All the Cool Kids are Doing it...

Interesting chart, from Pew Forum, by way of The New York Times:

This makes me wonder whether our collective definition of "mystical experience" is changing*, or whether the rate of experiences of a particular kind really is increasing. Likely at least a little of both, I suspect. The link to the New York Times is worth reading. Interesting cultural change, no? I don't care to weigh in on this poll, preferring instead to simpy remember what Hafiz has said: "Start seeing everything as God, but keep it a secret."

The other most interesting tid-bit from the Pew study, IMHO, was this:

With the exception of white evangelicals, majorities of all major religious traditions report holding at least one of these beliefs or having experienced one of these phenomena. In fact, roughly half of black Protestants (50%), the religiously unaffiliated (48%) and Catholics (47%) answer yes to two or more of these items, as do 43% of white mainline Protestants.

Oh, white evangelicals, when will ye learn?!

*[The poll itself defines "mystical experience" as a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening." This doesn't really change my point about definitions, tho'.]

[[Also: if you read my post yesterday about Avatar, this link is worth reading... I'm starting to wonder if it might be really cutting edge to turn myself into a Christian Conservative who talks with passion about how war is sometimes necessary in defense of civilization.]]


Movie Review

Real quick, cuz I'm on vacation:

I just saw Avatar, and I find it really strange (no better word for it) how masterful Americans have gotten at producing and consuming obviously anti-American (-imperial) narratives. The movie would make anyone able to follow its simple plot want to leave the theater and say, "Death to America," or at least to the America that has existed ever since it wiped out the Native Americans and took New Mexico from Natives and went into Vietnam and Iraq and so on. I mean, if we all so sincerely feel that Empire is a bad thing, that working against the interest of Natives is bad, why are we still doing this?

How can we watch a movie starring us as the bad guys, and like it? What a strange development in moral history.


Chelsea Handler was in Playboy Recently!?

As I recall, waaaaaaay back in December of '08, everybody agreed that banks and bankers were the devil. What had they done to earn the label? They had gotten involved in loaning money to people who could never pay the loans back. Catch phrase: "predatory lending."

Then the other day, Obama had a meeting with a bunch of CEO fatcats and told them, "Now, I'm strongly urging you to get back into predatory lending." I guess I'm paraphrasing, but I am paraphrasing very precisely. Even Jon Stewart almost gets the ridiculousness:

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That's right: Obama wants banks to start loaning money to people who look like "bad bets." That means that three years from now you're going to have another round of foreclosures unless you continue "assisting" people who find themselves in underwater mortgages. It also means that Obama is trying to inflate another housing bubble, this time right out in broad daylight.

Does anyone... ? I mean, are we gonna... ? Really? And also, although the banks are paying back the loans given them by the American taxpayer, the American taxpayer is not getting a rebate check... nope: for that money, the government is saying, "We'll just hold onto this for a while and see if we can't find something to spend it on." Oh, and the 800,000 doses of children's-potency H1N1 vaccine that were recalled yesterday were a reflection of how the government is going to be awesome at healthcare. Viva La Revolucion.


Funny Rant

Yesterday I got an email from a friend that began, "Am I getting more conservative or just older..." then he went on to complain about the paternalistic impulses of many leftists and proponents of government intervention. I ended up agreeing with everything he said, and was even fired-up enough to add my own Libertarian-style talking points.

Then today I read this article, from Canada's national newspaper, about how "the whole world needs to adopt China's one-child policy."

Meanwhile, in other news, teens are ignoring anti-texting-while-driving laws, everybody smokes pot, and "the Law" in general is fast becoming the butt of jokes. In fact, I saw this video yesterday on MSNBC, and loved it:

Of course, Reagan isn't exactly right about the Founders -- they actually pulled for a strong central government in order to defend against "faction." But whatever. I like this rhetoric. I like the catch-words he uses. I want somebody to start talking about freedom and self-culture and responsibility and individualism and Liberty, goddamit, Liberty. An international one child law? Are you kidding me?

[Note: I know my one reader will say, "Well, but this one-child thing is a lark. It'll never happen." And that's true. But the fact that a major newspaper published it is a little ridiculous, and may be admitted as evidence that some people who are supposedly not-entirely-stupid have crossed a line in the sand. So let's go, team. Wake up. Seriously. I'm sick of hearing people talk about how Congress needs to "get something done" all the time. Maybe they could just take a decade off every once in a while? How much law-making is enough?]

I'm sick up to my neckbone with namby-pamby whiney compassionaters whose moral radar takes no account of the idea of property. Of earned income: Oh, do you think little poor babies need government supervision in the form of free pre-school or something like that?--Well back the F--- off. If I want to sponsor a little poor baby, I'll do it voluntarily. And maybe I could even afford to if all of my income wasn't being taken to prop-up failed business models and banking executives.

I want FREEDOM, and that's what you should want:

You Probably Saw This

For ten years and more, I've been fascinated by Russia -- in particular by the Russian soul. After reading plenty of books and thinking about Russian history, much remains unclear (it's very likely this mysteriousness that draws me to Russia). But one thing I know for sure: when the image above is produced, and Russia comes right out and says, "It was a failed missile launch," you can be sure it wasn't a failed missile launch.

I'm not saying it's a new psychological weapon or anything. But that's no failed missile launch. I wonder what they're up to over there? Here's a link to video.


Obama's War Prayer

I hope the world will remember that President Obama just followed this paragraph--
I [am] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's lifes work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
With this word:
Anyway, if American leftists aren't going to play the role of utopian dreamers anymore, I want to know who will? It's not that I disagree with Obama, but the realism here is darker than I'm accustomed to -- it's too practical. Who will have the audacity to finish on the memory of Gandhi and King without hedging their bets?

I know people who will love Obama's Nobel acceptance speech--most of them rhetoricians. But I believe what the quote at the top right of this page says (I stole it from Os Guiness): "Without truth, there is only manipulation." In paraphrasing George Bush, Obama said, "Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price." My--more peaceful, I think--solution to this apparently intractable reality is to consider writing fewer rules. Want nuclear disarmament? Then get rid of your nukes. Writing international legislation demanding that other countries disarm makes a mockery of justice and "morality." Otherwise our definitions are bankrupt, as when Emily Dickinson defines "Sin - a distinguished Precipice / Others must resist - ."

It's okay if America can no longer afford to be the shining city on a hill -- that responsibility will fall to some other country with a clearer vision of Justice. I just want to be on record, however quietly, noting the transformation.


Against Moral Government

I don't like when people with political opinions -- most often people on the left -- talk about how fixing poverty is "a moral issue." I object at two points:
  1. These people tend to have no hesitation about whether such a thing is possible. Granted, a sensible "progressive" argument may be made, but I get the sense that people like Chris Matthews (whose proclamations about the government's moral obligations toward the poor tonight prompted this post) have no notion that moral agency is delimited where the scarcities and limitations posed by reality encroach. I may say that the government has a moral obligation to end poverty once and for all, but that doesn't make it so. Similarly, Chris Matthews may say that the government has a moral obligation to create an atmosphere on Mars, but saying so doesn't make it so.
  2. Institutions like governments don't participate in "morality" as I understand it; only individuals can be morally responsible. The rest is a matter for the pragmatists.
Regarding the second point: I'm more and more convinced that people use this kind of rhetoric in order to justify, to themselves, their own felt-but-not-consciously-recognized knowledge that they have arbitrarily limited their own circle of moral sympathy.


Lo, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Here's a link to one of the most interesting "mainstream" articles I've read lately. I'm sure it would completely appall Glenn Beck. And here's the appropriate accompanying Herman Melville poem:

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.
The image at the top is a painting by, of all people, Victor Hugo -- in commemoration of John Brown. I wonder who'll do the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed version after he's convicted. And, needless to say, I wonder if this is a fair comparison. No really, I do wonder.

All of this reminds me of the one bit of canonized "Theory" that I ever liked, from Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations:
Against this hegemony of the system, one can exalt the ruses of desire, practice revolutionary micrology of the quotidian, exalt the molecular drift or even defend cooking. This does not resolve the imperious necessity of checking the system in broad daylight.

This, only terrorism can do.


Mostly for Myself

Thanks, Jon. A link to the 50 most interesting wikipedia articles. I strongly recommend #1. We need more projects like Marree Man. Love it.

Note: I've reported on #50 before... glad to see John Cage made the list!


Stanley Fish says. But I say, speaking from second-hand, in-the-know experience: if you want to get the job, don't order veal when you're on a campus visit (unless everyone else at the table does, I guess).