Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts Concerning Music

This post was originally published on the blog The Catholic Socratic Forum. It was re-posted here with permission from its author, John. I hope you enjoy!

Live Music vs. Recordings: My Thoughts

Just this past Sunday, I played in a strings ensemble concert. We’re a mixed group; some of us are professionals while some are not. But the magic that all of us created there—for just the space of an hour—was indescribable. We really cast a spell there.

And this magic didn't just happen. We practiced our music until it became magic. We worked it until it became perfect so that we could create something sublime.

But recordings can be played over and over again at the push of a button. Recordings are certainly very convenient and wonderful, and without them we would never be able to listen to old recitals or violin concertos or any other music that we would otherwise be unable to experience.

The things that I am going to say are really just my own thoughts. I am not saying that recordings are bad, but I think that live performances are preferable to recordings. When you go to a concert, you not only get to hear the music as it’s being produced, you see the musicians as they are playing, and form a sort of connection to them. If you are a musician, you are producing the music yourself, which is an even more wonderful thing.

On the other hand, recordings are static. The process has already taken place, and the music is now packaged frozen, just waiting to be microwaved. While this is very convenient, it’s certainly not as good as having it fresh from the garden.  

I have another objection to recordings. They can be an occasion for musicians with little or no playing talent to impress the world, and I’m sure they have. All that anyone has to do to make a spotless recording is to put lots of little bits of music together with the aid of a computer—plus the necessary equipment. (A few people don’t even try to sing anymore. All they have to do is talk into a computer and bend their voice pitch to particular frequencies.) Still, a great many recordings are produced by very talented musicians, and my objection is only that they can be done by people with little or no musical talent; I’m sure they have been. (If I'm wrong about anything in this paragraph, please correct me.)

This entire article is just an attempt to voice my somewhat embryonic thoughts on this subject (thoughts that might not all be right). I must admit that I don’t know much about the ways that live music can be better than recorded music. I also admit that I listen to a great quantity of recorded music all the time; I love it. In fact, I listen to more recordings than live music. Either one is good in its own way, but perhaps our culture makes music too easy, like frozen food.

If you have thoughts on this, please tell me. This is going to be a very interesting topic for discussion.

Photo by Derek Gleeson, via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful

I am thankful for my job. A job that makes just enough for me and my family to squeak by and yet employment that is both honorable and that has a future.

I am thankful for my home. It is smaller than 700 square feet, with only two bedrooms for five people. It has brown shag carpeting from the eighties on the floors, a finicky septic tank, no yard, and obnoxious rent. Yet it is still a home.

I am thankful for my family. For my wife, especially, who always sees the potential in me that I never do, for my kids, who love me with abandon. For my parents and siblings, who give my life texture and tension,  insight and humor.

I am thankful for my country. A country with mediocre leadership and a shaky moral compass, skewed logic and overwrought emotions, but a country nonetheless.

I am thankful for a world that continues to spin, grow food, get warmer and colder, make snow, erupt, spew, destroy and renew. Weather that continues to startle and amaze, creatures and geology that continue to manifest themselves.

I am thankful for my faith. A faith that is only made stronger and more vocal in times of trial and crisis such as these. Catholicism has never been about the easy path, but it is about the good one.

And I am thankful for my God, the Maker and Sustainer of my job, home, family, country, world, and faith. Without Him I would be nothing. Literally.

Happy Thanksgiving, to all of my readers and everyone else.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Minor Epiphany

Inspirational. Timeless. The One you've been waiting for. These words/phrases in your experience probably best describe a Disney direct-to-video movie trailer. I recently saw one particularly egregious example, involving Tinkerbell and a land full of other similar fairies that nearly made my Dr. Pepper go out my nose in amusement when the narrator made the announcement: "The Wait Is Over." I was not aware I had been waiting. Need creation taken to the extreme, I suppose. Then again, how else is Disney supposed to sell such saccharine vacuity if not by creating a need?

It is intriguing, and sad, that such hyperbole is applied today for the basest of reasons, i.e., to sell product that generally does not live up to the hype that is heaped upon it. Hyperbole loses all of its impact when used liberally, as any regular viewer of Disney trailers is painfully aware. Saving your adulation for the right moment and the right thing will make others perk up and listen when yo have something real to rave about.

Which is why I hope I have saved my adulation for the right moment here, because I found something tonight that I consider truly remarkable. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of essaymanship that I have read in a great while. It is, dare I say, Inspirational and Timeless. And maybe the one you've been waiting for, if you are discouraged by evil and boneheadedness.

The article is written by a woman named Susannah Black, and it concerns the joy (and the necessity, by odd extension) of writing. Writing in order to philosophize, writing in order to cheer, writing in order to convince. Her style is simple, but powerful. In many ways it was an eye opener for me, because everything she writes about in this piece is concerned with why I started this blog in the first place. She meaningfully and convincingly ties thought to action, the written word to impetus, the power of speech to the ability to move. 
She ties God and a sinful world together, accurately describes their proper relationship to each other, and proceeds to infuse that relationship with a kind of whimsical joy. Her writing treads lightly, because she realizes that writing that is true and good is not of this world.

I hope I am not over-hyping her work, but it quite honestly almost brought me to tears in that it hit so close to home for me. Take a read for yourself and tell me what you think.

Photo by Antonio Litterio, via Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Over, But Not Really

In chapter eight of the first book of Samuel, the people of Israel cry out to the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king to rule over them, instead of the direct rule of God through His prophet. In an odd twist, God does not refuse the request of the Israelites; rather, He has Samuel appoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Within three generations the kingship of Israel degenerates into a crushing burden on the backs of the Jews, an oppressive regime of over-taxation, corruption, and debauchery unwilling to answer to God's call for change. God had given the people what they wanted: the glamour and pomp of a secular king, the rule of a human being, a "messiah" of sorts to wave his hand and right the wrongs of the people. It did not take long for the humanity of Israel's kings to show its ugly side. In the act of giving the people what they desired, God let them unwittingly enact His own vengeance on them..

This scenario seems all too familiar.

In 2008, America craved a change in its leadership, in its policies, and in its general direction. John McCain, stodgy and inarticulate, was seen as merely the continuation of eight long years of George Bush's perceived presidential ineptitude. America fell hard for Barack Obama, a dynamic and inspiring figure whose freshness and youthful attitude led to McCain's obliteration at the polls. Democratic rule dominated Washington and the Republican party was left for dead. Things would get done, greedy people would be punished, jobs would be created, the environment would be saved from human ravages. It was a new golden age.

Close to four years passed. Obama's administration bypassed, ignored, or downright contradicted established American law on numerous occasions. Guns went to Mexican drug lords on Obama's watch. Diplomats and SEALS died while Washington watched from afar. The economy continued to sputter and struggle. Money applied to green energy companies disappeared in multiple bankruptcies. A corrupt attorney general chose to prosecute peaceful groups opposed to his agenda, whilst leaving other known criminals to live free. The list goes on and on.

And yet, at the end of the day as we all know by now, Barack Obama was not only reelected as president, he was reelected with a rock-solid margin of victory. Mitt Romney did not just lose, Obama won. Big. Again.

