Friday, December 27, 2013

My search for the Greek New Testament

Many of you have heard that I am learning Ancient Greek, and that part of the reason for doing so is to be able to read the New Testament in the original. I was curious to see how hard it is to obtain a copy of that online (emphasis on "copy" - not to be confused with original manuscripts), and so I typed it into Google. I discovered that there are a large variety of different editions, some published by one group, some by another. This was a bit of a problem, as I needed to commit to one version for price reasons, and it's hard to know which one to pick.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My favorite superhero

Batman has always been my favorite superhero. This is not to say I haven't enjoyed other superheroes as well - I loved the old Superman movie with Christopher Reeves growing up (sad about his accident), and I loved the Spider-Man movies that came out in my adolescence (or at least the first and second - I wasn't such a big fan of the third). But my favorite hero has always been Batman.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Some thoughts about third parties, refusing to vote, and choosing the lesser of two evils

I'm a believer that sometimes one has to choose the lesser of two evils, because no good choice is then available. But I've heard it argued that choosing the lesser of two evils is "choosing evil." This is a problematic claim, because when no better choice is available, choosing the lesser of two evils is the option that will minimize evil the most, and is thus the most anti-evil (and most pro-good) choice available.

Another problematic argument is that refusing to vote is "the greatest political statement you can make" (in the words of an old friend of mine). The context of this argument was that it shows you will not support either candidate. But refusing to support any candidate for president is often to allow the worst of the two candidates to enter office, as happened in the last election. The real political statement made is "I don't want a say in what happens in my government," and this is a statement that few civic-minded people would ever want to make.

Another problematic solution is to vote for a third-party candidate. Since the advent of political parties in the Founding Fathers' time, there have been over fifty presidential elections; but only in three of them have new parties entered the White House, and all of them were prior to the Civil War. Third-party candidates gaining the White House is thus extremely rare; and unless the polls show massive support for a third party, the chances of a third party actually gaining the White House are quite remote. Sorry, Ron Paul supporters: third-party candidacy would seem unrealistic to me.

Thus, voting for the best (or least bad) of the two main candidates is the best option that is realistically available. The best candidate to vote for in the last election was Mitt Romney.

Did the Founding Fathers oppose political parties? (Actually, no ... )

Monday, November 4, 2013

My favorite sport to watch

When I was a kid, I was really into the game of baseball. I couldn't play it well, as I rarely got a hit in Little League, and was always relegated to a remote position in the outfield. But I enjoyed watching the sport, following it in the news, and reading about past teams and players. This interest in baseball was much encouraged by my dad and his parents, as well as my maternal grandfather. There was some friendly rivalry between the two sides of my family over favorite teams, and the rivalry was a lot of fun.

Babe Ruth

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A few problems with “The Communist Manifesto”

"A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter ... Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as Communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? Two things result from this fact: I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power. II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself."

- Opening lines of "The Communist Manifesto" (1848)

I was recently told that I should write a blog post about why Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were wrong - arguing not on values as I did in another post (though there is a place for that as well), but on facts and theories, challenging their dubious factual and theoretical claims.

Karl Marx

Friedrich Engels

In discussing problems with Marxism, where does one start?

To someone who's read and understood their book "The Communist Manifesto," that might seem easy - and in some ways, it is. But in trying to debunk it, I had one big problem: where to start. Despite "The Communist Manifesto" being a tiny book (which I read through in a day), it sometimes seems when I'm reading the book like its two authors were having a competition to see who could cram more fallacies into a small amount of space. And they both won.

Marx and Engels

Discussion of Marxist fallacies is practically a genre in its own right ...

