Sunday, September 17, 2017

Beautiful women and mountaintops-the uses and abuses of technology

Here is a nice picture. We see a beautiful woman is sitting on a mountaintop, enjoying a magnificent view. She's reveling in the splendors of nature in all their glory. A true, ahem, mountaintop moment.

One problem, though-she isn't enjoying the scene at all. It might be hard to see in the image as uploaded, but her eyes are closed. She's having a wonderful time, but it's due to the music she's listening to, music she could just as easily listen to at home.

This is an ad for headphones, as you may have suspected. The evident message from our corporate overlords benefactors is that we now need headphones, smart phones, devices, everywhere and anywhere. All situations call for the injection of at least a little virtual reality, lest the real thing bore us, trouble us, or fail to entertain us adequately, as in the case of this woman and her mountaintop view.

You half-expect to hear of people watching their devices while having sex. As a means of enhancing the experience, you watch OTHER people having sex!

Technology can be used, has been used, to improve people's lives, but are we past that stage now?

Friday, September 15, 2017

The power of positive salesmanship, bigotry, and Sen. Feinstein

I ridiculed the Norman Vincent Peale "Power of Positive Thinking" way of thinking in my recent post on the value of "negative" emotions. Peale more than deserved deserved it-not only is it a silly worldview, if you could call it that, he was rather an anti-Catholic bigot, as evidenced by his comments in the 1960 election campaign.

But having mentioned Peale, Amazon's marketing bot keeps putting that book, which apparently is still a big-seller, in the ads you see here. I have no control over that, of course.

Peale's comments put me in mind of the recent controversy started by CA Senator Dianne Feinstein, who bashed Federal court nominee Amy Barrett for her unconcealed Catholicism. Peale and Feinstein would likely agree on little, but both seem to think a good Catholic is one who should, well, shut up in public if he is serious about his faith. Peale would censor Catholics; Feinstein both Catholics and Peale.

The Left now endorses a narrow "freedom of  worship", rather than our long-established "freedom of religion", in which you may attend any religious service you like, but had better not bring those views to the public square.

Feinstein and many of her Democratic colleagues advocate the notion that secular politics is "neutral" politics, that early 21st century deism is the default, unbiased view of thinking folks. But, to state the glaringly obvious, it is not a neutral view, any more than a Catholic, evangelical, Muslin, or any other more explicitly worldview would be.

It is not, to be sure, really a secular view. It is more of a seemingly unreflected-upon Moral Therapeutic Deism-it doesn't exactly deny God, since few Americans are atheists. Rather, MTD reduces Him to a figure on the periphery, a vaguely benevolent figure who wants us to be happy but is little involved in human affairs, and certainly not politics.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trump tracking-down 6.1%

Trump's average approval among registered/likely voters (RCP) is 40%. He got 46.1% of the vote last year.

I've been tracking this and will update it on occasion.

By the way, the full breakdown of the vote totals by David Wasserman is fascinating, at least to politics junkies like myself.

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11

On the "first" September 11, I was living in North Carolina. Somebody called and said, "Turn on the TV", and it was done. We witnessed the events. The day is otherwise a blur to me. I didn't watch the videos of the planes crashing into the buildings for many years. They still have an unreal quality to me, like a scene from a bad movie.
It is no good to pretend that in our modern world we have no enemies, that human nature has changed for the better, or that "the arc of history bends towards justice".
History, and the events of a mere sixteen years ago, teach us otherwise.

Emotions, good and "bad"

We tend to think of certain emotions-fear, anger, sadness-as bad. We are told to "think positive", or "Don't be so negative!". One particular quasi-religious empire was built around "positive thinking". Another, more contemporary one, tells us that a different sort of positive thinking combined with meditation will "attract" wonderful things to us, somewhere from the deep recesses of a universe that somehow is both personal and impersonal at the same time.

In any case, the so-called negative emotions are so described because they are unpleasant. No one likes to feel them, unless, I suppose, you're a pain glutton, patterning yourself on Jack Nicholson in The Little Shop of Horrors, but as an emotional, rather than physical, pain junkie.

For the rest of us, though, emotions act as signals. And so they cannot be bad in themselves. They tell us, remind us, to "Avoid this", or that "I'm sorry I lost this". We could no more lose our unpleasant emotions and be fully functioning humans than we could do the same if we lost our pleasant ones, or our reason.

But when we experience that signal, that pain, we want to turn away. We want to shut it down, now. Often this is a perfectly reasonable. So much of what we see on the Internet is designed to work us up to a strong emotional reaction, get a click, drive numbers.

But much of the time, in "real life", that strong reaction indicates there's something here that we need to think about. This is especially true if the reaction is particularly powerful. If someone says something I react to strongly, I must ask myself why this is. Am I really inconsiderate, or too slow to ponder why a given viewpoint angers me? What am I walling myself off from?

In a age of using electronic devices to, in effect, alienate ourselves from what we truly feel and think, it strikes me that these are worthwhile questions.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Lesley Garrett, "Jerusalem"

"Jerusalem" is from a poem by William Blake that references a mythical visit by Jesus to England. He re-sets the myth in Industrial Age England, hoping that Christ might come among the "dark Satanic mills" and establish The New Jerusalem, the heavenly city of history's climax. Music is by Sir Hubert Parry.

It is exquisitely beautiful.

UPDATE: If you'd like to know why Christianity is all but dead in Europe, a vicar has banned this gorgeous hymn for being excessively nationalistic.

FURTHER UPDATE: this reminds me a of a quote by CS Lewis, another UK'er, on the Second Coming, Progress, and what Barack Obama inaccurately calls "the arc of history that inevitably bends towards justice":

"The doctrine of the Second Coming is deeply uncongenial to the whole evolutionary or developmental character of modern thought. We have been taught to think of the world as something that slowly moves towards perfection....Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell a gradual decay....[I]t foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without....a curtain rung down on the play-'Halt!'". The World's Last Night, 1952.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here is the text of Blake's poem-

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear! Oh, clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Search

Nothing beautiful can be fully understood. Our hearts crave mysterious Truth. So much of the beauty is in the mystery, itself. And so the search continues.

Walker Percy, a member of that interesting category, the Southern Catholic writer, often wrote of the search. Percy is the only author I've ever read who prompted the thought, "This guy thinks like me". I'm not sure if that says much for Percy, in itself, but he was certainly one of the 20th century's finest novelists.

Will Barrett, the protagonist of The Second Coming, is a widower who has reached a point in his depression where he essentially dares God to kill him. God doesn't. Will ends up meeting Allison, a zany mental hospital escapee living in a greenhouse, whose love redeems him. Almost sounds trite to describe, but Percy uses a light touch to show how gratitude can lead to faith.

Percy's books are all about the alienation of modern man, who struggles with, as Arnold Stocker (the Catholic Romanian psychoanalyst) put it, "A false suggestion and a true intuition". The false suggestion, to put it simply, is that what we strive for-career, relationships, wealth, power-are all we need. The world tells modern man this, and in his secularized understanding of his meaning and purpose, he "accepts" it.

The true intuition is the sense that we need more, that the "sensus divinitatis" that Calvin spoke of. It is the instinctive sense each of us has that God is real and our lives are not our own. As CS Lewis wrote,  we desire things, and God provides them-food, sex. Similarly God plants in each of us a desire for Himself, that only He can fulfill.

Our alienation, our anger, comes from the usually unconscious recognition that our strivings, even when achieved, do not really satisfy. How many Hollywood types do we see who have, most improbably, gotten all their wished for-fame and money and power and creative success-who still are miserable?

This world cannot satisfy us.

Much of the above comes from ideas drawn from Swiss physician Paul Tournier's work, such as The Whole Person in a Broken World.  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Trump steals black baby as trophy of TX trip, plans to make her White House mascot

As often as Trump says or does something beyond ridiculous, our "dispassionate" media will always out-Trump him. The two sides-the media, and Trump the media manipulator-truly deserve each other. They're basically Mo and Larry of the Three Stooges, poking each other in the eye on a daily basis. Enjoy the next three and a half years!

In any case, the above headline is a fake-I think. The difference between the National Enquirer and the New York Times is now more what schools the reporters went to than content.

We got Trump for a lot of nasty reasons, all of which are too unpleasant to detail, and he is no real antidote to any of that, but yes, Hillary would've been worse. That's what we're reduced to.

I didn't vote for him. I voted for Evan McMullin. The Mormon Roundhead.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Walter Becker, RIP

Just heard of the death of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker. Here's one of my SD favorites. Great opening guitar solo by Larry Carlton. This song may or not be based on the Texas tower shooter case from 1966. 

I once inserted the Becker-Fagen line about "luckless pedestrians" from this song in an Economics paper in college, as in, "A high unemployment rate will further damage America's luckless pedestrians". The professor was not amused.

Links-controversial and otherwise

Democrats' smears of GOP as racists, misogynists long predate Trump.

In fact, the Left's inability to make an argument for their position instead of libeling their opponents along these lines goes all the way back to Harry Truman.

Many people, Right and Left, now decry "mass incarceration". But unpleasant though it is, it means less crime. 

The New Atheists made the mistake of slamming Islam as well as Christianity, and have been bodily removed from the lefty funhouse. 

A "map of the soul": Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurological Surgery at Stony Brook University, says neuroscience confirms Aquinas' notion of will and intellect as immaterial things. 

List of the oldest living people. Violet Brown of Jamaica is the winner, at 117 years, 177 days. My Grandmother on my mother's side, who lived to 102, was a piker compared to these women (not many men in the bunch).

Miriam on the perils of the art business. 

Whose voices are you listening to? The search for worthy role models. I note, in pondering the conclusion reached here, that GK Chesterton was quite hefty.

Several of the links above come from this article by philosopher Edward Feser.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Far out

Voyagers 1 and 2 are way out there. From Astronomy POTD: "Launched in 1977 on a tour of the outer planets of the Solar System, Voyager 1 and 2 have become the longest operating and most distant spacecraft from Earth. Nearly 16 light-hours from the Sun, Voyager 2 has reached the edge of the heliosphere, the realm defined by the influence of the solar wind and the Sun's magnetic field. Now humanity's first ambassador to the Milky Way, Voyager 1 is over 19 light-hours away, beyond the heliosphere in interstellar space. Celebrate the Voyagers' 40 year journey toward the stars with NASA on September 5."

On this date in Phillies' history

They lost.

Pictured: Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A noble putdown

"[thou] shalt stand in fire up to the navel and in ice up to th' heart, and there the offending part burns and the deceiving part freezes."

The Two Noble Kinsmen. Shakespeare knew how to insult people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A few good links

Some worthwhile reads:

Lynn on enjoying the eclipse, and also enjoying things that we see every day. Which makes me think of this: click it! (TY Dustbury.)

Ann Althouse on the outrageous Trump. 

Terry Teachout names his favorite big band tracksWell, there are no tracks by Maynard Ferguson, Don Ellis, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Buddy Rich, or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, but it's still a nice grouping.

Edward Feser and Joe Bessette present the Catholic case for capital punishment. It's impossible to argue, from a Catholic perspective, that CP is intrinsically wrong, like abortion or euthanasia.

Megan McArdle-"As a woman in tech, I realized these are not my people". Reflections on the Google memo.

Cartoons can be useful. 

"God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another"-Hamlet. The Bard might wonder at some current lunacies, like presto-chango sexes.

Father Mitch Pacwa, no longer SJ, is tossed out of the Jesuits after being caught with a Catechism.

538 has the Dodgers getting to 114 wins, two shy of the record.

The Eternal Soundtrack

God knows how many tracks there-500?.  But they're all, in my biased opinion, worth listening to-the youtube playlist I've been accumulating for several years. It might take several years to listen to all of them. Basically it's jazz, the better rock stuff, sophisticated pop like Sinatra, classical brass pieces, French Impressionists, clips from old TV shows like What's My Line-you know, the usual pretentious crapola.

People like me who have widely diverging tastes in music like to think that shows how smart we are. It actually shows that we have wisely diverging tastes in music.

I still feel weird about youtube, I have to admit. Yes, I own maybe 150 CD's. But I could still try to buy all of these tracks. I doubt I will.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tear 'em down?

There is, you may noticed, some controversy over the Confederate statues that are found all over the South (having lived there, I can tell you every town has one), and even the US Capitol.

I'm 57 and do not recall any uproar over the statues until quite recently. So-have we suddenly come to some profound new understanding of what the statues' continued existence means? Or, do the statues, which denote an unavoidable fact of history that has had an enormous impact on life both North and South, lack in themselves any particular moral meaning or message as regards the justness of the Confederate cause as such?

As you may have guessed by the way I have framed the question, I am not persuaded that removing the statues amounts to anything more than virtue-signaling. The monuments may have been erected to, in various cases, celebrate slavery, honor the "valiant" fight against Northern oppression, or even (most likely I imagine) to merely commemorate the dead and wounded of virtually every Southern town.

I think the most important question, though, is-what do the statues mean NOW? Are they treated as shrines to The Lost Cause? Do people gather around them to ponder the halcyon days of the antebellum South? No-the memorials just note that the War we read about in books and on Wikipedia really did happen, and that it had a real effect on the towns and cities they're found in.

Ultimately, I ask: Why didn't we hang Jefferson Davis? We didn't hang him because you allow the defeated some measure of dignity, and allow history, rather than brute force, to settle issues where possible.

We all know the Confederate cause was a stupid one, in that it was both economically backwards and required the continuation of an evil institution. The point hardly needs to be reinforced.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Healing vs. Recovery

Distinctions are sometimes made in the field of mental health between "recovery" and "healing". I have tended to think of the former as simply representing the cessation of the more unpleasant symptoms of mental illness, and as a mere "way station" to true healing.

I am persuaded now, though, that healing is better described as completed recovery. Recovery calls for good coping methods to deal with the effects of the trauma that induced the "illness" in the first place. Once such methods are in place (therapy, exercise, proper nutrition, prayer/contemplation, etc), and have become habitual, then we can begin to heal-or rather, continue to heal. Note that medication should be used only as a last resort, and patients should be weaned off all psychotropic drugs as soon as possible. Medication can do no more than mask symptoms-it can never promote growth.

What is healing, then? It is the casting off of all false selves. It is becoming truly what we are, with no accommodations to the trauma that caused the false selves to arise, or to social norms. Does that mean we become moral free agents? No, it means that our truest selves are driven by love for others, and ourselves. Evil is "unreal"-it exists, to be sure, but only as a manifestation of unpursued goodness.

The truth is, we tend to either follow social cues, and pursue a path of mindless conformity, or go our own way for its own sake, casting ourselves as contrarians, as relentless pursuers of Truth, when in fact we may just be snobs. (I tend to be guilty of the latter). Neither is healthy.

It may sound solipsistic, and excessively in tune with the mindless slogans of our warped culture, but in fact we only need to be ourselves. The best, truest version of ourselves. This is wholeness. This is the healed human.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

In a strange land

I called this blog "I'm Just a Visitor Here" because I've always felt I was looking at people from a distance, like someone dropped on the wrong planet early in life who's then been compelled to spend his time trying to figure out his strange new neighbors. As a child I was told by "helpful" siblings I'd been purchased at the supermarket (and so I imagined babies of various hues lined up along the back wall at the A & P, available that week only for just $2.99 a pound), but I was never told where I'd been shipped from.

Not that I really believed the supermarket story, but I might as well have-I've always felt like I didn't really belong "here".  

That lack of a sense of "connectedness", of community-I guess I'm not so dissimilar to the masses now. People who ponder why depression is in epidemic mode in the US point to that loss of associations as a big reason why. It's just as true for other sorts of mental illness, most likely. Every ad for cell phones talks about "staying connected", and we seem desperate to avoid losing those few associations modern society affords us.

We have slice and dice marketing for products, and for votes. Seemingly nothing is offered to all. Everybody's assumed to have differing opinions and values. Elections no longer count because "the wrong person" won.

But of course, it really is true that we no longer have the same values. There is Christian America, in decline here as elsewhere in the West, and there is post-Christian America, eager to eliminate all vestiges of the old order. Not to be melodramatic, but our very own Cultural Revolution puts all at risk, for the sake of a "more just" society.

Lincoln spoke of both North and South reading the same Bible. Now, our two warring nations have radically different understandings of, well, everything. We cannot hold together like this. I am frightened.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Anti-social media

I haven't posted on twitter in months. Most of what I post on facebook is just youtube music clips, though I do occasionally annoy people there with my right wing views. I also vex people with comments on the Phillies, in various places, such as here

I have at times had semi-popular blogs that people with discriminating taste read ignored. I have no real desire to chase that dragon once again, but I would like to keep this blog updated once in a while. There might be someone out there who would like to read it and say, "Damn, this dude's more f-ed up than I am." That's the kind of service to mankind I'd like to provide.

Really, I can never can decide what to with my writing. I've written poetry, stories, lyrics to songs (including the only really funny song ever written about Prozac), blogs, and once had a fairly substantial number of jokes written for a comedy act I was working on. The character was to be a total loser-i.e., strictly autobiographical. You see, I'm the kind of guy who can calculate the most arcane baseball statistics in his head, but can't figure out a restaurant tip, because I can't get a girl to go to a restaurant with me. The main idea was, Here is a comedian you can't heckle, because I'm up here HECKLING MYSELF. "Is this thing off? Good."

The total loser part turned out to be all too accurate, when I lost the ability to access the tablet the jokes were in due to a dead battery that proved impossible to recharge. WTF? Who does that happen to? I guess I could've gotten a new battery, but only about half of the jokes were good.

So I guess I'll write some more self-deprecating material. Which raises an interesting that an indication of really lousy self-esteem, or really good self-esteem? If Bob Uecker says, for example, "You know, people had divided opinions on my career in baseball-half thought I was awful, the other half thought I was a disgrace to the uniform"-is he saner than the rest of us? Or closer to the edge?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

We slouch, exhausted but unified

Yes, Americans are in agreement about something, amazingly enough in these ultra-polarized times. Everybody but everybody agrees that 2016 was a cosmically awful year, the sort of year that must be punishment for something. Scandals, terrorism, ugly elections, foreign intrigues....God really piled it on in 2016, didn't He? We get it, Lord, we get it.

Or do we? I won't even speculate what the ill-treatment might be a result of. We all have our favorite pop culture or political targets, and most of them deserve all the scorn that can be thrown at them. But a loving God doesn't allow the unworthy success of a talent-free rapper or blowhard politician to be cause for an unrelieved twelve months of misery.

No, it must've been big this time. God really doesn't want to get into the backseat where the kids are, like a Cosmic Father pushed too far, but He will do it when it's called for. But we weren't just spilling soda back there or playing that damned awful music too loud.

I don't really have any answers, other than that our slide into post-Christian anything goes continued at its usual hurried pace this past year. But, nostalgia aside, that's nothing new. People have been bitching about the secularization of Christmas, say, since the first one, when I understand the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce hit on the idea of having guided tours of the stable where Christ was born for a mere five shekels a pop.

Nope, it's nothing new. But maybe we've reached a tipping point. I don't know how you'd know such a point has been reached, and I'm more than aware that talk like this always spawns the "everything's cyclical, everything can't go downhill at once" response. Maybe.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. 

Beautiful women and mountaintops-the uses and abuses of technology

Here is a nice picture. We see a beautiful woman is sitting on a mountaintop, enjoying a magnificent view. She's reveling in the splend...