Finished reading: Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller

Another random library selection, and a nice change of pace from history and theology. In Now, Cal Berkeley professor Richard Muller sets out to provide a layman’s-level discussion of the nature of time and how the domain of physics interacts with and helps explain it.

Muller provides an engaging discussion about relativistic time dilation, the big bang, quantum effects and “spooky action at a distance”, and his own thoughts about what it is that causes time to move only forward. It’s not entirely for the faint of heart, but he at least is good enough to leave his derivation of equations into appendices rather than embedding them within the body text. The Goodreads reviews of the book seem to be a bunch of physics nerds giving the author flack for his approach, but to this engineering nerd who isn’t deep into physics, it was just fine.


Now: The Physics of Time

Finished reading: Instrumental: A memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music by James Rhodes

I’ll confess I’d never heard of James Rhodes prior to picking this book up at the library. Turns out he’s about my age, and a British classical pianist who has had some amount of popular culture impact in Britain trying to make classical music less culturally stuffy and more accessible to the masses.

Instrumental isn’t nearly so much about music as it is about a man trying to come to grips with the effects of some horrifying abuse he underwent as a young boy in primary school. I’ve never read an account that so directly describes the horror and brokenness that an abuse victim can feel. One of Rhodes’ escapes is music, but he vividly describes others that are much less beautiful and much more self-destructive.

Rhodes does mention a couple handfuls of favorite classical pieces through the book, which someone has already arranged into a convenient Spotify playlist.

Instrumental is a worthwhile read but not for the faint of heart.

Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music

Finished reading: A Wretched and Precarious Situation by David Welky

Found this one on the New Books shelf at the library and figured hey, why not? Welky tells here the story of a handful of Arctic explorers who followed up on Robert Peary’s claim to have seen an Arctic continent he called “Crocker Land” (named after one of his financial sponsors).

Want to trek for multiple years living off pemmican, hardtack, and the internal organs of whatever bears and musk oxen you can hunt? Lose your toes to frostbite? Go (in some cases, at least) more than a bit loony? Early 20th century Arctic exploration might be for you!

Welky’s writing is engaging and the story is an adventurous one. After reading it, I think it’ll be at least a week before I stop feeling cold.

A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier

Bullet points for a Wednesday afternoon

  • I’m glad I signed up for the 0530 kickboxing class, but it’d really help if I’d go to bed earlier at night. Short sleep + workouts = ouch.
  • Also = zzzzzz. The folks at the coffee stand know my order (large Americano) now and have it going when I walk up.
  • Not so great: realizing 45 minutes in that what you thought was a one-hour Webex meeting is actually a two-hour Webex meeting.
  • Better: having said two-hour Webex meeting only take an hour.
  • My diet that’s supposed to be accompanying my kickboxing class isn’t helped when my wife buys two-pound cinnamon rolls from the local bakery.
  • I’ve been busy enough lately that I started drafting this on Tuesday morning and just finally published it on Wednesday afternoon.
  • On balance, I’m not really complaining about the cinnamon roll.

Finished Reading: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

The buzz on this one had been going around Twitter for a while, so I was glad to pick up a copy and read. Michael Wear is a young guy who, not even out of college, worked as the White House lead for evangelical outreach during President Obama’s first term. Reclaiming Hope is part memoir of those years and partly Wear’s suggestions for how to repair political engagement with religion.

On the whole, I think Wear did a good job of identifying points where both the right and left failed in opportunities to find common ground that could’ve made legitimate progress on issues important to religious conservatives. However, I think his admiration for President Obama causes him to pull his punches in the second half of the book.

In the first half of the book, Wear reveals himself as something of an Obama fan boy as he details all of the President’s speeches that reveal the depth to his personal faith. (I’m not disputing these – I have great admiration for Obama’s faith – but the tone is pretty fawning.) When Wear starts assigning blame in the second half of the book, though, the blame is never to Obama directly, but always to the “administration” or the “White House”.

Overall, it’s a good little memoir, and Wear has some good thoughts to share about how we might find progress forward on issues significant to people of faith.

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America

Finished reading: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

History, it is often said, is written by the winners. Zinn, though, undertakes to tell a history of America from the perspective of the losers, the poor, the oppressed. Think the arrival of the explorers from the perspective of the Native Americans. The colonial and early US history from the perspective of the slaves. The early 1900s from the perspective of poor workers banding together into labor unions.

Zinn is not trying to be even-handed here, but this volume would serve as an excellent companion to any more traditional history of the United States. It also serves as a good reminder that while things may seem bleak in our current political era, they have been much worse, and our country has withstood far more.

A People’s History of the United States

Where you get your news matters

As I sit and write today we are in day two of Donald Trump’s presidency. Across the United States and around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are marching in protest of Trump’s disregard for women and minorities. It’s likely that the number of attendees at the marches in Washington, DC, will far outnumber the crowds at Trump’s inauguration yesterday.

I’ve seen a broad number of first-hand reports from those marches all morning via Twitter. What astonished me, though, was seeing the broad difference in coverage between various online news sources. Here’s what I found. I screen captured these websites around 11:30 AM central time.

ABC News

ABC’s top story is the march, with a photo. It’s followed by headlines about President Trump’s visit to the National Cathedral, a tornado in Missisippi, and an avalanche in Italy. A fair spread of news for the first screen.

BBC News

Again the lead is the marches, with special note taken that there are protests around the world, not just in DC. They quickly link to analysis pieces. “Why are the women marching?” “Trump’s angry call to arms.” And who can resist the delicious headline “Democrats flail in abyss”?

NPR News

NPR leads with the themes of President Trump’s inaugural message: “American carnage” and “America First”. Second comes the marches.

CNN

CNN is all about the marches on the first screen, including live video coverage and individual stories apparently profiling marchers. Just below the digital fold is a section titled “The Start of the Trump Era”.

Fox News

Then there’s Fox News. Screen one: Trump signs an executive order to try to gut the Affordable Care Act. Trump’s “new vision” for America. I was curious, so I kept scrolling.

Screen two: Obama’s flight to a vacation diverted due to bad weather. Full text of Trump’s inauguration speech. Other news sites deem Trump’s speech offensive. Trump has to part with “beloved cellphone”. Trump attends prayer service. “Three Things Every Christian Owes Donald Trump”. (Well, OK, then.)

Let’s keep going.

Screen three: “Food Network Star implies Trump plagiarized Inauguration Cake”. (Take a look at the side-by-side pictures. Totally plagiarized. But I digress.) And there it is! Finally! One line! “Hundreds of thousands of women march on Washington”. No photo. But a big photo of tornado damage in Mississippi and one of a bust of Winston Churchill that Trump has returned to the Oval Office.

Now friends, the disparity in coverage is, I hope, so obvious that I don’t even really need to point it out. What this highlights, though is that how and where we get our news matters.

Every reporter and news organization has some sort of bias. We will never find a source that is completely neutral. There have been Washington marches in the past (e.g. the Right-to-Life march every year) that CNN will ignore and Fox News will headline.

What we can learn to do, though, is to read widely and to become aware of those biases. If your only source for news is Fox, I beg you, watch some CNN as well. Or read the New York Times. If your only source is MSNBC or NPR, read some Fox for balance.

Facts are facts, but perspectives are tricky things. For us to navigate the upcoming years as people of good will we must work diligently to learn the facts, and to recognize perspective and bias in ourselves and those around us.

Finished reading: Introduction to the Old Testament by J. Alberto Soggin

John Halton’s review set me on this one, and I had much the same response to it that he did. Soggin’s work looks at the Old Testament from a historical perspective and dives heavily into textual criticism.

It is eye-opening for this conservative evangelical to see how far the academically-accepted historical background of the OT differs from the one we are taught by our church leaders, but rather than causing me to look askance at the OT now, it causes me to appreciate more how God has brought together these texts in a way that is meaningful for us as believers today. (It also cements in my mind that defining “infallibility” for the Scriptures is an impossible task, and that “inspired” or “God-breathed” makes much more sense.)

Glad I read this one… and ready for something a little less academic now as a palate cleanser.

Introduction to the Old Testament

The most moving video I’ve seen in quite a while…

President Obama awards VP Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his 40 years of public service. Biden has no idea the award is coming. Agree with their politics or not, these are respectable men who have each served their country well.

The friendship and love they have for each other is remarkable and touching. It’s hard not to contrast Biden’s evident humility with the arrogant bluster we so often hear from the next resident of the White House.