Saturday, August 29, 2015
Karl Marx once wrote that "the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." (Source: The Communist Manifesto, Chapter II) Much has been said for and against this theory, some of it interesting and some of it rather dull. But one of the most interesting things - for me, at least - was written by the English philosopher John Locke, over a century and a half before.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
It's long been fashionable for people in the Western world to claim they are "open-minded," and so this is claimed even by people who are not that way at all. (No one says with pride that "Yeah, dude, I'm closed-minded!") Yet closed-mindedness seems to be as common as it ever was, with people refusing to entertain any number of ideas they don't agree with; and it seems to be as much a problem today as it ever was. But what does it mean to be "open-minded," anyway? The website of Princeton University defines the word open-minded as "ready to entertain new ideas," and this seems to me to be appropriate. How does one know if an idea is false, if one has not heard it? (Or in the words of the Princeton definition, "entertain[ed]" it?) How does one know if they will like this food, if they haven't tried it? And how does one know if this idea is wrong, if they haven't heard it out?
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
PBS made a four-hour documentary about the life of Bill Clinton. It has the liberal bias you'd expect from PBS, but with the exception of their coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it was a fascinating film. I don't think Bill Clinton was a good president, or even a particularly good man; but he was certainly an interesting man, with intelligence, great speaking ability, and a gift for politics to rival that of Reagan, Kennedy, or FDR.
Bill Clinton shakes hands with then-president John F. Kennedy
Sunday, August 16, 2015
It allowed ships of all kinds to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vice versa) without having to go around the tip of South America - drastically reducing the time needed to transport goods. The effects of the project were largely economic; but it was completed mainly for military reasons, with the need to move naval ships between oceans without enormous delays from increased travel time. And it revolutionized the economy and international trade of the world, allowing much trade to be done for significantly lower costs.
Panama Canal in modern times
Thursday, August 13, 2015
It caused the fall of empires, and the rise of a new one in their place. It changed the destiny of continents, and left the imprint of Europe on their face. And it was a tale of cruelty and ruthlessness - a disturbing and intensely fascinating human drama - which forever changed the Western Hemisphere; and by extension, the entire world.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The event is, of course, the Spanish Conquest; and generations of schoolchildren have grown up with the story of how it happened. The story has an air of Shakespearean tragedy to it, of complicated characters who manage to be sympathetic even when callous and cruel; and even the brutality and horrors of it cannot stop it from being interesting, captivating, and utterly compelling. We may not like it, but we'll never be able to get away from it; and instead of ignoring it, there is value in learning about this epic tale; and hearing of the tremendous impact it has left on our civilization, and our world.
Moctezuma II being held captive by Cortés, circa 1519 or 1520
Saturday, August 1, 2015
There are actually a number of reasons that I want to learn German. For starters, I am someone with a great interest in foreign languages. I talk at length in a previous post about my experience in learning French and Spanish. (If you haven't read this previous post, you might enjoy reading it first before you read this. Here's a link that leads to it.)
But why German, rather than some other language? To be sure, the desire to learn German seems strange to some. It's perceived by many as the ugly language, and Mark Twain once wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Awful German Language." A girl in my first year of high school French said that telling someone "I love you" in German would sound ugly; and insulting someone in French would sound beautiful. I'm not completely sure why Americans perceive these languages this way, but it seems quite clear that they do. French is perceived as a romantic language (especially by women), and German is perceived as an angry language.
Charlie Chaplin spoofs Hitler speech in his movie "The Great Dictator" (1940)