I was listening to the radio Tuesday night after the election results came in, and there was all manner of finger-pointing. Some blamed Obama's ground game being more formidable than originally thought, others blamed a Republican candidate who was not as articulate expressing conservative ideals as a Ronald Reagan might have been. And then the funniest and saddest (in my opinion) excuse for the loss came from a Republican operative who blamed everything on Senator wannabes Mourdock and Akin's abortion remarks. The GOP leadership almost immediately began calling for a toned down approach to abortion and social issues in their campaigns, essentially blaming their electoral hemorrhaging on a "misguided" attempt to hold the high moral ground.

Essentially that view is correct. But in expressing that view Republicans have made a diagnosis of themselves that even they do not understand. What the Republican Party does not seem to realize is that this election had little to do with a political process failure, a procedural issue that can be re-calibrated in the next election. They are correct in thinking that the abortion remarks brought down both Mourdock's and Akins' campaigns, and maybe Romney's by extension, but their solution to the problem is their own indictment. Barack Obama won a second term because the people are more willing to put their faith in a man than in a God. Obama won because too many of the people who stand for the sacredness of life, marriage, and sacrifice (the proper building blocks of a society) were not only silent but in many cases complicit. The people of God could easily pass for people of the world, and they voted en masse in the guise of the latter.

Catholics hold the most blame in this regard. A long-standing bulwark against the slaughter of innocent people, the leadership of the Catholic Church has grown soft and complacent. There is a good case to be made that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was in large part responsible for the passage of Obamacare, in their starry-eyed frame of mind after hearing the words "universal healthcare." Catholic priests have failed to adequately express from the pulpit the evil of abortion and its corrupting influence on society's moral structure. The number of Catholics using birth control is statistically indistinguishable from secular society's numbers, despite the fact that chemical and mechanical birth control is expressly forbidden by the Church. Divorce rates are similar. The media and entertainment industries continue to barrel headlong towards a fully homosexually integrated culture, with nary a peep from the same Catholic Church. Far from being the light of the world, let alone the light to the United States, Catholics have devolved into a socially embarrassing version of fundamentalist Christian.

So yes, the Republicans did lose the election in part because of some of their members' remarks about abortion, but not because opposing abortion is a bad platform. Rather, it is because the morals of the American people have evaporated to such a degree that abortion is now a politically losing issue. And to stand for something like the ending of abortion is a career-ending move, so Republicans naturally gravitate towards the mushy lukewarm middle. It is so much easier to compromise one's moral position than to possess a spine and lose.

Democrats in many ways now hold a distinct political advantage. Their party platform is now unambiguous in its support of absolute evils (abortion and the glorification of homosexuality) and people I think gravitate towards absolutes. Especially when those absolutes are as pleasure-seeking and selfish as those the Democrats espouse, and especially in the absence of a strong witness to the truth. Obama's ground game was not merely a GOTV (get out the vote) effort, it was a systematic attempt to create both material and moral dependency on his administration. If you don't believe me, take a look at the following video. This woman is bought and paid for.

The truth is that Obama is an elected official. We the people put him there, maybe not by directly voting for him but quite possibly by not evangelizing the person standing next to us in the grocery checkout line. Obama's corrupt views and morally oppressive policies are a reflection of our lives as citizens. Before we complain that he stands for a tyrannical top-down approach towards the citizens he is meant to govern, we need look no farther than ourselves for the blessing he got to proceed.

So I urge all those people who still refuse to participate in the group-think of secularism to consider two things: number one, realize that we do not have a political problem on our hands, so much as we have a serious moral and social corruption problem; and two, live your life according to the actual dictates of your faith in a visible manner. Especially after this election is no time to hide what we believe, but to make absolutely sure that the truth is on display for the next four years in a way that it hasn't been in this country for many years.

It is time to pick a side. Not a party, not a candidate, but a clearly delineated moral side based on absolute truths. Proclaiming the truth will not necessarily win elections in the short run, but it may win hearts. A democracy (or representative republic) is only as good as the people that constitute it, and when the people are corrupt their leaders will necessarily follow. However, the opposite is also true. When enough people come to realize the true scope and evil of abortion, they will demand its censure by law while simultaneously eliminating the demand for it. When enough people come to grips with the fact that homosexuality erodes the core of a healthy and growing society, then the "gay marriage" argument will cease to hold any political water. And so on...

None of these good things will exist, however, if the truth is not shouted from every rooftop regardless of who we think is listening. I think we failed this time around. Let's not fail again.

Photo by Roxanne Jo Mitchell, via Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Libertarian Vs. Christian

A brilliant expose of the problems with the libertarian solution to the American social and economic crisis.

Photo by Kowloonese, via Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Nazis...I Hate These Guys."

Nazis. Nobody likes them. They have to be one of the most hated, reviled, condemned groups on the planet. The takeover of Europe and parts of Russia and Africa by brutal attack, the horrifying mass extermination of the Jews, the extreme authoritarian iron rule of millions of people, and the terror brought down upon the rest of the world have created history's worst possible nightmare group of people. No wonder they are so universally upheld as the benchmark of evil. In short, as an Indiana Jones would say in echoing the world's sentiments: "Nazis... I hate these guys."

Because of this widespread derision and hatred, to be called a Nazi has become a shorthand label of politicians and journalists to aid in the obliteration of the opposition party. Or rather in particular, it has become a favorite mainly of Democrats and their hangers-on in the United States. This election cycle has seen some particularly egregious examples of this reckless name-calling.

So let's explore this name-calling a bit.

Its most direct effect, I would think, is the same effect that shouting "racism" ad nauseam has had in this same presidential race. The words "racism" and "racist" have had their true ugly meanings drained away in the rush to demonize the other side faster than they can demonize you. So to with Nazism. As Larry Elder says in the aforementioned article, "By calling political opponents 'fascists' because of policy disagreements, Democrats trivialize a regime responsible for exterminating 6 million Jews in a war that resulted in the deaths of over 50 million people." "Nazi" becomes equivalent to simply "anyone who disagrees with us," just as the word "racist" becomes an equivalent to "anyone who says otherwise than us."

But I might point out that there is more going on here than simple trivialization. There is also over-simplification and hypocrisy.

It might be instructive to look at who the Nazis really were. The caricature that the modern American draws of Nazis is usually just as silly and stupid as the caricature drawn of them during World War Two by the Allies. The Nazis were real people, with real ideas, with a real effect on history and a real heritage from earlier history. They were not some purely evil force from hell unleashed upon the world in a vacuum. They emerged in a historical context and were, I might add, in large part embraced by the German people as a political and social step forward.

The Nazis were a German political party that really came into their own after the effects of the American stock market crash reverberated around the world,  helping to destabilize Germany's economy for the second time in a decade. Germany was suffering under the crushing load of war reparations imposed upon her by the victorious powers, embarrassed by an emasculated military, and plagued by political instability caused in large part by a strange power vacuum left by the First World War and the subsequent regime change. The time in Germany was ripe for a strong leader to seize the opportunity, and a man named Adolf Hitler did just that. 

Hitler and his party, the National Socialist party (or Nazi, as it was abbreviated), came to power between 1932 and 1933, promising a renewed Germany with a renewed military and most importantly, a renewed sense of purpose. The Nazis came to power in the midst of an economic and social crisis of which they made sure to took full advantage. Certain groups (communists, Jews, and Catholics being examples) were suppressed and harassed for their beliefs or ethnicity. Whole industries were placed under state supervision or outright control. Political power was consolidated, centralized.

War became the new normal for Germany's new regime. Breaking promises, lying to other powers, invading other nations without sufficient reason, imposing harsh regulations, stymieing travel and transport also became the norm. Killing campaigns commenced, in an effort to rid the world of inconvenient or imperfect social groups. And all this in the name of the new ideology. Nazism was a worldview, a cult. Its leaders were dedicated to its survival and perpetuation, and carried out their work with efficiency and brutality.

