Sunday, August 22, 2010

Solipsism, or, How an Entire Generation is Dropping the Tent

Dr. Smith sat me down.  He said, “Tom, you’re a pretty funny kid.  And you’ve had a great run here at Davidson.  I get it.  Showing up to class in your bathrobe, wearing your black beanie in 100 degree weather.  It’s a great act, way to go.  But now, now you’re graduating, you’re getting a job, and now you’ve got to start helping the rest of us hold up the tent and stop just playing in it.  Understand?”

I didn’t.  Not at all.  My “job” was a two year study abroad in Japan stint “teaching English” while being overpaid to satisfy my wanderlust.

After that?  Back to school so as never to get close to the real world again.

Now, my generation’s relentless navel-gazing and endless adolescence would be merely comical but for one simple fact: somebody has to hold up the tent.  It isn’t magic.  This wonderland we all grew up in is built upon, predicated upon something, namely Other People’s Work.  So, you know, awesome for us that we’re useless and directionless, but it sure sucks for everyone else.

But this is all lost on the self-congratulating Jessie Rosen, author of the 20-nothings blog.  In a recent rebuttal to an NYT article about the sorry state of our “emerging adulthood,” she whines:

We are painfully aware that decisions in our 20s lay the foundation for all of adult life. We know exactly how old our parents were when they had us, and exactly what they sacrificed as a result. We know that time is precious, age isn't really just a number, and having kids changes everything.

So, we can absolutely see the forest through the trees. We just figure it's best to deliberately navigate through those trees so we arrive at the forest in one (better) piece. And -- this may just be the crux of it -- we don't see why we should rush. We were raised not to.

Mmm, yes.  Raised not to.  Find yourself.  Kids change everything. 

Really?  Do you seriously not understand the problem?  The issue isn’t that our generation is taking its time to do things right, it’s that we simply assume that what is important and good is what is best for us.  We have zero sense of obligation to hold up the tent unless, like, you know, it’s like, right for me.  This is the fantasyland rainbows unicorns and gumdrop children approach to human life.

Ms. Rosen, get a clue.  You are not history’s first navel-gazer.  It’s just that, for the first time ever, an entire swath of the middle class had the economic ability to provide an aristocratic upbringing (or at least a bourgeois imitation) for its progeny.  What, you’ve never heard of T.S. Eliot?

Ms. Rosen continues:

Case in point: When I said to my parents, "I'd like to move home to save money to pursue my creative passions in Los Angeles," they said, "Good for you." (To be clear about my personal sitch: they did not also say, "And here's $10K to get you there!") Every single person I've told since then has reacted with some version of "Now's the time" or "I wish I'd done that when I was your age."

Yeah, no kidding everyone’s jealous.  Because the way you live is what has been traditionally known as “the privileged luxuries afforded only to the rich.”

Ms. Rosen lives in an unsustainable world.  When the people who make our pampered existence possible either give up or die, I worry that our generation won’t be able to figure out that there is a tent, let alone muster the boldness, courage, and sacrifice to hold it up.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Speechifying

So pretty much everyone hated Obama’s Oval Office address.  The criticisms range far and wide, but nothing I read really caught my attention until this piece by Marc Theissen in which Obama’s speech was compared (kind of) to Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from 1940.

Theissen predictably zeroes in on the final paragraph of Churchill’s address, highlighting its moral clarity and firm purpose, and contrasts it against the final, cringe-inducing Obama sign-off, where we were told of our future:

What has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny—our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.

Theissen is right, of course, to lambast this inanity.  Even if this were a true sentiment (and I don’t think it is), it is not the sort of thing leaders should be saying in the midst of a crisis.

Theissen is wrong, however, not to wonder why Churchill did not come up with some stupid, unhelpful, discouraging platitude at the end of his speech.  One supposes that he has bought into the myth, that somehow Churchill was more than an ordinary man, placed at Britain’s helm by providence in her hour of desperate need.  But this is to ignore the content of his speech.

Churchill’s address is 4,352 words long.  The final, bracing paragraph is a mere 181.  Gee whiz, what the heck was he blabbering about for the first twenty minutes?

95% of Churchill’s address is an in-depth assessment of the situation.  He recounts the failure of British divisions to prop up the crumbling French line in the Battle of France (and takes a shot at French coordinators for slowing the process).  He explains the numbers of combat-ready troops that have been transferred back to Britain during the evacuation of Dunkirk.  He discusses the current strength of the Navy and responds to objections about their competence to repel a German invasion across the channel.  He describes the superiority of German airpower and calmly, matter-of-factly prepares the people for a sustained bombing campaign.  At every point, he is detailed, honest, forthright, and yet, despite the mounting odds, optimistic and inspiring.

Yes, one might be forgiven for noticing that Churchill appears to be speaking to adults.  He lets them know what his advisors have been saying.  He explains what has worked, what hasn’t, and how this situation is similar and different from the previous crisis (WWI; Churchill slyly reminds his hearers that he was in government then too, and has seen problems like this before).

By the time Churchill’s rhetoric begins to soar, there are a number of good, rational reasons to agree that yes, we have a fighting chance, yes, we have shown uncommon valor in situations like this before, and yes, this will be a difficult, trying time, but yes, we can win this thing.  At the end of the speech, we know how and why it is critical to have the air force able to support the naval blockade at short range and how this will help to repel an invasion from Europe.  We know what British troops are doing to stop Mussolini’s contribution to Hitler’s war effort and why it is so critical to cut supply lines in the Southern part of the continent.

There is, not to put too fine a point on it, information.  And information gives us a reason to believe that by virtuous conduct, sacrifice, and a terrific exhibition of will, Hitler can be defeated.

Contrast this to the presidential excrement of this week.

Obama’s speech:

Total words: 2,713

Words imparting actual information regarding the oil spill: 470

Yep, less than 25%.  And what kind of details are we given about what has been tried?  None.  Only that technology is being used and that there is a scientist thinking about it and an admiral sending troops.  What will these troops do?  Who knows, but if needed, they’ll be able to “process claims.”  What has the scientist provided?  “Ideas.”  Thank God.  The bureaucrats are on the case.

There are literally three sentences in the entire speech that refer to actual things that are being or have been done to address the actual oil spill:

Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming and other collection methods. Over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. We've approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try to stop the oil before it reaches the shore, and we're working with Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines.

That’s it.  Burning and skimming (Why?  What percentage of the oil has this cleaned up?  Can it reliably be used to clean up more?  How do we know?).  Boom laid (Why?  What does this do?).  Barrier islands (How long will this take?  How expensive will it be?  How effective will it be in stopping the oil from reaching the shore?).  Creative approaches (Really?  “Creative approaches”?  Are you serious?).

Churchill talked to the British people as their fellow man.  I know you’re scared.  And there’s good reason to be.  I know you’ve got questions and fears.  Some of them are justified.  Some aren’t.  Let me break it down for you piece by piece.

