on unintended consequences

Walter Russell Mead has been a keen observer of society and its arrangements and structures, especially what he calls the “Blue model” of government, where public spending becomes a key support of economic support for certain demographic groups. Notably in the past decade Mead has noted the increasing difficulties for the Blue model, and the increasing weakness of its support of those it intends to help.

The current situation in Puerto Rico typifies the problem, and Mead comments here. As the title of his post highlights, the unfortunate irony is the cruel results of what is apparently intended as compassion.

Posted in Budget, Economy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

on privilege

Last night after a senior vocal recital, after chatting for awhile with some colleagues I walked to the front of the auditorium to greet the student and wish her well, which she gratefully received. As I turned to go it occurred to me that the group of people standing in the aisle were not in fact simply gathered there chatting with one another, they were in a line waiting to congratulate her.

I honestly had not recognized their formation as I strolled past, and as I returned no one seemed particularly frustrated that I had violated the order of things. Though I initially wondered if that was a function of my position as a faculty member, this morning it seems equally possible it was a function of patient indulgence of the elderly.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Internet outrage

Early this morning as I was beginning to wake up, for some reason it occurred to me that I had given a lot of time the evening before, time that would have been better spent on just about anything else, trolling Twitter, Facebook, and some blogs for news to get righteously outraged about. I wondered why, and resolved to do better.

Michael B Dougherty described the experience this way: “Do you lie awake in bed more often these days, unable to sleep, scrolling through Facebook or Twitter on your phone, trying to ignore signs of stress? Perhaps a faint taste of acid in your mouth? . . . Does it make you want to spend more money, or write yourself more reminders to do “self-care?” Maybe you suspect that if anyone else cares about your self it is only to notice that deep down you’re just as much of a hateful loser as they are?”

It’s a useful essay, somewhat of a mea culpa, and I think a sincere one, about his contribution to the problem, since, as he confesses in the title, “I write on the internet.” He diagnoses the problem pretty well, and gives a spot on anecdote from his own experience, that is so spot on to my own experience I cringed as I read it.

The internet doesn’t coddle you in a comforting information bubble. It imprisons you in an information cell and closes the walls in on you by a few microns every day. . . .

An example: I’m worried about the culture on college campuses. Maybe you’re not, but I am. The rash of near-riots against right-wing speakers was troubling enough. But the internet wasn’t satisfied with the level of anxiety that might inspire in me and it quickly delivered to me dozens of stories about an obscure opinion piece written by an obscure group of college students from a college that had been, until that day, rather obscure to me. These people I’d never heard of wrote an editorial which argues that the concept of “objective truth” is propaganda for white supremacy. . . .

In an age in which print journalism reigned supreme, no one would have known about, heard of, or been troubled by this juvenile brain fart unless one of its authors ran for the U.S. Senate decades later. . . . But on the social networks where I used to enjoy looking at pictures and doings of my former classmates, there was this story, waiting to inject a little more of that acid taste in my mouth. . . .

I tried to remind myself that this was trivial bullshit, and didn’t effect anything in the world but pointless outrage. But of course that didn’t help. The poison of it flowed through me. My mind lit up with the desire to see the hands of a silent and awful deity plunging into the green plushy sward of Earth, pulling its tectonic plates apart, and shaking them until all human life and evidence of our civilization is dispersed into the outer oblivion of space. . . .

All of this occurred to me in less than a millisecond. And then I scrolled to the next dumbass news event my friends were sharing.

I am also a dumbass. I am pondering a nice Luddite solution, though it’s going to be difficult and require a lot of creativity. God help me. God help us all.

Read the whole thing, please.

h/t @Chris_Arnade

Posted in Culture, Media | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritualism and secular society

The religious fervor with which some groups in our society attack those who seem to advance an opposing point of view has become noteworthy. Civil disagreement and discourse has become the exception rather than the rule.

This essay by Joseph Bottum provides an engaging explanation for this phenomenon. He suggests that it illustrates the ongoing presence of some specific theological ideas inherited from the Protestant consensus of the 19th century that continue to inform the American understanding of the world, even in the absence of any particularly Christian belief.

It’s a bit longer than the normal internet fare, but definitely worth the time to read and consider.

Posted in Culture, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

anti-Semitism, the DNC, and Donald Trump

One of the more puzzling accusations underlying a lot of recent talk about President Trump is that he harbors anti-Semitic animus. At the same time, the support for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) among many on the left as the new leaders of the Democrat National Committee requires substantial rewriting or ignoring of his past writings, activities, and relationships.

The evidence useful for assessing the beliefs of both men is discussed usefully by Jeff Ballabon in his essay.

