Monday, December 1, 2008

Multimedia Review

Finished a few books worth mentioning:
1) The Reformation, by Diarmaid MacCulloch.  Hefty tome on religious history from about 1500 to nearly 1700. A very interesting review of what the Church looked like before the Reformation, and then a suprisingly readable walk through Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others as they break with Rome.  Two reactions to the book.  First, it is quite clear from this history that most of the Reformation consisted of political entities using a religious controversy to extract themselves from Popish intereference.  Second, the various Protestant sects were willing and able to fight about nearly every single meaningless detail of the liturgy.  It strikes me that it was a bunch of stubborn German(mainly) academics who refused to acknowledge the other guy might be right.  It reminds you of Churchill's comment along the lines of: "The arguments are so intense precisely because the stakes are so small."

2) The Big Con, by Jon Chait.  This starts out as a quick history of supply-side economics, showing that Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer were essentially hacks.  Their crackpot ideas (just lower taxes and everything will take care of itself) was latched onto by Republicans - NOT because Republicans believed in their soul that low taxes are right - BUT because Republicans realized they could win elections by telling people they would cut their taxes without cutting spending.   From there the book wanders off into Chait's own screed about the failures of modern media to call the Republicans on this.  Regardless, it is a quick interesting read, and highlights for you how intellectually vacant the whole Laffer curve and supply-side economics argument has always been.

3) The Horse, The Wheel, and Language.  This should really have been a more interesting book. The author is an archaelogist who is summarizing the arguments from academia regarding the "homeland" of the Indo-European language.  This primitive Indo-European langauge is the "mother" language of Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, Latin, English, German, French, Spanish, and pretty much most of the rest of Europe.  His argument is that the steppe-living people of the area just north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea were the originators of this language, and that their adoption of horses to both ride and pull wagons was the impetus that pushed their culture and language out into new areas.  The book, though, is thick with archaeological detail that stuns with its boredom. Nothing like reviewing the various pots found in an ancient garbage dump on the Volga river to really bring the story to a screeching halt.  It's too bad, because a better, shorter, pithier version of this book would probably be really interesting.

Also have seen several movies recently:
1) Iron Man - finally got to watch the DVD.  For a Marvel comics action movie this is pretty good.  And it is all Robert Downey, Jr.  He is fantastic, and makes the movie worth watching.  Otherwise its just as clunky as Daredevil.
2) Quantum of Solace - saw this in the theater.  For a Bond movie, it is really good.  Daniel Craig is excellent, and I enjoy the rough and tough Bond more than the Roger Moore befuddled gent routine.  Only moderately superfluous action sequences (the plane chase has no purpose), but the opening car chase is great.  Well worth your money and a bucket of popcorn.

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