I intend this blog post to be a short one, so I will only be able to summarize this book's problems. But if you're after a more thorough treatment of its fallacies, this is practically a genre in its own right, so there are lots of works to choose from.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A great surprise in my education

One of the great surprises of my education was how much I liked psychology. This would have surprised me in my younger days, as I thought of psychology in terms of counseling and clinical psychology - things I would not have been good at. To be sure, those things are a part of psychology, but psychology was so much more than that, something I little suspected in my youth.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why I am learning Ancient Greek

I've actually had the desire to learn Ancient Greek for a long time, but I didn't think I'd ever have the time or the opportunity to do it. I took an ethics class from NAU's philosophy department in May 2009 where we talked about the Greek philosopher Plato, and I posted on the 28th of that month that I "want[ed] to learn Ancient Greek."


But I never thought I'd actually have the opportunity to do it. I thought: "I don't think I'll ever live near someplace where they offer a class in it. Only one university in Arizona has a Classics department, and that's U of A (which is 3 ½ hours away)."

But I recently realized that with a dead language, taking a class in the subject isn't as important, since I won't be needing to speak or listen to the language. If reading it is enough, I can learn it from a book. So it recently occurred to me to get a textbook about it, and start teaching myself Ancient Greek.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Did the Founding Fathers oppose political parties? (Actually, no … )

It has often been argued that the Founding Fathers were against political parties. Some of them undoubtedly were, but others of them founded political parties. These included John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (founders of the Federalist Party), and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (founders of the Democratic-Republican Party). They weren't always called political parties - often they would use less controversial language like "the political friends of Mr. Hamilton" or "the political friends of Mr. Jefferson" - but they were parties in every sense of the word.

George Washington

Critics of political parties make much out of George Washington's opposition to them. But it's easy to oppose political parties when your self-interest doesn't require their support, and George Washington is the only presidential candidate who was ever elected without the support of a political party. His reputation for walking away from power, along with his remarkable war record, made it so he didn't need parties. All he had to do was not say he wouldn't be president, and he would be elected. Most of the other founders, by contrast, did need their support, and actively courted it to gain political office.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A review of Melvyn Bragg's “The Adventure of English” (ITV)

I did not like most of my English classes growing up. This is ironic, considering I wanted to be a fiction writer, but with the notable exception of seventh grade (and English 101 in college), I found my English classes less than inspiring. So it might have come as a surprise to me that I would one day enjoy a documentary about the history of the English language. But enjoy it I did, and I felt inspired to write a post about it here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our Constitution

A document may not seem
To be of much worth.
But one of them is among
The best of things on Earth.

It is our Constitution.
It helps to make us free.
Let's go through it a bit,
And many dear rights see.

Miracle at Philadelphia

A miracle occurred in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. The United States Constitution was signed.

It was the product of four long months of heated debate, signed by forty men who disagreed with each other on many issues. Fifteen of the men present at the convention refused to sign, and some worked against the Constitution, whipping up public sentiment against it. They made many charges against it, including that it had no national Bill of Rights. They and the proponents of the Constitution debated for months afterward over the ratification of the document. But almost a year after the delegates in Philadelphia had signed the Constitution, it was finally ratified by the States. The country created a national Bill of Rights a few years later, by passing ten amendments.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adam Smith and the American Revolution

"The Wealth of Nations" was published in 1776, a year usually associated with America

Adam Smith was the first modern economist. Thus, his publishing of "The Wealth of Nations" in the year 1776 is often seen as symbolic. Like the American war of independence, "The Wealth of Nations" was a revolution - not in politics or war, but in economic thinking. It is the first modern work on economics, and is rightly respected today for its influence ... and brilliance.

But Adam Smith was a Scotsman, and was thus British

But because the symbolism of the year is associated with America, it's easy to assume that Adam Smith was an American. Actually, he was a Scotsman, and was thus British - a citizen of the very mother country we were at war against. Because of this, you might think that he was unsympathetic to our war of independence. But as someone who has studied "The Wealth of Nations," I can tell you that this is not the case. He actually was sympathetic with the American Revolution, and I can prove this with some quotes from the book.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Movies I've watched with foreign-language subtitles

With French subtitles:

  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. Battle of Britain
  3. Battle of the Bulge
  4. Ben-Hur (European French - plus special features in European French)
  5. The Best Years of our Lives
  6. The Big Sleep
  7. The Bunker
  8. Casablanca
  9. Charade
  10. The Client
  11. Dial M for Murder
  12. Finding Nemo
  13. The First Olympics: Athens 1896
  14. Foreign Correspondent
  15. The Gathering Storm
  16. Gettysburg
  17. Gods and Generals
  18. The Great Escape (European French)
  19. High Society
  20. Ike: Countdown to D-Day
  21. The Incredibles
  22. It's A Wonderful Life
  23. Judgment at Nuremberg
  24. Key Largo
  25. The Maltese Falcon
  26. Midway (European French)
  27. Mister Roberts
  28. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (European French - plus special features in European French)
  29. The Music Man
  30. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  31. National Treasure I
  32. National Treasure II
  33. Nüremberg
  34. The Odd Couple
  35. Pillow Talk
  36. Sergeant York
  37. Tammy and the Bachelor
  38. To Have and Have Not
  39. The Tuskegee Airmen
  40. Wait Until Dark
  41. WarGames (European French)
  42. You've Got Mail

Longer series with French subtitles.

  1. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (about eleven hours)

With Spanish subtitles:

  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. Ant-Man
  3. Apollo 13 (plus special features)
  4. Back to the Future I
  5. Ball of Fire
  6. Baptists at our Barbecue
  7. Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero
  8. Batman Begins
  9. Battle of the Bulge
  10. Ben-Hur (European Spanish - plus special features in European Spanish)
  11. The Big Country
  12. The Bourne Identity
  13. The Bourne Supremacy
  14. The Bourne Ultimatum
  15. Casablanca
  16. Charade
  17. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
  18. The Desert Fox
  19. Dial M for Murder
  20. Drums Along The Mohawk
  21. El Cid
  22. Empire of the Sun
  23. The Enemy Below
  24. Fantastic Voyage
  25. Father of the Bride II
  26. Finding Nemo
  27. The First Wives Club
  28. Follow Me, Boys!
  29. Foreign Correspondent
  30. The Gods Must Be Crazy
  31. The Great Escape
  32. Green Lantern
  33. Guys and Dolls
  34. The Hallelujah Trail
  35. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  36. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  37. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  38. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  39. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  40. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  41. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
  42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
  43. High Society
  44. Holiday Inn
  45. The Hunt for Red October (plus special features)
  46. Ike: Countdown to D-Day
  47. The Incredibles
  48. It's A Wonderful Life
  49. Jackie Robinson
  50. Journey to the Center of the Earth
  51. Judgment at Nuremberg
  52. Julius Caesar (1953 version)
  53. Jurassic Park
  54. King Solomon's Mines
  55. Laura
  56. Lincoln (plus special features)
  57. The Longest Day
  58. The Lord of the Rings 1: The Fellowship of the Ring
  59. The Lord of the Rings 2: The Two Towers
  60. The Lord of the Rings 3: The Return of the King
  61. The Maltese Falcon
  62. The Man of La Mancha
  63. The Martian (plus special features)
  64. Master and Commander
  65. Matilda
  66. Midway (European Spanish - plus special features)
  67. Mobsters and Mormons
  68. Moby Dick
  69. Mogambo
  70. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (European Spanish - plus special features in European Spanish)
  71. Napoleon Dynamite
  72. National Treasure I
  73. National Treasure II
  74. Newsies
  75. Night at the Museum I
  76. Night at the Museum II
  77. Now You See Him, Now You Don't
  78. Oceans' Eleven
  79. October Sky
  80. Operation Pacific
  81. The Pelican Brief
  82. The Rainmaker
  83. RED
  84. Sahara
  85. The Shaggy Dog (Tim Allen version)
  86. Singin' in the Rain
  87. Sink The Bismarck!
  88. Slavery and the Making of America
  89. The Sound of Music
  90. Spellbound
  91. Spider-Man 2
  92. That Thing You Do
  93. To Have and Have Not
  94. To Kill A Mockingbird
  95. Tora! Tora! Tora!
  96. Wait Until Dark
  97. WarGames (European Spanish)
  98. The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided

Longer series with Spanish subtitles:

  1. Batman: The Animated Series (over 30 hours)
  2. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (about 11 hours)
  3. John Adams Miniseries by HBO (about 8 hours)
  4. The Men Who Built America (about 6 hours)

My experience with Spanish

My experience with French

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

"Your friend Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man who ever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn't stop those men - they were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that, Jeff. You can't quit now - not you! They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington. That kind just throw big shadows, that's all. You didn't just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness; and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world - a lot of it!"

- Clarissa Saunders, a character in the movie

So I was recently watching the movie "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" with my family. This is my second-favorite Hollywood movie, after the Christian classic "Ben-Hur." I love the patriotism of this movie, because patriotism is like a religion for me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Founding Fathers and the History Channel

The History Channel has made a few documentaries about the lives of the Founding Fathers. There is one in particular that I would like to talk about here, which is their three-hour program simply entitled "Founding Fathers."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My interest in foreign languages

I was actually interested in foreign languages from a very early age. I thought: "How cool would it be to speak another language?" I suppose that many monolingual kids fantasize about being able to speak another language, usually without the slightest clue of how hard it is to do so. But for me, the interest never waned, and the only thing limiting me was the opportunity.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How I learned to play piano (the way I play it)

I have often been asked how I learned to play piano the way I play it, so I wrote this explanation of how I acquired my style. I also talk a little bit about my piano influences.

Me in my youth with my piano teacher

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some thoughts on separation of church and state

It has recently struck me how many liberals have spoken in favor of getting rid of laws with a religious basis. In the name of separation of church and state, many liberals try to get rid of laws against gay marriage by pointing to the religious basis of many arguments supporting them.

This seems to me a fundamentally flawed interpretation of separation of church and state, for the following reason: Many laws supported by atheists and agnostics are, for many people, grounded in religious belief. The Ten Commandments say "Thou shalt not kill" (the basis of laws against murder), "Thou shalt not steal" (the basis for laws against theft), and "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (the basis for laws against perjury). If we were to discard any law with a religious basis, we would have to do away with laws against theft, perjury, and murder, which are supported largely on the basis of religion. The harm to society of doing such is self-evident, and so clearly, discarding laws with a religious basis is unwise.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My tremendous passion for history

Most of my Facebook and Blogger friends have seen my posts about history. Whether it's talking about the latest historical book or documentary that I've watched, or noting the anniversary of an important historical event, or even posting about a major historical individual on their birthday, I love posting about history. A few people have given me positive feedback on these historical posts.

But I have never, as yet, talked publicly about how I got interested in history. At the risk of boring my readers, I will now share some of the story about how I acquired my tremendous passion for history.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

My favorite history documentaries

Ancient empires

Egypt's Golden Empire (PBS Empires) - 2 ½ hours

The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization (PBS Empires) - 2 ½ hours

Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire (History Channel) - 10 hours

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (BBC, requires European DVD player) - 6 hours

The Roman Empire in the First Century (PBS Empires) - 3 ½ hours

Art history

Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (BBC, art history) - 11 hours
              (available on YouTube - link to first episode)

The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance (PBS Empires) - 4 hours

Religious history

Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites (PBS Empires) - 4 hours

Ancient Roads from Christ to Constantine - 5 ½ hours

Martin Luther (PBS Empires) - 2 hours

David Starkey's The Six Wives of Henry VIII - 3 hours

History of the British Isles generally

Simon Schama's A History of Britain (BBC, with American financing) - 15 hours
              (available on YouTube - link to first episode)

David Starkey's Monarchy (U. K.) - 17 hours

Michael Wood's The Story of England (BBC) - 6 hours

Neil Oliver's A History of Scotland (BBC Scotland) - 10 hours

Huw Edwards' The Story of Wales (BBC Wales) - 6 hours

Fergal Keane's The Story of Ireland (BBC Northern Ireland) - 5 hours

Andrew Marr's Modern Britain 1901-2007 (BBC - requires European DVD player) - 10 hours

Specific countries (outside of the British Isles)

Alistair Cooke's America: A Personal History of the United States (BBC, requires European DVD player) - 10 hours

Canada: A People's History (CBC and Société de Radio-Canada) - 32 hours
              (available on YouTube - link to first episode)

Michael Wood's The Story of India (BBC) - 6 hours

History of the English language

Melvyn Bragg's The Adventure of English (British-made) - 6 hours
              (available on YouTube - link to first episode)

The rest of these are in something approaching chronological order.

Famous reigning queens

David Starkey's Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth the First) - 3 hours

Catherine the Great (PBS) - 2 hours

The Spanish Conquest

Michael Wood's Conquistadors (BBC) - 4 hours

Colonial America

The Pilgrims (PBS) - 2 hours

The Seven Years' War (French and Indian War)

The War That Made America (PBS) - 4 hours

The American Revolution (the War of Independence)

Overviews of the war

Liberty! The American Revolution (PBS) - 6 hours

History Channel's "The Revolution" - 10 hours

Founding Father biographies

Benjamin Franklin (PBS) - 3 hours

George Washington (History Channel) - 1 ½ hours

Alexander Hamilton (PBS) - 2 hours - available on YouTube

Founding Fathers (History Channel) - 3 hours

Founding Brothers (History Channel) - 3 hours

John and Abigail Adams (PBS) - 2 hours - available on YouTube

Thomas Jefferson (PBS, Ken Burns) - 3 hours

Frontier exploration

Lewis and Clark (PBS, Ken Burns) - 4 hours

The French Revolution/Napoleonic Era

Marie Antoinette (PBS) - 2 hours

The French Revolution (History Channel) - 1 ½ hours - available on YouTube

Napoleon Bonaparte (PBS Empires) - 4 hours - available on YouTube - link to first episode

The War of 1812 (North America)

The War of 1812 (PBS) - 2 hours - available online

Dolley Madison (PBS) - 1 ½ hours

Andrew Jackson (PBS) - 2 hours - available on YouTube

The Mexican-American War

The U.S.-Mexican War 1846-1848 - 4 hours - available on YouTube - link to first half

The Gold Rush - 2 hours - available on YouTube

The American Civil War

The Abolitionists (PBS) - 3 hours

The Civil War (overview by PBS, Ken Burns) - 11 hours

Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (PBS) - 3 hours - available on YouTube - link to first episode

Civil War biographies

Abraham and Mary Lincoln (PBS) - 6 hours

Jefferson Davis (privately made) - 3 ½ hours

Ulysses S. Grant (PBS) - 3 ½ hours

Various other American topics

Transcontinental Railroad (PBS) - 2 hours - available on YouTube

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (PBS, Ken Burns) - 3 ½ hours

Murder of a President: James A. Garfield (PBS) - 2 hours

Mark Twain (PBS, Ken Burns) - 3 ½ hours

New York Underground (PBS) - 1 hour

Spanish-American War (PBS) - 2 hours

Theodore Roosevelt (PBS) - 3 ½ hours

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (PBS, Ken Burns) - 2 hours

Panama Canal (PBS) - 1 ½ hours - available online

History of American business

The Men Who Built America (History Channel) - 6 hours

Edison: The Father of Invention (PBS) - 2 hours

Tesla: Master of Lightning (PBS) - 1 ½ hours

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (PBS, Ken Burns) - 2 hours

Henry Ford (PBS) - 2 hours - available online

Walt Disney (PBS) - 4 hours

World War One

The Great War (BBC, interviews veterans) - 17 hours

World War I (CBS, the complete story) - 10 hours

Woodrow Wilson (PBS) - 3 hours - available on YouTube - link to first episode

The Storm That Swept Mexico (PBS) - 2 hours - available on YouTube

World War Two

The War (PBS, Ken Burns) - 15 hours (focuses on United States)

The World at War (British series) - 23 hours (talks about all the major powers)

Biographies of major figures of World War Two

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (PBS) - 4 hours - available online

Winston Churchill (British-made) - 3 hours

Harry Truman (PBS) - 4 hours - available online

Dwight D. Eisenhower (PBS) - 2 ½ hours - link to first episode

The Cold War (other)

The Cold War (CNN) - 18 hours - link to first episode

The Korean War (Timeless Media) - 5 hours

Cold War political biographies (other)

John F. Kennedy (PBS) - 3 ½ hours

Robert F. Kennedy (PBS) - 2 hours

Lyndon B. Johnson (PBS) - 3 ½ hours - available online

Richard Nixon (PBS) - 2 ½ hours - available online

20th century American race relations

Jackie Robinson (PBS) - 4 hours

General American history in the 20th century

Baseball (PBS miniseries, Ken Burns) - 19 hours

Jazz (PBS miniseries, Ken Burns) - 19 hours

Monday, July 1, 2013

A review of "Canada: A People's History"

"It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, to declare by Proclamation that, on and after a Day therein appointed, not being more than Six Months after the passing of this Act, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick shall form and be One Dominion under the Name of Canada; and on and after that Day those Three Provinces shall form and be One Dominion under that Name accordingly."

- Canada's "Constitution Act of 1867," also known as the "British North America Act of 1867"

I would like to offer my American perspective to this 32-hour Canadian series. I hope Canadians will not mind. I got this series because I was interested in the history of America's northern neighbor. Canada is one of the United States' biggest trading partners, and being interested in doing trade with Canada, and able to speak both French and English, I thought it would be helpful to know something about Canadian history and culture.

This documentary did not disappoint. It was dramatic and interesting, and I learned much about Canadian history. Having read from many online comments that even Canadians learned something about their history by watching this series, I am struck by its informative and educational power. It is also very moving in places, with great acting, music, and narration. Those looking to learn something about the country will not be disappointed.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a major battle in the Seven Years' War - Quebec, 1759
(an important year in Canadian history, because it was the year that Canada became British)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Some thoughts on patriotism

I often find patriotism a difficult subject to talk about, for a number of reasons. For one, both major parties profess patriotism. While I acknowledge that there are Democrats with great love for our country, I have found patriotism to be far more common among Republicans, and well-meaning policies from even the most patriotic of Democrats often do great harm to the country. In addition, I have heard a number of liberals say disparaging things about this country, which always fills me with disgust. This is in marked contrast to the solemn pride that most conservatives feel about their association with this country.

To be sure, I respect patriotism and love of country in all nations, and I have a great love of a number of other countries. This love includes an admiration of their culture, and a fascination with their history. But as far as countries go, I have only one true love, and that is America. To her I shall be forever loyal, and my heart will always sing her praise.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My love-hate relationship with economics

I did not fall in love with economics, the way I fell in love with history and politics. This is not to say I didn't like the subject, but it didn't excite me in the same way. There are parts of it that I find quite fascinating, and others that I find quite boring. But it is definitely one of my interests, and I'll talk a little bit here about my love-hate relationship with economics.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How I got interested in politics

Most of those I associate with online have seen my political posts. I was particularly politically active during the last two elections, and people saw that I could be outspoken about the subject. Some have witnessed political arguments I have gotten into, and seen the debater side of me.

My interest in politics is no secret, and I have said that my blog is "part history, part politics, and part random other stuff." But I have not posted before about how I got interested in politics. At the risk of boring my friends, I will now share some of the story about how I got interested in politics.

Bill Clinton, the first president I really remember

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Confessions of a Facebooker

It's probably been suspected by some, but I plan the vast majority of my Facebook statuses weeks in advance. With some posts (like those about historical anniversaries), I even plan months in advance, and schedule them for particular days.

