Thursday, September 18, 2014

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe (Book Review #91 of 2014)


The breadth of Christian history, philosophy, and literature covered here make it very close to a "must-read" for any Christian. Good books inspire you to read other, older books and this book excels at that like few others. While I understand that most of the book was researched and written by Beebe (over three years), Foster closes each chapter with his own personal takeaways and a devotional prayer. I highly recommend Foster's book on spiritual disciplines (see my review) before reading this one.

How do we order our lives rightly in order to love God and grow in our faith? The authors explore the written works of several in church history in the area of spiritual disciplines: Origen, Evagrius Ponticus, Augustine, John Cassian, Gregory the Great, Benedict of Nursia, Ignatius of Loyola, Benedict, pseudo-Dionysius, St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Kempis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton, George Herbert, George Fox, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John Wesley, St. Bonaventure, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and others.

Each of these teachers, monks, theologians, and philosophers contributed something to the literature of a disciplined life and experienced God in unique ways. Each made contributions to the Western church that influenced others down the road. A feature of the book is that it allows you to see echoes of Platonic philosophy as incorporated by Augustine and passed on through Gregory, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Wesley, etc. Everyone on the list could be accused of being "neo-Platonic" but it's important to recognize Greek philosophy's role in developing European institutions, most prominently the Church. An appendix deals with pre-Christian philosophers who were known to influence the historical figures. Having recently finished Plato's Republic I find it interesting that the authors see the "cave" analogy as turning from our dark ignorance to God. Early Christians reportedly saw the importance of enlightened spiritually mature Christians to turn and help others less mature, just as Plato saw for the philosopher kings in his ideal society. Clement reputedly claimed Plato for the Christian purpose, arguing that Plato ultimately pointed to Christ. (Classical Christian schools today teach Latin and teach Platonic philosophy and dialectic from early grades based on the idea that Western Civilization, including Christianity, requires this as a foundation.)

Many contributors come across as mystics, but the authors defend many of their positions as ultimately rooted in Scripture. Calvin, for example, wrote of the importance of oguidance by the Holy Spirit in choosing elders, deacons, and making decisions. But those revelations of the Holy SPirit worked in conjunction with the reading of Scripture. Fox wrote much about the spiritual experience-- the feelings-- but also had large sections of the Bible memorized. The authors assume some of the more supernatural experiences of the individuals were true. St. Francis, for example, experienced a stigmata that was testified to by many witnesses, and his life thereafter was markedly different. Others mentioned had some type of divine revelation or vision that changed them or influenced their thinking.

The authors divide up the seven "paths" as follows. No path is "right or wrong" but all are aspects of a person's spiritual growth.
One: The Right Ordering of Our Love for God
Two: The Spiritual Life as Journey
Three: The Recovery of Knowledge of God Lost in the Fall
Four: Intimacy with Jesus Christ
Five: The Right Ordering of Our Experiences of God
Six: Action and Contemplation
Seven: Diving Ascent

The writing and philosophies of the various historical figures are categorized, non-chronologically, in these seven paths. The non-chronological aspect of the histories make it more difficult. One could really re-organize it into a much different book on the history of church thought.

A weakness of the book is the inclusion of some like pseudo-Dyonisius. If there is ever an accident of history, it's him. While his writing was incredibly influential and is essential to the foundation of Eastern Orthodoxy, the fact that he was given authoritative credence on false pretenses should discredit much of what the authors might want us to glean from this account. Schleiermacher is also a surprise, but the authors write that you have to understand him in his context-- he was arguing for Christianity in a time and place when atheism and humanism were on the ascendance; as such, he was persecuted. Against that backdrop, he does not appear so bad.

Where the authors stick with the importance of examining our personal experiences and beliefs with Scripture, they do well. Where they appear to stray from that, it gets a little murky. But the entire book is enlightening on Christian history and the context in which the contributors-- many of them martyred-- were writing.

I give this book four stars out of five. I look forward to reading some of the examined works myself.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (Book Review #90 of 2014)

I listen to Ferriss' podcast and have often been amused at the "living life hacker." I also hear his confessions about his habits, struggles, addictions, and how sometimes he gets razzed by his friends for still working a 60 hour week. The point of the book, he said recently, is that you can get 40 hours worth of work done in a time closer to four hours than 40. After reading the book I'd say the main thesis is that you can gain "freedom from what you dislike, freedom to pursue your dreams without reverting to work for work's sake (W4W)." You can be among the "New Rich" that gave up their high-paying desk jobs and commutes and found ways to delegate and automate their activities and now travel the world, partying and learning languages or whatever strikes their fancy.

