Category Archives: Non-fiction

Why Not a Dangerous Book for Girls?

Tony Woodlief, author of “Raising Wild Boys into Men,” blogs about a response to The Dangerous Book for Boys in Reason magazine. The response asked why the book was not for kids. Why boys only? Woodlief says give it to the girls who want to read it. “To complain about titles of books, it seems, is to give far too little credit to these brave little girls, wherever they are hiding, who want to blow things up and learn how to spit,” he blogs.

(via Kevin Holtsberry)

Did you hear the one about the Norwegian and the Swede?

I had to sidle up to the banana bleachers at the grocery store tonight, because an elderly lady was front and center, working the entire display like a symphony conductor. She was selecting various bunches, pulling one banana off each, and placing them in her cart.

“I like to get a variety of expiration dates on my bananas,” she told me in confidence. “I hate it when they get too ripe.”

That’s what we Boomers have to look forward to, I thought to myself. Timing our bananas, like IEDs in Baghdad. Hello, retirement! On the other hand, by the time I retire they may have genetically altered bananas with little digital clocks on the stems.

In connection with Phil’s post about The Dangerous Book for Boys, here’s a fine article from today’s American Spectator Online, (link defunct) about contemporary childhood in England, by my friend Hal Colebatch. (Of course I realize I’m dropping names. I like dropping names. When I’m retired I’ll have leisure to drop names on a carefully timed schedule, like ripening bananas.)

Something I thought very weird (even eerie) happened on Saturday. As I drove to my favorite local Chinese place for lunch, I was listening (as I generally do) to the Northern Alliance Radio Network guys on our local talk radio station. They were doing live coverage of the dedication of a new World War II memorial at the Minnesota state capitol.

To fill time, they were talking about what else you could see on the grounds. They talked about two large statues in front of the capitol building, statues of prominent (now pretty much forgotten) politicians named Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson. One of the guys was reading information on the two men, probably from some kind of guide book.

So I get to the restaurant, sit down in my booth, and open the book I brought—Fifty Years In America by N. N. Rønning, a book I mentioned a couple days ago.

And what is right there, where I pick up my reading?

Character sketches of Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson.

(In case your wondering, Knute Nelson was, according to Rønning, “the first Norwegian[-American] politician who gained national recognition.” He was a Minnesota congressman, governor and U.S. senator. A Republican, though he broke with his party in not supporting protectionism.

John A. Johnson was a Swede and a Democrat. He hadn’t distinguished himself much before the 1904 Democratic state convention, but in a lackluster field he won the nomination for governor. As the campaign went on he began to find his voice as an orator, and started attracting popular support. His opponents uncovered a skeleton in his closet—his father had been a “drunkard.” After they published the story he responded with the greatest speech of his campaign. His opponents found that they had tarred their own image rather than his. The same year that the Republican Roosevelt won a landslide victory over William Jennings Bryan, Johnson was elected governor of Minnesota by 7,000 votes. He was reelected in 1906 and 1908. He was considered a serious presidential contender when he died unexpectedly in 1910.)

The coincidence of the radio program and my reading material shook me considerably. Although I theoretically believe in coincidences, it seemed too fortuitous to be mere chance.

On the other hand, what could it possibly mean?

I’m open to suggestions.

Science in the Service of Christianity

Bryan Appleyard reviews physicist Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity. Tipler argues that established theories in modern physics explain Christian history and doctrine.

Central to this argument is his conviction that there is no discontinuity between the insights of science and the revelations of the Gospels. Miracles, for example, are not, as is often claimed, sudden deformations or breaches of the natural order. They happen through known physical processes. Walking on water is accomplished through a particle beam and dematerialization through the multiple universe model implied by quantum theory. That they happen when they do is, of course, God’s will, but, in making them happen, he does not violate the order of his creation.

I can’t comment on Tipler’s specific claims, but I heartily agree that the popular perception of scientists is that they would rather find meaninglessness in the universe than purposeful creation. A natural belief. If mankind is for nothing but what we make for ourselves, then we have become gods. Is that what we’ve always wanted?

Philip Rieff’s ‘The Triumph of the Therapeutic’

Here’s a book that doesn’t fit the summer reading motif. It isn’t light or very accessible, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, by sociologist Philip Rieff. Rod Dreher gives it a run down here. I heard about the book in a stirring set of interviews on Mars Hill Audio. (BTW, the recent postage hikes have increased the cost for mailing their tapes and CDs by 300%. That could sink this fantastic ministry. If you’re still looking for a Father’s Day gift, consider a subscription to the Mars Hill Audio Journal on MP3. No postage costs for them, and great conversation for your father.)

