Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

"The goal of tattooing was never beauty. The goal was change. From the scarified Nubian priests of 2000 B.C., to the tattooed acolytes of the Cybele cult of ancient Rome, to the moko scars of the modern Maori, humans have tattooed themselves as a way of offering up their bodies in partial sacrifice, enduring the physical pain of embellishment and emerging changed beings. Despite the ominous admonitions of Leviticus 19:28, which forbade the marking of one's flesh, tattoos had become a rite of passage shared by millions of people in the modern age - everyone from clean-cut teenagers to hard-core drug users to suburban housewives."

"The Statue of Freedom peered out into the misty darkness like a ghostly sentinel. Langdon always found it ironic that the workers who hoisted each piece of the nineteen-and-a-half-foot bronze statue to perch were slaves - Capitol secret that seldom made the syllabi of high school history classes."

"Occult symbols!" The freshman looked excited again. "So there are devil symbols in D.C.!"
Langdon smiled. "Sorry, but the word occult, despite conjuring images of devil worship, actually means 'hidden' or 'obscured.' In times of religious oppression, knowledge that was counterdoctrinal had to be kept hidden or 'occult,' and because the church felt threatened by this, they redefined anything 'occult' as evil, and the prejudice survived."

"Okay, and how many of you have ever been to Washington?"
A scattering of hands went up.
"So few?" Langdon feigned surprise. "And how many of you have been to Rome, Paris, Madrid, or London?"
Almost all the hands went up.
As usual. One of the rites of passage for American college kids was a summer with a Eurorail ticket before the harsh reality of real life set in. "It appears many more of you have visited Europe than have visited your own capital. Why do you think that is?"
"No drinking age in Europe!" someone in back shouted.
Langdon smiled. "As if the drinking age here stops any of you?"
Everyone laughed.
It was the first day of school, and the students were taking longer than usual to get settled, shifting and creaking in their wooden pews. Langdon loved teaching in this hall because he always knew how engaged the students were simply by listening to how much they fidgeted in their pews.
"Seriously," Langdon said, "Washington D.C., has some of the world's finest architecture, art and symbolism. Why would you go overseas before visiting your own capital?"
"Ancient stuff is cooler," someone said.
"And by ancient stuff," Langdon clarified, "I assume you mean castles, crypts, temples, that sort of thing?"
Their heads nodded in unison.
"Okay. Now, what if I told you that Washington D.C., has every one of those things? Castles, crypts, pyramids,'s all there."
The creaking diminished.
"My friends," Langdon said, lowering his voice and moving to the front of the stage, "in the next hour, you will discover that our nation is overflowing with secrets and hidden history. And exactly as in Europe, all of the best secrets are hidden in plain view."
The wooden pews fell dead silent.

"She says Masonry is some kind of strange religion."
"A common misperception."
"Its not a religion?" (...)
"So tell me, what are the 3 prerequisites for an ideology to be considered a religion."
"ABC," one woman offered, "Assure, Believe, Convert."
"Correct," Langdon said. "Religions assure salvation; religions believe in a precise theology; and religions convert nonbelievers." He paused. "Masonry, however, is batting zero for three. Masons make no promises of salvation; they have no specific theology; and they do not seek to convert you. In fact, within Masonic lodges, discussions of religion are prohibited."
"So...Masonry is antireligious?"
"On the contrary. One of the prerequisites for becoming a Mason is that you must believe in a higher power. The difference between Masonic spirituality and organized religion is that the Masons do not impose a specific definition or name on a higher power. Rather than definitive theological identities like God, Allah, Buddha, or Jesus, the Masons use more general terms like Supreme Being or Great Architect of the Universe. This enables Masons of different faiths to gather together."
"Sounds a little far-out," someone said.
"Or, perhaps, refreshingly open-minded?" Langdon offered. "In this age when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, one could say the Masonic tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness is commendable." Langdon paced the stage. "Moreover, Masonry is open to men of all races, colors, and creeds, and provides a spirituality fraternity that does not discriminate in any way."

