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More from Conscience of a Conservative

A few notable excerpts from Conscience of a Conservative.

We are only as good as our information, and if we lose our sense of objective truth, we lose everything. We must protect and preserve our healthy public sphere--that civic space in which we vigorously debate and negotiate, agree and disagree--or else.

***

Giving away one's agency and becoming captive to such outlandish and vile alternative facts would be bad enough were one an average person, quietly living his or her life. But giving away one's agency to such a confusion of fact and fantasy when one has power--well, that is truly dangerous.  And it is something else, too: highly influential.  Bad information propagated by powerful people spreads like a contagion, infecting vulnerable people in its path.

I really appreciated the concept of giving away one's agency related to dishonesty.

From a very young age in ranch country, you also get to know immigrants intimately and honestly.  You learn through experience how indispensable they are to making things work in America. It seems that once every generation or so, we have these spasms of immigrant resentment and scapegoating, if not outright hatred. We are at our worst when we give in to these impulses and resort to a device that can be emotionally satisfying, perhaps, and politically expedient but very self-destructive--the impulse to look for somebody else to blame for our problems.  If only these people weren't here, we would be much better off. The nativist impulse is always destructive, always comes with a cost, and never ends well.

***

Seemingly overnight, we became defined not by the limitless aspirations of a free people but by our grievances and resentments and our lowest common denominators. . . .  The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

***

Far from conservative, the president's comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television--that once you introduce conflict, you cannot de-escalate conflict.  You must continually escalate.  

Reading this comment during the weekend of white supremacist violence and the President's sociopathic, racist response to it made me even more frightened for the future.

What is best for the country is for neither base to fully get what it wants but rather for the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we find policy solutions to our problems.

As I said in my review earlier this week, a worthy book. 


Conscience of a Conservative

Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to PrincipleConscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A worthy book.

I do not share Senator Flake's political worldview (even when I called myself a conservative, I wasn't his brand exactly) but it is a recognizable, legitimate, and rational American political position with which one can dialogue and compromise.

But the bulk of this book is not Flake expounding a version of conservatism, it is his conservative critique of the current state of American politics, particularly his criticism of the Republican party selling its soul to Donald Trump. And his criticisms are scathing.

Since the election I have believed it important to work with folks across the spectrum who identify our current moment as one of crisis. I believe now is a time for finding common ground for the common good.

The one glaring absence in Flake's book is any serious discussion of race and the role it has played in our current crisis.

The book has caused me to reflect upon my Republicanism of the 1990's and how as a Gen Xer I held out hope for a modernizing of the party that would advance environmental protection and LGBT rights. I left the party when it became clear that the Fundamentalists and NeoCons had gained control.

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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book as much as I had anticipated. It does lend support to the view of the mind I already hold. I think it was too analytical and not poetic enough. I had expected more of the latter I guess.

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Great Plains Geology

Great Plains Geology (Discover the Great Plains)Great Plains Geology by R.F. Diffendal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this enjoyable book in the bookstore at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the panhandle of Nebraska while on our recent vacation. That night during my insomnia I began it and have been snatching bits and pieces since.

After helpful introductory chapters, the bulk of the book is a series of descriptions of prominent sites throughout the plains. This makes it a good travel guide as well. A handful of those sites we had seen on our trip.

The three most interesting things I learned reading the book--

1) The Black Hills was a single dome uplifted at the time of the Rocky Mountains uplift and then weathered down to create the peaks and valleys.

2) At Scottsbluff National Monument is not an uplift. The "original" floor of the plains was the top of the bluff. The plain lying far below is in fact erosion from the Platte River. The author said to stand atop the bluff and realize the unimaginable amount of sediment that has been washed down river and ultimately to the Gulf. Maybe Louisiana was made from Nebraska?

3) The Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico and Texas are ancient coral reefs. Carlsbad Caverns is the remnant of those reefs.

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The Birth of the Modern

The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830 by Paul Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Epic, magisterial, even overwhelming. Difficult for me to imagine that one intellect could so beautifully filter so much information through a well-told story. I've read two other of Johnson's histories (one on Christianity and one on America) and admired them both, particularly for their fresh insights into familiar terrain. But the sheer scope and volume of this book is difficult to comprehend.

There are times when it bogs down in too much detail--I remember skimming past the developments in divorce custom and law. But there are also moments of revelation--he gives one of the best discussions I've ever read of Immanuel Kant.

His great skill is tying together diverse developments--in politics, music, literature, technology, philosophy, printing, etc. and coherently drawing out their themes and influences. Great figures stride across these pages--Jackson, Wellington, Chateaubriand, Wordsworth, etc.--but also ordinary folks revealed in their letters and diaries.

Quite simply, the book amazes me.

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Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians

Becoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global ChristiansBecoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians by Bruce G. Epperly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will now be my go-to introduction for spiritual practices. It is a lively discussion of spirituality rooted in Christianity but informed by spiritual practices of other faith traditions. And a handy guide for spirituality in progressive church.

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After the Wrath of God

After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American ReligionAfter the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best written non-fiction books I've read. This is the author's first book, so I look forward to reading what he writes in the future. According to his bio at Boston University his next two book projects look equally as interesting.

This book is about the religious rhetoric used during the early years of the AIDS crisis and how that rhetoric shaped public policy. This is a fascinating study exploring how left, right, and center developed moral language to grapple with the crisis. The study refutes any reductionistic notions of religious conservatives versus secular leftists.

The final two chapters discuss Cardinal O'Connor and ACT UP's confrontation of him. Reading those chapters made me very angry at the Cardinal.

In the final section the author explores how AIDS and gay activists developed their own religious and moral language, but he left me wanting more. I hope that comes in subsequent books.

Also, while he does treat of progressive Christian responses, they don't get as much discussion as conservative responses. This is probably because conservative responses dominated much of the public health debates at the time.

Petro is a keen intellect and engaging writer.

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The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable to read a science fiction novel where the Cultural Revolution is the background. Also one so full of actual science and not just a fantasy set in space. The long section during which the protagonist plays a video game that serves as exposition wasn't fully my cup-of-tea, but I did rush through the book, intrigued by where it was going. And I'll likely read the other two in this trilogy.

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