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iThink therfore iCon

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:32 PM

Taking on a different theme after my summer reading that has been mostly composed of light theology, “Christian life” and fictional books, I'm reading the new biography of Steve Jobs, iCon: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.

It is an interesting book so far that is very hard to put down. The book is detailed, insightful and well crafted in its storytelling. In a way, it reminds me of On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple, Gil Amelio's book, which was co-authored by William Simon, the co-author of this book as well, in its insights into the operation of Apple. There is another similarity between the two books: they both paint Jobs as visionary but also as general nasty.

I think everyone knows Jobs is suppose to be fairly unpleasant to work with (and was more so in the past), but I cannot help but wonder if this book tries to tip the scales in that direction more than necessary to tell the story. It seems like many of Jobs' smart moves are attributed to luck, while even necessary actions that were unfortunate are made to sound mean spirited. If Jobs and a given person have different ways of retelling an incident, the book seems to always turn against Jobs.

For example, the book spends a good deal of time talking about how the original Macintosh failed to sell as many units as Jobs had predicted (one in a set of events that led to the show down between Jobs and Scully, which was the beginning of the dark ages at Apple that ended only when Jobs returned). On the other hand, while the book notes that the Mac was selling very well after Jobs resigned, it seems to act as if that was not Jobs doing. On the other hand, I think an unbiased observer would agree that Apple's good years in the late 80's were essentially coming from the company burning up the last bits of the vision it had been endowed with by Jobs. The book likewise does not seem to appreciate how good the design of NeXTSTEP was, and instead talks about how Jobs focused too much on how the machine looked. In fact, it compares the NeXTcube to a beautiful but mentally lacking “starlet.”

We'll see how it turns out. I am enjoying the book, but I simply think it is too harsh on Jobs. I'm only half way through it, so I'll have to blog later on about how the second half paints him.

Should We Take Offense at the Da Vinci Code?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:33 PM

On Sunday, I provided a critique of a musical for its immoral view, now I'll defend a book that is commonly attacked by Christians — I'm just trying to keep y'all on your toes. I've touched on the Da Vinci Code before, but not since I finished the book last month. I'd like to make a few observations. First, however, let me say this: I am going to spoil some of the plot; and I do mean seriously spoil it (unless you are like my friend who figured out what was going on far earlier in the book than I did). If you've been holding out from reading the book, and you think it might be possible to be convinced that you should read it (Hi Mark :)), stop reading this entry and go pick up a copy of the book. Right now.

Ok, so the rest of you are either so against the Code that you know you won't read it, or you have already read it. I went into the book expecting to disagree with it. I read some of the “decoding” pieces that show its problems, before I ever cracked it open. (I also bought a small book down in the Ozarks on the same, which I have not read just yet.) Let's lay out what I see as the major accusations against the book:

  1. Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene.
  2. The Novel's Claim of Being Factual.
  3. Vilification of the Catholic Church.

Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene: This book is not the first to assert this, nor does it assert it any more powerfully than any other case I've seen for this. However, it is central to the story, since the story asserts that the Holy Grail is really all about the descendants of Jesus (including, we find out, Sophie Neveu, one of the main characters).

The question is whether anyone is actually going to be convinced that this is a factual assertion (and therefore that the church is incorrect) merely by reading this book. I don't think they will. Maybe a few people who are indifferent might take up the view, but really I doubt it. A close observation of the book will reveal something interesting: the boldest Sangrail claims are those made by the man who eventually is revealed to be the villain of the story: Sir Leigh Teabing. While protagonist Robert Langdon seems to be in agreement with Teabing, this is an interesting observance.

Moreover, the church is not accused of lying. Langdon seems to believe in the sincerity of the church's view — at least the modern church leaders' view — despite his disagreement with them. The matter is never presented as something where one side is truthful and the other is deceitful, unless you really want to read it that way. The book does suggest that the early Christian leaders of Constantine's time, especially, changed doctrine dramatically and forced out supporters of Magdalene, but this is about as far as an actual church conspiracy pans out in the story.

The Novel's Claim of Being Factual: The novel begins with a page of “facts.” Now, this does indeed add an air that is perhaps not appropriate to the story. But, I cannot argue with it. The facts it states on this page are perfectly true. It does not claim that the rest of the novel is some how pure fact, on the contrary, here is what the book's web site says:
If you read the “FACT” page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The “FACT” page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.
Given that the characters are fictional, the events are fictional, etc., it is hard to see how anyone could read this and really think that everything being reported was fact. Those that do, will probably fly over to the Louvre because they believe the Holy Grail is really hidden in that building, just as it is in the book's epilogue.

