Monday, June 25th, 2007
I am happy to discover that someone out there is making all the arguments I think need to be made. The existence of this man makes me happier than the existence of Ron Paul makes me. (That's saying a lot.)
Randy E. Barnett's book Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty caught my attention when I was at Barnes and Noble last week. The book that first caught my eye was The Politically Incorrect Guide to the American Constitution. That book might also be called Libertarianism for Dummies. I don't mean that as a slight. I happen to like "Dummies" books, as it would often be difficult to finish a book in that series as a true newbie on a subject. The book is clearly organized, has excellent content, and will make a great introduction to a Libertarian understanding of the History of the Constitution. But after looking at how short the book was, its use of popular street arguments where I know I'll need counterarguments too, and the lack of substantial notes, I thought, "I'll be wanting another book after I get this one." Then my eyes fell upon Barnett's book. This was the other book I would want. In fact, I decided I wanted it first. (I WILL, however, want the other book later, if only for the account of Jefferson versus the Supreme Court.)
Barnett savages the idea of the Constitution being of binding authority on the citizens on account of the consent of the governed. He shows how such a consent cannot be assumed to have been given. He takes apart several arguments. He both cites respected political philosophers, and puts many of the arguments into their street vernacular. You get the counterarguments you would need to make these cases with academics, but also the informal statements of the position that tell you that these ARE the arguments you hear all around you.
If you want a sample of the kind of content he offers, click here.
3:24 pm Pacific Standard Time
Monday, June 18th, 2007
[Before I get to my list, I want my readers to consider creating a similar entry. I especially want to see answers from a few different bloggers out there: Kobra, Jeremy Abel, Tarheel.]
The genealogies in Matthew are not complete. Nor are they intended to be. Missing generations can be found if you compare with other Scriptures. The "fourteen" was probably chosen for memory purposes. Fourteen is the gematria for David, who figures prominently in the genealogies.
The selections may have had apologetic purposes including the following. If people had a problem with Jesus having some disreputable people in his ancestry, the genealogies serve to remind us that the entire House of David had the same. So the Messiah must have such in his line. (I learned this from R.C.H. Lenski.)
I have been using the lectionary listing in The First Prayer Book of Edward VI for my Sunday readings. (Trying to do a week's reading on Sunday.) No particular reason for doing this instead of something else. But I'm glad I did. Reading II Chronicles with Matthew was good. In fact, I'm glad I got behind on the Matthew, because I was reading those genealogies after II Chronicles. The second set of fourteen generations in Matthew IS the book of II Chronicles. Not precisely, but at a glance, almost so.
R.C.H. Lenski is well-respected beyond Lutheran circles. I had already been told by one friend that at his Bible college where Lutherans were probably not regarded as Christians, Lenski was considered the commentator of choice. I learned this week that Robert Gundry, himself a respected commentator, regarded Lenski as the best. (I was told this by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt.)
My local Fry's is not as good a place to go during a computer upgrade as it used to be. For some components, it is still a good idea. If you are buying something where you may have to bring it back, and need a generous policy, Fry's is still great. But I get the impression that many now use online sources to buy components. I found the cyberguys to be helpful when I wanted a front panel component to plug audio and USB into. (It beats having to wrestle around the back of the computer each time you switch headphones or need to plug in a flash drive.) They even sell a drawer you can use in an extra bay.
Some slang expressions are very old. "Hush-money" goes back to 1709 (I don't know what scandal!). "Duds" for "clothes" goes back to 1567. "Kibosh" goes back to 1836. I learned these from H.L. Mencken's The American Language, Supplement II. Also in that book are Mencken's researches into Proper Names. He mentions how names changed when people came to America. In some cases, his discussions range farther. Jewish immigrants to many lands would often give two names to their children. In their inner circles, the child would have a Biblical name, but would answer to a more Gentile-sounding name in public. In France, for example, Abraham might be called Armand in public. The surprise to me is that at the time Mencken wrote, in Austria, Abraham might be called Adolf. I'm guessing that changed quickly even before the war ended. Mencken notes that there were a lot of changes back to Biblical names in America starting in about 1933. (For myself, I like the more Hebraic versions even better.)
I learned againt that Alton Brown of Good Eats fame (a show on the Food channel) is a genius. He did an episode on toast called Toast Modern. (He likes silly intellectual puns.) I made both his Welsh Rarebit and his French Toast. When I first made the French Toast, I thought either my stove ran hot or his timing was off. Then I bit into the toast and thought, "No, not burnt. It doesn't taste much different from other French Toast." Then another bite. "Wait! That's nice and crunchy on the outside and custardy on the inside." Well, he did promise that. Excellent.