So I come back to the question of American politicians accusing one another of being Nazis, and I must make a series of blunt observations, the first of which is this: If Democratic politicians were the least bit self-reflective, and I think some of them are, then they would realize that in practice their own party platform embraces many of the things that they accuse Republicans of believing. In other words, many things that are perennial favorites of the Democratic Party were things the Nazis espoused .

One would be the use of a crisis in order to enact government-empowering legislation against the citizenry. I can hold up numerous examples of mass shootings being used as political fodder for anti-gun lobbyists, bank failures and economic collapse as an excuse to take over various industries (most notably the Dodd-Frank legislation, the Auto Industry "bailout," and Obamacare), and intimidation of various groups for opposing said legislation (e.g. the HHS contraception and abortion mandate targeted against the Catholic Church, the media harassment of the Tea Party.) Also, I could note here the disinterest of the Obama administration in prosecuting groups like the New Black Panthers, who exist to harass and intimidate especially at voting places. Lastly, but certainly not least, I could mention not only that the Democratic Party has always been the friend of legalized and permissive abortion, but that they have now officially enshrined it in their party platform. Yes, the extermination of a particular social group, the unborn and somehow unfit to live, is now on the Democratic Party agenda.

And all this in the name of "progress."

However, this observation should not be understood apart from my second observation, which is that if Republican politicians were also the least bit self-reflective, which some of them must be, then they would also realize that in practice their policies and attitudes also reflect some favorites of the Nazi Party as well. They are far from innocent on this front.

I could mention the insatiable appetite for war among many Republican politicians and presidents, cleverly wrapped in the tenuous guise of patriotism and idealism.  Under Republican leadership, American interference and intervention in two major countries in the Middle East has cost thousands of lives on both sides and earned us the hatred of many in the overseas Muslim community. The Republican blank-check approach of support to Israel has kept relations between the Israelis and the rest of the Middle East frosty at best, leaving Israel in a perpetual state of war of defense against her neighbors. Republicans are constantly clamoring for intervention in states like Libya as well, a country which has very little to do with anything connected to America except for oil.

Let's not forget the associated evil of torture here, which is widely accepted as an effective technique of questioning amongst Republican lawmakers but disguised under cutesy politically-correct terms like 'enhanced interrogation,' plus laws like the Patriot Act which seek to invade the privacy of American citizens for the sake of supposed protection.

I could also mention the rampant nationalism present in so many a Republican speech concerning the state of our economy and the perception of our nation in the eyes of the world. How often have Republican politicians looked down on the rest of the world as being beneath America, simply because other nations do not necessarily hold dear the same values we do, or follow the same constitutional system? We are told that America is the "greatest nation in the history of the world." Why? And does this give us the excuse to trample the rest of the world when it does not bend to our whims? 

Add the Republican obsession with big business and you have a decent picture of the problem. Somehow, conservative Republican lawmakers believe that big government could not possibly be good, while at the same time proposing that big business could not possibly be bad. Big government bureaucracy = bad, big business bureaucracy = perfectly fine. Dependence on government for one's livelihood is evil, depending on big business for one's livelihood is good. In other words, it is fine to be dictated to, just not by the usual suspects.

All of these policies and attitudes are posited by each side as coming from deeply felt philosophical or moral sources. They are policies and attitudes based on ideals that do not necessarily have their grounding in truth.

American government, at the moment anyways, tends almost inevitably either Republican or Democrat. In such a divided system, compromise is usually the key, and yet compromise has led so many times to the worst of both ideological worlds. Am I calling either side Nazi? No. But I am calling on them to look at what these positions accomplish in the end. As of this moment, we have both legalized abortion and unnecessary foreign wars, overly-centralized government and  excessive dependence on both government and business. Democratic and Republican ideas, both enshrined in law and policy side by side.

It would seem that by its own moral inertia, our country is sliding its way to a situation similar to Hitler's Germany. While America will probably never find or elect such a powerful crusader for the kind of violence and hatred that Adolf Hitler enflamed, America by compromise between two such lacking ideologies and between competing groups of power-hungry politicians, has created its own lukewarm version of the same.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years This 11th

I wish I could write something to bring solace to those families that lost loved ones eleven years ago today, but I would probably fail in the attempt.

I can only say that I pray the victims rest in the peace of Christ, that the families of the victims heal from the pain of loss, and that we as a people do not lose ourselves in the pursuit of justice.

Photo by UpstateNYer, via Wikipedia.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I had mentioned earlier that my wife had plastered the bathroom walls with morning-sickness vomit; well, this weekend was the payoff for all the months of pregnant illness and misery. After having five male grandchildren, my parents finally have been introduced to a change in the form of a girl. Yes, my wife had our first daughter. Once the impact of that sinks in, maybe I will share my thoughts. Otherwise, my two sons and I will look on in shock and awe as we draw a collective happy blank.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

I had the good fortune to find, whilst trolling the great Interweb for content worth sharing, a very special video on YouTube. It is a very short, simple video of a woman sitting in a chair holding a device to her head, while a technician slightly off-camera fiddles with a computer and gives softly spoken directions. The woman in the chair slowly begins to smile as the video plays, then suddenly breaks down in tears, an uncontrollable emotional reaction to what she has just experienced. Her next line is telling.

"I don't want to hear myself cry."

This woman was 29 years old and had been deaf from birth up until the moment that she sat down in that chair with the technician. It was the first time she had ever heard anything, and the first sound for her to hear had been the sound of her own voice. It was uniquely heartrending to watch.

I have read all four Gospels many times and have often wondered what it must have been like to witness a miracle performed by Christ for the people of Galilee. Many who were blind, deaf, and paralyzed from birth are reported by the Gospel writers to have been completely cured by Jesus. Those writers say things like "amazement seized all who saw it" and other such descriptive commentary on the reactions of people who witnessed the cure and the people who had been cured. Being healed of a lifelong illness in an instant, being "made whole" as the Gospel writers are fond of saying, was one of the most dynamic aspects of Christ for drawing people to Him.

This woman had been given the gift of hearing through a scientifically developed medical implant device in her ear, but I somehow think the reaction is similar to the instant gift of healing from God. The power of that experience is evident as you watch her hear not only herself for the first time, but also her husband speaking too. Her face and her actions bespeak volumes in both gratitude and amazement as the world around her is suddenly brought to a new kind of life.

I followed the YouTube link to her blog and liked what I saw, so Mrs. Sarah Churman's site is now a resident link on my Relevant Sites sidebar. I would encourage you to check it out, as well as watch the video below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Parenting: Don't Take It Too Much To Heart!

I tell you, you will learn more about life and love in one year of parenting than you will learn in fifty years of living the single life.

There is no sufficient way to describe the feeling of having your beauty rest interrupted by a screaming child, nor are there words for the joy of having your three-year-old son throw himself against your leg and declare that he loves his "daddy." My wife just redecorated the walls and floor of our bathroom with morning-sickness vomit and I had to clean it up, but she also dragged two feisty boys to our rental agency to pay the bill because I was too busy to do it myself. My children draw with chalk on the sidewalk, then decide it will be cute to walk through it with bare feet. But my older son figured out on his own how to draw a stick figure.

As I write this, both of my sons are sleeping peacefully in the room behind me, looking so adorable that it hurts.

As I said, I can't really express in words just how much I have learnt about life and love through parenting. And of course, I shall be cliche and say that there is always more to learn and that four years as a parent is comparatively small. But I must share with you all a little something that I learned over the past three months, about being a parent but also about being a child. I found it surprising and maybe even a little harsh, but true nonetheless.

My observation is this: of course there are parents who neglect their children and deadbeat dads and some deadbeat mothers. But of the parents who actually give a crap about what happens to their children, I have noticed that many of them take their role way too seriously.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it seems the more I obsess about my children's future and consciously instilling certain values and habits in my children, the less effect it seems to have. It seems like I have the most effect as a parent when I just sit down on the floor and give a damn about them enough to play with them. Children, I realize more and more, are simply sponges that soak up love as fast as it is squirted at them. And like a sponge, when they are squeezed (and tickled) they tend to leak it back out again.

The real reason I say to not take parenting too seriously, though, is because I now can say I know how it feels to be hated by my child, at least temporarily. I have been hit by both my sons before because they didn't agree with whatever I was doing for them as a parent. They have both yelled at me. And I have done my share of losing my temper back at them. But I found that when I let their temporary hatred roll off my back and let the child cool down, then something special happens. That something is an understanding of sorts, that they don't really hate you, and that you are not really as angry as you thought you were.

Maybe this post is rambling a bit, but I have been suffering from a severe lack of sleep, an overdose of my job, and the looming prospect of an unborn child who was due yesterday. I hope this is an encouragement to those parents out there who give a care about their kids and yet lose sleep over those same kids' development and future. I am beginning to understand both those concerns.

Don't sweat it, you are all probably better parents than you think you are. However, it never hurts to try even harder. The next time it's a choice between washing dishes and playing with the kids, play with the kids. Those moments are when you are building up emotional capital to draw on when the time to discipline comes. You'll probably both be grateful for it later.

Be Aware, and have fun.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chicken or Egg?

I've had a question on my mind for some time now and it has been irritating me to the point that I feel the need to ask it of you, my audience, and see if we might come up with an answer. The question is a bit more complex than it seems at first blush, so bear with my explanation. My query comes as a two-part problem. It makes an assumption first, then asks an either/or question.

The assumption is (and there may be some disagreement here, so if you do please speak up) that multimedia in general (e.g. TV, movies, books, music, news, Internet) are as a whole moving in a downhill direction in regards to morally upright content. Acceptance of perverse moral ideas appears to be an ever-widening phenomenon in multimedia, as is the normalizing of aberrant behavior. That is my assumption. The question, then, is this: Is "the media" the cause of this downward slide in morality and decency, or is the media merely the cultural expression of already extant moral degradation and change? In effect, does the media simply report on the change?

I will offer my humble opinion that this is not only a perfectly valid, reasonable question to ask, but also an entirely necessary one. Where does this world of multimedia fit into our lives or is there no place for it? Does the media shape the culture, or is it the other way around? Or, put differently, is the media we ingest daily the soul of our culture or its body, the animating principle of our society or simply its proper expression? This whole issue is so fiendishly tangled together and I would like to have some fun untangling it.

As a good example, I would like to throw out there three TV shows that illustrate my point. One is an already-popular and critically-recognized show called Modern Family, the second is a show to be released this fall I think, called New Normal, and the third is an FBI crime show called White Collar. The first two are comedies that prominently feature gay couples attempting to raise children, surrounded by mostly understanding parents and relatives who may raise an eyebrow once in a while at the homosexuality at play in their midst, but who otherwise could care less. The third show involves a secondary character who is engaged to her lesbian lover. Now I believe homosexuality to be a grave moral problem, but regardless of your beliefs concerning homosexuality, it is hard not to see a connection here between the content of these shows and the current vigorous lobbying by homosexual groups nationwide for legal and societal acceptance of their particular orientation. These groups seek, in effect, to normalize the status of homosexuals in America. So do these shows then simply reflect this particular change in American public thinking, or are they the actual driver?

It is tough to say.

The news networks are famously known for being, at least historically, major drivers of public opinion. So if the presentation of the news can change opinions about differing subjects, then why not TV shows and movies? Do they not shape us in subtle ways and guide part of our decisions and actions?

But then, on the other hand, the major networks and studios are driven by a bottom line goal. Their goal is to make money, and lots of it. To make lots of money, one needs to be in tune with what the public wants to see and hear and then provide it en masse. So these companies must simply be responding to perceived public demand for this sort of content, living dangerously on the "cutting edge of societal evolution," to steal a line from Rush Limbaugh. Right?

Or, do these two things go hand in hand? Was the proverbial chicken first or the egg?

Feel free to leave your thoughts below!

Image by LGPER, via Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Savin' Me

If you haven't seen this music video yet, you should. One of the best I've seen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gun Violence

It seems like every time I thought about sitting down to my computer to write something about the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado theater, another shooting would pop up on the news. There have been no less than four nationally publicized shooting incidents in the past two months: Aurora in Colorado, the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and the Family Research Council in D.C. It's more than enough to make one sick.

And enough to raise major questions.

There was the usual fight between the "mainstream media" and the conservative talk-o-sphere, on the one side crying out for tighter gun control legislation and on the other side retorting that guns don't kill people, people do. The one position is impossible to maintain, the other is over-simplified and cliched.

To briefly address the first position, I might mention that there is some evidence that exists for low crime rates in cities and counties where guns are easily available. But even if you are unwilling to accept that evidence because of disagreement over the methodology of studying a law's effectiveness, you are basically forced to concede that, as the New York Times put it, "criminals are the people least likely to obey gun control laws, meaning that the laws probably have a disproportionate impact on law-abiding individuals." I might also mention countries like Switzerland that have enough armed citizens to make an anti-gun American cringe, and yet their "gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept."

To address the other position, I have to characterize the conservative attitude as I see it before I really tackle it in order to make some sense. It seems to me that conservatives make these shooters out to be a couple of bad apples in a normally fine apple pie. The insistence is always that these shooters "acted alone", that they are "animals" ( a favorite expression of talk-show host Andy Dean), and that their actions reflect on them and them alone. The implication is that our consciences may remain unruffled by such mindless killing, because heck, we weren't the ones that did it, they were. Right?

I find this conservative position an awkward one to defend for several reasons.

The first is the assertion that these were only a couple of "bad apples." With the increasing number of these high-profile, increasingly creative, and wildly violent shooting sprees, I would say we have had something of a growing problem for several years. Add in the number of shootings involving the military in some way over the past three years and you begin to get the point. One shooting is an isolated incident, two is a coincidence, but three or more is a trend.

The second reason is that not only are these people not "animals" ( I find rationalization by denigration particularly offensive, Mr. Andy Dean), but many of them are relatively intelligent people who acted in a very methodical way.

The third reason is connected to the first: these individuals may have acted out these shootings by themselves with no accomplices, but as I mentioned before we seem to have a bit of a trend going. Culture and society have a huge influence over the actions of a human being, and to see so many of these shootings occur in such a short amount of time makes me think there might be a connection. Mightn't more than just the shooters have to carry some small share of the blame?

To illustrate the last point, I would point to America of the 1940's and 1950's. In those decades some of the favorite games for young boys were playing soldier, fighting mock battles with wood sword and fake guns, and pretending to be gun-slinging cowboys. Good guys would win, bad guys would die. Boys were taught to shoot and hunt with very little incident. Up until about 1966 with the mass killings committed by Charles Whitman from a bell tower in Texas, the kind of public massacre of the sort in the Colorado theater was virtually unheard of in the U.S. Now it seems there is a fresh shooting every couple months. Why?