He’s like the mechanic who explains exactly what’s wrong with your engine and what he’s going to do to make it work again.  Only this engine is a nation, and the work to fix it will involve everyone.  Obama’s speech presupposes that we don’t really care.  We don’t really want to know the details.  We just want some guy to reassure us that everything’s going to be okay.  Because, hey, it barely matters.  Eventually this will probably work itself out, right?  Important people are on it.

Dear Mr. President,

Do you have any idea what its like when your car breaks down, and you’ve got no money, and you’ve got to get to work?  Do you understand that when your back’s to the wall you need someone to break it down and tell you what’s going to happen and how it’s going to work out?  Or are you the kind of guy who has always had an out, who doesn’t worry about what’s wrong with the engine because you can just rent a car for as long as it’s needed? 

Either you don’t have any idea what’s going on, or you just assume that we don’t care.  Neither of those possibilities reassures me.  They both just make me sad.

Oh well, the only people who really lose are the dumb hicks in Louisiana. 

So screw it, let’s pass Cap and Trade.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In which a Christian discovers there’s an Old Testament, or, On the straw gods

First, the funny:

Via One Year Skeptic.

New Atheists loooove the problem of evil, because, since many of them grew up in fundamentalist churches, they know that most evangelicals have been saddled with a very Modernistic view of God.  For most evangelicals God is pretty much as the philosophers describe what they think he ought to be: omniscient, omnipresent, all-benevolent, etc.  Which is a fairly strange starting point since, as this video shows, a cursory reading of the Old Testament makes that view seem totally insane.  So the unsuspecting believer gets caught in a bind since she has some historically bizarre notions of what God must be like, and there’s just no way that YHWH is anything like those.  At all.

At 2:07 on the video, Beleaguered Believer begins to whip out the “overall plan of God” defense as an explanation for why the OT is so chock full of crazy.  Worldly Atheist Guy dispenses with this nonsense very quickly, invoking the word “omnipotent” before Beleaguered Believer can finish sputtering on the word “Jesus.”


How many irritating arguments we could avoid if we just stopped trying to make God into what human beings feel like God would be if they invented him.  Yes, of course, if I, in my near-infinite wisdom were to invent a god, I would make him follow the Hippocratic oath or Asimov’s Robot Rules or whatever, but I didn’t.  The Universe didn’t ask me what kind of God I wanted, or even how I thought Godhood ought to be.  Instead, I was born into a universe in which God has 99 problems but omnipotence ain’t one.  And please, before I am stamped 'Heretic!’ and kicked out of the church let me just say, “Fine, okay, God could be omnipotent if God wanted, but, for whatever reason, God didn’t, and God limited Godself in the way that God relates and interacts in creation.”  Fair?

Next, the issue of the immoral god.  Skeptics also love to quote Joshua or Judges or Leviticus and laugh at how God is so…gauche.  As if life on planet Earth is generally characterized by aristocratic politesse and anyone hoping to be considered for the position of God need not apply unless he or she hails from a noble house.  Good Lord.  What, millions of years of blood, crust, violence and pain and God is supposed to just show up on the scene like Mr. Belvedere and tidy up the place?  Are you serious?

Attention skeptics (and Christians, for that matter): The situation is so…barbaric around here that, in some A-Team style guerilla rescue campaign, God plans to, what, become a human being and get murdered by the religious and political elites of his own chosen people and their oppressive masters?  Why the hell would you expect a deity who thinks that is a sound plan to act like Mary Poppins?

One thing that’s fun about taking the bible seriously is to see the look on a Skeptic’s face when she realizes for the first time that you really do think God is a tribal deity along the lines of Oden.  Except decked out with way more…awesome.  It’s like, “What? That’s crazy.”  Oh is it?  Put the KoolAid down, Sister, and look around.  You know, at this blood and spittle-flecked world you live in?  The one with Darfur and Nazis and Haitian Hurricanes?  You think because I believe in God I suddenly think this place was invented by Strawberry Shortcake-pants and the Care Bear Band?

Jeez.  If there’s a God who is trying to redeem a single damn thing in this galactic charnel house, he’s got blood on his hands, tears in his eyes, and thorns on his brow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Unsolicited Opinion and Tapeworms

Hey!  It’s time for your weekly dose of depression!  What, you thought the economy was the real story?  Or Afghanistan?  No, friends, the real story these days is the death of virtue, and that is the story I tell.

From New York, we have the amusing case of Professor Scott Galloway of NYU’s Business School.  Galloway has the irritating habit of maintaining standards, of demanding excellence from his students, of knowing personally what it takes to succeed in life.

So a student showed up an hour late to his first class and, in accordance with his If-you’re-more-than-15-minutes-late-don’t-bother-rule, he kicked the student out.  Oh, Professor Galloway, did you expect this incident to go away without the obligatory whining and sniveling?  You are a teacher aren’t you?  Presumably you have met people in their twenties.  The student’s email explanation:

As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.

I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.

To be clear, this little incident is making the web rounds because Galloway’s response to this email is a spectacular smackdown.  What is actually newsworthy, however, are the assumptions by which Student X lives and dies:

(1) The most important criterion for making choices is “What I like most.”

(2) It is inconceivable that I, as a paying customer, should be denied my right to “try before I buy,” regardless of circumstance.

(3) Being unaware of the rules exempts me from being punished for breaking them.

(4) My unsolicited opinions and feedback are always valuable.

Good Lord, this generation is simply beyond parody.

Next, we have the charming story of Angie the Anti-Theist, who is live-tweeting her abortion.  Maybe I should let her tell you about it:

Angie wants to de-mystify the abortion process, remove the shame, stuff like that.  Let you know that it’s okay, anyone can do it.  In case you’re wondering, this is the New Courage:

Angie Jackson is the first person that I know of who has live-tweeted her abortion on Twitter — if I am incorrect about that, smart Frisky readers, please correct me in the comments — and I think it’s brave of her to share something that will make her a bulls-eye for anti-choice activists. Obviously, people who are against abortion are criticizing Jackson on Twitter and on her blog, calling her a “killer” and all those things. It takes a certain toughness to not allow oneself to feel judged by strangers and a certain magnanimousness to want to help other people even while being judged. 

Brave, Tough, magnanimous.  Angie the Anti-Theist is a Byronic hero, carrying the torch of self-expression into digital frontiers.  This is how she tells it on her blog:

This is not a child; this is a squatter which could potentially become a child. Or kill me. Maybe even both. None of those are outcomes I'm frankly interested in.

This may sound... cold? At the moment, it's hard to care what anyone else thinks. I know this is the right thing to do in this circumstance, and I won't be regretting this later. I love my son & I'm glad I have him. When I was pregnant before, I *felt* like I was carrying a baby, the little boy I had always wanted. Right now I feel like I have a tapeworm or some kind of horrible infection. Maybe the hormones aren't working right yet or maybe I'm practical.

