November 30, 2008

Advent as a Way of Discipline

Happily, now that I have returned to the Catholic church,  I pay far more attention to the liturgical calendar and its rhythm through the seasons which reverberate on a far deeper level than the popular calendar.  Today is the first day of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas which, if followed, become a way of discipline that makes more joyous the feast of Christmas.

Joseph Bottum on The End of Advent

Still, the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing—for it’s injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.
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A kind of longing pervades the Old Testament selections read in church over the weeks before Christmas—an anxious, almost sorrowful litany of hope only in what has not yet come.
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What Advent is, really, is a discipline: a way of forming anticipation and channeling it toward its goal. There’s a flicker of rose on the third Sunday—Gaudete!, that day’s Mass begins: Rejoice!—but then it’s back to the dark purple that is the mark of the season in liturgical churches. And what those somber vestments symbolize is the deeply penitential design of Advent. Nothing we can do earns us the gift of Christmas, any more than Lent earns us Easter. But a season of contrition and sacrifice prepares us to understand and feel something about just how great the gift is when at last the day itself arrives.
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Maybe that’s what has happened to Christmas. The ideas and the emotions have all broken free and smashed their way across the fields. From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I heard the bells on Christmas Day / Their old, familiar carols play to Irving Berlin’s I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know, there has been for a long time now something oddly backward looking about Christmas music—some nostalgia that insists on substituting its melancholy for the somber contrition and sorrow of forward-looking Advent.

Thanks to the Deacon, I too wait for Advent on my brand new iPhone.  The Deacon quotes from the "good people at Mac"

 Iphone Advent

Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the birth of Jesus. Advent is a time of sobriety in the face of His return. The rhythm of American life, especially in the holiday season, seldom leaves time for adequate preparation.

Adequate, however, does not imply the amount of time spent, as much as it refers to focus and attention.

Advent08 is a daily devotional tool to help find focus and discipline attention. It is more than just a way to count down the days to Christmas; it is a way to help transform Advent into a journey of faith.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:48 AM | Permalink

British surfer dog

Meet Harvey the dog who gets his daily exercise riding the waves

"His name is Harvey and he's a surfer of the highest pedigree.

After all, it's not everyone who can balance with four feet on the board at once - let alone use his tail as a rudder.

 British Surfer Dog

The three-year-old labrador is the pet of Scott Pearson and his 16-year-old son James, both keen surfers. He regularly joins them on Tynemouth beach in North Tyne-side, where he has his own sponge surfboard which he carries in and out of the waves in his jaws.

'He's been in the water ever since he was a pup,' said 43-year-old Mr Pearson, from Gosforth.

'Whenever we're out surfing he's always following us - he never stays on the beach.'

James, who hopes to join the British surfing team said Harvey first took to a surfboard this summer.

'My Dad and I were out paddling on the board and Harvey just swam out to us and we put him on the board. "He's a real natural and now every time he is out on his board people watch in amazement."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:10 AM | Permalink

November 29, 2008

"Money is based on trust"

Money is based on trust says Niall Ferguson  Confidence in the free market and capitalist institutions  is based on trust. 

What is money after all but a promise to pay? 

Without a foundation in society based on religion or religiously-based ethics, there's no reason to believe that such promises will be kept.

We're in such a mess because Congressmen and bankers abused our trust to satisfy their political agendas or their greed.

Investors' Business Daily takes note of the Pope's remarks to say

What he really said was not clairvoyant, but self-evident: Economic freedom demands ethics.

Of course, we are not without fault as Ed Morrissey writes in Has America learned a lesson about consumption?

the period between the last recession and now has been marked by the unique phenomenon of assets-based consumption.  We need a return to income-based consumption, and the transition is going to sting:
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The entire precipice was built on sand, and it’s now turning into quicksand.  For some, the lesson will come too late.  For the rest of us, it’s a lesson we need to learn for good.  Many of us have heard the advice our parents and grandparents learned in hard economic times: Don’t spend beyond your means.  Many in the previous couple of generations had a well-deserved skepticism about credit, and they’ve been proven right yet again.

Niall Ferguson was prescient when he started his book to explain the current economic crisis in the span of 4000 years of financial history. (Hat tip to Cat at Brits at their Best.)  He saw the liquidity crisis coming.


"The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World" (Niall Ferguson)

Here is Ferguson, Tisch Professor of History at Harvard, speaking with Harry Kriesler at the University of California, Berkely on his new book.

It's wonderful to be able to hear and learn so much on the internet.  The good news is that U.S. has a better chance of riding out the crisis than other countries because people around the world believe that the correct response is to put their cash into dollars

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

"We've lost more than we'll ever know"

A remarkable essay by R.R. Reno, We Need Roots.

Life is better—richer, deeper, thicker—for our loyalties and loves.

I share this Chestertonian sensibility, which is why the new music from the English folk band, Show of Hands, gives me goose bumps.

  “Redbrick cottage where I was born / Is the empty shell of a holiday home. / Most of year there’s no one there. / The village is dead and they don’t care.”
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“Country Life” is not a polemic against free markets or Thatcherism. It thrusts against the left as well. “No one marched to subsidize and save the country way of life,” they sing. We are reminded that so-called progressive politics long ago shifted its focus toward securing lifestyle freedoms for the new-economy winners (gay-pride marches, women’s rights marches), as well as toward movements to satisfy the refined moral palates of the educated elites (animal rights, nuclear disarmament, global warming). The local guy with a high-school education and ordinary expectations from life gets pushed to the side.
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The major premise of “Roots” is simple: “Without our stories or our songs / How will we know where we come from?” The minor premise is implied: England now encourages cultural forgetfulness rather than memory. The conclusion: an urgent imperative of cultural renewal that gives this song extraordinary emotional power.
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Social capital is not a fixed asset. It requires regular reinvestment, which we do by committing resources of memory, love, and loyalty. One of the signal features of our age is the belief that we can have everything for nothing. Our multicultural therapists imagine that we can discharge the batteries of national identity, reap gains in tolerance, and pay no costs. But there are costs. As the Show of Hands sings, “We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know.” We can’t stand forever at a distance with our critical doubts and moral reservations. Love rewards only those who venture her commitments.