As a side note, the only one of the facts I think Brown takes perhaps a bit too much liberty on is the Priory of Sion, which, as far as I can tell, exists, but is more of a 20th century con man's creation than a legitimate organization.

Vilification of the Catholic Church: The book supposedly casts the Roman Catholic Church in an evil light. This is a reasonable impression… if you only read the first quarter or half of the book. During a lot of the plot, it looks like the monk Silas and Bishop Aringarosa are the “evil” villains of the story. Their mysterious colleague, “The Teacher” also claims to be a clergyman and it would be hard to ever doubt that “the Teacher” is very much a villain.

However, as the plot becomes clearer, we see what really happened. The Teacher is a villain, but he is not part of the church at all, he is the devious Sir Leigh Teabing. Aringarosa, as a desperate man being forced to reckon with a future wherein his organization, Opus Dei, has been ejected from the church, has seized on to the Teacher's offer to help him find the Grail, since Aringarosa believes that would allow him to keep Opus Dei within the Roman Catholic Church. Blinded by the circumstances, he naively entrusts the Teacher with his protege, Silas, who has a violent past, but escaped that when he came under the care of a young Aringarosa many years ago, and was led to Christ.

Aringarosa, is, as I said, naive. He trusts the Teacher's assertion that there will be no killing involved in obtaining the Sangrail and trusts that the Teacher is in fact a believing member of the church. By the end, I believe the unbiased reader will find himself feeling sorrow at the death of Silas and the downfall of the bishop.

Therefore, while the book makes some assertions, which, if taken as truth, are disturbing, it does not vilify the Catholic church. Moreover, it is one of the best reading novels I've had the pleasure of ever opening up. If you read it as fiction, it ought not be any more offensive than other fiction that assumes a non-Christian view of the universe, such as Star Trek, for example.

Wild Rereading

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:25 AM

I started reading Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge, a few years back; some things happened, and I put the book down for about six months after the first 50 or so pages. I then picked it back up on a week that turned out to be immensely wild and therefore only got 20 more pages read before I moved on to something else. Given that I couldn't remember what the first 70 pages said, I started over the other day, after finishing Philip Yancey's Rumors of Another World (an excellent book, by all counts, I would say).

I'm not sure what to make of Eldredge's book. I like parts of his thesis and he is a pretty decent writer (though not a Yancey caliber one), but too much of it centers on our problems of the present being the fault of someone else. Particularly, he talks about a man's need to get The Answer (“do I have what it takes?”), and our fathers' general failure — actively or passively — to answer that, giving us The Wound. The Wound, he says, is then attempted to be cured through various means such as becoming a type-A personality, becoming a Nice Guy or seeking out a woman to validate where the father failed to.

The problem, I think, with Eldredge's idea is two fold. First, he makes the Wound and its symptoms/cover-ups so broad that every man turns out to have it. Second, I'm uncomfortable with how he links so many people's major problems all to their fathers. No doubt neuroses do come of our relationships with others, especially parents and family, but one must be careful to avoid making one cause too broad of answer. Ultimately, all of the things he discusses come from our fallen nature; the inevitable problems between a child and parent are simply part of that larger issue.

Still, I'm not done with the book, so we'll see how he wraps things up in the back 100 pages.

The Joy of Amazon Part II

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:20 PM

It is funny that David asked me if I buy used books in response to my last post on shopping at Amazon. As it turns out, I put my first used book order in to Amazon last night. Having been told about the St. Hereticus satires, of which I just quoted, by a friend of mine, I checked them out on Amazon, only to find book one and two selling for between $.79 and $2.50 for good condition used copies (the books are out of print). So, I ordered them — my first used book purchases over the Internet. I'll post how it turns out.

I have the twisted sense of humor that enjoys things like the Tillich satire I posted yesterday, so this should be a handy “reference” to have. Sometimes after reading the real works, it is nice to get a chuckle at the theologians expense. I never know when I could use a little humor to spice up something I am writing…

The Joy of Amazon

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:26 PM

There's nothing quite like the joy of getting a new book from Amazon. The package appears in the mailbox and you know there is a whole wealth of new information just waiting to be read. I received a new book I am looking forward to reading today: Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline. I don't know when I'll find time, but it seemed like a better place to start on Barth than the volumous Church Dogmatics.

