Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Force Awakens still sucks

Now that people have seen what a decent Star Wars movie looks like in Rogue One, maybe they will be more accepting of the flaws in the mediocre at best The Force Awakens. Here’s a recap of TFA’s worst transgressions, none of which mired Rogue One:

  1. Galactic stupidity. The First Order are chumps. The comic relief, Finn, outwits them. They’re easily defeated and are not menacing at all. But they’re smart enough to obliterate the even stupider New Republic in one strike.
  2. Ma-Rey Sue. She’s too perfect and not interesting as a character. She’s better at everything than everyone else. For no reason, other characters like and trust her immediately.
  3. Copied and pasted plot beats from the original trilogy. Read more here.
  4. The cheapening of the Force. Rey becomes an elite Force user with only a passing acquaintance of it. The light saber, an inanimate object, ”talks“ to her through the Force.
  5. Wide disconnect from Return of the Jedi. The Empire was defeated, but now they’re back. The Rebels were victorious, but they’re still rebelling. Luke is a hero, now he’s a coward who goes into hiding as the galaxy goes to pot again. Han and Leia are together, now they’re back to doing the same thing they were doing before A New Hope.
Related: ”Rogue One: The Second Failure At A Believable Female Lead,” Katie Frates

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How to not write a Star Wars movie

Relevant criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by IMDb user lindewell:

Have you noticed that the script was so poor, the only way JJ Abrams found to move forward the story is to call for an airstrike. The intro sequence, we don’t get to know Lor San Tekka, why he got the map, etc., the First Order burns the village to the ground so we can’t expect any answer. When Rey meets Finn, they don’t have a minute to talk, the market gets bombed immediately and they have to flee in the Falcon. When they go to Maz castle, she doesn’t explain how she got the lightsaber, why does she know the Force, why she seems to know everything about Rey, boom, the first order bombs the castle so they can move on to the next sequence.

It’s like JJ and Kasdan would sit and wonder what will be happening next, and boom, let’s call an airstrike, some stormtroopers blasting shot and voila, next scene!

Jjlando adds:

I brought that up as an example of how Abrams uses action (and well-placed nostalgia fuel) in a scene to cover up the complete stupidity of the plot and characters.

Naturally the whole plot is going to feel contrived (and thus stupid) because the people behind the movie are primarily focused on rehashing ANH’s plot beats to play upon people’s nostalgia. Of course, this new plot has to be different enough so people don’t get the impression they’re watching a remake. A la we got a soft reboot masquerading as a sequel with a stupid plot. The entire premise being stupid, you get a trickle down effect of stupidity that shows up in every scene.

Kylo Ren kills Lor San Tekka immediately not because it is logical to the movie’s plot, but because they needed to emulate that scene from ANH where Vader chokes the Rebel captain to death on the Tantive IV. Poe jumps out and gets captured not because it is logical to the plot, but to emulate Leia getting captured, etc.

I’ll add to this. When Finn breaks Poe out of custody on the battle cruiser, a trusting relationship is struck up on the fly and they escape the First Order together. The scene tries to mirror A New Hope, where Luke, Han, and Chewbacca rescue Leia on the Death Star. Aesthetically, it’s the same scene, a wink at knowing fans. But in terms of the plot it doesn’t work. Luke name-drops Obi-Wan Kenobi and Leia trusts him. But she doesn’t trust him at first. “Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” she says. For the scene to work in The Force Awakens, Finn basically tells Poe he’s defecting from the First Order and he’s saving Poe “because it’s the right thing to do,” and Poe is suddenly on his side. I can see Poe working with Finn until he’s safe from the First Order, then dumping him, but to entrust Finn with vital information about BB-8 as they’re making their getaway is a bit much.

Dig deeper and it gets worse. Why does Finn break Poe out of custody? Because he needs a pilot to escape the First Order. The logical place to look for a pilot would be among the First Order pilots whom he already knows, one that won’t be shot at the second he’s spotted. Finn could either find a First Order pilot who doesn’t like the First Order, like him, or he could lie to the pilot, baiting him with talk that he needs help on a secret mission. But Finn chooses someone who should be inclined to mistrust him and who will be impeded every step of the way by the First Order. In A New Hope, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca rescue Leia because she’s the one who sent the droids, which brought them together. There’s no such narrative justification in The Force Awakens for rescuing Poe, only meta-narrative rationalizations.

The problems with this sequence encapsulate many of The Force Awakens’s plot problems. Certain scenarios and character interactions intended to evoke original trilogy nostalgia are shoehorned into tight narrative corners where they don’t fit. The filmmakers try to compensate for the awkwardness with narrative speed. This just widens the disconnect between the story and the audience.

Another example of this is when Starkiller Base annihilates the Hosnian system, another narrative wink to A New Hope that makes no sense. Tarkin threatens to destroy Alderaan to get Leia to reveal the whereabouts of the rebel base. He knows her emotional connection to her defenseless home planet is strong. She tries to deceive him, but he sees through her lies and destroys Alderaan. In The Force Awakens, there’s no reason given for destroying the Hosnian system, or for having not destroyed it already. It’s simply “time” to do it, as if it’s some sort of Plan B in case Plan A, finding Luke Skywalker, fails, which it did, for about 10 minutes. Why don’t they just wait for the Resistance to lead them to Luke, then blow up the planet he’s on? Actually, why not blow up the planet that the map is on, preventing anyone from ever getting in touch with Luke? More fundamentally, why is finding Luke a priority at all, if you can wipe away a whole system in one broad stroke? In A New Hope, finding the Death Star plans had a mortal bearing on the bad guys’ chief motivations and interests. Why the bad guys’ search for Luke in The Force Awakens? Just because. That they realize this halfway through the movie is sloppy screenwriting.

There are more plot artifices to justify this turn in The Force Awakens’s second act to focus on Starkiller Base. R2-D2 is said to have the rest of the map that makes sense of the map that BB-8 carries, but it can’t be accessed because R2-D2 has been dormant or something since Luke disappeared. How R2-D2’s galactic map remains inaccessible is beyond explanation. As is R2-D2’s “waking up” after the main battle to provide the whole map that enables them to track down Luke. Great timing, R2!

Back to Starkiller Base. Past experience shows that your superweapon is good for, at best, one calamitous shot before it’s attacked. At least in Return of the Jedi, the emperor uses subterfuge to lure the rebels into a risky two-pronged attack against a Death Star that is—surprise!—operational after all, and can turn its fire on spacecraft. Indeed, you could argue the second Death Star, anchored to its force field generator on Endor, is intentionally built to bait the rebels. The First Order show no such ingenuity. They incompetently alert the whole galaxy to Starkiller Base’s existence while giving the entity best equipped to hurt them—the Resistance—time to muster an attack. (There’s also no explanation for why the New Republic was unprepared for the attack, given their enemy’s track record with superweapons and their superior defenses, compared to Alderaan.)

The heavy hand of the filmmakers’ nostalgia binge weighs constantly on the characters actions, often contradicting their motivations. What’s worse is the overbearing nods to the original trilogy fail beyond a superficial level. The filmmakers copied and pasted specific plot elements into a new story with new characters, rejiggered the sequence and character motivations, and hoped it would make sense. It doesn’t.

Years ago I wrote a book called Murder On Mars. It took me 2 years to finish. However, the book I finished writing wasn’t the book I set out to write. Conceptually the end was completely different from the beginning. I had to redesign the setting, the characters, and their relationships. Whole scenes would have to be rewritten if not cut altogether. Problem was I loved those scenes I wrote earlier in the book and I wanted to find a way to leave them in. So I started adding layers to the plot, exceptions to the rules and exceptions to exceptions to the rules. Eventually I found myself juggling four different narratives in the course of one conversation between two people, just to preserve certain lines of dialogue and feelings they felt as they talked. I rewrote some scenes five times before they made sense—never mind whether they were enjoyable—then I would remember the whole setup of one such scene or sequence of scenes was an artifact from the plot I was supposed to have abandoned. It was terrible! I spent 4 years trying to make it work before giving up. Now I know: Don’t write a scene until you know how it fits in the story. If you do, it feels artificial and disjointed. A scene’s place in the story dictates how it should be written. The makers of The Force Awakens violated that rule over and over again.

(Not to mention the badly designed characters, bad dialogue, bad acting, and plot contrivances that marred this movie.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

“Pro-lifers” for Hillary

I have issues with Rachel Held Evans’s doctrineless brand of Christianity, which I think is a result of her unwillingness to present the hard parts of faith for fear she’ll be rejected, and of a fear of the truth that the Way is narrow (Matthew 7:14), meaning many will not have eternal life. So, she fashions a less “judgy” faith that doesn’t alienate the liberal zeitgeist. At her blog she argues that a pro-life person should vote for Hillary Clinton, pro-choice candidate for president, for “pragmatic” reasons. Here’s the crux of her argument:

In the eight years since we’ve had a pro-choice president, the abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest since 1973. I believe the best way to keep this trend going is not to simply make it harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies but to create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with. Data suggests progressive social policies that make healthcare and childcare more affordable, make contraception more accessible, alleviate poverty, and support a living wage do the most to create such a culture, while countries where abortion is simply illegal see no change in the abortion rate.

First, the good. Evans is right that there should be more to being pro-life than outlawing abortion. I pointed this out to Ezra Klein years ago. The pro-life movement is grounded in an overarching ethos that honors conservative sexual ethics and family life, views that sync with man’s fundamental nature. Extolling any means of reducing abortions without recognizing man’s fundamental nature, or that doesn’t address man’s fallenness, misses the point.

Now the bad. Evans’s use of the term “unwanted pregnancies” is telling. This is a term of our promiscuous culture that takes for granted that people will have sex heedless of the reproductive consequences. It’s hypocritical to call a pregnancy “unwanted” when the sex act that foreseeably led to it was very much wanted. The most direct cure for pregnancy is to not have sex. But the cool kids laugh at you when you say this, and Evans wants to be one of the cool kids.

Evans presents “progressive social policies” that the data presumably show practically reduces abortions. The problem is big government policies like Obamacare have made healthcare more costly, not less. Poverty-fighting programs like the Great Society wasted trillions of dollars and cultured a permanent disaffected, dislocated underclass. Minimum wage laws kill jobs. Big government makes families weaker, not stronger.

The worst part of her policy prescription is “making contraception more accessible.” Disregarding for a moment that contraceptives are cheap, how is incentivizing licentiousness a legitimate venture of government, especially in a society shared with abstinent people. Contraceptives proliferation furthers the fantasy of heedless sex, while at the same time leading to suicidally low reproductive rates. Evans’s pro-life views are unmoored from a procreative model couched in chastity and marriage. If she finds that model unrealistic, fine. But Jesus’ punishment for our sins is an enormous power that transforms lives. It would be a shame to undervalue it.

All of this ignores the fact that there were far fewer abortions before 1973, the year the Supreme Court struck down state abortion bans. If Evans was really interested in reducing the number of abortions, she’d call for less availability to abortion, like in the ’50s. But to the cool kids, the ’50s are irredeemable.

Finally, if you’re genuinely pro-life, how can you reconcile with a candidate whose philosophy enshrines the pregnant woman as the arbiter of life? This has always been the two movements’ irreconcilable difference. One believes in the universality and sanctity of life, the other in the universality and sanctity of choice. To one side, choice is illegitimate; to the other, it is primary. If abortions spiked to 3 million per year, pro-choicers like Clinton who believe their own arguments wouldn’t bat an eye.

Evans believes in “sacred personhood” but it doesn’t translate into a coherent argument about why choice is illegitimate. Evans is saying abortion is a choice dictated by the mother’s circumstances, so let’s improve the circumstances. But, if a woman, no matter her circumstances, wants to kill her unborn child, what will Evans say? Rather, what will her vote for pro-choice candidates say?

Related: “Christian writer Rachel Held Evans falsely claims Christians should vote for Hillary Clinton,” Michael New.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Transgender madness comes to Texas

Who could have predicted the downfall of Western Civilization would be post-human à la carte identity? “Lawsuit against UIL threatened over traditional gender team rules,” 1200 WOAI. I say post-human because progressivism has denuded the flesh of worldly attachments, as C. S. Lewis predicted in The Abolition of Man, leaving man only his self-centeredness to ground him to reality. Therefore every student’s personal fantasy must be accommodated. The ego-debasing melting pot has gone cold. Title IX as an instrument of transgender lunacy is a menace for this and other reasons. It foists an imaginary equality on the sexes, and it also mandates politically correct college administrators prosecute rape allegations, violating the accused’s civil rights.

