Friday, August 31, 2007

More free books online

I frequently find interesting and useful information in the Google Books feature, and I've also downloaded things from time to time from Project Gutenberg.

However, this evening I ran across, which offers (they say) thousands of titles. A quick perusal shows quite a range, from sermon collections to Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs, historical fiction by G. A. Henty, and essays and novels by 20th century authors. Downside -- they're listed by title only, and there's no search feature. However, there are probably quite a few that haven't made it to the other two sites yet.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Liberal and Conservative

National Review's Jonah Goldberg hits a beautifully balanced comparison:

Conservatives value economic liberty and moral security,
while the liberal values economic security and moral liberty.

The John Locke Foundation's Mitch Kokai expands it to explain that libertarians prefer liberty in both the moral and the economic spheres, hence their uneasy alliance with the conservative movement, depending on which aspect the conservative emphasizes.

I suppose there is another alternative, those who desire security in both spheres. Maybe that's the domain of the true international socialist of the Stalin/Mao variety -- for all their official godlessness, Communist governments are known for a certain prudity of morality.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Good and bad in the same hymn

We sang one at Bible study Wednesday evening which had both extremes in the lyrics.

Frederick Lehman's "The Love of God" has an excellent closing stanza:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were ev'ry stalk on earth a quill,
And ev'ry man a scribe by trade;
To write the love
of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll
contain the Whole,
though stretched from sky to sky

It's a very Biblical image, echoing the apostle John in his gospel.

However, the opening stanza suffers from terminology which is not just outdated, but very easily misunderstood:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches the lowest hell.

I'm a firm believer in keeping the original poetic language in older hymns as much as possible. However, the term "hell" today is pretty much reserved for profanity or a single, capital-H location. At the time this hymn was composed, certain dens of inquity were called "hells" (such as "a gambling hell"). With the change in usage since then, the hymn now seems to posit the love of God in the midst of Perdition, where it is not. At least, not since Christ preached to the spirits in prison, anyway.

Please Hold

Working in sales now I'm making a lot more work-related phone calls than I used to. It's given me a chance to become familiar with different systems' approach to the "hold" music.

One of my customers' wireless services apologizes for the delay and plays Vivaldi (The Four Seasons); my own service, of course, plays a series of clicks which, if nothing else, at least indicate that the phone hasn't died.

China Mobile, on the other side of the world, plays an electronic version of something pianistic -- beloved wife said she thought she recognized incidental music from Dr. Zhivago, which seems odd for a Communist government. Unfortunately they play it at about 85 decibels, which is a bit tough when you're wearing a headset and the first chords explode upon the ear.

Award for the worst music is the internal system of another customer. Near as I can tell, the music is only four measures before it repeats. If they answered the phone within five seconds, you might just hear the first repeat -- but they don't. That one can ruin your day if it goes on much longer.

I'll have to consult the beloved wife about the background music at the doctors' office this afternoon -- it was beach music, and I can't recall the song now, but it had a prominent line about "this is the end" or "it's killing me" -- something which seemed unproductive for a medical office.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Fledgling is Back in the Nest

... and what's an hour delay on a twenty-two and a half hour journey?

All the bystanders at baggage claim burst into applause when he came down the escalator from the gate. Welcome home, John Calvin!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Virtue of Non-Transparency

There is a value to transparency, of actually bearing the character you outwardly appear to carry. Esse quam videre.

However, that works best if you have a noble character to display. The transparency isn't all that great if it means you can see right through the sham.

Case in point: this morning my Beloved Wife was calling a university to set up a tour for my graduating son. The admissions counsellor was very curt in manner. Melanie started by asking if there were any special requirements for homeschooled applicants, and the counsellor shot back, "No. They follow the same rules as everybody else."

Hmm, opening gambit fell flat. What about appointments for a campus visit? "The secretary handles that, I don't have any idea about it."

Financial aid? "He has to have at least 1000 math and verbal on the SAT ..." the counsellor rattled off. Melanie interrupted, "He has 1570 math and verbal."

Ah! Suddenly the entire demeanor changed, the counsellor falling all over the room, calculating within about four sentences that she can all but promise a full scholarship if he applies.

What a difference four digits makes; it even makes the Brusque into the Accommodating.

I told Melanie she should start the conversation, "Hello, my son has 1570 on the SAT, and my name is ..." but she thought that would be overbearing. Maybe so, but it would certainly cut to the chase with some people. Would that just be transparency on our part?

One of South Carolina's wealthiest industrialists was a self-made man with a fortune built on cotton-processing machinery. The story is he used to enjoy dressing in his farming clothes to browse the big car lots -- located on land which he leased to them -- and after confirming the salesmen had no interest in his business, returning in his office suit and showing the same salesmen a huge roll of currency before walking out on them, letting them know that he had already been in once before that day.

Customer service skills apply in all kinds of business, and this admissions counsellor's manner was enough to lose the college a high-scoring candidate. The transparency in her case probably told us more than the college would have liked -- or gave a message the college never intended to convey.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Devotions this morning included a reading that seemed appropriate for a friend undergoing some trials:

The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.
He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is established;
He will not be afraid,
Until he sees his desire upon his enemies. ...

The wicked will see it and be grieved;
He will gnash his teeth and melt away;
The desire of the wicked shall perish.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Nearly-Hostile Takeover

Saturday on our way back from the beach we had an impromptu field trip to Moore's Creek battlefield. This 1776 clash between loyalist and patriot factions near Wilmington resulted in about 30 loyalists (and only one patriot) killed. More significantly, it prevented about 1500 loyalist volunteers from reaching Wilmington, where they were to join with Clinton and Cornwallis on their way to Charleston. The embarrassing failure of the British fleet to reduce Fort Moultrie convinced them to leave the south for later, concentrating their early efforts on the northern colonies.

The battlefield is well-maintained and accessible, and the progress of the engagement is easy to follow with the trails and markers. The visitor's center is small but thorough, and the new video presentation is good too (and available for sale in the bookstore).

What did fall short is the presentation by the park rangers. I don't know if it was the particular ranger leading our group, or if it is the official script prepared for this site, but we could only stay with him for the first 200 yards of the tour. The presentation seemed determined to prove that it was just simple fairness that Parliament imposed taxation on the colonies without representation, that the American colonists were simply sulky and petty to complain about their rights, and patriots like Samuel Adams were motivated by nothing but merchantile interests. (Yes, they brought Adams right into the swamps of Pender County, NC; go figure. It's a wonder global warming wasn't involved.)

My wife, bless her, pointed out that the actions of Parliament were a violation of the Magna Charta, and this was the fundamental law governing the relations between the sovereign and his subjects -- abrogated by the Crown's representatives. The ranger replied with a smile that the distance was so great and communication so slow that it simpy wasn't practical for the colonists to expect representation in Parliament.

"If they can get taxes over there, they can get a representative," my wife responded, with a ripple of approval from the rest of the group. As they walked on, my wife said to me, "He needs to read more original sources, not just the official text."

After two stops like this we decided it was time to take charge of our own experience, so we let the group walk on and my wife and I finished the presentation for our children. While we didn't have family at Moore's Creek per se -- though I guess the loyalist Colonel MacLeod may have been a relative -- we have read pretty extensively about the colonial and Revolutionary periods, and we do have our own patriot ancestors like Beat Rebsamen, the Swiss immigrant who was pardoned for his involvement with the S. C. Regulator movement, but then supplied the Colonials when the war came about; or Matthew and Christopher Singleton, who signed a Mecklenburg-type declaration in Camden District, S.C., only six weeks after Lexington and Concord; or the Wrights, Solomon and Uriah, father and son, who served in the Virginia militia -- Uriah, present for duty at the conclusion at Yorktown.

Thank you, we do know something about the causes of this war, and they run much deeper than an overreaction to a "reasonable" tax. And either Moore's Creek was a well-planned action on the part of citizen soldiery that shaped the subsequent events in the early war for our independence -- we have to remember this was ten months into the open hostilities --, or it was just a sad local tragedy that left thirty-one colonists dead for trivial political reasons.

I suppose since we're apologizing for history in other areas, we might as well send our humble regrets to the Queen and redesign our coinage to look like Canada's. Sorry, your majesty -- our bad.