I honestly don’t even have the heart to snark this.  I was originally going to highlight the selfishness, the navel-gazing, and the obscene diction, but I can’t.  This isn’t funny; it’s sad.  Here’s a woman who was brought up in a fundamentalist cult, who escaped, and who turned to atheism-by-way-of-American-consumerist-hedonism to deal with the psychological fallout.  Angie’s story is just another gaping wound on the body of a dying America.  Her anger, her dysfunction, her deep insecurity cheaply masked as bravado—these are the symptoms of a pervasive cultural evil, a sickness unto death, an eschatological despair.  Ours is a universe where all the lights go out, where suffering knows nothing but elongation followed by brutal, Darwinian extinction, and, with not even the possibility of fashioning a satisfying response, our last flailing impulse is to make certain we film every last detail of the flaming wreckage in high definition and distribute the unedited director’s cut on YouTube.  This is a cultural suicide in need of violent expurgation, or, to put it more acutely, sacrifice.

Dear Universe, please accept this little tapeworm.  It seems like it’s all we have to offer.


Both stories ultimately via Instapundit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Buried Treasure

So says Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

A section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the tenth century B.C.E. - possibly built by King Solomon - has been revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Last month I posted on some circa-10th century BCE Hebrew poetry and there were some questions about whether or not pottery shards were any indication of the historical validity of the Davidic Dynasty.  My answer was “not really” since the conventional wisdom regarding Israel’s history is that “something was going on” back then.

For some time, scholars have argued that you don’t get stories about magnificent kingdoms without some actual historical precedent—but that was the extent of the argument.  There really wasn’t any physical evidence that had been uncovered in the dirt.  Now there is.

"The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering," Mazar said. The city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slop of the Kidron valley. "A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.," said Mazar.

In ancient cities, a vassal state was typically not allowed a protective outer wall, unless said vassal was on close terms with the ruling authorities.  The uncovered wall, then, testifies very strongly to either an independent state or a favored vassal.  So which is it?  Does this wall give us any good idea?  No, but the pottery shards buried under it do:

"The jars that were found are the largest ever found in Jerusalem," said Mazar, adding that "the inscription found on one of them shows that it belonged to a government official, apparently the person responsible for overseeing the provision of baked goods to the royal court."  In addition to the pottery shards, cult figurines were also found in the area, as were seal impressions on jar handles with the word "to the king," testifying to their usage within the monarchy. Also found were seal impressions (bullae) with Hebrew names, indicating the royal nature of the structure.

This is a pretty big deal.  You have to realize that before this week, we had no evidence outside of the Hebrew scriptures for a strong, independent Jewish state before the 6th century BCE.  It would have been nice for the inscription to have read, “To King Solomon,” but hey, we’ll take what we can get right?

Pretty cool.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On Ecclesiastes

When I was seventeen, I went to school in the morning, drove to work, got nachos at the gas station for dinner, arrived home by half-past eleven, did homework until two, and read Ecclesiastes until three.  Then I went to bed.

I did this a lot; Ecclesiastes is my favorite book.

It’s also the one the church has the hardest time incorporating into worship.

The problem, I think, is our cultural assumption that religion ought to give us satisfaction.  Our lives are spent in the pursuit of happiness.  Or, if happiness is ephemeral, then satisfaction, a permanent sense of fulfillment, of “this is it!”  We all want a Purpose Driven Life.

The results are predictable.  We are capitalists, our currency is commodity.  If the consumers demand satisfaction, then that is what we sell them.  Ipso facto, church is business, and, by all accounts, business is booming.  In fact, the Buddhists and Spiritualists got jealous of the Christian cash cow, and now “soul rest” is generating best-sellers and 12-step satisfaction recovery programs.

Which is why Ecclesiastes sits so uncomfortably in our Holy Book.  The unrelenting message is this:

You will have no satisfaction.  Ever.  Trying to get it is like trying to capture the wind.

My father used to say, “You can’t satisfy the flesh.”  And this is true.  You’ll always want more.  His implication, however, was that you could satisfy the soul.  Tame the flesh (or don’t, whatever) but indulge the Spirit.  That the Gospel of John’s “living water” would quench a deep soul need.

Ecclesiastes says it won’t.  That your feeling of satisfaction will come and go, that whatever secret knowledge you acquire, whatever possessions you gain, whatever fulfilling relationships you have (even with Jesus!), nothing will ever stop the Need.  You will have many “This is it!” moments, and none will last.

Well, if the needs of the Church override the meaning of the Book, then so much the worse for the Book.  So when you hear sermons on Ecclesiastes—they are more common now than they used to be—there is always an explicit appeal to Christ.  Like, well, that was true for Solomon (btw, not that it matters, but Solomon didn’t actually write Ecc.), but now we’ve got Jesus.  He lives in our hearts.  He satisfies our deepest needs.

Except that he doesn’t.  At least not in the way we want.  You show me a guy with American “soul satisfaction” and I’ll show you somebody who is successful, with good kids, an attractive wife, a nice house, and a job he likes.  I’ll also show you someone in denial.

Every Ecclesiastes sermon appeals to the one “hopeful” verse in the book, 12:13b, which reads, “Fear God and keep his commands, for this is your all.”  Except if you read it in context, this is more or less a kind of foundering.  The writer has tried it all, done everything, and given up.  He’s discovered that satisfaction is not the lot of human beings.  Rather, our role, our duty, our lot, our place, is just to live out reverence for God by doing what he asks.  That’s it.  It won’t lead to happiness or satisfaction (sometimes it demands the opposite).  It won’t cure us of all our ills.  It’s just what human life is.  The question is not, “What must I do to be satisfied?”, it is, “How can I stop this incessant striving for satisfaction?”  (Answer: Fear God and keep his commands.)

When my father implied that the soul could be satisfied, he made the mistake of believing in a soul.  Like there is a magical ghost inside your flesh and sinew that wars with your flesh and sinew (this is really more a Platonic notion than a biblical one, though it could be argued that Paul occasionally seems to agree).  The truth of the matter is that we are simply enlivened bodies, and so, as long as we await the renewal of all creation, we are subject to bodily longings.  Longing is our evolutionary heritage—life which does not always seek to expand, extend, etc. is not the fittest and does not survive.  Do not be surprised when biology trumps your search for soul satisfaction.

Which brings us back to church.  Christian religion is no commodity (despite the Nashville music scene’s best attempts to make it one).  It is rather the greatest and most accurate human description of what the world is actually like and the communal project of living faithfully in light of that description.  And part of that true description is the lesson of Ecclesiastes—every pursuit in life is like trying to lasso the wind.  But we are Americans, and there are some truths Americans—even good Christian ones—would rather not hear.  Truths we don’t even want to tell ourselves.  And so it goes: Ecclesiastes squirms uncomfortably in our canon, vainly proclaiming to us a dour truth we do not want to hear, that our declaration of independence didn’t quite get God right, that our freedom will not end in perfect human satisfaction, that our faith in Christ is not a get-out-of-despair free card. 

