Archive for July, 2008

Don’t Worry, Use Plastic

July 31, 2008

The New York Times Science Section gives you a list of things NOT to worry about.

I appreciate topics #2-6, though their criteria isn’t sufficiently comprehensive, focusing, for example, solely on carbon footprints and not larger socio-economic or other environmental factors. Each item is expanded upon with my commentary after the fold.

  • Your car’s planet-destroying A/C
  • Forbidden fruits from afar
  • Carcinogenic cellphones
  • Evil plastic bags
  • Toxic plastic bottles

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“Jews will live, but we just won’t remember what for”

July 31, 2008

So says Rami Shapiro, one smart and sassy rabbi, in a recent blog-jeremiad (jere-blog? blog-emiad) in which he calls the people Israel to repent of their modern Jewish forms and turn… to something else not yet created.

In the end, here’s all the guy really wants.

For all our poetic genius our liturgies are, by and large, lifeless and stultifying. For all our education we still lack a compelling vision of a postmodern and post tribal Judaism. For all our creativity our worship is, by and large, dull, predictable, and uninspiring. For all our Nobel Prize winning scientists we still promote a pre-Newtonian worldview irrelevant in our post-Einsteinian world.

Y’know, a new integration of pure democracy, quantum theory, and improv theater, and a community that is completely universal but still Jew-ish. Oh, and he’d like us to discard all that old stuff about sacrifice which we moderns have supposedly grown beyond. [I tried to engage Rami twice on this subject over a period of several months, the first time offering Girardian reflections on sacrifice in the Buddhist tradition (his specialty), the second discussing the Pinchas/Phineas story in the Hebrew Bible. I’m not yet encouraged that Rami’s spirituality includes reapproaching “sacrifice” either theoretically or the life experiences which may verify the reality of sacrifice, that is, the life-giving donation of one’s being into relationships such as marriage, parenting, teaching and friendship]

Now let’s get into the meat of Rami’s jeremiad-without-a-covenant. Here’s Rami’s rather fun list of modern Jewish failures:

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Mass Man Today: Blackberry Civilization Unglued

July 30, 2008

Reading essays occasionally lifts me from daily, foot-focused existence and offers a view of the longer path of social evolution. I thank Joseph Bottom, intrepid editor of First Things, for exploring the central theme of Ortega Y Gassett’s 1929 book The Revolt of the Masses.

“What before would have been considered one of fortune’s gifts, inspiring humble gratitude toward destiny, was converted into a right, not to be grateful for, but to be insisted on,” The Revolt of the Masses claims.

What Ortega understood is that the nineteenth century created the kind of human being who would become the dominant social force in the twentieth century—and thus that there is no way back to the aristocratic style of politics that dominated history for millennia. Mass man, fortified by an array of rights, is in charge of historical destiny.

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On Differences

July 30, 2008

“Fear acts very differently than love in that it will exaggerate differences.”

–Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future (1946), p152.

I like this, though fear will also ignore differences to quell conflict and love can also honor difference. Can anyone square the circle for me?

Academics and the War on Terror

July 24, 2008

Hugh Gunderson addresses with appropriate moderation, Project Minerva, the Pentagon’s renewed interest in academic knowledge to better fight its war on terror.

As Gunderson reports, under Minerva, the Pentagon has allocated $50 million for academics, for example, “to write about the connections between religion, especially Islam, and terrorism; translate, analyze, and publicly archive documents captured in the Iraq war; create a centralized archive of publicly available documents on Chinese military doctrine and technology… Secretary Gates flagged the contributions that could be made by history, sociology, evolutionary biology and, above all, by my own discipline, anthropology.”

Gunderson details why, “many anthropologists simply will not apply for funding if it comes from the Pentagon.” 

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Respond and Change in Jackson

July 24, 2008

Here’s a good story about my former colleagues at Operation Understanding DC in Jackson, Mississippi.

Samuel Spires, 17, a student at my former high school, superbly sums up what’s at stake in intercultural dialogue.  “You just have to do it,” he said. “Be willing to face contradictory ideas. And if you find yourself changing your mind and your ideas, be open to it.”

Respondeo etsi mutabor, I respond although I must change, is the motto of our age according to my teacher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.

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Too Weird for The Wire

July 22, 2008

This article in The Washington Monthly reminded me of a fun but one-sided men’s college basketball game I attended with a friend. As we entered the parking my pal began to speak about his strange day at work. A middle-aged Black defendant (race is relevant) walked into his Baltimore office with a question about the man’s upcoming criminal trial. The guy learned during his last jail stint a theory involving the the illegitimacy of the federal government since the Civil War resulting in the unconstitutionality of the income tax and our leaving the gold standard. If a defendant expressed all this to the judge, he must release you. “Should I use this defense?” he asked my friend?

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Black Agency, Urban Migration, Paternalism

July 22, 2008
Atlanta In Transition

Atlanta In Transition

Black Agency? I don’t mean group sales or political things. In the confines of university sociology, agency refers to the power of a person or group to enact their will. Indeed, it is the translation of conscious will into action. Chris Bodenner, filling in at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, finds both a story and a sharp reply relevant to the topic of Black Agency.

The WSJ examines how U.S. cities such as Atlanta, DC, and San Francisco are reversing historic trends by becoming more white — both because white professionals are gentrifying blighted areas and because black middle-class families are moving to the suburbs. In other words, white flight has given way to “African-American out-migration.”

The story goes on to detail the hand wringing by SF mayor and community leaders. How can they reverse this out-migration of African-Americans? A jazz center? More affordable housing? Chris then links to Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ response:

Part of the reason cities like Atlanta are becoming white is because black folks (like myself) who grew up caged in cities want their taste of the stereotypical American dream and thus are leaving. But there never is any black agency–to be African-American is to be an automaton responding to either white racism or cultural pathology. No way you could actually have free will.

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Mainline’s Decline and the Fate of America

July 21, 2008

Peter Leithart notes the implication for moral discourse in America:

In a characteristically fascinating article in the August/September edition of First Things, Jody Bottum argues that, given the informal Protestant establishment that has existed since America’s founding, “the death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: the Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.” The collapse of Protestant America makes it very difficult for Americans to combine patriotism with profound criticism, with the result that “any attempt to speak in the old-fashioned voice of moral criticism turns sour and bitter – segueing into anti-Americanism, regardless of its intentions.”

Bottum poses, more sharply and profoundly than any one else has, the question of whether America can survive the loss of this “leg” of the three-legged stool of democracy, capitalism, and religion.

I hadn’t considered this element. Kudos again to First Things, which continues to surprise and challenge me with the depth of thinking. The religious conservative is much richer than anyone not participating in it can appreciate.

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The Alarm Calling

July 21, 2008

I saw my hero Mike Peters and The Alarm twice last week (DC and NY). It was the first time the Alarm has played many of their brilliant new songs. See the review below. For those of us interested in Girardian analysis, Mike’s recent lyrics demonstrate a wrestling with many of the major themes: religion, violence, contemporary chaos and insufficient solutions, love that frees us from defective models, chivalrous defense.

Mike was very affected by the 7/7/05 London Bombings and he penned subsequent albums entitled Under Attack and Counterattack. After the second chorus in “Fightback” a short rap/spoken word declares, “You gotta fight back, keep it under control/ fight back, use intelligent force/We’ve got to channel the aggression in the right way/ Channel the aggression there’s no other way.”

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