I submit my humble opinion that our culture changed. Drastically.

Now, I am not a starry-eyed nostalgic who thinks that any time in America before 1960 was beautiful, good, and wholesome. There was plenty of wretchedness before 1960, as there has been plenty afterwards. But not this kind of psychotic violence. This is the sort of violence that holds the preciousness of life in reckless disregard, approaching other human beings with a cold calculating eye. Charles Whitman is a great example of this; he killed both his mother and his wife in the same 24 hours, systematically snuffing out their lives and then writing his thoughts about it. His murders and massacres were all methodical, studied, deliberate.

Perhaps this change came about partly in response to the Vietnam War, where more and more Americans became disillusioned with the bloody conflict and viewed it as a massive waste of human and material resources. Soldiers returning from the war certainly would have carried its mental scars. Perhaps the change occurred because of the cheapening of human life intertwined with the use of "the Pill." Man's own self became the center of existence, an attitude aided by the frustration of the sexual act and precipitating the sexual revolution. Pleasure would be sought at all costs, and consequence be damned.

The changing attitudes inaugurated in the 1960's I believe is the true culprit for these shootings. Shared heroin needles, multiple sexual partners, demented music, and complete moral relativism combined to form a toxic societal cocktail that would cripple or destroy the family lives of countless Americans. We still feel the effects of this lethal combination in the form of high abortion rates, countless teen pregnancies, general cultural ennui, and yes, these shooting massacres. Now it seems the only way to have one's five minutes of fame and importance is to do something shocking like killing people.

Yes,  these killers are the ones doing the killing. They have only happened to settle on the gun as the instrument of massacre and the blame does not lie with the availability of the gun. But the blame also does not lie solely with the shooter. As I said before, boys have been playing with mock swords and guns for ages. Since the advent of adventure books and movies and television, good guys have been killing bad guys with guns, and vice-versa. But somehow John Wayne riding in and cleaning up town with a six-shooter was not what it would eventually take to incite young men (and some women) to kill their fellow citizens with firearms. It would be Dirty Harry, The Last House on the Left, and Straw Dogs with their morally ambiguous depictions of characters that would create the heroes of the new generation. Suddenly the good guy was no longer so good, and the bad guy was sorta cool. And this trend has never really stopped. Think The Italian Job and the Oceans heist films. Those are relatively new films, and all are morally aimless. Revenge is the new justice, and the criminals are the good guys.

Once there was a sense of communal responsibility for protection of life and property in this nation. The young generation that volunteered to fight World War II was eager to defend, to serve, to go and maybe never come back. The Vietnam War-era generation was the opposite. And with this loss of eagerness to serve and defend comes a confusion about the role guns play in our lives. When we no longer have a robust sense of responsibility for our own safety because of our willingness to rely solely on government protection, then the firearm becomes a novelty item. When the gun loses its proper purpose at the same time that we lose our moral way as human beings, that is when it becomes truly dangerous.

Restore the concepts of duty, honor, and moral uprightness to the culture and the questions about gun control fade away. Besides the moral problems of our culture, America does have a certain fetish for guns presently speaking, probably because many Americans who own them see them more as fun items to own, shoot, and flaunt rather than as practical tools with a martial background. Almost all the male citizenry of Switzerland carry firearms and own firearms, but not because of machismo. They carry them because the citizenry is the military. I could almost guarantee that the average Swiss male between the ages of 18 and 45 could take on the typical YouTube gun-toting American in a shooting match and come out on top. The difference is in the reason for the gun. The American showing off his guns on YouTube owns those firearms in many cases just because they are cool. The Swiss male owns his because his life and his countrymen's lives depend on it.

Culture is a river that man is immersed in every second of every day. Clean the pollution from that river. Change society, not the legitimate tools that society uses. And pray for all the victims of all shootings, publicized or not. Those families are hurting more than they can ever express, and neither calling for gun control nor" blaming the person and not his weapon" gives them any extra ounce of comfort.

Photo by Sam Lisker, via Wikipedia.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Maybe, Just Maybe

This is one of the most concise summaries of last year's and this year's presidential election shenanigans. Be forewarned, there is a bit of crude content about two-thirds of the way through, but I think the overall message is worth it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Busy Month

I haven't forgotten about you all!

I do have an explanation for my absence; I am attempting to start a video production business on the side, along with my fifty million other jobs and tasks. Needless to say, it has taken up a huge portion of my time. The current video project had a very hard set deadline, because the client I was working with died in the middle of the project and I had to create a video for his funeral. It was a most intriguing month and I will probably write about it soon since it got me to thinking on many different tangents.

So, this is to show that I am still around and plan on releasing a bunch of different articles this week and next week about everything from distributism to the massacres in Colorado and Wisconsin.

Stay tuned and Be Aware!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Power to Kill

A friend of mine found an intriguing article concerning President Obama's administration and yet another lawsuit being brought to bear against it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


This video pretty much speaks for itself. I'll let the kid, his sister, and his dad do the talking.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Shorts For The Weekend!

I was "short film trolling" online a couple of nights ago and found some clever stuff I figured I would share. Enjoy!

And here is another one as a bonus. It was too funny not to share.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Precedents are Stubborn Things

There has been much talk concerning the Supreme Court's decision to uphold "Obamacare" since the opinion was handed down by the high court a week ago today. In a landmark decision, the court decided to uphold the law by a vote of 5-4. Predictable glee on the one side and inflamed outrage on the other erupted moments after the decision was made known. The anchors of CNN's and MSNBC's ilk, attempting a kind of modesty in ideological victory, failed miserably to hide their joy. The conservative blogosphere and radio world made no attempt on the other hand to hide their disgust with Chief Justice John Roberts, calling his majority ruling everything from traitorous to the conservative cause, to an example of "twisted logic" and grasping at legal straws.

I have found it helpful to write this after the proverbial smoke of ideological battle has cleared, giving me time to digest not only all the coverage surrounding the law's success in court but also time to read the high court's ruling on the case. Going to the source is always good, but only if approached with honesty and integrity. I sincerely believed that I would probably find the same "twisted" and "tortuous" logic, the same legal convolutions, and the same pandering that everyone else has been reporting all this time.

Not only did I find that the reports surrounding Roberts' decision were overblown, but also that his argument made a surprising, even commendable amount of sense. I am no lawyer, Constitutional or otherwise, but it made sense to me. I never thought I would say this (I certainly never wanted to say this), but it would appear that the Obama healthcare law indeed stands up to Constitutional muster.

Justice Roberts argued the case from two different standpoints, as everyone should know by now. The first was from the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Roberts had no trouble in destroying the administration's Commerce Clause argument by pointing out that the Obamacare individual mandate cannot force someone into commerce who does not wish to engage in commerce. The case was pretty clear. However, the more interesting part of the chief justice's decision is reflected in the other standpoint presented by the lawyers for Obamacare. Those lawyers argued that the penalty for not buying health insurance was actually a tax, when Obama specifically said it was not a tax. In the end, Roberts ruled in essence that if the penalty walked like a tax, talked like a tax, was enforced like a tax, and was collected like a tax, then how could it be called anything other than a tax? He cites precedent after precedent to support his decision, especially his assertion that taxes have been called by other names before (including a penalty) and that the court ruled those things as taxes as well.

I will not recite the whole ruling here, but I found the essence of it to be very clear. The Commerce Clause arguments seem to be the part of his ruling that was more thoroughly hashed out and explained, whereas the taxing authority argument is by contrast a bit more brief, quotation dense, and yes, convoluted. And yet I don't necessarily find that last aspect troubling of itself, since the arguments in question are trying to tackle a highly convoluted and extremely long-winded healthcare law.

The Consequences

So what does it mean?

First of all, the ruling makes no attempt to call the healthcare law a good thing. Roberts makes that abundantly clear in the opening remarks of his statement, where he puts the blame for the monstrosity that is Obamacare on the people for electing the politicians that wrote it. If you want wise laws, elect wise men, he strongly suggests. We are here just to make sure that the parts all work as they should.

Second, it proves once again to the Congress and to the people that the judges on the court have the free will to rule however they see fit. The fact that Justice Kennedy (a man of a more liberal bent), and Roberts (a more conservative leaning man) both voted the opposite of their ideological leanings is proof of this. Both found compelling arguments to the contrary of their perceived camps and voted accordingly. That Justice Roberts was appointed by George W. Bush means nothing in this context. I am not saying that the court is pure of political heart, which it is most definitely not, but I believe that even the supposed conservative principles of the chief justice would not stand up to the scrutiny of case law, Constitutional gray areas, and historical precedent. 

Third, the ruling reinforces Congress's power to demand action of the citizenry, if only through negative means rather than through the positive command afforded by a Commerce Clause argument. The side effect of the ruling of course is a huge expansion of the power to tax by the Congress, by in essence ruling that economic inactivity can be taxed as well as activity. It is a wretched precedent created by (I think) a proper legal reading of the healthcare law, unfortunate as that might be.

Fourth and finally, Roberts' ruling labels the individual mandate for what Obama should have called it all along, a massive tax hike. Clarification of terms is helpful, and hopefully will assist in ejecting Obama from the office of president in November.

In the end, what is the Supreme Court for? To advance an agenda? Or to interpret law? In what way did Justice Roberts "betray" anybody by ruling on what he saw as the legal (not ideological) merit of the healthcare law? Both liberals and conservatives seemed so eager to push ideology that each side was set with statements to either blast the court's decision regardless of its merits or to praise it for seeing the light of reason. 

I think we could learn two things here: the first is that we should never again pass a law that is so enormously long and convoluted that it requires such nimble legal gymnastics to save it. The second is that if we are troubled by both Obamacare and the court's ruling, we have no farther to look for blame than ourselves. Justice Roberts is correct to shift the blame to 'we the people': if the power comes from the people, as our founders would like to think, then we need to elect a wiser governing body to represent us so that this whole fiasco never happens again.

Photo by Jeff Kubina, via Wikipedia.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tiny Home

Quite frankly, I thought I'd be writing about the Supreme Court decision concerning the new healthcare law, but the news networks and my Facebook feed have been so clogged with content about the decision that I got a little sick of it. I will write about it in the coming days, but here is something completely un-healthcare related to keep you all interested in the meantime. A fascinating video about a highly motivated and initiative-grabbing young man.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Pellet With The Poison Is In The...

I decided to end this week with one of the funniest movie scenes ever. What Friday is complete without Danny Kay stumbling over himself to remember a ridiculous ditty that his life depends on? Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Cycle of Outrage

You know that something truly pathetic has occurred when news organizations begin reporting on each other.

On June 19th 2012, NBC News released a tape of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney sounding incredulous that a fast food establishment had a touchscreen system to order food. One simply had to order, print a reciept and pay, simple as that. The living proof that Mitt Romney, number one hated rich guy, was completely out of touch with the reality of our day-to-day middle class existence. To listen to the clip, you would have thought Romney had never been inside a Sheetz before.

Then Fox News jumped into the fray, running the entire clip of Romney's speech, demonstrating how NBC had conveniently edited out the part where Romney was comparing and contrasting the private and public sector's respective levels of innovation and ease of use. Romney's feigned incredulity was a sarcastic attempt to drive home the comparison.

As expected, the entire weight of the conservative pundit establishment came crashing down on NBC's head, one time slot and time zone at a time, everyone getting a chance to take a whack at the pinata and knock some commentary candy out. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Andy Dean; they all took their shots, throwing around terms like "unbelievable," "incredible," and of course the ever popular "outrageous." Their disgust was palpable and righteous.

Now, I will not deny that the edits were unprofessional, political, assinine, and completely dishonest. NBC has become infamous for such edits (George Zimmerman's 911 call suffered a similar fate) and anyone who honestly expects to hear straight-shooting newsmen from that organization might need a reality check. But I must ask all of these pundits and commentators one question, especially the Godfather: if you all "know liberals" so well, as you constantly claim, then why are you constantly surprised and outraged at the "liberal" things that they do?

The two sides fit together into an uncomfortably convenient yin-yang. Liberals throw a punch, conservatives thunder their disapproval and the crowds on both sides cheer with approbation. This is how it's done, right? One side makes a move, the other lashes out, the first counter-lashes, and so on.  Some would call it the free "exchange of ideas." Others would say it is just the way politics happens to work: if you don't have a thick skin then get out. I have a different opinion of what I would like to call the 'cycle of outrage:' it's stupid, childish, and unproductive.

I can think of several reasons that this has become the norm. One is that liberals and conservatives have come to think of themselves as inherently different kinds of creatures, each adhering to a set of principles they believe to be completely mutually exclusive. This very nicely sets the stage for the scene we see daily: an endless and tiresome series of shouting matches in which no real ideas or concepts are actually exchanged between hermetically sealed minds. At least sales of identity theft protection go up in the meantime.

Another reason is that outrage, as a form of sensationalism, sells extremely well. Take a look at The Bachelor if in doubt of this fact. Or Jane Velez Mitchell's show. Or Glenn Beck's programming. Or Fox News. Or The Neal Boortz Show as the best example. The common thread is the peddling of outrage, the churning up of emotion for emotion's sake. Most of the people pushing outrage know that it makes the listening public feel like they care about the issues. A little like the so-called "armchair activists" who push "Like" on Facebook in support of their favorite cause. It is easy to replace righteous anger with simple outrage.

Speaking of righteous anger, let's look at this problem in the moral realm to gain some perspective, as any mass appeal to human emotion must have some moral component. I am thinking in particular of the only religious and moral authority that tackles the problem of sin with head-on directness, the Catholic Church. The priests of the Church perform one specific function on a regular basis, in my opinion the most fascinating of the sacraments the Church administers, the sacrament of Reconciliation. It involves a priest sitting in a confessional box or room for countless hours listening to penitents recite the evils they have performed. By the time the five hundred thousandth person has confessed that they gossiped or slandered someone, a priest has got to have a different perspective on the nature of sin. It has become boring. At all costs, for the sake of the devil's cause, sin must never become boring or else it loses its allure. 

Where am I going with this? Specifically this: evil is dull. Human beings doing evil, malicious, and callous things are dull. An opponent with no new tricks to play is dull. It is not that people should not be called out on the evil they perform, but that in an entirely cynicism-free way we should hardly be surprised by it. One of the most effective techniques I know to help someone who pours out their troubles to me is to remain unsurprised in the face of those troubles. It is easy to shoot yourself in the proverbial foot by falling into the trap of being taken off guard by the ordinary and mundane.

In politics, religion, combat, and life in general, it always pays to know your enemy. A general on the battlefield would be insane not to take every opportunity to spy on and calculate his opponent's intent. A man going into a debate would be woefully unprepared if he had no idea of who he was debating and what questions would be asked. So when your opponent or enemy does something that falls squarely in line with all of his previous actions, why would your first instinct be to go nuclear on him? 

The expected and the mundane are causes for constant and real diligence, not outrage. The latter just makes a lot of people very red in the face.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Imitation Can Be Unflattering

The European Central Bank
I was only recently introduced to the writings of columnist Victor Davis Hanson, but already I have found him to be an insightful and very readable author. His site is also host to a couple other authors, including Bruce Thornton, an even more brilliant and penetrating mind. Here is a piece Thornton wrote last week about the financial crisis in the EU, providing both a historical perspective on the problem and also a warning to those who insist that bigger and more inclusive is better.

Photo by Eric Chan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Extreme Walking

Extreme walking at its finest. The Japanese have always been a precision oriented people, and this apparently is no exception. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

I had picked out a title and worked out most of the salient points of an article I wished to write, until I did some Google-assisted research and realized that not only had this article been written already, but at least twice. And under the same title as the one I chose.

So I read both articles entitled "The Myth of American Exceptionalism" and I have to say I had to agree with the main points both authors made, here and here. Now I understand that both authors are what the political right would label as "left leaning" (and therefore "unreliable"), but those who seek the truth must be willing to accept it from whatever source it comes. If you are of a conservative or liberal bent, please read both of these with an open mind and understand the points made before you agree or disagree. The term "American exceptionalism" involves the very definition of the word patriotism, a definition which remains extraordinarily misunderstood and abused in America today.

Photo by Lipton sale - via Wikipedia

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Forgotten Railway

Old Soviet locomotive
Photo by LHOON.
I must first take a moment to thank my readers who live in Russia. I don't know how many of you there are exactly, but I do know that the majority of pageviews this week came from Russian readers. I honestly never expected to be more read outside the US than in it.

Anyways, I dug up a story this afternoon from the BBC concerning Russia that I found fascinating. I would assume that some, if not many, Russians already know this story, but I am posting it more for the benefit of my English speaking audience so they will know.

It is the story of a massive railroad project that literally disappeared

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Non-Partisan Presidential Wish List

Forget for the moment the ridiculous political ads that have begun to plague the airwaves in greater and greater numbers, the high flights of hyperbole and somber music behind a lurid announcer's voice claiming that their political opponent voted to club baby seals to death. Forget for a moment the two major political parties and their platforms, one who says we should spend loads of money and the other saying we should spend much larger loads of money. Forget the bitterness, division, and dissent for a moment. I have a question.

Put aside party, race, sex, and anything so superficially identifying. Look at the presidency of the United States and ask: what kind of man or woman do I want filling that seat?

I have my own list, and here it is. Agree or disagree as you please.

  • I want my president to be a good speaker. Not just when he is in front of a teleprompter, but all the time. I want him to be able to string good words together into intelligent and articulate sentences, to be able to explain himself without flinching or saying "um." Included in this is a president who does not say stupid and embarassing things on an open mic.
  • I want a president who has been a soldier. I mean that in a very specific way. A president who has been a professional fighting man (or woman) will understand not only the strength and honor of the military, but also the horror and stress and fear of combat. The one reminds him of what the military can do, the other what we as a country should avoid doing if at all possible.
  • I want a president who can do math. This might sound stupid, but then again there are many remarkably stupid people in Washington. Our current president's administration cannot balance a budget. The previous one only did a little bit better. I would like someone who has balanced a budget before or at least has a mathematically sound concept of how to do so.
  • I want a president who respects the lifeblood of this country. When I say lifeblood, I literally mean just that: the blood of America's children. I want a president who understands we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing the killing of children in utero to continue. When the president of the most powerful country on earth does not respect the lives of his most helpless citizens, how can he respect the lives of anyone else, be they American or otherwise?
  • I want a president who is there. Not on vacation all the time, not prowling around for photo ops and present only to shake hands and sign bills. I want a president who is where the action is happening. When June 6th rolls around, for example, I want him either standing on the beaches of Normandy or at some World War II memorial, not having dinner with high rollers in Vegas. If the U.S. is struck by natural disaster, I want him on the ground as soon as humanly and safely possible, giving victims his condolences. I want him to be present, not just to vote present.
  • I want a president who is fit. I want someone who looks active, who radiates healthy habits and who is not afraid of the outdoors. Someone who doesn't just talk about national parks, but actually visits them and climbs their mountains and fishes in their streams.
  • I want a family president. I want someone who bespeaks marital and familial love, who has children and knows how to interact with them.
  • And finally, I want a president who is honest. I almost don't care if I disagree with him or not, as long as he is forthright in the explanation of his actions. I want a president who does not beat around the bush waiting for someone else to clean up his mess or explain him. I want one who does it himself.
Maybe this is all too much to ask. Everyone has flaws. But I think it might just be a good start.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Coolest Model Ever. Seriously.

This video was too fantastic not to share with everyone. I don't even remember how I found it, but it is worth the watch. The sheer time and artistry invested in this model is mind-boggling. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Today marks the 68th anniversary of the launch of Operation Neptune, the beach landing portion of "Overlord," the largest invasion ever attempted in human history. The operation marked the true beginning of the end for Hitler's European domination plans, as Allied forces grabbed a toe hold in France and began rolling up the Nazi carpet one machine gun nest and Panzer at a time.

Let us not forget, however, that the D-Day assault was not necessarily a slam dunk, resounding success. In fact, the attack ground to a complete halt for several hours on the most important beach of the day, Omaha, where many men met a shockingly bloody death at the hands of rapid-fire German machine guns and heavy artillery. Many more men lay terrified and psychologically helpless at the edge of the water or at the sea wall, huddled down to escape the almost certain death slicing the air overhead.

In the end, the beachheads managed to link up only because individual men seized the initiative and decided it was better to die taking out a German gun emplacement than lying prone at the edge of the rising tide.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Bad Weekend

I am apologizing in advance to my wonderful readers, I will probably not be posting much until Sunday is almost over. It is going to be a crazy busy weekend and I won't have time to put thoughts to keyboard until it's all over. Be Aware until then!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I watched MSNBC's Chris Hayes' comments concerning Memorial Day and listened with some bemusement the predictable firestorm he stirred up amongst conservative talk show hosts. I think Hayes' comments at least churned out a legitimate larger point, however, and one that needs some serious airing out especially in the current political wartime climate in which we live. At least it has some discussion going now. Mentioning his opinions about "heroes" on Memorial day? Maybe not a great idea. Mentioning them at all? Possibly worth a closer look. Your thoughts?

For the record, I have not watched or listened to any of David Pakman's other work, but I actually thought this segment was pretty well-balanced. Again, your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eugenics, Part I

Logo of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921
 This article is part 1 of (I think) a 3 part series of articles on eugenics. It deals with eugenics projects the world over in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, and how those projects flourished pretty mch equally under nationalist, socialist, and capitalist systems, and how they were well-funded by all three.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

I would like to wish a very happy Memorial Day to all Americans everywhere. I will return to writing on Tuesday so stay tuned. Have fun today and remember what the holiday is really about: remembering the fallen men and women of our armed forces, regardless of our own personal opinions of the wars they lost their lives in.

Post-Christian De-Evolution

Another must read from Marc on the Bad Catholic blog. He makes a brilliant point that modern society must "convert to paganism" first before returning to Christianity. Enjoy, and Be Aware!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nuclear Death

The never-used Pripyat Amusement Park ferris wheel.
"For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 p.m. each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water off and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation."*

This government notice, broadcast for the benefit of the citizens of the city of Pripyat, Ukraine following the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, marked the beginning of one of the strangest and most terrifying exoduses in modern history. In three days, the population of Pripyat went from close to 50,000 people down to essentially zero. The reason? Heavy radioactive contamination caused by a massive nuclear power core explosion, spread to the prevailing winds on the wings of a fire and poisoning all the surrounding countryside with invisible death. The worst nightmare of mankind since the discovery of nuclear power had begun.

The emotional punch of a hindsight reading of this notice by the local Soviet government lies in its absolute irony. The irony is twofold.

For one, it portrays the government as more or less in control of the entire situation. The reality could not have been farther removed from the truth. Gorbachev himself had no clue of what was happening until he was informed by European scientists that they had detected a severe radiation spike as far away as Sweden. On the ground near the reactor the situation was equally out of control. The reactor fire continued to burn for about two weeks after the initial explosion, pumping toxic radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. In the end, the accident at the Chernobyl power plant actually contributed to the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union, not only because of the necessity of international cooperation with the cleanup but also because of the severe resource strain it placed upon the USSR at a time it could ill afford it.

The second irony is the one I have always found the more interesting, and that is the assurances that not only would the evacuation be a temporary one, but that local officials would stay behind to keep the utilities up and running as well as to guard the empty homes from looting. The eerie truth is that the evacuation was permanent, for everyone. The lifeblood of the city of Pripyat vanished almost overnight, quietly, orderly, with barely a peep. Toys were left on the floor, documents left unattended, cars and personal effects abandoned. Families left whole apartment blocks filled with their possessions, expecting to come back to them. They of course never did. One of the most famous and haunting images from the abandoned city is the brand new ferris wheel at the amusement park, due to open directly after the disaster. It had never been used before, and will now never be used as it rusts and crumbles to nothing.

The evidence of humanity is littered everywhere, in the streets and empty homes and schools, and yet no humans remain. The weird atmosphere of death hanging over the place is the stuff of horror films (as a write this, the horror film Chernobyl Diaries is due to be released.) Humanity has been endlessly intrigued by imagery of man-made things that have been abandoned by their makers, and Pripyat is no different. It has become the perfect observational point for the effects of mass exodus from a modern city, and the results are nothing short of unnatural.

I suppose the fascination I have always felt towards the story of Chernobyl and Pripyat is the same as the fascination I have always held for Titanic. The reason they are both so compelling is that they are both about people, and real people at that. Real people lived in this city, and worked and played and taught and got sick and died in this city. And other real people, through their monumental stupidity, caused the catastrophe by direct action. As I said about Titanic, the fingerprints of man lie heavily on every aspect of the disaster, from its beginning to its end.

Today is not necessarily any special occasion or anniversary of the disaster. I did not have the chance to write about it in April (which was the month when the reactor exploded in 1986), but I feel compelled to remind my readers of this event anyways. The story of Chernobyl will not be over for thousands of years, as the radioactivity will not drop to safe levels until then. The more proximate story of the reactor is also far from over, as the world struggles with the cost to build a containment shelter large enough to entomb the entire reactor structure and forever seal the melted core inside. The danger has not passed. It is important to remember the human cost of Soviet rule over the Ukraine, but also to remember the heroism of the ordinary people involved, many of whom knew that they assisted in the cleanup and containment operation at the risk of their lives.

It is also good to remember not only the people who died in the disaster, but those who now must bear the pain of knowing that they left their home behind for good. There is no hope of return for those people; they will forever be prevented from going back by a menace that they cannot feel or see or smell, but which kills regardless. The pictures of modern Pripyat taken by adventurous tourists are probably no consolation, as the city tends to look bleaker every year especially in the wintertime.

I have posted a link in the Relevant Sites section to a website called, a wonderful compilation of news, photos, stories and other memorabilia about the disaster that I have found most compelling. Also, a journey through the abandoned city through powerful photographs can be found here.

Be Aware.

*Wikipedia, Article titled "Prypiat."

Friday, May 25, 2012

History in the Making (Kinda...)

I love listening to the BBC, not least among the reasons being that the United States is not always at the top of their important news list. Lo and behold! There is actually other stuff going on out there. Who'd a thunk?

To expand that thought, though, I appreciate British journalism in all of its forms because it gives a refreshingly different take on notable happenings. And among their most intriguing and humorous insights is into their friends "across the pond," the Americans.

Here is a piece by a UK Telegraph blogger named Tim Stanley that had me chuckling. It is a humorous critique of the American media's obsession with making Obama into the most historic, heroic president in history. Quite worth the read.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Hero Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel
Photo by Armin Linnartz
The BBC World Service has been doing its usual bang-up job of reporting European politics this week. Greece of course tends to dominate that news, after several governmental failures to assemble a sound fiscal policy, a run on  Greek banks, and now this week's newest Greek financial disasters. To add to the ever-expanding and cascading problems, a new French president has been elected, a Socialist with the same tired ideas of government fixes for all problems including economic growth. Italy, Spain, and Ireland are not faring much better either.

And yet, in the midst of this rash of fiscal irresponsibility and crisis, I am happy to point out the last remaining financial adult in the room of European politics, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

I cannot say that I agree with her policies and positions one hundred percent of the time. Many of her beliefs and accomodations have been against my liking. But I must applaud her where applause is due: she is the only one pursuing a viable path with regard to the euro and the continued success of the European Union.

Ms. Merkel has pursued a policy of fiscal austerity in Germany for the past several years now, in an attempt to curb explosive debt and budget deficits. The credit is hers for insisting that the government live within its means. Yet her position of fiscal austerity has become increasingly marginalized as more and more pressure is brought to bear on her to "evolve" with the rest of Europe (and the United States) and to dump more stimulus money on the economic fire.

This unpopularity is symptomatic of both the problems with the composition of the EU and with the personalities and philosophies involved. Germany happens to be the economic powerhouse of Europe at the moment and the one with the most financial clout, whilst the other countries are being run under much more liberal financial conditions and are suffering mounting debt and credit problems. There is jealousy of Germany's success, to be sure, without a proper understanding of why it is successful.

But this week's developments have not only brought all these issues to a head, but have also demonstrated Ms. Merkel's resolve to remain solvent in the face of extraordinary opposition . The leadership of the EU is floating the idea of selling "euro bonds," or generating stimulus cash by selling European debt. The idea is both stupid and dangerous.  It is stupid because none of the EU countries needs or can afford to add any more debt to their ever-growing pile. But more importantly, it is dangerous because (as the BBC has pointed out) Germany would be the one left holding the bill because of its sound financial position. In effect, Germany's success would subsidize the other EU nations' failures.

Angela Merkel has fought the other EU nations' fiscal policies before, but this is probably the biggest challenge she will have yet, mainly because both President Barack Obama and new socialist French President Francois Hollande are both pushing heavily for it. Merkel realizes that Germany is being called upon to pay for economic failure that was not of its own doing, and rightfully resents that call.

She has already begun to voice her disagreement on this issue, and I pray she fights vigorously against it. She is a sane head amidst other heads that seem permanently stuck in the clouds. God bless her.