The gospel of Christ is no “soul satisfier.”  It is the engine of hope and the key to living faithfully in light of that hope.  Hope that when Christ shall come, the endless longing that is human life will finally know fulfillment.  That the vain pursuit of satisfaction does indeed have a terminus: death and resurrection.  That in our glorified skins, we will be at peace only when we practice the fruits of the Spirit.

Trust me, patience, joy, peace, etc. will not make you happy in this life, or at least, not always.  No, they will often lead you in to despair.  Seriously, have you ever seen what happens to people who are actually meek, who actually live for the best interests of others, even those who hurt them?  Really think about it.  The meek inherit nothing.  But they are a preparation, a “fitting in to your wedding dress.”  They are the firstfruits of a people destined for a glorious debutante ball (mixed metaphors, I know).

If “satisfaction” is what you’re after, go be a hedonist, or a Buddhist, or a new-ager, or whatever.  They’re doing it way better than Saddleback anyway.  If, on the other hand, you desire to live in light of the true end of the Universe, come to the cross.

*BREAKING NEWS* Millennials Not Psychologically Prepared for Lost Decade!!!

First, the fiddling:

It’s likely, then, that for the next several years or more, the jobs environment will more closely resemble today’s environment than that of 2006 or 2007—or for that matter, the environment to which we were accustomed for a generation. Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, notes that if the recovery follows the same basic path as the last two (in 1991 and 2001), unemployment will stand at roughly 8 percent in 2014.

“We haven’t seen anything like this before: a really deep recession combined with a really extended period, maybe as much as eight years, all told, of highly elevated unemployment,” Shierholz told me. “We’re about to see a big national experiment on stress.”

Fortunately, this is America.  You know, head down, full steam ahead, pull yourself up by the bootstraps.  That sort of thing.  Er, I mean, I think there’s some of that still going around.  Of course I don’t buy into that nonsense.  I listened in college.  Takes a village.  Hillary Clinton.  But there are probably plenty of rubes tilling the earth in flyover country who still believe the myth.  You know, just enough to pull the rest of us out of this mess. 

Uh, right?

Oh crap:

Many of today’s young adults seem temperamentally unprepared for the circumstances in which they now find themselves. Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has carefully compared the attitudes of today’s young adults to those of previous generations when they were the same age. Using national survey data, she’s found that to an unprecedented degree, people who graduated from high school in the 2000s dislike the idea of work for work’s sake, and expect jobs and career to be tailored to their interests and lifestyle. Yet they also have much higher material expectations than previous generations, and believe financial success is extremely important. “There’s this idea that, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to work, but I’m still going to get all the stuff I want,’” Twenge told me. “It’s a generation in which every kid has been told, ‘You can be anything you want. You’re special.’”

Woah, hold on a second here.  How could this have happened?  People don’t just wake up pathetic and lazy do they?  How do you take the grandchildren of the greatest generation and turn them into a bunch of spoiled ninnies?

Twenge attributes the shift to broad changes in parenting styles and teaching methods, in response to the growing belief that children should always feel good about themselves, no matter what. As the years have passed, efforts to boost self-esteem—and to decouple it from performance—have become widespread.

Wait.  Are you saying that I should be…accomplishing something?  That what I do is part of what makes me who I am?  This is starting to sound a lot like heresy.  Dude, I am amazing!  Have you ever heard me riff on how bad Coldplay sucks?  Seriously, it is hilarious.  Everybody thinks so.  If that doesn’t make me great, I can’t even imagine what would.

These efforts have succeeded in making today’s youth more confident and individualistic. But that may not benefit them in adulthood, particularly in this economic environment. Twenge writes that “self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work,” and that “the ability to persevere and keep going” is “a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem.” She worries that many young people might be inclined to simply give up in this job market. “You’d think if people are more individualistic, they’d be more independent,” she told me. “But it’s not really true. There’s an element of entitlement—they expect people to figure things out for them.”

Look, lady.  I don’t know what planet you’re from, but here in America, we have been born into excellence.  Take a look around: we are the young aristocrats, inheritors of the world.  There is no artisan-fashioned pleasure we haven’t sampled by the age of fifteen.  Our ennui is the only thing we’ve truly earned and all we truly need.  Leave shoe-shining and manufacture to our imported servants and sweatshop trinket fabricators and be sure your satellites and cell towers never falter, for the only way you’ll ever really incur our wrath is by disrupting our endless supply of novel distractions.

Oh, and keep fiddling.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reductio ad Zeitgeist


Zeitgeist (German pronunciation: [ˈtsaɪtɡaɪst] ( listen)) (from German Zeit- time and Geist- spirit) is "the spirit of the times" and/or "the spirit of the age." Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambience, morals, and sociocultural direction or mood of an era (similar to the English word mainstream or trend).

The spirit of the 90s may be summed up in two pieces of pop culture: Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Fight Club.  Listen to that song and watch that movie and you can pretty much understand the entire decade in terms of fashion, attitude, prevailing mores, etc.

Now that the Noughties are just about over, it’s time to take stock, to think them through, and then reduce their rich and varied contributions to our American cultural heritage down to a song and a movie.

Song of the Decade

Geez, this song is responsible for about fifteen million mortal musical sins.  Seriously, the She Wants Chemical Fallout at the Disco to Mars brain trust has obliterated the musical palate of an entire generation trying to make just one song half as good as Mr. Brightside.  It’s all here, kids.  The self-absorbed, tortured, love-sick 28 yr. old adolescent bears all on top of throwback 80’s synth and a dance beat.  Catchy, cold, brooding: like Duran Duran and Peter Schilling grow up listening to Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate.  What really channels the Noughties, though, is the feeling, that, despite the deep emotional scars, Mr. Flowers will have no confrontation, no catharsis, no nothing.  It’s as if the last lyric of the song, “I never…” really ought to be extended to, “I never do a goshdarn thing to fix any of my problems!  Bartender?  Another Michelob Ultra, please; I have a feeling I’ll be here for a while.”

Great.  On to…

Movie of the Decade

And, in the movie department, thanks, Wes Anderson, not only for making #3 on my all-time favorite movie list, but also for getting Noughties alienation and family just right.  In Tenenbaums, the dysfunction so endlessly decried in 90s alt. rock has become a virtue.  Familial loyalty has become salvific, and, it is worth mentioning, “family” has been extended beyond in-laws to include friends, enemies, and even the guy who’s screwing your wife (who is sometimes all three at once).  And, in a prophetic coup de grace, Luke Wilson’s attempted suicide scene pre-figures not only the suicide attempt of his brother Owen, but also the successful suicide of Elliot Smith, whose song “Needle in the Hay” is playing in the background.  It’s like the 90s went on a cocaine binge, got lost in the middle of the city at 4:42 AM, and fell all over themselves.

