Monday, August 30, 2004
NEW YORK TIMES: CLUELESS ON THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
The Shape of Days takes on a truly stupid New York Times editorial calling for an end to the Electoral College. Unbelievable... almost.
UPDATE: Innocents Abroad has some comments as well.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
WICCANS FOR INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY
I was pleasantly surprised to find Wicca For the Rest of Us, an outstanding site created by Wiccans to sort out fact from fiction in their religion. Neo-paganism has attracted so much nonsense that it's hard for outsiders to take seriously, and these folks have set out to repair things before (as they see it) their movement collapses under the weight of its own increasing silliness. I do not agree with much of anything in Wicca, but I have to applaud anyone who thoughtfully strives to bring more intellectual integrity to her spiritual tradition.
(Via Relapsed Catholic)
OPEN LETTER: GENUINENESS IS NOT ENOUGH
Dear M. G.,
The choice is not between being an asshole or being a phony.
I understand your desire to avoid phony niceness. I too have known people who appeared nice and kind on the surface only to later reveal themselves as truly nasty pieces. But there is nothing inherently wrong with either niceness or kindness because of that. Abandoning them in favor of meanness or cruelty results in things far worse than simply being a fake.
We moderns have developed this ridiculous notion that a thing's genuineness makes it praiseworthy, regardless of what the thing actually is. But genuine meanness is not virtuous simply because it is genuine. The question to ask is whether the thing in and of itself is good or bad. Whether or not the sentiment behind it is genuine is secondary, and of a very different nature than the determination of the thing's value or morality.
Even if you don't care what your meanness or cruelty does to others (which I know is ultimately not true) you should care about what it does to yourself. Since you love playing with words, remember that one sense of "mean" is small and petty. That's what you are making yourself. You tarnish your soul every time you say a nasty word or commit some petty act that costs an innocent party.
You sometimes justify what you do by stating that it's harmful to keep emotions pent up, that people would be better off if they immediately let out their feelings regardless of what those around them think. You are correct in that it is unhealthy to keep negative emotions eternally bottled up inside you. But I also must add that it is childish to refuse to hold back if you know it will hurt someone else. Your feelings and your need to express them are not so damned precious that they justify being an asshole. You say that one of your goals is to grow beyond the ego -- is that the way to do it?
Am I saying genuineness is worthless? No. We should indeed strive to have genuine feelings and motives behind what we do and say. But it is the order that you have wrong: The good act comes first, and genuineness follows. The first question to ask is not "Do I really want to do this good thing?" but rather "Should I do this good thing?" If there is not honest desire behind it, do it anyway, and through doing it and keeping focused on the ultimate good that gives it value you will transform yourself into someone who does have a genuine desire to do it.
Since I know your special fondness for children, I will leave you with this quote from Dostevsky's The Brothers Karamazov:
Every day and every hour, every minute, walk around yourself and watch yourself, and see that your image is a seemly one. If you pass by a little child, and pass by spitefully, with ugly words or wrathful heart, you may not notice the child, but he will see you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenseless heart. You may not know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him, and it may grow, all because you were not careful before the child, because you did not foster in yourself an active, benevolent love.
Surely the Buddhas would say the same.
Friday, August 27, 2004
PORPHYROGENITUS ON TODAY'S BASIC TRAINING
Porphyrogenitus has surfaced again and gives us his experiences with and thoughts about today's Army bootcamp, here and here.
In related news, Porphy's fellow active military blogger Pontifex is now back from Iraq. Welcome home!
DEPRESSING JUVENILE FICTION: A REMEMBRANCE
Another review, this time of Barbara Feinberg's Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up. The book is Feinberg's exploration of young adult "problem novels," loved by teachers and critics, wearily put up with by most kids:
These books describe, with spare realism, child and teenage protagonists weathering abuse, addiction, parental abandonment or fecklessness, mental illness, pregnancy, suicide, violence, prostitution or self-mutilation -- and often a combination of the above. ''Teachers love them,'' the local librarian explains as Feinberg scans a shelf of such titles. ''They win all the awards.''
Feinberg fortunately goes beyond merely criticizing these works into a defense of imagination and a contemplation of what is perhaps part of the intentions behind these books:
She sees the memoirlike problem novels as symptoms of ''the drastic fall from grace that the imagination has suffered in popular understanding'' and her generation's insistence on ''making our children wake from the dream of their childhoods.'' Adults, she suspects, secretly resent the sheltered, enchanted world children inhabit and under the pretext of preparing them for life's inevitable difficulties, want to rub their noses in traumas they may never actually experience and often aren't yet able to comprehend. All the better to turn them into miniature grown-ups, little troupers girded to face a world where they have no one to count on but themselves.
This review brought back memories of reading what is probably one of the earliest of these "problem novels": Julie of the Wolves. My mother bought me a copy of it in fifth grade, knowing that I liked wolves and no doubt assuming it would be a nice kids' story about them. It wasn’t. I hated it. It was boring: Girl runs away from mean nasty family, sees some wolves, comes back, end of story. But a dull storyline was the least of it. Shot throughout the book was a persistent anti-male bias that was clear to me even at 10, with the only male figures being an absentee father who kills Julie's favorite wolf and Julie's abusive, mentally retarded teenage husband. The latter perpetuates the most disturbing act of the book: He attempts to rape the girl, in what for a supposed children's book is rather shocking detail. I was incredibly disturbed by this scene. I came away feeling polluted by it, and had a vague sense of violation, knowing at some level that I'd been exposed to something children should not be shown. If today's "problem novels" are anything like this -- as they surely must be -- I feel immensely sad for the kids forced to read them.
UPDATE: The New Criterion has a review of Feinberg's book too.
This review of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's 10-hour film series Decalogue convinces me that I should make an effort to see the work. Each segment is inspired by one of the 10 Commandments, and the series was described by the director as "an attempt to return to elementary values destroyed by communism" by asking the basic questions "What is the true meaning of life? Why get up in the morning? Politics doesn't answer that." Here's a summary of some of what the series offers:
Choices are crucial, but they are not the sole determinants of the contours of the drama. The shape of things involves a mysterious confluence of what's within our control and what lies beyond it. The orchestration of events in a benevolent, if still obscure, direction suggests a providential structure to human life. At their best, these films are about the mediation of the divine in and through sensible realities, and about the sacramental bonds of human community, especially in marriage and the rearing of children.
All in all, it sounds like an unexpectedly serious and heartfelt contemplation -- certainly worlds away from that silly edition of Self magazine on the Commandments that J. A. Gray eviscerated in the New Oxford Review a few years back. (If any of you still have a copy of Gray's piece, please contact me.)
COMMUNISTS FOR KERRY
Lenin and Che are back from the dead and campaigning for Kerry!
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
THE PROJECT APOLLO ARCHIVE
An archive of images, films, and audio of the Apollo Moon Program. Well worth the visit.
REVISITING A PROPHET OF ENVIRO-DOOM
Justin at Classical Values revisits Paul Erlich's apocalyptically gloomy and totally wrong vision of the future that poisoned the outlook of the 1970s.
WEIRDO ROOMMATE CONSPIRACY THEORIES NOs. 6 - 7
Michael Moore vs. Sylvia Browne
Claim: American corporations genetically engineer new diseases and release them in Third World populations, hoping these will spread across the globe so they can make money selling the treatments.
Claim: We are not hearing anything about Fahrenheit 9/11 in the media any more because the government's psychic agents are working on us while we sleep to forget about its existence.
Funny, I thought it was because Moore's been exposed as a lying SOB... I guess those agents found me an easy target!
(Previous entry in this series)
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I've almost managed to work my way out from underneath my latest project, so I should be posting here again soon. I have in mind some pieces on consciousness and neuroscience, the intersection of libertarianism and conservatism, and the incoherent world of Richard Dawkins. Who knows, I may even manage to post that socialism reading list I've been promising for the last year and a half!
Monday, August 09, 2004
MADRID & THE TERROR WEB
Here is an excellent, in-depth article on the Madrid bombings, along with an analysis of how Islamic terrorists are networking via the Internet. Definitely the best treatment of the subject I have seen yet.
Relive cutting-edge early 1980s adventure gaming with the latest offering from Homestar Runner: Peasant's Quest! (The URL is part of the too-true humor, for you young'uns out there.)