In The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Rieff describes the dominance of therapeutic language in our culture and how it rots our society by replacing moral truths and virtues with personal values and interesting, but nonessential, attributes. Rieff argues, as I understand it, that a culture may not be able to survive when its highest ideal is not virtue, but better living. If we urge each other only to cope with our trivial-to-major problems, we will never rise to the high calling of heroism. We will believe the government has limitless money to solve our problems if only the good guys win. We will believe evil men are only misunderstood men who need to talk through their pain, and we will not recognize any fight as good except that which eases our pain.

Also, the modern individual is told he is completely autonomous, but modern society works him over to conform to the crowd. You can see this in universities all over the country. Someone advocating depravity may be praised for faux individuality, but someone arguing for morals is ridiculed or shut down because he really is swimming upstream.

It seems like an excellent book as is the discussion about it on Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 82.

Fighting the Environmentalists

Frank points out a must-read review on a global warming book. Reviwer Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club, “a pro-human campaigning network,” describes the religious language used to advocate the Earth’s doom.

We also suffer from ‘denial’ about the results of our activities, much of which is ‘straightforwardly selfish’, based on ‘an unwillingness to abandon personal comforts and consumption patterns’. The clincher, so far as Lynas is concerned, is that ‘most of my neighbours still shop in supermarkets’. They shop in supermarkets? Clearly such people should not be deciding the future of the planet after all. So, he concludes, the only solution is carbon rationing: ‘People would trade carbon as a parallel virtual currency, swiping their carbon cards at the petrol pump….’ We would all have a carbon limit just like we all have a pound limit, only the carbon limit would be imposed by the state. Global warming would be part of everyday life and everyday calculations, just as money is now.

This sounds like a critique I have heard from one man for many years, that the environmental movement was not about saving us or the earth but a guise of statism. Environmentalists want to run our lives, forcing their own morality on us for our perceived good.

Who Said This?

The potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis. The combination of ever more sophisticated public opinion sampling techniques and the increasing use of powerful computers to parse and subdivide the American people according to “psychographic” categories that identify their susceptibility to individually tailored appeals has further magnified the power of propagandistic electronic messaging that has created a harsh new reality for the functioning of our democracy.

As a result, our democracy is in danger of being hollowed out. In order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum. We must create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public’s ability to discern the truth. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the rule of reason.

It’s from a newly released book by a popular figure. Answer.

The Popular Discussion of 9/11

Here’s a book I just learned existed: Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts. I hope that sets a few people straight–those people who believe foolishness while are not actual fools.

I’ve always believed you can’t argue with fools. The Bible even says as much, but these people could vote too, and that’s a little dangerous. Today’s cultural and political conversations seem foolish and shallow in large part, and our major media outlets are increasingly untrustworthy. What is an average citizen to do?

Hitchens, Fighting the Bad Fight

I like this review by Bruce DeSilva of Christopher Hitchens’ latest book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. DeSilva writes, “Christopher Hitchens is an essayist and pundit who loves a good fight and is never afraid to pick on someone his own size; but this time he’s outdone himself. He’s picked on God. . . . Hitchens has nothing new to say, although it must be acknowledged that he says it exceptionally well.”

God of the Fairy Tale

[first posted July 29, 2003] Shaw Books, an imprint of Waterbrook Press which is a division of Random House, has quietly announced the upcoming release God of the Fairy Tale from Jim Ware, coauthor of Finding God in the Lord of the Rings. Ware is a writer, folklorist, and Celtic musician, which are just credentials I wish I had. The book reports to be an examination of twenty fairy tales, retelling them and highlighting their themes. It’s the type of thing I would hope any reader could do with their children, but Ware will undoubtedly bring significant insight into the literary analysis. This work probably echoes Tolkien’s opinion that myth is not an untrue story, but a story which delivers essential, though maybe not factual, truth. The Gospel can be considered a myth, a beautiful story, but one that is true in almost every way it’s told. (Should you wonder why I say “almost,” I think that Philippians 2 describes the emptying of Jesus which the best of us cannot fully understand and may even interpret incorrectly.)

In related news, Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin is now available and is currently #2 on