Monday, March 11, 2013

When moderation and compromise are inappropriate

I have heard it argued by political moderates that their beliefs are right because moderation is a virtue, and that people on one side or another are wrong because they are at the "extremes." I have also heard it argued that compromise is inherently good. I will seek to show here the fallacy of endorsing political beliefs merely because they are in between the views of the two main sides of the debate.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Senator at the gates of heaven

While walking down the street one day a United States Senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the man.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the Senator.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Television biographies of American presidents

George Washington is the only president who did not occupy the White House.
It was built during the administration of John Adams, his immediate successor.

A number of university political science departments offer a class about the American Presidency, which is 3 credit hours, and thus includes 45 clock hours of lecture. I've watched over 50 hours' worth of presidential biography documentaries, and learned about the lives of 18 of the 44 Americans who have held the office, including every Cold War president but Gerald Ford, and every president shown on our currency. Their combined years in office add up to slightly over half of American presidential history.

It's not as good as a class, but still pretty cool to me. I've had some good "lectures" about a number of our presidents' lives, and all of them make use of visual sources of their subjects, such as period paintings and sketches - or for later presidents, photographs and film footage.

Here's a list of the presidents, with the total minutes of the longest documentary film I've watched about each one. (For those I've watched multiple documentaries about, I decided to only include the minutes of the longest one.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Frederick Douglass: The forgotten antislavery leader

"Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds - faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts - and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred cause - I subscribe myself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Lynn, Massachusetts, April 28, 1845."

- Concluding words of the Appendix to the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself"

Have you ever wondered what American slavery was like? If so, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better answer to this question than the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave" - written by himself. This book was written by a former slave to influence Americans to oppose the "peculiar institution" of slavery.

Young Frederick Douglass

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My late grandfather's medal citation

Grandpa Wells during World War II


The Secretary of the Navy

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the BRONZE STAR MEDAL to


for service as set forth in the following


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Benjamin Franklin: Renaissance Man

Few men epitomize the concept of the "Renaissance Man" better than Benjamin Franklin. He achieved great success in many different fields; including the occupations of being a writer, journalist, postmaster, scientist, and inventor. He had a great wit, and had a persuasive ability that was part logical argument and part masterful diplomacy. And his achievements as a statesman are notable even by the lofty standards of America's Founding Fathers.

I certainly do not claim to be an expert about his life, but after watching a three-hour PBS documentary about him, I was inspired to read his famous autobiography. I have read it cover to cover, and "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" is now one of my favorite books. It was one of the first American books to be taken seriously by Europeans as literature.

If you're familiar with eighteenth-century language, the book is not very hard to read; and might aptly be compared to Charles Dickens. It is not a very long book, as Benjamin Franklin had a gift for brevity. He praises the work ethic, and parents often gave the book to their children as a model for good work ethic. This led Mark Twain to joke that Franklin's example had "brought affliction to millions of boys since, whose fathers had read Franklin's pernicious biography."

If you're looking for an account of his Revolutionary career, this isn't the book to read, because it doesn't go that late into his life; but if you're interested in his early life, which was a classic rags-to-riches story of the American dream, there's no better book to read than his own. His book might be considered the prototype for modern self-help books, as it contains much useful and timeless advice about how to succeed in business. His book is a great example of how self-educated people can be, as Franklin was a self-taught man whose education was top-notch by any measure. The word "genius" has been vastly overused, but few deserve it more than Franklin, as he was brilliant by any standard.

If you're looking for an account of his role in the Declaration of Independence, the wartime diplomacy with France, the postwar peace treaty with Britain, or the United States Constitution; you'd be better off reading or watching one of the numerous biographical books or films made about him by others, such as PBS's documentary about his life. (The good ones make use of his many diary entries from the time.) But if you want the story of his early life, no book beats his own. It is a masterpiece of American literature, and one with great significance for American history. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in literature, history, or good self-help advice.

Full text of his autobiography online

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Benjamin Franklin movie

Constitutional Convention movie

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