I learned again that Steven Pressfield is a genius. I started reading his Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great. I recently finished Gates of Fire: A Novel of Thermopylae. These books are everything I wanted after seeing the movies The 300 and Alexander. Everyone has to read them.
I found this site, which looks like a fine source for cheat sheets on various topics. Going through a computer upgrade, where often the most basic parts of your system are going out, you realize the value of such things. During part of the process, my mouse was not working. So I needed to be able to use the internet and other programs just using keystrokes. When you don't know many, and have to go hunting the internet using only a keyboard, you know why Google isn't always enough.
4:53 pm Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, June 9th, 2007
How could you mix C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand? Well, I'm neither the first nor the last to make connections. Among the devotees of Ayn Rand listed by Barbara Branden at the end of her book The Passion of Ayn Rand is theologian John Piper. I remember seeing a lengthy quotation from The Weight of Glory at the beginning of Piper's Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Around the time that book came out, I was taking a Cultural Apologetics course at Gordon-Conwell, taught by Dick Keyes. I wrote my paper on Ayn Rand. While I thought she fell short, I found that she was a giant. I felt I had to write a critique along the lines of the ones in G.K. Chesterton's Heretics, where before you fault the individual on anything, you note all the person's strengths, perhaps finding that their strengths are more sorely needed than their weaknesses are to be feared. Like Piper, I also found C.S. Lewis to be the best foil for Rand. In fact, without Lewis, I would likely have found myself bowled over, perhaps happily capitulating to Objectivism.
Someone else is tackling both writers right now. I discovered that Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay for Braveheart, is tackling Atlas Shrugged. Wallace is a Christian, whose encounter with Ayn Rand began when he and his son agreed to read the other's favorite books. Wallace's son gave him Atlas Shrugged. He gave his son Mere Christianity. In addition to working on the screenplay for Atlas Shrugged, Wallace is also writing the screenplay for The Screwtape Letters. (Thanks to my friend at Black Cloister for filling me in on that fact.) If you ask me, the adaptations for both of these will be quite challenging. So much of what you find in each work is mental. There are techniques for making the mental visible. But this is more of a challenge than regular action. Especially when there is a great quantity of it to be rendered.
2008 should be an interesting year in cinema.
12:43 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
I have bitten off more than I can chew by tackling such a subject in a blog post. But Miss Rand would have little patience with a writer who used such as an excuse for any shortcomings in their writing. So I will preface this by saying this is a blog post and not a painstakingly written preface to a book on the subject. It is a timely piece, occasioned by today's considerations.
I have been thinking of politics, especially of Ron Paul. I realize that many of the reasons I love Ron Paul are rooted in political opinions I picked up from Ayn Rand. The chief position is the one Libertarians are asked to sign in order to join the party: "I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." (I see the principle as a philosophical form of "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal," together.) Rand made it clear in Atlas Shrugged that a violation of this principle is the worst kind of violation a human being can do to another. In her Apollo 11 and Dionysus at Woodstock address, Rand quoted George Washington's line about avoiding foreign entanglements. Ron Paul is in this line of thinking.
So I picked up Rand's The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, to look at it yet again. I turned to her essay "About a Woman President" where she stated why a sane woman would not want to be President of the United States. Sigh. This is so wonderful. The anthropology is so clear. It almost makes this Lutheran Christian wonder if Aristotle were enough. Well, for this world, perhaps he would be. But without Rand, I would not have such a clear example of how far someone could go by merely asking Aristotelean question ti esti, or "What is it?" Rand can ask, "What is a man?" and "What is a woman?" and know all kinds of things that so many miss. The fundamentalist Baptist will note that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Miss Rand, the atheist, would see a man and a woman, and be able to draw even more conclusions, with a rationale than anyone could follow.
In her discussion of the idea of a woman president, I further love Rand's rejection of what she calls the altruistic question of "Would it be good for the country?" as the highest question. No. She takes identity to be more central.
In some way, I think this is where an inversion tends to take place in so many religious minds. Living for others cannot be a first principle. The most generous soul will fail if this is the only principle in view. How come? Because to begin with that question means ignoring the question of identity for oneself. And the one who does this will follow up with ignoring the identity of others. All the "good" that will be done may well end up being destructive, as apart from knowing what something is, we cannot know how rightly to help it towards its true ends.
C.S. Lewis noted something like this in The Problem of Pain. He said that many people were too soft-hearted to bear seeing any other creature in pain. But that such sentiments were not truly loving sentiments. They were often quite compatible with contempt.
I love Ayn Rand for getting me to ask "What is it?" more often. And for her optimism about the value of asking the question. It is a simple question. And it can yield profound answers in otherwise labyrinthine subjects.
11:44 pm Pacific Standard Time