It made me think about the ongoing fight of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum against creeping revisionism at places like Plymouth and Jamestown. Who writes these scripts for the National Park Service?

UPDATE 1: I had a very enlightening visit with the chief ranger at Cowpens National Battlefield the following week and posed that question to her. The answer is the ranger writes the script. This is by design; the Park Service provides certain basic historical facts which need to be covered, but the "interpretive rangers" (as opposed to "law enforcement" rangers) are free to put their own knowledge and experience into their presentations. This can be both boon and bane, as you might expect -- and as we have experienced.

UPDATE 2: The ranger I spoke with, incidentally, very graciously pointed out that Plymouth is not a NPS site, and she also had noticed the interesting change in interpretative emphasis to a modern Native American viewpoint. Jamestown is more complex, as there are three different entities in the same basic location, only one of which is Park Service.

UPDATE 3: Well, maybe we had kinfolk there after all. My mother ran into the past president of the Clan McLeod Society and through him I have been corresponding with a McLeod genealogist. It appears now that our McLeods may have been in the colonies, and in North Carolina, no less, at that time -- previously we believed the first in America arrived in 1792. Too early to say whether we had Loyalists among the McLeods, though I already know the German side of the family fought for the Tories at Ramseur's Mill.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Beach Books

I'm reading Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville. Really good stuff, actually; he observed, for instance, that while America (c. 1830) did not follow schools of philosophy like the fashionable thinkers of Europe did, at the same time they had arrived at a common frame of thinking. De Tocqueville said that there was nowhere that Decartes was less studied but more followed, as a practical matter.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Question for Friday

I posted this over the Locker Room and got some interesting responses:

Have you ever completely worn out a book, either by re-reading, frequent reference, or simply by carrying it around constantly?

One thing is immediately plain -- the most earthshakingly signficant books are not the most frequently read, with the possible exception of the Bible. Most of them, I think, take a serious commitment in thought and time to read through the first time, while many of us bibliophiles read largely for recreation. For examples, here are the responses from --

The president of the leading conservative policy institute in North Carolina: Dune

A veteran media manager: The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made

A rising seminary student: Profiles in Audacity

The former chair of county council: Interviews with the Vampire

Me? I admit that the most abused volumes in our library are Swiss Family Robinson, All Creatures Great and Small, and Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets.

Readers are welcome to add their own admissions in the comments!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Now shall my inward joys arise
And burst forth to a song!
A mighty love inspires my heart,
And pleasure tunes my tongue

God on His thirsty Zion hill
Some mercy-drops hath sown;
A solemn oath hath bound His love
To shower salvation down

Why do we then indulge our fears,
Suspicions, and complaints?
Is He a God? And does His grace
Grow weary of His saints?

Can a kind woman e'er forget
The infant of her womb?
Among a thousand tender thoughts
Her suckling hath no room?

Yet saith the Lord, "Should nature change,
And mothers, monsters prove,
Zion still dwells upon the Heart
Of everlasting love

"Deep on the palms of both My hands
I have engraved her name;
My hand shall raise her ruin'd walls
And build her broken frame."

-- "Africa", in The New England Psalm Singer by William Billings


[According to Wikipedia, the tune "Africa" is by William Billings, but the lyrics are by Isaac Watts; I've always heard it referred to by Billings' hymn tune. The spelling and punctuation here are my own, from many, many playings of The King's Clerkes' album A Land of Pure Delight.

A very different rendition is this group of Sacred Harp singers belting it out at a Minnesota convention. The first stanza is the sol-fa vocalization -- standard practice for shaped-note sings --, so the understandable lyrics start on the first repeat. Listening to this spirited a capella version, I can very easily picture the church meetings of my ancestors, Rev. Henry Young in South Carolina and Rev. Isaac Miles in North Carolina, in the early 1800's.]

I Thought It Was Scandanavian

Matthew came in the kitchen asking for a definition of the word "svelte". It raised the question where the word comes from -- Svedish?

Actually, it comes from Latin, by way of Italian and then French. The original word is exvellere, meaning "to pull out of". And in the transition to Italian, somewhere the /ek/ was left off /eks-vel-ler-e/ ... leaving, in effect, 'svellere, which became first svelto and then svelte.

So who took the "ek" out of "x" ?