You may leave your dissent (or your effusion, as is probably more likely) in the comments.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A Haitian orphan in the aftermath of the earthquake:orphan

A bumper sticker I just saw on the road:sticker-adopt-lg


Get your own awesome Adopt sticker here.  Seriously, the dogs of the world need your help.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,

In which his trusty fiddle channels the soul of Kappa Alpha

Dude. That English major you set me up with totally freaked me out. She was all in to me "reading more" so she made me waste two hours reading the first chapter of this book Hooking Up. It was way more lame than I expected, but whatever. And no, before you ask, of course I'm not answering her texts because I am way over it. But that's not my point. This guy Wolfe's book was all sounding the alarm because the sexual revolution might be bad for women because he had learned about "hooking up." Kind of freaked me out, you know? I was like, is this the stuff these chicks are starting to read? And are they getting it? I mean, the book was 2001 so I figured it was probably too old for too many girls to be interested, but damn. See, Wolfe was predicting that hooking up might make women unhappy. Yeah, yeah, who cares, right? But still, better if they're not thinking about this stuff, you know?

Thank God the New York Times is on the case. They're all like, the problem isn't the death of time-honored traditions which have been evolutionarily tested over ten thousand years of human civilization. Hell no! It's math and economics:
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent [of males making up the student body], there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.

Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major at the table, said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”
Can't beat the numbers! See, Tom Wolfe, you crotchety old hack, there's nothing these poor little biddies can do! Dude, the Times is so badass! Them and their friends, Bro, they're like a fleet of wingmen all flying in the name of science.
[T]here’s currently a buyer’s market in women who are up for just about anything with the right kind of cad.
Supply and demand, Wolfe, get a frickin' clue. It's like, oh boo hoo let's all have a pity party for these liberated nymphos who finally got everything their forbears dreamed about. These chicks are simply making the proper adjustments to changing market conditions. Natural selection! Survival of the fittest! The future is NOW and it is AWESOME, Bro!

So some yoked Alpha like our boy Skyler gets his pick of the litter no strings attached? I say do the evolution! Weepy emo-douchebag-Betas backed the wrong pony and, hey, it works out better for us anyway, because now she has a shoulder to cry on in the morning when Sky gotta skip class for a High Life and Boondock Saints with you and me at the House.

I mean, this is like paradise! It's like we're all Solomon with fifty Shebas, you know? All I'm saying is look out, though. The market can turn on you like way fast. Housing bust, dude, check your six.
A group of ersatz alpha males seems to have garnered a disproportionate number of women, while the beta and gamma males, nice guys, guys who would make good husbands or boy friends, are left out of the game.

Naturally, they want to be in the game. They do not esteem themselves and are not esteemed by women for their good qualities, so they decide that they want to become pick-up artists.
Okay, I don't want you to stress out too much, Bro, and seriously, like any Secondhand Serenade-listening, Chardonnay-sipping, progressive choir boy could pwn us? I know, crazy, right? I'm just saying you gotta keep your edge. Own it, man. Own her. It's the only way to stay on top.

Check all the links for the various stories. Via Dr. Helen, Via Stuart Schneiderman

Saturday, February 6, 2010

On theological job security, or, “You ask the impossible.”

The facts of the case:

(1) A Jewish prophet is tortured to death for blasphemy and sedition.

(2) This man’s followers claim he is the true Lord of the world and that his murder was somehow “for us.”

(3) They answer the question, “How do you know this?” with claims of personal experiences or trustworthy secondhand accounts of his having been “raised from the dead.”

Supposing we believe their story, how can we make sense of what is plainly lunacy?

Christian theology.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Never mind, I fixed it. With science!

 Why are my followers and post archives at the bottom of the page?

The facts of navel-gazing, or, Tyler Durden: 1 Solipsism: 0

There's another Nero's Fiddle Blog.  First post: 2005.  Last post: 2008.

There's also a, where there is one huge picture of wenches and nothing else.

Google is what makes us feel unoriginal and alienated in a sea of connectivity.  Just look what happens when you have a common name.

I think it was King Solomon who once said:

You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else. 

But the proof is in the Google image searchdopplegangerHi Tom!  Love your bright orange hair, your pasty Irish-German skin.  You must really stand out in a crowd.  What?  You’re left-handed too?  With hazel eyes?  I bet there’s no one in the whole world who is just like you.  And don’t stress it, by the time you’re oh, 25 or so, I bet your beard will finally fill in and those two hairs next to your left nipple will become a veritable forest.  Good luck with the razor-burn, though, that rash might just be here to stay.

Take that, Facebook Dopplegangers!

Saints of Doubt: Mark Salomon

Patron Saint of Pioneers
There is an old saying: “the pioneers take the arrows, the settlers take the land.”  Which is interesting because the best contemporary translation of Hebrews 12:1-2 goes like this:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.*
Pioneers get killed, settlers enjoy the land.  Thanks, Jesus.  And thank you too, Mark Salomon, lead singer of the most awesomest God band ever.
All my theological life, I have been walking in Mark’s footsteps. 
A young fundamentalist, hot-headed, arguing for the faith, condemning all outsiders to the flames:
...watching you torture yourself 
and whoever else you can bring down 
with you... 
...a song took from our souls 
a home that is our own 
we're all born remembering 
but few of us will know" 
the tip of your tongue 
a memory in mind 
just outside of you... 
will you wake to find 
the rest you so clearly seek 
or painfully realize that it's lost 
Lost in guilt, desiring redemption:
with a sigh i greet the day/ i feel the morning on my face/ weary at the moment i awake/ even as i lie/ the thought returns to mind/ "welcome to the rest of your life"./ somewhere i've lost my way/ from saved to stray and failing/ in silence my spirit pleads,/ is the vision lost/ or has it been passed on?/ is there any use continuing?
But I think I know the way,/ I got a promise on the mind,/ and I'll be looking for what's mine/ Sovereign stillness whispers trust in me/ In just a little while/ They'll wish that they were silent/
Keep waiting,/ I'll be right on time/ Keep waiting,/ I'll be right on time
Betrayed by “brothers and sisters”:

The usual mourners attend/ eager to pay their last respects/ say what they usually say/ and hope today will somehow be different/ 'We welcome you into our fold/ We've been waiting/ Always have room for one more/ Will you be staying?'/
it's a time-honored tradition we hold/ we build up and then tear down our own/ now I know why I never come home/ I get tired of climbing up out of this hole
Abandoned by the church:
Your steady stream of throwaway words has flooded/ this already crowded room/ I've lost my taste for the race and the running/ there's nothing here to prove/ all I want/
want to know is what you're waiting for/
I'll flood the wreckage build a bridge into the next age and/ say goodbye and leave a cloud of dust behind
I could go on, but you got the idea four songs ago.  In a church culture that has selectively deleted the Psalms, Mark taught me that worship includes complaint, doubt, frustration, and fear.  He had already been to those places, committed them feverishly, passionately to disc; he had experienced it all, a journey out of fundamentalism and into the sundown motel.  Honestly, faithfully, never pulling punches, always telling the truth.