"If Masonry is not a secret society, not a corporation, and not a religion, then what is it?"
"Well, if you were to ask a Mason, he would offer the following definition: Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
"Sounds to me like a euphemism of 'freaky cult.'"
"Freaky, you say?"
"Hell yes!" the kid said, standing up. "I heard what they do inside those secret buildings! Weird candlelight rituals with coffins, and nooses, and drinking wine out of skulls. Now that's freaky!"
Langdon scanned the class. "Does that sound freaky to anyone else?"
"Yes!" they all chimed in.
Langdon feigned a sad sigh. "Too bad. If that's too freaky for you, then I know you'll never want to join my cult."
Silence settled over the room. The student from the Women's Center looked uneasy. "You're in a cult?"
Langdon nodded and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Don't tell anyone, but on the pagan day of the sun god Ra, I kneel at the foot of an ancient instrument of torture and consume ritualistic symbols of blood and flesh."
The class looked horrified.
Langdon shrugged. "And if anyone of you care to join me, come to the Harvard chapel on Sunday, kneel beneath the crucifix, and take Holy Communion."
The classroom remained silent.
Langdon winked. "Open your minds, my friends. We all fear what we do not understand."

"Some found it suspicious that the Great Seal of the United States had 13 stars, 13 arrows, 13 pyramid steps, 13 shield stripes, 13 olive leaves, 13 olives, 13 letters in annuit coeptis, 13 letters in e pluribus unum, and on and on."

"Don't find it unnerving that Masons meditate with skulls and scythes?"
"No more unnerving than Christians praying at the feet of a man nailed to a cross, or Hindus chanting in front of a four-armed elephant named Ganesh. Misunderstanding a culture's symbols is common root of prejudice."

"Known as the Unfinished Pyramid, it was a symbolic reminder that man's ascent to his full human potential was always a work in progress. Though few realized it, this symbol was the most widely published symbol on earth. Over twenty billion in print. Adoring every one-dollar bill in circulation, the Unfinished Pyramid waited patiently for its shining capstone, which hovered above it as a reminder of America's yet-unfulfilled destiny and the work yet to be done, both as a country and as individuals."

"Even the Bible concurs," Bellamy said. "If we accept, as Genesis tells us, that 'God created man in his own image,' then we also must accept what this implies - that mankind was not created inferior to God. In Luke 17:20 we are told, 'The kingdom of God is within you.'"
"I'm sorry, but I don't know any Christians who consider themselves God's equal."
"Of course not," Bellamy said, his tone hardening. "Because most Christians want it both ways. They want to be able to proudly declare they are believers in the Bible yet simply ignore those parts they find too difficult or too inconvenient to believe."

"Do you see Moses?"
Langdon gazed up at the library's celebrated statue of Moses. "Yes."
"He has horns."
"I'm aware of that."
"But do you know why he has horns?"
Like most teachers, Langdon did not enjoy being lectured to. The Moses above them had horns for the same reason thousands of Christian images of Moses had horns - a mistranslation of the book of Exodus. The original Hebrew text described Moses has having "karan 'ohr panav" - "facial skin that glowed with rays of light" - but when the Roman Catholic Church created the official Latin translation of the Bible, the translator bungled Moses's description, rendering it as "cornuta esset facies sua," meaning "his face was horned." From that moment on, artists and sculptors, fearing reprisals if they were not true to the Gospels, began depicting Moses with horns.
"It was a simple mistake," Langdon replied. "A mistranslation by Saint Jerome around 400 A.D."
Bellamy looked impressed. "Exactly. A mistranslation. And the result is...poor Moses is now misshapen for all history...I mention the horned Moses, to illustrate how a single word, misunderstood, can rewrite history."

"Gold resists the entropic laws of decay; that's one of the reasons the ancients considered it magical."

"Since the days of Michelangelo, sculptors had been hiding the flaws in their work by smearing hot wax into the cracks and then dabbing the wax with stone dust. The method was considered cheating, and therefore, any sculpture "without wax" - literally sine cera - was considered a "sincere" piece of art. The phrase stuck. To this day we still sign our letters "sincerely" as a promise that we have written "without wax" and that our words are true."

"Humans who spoke to invisible forces and requested help were a dying breed in this modern world."

"The congregation declared, "Amen!"
Amon, Mal'akh corrected. Egypt is the cradle of your religion. The god Amon was the prototype for Zeus...for Jupiter...and for every modern face of God. To this day, every religion on earth shouted out a variation of his name. Amen! Amin! Aum!


The notion was impossible, of course...foolish even to ponder.
Her brother stared at the strange machine. "An incubator?"
"See if this helps you guess," Katherine said.
When she was done, the display read:

0.0000000000 kg

"A scale?" Peter asked, looking puzzled.
"Not just any scale." Katherine took a tiny scrap of paper off a nearby counter and laid it on the capsule.