This loss of "more than we'll ever know" echoes in Degeneration, the number one song in Quebec for by the band called Mes Aieux (My Ancestors)

HT Ron Dreher

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:15 PM | Permalink

Working Class Men with the Traits of Heroes

Dr. Helen writes about The Traits of Heroes

Stopped. Cold turkey. North Carolina authorities say a shopper clubbed an alleged carjacker with a frozen turkey as he tried to steal a woman's car in a grocery store parking lot Sunday.
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I am in the middle of reading an incredible book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why that explains why it is that some people are prepared for disaster and others are not. One of the chapters in the book is on heroism and it found that those who are heroes like the above turkey clubber have confidence in their abilities.
They tend to have an "internal locus of control"--that is, a sense that they shape their own destiny rather than looking to someone else.

Bystanders, on the other hand, tend to feel buffeted by forces beyond their control. 'They pay scant attention to other people's problems. They will concentrate on their own need for survival,'...

According to the book,
some common traits of heroes in a study of 450 acts of heroism found a whopping 91 percent of them performed by males. The author notes that this could be a bias of the sample used.... but anyway, the heroes in the study also tended to be working class men. They tended to be truck drivers, laborers, welders, or factory workers--physical jobs that required some risk, just like rescuing. A high number of the rescues were in rural or small-town America and 80% of the rescues happened in places with less than one hundred thousand people. The author opines that this might be because in small towns, people know one another and acts of kindness are recognized and remembered. A strong sense of duty to help others was also mentioned

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:54 PM | Permalink

Small Towns

Paul Gregory writing in First Things on Small Towns

 Small Town

Small-town connectivity also ties one to a place and to the past. People are often born, grow up, marry, raise a family, work, retire, and die all within the same few miles or even acres. Birth, childhood, family, place, memory, and death are all tied tightly together. These few acres or miles are a part of daily experience. You drive by the place where you grew up every day. It is the same with the place where you went to school or played baseball or where your granddaddy used to work. The past is not past in a small town. The past is experienced viscerally and concretely every day. It is a part of today as surely as the ground upon which one walks.
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It is this sort of connectedness to place and people and the past that that makes small towns different. It is not an easy set of slogans that can be trumpeted by a political party or captured in a sound bite. It is the shape of the small town itself which has embedded itself in its people. That shape takes the form of a web that connects that person to a multitude of places and people and past experience. That web becomes the stuff of that person; it is his identity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:44 PM | Permalink

Our wart-based education

Mark Steyn hits it out of the park again in this Thanksgiving note, Which history?

We've taken Cromwell's advice to his portraitist to paint him "warts and all", and show our kids all but solely the warts — spreading disease to Native Americans, enslaving blacks, interning the Japanese. Any non-wart stuff is mostly invented out of whole cloth: the US Constitution has its good points but they all come from the Iroquois, and the first Thanksgiving is some kind of proto-Communist celebration of collective farming.

A few months back, my little boy came home from Second Grade and said to me, "Guess what we learned today?" I said: "Rosa Parks." He said: "How did you know that?" I said: "Because it's always Rosa Parks." And, if you don't learn it in the context of any broader historical narrative, it's just a story about municipal transit seating arrangements.

Teaching only the warts is a terrible thing to do to young children. At its extreme it leads to those British Taliban captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan: Subjects of the Crown who'd been raised in English schools and taught only that the country to which they owed their nominal allegiance was the source of all the racism, oppression, colonialism, and imperialism in the world. Why be surprised that a proportion of the alumni of such a system would look elsewhere for their sense of identity?

But, even in its more benign form, warts-only education leaves a big hole where one's cultural inheritance should be.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:40 PM | Permalink

Mice with dementia

I don't know how much faith I'd put in this, but it's another reason to avoid fast food unless you're on the road, pressed for time and really hungry.

Research on mice links fast food to Alzheimer's

"On examining the brains of these mice, we found a chemical change not unlike that found in the Alzheimer brain," Susanne Akterin, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, who led the study, said in a statement.

  "We now suspect that a high intake of fat and cholesterol in combination with genetic factors ... can adversely affect several brain substances, which can be a contributory factor in the development of Alzheimer's."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:04 PM | Permalink

Singing for a Good Life

Via Kottke comes the news that Brian Eno believes in singing is the key to a good life.

Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call "civilizational benefits." When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.
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The critical thing turns out to be the choice of songs. The songs that seem to work best are those based around the basic chords of blues and rock and country music. You want songs that are word-rich, but also vowel-rich because it's on the long vowels sounds of a song such as "Bring It On Home To Me" ("You know I'll alwaaaaays be your slaaaaave"), that's where your harmonies really express themselves. And when you get a lot of people singing harmony on a long note like that, it's beautiful.
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So I believe in singing to such an extent that if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you.

Group singing in chapel and assembly was always part of education until a comparatively short time ago.  I remember singing together throughout my school years, at camp and at family get-togethers when my grandparents were alive.  When people got together they would sing, be it at church, at work or in a friendly gathering.  Sadly,  with fewer people going to church and no singing at work, that experience has been lost.

 C

So a few weeks ago when I went to a concert We the People by the Mystic Chorale, I was delighted that the conductor Nick Page expected the audience to join the 200+ members of the chorus to join in singing many of the songs. 

 B

So enjoyable was it, I've decided to join the chorale for their winter gospel concert. 

The Mystic Chorale is a non-profit, volunteer organization that accepts anyone who loves to sing.  The commitment for each concert is short, only 8 weeks, a perfect antidote to the winter blues.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 AM | Permalink

November 28, 2008

What one dog did for a bitter old man

What one dog did for a bitter old man.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered. In vain. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, 'I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.' I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.
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'Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!' I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. 'If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it' Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Read the rest of the story by Catherine Moore here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:38 AM | Permalink

Foodscapes

No matter how skillful you are with leftovers from yesterday's meal, you will never reach the sublime heights that Carl Warner has with his foodscapes.

Below is a salmon sea and a peapod boat sailing away from a land made of bread and potatoes under waving dill fronds.

 Amazing Food Art

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 AM | Permalink

November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving and Sam Adams

The year after the founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain, the war to secure that independence continued through many bleak days.  Ira Stoll writes that the national holiday actually began during such dark hours.

For much of 1777, the situation was not much better. British troops controlled New York City. The Americans lost the strategic stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, to the British in July. In Delaware, on Sept. 11, troops led by Gen. George Washington lost the Battle of Brandywine, in which 200 Americans were killed, 500 wounded and 400 captured. In Pennsylvania, early in the morning of Sept. 21, another 300 American soldiers were killed or wounded and 100 captured in a British surprise attack that became known as the Paoli Massacre.

Philadelphia, America's largest city, fell on Sept. 26. Congress, which had been meeting there, fled briefly to Lancaster, Pa., and then to York, a hundred miles west of Philadelphia. One delegate to Congress, John Adams of Massachusetts, wrote in his diary, "The prospect is chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholy, and dispiriting."

 Sam Adams Brewer Patriot

His cousin, Samuel Adams, gave the other delegates -- their number had dwindled to a mere 20 from the 56 who had signed the Declaration of Independence -- a talk of encouragement. He predicted, "Good tidings will soon arrive. We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection."

He turned out to have been correct, at least about the good tidings. On Oct. 31, a messenger arrived with news of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga. The American general, Horatio Gates, had accepted the surrender of 5,800 British soldiers, and with them 27 pieces of artillery and thousands of pieces of small arms and ammunition.

Saratoga turned the tide of the war -- news of the victory was decisive in bringing France into a full alliance with America. Congress responded to the event by appointing a committee of three that included Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and Daniel Roberdeau of Pennsylvania, to draft a report and resolution. The report, adopted Nov. 1, declared Thursday, Dec. 18, as "a day of Thanksgiving" to God, so that "with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor."
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It turned out, though, that the ideas of thanking God for America's blessings -- and of praying for the spread of freedom everywhere -- would long outlast Adams's career. The concepts still meet with skepticism from time to time. But they are reason enough to pause during tomorrow's football game or family feast and raise a glass to the Founding Father who began our Thanksgiving tradition.

And if your beer bears his name, so much the better.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:29 AM | Permalink

November 21, 2008

"It was like I was a fake person, like I didn't really exist"

US teen lives 118 days without a heart

An American teen-ager survived for nearly four months without a heart, kept alive by a custom-built artificial blood-pumping device, until she was able to have a heart transplant, doctors in Miami said on Wednesday.

The patient, D'Zhana Simmons of South Carolina, said the experience of living for so long with a machine pumping her blood was "scary."

"You never knew when it would malfunction...It was like I was a fake person, like I didn't really exist. I was just here," she said of living without a heart.

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"She essentially lived for 118 days without a heart, with her circulation supported only by the two blood pumps," said Dr. Marco Ricci, the hospital's director of pediatric cardiac surgery. During that time, Simmons was mobile but remained hospitalized.
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For now, D'Zhana said she is glad she can now walk without the machine. She is looking forward to celebrating her 15th birthday on Saturday riding a boat off Miami's coast, and is grateful she will be able to see her five siblings and friends again soon at her home in Clinton, S.C.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:32 PM | Permalink

Christian Revolutionary and Economic Prophet

Peter Seewald, a German journalist , who interviewed Cardinal Ratzinger at length before he became Pope calls him a "spiritual master" and "A Revolutionary of the Christian Type".

The man from Bavaria--contrary to all the projections dumped onto his shoulders--is a revolutionary of the Christian type. Seeking out what was lost and saving it is the constant element in his life. An inconvenient man who can seize on the spirit of the times, who warns people against the aberrations of modern life. Anyone who really wants change, he cries out, needs a change in his consciousness and his personal behavior--anything else is insufficient.

But no one ever thought he was an economic prophet as Bloomberg reports

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI was the first to predict the crisis in the global financial system, a ``prophecy'' dating to a paper he wrote when he was a cardinal, Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said.

``The prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules can be found'' in an article written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in April 2005, Tremonti said yesterday at Milan's Cattolica University.

German-born Ratzinger in 1985 presented a paper entitled ``Market Economy and Ethics'' at a Rome event dedicated to the Church and the economy. T
he future pope said a decline in ethics ``can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.''

 Cardinal Ratzinger

The original article is here 

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength. The political formation of a will that employs the inherent economic laws towards this goal appears, in spite of all humanitarian protestations, almost impossible today. It can only be realized if new ethical powers are completely set free.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:55 AM | Permalink

Tom Wolfe Interviewed

If you like Tom Wolfe  - and I do a lot - don't miss this interview with him in the National Association of Scholars.

 Tom Wolfe


He manages to find something good in political correctness:
But political correctness can take credit for one great achievement. It is not “social justice.” I am talking about the respect that is now shown to what had been, to use Max Weber’s term, “pariah people”: Jews, blacks, homosexuals, and today’s equivalent of lepers, namely, AIDS sufferers. I’m not saying everybody now feels sympathy for them, much less embraces them and sheds tears for them or has the slightest desire to have them over for dinner. I’m talking about respectful treatment in public encounters and in public utterances. This is an enormous change, and it’s of utmost importance. It’s more important than higher wages, professional advancement, bigger houses, or any other worldly improvements. It’s about the most important thing in the life of any human being: his status.

Political correctness is, as I say, a faculty obsession. It rarely changes the political outlook of an undergraduate. It just rolls off his hide, unless he comes from a family that felt that way to begin with. But it has created a certain new social atmosphere. Among educated people throughout the United States it has become a blunder, a gaffe, to show open disrespect toward any group classified under the heading “minority.” It makes one seem ill-bred. That’s all to the good.

What Larry Summers should have said when Nancy Hopkins got the vapors over his speculation that evolutionary differences may account for the reason there are so few women in high-level positions in science and engineering and the Harvard faculty erupted insisting Summers must go.
No question about it. They weren’t attacking him on intellectual grounds but on religious grounds. They were treating him as a heretic, a transgressor. They were assaulting his character. We learned how to deal with that one in our sophomore year at St. Christopher’s. If someone impugns your character, you can’t waste time trying to defend it.
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Attack the attacker. Attack his—in this case, their—character. All he had to say was, “I cannot…believe…what I am now witnessing…members of the Harvard faculty taking a grossly anti-intellectual stance, violating their implicit vow to cherish the free exchange of ideas, going mad because a hypothesis that has been openly discussed for almost half a century offends some ideological passion of the moment, acting like the most benighted of Puritans from three centuries ago ransacking all that is decent and rational in search of witches, causing this great university to become the laughingstock of the academic world here and abroad, sacrificing your very integrity in the name of some smelly little orthodoxy, as Orwell called beliefs like the ones you profess. I’m more than disappointed in you. I’m ashamed of you. Is that really how you see your mission here? If so, you should resign…now!...forthwith!...and take to the streets under your own names, not Harvard’s, and forbear being so small-minded and egotistical as to try to drag Harvard down to your level. Ladies, gentlemen…kindly do not display your ignorance…on these hallowed premises…while holding aloft the flags, the standards, of this university. Be honest with yourselves, even if you can’t be honest with Harvard. Look…think…and see…what you have become.” That would have taken care of the whole thing.

His interest in neuroscience comes from his observation that most everyone and everything is connected to status.
Before Weber, the term status had never referred specifically to social position. All at once the scales and motes fell from my eyes—I think that’s the expression—and I felt I could see life clearly for the first time. I soon realized that this concern about social status, about where you rank, absolutely saturates life
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to me, ...status, is everything. It’s the key to understanding everything humans do.

On the Academy today
People in academia should start insisting on objective scholarship, insisting on it, relentlessly, driving the point home, ramming it down the gullets of the politically correct, making noise! naming names! citing egregious examples! showing contempt to the brink of brutality! The idea that a discipline should be devoted to “social justice” is ludicrous. The fashionable deconstructionist doctrine that there is no such thing as truth, only the self-serving manipulation of language, is worse than ludicrous. It is casuistry, laziness, and childishness in equal parts.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:08 AM | Permalink

Go to Church and Live Longer

The scientific evidence mounts:

Attending Religious Services Sharply Cuts Risk Of Death, Study Suggests

A study published by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, strongly suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent.
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“Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Schnall, who was lead author of the study. “There is something here that we don’t quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results,” he added.

Others:

Weekly Religious Attendance Nearly as Effective as Statins and Exercise in Extending Life
Improvements in life expectancy of those who attend religious services on a weekly basis to be comparable to those who participate in regular physical exercise and to those who take statin-type medications

Go to Church and Breathe Easier
religious activity may protect and maintain pulmonary health in the elderly.

Religious Attendance Linked to Lower Mortality in Elderly
The current findings build on a series of earlier studies at Duke and elsewhere showing that religious people have lower blood pressure, less depression and anxiety, stronger immune systems and cost the health care system less than people who are less religiously involved.

Research Shows Religion Plays a Major Role in Health, Longevity
For the first time, that extra lifespan has been quantified. While there are differences between genders and races, in general those who go to church once or more each week can look forward to about seven more years than those who never attended.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:05 AM | Permalink

November 20, 2008

Consolation for Allergy Sufferers

Miseries of Allergies Just May Help Prevent Some Cancers

Sneezing, coughing, tearing and itching just may help prevent cancer -- particularly colon, skin, bladder, mouth, throat, uterus and cervix, lung and gastrointestinal tract cancer, according to a new Cornell study.

Paul Sherman, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior led the team that analyzed 646 studies on allergies and cancers published over the past 50 years.

Sherman believes that allergy symptoms may help protect against cancer by shedding foreign particles from the body. Some of those particles, he said, might be carcinogenic or carry carcinogens.
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So should people routinely suppress all allergy symptoms with medications? Sherman said the jury is still out. However, allergies are not merely disorders of the immune system, but rather are the evolved front line of defense against certain parasites and cancers. In sum, allergic reactions may be like fevers and morning sickness: uncomfortable responses that survived natural selection because they provided direct benefits.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:48 PM | Permalink

Call for a Counter-revolution

Dr. Bob is one of the best writers on the Internet and one of the most thoughtful.  Here he is on Revolution of the Soul  which deserves being read in its entirety.

The revolution which started in the 60s with the “me” generation is bearing its bitter fruit — though its aging proponents will never admit it. And sadly, there’s no going back: the changes which have infiltrated and infected the culture, inoculated through education, media, entertainment, scientific rationalism, and a relentless and highly successful assault on reason and tradition, are permanent, and their consequences will only grow in magnitude.

So it’s time for a counter-revolution.

There is an alternative to our current cultural narcissism with its corrosive, calloused, destructive bent. It is not a new government program, nor a political movement; no demonstrations in the street, no marches on Washington. Its core ideology is over 2000 years old, and the foot soldiers of the revolution are already widely dispersed throughout the culture.

This revolutionary force is called Christianity, and it’s long past time to raise the banner and spring into action.
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Then we must act like the counter-culturists we claim to be. Be patient with those who are difficult; be generous in time and money; express gratitude to those around us (when was the last time you wrote a thank you note to your doctor, your contractor, your attorney, to the manager of the store employee who helped you?). Lose the profanity; guard your tongue. Repair broken relationships, as best you can. Be joyful in difficult times, knowing that God is at work in your life despite your difficulties. Be compassionate rather than judgmental to those whose life choices are destructive or misguided. The tattoos and piercings we ridicule are cries of desperation from those hungering for purpose and meaning.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:35 PM | Permalink

What I didn't know about Jonestown

I was around when Jim Jones and his 900 followers committed suicide in Guyana by drinking the kool-aid laced with cyanide.

I remember reading as much as I could in trying  to understand what I never could. 

On the thirtieth anniversary of that terrible day, I read neo's analysis and was surprised to learn what a respected a member of the San Francisco community he was and how many ties he had to local Democratic politicians. 

He had been pictured as an evangelical Christian fanatic

On November 17, 1978, Jim Jones was a hero to American leftists. On November 18, 1978, Jones orchestrated the killings of 918 people and strangely morphed in the eyes of American leftists into an evangelical Christian fanatic. An unfortunately well-worn narrative, playing out contemporaneously in Pol Pot's Cambodia, of socialist dreams ending in ghoulish nightmares, then, conveniently shifted to one about the dangers of organized religiom. But as The Nation magazine reported at the time, "The temple was as much a left-wing political crusade as a church. In the course of the 1970s, its social program grew steadily more disaffiliated from what Jim Jones came to regard as 'Fascist America' and drifted rapidly toward outspoken Communist sympathies." So much so that the
last will and testament of the Peoples Temple, and its individual members who left notes, bequeathed millions of dollars in assets to the Soviet Union. As Jones expressed to a Soviet diplomat upon upon his visit to Jonestown the month before the smiling suicides took place, "For many years, we have let our sympathies be quite publicly known, that the United States government was not our mother, but that the Soviet Union was our spiritual motherland."
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Jim Jones was an evangelical communist who became a minister to infiltrate the church with the gospel according to Marx and Lenin. He was an atheist missionary bringing his message of socialist redemption to the Christian heathen. "I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism?," remembered Jones of his days in 1950s Indiana. "The thought was, infiltrate the church." So in the forms of Pentecostal ritual, Jones smuggled socialism into the minds of true believers--who gradually became true believers of a different sort. Unless one counts his drug-induced bouts with self-messianism, Jones didn't believe in God. Get it--a Peoples Temple. He shocked his parishioners, many of whom certainly did believe in God, by dramatically tossing the Bible onto the ground during a sermon. "Nobody's going to come out of the sky!," an excited Jones had once informed his flock. "There's no heaven up there! We'll have to have heaven down here!"
--
A man who killed more African Americans than the Ku Klux Klan was awarded a local Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and won the plaudits of California lieutenant governor Mervyn Dymally, state assemblyman Willie Brown, radical academic Angela Davis, preacher/politician Jesse Jackson, Black Panther leader Huey Newton, and other African American activists.

Neo reflects on the lessons learned

In the case of the Jonestown inhabitants, they were extreme idealists who had ceded a great deal of autonomy to a leader and a group at the outset. Very few of them had a chance.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:27 AM | Permalink

November 18, 2008

California fires

 California Fire
This is  just one of a series of extraordinary photos of the California fires over at The Big Picture which seems to have taken the place of the newsweeklies in bringing us photographs that explain events in the world that words cannot.

How else could you appreciate the capricious of the wind and fires, consuming this and leaving that one untouched?  How do people explain to themselves?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:21 PM | Permalink

Loneliness and the need for human connection

Loneliness is a signal like hunger, thirst and pain that something important is missing - connection with other people - that all humans need  says John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness.


"Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection" (John T. Cacioppo, William Patrick)

The best guarantee of a long, healthy and happy life may be the connections you have with other people.

From an interview with the author in US News and World Report, Why loneliness is bad for your health

The painful feeling known as loneliness is a prompt to reconnect to others.
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Humans have a need to be affirmed up close and personal; we see this most often in marriage. But people who don't marry may find meaning elsewhere. We also have a need for a wider circle of friends and family, but we all know that close family connections can be a mixed blessing. And there's a need to feel that we belong to a larger group. Many of us tend to ignore the collective part of social connection until there is an insult or threat. An example is how, right after 9/11, Americans felt very close to one another. There was a harmony and helpfulness that was really quite surprising. Being an Obama-ite during the campaign would be another example of having a collective identity, feeling like you're part of something grand and wonderful.

People who go to church regularly live longer than nonchurchgoers. Why is that?
Churches can be very beneficial—one can feel connected to the group, the church, and to God. Those are actually different things, but both seem to have beneficial effect. God is like a supercharged friend.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 AM | Permalink

How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer

An absolutely  brilliant documentary from Australia entitled How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer can be seen in three parts, in streaming video.

I was riveted as I watched a number of scientists gradually discover and unveil the natural law behind networks.    From the mathematician who tried to explain why crickets sound together and fireflies synchronize their flashes to this image of the Internet

 Image Internet

to the idea of six degrees of separation - that anyone on the planet can be connected in just a few steps of association - played out  before us, we see a major scientific breakthrough as the scientists realize the same law can be applied to neurons, proteins,  viruses and the spread of disease.

And yes Kevin Bacon makes an appearance.  When the trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon came out, Bacon thought he was being made the object of fun.  Now he's the founder of Sixdegrees.org, a non-profit calling for social networking with a conscience. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:59 AM | Permalink

November 14, 2008

Our 'shared spiritual alphabet'

Separating Christianity from Europe's public life leads 'down a blind alley' Pope cautions.

Though our world and environment continue to change, Pope Benedict continued, “the final aim of all our daily efforts, both as individuals and as a community, remains unaltered: the search for the true well-being of the person and the creation of an open and welcoming society attentive to the real needs of everyone.”

"The values and laws, the shared spiritual 'alphabet,' that has made it possible for our peoples to write noble chapters of civil and religious history over the centuries, is a precious heritage that must not be squandered," the Pope added, but rather “augmented with the contribution of modern discoveries in the fields of science technology and communication, which must be placed at the service of the real good of mankind."

The Pontiff continued by emphasizing that if this rich heritage is separated from the public life, it would “mean starting down a blind alley.”  He also stressed that “this is why it is necessary to redefine the meaning of secularism, a secularism that highlights the real difference and autonomy between the various elements of society but that also protects their specific competencies, in a context of shared responsibility.”

The phrase our 'shared spiritual alphabet' is especially apt since so many have become illiterate and ignorant of the roots of the civilization that has cradled them. 

Take Oxford for example.  No more Christmas lights for them.  No indeed.  Christmas is now banned in Oxford in favor of a 'Winter Light Festival'.    Instead of the traditional Christmas lights, there will be a 25 meter high mobile in shape of the solar system.

 Christmas Lights Oxford

Muslims and Jews want Christmas back.

Sabir Hussain Mirza, chairman of the Muslim Council of Oxford, said: 'I'm really upset. Christians, Muslims and other religions all look forward to Christmas.'

Rabbi Eli Bracknell of the Jewish Educational Centre said: ' Anything that waters down traditional culture and Christianity is not positive for the British identity. WinterLight includes all festivals but it also conceals them.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:04 AM | Permalink

November 13, 2008

A speck in the eye

 Formalhaut

Fomalhuat (sounds like "form-a-lot"), the 18th brightest star in the sky, can be seen without a telescope.  See that tiny white dot there?  That's it.  Just 25 light years away.   

What looks like the iris of an eye, what looks to some like the Eye of Sauron, is a dusty debris ring recorded by the Hubble telescope. 

Inside that ring, scientists says they have the first ever direct images of planets around other stars.

 Inside Dust Ring

Paul Kalas, the lead astronomer for the Berkeley team, said he "nearly had a heart attack" when he found the new planet, which he calls Fomalhaut b.

"It's a profound and overwhelming experience to lay eyes on a planet never before seen," he said.

Finding other Earths has been a dream of scientists and authors for centuries. The big problem for all planet hunters is that stars other than our sun are far away, so far that their light overwhelms the weak reflected light of any planets, just as a lightbulb overwhelms the light from a candle.

So far, more than 200 exoplanets have been discovered. But all of the previous ones were found indirectly, mostly from the wobble their gravity causes in their parent stars.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:49 PM | Permalink

German study shows divorce can be deadly

Divorce can be deadly says study

A new German study shows that people who divorce die years sooner than others, putting them in company with smokers, the homeless, and the poorly educated.

Divorced people on average have a life span nine years shorter than others, according to the study by Rostock University’s centre for demographic research released this week.

“We assume that being divorced strongly influences lifestyle,” study contributor Gabriele Doblhammer told daily paper Der Tagesspiegel on Wednesday. “Married people seem to have a more regulated lifestyle than singles, and the divorced embody a combination of factors that can lead to an earlier death.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:36 PM | Permalink

Learning lessons from the S&L Debacle

Nicolas Gelinas finds comfort in Treasury Secretary Paulson's decision not to use any of the $700 billion financial bailout money to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions in Paulson Bails Out the Bailout

Marano is not an aberration. He’s a representative of a dangerous way of thinking. Much of the financial industry still refuses to acknowledge that its business-model failure is permanent. Far too many people seem to consider that failure the result of temporary, extraordinary market conditions that are—to use a phrase that’s now become an unintentionally humorous cliché—worse than anticipated. But the notion that complex financial engineering could make any long-term security always instantly salable and nearly risk-free was one of the roots of this crisis. Acknowledging its absurdity isn’t a matter of punishment or demonization; it’s a matter of making sure that failed ideas stay dead, so that they don’t come back stronger than before.

But the government has been doing just the opposite. Further, by promising to buy mortgage-related assets, it has given companies like Rescap an incentive to hang on to their bad debt for as long as possible, rather than sell it to those annoying investors offering prices that are too low. And that has delayed what is already likely to be a long, painful recovery.
--
To learn why, consider what got us out of our last major banking debacle, the savings and loan crisis of the late eighties and early nineties. William Seidman headed the FDIC in the eighties and later, as head of the federal Resolution Trust Corporation, handled the S&L aftermath. During that crisis, the U.S. government closed down failed S&L institutions and had to sell off their holdings. These holdings consisted of $600 billion in diverse assets, including office buildings, hotels, golf courses, and apartment complexes. “There was no real market” for such assets, Seidman said at Monday’s conference. “We decided we had to create a market. We said, we’re going to start selling these properties at whatever price we could get.”
--

What Seidman sensibly dismissed back then—holding on to assets to “get prices up”—was, until Paulson’s announcement today, a key part of the government’s working plan to fix the current crisis. But it’s only when holdouts and their creditors capitulate and start selling assets to private investors at distressed values that the market can begin to find its way to recovery, just as happened in the early nineties.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 AM | Permalink

Happiness in America

 Joy Of Life  A Mongolian photographer From the Cream of the Crop at Flickr


The modern world, according to Christopher Lasch, is most of all in futile rebellion against “the ancient religious insight that the only way to achieve happiness is to accept limitations in the spirit of gratitude and contrition.” It is, Lasch goes on, in rebellion against “the central paradox of religious faith: the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy.”
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For most human beings — most social animals — happiness is something like the opposite of loneliness. There are some people who want to be left alone. But for the most part, studies show that married people are happier than single people, people from large families are happier than people from small families, and people with lots of close friends are happier than people with just a few. Happiness also correlates strongly with faithful involvement in religious communities, active participation in political life, and worthwhile work with others. Happiness usually depends on really developing the attachments — a non-Darwinian would say the personal love — that come from doing what social animals do. No study confirms the individualistic thoughts that love is for suckers or hell is other people.
--
According to Alexis de Tocqueville (writing in the 1830s), the Americans have characteristically never made the error of believing either Locke or Darwin teaches the whole truth.
The Americans’ religion, most of all, causes them not to understand themselves as merely self-interested individuals or playthings of some impersonal process. The Americans, semi-consciously, reconcile individual liberty and personal happiness by understanding themselves in different ways at different times. They understand themselves as free individuals insofar as they restlessly work in pursuit of the material conditions of happiness, but they find happiness by using what they’ve acquired as parents, children, friends, citizens, creatures, and as men and women (as opposed to abstracted or sexless individuals). It’s as religious, familial, and political beings, Tocqueville explains, that the Americans are happy.

Being at Home with Our Homelessness by Peter Augustine Lawler

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

The End of Wall Street

A remarkable article by Michael Lewis called The End in Portfolio.

The era that defined Wall Street is finally, officially over. Michael Lewis, who chronicled its excess in Liar’s Poker, returns to his old haunt to figure out what went wrong.

 Wall St Bull Fallen
photoillustration by Ji Lee

When he wrote Liar's Poker, he thought that there would come a Great Reckoning
when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.
--
In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?

One of the true wise men was Steve Eisman

It’s not easy to stand apart from mass hysteria—to believe that most of what’s in the financial news is wrong or distorted, to believe that most important financial people are either lying or deluded—without actually being insane. A handful of people had been inside the black box, understood how it worked, and bet on it blowing up. Whitney rattled off a list with a half-dozen names on it. At the top was Steve Eisman.
-
Eisman wasn’t, in short, an analyst with a sunny disposition who expected the best of his fellow financial man and the companies he created. “You have to understand,” Eisman says in his defense, “I did subprime first. I lived with the worst first. These guys lied to infinity. What I learned from that experience was that Wall Street didn’t give a shit what it sold.”
--
The funny thing, looking back on it, is how long it took for even someone who predicted the disaster to grasp its root causes. They were learning about this on the fly, shorting the bonds and then trying to figure out what they had done. Eisman knew subprime lenders could be scumbags. What he underestimated was the total unabashed complicity of the upper class of American capitalism. For instance, he knew that the big Wall Street investment banks took huge piles of loans that in and of themselves might be rated BBB, threw them into a trust, carved the trust into tranches, and wound up with 60 percent of the new total being rated AAA. --

“We have a simple thesis,” Eisman explained. “There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.” When it came time to bankrupt Orange County with bad advice, Merrill was there. When the internet went bust, Merrill was there. Way back in the 1980s, when the first bond trader was let off his leash and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, Merrill was there to take the hit. That was Eisman’s logic—the logic of Wall Street’s pecking order. Goldman Sachs was the big kid who ran the games in this neighborhood. Merrill Lynch was the little fat kid assigned the least pleasant roles, just happy to be a part of things. The game, as Eisman saw it, was Crack the Whip. He assumed Merrill Lynch had taken its assigned place at the end of the chain.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 AM | Permalink

Adversity really can make you stronger

I'm catching up on articles I've set aside to read,  so I am probably late to the party with  The Uses of Adversity

Malcolm Gladwell finds that underprivileged outsiders may well have an advantage.

Sidney Weinberg from Brooklyn, the founder of Goldman Sachs, is his best example.

The man who created what we know as Goldman Sachs was a poor, uneducated member of a despised minority—and his story is so remarkable that perhaps only Andrew Carnegie could make sense of it.
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Weinberg wasn’t Yale. He was P.S. 13. Nor did he try to pretend that he was an insider. He did the opposite. “You’ll have to make that plainer,” he would say. “I’m just a dumb, uneducated kid from Brooklyn.” He bought a modest house in Scarsdale in the nineteen-twenties, and lived there the rest of his life. He took the subway...

His savvy was such that Roosevelt wanted to make him Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and his grasp of the intricacies of Wall Street was so shrewd that his phone never stopped ringing. But as often as he could he reminded his peers that he was from the other side of the tracks....

The immigrant’s best strategy, in the famous adage, is to think Yiddish and dress British.
Weinberg thought British and dressed Yiddish.

Why did that strategy work? This is the great mystery of Weinberg’s career, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Carnegie was on to something: there are times when being an outsider is precisely what makes you a good insider. ..

t’s one thing to argue that being an outsider can be strategically useful. But Andrew Carnegie went farther. He believed that poverty provided a better preparation for success than wealth did; that, at root,
compensating for disadvantage was more useful, developmentally, than capitalizing on advantage.

Who knew that 35% of small-business owners were dyslexic?

That is a remarkable statistic. Dyslexia affects the very skills that lie at the center of an individual’s ability to manage the modern world. Yet Schwab and Orfalea and Chambers and Branson seem to have made up for their disabilities, in the same way that the poor, in Carnegie’s view, can make up for their poverty. Because of their difficulties with reading and writing, they were forced to develop superior oral-communication and problem-solving skills. Because they had to rely on others to help them navigate the written word, they became adept at delegating authority.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 AM | Permalink

November 11, 2008

Dark energy, dark matter, now dark flow

Dark energy is that hypothetical energy that permeates all space, increases the rate of expansion of the universe, and accounts for about 74% of the total mass energy of the universe. 

Dark matter is hypothetical matter that does not interact with the electromagnetic force, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.

 Dark Energy Dark Matter

Being a lay person with just a tenuous grasp of science, what this means to me is that nobody knows what the universe is made of.    We are in the same place as the mapmakers of earlier times who wrote Terra Incognita for the unknown regions of the earth or "Here be Dragons"

With the addition of "Dark Flow" named to explain the Unknown "Structures" Tugging at the Universe, a discovery that rewrite the laws of physics because it posits structures outside our universe, I now know why my socks go missing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:26 PM | Permalink

The Sad Story of a Dying Country

Behind the Bluster, Russia is Collapsing

Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.
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Something even larger is blocking Russia's march. Recent decades, most notably since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, have seen an appalling deterioration in the health of the Russian population, anchoring Russia not in the forefront of developed countries but among the most backward of nations.

This is a tragedy of huge proportions -- but not a particularly surprising one, at least to me. I followed population, health and environmental issues in the Soviet Union for decades, and more recently, I have reported on diseases such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the Russian population. I've visited Russia more than 50 times over the years, so I can say from firsthand experience that this national calamity isn't happening suddenly. It's happening inexorably.
--
...remember tuberculosis? In the United States, with a population of 303 million, 650 people died of the disease in 2007. In Russia, which has a total of 142 million people, an astonishing 24,000 of them died of tuberculosis in 2007. Can it possibly be coincidental that, according to Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief public health physician,
only 9 percent of Russian TB hospitals meet current hygienic standards, 21 percent lack either hot or cold running water, 11 percent lack a sewer system, and 20 percent have a shortage of TB drugs?

Can you imagine a hospital lacking running water or sewerage?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:04 PM | Permalink

Civitas, Pietas and the American Covenant

After the election where I was moved as always by the peaceful transition of power as well as by the notable achievement of Barack Obama, the new president-elect,  I turned to more pressing personal matters which partially explains the lack of blogging.

I do want to point to this Time review Search for Civitas about a book written by Daniel Bell almost thirty years ago

"The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Daniel Bell)


The more that Sociologist Daniel Bell peers into the future, the more he seems to respect the past. It would be hard to find anyone more at home in such a variety of contemporary disciplines—economics, politics, the arts, popular culture. Yet Bell is not happy with the trends in any of them. Something precious has gone out of life, he feels. The deficiency makes people harsher, more inward, more aggrandizing.
Bell yearns for a restoration of civitas: "The spontaneous willingness to obey the law, to respect the rights of others, to forgo the temptations of private enrichment at the expense of the public weal—in short, to honor the 'city' of which one is a member."