So they shot him for it.

On the road, pastors rejected him because he wouldn’t preach (as if any one of his songs weren’t worth ten thousand sermons).  He was viewed with suspicion for doubting and revealing the scars he earned in church.  He and his band were consigned to the Christian music ghetto where they would never fit in (truthtellers rarely do).  And yet, the band plays on.

It sounds strange to say, but Mark Salomon is one of the top five most influential theologians in my life.  His is a faith of relentless heartbreak, private suffering, enduring commitment, and exuberant, irrational hope.

Which is, of course, the faith of the cross.  If he had a bumper sticker, it would read:
My boss was tortured to death for blasphemy and sedition.
Here’s to the Patron Saint of Pioneers:

*For a quick exegetical explanation for why this is a better translation, see this post.

In which I indulge my darlings

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I was writing a post on Mark Salomon and I began to digress into an exegesis of Hebrews 12:1-2, and I decided that this was one of my darlings, totally inappropriate for the Saints of Doubt post, but instead of killing it, I made it another post.


Whatever.  If you’re interested, here’s a quick word study/exegetical remark on the passage that explains why I prefer “trailblazer” or “pioneer” to “author” or “founder.”

Older translations render ἀρχηγὸν as “author” or “founder,” but the word does literally mean “one who goes first down the path.”  And so the description makes more sense, because Hebrew 12 follows—you guessed it—Hebrews 11, which is a recitation of great heroes of the faith.  But if Jesus comes after guys like Enoch and Abraham, how can he be the “first one down the path” of faith?  Older translations “fix” the problem by inserting a less common meaning, namely, “author.”  Of course, that doesn’t really solve the problem, because how can Jesus be the “founder” of something that has been going on since ancient times?  The translation reflects a theological/historical bias.  Surely the author of Hebrews is musing on a new dispensation of faith, a new era, in which faith *for us* is different than faith *for them*.  To which I say nay.

The book of Hebrews is set in the context of “these last days", when God “has spoken to us by his son.”  Possibly meaning that post-Easter faith is somehow new, different, of changed content.  Another, better, possibility is that Jesus has shown us the first fulfillment of the promise of faith.  Meaning that Jesus’ faith was not qualitatively different from Abraham’s, but, rather than just dying in faith (as did all the faithful in Hebrews 11), Jesus “pioneers” the experience-of-coming-into-the-promise-of-faith.  This makes better sense of “the joy” of being “sat at the right hand” as well as the end of Hebrews 11 which reminds us that all those other guys died and that was it.  Nothing else.  They did many heroic deeds, suffered martyrs deaths, and stayed in the grave.  Jesus follows their example of death by torture, but “pioneers” the deepest fulfillment of faith, namely, the joy of glory and vindication.

For our purposes, Jesus’ “pioneering work” should be seen as a continuation of OT/Apocryphal faith—that is, the life of a martyr—with a certain knowledge of “what comes next” in these “last days”: resurrection, glory, and new life.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When I am king, tree-slayers will be first against the wall

*Update* I just noticed that the final version of the first paragraph doesn't make it clear that we are only talking about digital versions of new books specifically for the Kindle.  That's really important.  I mean, this post doesn't even make sense without that information.  Maybe I should be the first against the wall and you should be king.

Amazon had a bit of a kerfuffle with MacMillan over the weekend.  Amazon was upset at having to sell new hard cover books at $13 or $14 dollars instead of the usual $10, so they stopped selling books by MacMillan for one day in protest.

Now, the interesting part of this story is that Amazon was losing $3-$5 on every new MacMillan book they wanted to sell at $10.  Their business model reflected Jeff Bezos’ original model back in the late 90’s and early 00’s.  Amazon operated at a huge loss for its first five years, selling at prices well below other online book retailers.  The result?  Online sales became the way of the future and Amazon took a massive lead in the industry, earning $10.7 billion in 2006.

In the current row, Bezos is trying to do to eBooks what he did to paper books 15 years ago.  Undercut the iPad, make the Kindle brand the go to machine for eBooks, take a huge lead in the industry.  Great plan, right?  So why is MacMillan throwing a fit?

Computer Scientist and writer Charlie Martin:
The key is the mainstream publishers’ worry that e-books will cannibalize the sales of physical books. Mainstream book publishers, along with mainstream music publishers and the legacy media newspapers, are actually primarily manufacturers. The costs of the content, in royalties to the authors, are only about 10 percent of the cover price of the book, and less than that for the record. It’s the costs of setting type or mastering, printing the books or pressing the disks, shipping, cataloging, and selling them that dominates the costs of publishing.
Now, along come e-books and readers, like the Kindle and the iPad. Suddenly the whole business of publishing has changed. You can sell a physical book or an e-book — but each copy of the e-book costs literally one one-millionth as much to produce.
MacMillan is trying to fight the rising tide.  Because it realizes that once we do away with paper entirely, “MacMillan” is just a quaint old name.  Digitalization is about to obliterate the profit margins of the entire publishing world.

In the world to come, book publishing will merely be the cost of (1) Finding the author, (2) Editing the work, (3) Proofing the work, and (4) Advertising.  That’s it.  You will be able to “Publish” your own work at virtually no cost whatsoever.  Really the only thing you’ll need a publisher for is to help make sure that your book sells; and MacMillan knows what we all know—advertising in the era of social networking is, like everything else, going DIY.

Twenty years from now, buying a book will probably be like buying an MP3; maybe popular authors will be able to charge a bit more than newbs and hacks, but the era of Big Publishing is over.
Which is actually good news for would-be academics.  Imagine all dusty tomes of scholarly research available for a couple bucks a pop. 

I might actually get readers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In which the mad emperor’s bow sounds a sour, populist note

You have probably seen this national debt graph somewhere:


After years of profligacy under Republican rule, President Obama and congressional Democrats have, shall we say, upped the ante in the debt department.

In response, a bunch of stupid idiots have participated in rallies called “Tea Parties” under the notion that we are “Taxed Enough Already.”  Here is a picture of some of them:

tea party

Now, politicians are falling all over themselves to promise “fiscal responsibility,” lest they be Scott Browned in mid-term elections.

While the politicians obviate about tax cuts and discretionary spending freezes, mayhap it is time for Wiggles, the fat pink elephant--who has been sitting quietly in the corner of the room since the Johnson administration--to have his say.  Were this mad fantasy to actually play out, I imagine Wiggles might address us in the following manner:

Dear Gentle Masters,

You must kill your darlings or they will kill you.  When first Wise Lyndon gave them to you as a present they were sweet and kind and small and full of promise.  The little darlings nestled up against you and made you feel as if you were a kinder sort for you, in your benevolence, nursed them at no great cost.  But darlings grow up.  And these particular darlings have turned into something more like lions and tigers and bears than housecats.  Please kill them now, or they will turn on you, and claw us all—even poor, poor Wiggles—to ribbons.

Yes, massive unfunded entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare especially) need to end.  By 2030 the ratio of payer to payee will be 3.4 to 1.  Literally every four US taxpayers will be responsible for the health care of one aging citizen.  That is the definition of unsustainable.  In California, unfunded pensions for state union workers are totally out of control with no viable plan in sight.

But we can’t just end these programs.  We can’t tell an entire generation of seniors to piss off and die.  We can’t just take the poor, retired fireman’s pension away.

There are, it seems, two options.

(1) Massively and permanently increase taxes.  Europe has a more or less working model for this.  By instituting a very steep graduated tax law, the rich can fund the life and death of the rest of us.  This would really be the dreaded socialism Americans seem to enjoy complaining loudly about.

(2) Gen Y deliberately self-immolates, paying for the entitlements of our forbears, but stopping the buck now.  We pay for the death of the baby boomers and the Xs, but also do the hard work of providing for our own eventual passing, permanently lowering the entitlement burden for subsequent generations.

Option (1) is the way of permanent class war and the end of the American experiment.  For a short period in history, human beings really found out what free men could do.  In every arena of human life amazing leaps took place; children grew up believing that literally anything was possible, that they might cure the incurable or become president or just pack up and fly to the moon, because America was a place where you were set free to cultivate all that God gave you to the best of your ability. 

With option (1) that fades necessarily.  Few will be willing to try great things because the costs will be too high.  Life will be mediocre and bourgeois for all except a small, elite cadre, born into wealth and power and destined to practice the soft tyranny of noblesse oblige.  Human life will be reduced to meanness, in every sense of the word.

Option (2) is what the Greatest Generation might have done.  It is the noble choice, available only to men and women of superior virtue, who would rather choose their serfdom than suffer the indignity of having failed to lay a foundation for their children’s prosperity.  Yes, option (2) doesn’t seem fast, easy, or fun enough for a generation of spoiled children, so I guess we’ll have to settle for option (1).

Or maybe we could just fiddle the days away, and not do anything at all.

Ah.  Now that sounds more like the generation I know and love.

Still Fiddling

Thank you, Instapundit, for this.

Only a few of the captions are laugh-out-loud funny, but the alienating effect actually increases exponentially the longer you browse.

Under the liberal protection of fair use doctrine, I present Unhappy Hipsters’ coup de grace:


The dog’s ability to fully surrender aroused in him a feeling of discontent and resentment.

(Photo: John Clark; Dwell, April 2009)


Thursday, January 28, 2010

In the interests of breaking up monotony, a dash of substance

Michael Mann: Cinematic Visionary or Overrated Hack?

My rule of thumb is simple. Directors who make movies I love are awesome. Directors who make movies I hate are crap.

Which makes Michael Mann horribly difficult. To wit:
Public Enemies (Boring, characters unlikeable [How do you make Johnny Depp unlikeable!?!])

Miami Vice (Like, but only ironically; if Colin Farrel and Jamie Foxx weren't reinventing Don Johnson and Phil Michael Thomas' Crockett and Tubbs I wouldn't care)

Collateral (LOVE)

Ali (Hate, too long)

The Insider (Boring, predictable)

Heat (Hate, good action, awful dialogue, relies too much on Deniro and Pacino as icons, also too long)

The Last of the Mohicans (Like, saved by the soundtrack and DDL)

Manhunter (LOVE, saved by Peterson and Cox)

The Keep (Haven't seen)

Thief (Haven't seen, music by Tangerine Dream)
Mann has ONE film I love without qualification. One. Normally, that relegates him to the crap category with an even-a-broken-clock-is-right-twice-a-day caveat.


He does Collateral so well. Shots are sparse, dark, and absolutely capture Los Angeles in a Blade Runner-esque dystopian vision using only location and natural lighting. Music perfectly suits every scene (I especially love the night club shootout). Colors are somehow muted while still conveying LA's neon gilt.

Granting a smidgen of hyperbole here, I would venture to say he's technically flawless in every single one of his movies.

And yet they all suck.

Mann has two irritating habits qua director: (1) Inability to kill darlings, and (2) Mind-boggling screenplay choice. Collateral is tight for a Mann film, clocking in at 2 hours. Did Ali, Insider, and Heat all really need to be 160+ minutes? Did we really need each one of those scenes exposing the characters to be...exactly what we already knew them to be? And the writing in Collateral is superb; it's hard to believe Mann liked the script. There's a serious clash of worldviews, existential angst, excurses about music (which always point back to the main ideological clash), a sympathetic main character and a charming villain (how novel!). In Collateral, Mann's technique serves a fantastic story. Most of his films feature an orgy of detail, technique for the sake of technique, and feel like a love letter to film-making rather than a conscious effort to entertain.

I am simply at a loss.

And for the record, every time David Fincher makes another movie, I feel him slipping into the Mann zone.

On Cynicism

The opposite of faith is not unbelief. It is not even doubt.

It is cynicism.

The subject of much fashionable derision from our intellectual elite, C.S. Lewis is a large target because he has such an incisive grasp of human beings. His Screwtape explains the benefits of cynicism to a young tempter:
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armor plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it[.]
Lewis is most clever because he recognizes that cynicism is rarely socially acceptable unless it is humorous. Only the wholly deranged or the truly sycophantic willingly subject themselves to rancorous tirade after tirade. But wait. What if our interlocutor entertains? Well, then. All is forgiven; (s)he's so goshdarn funny.

In this way, cynicism obscures the mature happiness brought on by a serious search for the Good, the True, and the beautiful, replacing it with infantile giggles and meanness at the expense of...whom or whatever. A social pressure is brought to bear against the very idea of serious human living, and this pressure--in the form of a joke no less--releases those of us who laugh from the hard work of virtue because it is, after all, so silly.

Atheist-turned-Catholic(!) Jennifer Fulwiler recommends this as a step to finding God:
Commit to a period of time during which you'll fast from all sources of cynicism: give up watching TV shows and reading websites that make jokes at other people's expense (even if it's about celebrities or politicians); try to change the subject or say something positive if such conversations come up in person; avoid making cynical jokes or comments yourself. You might be surprised at how much this fast will transform your heart.
Mrs. Fulwiler assumes I might want my "heart transformed." How cute. And by cute I mean naive. If I wanted anything like that, why would I spend all my money rewarding stand-up comics and Hollywood writers and pop stars and talking heads for belittling it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why reform the prisons when they're working so well?

At Whitzerland, a discussion of privatized prisons based on a report by the Bureau of Justice Assistance:
The basic pros and cons of the argument are simple:

Pros Private Prisons: 1. provide construction as needed in order to reduce government debt. 2. produce facilities in half the time it takes the government. 3. provide economic devlopment. 4. create competition that lowers costs

Cons Private Prisons: 1. may become monopoly in the system through ingratiation, favortism. 2. have financial motivation that is opposite the end goal (i.e. production is the machine so they want to keep the parts working-inmates) 3. procurement is slow, inefficient and open to risk
That sounds like an argument for privatization to me, since all the cons (yes, even #2) are potential problems even in our current system.

Whatever. Whether privatizing prisons works or not, what I don't hear addressed in Whit's post is the question of purpose. So what if private prisons are slightly more efficient than public ones? The issue should be what private prisons are producing. Right now prison is really more like a criminal internship and/or rape-fest. That just doesn't seem to line up with my Christian vision of what internment should be about, namely, rehabilitation. Whit, what does that BJA have to say about that?

Please keep your compassion in a safe place where it can't hurt anyone

The first time Airbear and I went to Haiti, we were shocked by the strict standards for foreign adoption. The price was easy to understand: Haiti is ruled by corrupt politicians who are loathe to lose a major portion of their income by giving starving orphans families. That much made sense.

What didn't make sense was that the process was lengthened considerably by UNICEF's anti-adoption policy.
For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.
Now, that statement just sounds great. Best interests! Individual child! But wait. Wheresoever thou shalt stumble upon kind sentiment, beware the shadowy caveat that liest beneath:
Over the past 30 years, the number of families from wealthy countries wanting to adopt children from other countries has grown substantially. At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather than the best interests of children, takes centre stage. Abuses include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and bribery.
What, you didn't know? You didn't hear about how the rash of dirty, profit-grubbing American dollars led to rampant sexual violence against kind little Haitian babies? Oh. Well neither did I. Neither did anybody. Because that never happened in Haiti, where a penchant for the macabre predated any spate of adoptions. Thankfully, the UN, in its infinite wisdom, decided to make the adoption process ridiculously difficult, because using that paragon of virtue that is the Haitian government to prolong and regulate the adoption process makes sure that any opportunistic greed-mongers will abandon their ventures in the private sector and...become bureaucrats! Yay! No more graft! Transparency!

Or, more accurately, policy that is literally insane:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Mmm. Guido is worried about child trafficking. White hippie girl wants to keep kids in-country until they're old enough to return to their "communities."

You know, that reminds me of Michelle, one of the children at our orphanage. Michelle is legally too old to remain in an orphanage--they're supposed to cast you back into you're loving neighborhood of origin when you turn 15. The day after she was released into the wild she and her mother were found wailing at the orphanage gate, begging Pierre to take her back inside. I guess the local gang that controls Michelle's birth home in Cite Soleil decided that Michelle would make a pretty decent prostitute. After all why not, right? Michelle is young, inexperienced, naive. Easy to control and totally without any other means of providing for herself. The gang threatened Michelle's birth mother, telling her that she would be denied access to food unless she put her daughter on the street. They also helpfully informed her that they were going to do it either way, so the only real question was whether or not the poor woman wanted to starve to death.

I for one share Guido's carefully thought out concerns about sex trafficking and child slavery. I am deeply sympathetic to UNICEF's heartfelt commitment to "the best interests of the individual child." But I have this crazy feeling that maybe, just maybe, the elite, highly educated policy-crafting gurus at the United Nations should reconsider the wisdom of their oligarchic master-planning, and take a good long look at the legions of God-fearing, do-gooding, would-be adoptive parents living in America's heartland.

And then just get the hell out of the way.

Notes: Mike is the sole voice of reason in the video. Donate to his non-profit here and check out the trailer to his documentary here. And thanks to Neil for snagging this NBC clip and posting it on Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2010

So what's this dumb cow's life for anyway?

Jon asks:
1.) Is it ethical to eat animals? And if so, what kind of guidelines do we need to follow when hunting / farming animals?
2.) Is it ethical to "own" animals?
(See the link for a Petey Singer video; that guy is a trip)

Jon says his mind isn't made up yet, and he asked for opinions, so I thought I'd oblige him (it's tit-for-tat, people, figure it out).

Now, everybody knows God is pretty weird, but one of the weirder things he does is give human beings the task of cultivating creation. So, God made us farmers. Adam trimmed the hedges, birthed the goats, and apparently he was having a hard time of it, so God gave him Eve to help him out.

For those of us with any farm/ranch experience (however limited), the idea of cultivation is simple. Each thing has a natural capacity; it is the duty of the caretaker to nurture each thing until it reaches that end. So, in the vineyard, the caretaker does whatever is required to maximize the fruitfulness of the vine, to produce the tastiest, ripest grapes each season.

With animals, the same principle applies. Different species and even different breeds within species have different capacities--our job is to help them reach their ends. Retrievers are an easy example. It is in their nature to bond loyally to a few other beings and to go get things. So, in our human vocation as creation's caretakers, it is our job to help retrievers achieve this inborn capacity for fluffy love and catching frisbees (or perhaps dead ducks).

When we have done our part, animals with whom humans interact fulfill their role or maximize their potential. Most non-human animals do not possess the brain architecture to "fear death" (in the existential sense) and, so long as they do not suffer, experience no loss when they die (assuming that we have done our job cultivating them).

Genesis indicates Adam and Eve were vegetarians. It's not until long after they're gone that humans get in the business of raising animals as meat bags. Maybe the renewal of all things will mean we can finally stop slaying our furry little friends and feasting on their flesh, I don't know.

For now, it is enough to support humane treatment. Stuffing meatbirds in pens is not good. Cooping up hogs until we grind them into sausage sucks (that movie Babe actually kind of gets pigs right). At the same time, cows aren't particularly interested in much beyond eating and walking about 10 steps a day. It is criminal to prevent dogs from enjoying the servile freedom of a trained relationship with a human being.

Cultivation not hedonism; animals are not instruments in your pursuit of happiness.
Fiddle on.

(Thanks Whit; keep it up!)

On the echo's lonesome sounding


I write about sex, I am crushed by an avalanche of opinion. I beg for comments, the deafening silence is broken only by the former Ms. Skoog. Thank you, Missy, for your thoughtful response; I am considering it and thinking about what changes will benefit the Saints of Doubt series.

To everybody else: suck it.
Fiddle on.

(Via Dan)

No. Seriously. Let me go back to sleep.

The story of humanity told by atheists is one of “awakening.” As in, humans were more or less drifting along in a drunken slumber of silly superstition until the dawn of the Modern Age and the introduction of the scientific method. Science pulled up the shades and bathed us in light, shook us from sleep, and is now explaining all that can be explained.

Apres moi, le hangover.

(Atheism story via Jon in the comments)