Finished reading: 2018, part two

Books I’ve read over the past month or so:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
An utterly charming novel about a Russian nobleman confined to hotel “house arrest” after the 1917 revolution. His adventures interacting with hotel staff (which he soon becomes) and guests are full of wit and grace and humor. I don’t recall who recommended this one to me but I owe them my thanks.

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton
A memoir from a liberal writer who covered the 2016 US presidential election. Heartfelt, but not as interesting or memorable as I had hoped it might be.

House of Spies by Daniel Silva
OK, the Gabriel Allon series is getting old. I probably should’ve figured that out seeing as this is book #17 in the series.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I first became acquainted with Murakami through his Absolutely on Music book that I read a couple months ago. Having discovered he was a novelist I figured it was worth reading one. 1Q84 was just interesting enough to keep me going through its 900 pages. I guess it’s a love story at heart, albeit one with some odd and unexplained sci-fi twists.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
A YA sci-fi novel with strong race / slavery / gender themes. Interesting in that it tried hard to represent a lot of racial and gender diversity. Managed to do it while only a little bit heavy-handed with the message.

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler
Heard about this one on an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air. Fascinating (to me, a bit of a con law nerd) history of how American law has treated corporations with regard to rights and freedoms. Some cases, it seems, have had unintended consequences as the years went by; Ralph Nader’s efforts to win corporate speech rights back in the 1970’s seemed meant to benefit ordinary people by freeing up information that the government had restricted. Those same rights were used as the basis 30 years later for deciding in Citizens United that corporations could dump unlimited money into political campaigns.

Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally
The author of the novel Schindler’s List takes on the Catholic church abuse scandal. Pleasant yet forgettable prose.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
Realized I didn’t know much about Malcolm X, and this particular biography was recommended by Ta-Nehisi Coates somewhere. A very readable picture of a fascinating man.

Birthday week!

Today at our house we enter Birthday Week: three of the five of our family members celebrate a birthday between now and next Tuesday. Today it’s Addie entering her last pre-teen year. Tomorrow it’s me leaving 40 behind. Next week KP starts her last year with a single digit age.

Man oh man, time flies.

Geek dad status: unlocked. (Oh let’s be honest, this is nothing new…)

Last night I showed my oldest (13-year-old) daughter the first 5 minutes of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, resulting in sustained laughter, amused snickers, and a request to watch the rest of it.

Feels like I must’ve done at least something right.

I tried YouTube TV – here’s what I found

YouTubeTV is the latest entry into the streaming TV field. I’ve been an early adopter here; I signed up for Sling on day one (ESPN streaming? Finally!) and moved to Hulu Live TV last fall to get access to the Big Ten Network as well. YouTubeTV rolled out in my area last fall, but I held off trying it until they had applications that supported the devices I have at home. Google had promised apps for Apple TV and Roku, and it took them a while but they finally rolled out a few weeks ago, so this week I signed up for the one week free trial.

The Good

  • Roku, Apple TV, and iOS apps are good
  • Video streams load smoothly, don’t often buffer
  • YouTubeTV includes streams of local TV channels, which is awesome since a couple of our local channels have weak over-the-air signals
  • very intuitive live TV guide grid (this is notably missing from Hulu)
  • Cloud DVR function is intuitive and feels like you’d expect a DVR to behave (mostly. we’ll get to that)
  • Cost is similar to Hulu and Sling

This is all good stuff. No real complaints here.

The Bad

  • Cloud DVR doesn’t seem to differentiate between new episodes and re-runs. This is such an obvious oversight I can’t really believe they shipped it this way. If I’m interested in The Big Bang Theory, I want to record and watch the new episodes, but not the re-runs that are in syndication. YouTubeTV DVR doesn’t have a way to say “new episodes only”. That’s pretty much a dealbreaker.
  • No Food Network or HGTV. Apparently Google doesn’t have a contract with Scripps yet for those channels. For my family, that’s a dealbreaker.

I only have a couple things listed here, but they’re biggies. I assume Google is working to fix those, but until they are corrected, YouTubeTV is really a non-starter for me.


For the moment I’m sticking with Hulu Live. Their stream quality has been good, they have all the channels we want, and the DVR-type function is sufficient. They have promised that they have a major app update coming that’ll help navigate the live TV. If they implement a grid-type guide system and keep or improve their DVR function, they’re the right choice for me right now. But YouTubeTV is close enough that with a few improvements they could jump up to the top of the list.

Beck: A practical Lenten fasting routine

Richard Beck describes one of his concerns with traditional Lenten fasting and his rationale for working within it:

I have a rule of thumb I like to keep: Don’t let your pursuit of holiness pull you away from your family. As a part of this, I’ve always disliked how fasting pulls me away from family meals. Sure, I can sit at the table and talk while everyone is eating, but that’s just weird. Eating–actually eating–with my family is a profoundly important experience.

I also don’t like how fasting affects my ability to accept hospitality when offered. When someone invites you to a table you should eat. Even if you’re fasting.

So my normal fasting routine is this: Eat only one meal a day, family dinner at night. If you’re invited to eat with someone, accept, don’t decline because you are fasting. Otherwise, don’t eat during the week.

The impact to family meals has always been a big hesitation for me when thinking about this kind of fasting. I appreciate Beck’s reasoning here… makes sense and seems like something I could adopt.

Experimental Theology: My Fasting Routine

These are the deep questions I ask myself…

The other night we were playing “Name that Disney movie” while shuffling soundtracks on Spotify. The question I have rattling around in my head two days later is this:

Do I like the Moana songs so much because I like their distinctive style? Because I do think that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s approach feels and sounds very different than what, say, Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez do in Frozen or what Randy Newman does in half the Pixar movies ever made…

Or am I just drawn to them because I love Lin-Manuel so much that I will irrationally support and be attracted to whatever he produces?

This question bothers me more than I’d like.

Liss: Some questions for those who say the solution is to arm teachers

Casey Liss, whose wife is a teacher, writes up a list of 35 practical questions that we’d need to have good answers to before we went the route of arming teachers to try to prevent more school shootings.

Just a taste:

  • Where does the money come from to buy firearms for these teachers?
  • Given most taxpayers won’t give money to cover basic school supplies, what makes you think they’ll be willing to give money for firearms?
  • Where do the guns get stored? How do we prevent children from getting them?
  • Are teachers allowed to shoot first? Or only after they hear gunfire?
  • How do teachers know who the good guy is, and who the bad guy is? How do we ensure there’s no friendly fire?

Sure, Casey’s got an opinion on this… but these are also practical questions that would need to be answered before anybody could roll this idea out in practice. It’s worth reading through the whole list.

Liss is More: A Series of Questions for Those That Advocate Arming Teachers In Order to Prevent Innocent Children from Being Slaughtered


How long must we continue to sacrifice children on the altar of the Second Amendment?

As Christians, being “pro-life” must extend beyond the unborn life to care for all of life. Do we love our guns so much that we are unwilling to even allow studies of gun violence?

We must be Christians first and Americans later. Do we really think Jesus would say the solution is more guns?

Don’t say that we shouldn’t get political with our Christianity. Christian beliefs have political implications. As N. T. Wright says, to declare “Jesus is Lord” is to inherently say that “Caesar is not”. Our priorities and attitudes should be shaped by the Sermon on the Mount before the Bill of Rights.

Enough is enough. I’m not saying there is an easy solution, but allowing the unchecked proliferation of guns cannot be the answer.