"Less is not laziness...doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is NOT laziness."  Ferriss stresses doing the "minimum necessary for maximum effect ('minimum effective load')." This type of thinking is missing from the theology of work literature. How about a theology of productivity and efficiency?

Ferriss gives plenty of tips for how to get this done. Find ways to automate routine tasks, like responding to emails or processing orders. Outsource some menial activities to virtual assistants in India (I followed his tip and outsourced a menial task to someone in Pakistan this week, was a good decision). Schedule your day--focus on accomplishing two separate tasks and do not allow distractions during their completion. Compress your tasks with tight deadlines so that you rev up your effort (if you had a gun to your head, you would do everything faster and more effeciently). Check email once or twice a day, never answer voicemails. Follow the 80/20 rule: Elminate the 20% of your customers that create 80% of your headaches, focus on the 20% that generate 80% of your revenue.

Give free lectures on your local university campus, put that on your CV, list yourself places where journalists can find you, give interviews and write books and articles that will lead to greater fame and income. Don't invent things and make yourself busy to feel important. Busyness is not productivity or desirable. Stop reading the news and be selectively ignorant. If you do read, follow his tips for reading faster. Find ways to get out of meetings, don't hold them yourselves, and negotiate with your boss for permission to work remotely.

Once you go remote, make it abroad. Learn languages, party, and enjoy life.

"Retirement is worst-case scenario insurance." People work hard, save up, and then retire hoping to do activities to "enjoy life" when it would have been much more enjoyable in their 20s and 30s when they had health. Why not do it now, is his point. Ferriss' advice is most applicable to those who sell a manufactured product-- he sells fitness pills-- where the manufacturing, order processing, and customer support can be outsourced to Asia. If you're in the service sector or are an independent consultant than his advice is harder to stick. If you're a carpenter or some other manufacturer that focuses on custom design and quality, then you're also not going to gain much help from this book.

There is a great deal of selfishness is Ferriss' thinking. While he gives examples of people who have kids, most examples--including his own-- do not; there appear to be no considerations of love in his life other than to satisfy his own physical desires. He has never had to wake up at 3am to change a diaper or sacrifice his time to sit with a sick daughter-- you can't delegate or outsource those activities, and they have a major impact on all else that you do. He does not appear curious about the meaning of his work, or the purpose of life. I believe everyone looks to be part of a cause greater than themselves in some way, which is why we respond to leadership. There is no aspect of that in this book, it is basically how to lead yourself into being an island (albeit a very productive one) to one's self. While Ferriss fills his time with accomplishments in martial arts, cooking, language, and dancing one wonders if he's not just trying really hard to fill a void in his soul that others fill with relationships, family, and community.

I have read 90 books so far this year because I've found ways to make my day more efficient. But I free up time for personal enjoyment in activities-- like reading the news-- that Ferriss says I should avoid. I also have a family that is dependent on my success for health insurance but is also demanding/deserving of a large chunk of my time that I would love to selfishly spend elsewhere. That's what love is, and that's what is missing from this book.

So, I enjoyed the book and recommend it with the above paragraph as my caveat. 3 stars out of 5.I will check out his other books on fitness and cooking for some tips.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Reform Medicaid First by Pauly and Grannemann (Book Review #89 of 2014)

This book was published in 2009 by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. The authors are an academic economist and an economist who works with Medicare and Medicaid.

The authors were concerned that the Obama Administration's push for health care reform would impose a large system on top of the already complicated and diverse Medicaid programs offered by states. They argue for greater uniformity in Medicaid requirements across states and more equitable funding of those programs; wealthier states currently spend more on Medicaid and thus receive more federal matching funds.They lay out the case for reforming Medicaid as the highest priority before moving ahead ahead with whatever reforms the Administration wanted to make to private insurance and the rest of the health care system.

In principal, the authors are sympathetic to many of the policies later enacted under the Affordable Care Act. Having a payment advisory board that authorizes funding for high-value treatments (weren't these the "death panels?"), imposing uniformity from CMS on states receiving federal funding, and are even unopposed to a "public option" or at least a publicly-funded managed care organization to name a few examples. They also forsee some time of health exchange program for people to shop for coverage.

The authors do not propose many specifics for reform, but do outline a program of Medicaid with a graduated system of premiums. Medicaid could cover everyone up to 300% of the federal poverty line but with fewer services and "meaningful" premiums the higher up the income scale. They stress the importance of having low marginal tax rates as benefits are reduced or premiums increased, something that the ACA roughly failed at doing properly.

Pauly and Grannemann also advocate ending special treatment to certain providers such as rural hospitals, ending the disproportionate share hospital (DSH) subsidy, and medical education payments. By making Medicaid reimbursement rates more "adequate," the authors write, there will be no need for these types of carve-outs. States should also have more control over provider networks, similar to that in private managed care plans; seeing as how most states have moved to an MCO model this seems to be less of an issue.

Surprisingly for an AEI work, the authors are not opposed to a public option and and believe that coverage and rate-setting should be made on a "technical basis" by objective decision-makers with "expertise," a very technocratic approach. They believe in value-based cost containment, but do not offer any innovative ways to make that happen.

Several of their proposals sound like what has been adopted by Pennsylvania and Arkansas, who received waivers to try out some experiments with requiring premiums and incentives to maintain health, or private health insurance that is subsidized by the state.

This book is not for people looking for an introduction to Medicaid and specific policy proposals, for that I'd recommend the Mercatus Center's recent The Economics of Medicaid (my review here). The authors provide no definitions for things like DSH. As such, two stars out of five.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Book Review #88 of 2014)

I needed something lighter after the works of Plato, and this was a great light read. I also have a goal of reading all of Michael Lewis' books, so check another off the list.


I read The Blind Side before seeing the movie, but watched Moneyball before reading this book. Lewis' writing on sports just lends itself to good movies that are able to stick closely to the book. The book reads like the movie just with more detail, and the movie captures some of the more fun scenes in the book very well. "I couldn't do a regression analysis but I knew what one was." Billy Beane is much smarter than the movie made him out to be, Beane read all of Bill James' abstracts and devoured articles on baseball analysis; the A's genius wasn't all based on egghead Paul DePodesta's work, though DePodesta did pioneer a few models and built much of the computer work. Beane could easily run up statistical refutations of media criticism, such as the A's supposedly not "manufacturing runs in the playoffs."

Lewis apparently got interested in the A's after the 2001 season and was present for part of 2002, given access to Beane and the clubhouse and apparently the 2002 draft. (The draft drama is largely absent from the movie.) This wikipedia page on the book gives an update on how the A's draft analysis panned out. At first glance it appears they did not fare much better than randomness, but perhaps in sports a slight edge makes a big difference. Lewis was there for the famous streak-breaking game where the A's blew an 11-run lead. The movies portrayal of those moments are quite good. Beane has a darker temper and is much more profane than Brad Pitt's character portrayed (there is no shortage of f-bombs in this book).

Another difference between versions is that Oakland manager Art Howe understood that Billy Beane and the front office called the shots, there was much less conflict than what was portrayed. On the field, Howe stood where and how Beane told him; the appearance of his command was all illusion. The players all knew Beane called the shots, even though the front office shared little of the data they were crunching-- unlike in the movie.

The A's analysis was much more thorough than the movie made out, too. Lewis takes the time to explain the history of sabermetrics and the various controversies such as how to judge fielding and pitchers' contributions. From here out, I will only look at on-base percentage and slugging percentage for hitters, and OBP is four times more important than SLG. But the revolution has only changed baseball so much, most articles I see only reference batting average and home runs.

Scott Hatteberg was acquired by the A's for his great on-base percentage, but missing from the movie is Hatteberg's own approach to methodically recording data about all of his at-bats. The Red Sox had criticized him for his scientific method.

Another difference was that the touching stories about Beane's relationship with his daughter are not in the book version.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sermon of the Week (9/7 - 9/13, 2014) Tom Hindman on Psalm 56:1-4

I like Calvary Chapel Modesto's sermons because they are expository and are done mostly with a spirit of teaching and an attitude of encouragement. This sermon (from July) was by an assistant pastor and is titled "Faulty Fear." You can download it here (direct link) or on iTunes. Hindman does a good job explaining that while we trust in God and pray for His direction and intervention, we are still morally responsible to do the right things. For example, it's fine to pray for health but you're responsible to maintain good habits of diet and exercise. Hindman recalls the fiery furnace of Daniel in v. 4 and also has some good C.S. Lewis quotes. I enjoyed it, hope you do as well.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Republic by Plato (Book #87 of 2014)


After thinking through the collection of Plato's Dialogues and the overviews Socrates and Plato, I went after The Republic. I found it less entertaining and interesting than Dialogues but more thought-provoking.

Plato abhored democracy because people had wrong beliefs and would elect others with those wrong beliefs, leading the entire society astray. The Republic is the description of Plato's ideal city-state. Again, Socrates is the mouthpiece and scholars contend that Plato's later works reflect more of his ideas than his teacher's.

The first books deal with the concept of justice. What is justice? Is it simply the interest of the stronger party (ie: might makes right)? Are our ideas of justice simply put upon us by the laws our rulers create, or is there some universal definition? Thrasymachus contends that it does not pay to be just; the unjust get head in life. We may respect justice more, so perhaps it's best to seem just but actually be unjust (does Machiavelli echo this in The Prince?). While the argument ends in a stalemate, Socrates eventually circles around later in The Republic to make a case that it's better to be just.

Book III has interesting thoughts on God's character. Plato writes that God is unchangeable in nature, he cannot deceive or else that would mean he is not good. The Socratic/Platonic idea that the body is evil and troublesome (as seen in Plato's other dialogues) is elaborated on in this book. Socrates states that two lovers must not have sexual relations, because love is a pure feeling of truth whereas the body is base passions. While Socrates contends that the Greek cultural way of "love" between a man and a boy are vital to the boy's education, sexual intercourse must not enter into the relationship or it is not true love.

Socrates moves into discussing who the rulers should be in the ideal state. They should be made up of those containing "gold and silver," whose parents see them as born to rule. Bronze and iron children, on the other hand, will be the working class and these differences will be rigidly enforced. Rulers themselves must receive no wages or hold private property, lest they abuse power; they should depend on the working class for their food and edification.


Book IV elaborates on the lives of rulers. There can be physicians in the ideal state and these should work to kill off the weak and insane. Guardians should share wives and children in common.Socrates states that justice amounts to the health of the soul: a just soul is a soul with its parts arranged appropriately. Health is good, and it therefore pays to be just.

In Book V Plato writes that the interchanging of jobs among the classes is injustice, "the greatest of all evils." A free society of freely interacting agents with individual freedom is anathema to Plato.

In Book VI Plato writes that rulers/guardians' children should be separated and nursed away from the guardians from birth. Mothers should be brought in to nurse but never be allowed to know which child is theirs (sounds like Sparta?). This is because these children will engage in a life-long education and training to make them excellent rulers by their 50's.

Philosophers get corrupted by politics since there is much demand for their skills, and rulers are willing to pay a high price to have them. Philosophy is also useless where society disagrees with the "right" ideals as known only by phililosophers, therefore philosophers are useless.

Book VII is on education, the goal of which is to drag every man out of a "cave" of ignorance. The fact that a philosopher is reluctant to rule makes him the best ruler-- the best rulers rule out of duty and obligation instead of power and riches. Rulers should study mathematics from addition to geometry, not for commerce, but for making war and because learning about numbers upens up revelations to higher truth. Rulers will also study philosophical dialectic. Dialectic is powerful in the hands of those who misuse it, as many youths love to debate and stir up controversy rather than search out the truth.

Books VIII and IX deal with political economy. Socrates compares the various types of government: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Timocracy is a society driven by honor and eventually the birth rate of the less-educated people outstrips that of the wise, so that civil war breaks out and leads to class divisions. Eventually, oligarchy arises where the right of rule is determined solely by wealth.Oligarchs fear the people and cannot make war because they dare not arm the masses to fight lest they be overthrown. The oligarchs' desire for more wealth leads to speculation, high-interest loans, and eventually greater concentration of power in the hands of a few. Those who lose their fortunes work with the masses to plot revenge.

Democracy, then, springs from oligarchy- eventually a revolution overthros the oligarchs and people are made equal. Plato writes that from the outside, democracy appears to be the most attractive society but it's flawed because so many people are pursuing their endless passions. Eventually, this insatiable appetite causes people to neglect proper governing (including breeding at the right times, so eventually the progeny become weaker and weaker). "Drones," which are beggars and criminals deceive both the rich and poor into class warfare. The rich respond by limiting the freedom of the poor, and revolt ensues in which the chief "drone" becomes the populist tyrant. He kills all the good, enslaves the others, constantly makes war, and lives a lavish lifestyle. He panders to the other drones and they become his bodyguards.

(Depressed yet?)

The tyrranical man is the least-happy of all the rulers, he is also the most unjust. Therefore, it pays to be just. Only philosophers can determine who is right among the truth-loving, honor-loving, and profit-loving types of people. The philosopher, of course, says seeking truth and denying the body and its various passions is the best life and leads to the best afterlife.