Presently I only have second hand knowledge of Barth, and I hope this book will give me a better understanding of this theologian's views. He seems to have some good ideas, we'll see how it all fits together.

In other book news, I received Sigmund Freud's Future of Illusion in the mail last Thursday. I haven't had time to start it yet, but need to do so rather snappily, since that one is not reading for pleasure but rather assignment. While I know I will disagree with Freud, it will still be nice to finally have read a primary Freudian text instead of (again) depending on second hand knowledge.

No Post Tonight

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:03 AM

I was going to post something good tonight, but I got wrapped up in reading the Da Vinci Code. I've been wanting to read it for some time, and was given a copy of it for Christmas, but just finally found time to start reading it earlier this week.

Now excuse me, I must see what happens with the cryptex they just found…

Road Map

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:47 PM

Ok, so here's the deal. I'm (re)learning Koine Greek. So far, I'm making progress on parts that stumped me previously. I've also spent a good amount of time refreshing myself on stuff I already knew at sometime in the past but no longer could recall in a productive fashion. I wasn't sure if taking 3 out of the 15 hours of my semester schedule and dedicating it to a course that fulfills absolutely no requirements was a good idea, but now that I'm in the midst of it, I think it was a good choice.

The interesting thing is that the instructor taught himself Latin last year so that he could teach that as well. Apparently, he says it is relatively easy to learn Latin once you get use to Greek. Ideally, I will be good to go with Greek by the end of the semester — not a Greek whiz, but with enough knowledge to work my way through it. Where to go from there is the question, but the professor's remarks about Latin have me intrigued.

I'm thinking about trying to see if I could teach myself Latin later this year. If I could do that, presumably, it would make it easier to reach a practical goal: to learn Spanish. In the future it will be a necessity to know Spanish around here (see my previous post on that, here), so I need to quit talking and accomplish something about that soon. This might help and allow me to pick up one of the nicest sounding languages ever to be created along the way.

You're A Poet, You Know It!

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:39 PM

How many of you have tried Haiku before? Given that I seem to be on a poetry streak at the moment, for some reason, I was thinking, wouldn't it be fun if each of you would contribute one Haiku of whatever strikes you at the moment of composition (Haiku, after all, being about the moment). As a grouping, it could be quite fascinating.

Want to give it a try? It's simple, really. First, it doesn't have to rhyme. Second, it does not have to follow a certain meter. Those two things make Haiku some of the easiest poetry to write, from a technical standpoint. What's hard is fitting a whole moment in its confining size. In particular, a Haiku should be composed of three lines, the first being five syllables long, the second seven, and the third five again. This 5-7-5 pattern can be a bit difficult, but fun to try.

Poesy in Haiku
Can be fun and amusing,
And soon fill comments.

Adding More Personality

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:38 PM

I'm a technical writer and I always have been. That's OK for a lot of tasks (it may even be good), but I've come to see the limitations of my sometimes dry style. While I doubt I can ever reach the great colloquial tone of someone like C.S. Lewis, I should like to make my writing “friendlier.” It is one thing if you can follow the rules and make something proper (something I'm careless to do here on asisaid at times). It is entirely another if you can make people want to read what you write.

Part of accomplishing this is writing stuff that isn't so technical in nature. Spending time writing on this blog helps. Writing the fiction that I have sitting on my hard disk helps. Writing poetry helps. But I still need to iron things out a bit.

The point of this entry? I don't think there is one. Just an observation I felt like making.

Monday Brunch: I'm Booked

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:37 PM

I borrowed this from Christopher (again).

1) Do you use bookmarks?
Almost always. It's usually an envelope or some other piece of material that happens to be available. If I plan to mark out a lot of pages in a book, I might take a piece of scratch paper and tear it into strips instead.

2) What is your favorite book?
That is a very tough question, I must, like Christopher, categorize. Sheesh! I think I am going to interpret the term “book” somewhat loosely. Perhaps Aeschylus' Orestia or Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy for drama. For the lighter side of things, Voltaire's Candide. For non-fiction, perhaps C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity or Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

3) Who is your favorite author?
I'm not sure if I have just one. Let's make it easier by saying it must be someone who live in the last one hundred years. Alright then, I'll say C.S. Lewis.

4) What is the movie you feel is the most authentic version of a book?
Most of the books I've read haven't been made into screen plays or I have failed to watch the movies if they had, so I don't know.

5) Is there a book you wish they would make into a movie and why?
The Orestia or an approximation of it, would make an amazing movie. Candide would be good too.

Have some late brunch in the comments.

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