Saturday, July 25, 2015

Falling in love with Classics: How I rediscovered Ancient Greece and Rome

"Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him [Paul]. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection."

- The New Testament, "The Acts of the Apostles," Chapter 17, Verse 18 (as translated by the King James Version of the Bible)

I have long been a fan of Classical Studies, which - in the world of academia - has the specialized meaning of Ancient Greece and Rome. I wouldn't have predicted it in my youth, but I really got into classical studies when I got older. I didn't major in it or anything - I am merely an amateur who studies Classics as a hobby - but it was something that would change my life for the better, when I really got into it.

My favorite painting of Jesus Christ

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A review of Carl Sagan's Cosmos

Let me start out with an up-front disclaimer that I am not an expert on natural science. I am a layman when it comes to this subject, as I have never even taken an introductory class about astronomy. But expertise in the subject matter is not required to enjoy this documentary, as my love of it demonstrates. This is a good documentary for laymen as well as subject experts.

This is not to say that I agree with everything that Carl Sagan says. He is both a liberal and an agnostic, which means I disagree with him about politics and religion. But when he sticks to the science, his documentaries have much to offer. And his exposition of his views tends to be interesting, even when I do not agree with him. I have enjoyed classes from a number of liberals I disagree with, and learned a lot from even the most far-out ones. And Carl Sagan is someone I have learned a lot from.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A review of “The French Revolution” (History Channel)

"There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject.[6] While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them - it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law."

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "The Social Contract" (1762), Chapter VIII

It was begun with the best of intentions, but it ended with the worst of results ...

It is a revolution that is both celebrated and despised, sometimes even by the same people. It was begun with the best of intentions and the noblest of ideals, but it ended with the worst of results after thousands of deaths by mob violence and the guillotine. And it started out as a rebellion against one monarch, and replaced it with the de facto dictatorship of another - Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Bonaparte during this time

The History Channel gives it a fine treatment here ...

In the English-speaking world, the best documentary I know of about this subject is the History Channel's presentation simply entitled "The French Revolution." It has the usual problem for a History Channel program - namely, a touch of sensationalism, and excessively dramatic music at times. (The attempt to add drama through intense music is often overdone, with one feeling like they could have actually achieved greater impact through understatement.) Nonetheless, this film is a fine treatment of the events in France; and it belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the French Revolution. Thus, I thought I would offer a review of this film here.

Marquis de Lafayette

Saturday, July 11, 2015

John Quincy Adams: A great statesman in his own right

He was the first son of a president to be elected president himself, and the only one until George W. Bush - more than a century later. Out of the fifteen presidents who served before Abraham Lincoln, he was one of only two who never owned a slave (the other being his father). And like his father, he negotiated a peace treaty with Britain that ended a major war - with his father's treaty ending the Revolutionary War, and his own treaty ending the War of 1812, nearly thirty years later.

Growing up in his father's shadow

The man was John Quincy Adams; and though he grew up in the shadow of his father, he had an accomplished life in his own right. One might think that he was only elected president because of his father being president, or because he had a similar name to his father John Adams; but this is only part of the story. He also had great experience as a diplomat, fluency in several languages (ancient and modern), and a native intelligence not unlike his father's. He was underestimated by his political enemies, much as George W. Bush was; and was a much better president than he's often given credit for.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why I want to read philosophy in other languages

It is well-known among my friends that I am a foreign language buff. Some of my friends also know that I am a philosophy buff as well. These things might seem to be totally separate from each other, and to some degree they really are. But there is one way I'd like to combine them, which is to read some philosophy written in French, German, or Greek without the aid of translation. Why would anyone want to do this, you may be wondering? This post attempts to explain it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The American Revolution in the television age

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world."

- The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

It was the most successful revolution in history (and the most underrated), but one in which the winning side lost almost every battle that it fought. It was a war with dramatic battles and military campaigns, but whose greatest revolution was in political thinking and good government. And it was a war with larger-than-life heroes who were immortalized in statues and monuments; but it was won by the tireless efforts of ordinary people, without whose efforts the war would surely have been lost.

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

The war was a desperate one, and the Americans came pretty close to losing it ...

The American Revolution it created became the most powerful nation in the world, but was one of the weakest nations for most of its early history. Indeed, it would never have won its independence at all without the help of foreign powers (especially France), and the war was a desperate one whose outcome was not the inevitable victory that it is often painted to be. The Americans could very well have lost that war, and the country as we know it would never have existed: the world would have been a very different place.

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