Posted in Politics, Trump | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

on the press in the age of Trump

It’s been difficult to sort out what’s happening in the United States in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as President. One of the main consequences has been a pretty dramatic reassessment of journalism as it’s been practiced. It will be interesting to see in 10 years what sort of media, news, and journalistic environment exists.

I’ve never studied journalism or media, but having been a consumer of it for several decades I feel somewhat familiar with the topic, as do we all, though it’s changed a lot since I first became aware of it in the days before cable television. Amidst all the current debate about the press, its role and status in society, and the deference it should receive from the public and the President, this essay has been useful for me.

Lee Smith starts from what has been a central claim about Russian involvement in the election and Donald Trump’s alleged Russian connection. Mr. Smith worked with the journalist who probably knew the most about Donald Trump, the late Wayne Barrett, and observes that Barrett at no time had developed significant content related to Trump and connections with Russia.

The current media concentration on stories related to alleged Russia ties became Smith’s entrance into the changes in journalism in the internet age. There was a shift from a focus on content to a focus on giving advertisers access to readers. That made reader interest paramount rather than content. Thus, content has taken a back seat to innuendo, regardless of the factual basis for it.

Read the whole thing.

Posted in Media | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

why I’m wary about getting another cat

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

on worship, singing, and the gathered church

It’s not a particularly new concern, but I think the current state of singing in churches is something that needs attention. My own context is a relatively independent evangelical Protestant church with little history or tradition beyond the past 10-15 years, so that affects my perception of the situation. I hope it’s different in other places, but from all accounts I’m hoping against hope.

There’s a substantial conflation of “worship” with “singing” which causes a lot of issues. Typically the reasonably aware church leader will eschew it, noting that the preaching of the word, communion, and serving in different roles are ways to worship, but the way each aspect of a weekly gathering are denoted would show, I suspect, that invitations to worship are almost exclusively given in reference to singing along when songs are performed.

Another frequently observed concern is the performance mentality of much that passes for congregational music. A friend who teaches music has noted the tendency of bands in church settings to almost completely fill up the space available for sound, so that the voices of the people singing are crowded out and pointless. That doesn’t promote participation.

Thin songs, in terms of both content and music, are another barrier to singing. There are exceptions, but too much of what gets put forward for singing lacks much to recommend it either from what’s being communicated by the words or how it can be sung by the typical person in attendance. Modern music written and played on radio stations is often not that appropriate for group singing. It’s interesting to note the number of traditional hymns being reworked by current composers. Perhaps there’s a nod to what’s being missed.

Could the culture shift again? I hope so. My memories of congregational singing when I was growing up are mixed. Overall, though, the effect of the time spent singing then was rather different that the effect now, and something important is missing and needs to be refreshed.

Posted in Christianity, Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

on faith, practice, and social goods

It should be a fundamental principle that belief is predicated on truth, not pragmatism. That being said, it is certainly the case that belief and practice that are aligned with truth will be pragmatic, in the sense that long-term success and flourishing will be inevitably undermined when thought and practice are based upon falsehoods.

That is preliminary to reflecting on this brief memoir in the New York Times on the divergence between white working class people and genuine engagement in religious faith, especially evangelical faith and practice. The author notes not only the benefits to himself of his evangelical faith when he was growing up, he refers to research regarding the positive correlations of religious engagement and social outcomes.

We always need to be sure not to suggest faith because of what someone can gain from it; that’s not actually faith. It does seem worth considering, though, whether the research demonstrating the improved life conditions of the faithful should play any role in the consideration of questions of faith. The benefits are not exclusive to Christian faith, it seems, so it wouldn’t settle any question between faiths. For the broader question of the nature of the universe we inhabit, whether it is strictly mechanistic as atheism would have it, or whether it is in fact a universe that includes a personal spiritual element, there would seem to be important knowledge to be explored.

h/t MereOrthodoxy.com for the link to the essay.

Posted in Christianity, Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

on the blessing of fatherhood

I’m very blessed as a father. Of course this all starts with the blessing of being married to a wonderful woman. We recently celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. I would not be the father I am without her, for the biological reasons, of course, but also for reasons of how much I’ve learned from her and with her about caring for others.

It didn’t actually start, though, with marrying Michelle, since my own life is a blessing of being the son of wonderful parents, who I’m fortunate to still have living and active. They are the quintessential salt-of-the-earth type of people, and most of who I am has been built on the solid foundation laid by them. I can’t express my gratitude enough.

Life is a blessing, and a blessed life that the one I’m living is indeed a miracle. How much of a miracle is engagingly illustrated in this Fathers’ Day essay by R. S. McCain. It’s a celebration of life, and it’s something worth pondering.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment