the gods as part of our “wiring.” A new book challenges that belief. In Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (Cambridge), Tim Whitmarsh argues that both theism and atheism have venerable pasts.

In one way this is nothing new. We’ve known for a long time that some of the ancient Greek philosophers did not believe in the gods. And religious faith seems to remain the default setting among the vast majority of humans. But if Whitmarsh is right, we cannot oversell that conclusion; the truth could be more complex than I, for one, have believed. (Isn’t it usually that way?)

And those on the other side of the aisle might need to adjust their rhetoric too. Atheists often picture religious belief as a product of early stages in human evolution, with atheism winning ground every day until all enlightened people will eventually disbelieve in the divine. The presence of atheists in the ancient world shows that model as too simplistic.

That’s all I’ll say because I haven’t read the book. A good summary of it appears on the University of Cambridge web site.

Pre-historical fiction

February 8, 2016

I’m reading Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (2013), an author best known for his Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars). Shaman describes the life of a hunter-gatherer band of early humans through the eyes of Loon, a young boy who trains to become a shaman. I’ve read one or two of the Mars Trilogy, also Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, and so far I’ve enjoyed this one best.

Robinson writes leisurely, descriptive prose that moves the story slowly. He creates a sense of the land where the humans live, and he describes plausible habits of language and culture. One example: Robinson shows Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans living on the same land and sharing a complex relationship. The Cro-Magnons naturally call themselves People, and they call the Neanderthal Old Ones or Lunkheads. The two races sometimes visit one another’s camps, and at least once in the novel some People help out an injured Old One. But if the Old Ones catch you alone in the woods, they might kill you and eat you.

Joe Steele

January 26, 2016

Harry Turtledove does it again. The dean of alternative history imagines that Joseph Stalin’s parents immigrated to America before he was born, and he eventually becomes president of the United States instead of Franklin Roosevelt. It reminds me of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, although the politics of President Steele and Roth’s President Lindbergh differ a lot. Think it can’t happen here? Turtledove makes you wonder if maybe it could.

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