0.0008194325 kg

"High-precision microbalance." she said. "Resolution down to a few micrograms."
Peter still looked puzzled. "You built a precise scale for...a person?"
"Exactly." She lifted the transparent lid on the machine. "If I place a person inside this capsule and close the lid, the individual is in an entirely sealed system. Nothing gets in or out. No gas, no liquid, no dust particles. Nothing can escape - not the person's breathing exhalations, evaporating sweat, body fluids, nothing."
A very old man in an oxygen mask lay inside.
"The man in the capsule was a science teacher of mine at Yale," Katherine said. "He and I have kept in touch over the years. He's been very ill. He always said he wanted to donate his body to science, so when I explained my idea for this experiment, he immediately wanted to be a part of it."
She pointed to the scale beneath the dying man's sealed pod. The digital numbers read:

51.4534644 kg

"That's his body weight." Katherine said.
"This is what he wanted," Katherine whispered. "Watch what happens."
Over the course of the next sixty seconds, the man's shallow breathing grew faster, until all at once, as if the man himself had chosen the moment, he simply took his last breath. Everything stopped.
It was over.
Nothing else happened.
Wait for it, she thought, redirecting Peter's gaze to the capsule's digital display, which still quietly glowed, showing the dead man's weight.
Then it happened.
When Peter saw it, he jolted backward, almost falling out of his chair. "But...that's..." He covered his mouth in shock. "I can't..."
Moments after the man's death, the numbers on the scale had decreased suddenly. The man had become lighter immediately after his death. The weight change was minuscule, but it was measurable...and the implications were utterly mind-boggling.
Katherine recalling writing in her lab notes with a trembling hand: "There seems to exist an invisible 'material' that exits the human body at the moment of death. It has quantifiable mass which is unimpeded by physical barriers. I must assume it moves in a dimension I cannot yet perceive."


"But isn't the Apocalypse about the end of the world? You know, the Antichrist, Armageddeon, the final battle between good and evil?"
Solomon chuckled. "Who here studies Greek?"
Several hands went up.
"What does the word apocalypse literally mean?"
"It means," one student began, and then paused as if surprised. "Apocalypse means 'to unveil'...or 'to reveal.'"
Solomon gave the boy a nod of approval. "Exactly. The Apocalypse is literally a reveal-ation. The Book of Reveal-ation in the Bible predicts an unveiling of great truth and unimaginable wisdom. The Apocalypse is not the end of the world, but rather it is the end of the world as we know it. The prophecy of the Apocalypse is just one of the Bible's beautiful messages that has been distorted." Solomon stepped to the front of the stage. "Believe me, the Apocalypse is coming...and it will be nothing like what we were taught."

"Teachers teach Peter. We speak openly. Why would the prophets - the greatest teachers in history - obscure their language? If they hoped to change the world, why would they speak in code? Why not speak plainly so the world could understand?"
"Robert, the Bible does not talk openly for the same reason the neophytes had to be initiated before learning the secret teachings of the ages...for the same reason the scientists in the Invisible College refused to share their knowledge with others. This information is powerful, Robert. The Ancient Mysteries cannot be shouted from the rooftops. The mysteries are a flaming torch, which, in the hands of a master, can light the way, but which, in the hands of madman, can scorch the earth."

"Peter, I hear you - I do. And I'd love to believe we are gods, but I see no gods walking our earth. I see no superhumans. You can point to the alleged miracles of the Bible, or any other religious text, but they are nothing but old stories fabricated by man and then exaggerated over time."

"I'm no Bible scholar, but I'm pretty sure the Scriptures describe in detail a physical temple that needs to be built. The structure is described as being in two parts - an outer temple called the Holy Place and an inner sanctuary called the Holy of Holies. The two parts are separated from each other by a thin veil."
Katherine grinned. "Pretty good recall for a Bible skeptic. By the way, have you ever seen an actual human brain? It's built in two parts - an outer part called the dura mater and an inner part called the pia mater. These two parts are separated by the arachnoid - a veil of weblike tissue."
Langdon cocked his head in surprise.
Gently, she reached up and touched Langdon's temple. "There's a reason they call this your temple, Robert."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wicked - Gregory Maguire

"I just think, like our teachers here, that if ministers are effective, they're good at asking questions to get you to think. I don't think they're supposed to have the answers. Not necessarily."