Bell is no mere nostalgia peddler sighing for antique worlds. With acerbic but civil scholarship, he blames today's honorless condition on what he calls "modernism": the cultural movement that started in the latter half of the 19th century and has gathered momentum ever since. Modernism rejects the old, the traditional, the bourgeois in favor of the new, the sensational, the revolutionary. As such, it has dissolved many conventions, and discredited most institutions and values. Today, says Bell, its victory is complete.
There is a perpetual, unwholesome rage for the new. Instead of affirming a "moral-philosophical tradition against which the new could be measured," contemporary culture has an "unprecedented mission: an official, ceaseless search for a new sensibility."

Under these conditions, an avant-garde can hardly be said to exist. The most outrageous or destructive idea or art form becomes accepted overnight. "In fact," writes Bell, the chief characteristic of the Establishment "is its eagerness to repudiate its own existence." The condition of art is echoed in politics and the economy. Capitalists have lost faith in their enterprise and are listless about defending it. Capitalism's very success has created a paradox: hard work, discipline and organization make capitalism successful. But the goods it abundantly produces encourage a mindless pursuit of hedonism. Capitalism is thus deprived of any "moral or transcendent ethic." There is a further paradox. The greater the economic growth under capitalism, the higher the expectations. People demand more government services and more protection against adversity. Inflation results, savings diminish, and capitalism is undermined.
The only solution is a restraint on private appetite and a return to a public philosophy—a tall order, as Bell acknowledges, in these roiled times.

Usually we think of history as the product of either politics (the struggle for power) or economics (the production of wealth) George Weigel writes but history is better seen through culture in Is Europe Dying?

Europe began  the twentieth century with bright expectations of new and unprecedented scientific, cultural, and political achievements. Yet within fifty years, Europe, the undisputed center of  world civilization  in 1900,  produced two  world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened global holocaust, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, the Gulag, and  Auschwitz. What  happened? And,  perhaps more to the point,  why had  what happened  happened? Political  and economic analyses do not offer satisfactory answers to those urgent questions.  Cultural-which is  to say spiritual, even theological-answers might help.

Weigel calls for a return to pietas, an ancient Roman virtue that teaches us reverence and gratitude for those on whose shoulders we stand, a fitting subject for this Veteran's Day.

Vetsday08-Lo

To be patriotic is to acknowledge the patrimony, the legacy, we have been given and which we are duty bound to pass on to future generations.    In America, it is not so much the land as the ideas of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.  John Schaar explores The Case for Patriotism.

Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and niquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we.   

He quotes Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia on the way to Washington for his first inauguration.

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live... I have never had a feeling  politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied  in the Declaration of Independence...I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this confederacy so long together. I
t was.something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.
--

Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in    the world if I can help to save it. If it can't be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But, if this  country cannot be saved without giving up that principle--I  was about to I say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 AM | Permalink

November 4, 2008

Election 2008

I think this is the best political video I've viewed during the interminable campaign.

 

And this is the best cartoon.

  Election 08

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:24 AM | Permalink

November 3, 2008

"There's nobody to bail out America"

What does a noted historian have to say about the financial mess we're in?

Paul Johnson writes in Forbes

The financial crisis, detonated by greed and recklessness on Wall Street and in the City of London, is for the West a deep, self-inflicted wound. The beneficiary won’t be Russia, which, with its fragile, energy-based economy, is likely to suffer more than we shall; it will be India and China. They will move into any power vacuum left by the collapse of Western self-confidence.

If we seriously wish to repair the damage, we need to accept that this is fundamentally a moral crisis, not a financial one. It is the product of the self-indulgence and complacency born of our ultraliberal societies, which have substituted such pseudo-religions as political correctness and saving the planet for genuine distinctions between right and wrong and the cultivation of real virtues. India and China are progress-loving yet morally old-fashioned societies. They cannot afford liberalism. …
--
We are traveling along the high road to incompetence and poverty, led by a farcical coalition of fashionably liberal academics on the make, assorted eco-crackpots and media wiseacres. This strain of liberalism is highly infectious. The Indians and Chinese have yet to be infected. They’re still healthy, hard at work and going places, full speed ahead.

Alice Rivlin thinks it's a teachable moment for the much bigger problems down the road
--the much larger economic storm now unfolding could convince Washington -- as it is pressed to take bold and sometimes unpopular action related to the credit crisis -- to wrap in some forward-looking solutions to rising costs associated with Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid -- costs that will make the taxpayers' Wall Street rescue effort, which could amount to more than $1 trillion, seem petty by comparison. A General Accounting Office study concluded that in less than 20 years, the cost of Social Security and Medicare will exceed all government revenues.

The broader problem quite simply is this: America is already dangerously deep in debt, and will soon see an explosion in costs to provide Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements it has promised to tens of millions of retiring and soon-to-retire baby boomers. While federal spending is now roughly 20% of the American gross national product, which has been relatively constant in the last half-century, that ratio could rise as high as 42% by 2050 if current federal policies on entitlement spending and taxes remain unchanged, according to Bixby. That would be the same rate as when the U.S. was waging World War II. The impact would fall hardest on today's young people.
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"There's nobody to bail out America," said Walker, "so the sooner we get started, the better."

Joe White in the Wall St Journal calls it the Boomer Bust
Baby Boomers have pumped up the global economy with their profligate ways for nearly two decades. It's been a great party. Now the music's over.
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But what Baby Boomers of all persuasions have done, without dispute and to an unprecedented degree, is spend money instead of saving it. During the 1990s, Baby Boomers accounted for about half of all consumer spending in the U.S., according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study.

"This is like winter coming," adds Harry S. Dent, an author and consultant who says the U.S. is headed for a slump that will last until 2020. It will take that long for the financial wreckage from this boom-bust cycle to be cleared away, he says, and for the 79.4 million strong "Millennial Generation" -- most of whom are still in high school or college -- to enter adulthood and start buying homes, cars and gadgets of their own. "It happens once every 80 years," Mr. Dent says of this sort of demographics-driven economic cycle. "It's going to be difficult."
--
Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton business school and a former member of a bipartisan commission established by President Bush to study possible reforms of the Social Security system, says the market crash should be a wake-up call for Boomers to "understand risk better," starting with the risk that they may live way past 64.

"The Baby Boomers are going to have to work longer and eat less," Ms. Mitchell says. "And go back to what my mother was doing -- saving string

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink