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Around the Sun
Around the Sun
Price: $6.99
160 used & new from $0.01

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice vocals. Where's the music?, October 30, 2004
This review is from: Around the Sun (Audio CD)
First, the good news: the lyrics are good enough, and well-delivered. Michael Stipe's voice has always been the most powerful and distinctive element of the REM sound, and this album is no exception.

... to a fault. With this album, REM has turned into the Michael Stipe lounge act, with Peter Buck and Mike Mills providing impotent atmospherics somewhere in the background. This album is to REM's best work as Natalie Merchant's solo albums are to the early days of 10,000 Maniacs, only this album supposedly still includes the whole band. I would expect a Michael Stipe solo album to sound like this -- so where is the rest of the band? There are sparks of a recognizably REM sound here and there, but overall this does not sound like REM.

Maybe I'm just not "growing" along with their sound, but I say tinkling pianos don't belong in an REM album. As I own every REM release from "Murmur" forward, I bought this one on faith, but with this release, REM has lost me. They're going to have to win me back, and if this album signifies the trajectory they're on, that is not going to happen.


Making Sense Out of Suffering
Making Sense Out of Suffering
by Peter Kreeft
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.65
138 used & new from $0.70

26 of 92 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nowhere in 184 pages, September 7, 2004
This book is only 184 pages and could have been much shorter. If you believe that human suffering is acceptable because you deserve it and because, eventually, you will see it as the "birth pains" to a suffering-free heavenly afterlife; and if you think that Jesus's sacrifice makes your passage from this world to the afterlife possible, then you're already a Christian, and this book is unlikely to add anything to your existing beliefs. Suffering will continue to be, for such a reader, one part "mystery" and one part "punishment."

I find this extremely inadequate and rather glib to boot: "Oh, yes, it's a pity your child was paralyzed. But soon enough, if you follow god [cross-talk about whether faith or works is more important], you'll die and go to a magical place where your child's paralysis will no longer bother you or your child." In other words, the resolution to the problem of suffering is that suffering doesn't matter, when regarded from the "proper" perspective. At its worst, suffering is like a double-fault you commit on the way to winning Wimbledon, or the blister you get from walking the aisle to a wonderful marriage. Whatever you've suffered doesn't count for anything, because this world doesn't count for anything.

If you're not already a Christian, I am even more sure this book will add nothing to your understanding of the origin and justification of suffering. If you're a naturalist, you'll realize the problem is a phony one springing from incompatible supernatural assumptions: that god exists at all; that god is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful; that part of god's creation (the world) has suffering in it, and part of it doesn't (heaven). If you're a supernaturalist from a school other than Kreeft's, maybe you'll get a kick out of watching your assumptions and their implications duel with his. I found this book failed to take me anywhere I hadn't already been.


The Passion of the Christ (Widescreen Edition)
The Passion of the Christ (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Jim Caviezel
Price: $6.89
403 used & new from $0.01

15 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Prurience makes for poor evangelism, September 3, 2004
I watched this movie with an open mind as to the charges of anti-semitism made against it. I find these charges ridiculous. This movie makes no accusation against "the Jews" except for that which the stupidly literal-minded or the already inclined would read into it. Instead it portrays the abuses one should reasonably expect when religious and political leadership is too intermingled, and given the time and place, the intolerant religious fanatics in the movie happen to be Jews. I didn't like religious fanaticism before this movie, and this movie affirmed my distrust of it; my opinion of "the Jews" was unchanged.

I also tried, as a non-believer, to allow the film to do what it could to win me over to Christianity. I find it offered me nothing at all. It gave me two hours of a man being tortured to death, unencumbered by context. Who is this? What did he do wrong? Who are those arrayed against him? What is the nature of the conflict? This film doesn't bother with these questions. Certainly the film provokes sympathy for the Jesus character and his mother, but without context, it generates nothing beyond sadness and pity. As I don't understand Aramaic or Latin, I was left to abet the grisly presentation with what I could gather from the visible spectacle and what I already knew about the story. My reading of this cinematic Rorschach inkblot showed religious fanatics combining forces with political opportunists to destroy an apparently guiltless man. What I already knew about the story had already failed to win me to Christian cosmology, so all this film did was supply a great deal of visual detail on aspects of the story that are better left vague.

Sorry, fanatical Christians, but beating, whipping, and crucifixion doesn't prove the victim's divinity, and does nothing to establish the validity of his teachings; the Romans nailed a lot of people to boards, and none of them were gods. Theologically, Mel Gibson is preaching only to the converted here, and for everyone else, this is just a prurient representation of religiously- and politically-motivated cruelty. Whatever dark part of me that enjoys watching a man tortured to death is not, I would hope, a part of me that's close to any actual deity or true faith. It's difficult to imagine a less appealing piece of evangelism than The Passion of the Christ, but the spectacle of professed Christians heaping praise on it comes close.


What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
by Thomas Frank
Edition: Hardcover
443 used & new from $0.01

25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and Essential, September 1, 2004
This is a lucid and witty analysis that makes a small but essential contribution to understanding the contempoary American political scene. If you've ever wondered at the right-wing turn of blue-collar states like Kansas (or Oklahoma, where I'm from), or puzzled at the sight of a broken-down Chevette bearing a Republican bumper sticker, this is the book to dispel the mystery.

As Frank explains, the rightward turn makes sense only if you systematically exclude economic interest from politics, as the right has done and continues to do. This is an incisive study of "backlash" politics, the agit-prop that endlessly flogs Ten Commandments flaps and celebrity trials but downplays plant closures and corporate lawlessness.

Frank analyzes this politics through a close reading of the Kansas example, which he knows from personal experience. It's an insightful and fun read, even if more than a little depressing.


A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist
A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist
by Peter Kreeft
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.04
55 used & new from $4.00

28 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Is this the state of apologetics?, July 18, 2004
In terms of craft, this is a pretty thin piece of work. Kreeft probably thinks he's walking some kind of tightrope of "political correctness" by pitting an ethical "relativist" (Liberal! Black! Feminist!) against a Palestinian ethical "absolutist." This supposed practicing Muslim philosopher is curiously reluctant to cite the Koran and curiously eager to quote Jesus and Socrates. I think there's one mention of Mohammed by name in the book, but without an index, I can't be certain. It's as though Kreeft is so tangled in his Catholic beliefs that he's afraid of earning afterworldly demerits by putting realistic words in the mouth of his character. It would have been better had he dropped the slapdash artifice and simply presented the discussion in his own voice. It would have been even better if he had bothered to express opposing views with more precision and force, but I wonder whether he's capable. A witless caricature might be the best he can manage in capturing the so-called relativist position.
The book fares only slightly better as philosophy. Kreeft shows that relativism is contradictory because it claims, despite its own central tenet, to cling to an absolute truth, viz., that there are no absolute truths. Great! It follows that relativism is not a coherent position; it is not a valid move in any philosophical contest; it is no one's actual view because it can't possibly be; every careful interrogation of a so-called relativist unmasks an absolutist in disguise. It follows that Kreeft has devoted an entire meandering book to debunking a view that no one holds and that, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. At least we can understand why he needed to invent a straw-man.
In refuting a non-position, Kreeft has actually shown that some people are fuzzy about their philosophical commitments. Libby (Kreeft's straw-man) is shown to hold to a set of enduring moral postulates that she's not very good at articulating, so she mislabels her ethical outlook as "relativism." Again and again, her interlocutor, Isa, allows her to do so in order to call attention to the contradiction and deflate this "relativism." Despite Kreeft's chicken-little routine, Libby's shortcomings (misapplication of the "relativism" label, inattention to philosophical matters) do not herald the imminent decline of civilization, no matter how widespread they may be. Her trivial mistakes typify what should already be blindingly obvious, that people don't commonly take an avid interest in the philosophical classifications of their everyday thinking. How terrible is this? Not very. This book force-feeds the trivially true and indulges in histrionics.
The histrionics are interesting and important reading, though not in a way Kreeft intends (hence two stars). This book is packed with insights into the philosophical shibboleths of the contemporary religious right in America and beyond. Early on, he tells us that the enlightenment should be called the "endarkenment" since it privileged reason over faith, and by the book's end, he has connected supposed errors in Ockham, Hume, Kant, and others with the rise of deconstructionism, Nazism and -- yes, it gets even worse -- the sexual revolution. (Kreeft's supposed refutation of evolutionary ethics is embarrassingly shallow and inept; I do not exaggerate to say I would expect better from a Junior High essayist.) No doubt the self-proclaimed ethical "abolutists" in Tehran, Mecca, and Kabul would find plenty of common ground with Kreeft's denunciation of the "endarkenment," and would nod along with Kreeft's call to shun reason and get back to the prayer mats.
Sorry, Mr. Kreeft. The dark ages were dark, and the enlightenment has been better. This book shows that the struggle is still ongoing, and there lies its only value.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2008 6:56 AM PDT


Sonic Nurse
Sonic Nurse
Offered by megahitrecords
Price: $8.98
78 used & new from $0.01

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peace prevails, June 30, 2004
This review is from: Sonic Nurse (Audio CD)
Thumbing through the reviews here is interesting, as we see comparisons between Sonic Nurse and Goo, Dirty, Daydream Nation, Evol, Murray Street, NYC Ghosts & Flowers, the early work from the 1980's ... pretty much the band's entire oeuvre. And I agree, it bears favorable comparison with all of the above and more.
Whether this is SY's "best album ever" is another matter, and ultimately a trivial one. This record should attract more listeners and inspire interest in their previous work, and surely that's praise enough.
What stands out is how the band has truly collaborated here in a way they have not always done. It's hard to hear the lines between the "Kim songs," the "Thurston songs," the "Lee songs." This is more blended, more -- dare I say the word -- mature effort.
Yes, it's a little bit languid in parts, but how long can we reasonably expect the band to keep rocking out like they're 20?
This is a great album for SY fans, and a good starting point for newcomers.


The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves
The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves
by Curtis White
Edition: Hardcover
113 used & new from $0.01

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Joy of "Reading", June 29, 2004
As other readers have commented, White does a poor job of giving a precise meaning to "the middle mind," and he actually fails to tell us why Americans don't think for themselves. He gives plenty of examples of Americans not thinking for themselves, but provides little in the way of explanation.
Nonetheless, a prescription, and a valuable one, can be abstracted from this rather scattered and wide-ranging work of social criticism: let us critically examine our cultural, political, aesthetic and social worlds with an eye to the possible alternatives and open possibilities. White performs evocative readings of disparate social artifacts, ranging from Saving Private Ryan, The Accidental Buddhist, and Radiohead's music to political efforts co-opt "stupid smart" gen-Xers for business revitalization. Some of these readings miss the mark while others are quite perceptive; I suspect every reader will find occasion to agree and to disagree. I would suggest that far from attempting to feed us "correct" opinions, White is telegraphing a critical stance to the world whose absence he rightly deplores. By analogy, if this book were about the state of the culinary arts, it would not be a cookbook of tried-and-true recipes, but a call that we should challenge ourselves to discover the joy of cooking, with all the risk and mess it entails. Who knows what new culinary creations might come of it?
This is an extremely ambitious short work -- a book that ultimately points to a world of thought and engagement far beyond its own pages. Highly recommended.


Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers
by David Edmonds
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.49
222 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Enough biography, not enough philosophy, June 18, 2004
This book presents a very passable biography of its subjects, Popper and Wittgenstein, but only a cursory overview of their philosophical views. I had hoped for a closer inspection of their respective philosophical positions. This is a shame, too, since the authors write with admirable clarity.
The principle disagreement between the two, as covered in this book, was whether there exist real philosophical problems (Popper) or merely linguistic puzzles (Wittgenstein). But what does it mean to claim that, say, the question of free will is a linguistic puzzle? This book brought me no closer to understanding Wittgenstein's position.
It's worth reading, but only as an introduction.


Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Edition: Paperback
68 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good. Is it too broad?, May 22, 2004
Considered in its own narrowest terms -- a genealogy of the passions surrounding the human practice of war -- this is a compelling read. One can see this work as a real-world application of E.O. Wilson's idea of Consilience, as Ehrenreich uses her training in biology to elucidate and inform what is conventionally seen as a question for the humanities.
Starting from biology, Ehrenreich calls on experts from many disciplines, "soft" and "hard," as she lays out her case. This is both promising and perilous. A great deal of reading and study has gone in to this book, as is evident from her many citations. It would require an expertise deeper and broader than mine to assess whether she has truly "done her homework." What I found lacking, at times, was a sense of the contrast between her thesis and what had come before it. Is she synthesizing the likes of Toynbee, Weber, Fichte, Hegel, and the many others she mentions, or is she overturning them? I did not always get a clear sense of where previous thinkers had gone wrong on the topics she addresses.
In the end, this is not a damning criticism; a reader geninely interested in the issues covered in this book will find a deep mine of additional reading in Ehrenreich's index and bibliography. This book is represents a seemingly fresh start on a matter of great human importance.


No Title Available

24 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Organ of the Radical Center, April 1, 2004
How to characterize this magazine? It's a cross between Reader's Digest and US News and World Report, with a higher Flesch-Kincaid rating. Most of the articles read like popularizations of the output of political science departments (with a bias toward Princeton, of course). In my year's subscription, I found it a little too safe, accommodating, and middling, and I did not renew.


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