           "Father always said that magic was the sleight of hand of the devil. He said pleasure faith was no more than an exercise to distract the masses from the true object of their devotion."
            "That's a unionist talking," said Galinda, not taking offense. "A sensible opinion, if what you're up against is charlatans or street performers. But sorcery doesn't have to be that. What about the common witches up in the Glikkus? They say that they magick the cows they've imported from Munchkinland so they don't go mooing over the edge of some precipice. Who could ever afford to put a fence on every ledge there? The magic is a local skill, a contribution to community well-being. It doesn't have to supplant religion."
          "It may not have to," said Nessarose [future Wicked Witch of the East], "but if it tends to, then have we a duty to be wary of it?"
          "Oh, wary, well, I'm wary of the water I drink, I might be poisoned," said Glinda [future Good Witch of the South]. "That doesn't mean I stop drinking water."
          "Well, I don't even think it's so big an issue," said Elphaba [future Wicked Witch of the West]. "I think sorcery is trivial. It's concerned with itself mostly, it doesn't lead outward."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Address

Although this isn't referencing a book, i read it every now & then to gain some perspective on the decisions that must be made in my life...

(Selected text of Steve Job's 2005 Stanford Commencement address. Provides some very personal insight into his life and current thinking.)

"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that your are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

"Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

Full Commencement Speech here:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

"And dreams are the language of God. When he speaks in our language, I [Gypsy] can interpret what he has said. But if he speaks in the language of the soul, it is only you who can understand."

"Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own."

"What's the World's Greatest Lie? It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie."

"When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed me, he thought. But now I'm sad and alone. I'm going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I'm going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine. And I'm going to hold on to what little I have, because I'm too insignificant to conquer the world."

"If good thing are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise," said the seer. 'If bad things are, and you know in advance, you will suffer greatly before they even occur.'"

"Only when He, Himself, reveals it. And God only rarely reveals the future. When he does so, it is for only one reason: it's a future that was written so as to be altered."

"The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself."

"Isn't wine prohibited here?" the boy asked.
"It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil." said the alchemist. "It's what comes out of their mouths that is."

"Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time."



"But before I go, I want to tell you a little story."
"A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived."
"Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesman came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man's attention."
"The wise man listened attentively to the boy's explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn't have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours."
"Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something,' said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. 'As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.'
"The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was."
"Well,' asked the wise man, 'did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?'
"The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him."
"Then go back and observe the marvels of my world," said the wise man. 'You cannot trust a man if you don't know his house.'
"Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen."
"'But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?' asked the wise man."
"Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone."
"'Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you', said the wisest of wise men. 'The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little Bee - Chris Cleeve

"Most days I wish I was a British pound rather than an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead - but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lover's who met on holiday and forgot each other's names."

"How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is called, globalization. A girl likes me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can leap the turnstiles, and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps, and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. 'Where to, sir?' 'Western Civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.' See how nicely a British pound coin talks? It speaks with the voice of Queens Elizabeth the Second of England. Her face is stamped upon it, and sometimes when I look very closely I can see her lips moving. I hold it up to my ear. What is she saying? 'Put me down this minute, young lady, or I shall call my guards.'

"I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived."

"On our honeymoon we talked and talked. We stayed in a beachfront villa, and we drank rum and lemonade and talked so much that I never even noticed what color the sea was. Whenever I need to stop and remind myself how much I once loved Andrew, I only need to think about this. That the ocean covers seven tenths of the earth's surface, and yet my husband could make me not notice it."

"The flatscreen at our end of the floor was showing BBC News 24 with the sound down. They were running a segment on the war. Smoke was rising above one of the countries involved. Don't ask me which - I'd lost track by that stage. That war was four years old. It had started in the same month my son was born, and they'd grown up together. At first both of them were a huge shock and demanded constant attention but as each year went by, they became more autonomous and one could start to take one's eye off them for extended periods. Sometimes a particular event would cause me momentarily to look at one or the other of them - my son, or the war - with my full attention, and at times like these I would always think, 'Gosh, haven't you grown?'"

"I think I shall teach you the names of all the English flowers," said Sarah. "This is fuschia, and this is a rose, and this is honeysuckle. What? What are you smiling about?"
"There are no goats. That is why you have all these beautiful flowers."
"There were goats, in your village."
"Yes, and they ate all the flowers."
"I'm sorry."
"Do not be sorry. We ate all the goats."

"Perhaps at 21, one is naturally curious about life, but at 30, simply suspicious of anyone who still has one."