In Book X, Socrates regretfully bans potes from the ideal society. Poets imitate the worst part of people, appeal to the worst parts of men's souls.

Book XI deals with the immortality of the soul. Socrates' earlier dialogue with Phaedo summed up much of his beliefs, but here it is reiterated that bodily damage cannot harm the soul unless it can be proved that it makes the soul meaner, kinder, etc. In the afterlife, the just and unjust will be rewarded accordingly. Where good works outweigh the bad, there is reward. Sins must be long-punished according to severity. It's from this chapter that one might see how the Roman Catholic church eventually developed a doctrine of Purgatory, by incorporating the (erroneous) ideas of Plato.

This was a difficult book to work through but I'm glad I did it. It is one which I should probably read repeatedly, and really only in Greek if I want to get it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Dialogues of Plato (Book Review #86 of 2014)

The Dialogues of Plato (Jowett translation) are the recorded dialogues of Socrates in his defense (Apology) against charges of atheism and of corrupting the youth of Athens. This book introduces Socrates' dialectic, and it was great to read the original example of the "Socratic Method" of teaching by asking questions that demand logical answers to lead the pupil to a particular point or defend his own position. It is not hard to find what appear to be echoes of Socrates' dialectic in the New Testament, and statements that are comparable. Some modern scholars find quite a few (too many, really) but some of the noted quotes below seemed familiar but I am aware that I'm reading a modern English translation and not the classical Greek. 

From his dialog with Euthypro, I enjoyed the thought that wisdom is only dangerous when it develops a following.
"For a man may be thought wise; but the Athenians, I suspect, do not much trouble themselves about him until he begins to impart his wisdom to others, and then for some reason or other, perhaps, as you say, from jealousy, they are angry."

Socrates introduces the logical problem of how we can define something as right or wrong, "envious or pious." Euthypro defines "pious" as anything pleasing to the gods, and considers himself pious in bringing a lawsuit against his own father for what he sees as an injustice. Socrates draws out of Euthypro an admission that the gods may not agree amongst themselves which acts are envious or pious, as by their legends they quarrel, lie, steal, play favorites, etc. It is further on Euthypro to convince a jury that Euthypro knows the will of the gods in the matter. Euthypro essentially says "gotta go now" and we're left with no solid conclusion to the matter.

Socrates' apology against Meletus makes up most of the book. Meletus is making an ad hominem charge against Socrates of being an athiest corruptor of youth. In reality, other enemies are using Meletus to bring about Socrates' demise rather than charge him themselves. It's believed that Anytus was the mastermind and simply found Socrates' ideas dangerous for Greek democracy and did not like Socrates' relationship with his son. Socrates (and his student Plato) is no fan of democracy, so that charge is not without foundation.Some good quotes come out of his apology:

"And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others:  but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing." 

Socrates considers himself wise because he understands that he knows nothing.
"I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know. After that I went to another who was thought to be wiser than the former, and formed the very same opinion. Hence I became odious to him and to many others."
...
"even the best workmen appeared to me to have fallen into the same error as the poets; for each, because he excelled in the practice of his art, thought that he was very wise in other most important matters, and this mistake of theirs obscured the wisdom that they really possessed."

To him, to live was to philosophise and death was nothing to be feared. Note his comment when speculating as to his punishment before the jury:
"(I)f you say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and you shall be let off, but upon one condition, that you are not to enquire and speculate in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing so again you shall die;--if this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply:  Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy."

On the fear of death:

"For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good."

Socrates did not fear death because as a philosopher he had loved justice and truth. Only those who care about their bodies and temporal passions should fear punishment in the afterlife. In his dialog with Phaedo on the subject we learn that Socrates believes our souls must be immortal and eternal. They existed somewhere before birth and had perfect knowledge. Our life is spend re-acquiring that knowledge. As explained later in The Republic, nothing that can harm the body can harm the soul, therefore even though the body perishes the soul does not. Socrates could face the afterlife with joy because he expected to be reunited with the gods and perfect knowledge. He were see only Forms of the truth, there we will see the truth. (I find this similar to the Apostle Paul's comments of in this life we see as in a mirror, darkly.)

Plato/Socrates see the body as inherently evil. The spirit-body dichotomy is very clear both in Dialogues and The Republic. It was Augustine and the Roman Catholic church's adoption of this philosophy that has created so much trouble in the Church today and a false belief in a sacred-secular dichotomy.

"For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body?  For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost."

The quote above also brings to mind Jesus' comment on the love of money being the root of all evil. Socrates (and later Augustine and monks thereafter) thought the best life was one in contemplation, in reading and studying. Anything to do with the body was mostly folly. 

"I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure."

The thoughts on the body are later refined in The Republic, where Plato/Socrates opine that sex and love cannot go together.

The book ends with the story of how Socrates accepted his fate and took poison, while his students and friends wept at their loss.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Plato in 90 Minutes and Socrates in 90 Minutes (Book Reviews #84-85 of 2014)

This year I have read several works on ancient Greek history and European history through the Middle Ages, along with other works examining the development of philosophy-- including Augustine's Confessions which incorporated Greek philosophy into Christian thought. But I had never read a complete work of Plato, a grievous error which I decided to right. Before reading Plato's Dialogues and The Republic, I finished these brief overviews of the life, works, and impacts of Plato and Socrates.

Nietzsche  and Heiddeger wrote that Plato and Aristotle ruined philosophy forever, that pre-socratic philosophers (like Pythagoras) had been on the right track in questioning what could possibly be known. Plato developed the theory of "Forms," that someone who is making a table has the form of a table in mind because he has already seen a table and knows what it is. If I say "cat" you have an image of a cat in your mind. Time is essentially a moving image of eternity, and Plato's theories on time would hold up for years. It would be until Augustine before someone attempted to really philosophize on time, (as far as we know from what records remain).

Plato apparently thought it possible to establish his utopia as described from the mouth of Socrates in The Republic on earth, with the help of a tyrant who he befriended. This utopia, as described in The Republic, was a nightmare of rigid classes and lack of individual freedom. This argument for this republic was arguably adopted by the Nazis and the Soviets who saw themselves as possessors of the truth that could set men free. Plato's Laws (which I have not read) apparently double down and create a "hell on earth," acccording to Strathern.

Plato's Dialogues was first on my list and I decided to read Paul Strathern's take on Socrates to get more background. Socrates introduced us to reason, further developed by Plato, who taught Aristotle, who eventually gave us logic. Almost all we know about Socrates comes from Plato, and we know that he had been both a soldier and a teacher. Both Plato and Socrates survived the years under the 30 Tyrants that ruled Athens briefly after the Peloponnesian War. But Socrates was sentenced to death later on the false charge raised by political enemies that he was an atheist and corrupter of the youth of Athens.

Socrates was apparently no lover of democracy.  He believed in an immortal soul that would receive rewards according to its good deeds, or pursuit of justice. Since philosophers alone embodied the true love of knowledge, and therefore piety and justice, they fare best in the afterlife. Socrates was therefore unafraid of dying.

These books illustrate the commonality of homosexuality, bisexuality, and pedophilia in Greek life. Socrates was married and writes of the love men have of boys-- he supposedly had relationships with some of his students. A story is told of an unsuccessful seduction of him by one of his admirers. Scholars suggest that one of the masterminds behind Socrates' trial was angry over a relationship Socrates may have had with his son. The author paints these dealings in somewhat of a humorous light (commenting on how old and ugly Socrates must have been) but it's hard for a modern reader not to be appalled at what passes for love in Greek culture. I give them both 4 stars because they are what they are as intended.

Podcast of the Week (9/7 - 9/13, 2014) Council on Foreign Relations Event Podcasts on Ukraine, NATO

Two very interesting podcasts interviewing experts on the situation in Ukraine and the decisions facing NATO generally. These are Media Conference Call podcasts where members of the media or other institutions call in and ask the experts their opinions. The questions are usually quite good and the answers quite thought-provoking

First podcast: 9/3/2014
"Listen to Ivo Daalder, former U.S. permanent representative to NATO and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and professor of political science at Stanford University discuss NATO's role in addressing global challenges, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, and ISIS."

McFaul is taking a fairly aggressive stance toward Russia and has advocated NATO expansion. He agreed strongly with President Obama's speech in Estonia.

Second podcast: 9/7/2014
"John Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison distinguished service professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of "Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's Fault" in the September/October 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs, on the unintended effects of NATO expansion."

Mersheimer takes a George F. Kennan approach to foreign policy, quoting Kennan as prescient (see my recent review of Kennan's biography) in regards to Russia's reaction to NATO's expansion. Mearsheimer advocates for a neutral Ukraine and an end to aggressive NATO expansion, arguing that the post-2007 expansion into Georgia was "a bridge too far." He is also critical of McFaul's comments in the above podcast.