LGBT perverts impose their Nietzschean will on Texas, and the cost-benefit analyzers join them: “Texas business group to fight legislative efforts to restrict LGBT rights,” 1200 WOAI. I’ve said for years this fight is about property rights, doing with my property what I want, not a limited right to abstain from someone else’s commercial tyranny because of beliefs that the state can adjudicate as genuinely held and recognized as religion. (See “SB1062” and “Casual subjugation.”) Don’t worry, though. Paypal’s Peter Thiel, the LGBT reactionary who led the commercial exodus from North Carolina, says it’s okay. Rod Dreher says it’s not okay.

Related: “Identitarian.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Odds and ends 7/23/2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

God and country

My flesh calls out to Gingrich’s common sense. When in the past has America been better off not fighting its enemies? America prosecuted Nazis and Communists when it was at war with Nazis and Communists. America interned Japanese after Pearl Harbor because it was believed they would stay loyal to their ancestral homeland. Is it outlandish to believe Japanese would stay loyal to Japan? The assumption was they would; that’s why the naturalization oath of allegiance says “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” If you believe Japanese are loyal to Japan, to do nothing when enemy agents are operating within your borders is suicidal.

It’s as C. S. Lewis noted about witch burning: If you believe in witches, it’s a given that you kill them. They are the devil’s agents on earth! The only uncertainty is how to best find them.

Liberalism has done much to erase the ordinariness of the illiberal past, and has only permitted its remembrance in the form of cautionary tales like anti-Communist hero/liberal bogeyman Joseph McCarthy. In McCarthy’s time fundamental differences of nationality and religion were less tolerated because multiculturalism was seen as a preface to disunion and civil war. This intolerance, a dirty word now, was the scorching fire of the once effective melting pot.

Now the post-war liberal consensus is unraveling, as ISIS sympathizers overstretch the credibility of the diversity project, eroding the preconditions for social trust, and as liberalism’s former proponents suppress the truth in pursuit of blatant falsehoods. The times increasingly call for the enemies of truth and peace in the Lord to be fought and defeated—peacefully, insofar as it can be.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Eye for an eye

Another way the spectacularly politically relevant movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes resonates is how it shows groups in an uneasy peace policing their own ranks. The peace is worth preserving because of the death and maiming that would result from war. Either war is inevitable, and you fight to win, or peace is possible, and you police your side to keep it.

The opening scene of the movie shows Caesar letting a rogue human off the hook for killing his tribesman in cold blood. Caesar knows that a swift reprisal would be construed as an act of war against the humans. Therefore the responsibility for punishing the killer is the humans’. Likewise it’s Caesar’s responsibility to check his warlike tribesman Koba, who would relish a war with the humans, whether started by the humans or themselves.

The facts may very well exonerate the police in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, but I doubt it. Police are fallible, but sometimes they’re treated as infallible, as entitled to homicidal mistakes. Sometimes they don’t own up to them, as in Eric Garner’s case and other cases I’ve observed. So when one group fails to punish its own members who breach the peace, it doesn’t surprise that the aggrieved group seeks revenge, short of war.

But what about Jesus’ command to not retaliate, to “not resist the evildoer” (Matthew 5:38-39)? Would those ancient words be heeded by all! Jesus’ teaching is the tonic for a soul torn from God, but unfortunately it is not a predictive model of human nature. Not even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great Christians of the 20th century, fully obeyed what he properly understood to be Jesus’ teaching. That’s not an excuse to not try, just a reasonable template to base your expectations from.

It goes without saying the murders and attempted murders of police in Dallas are atrocious. It goes without saying the truth often runs counter to beholden grievance narratives always angling for political currency. Years of pointing this out has done little to convince anyone of their errors. The situation isn’t about justice and righteousness so much as political appeasement.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Odds and ends 7/6/2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Odds and ends 6/5/2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Coach

I wrote this poem for my high school tennis coach, who retired from coaching last year. I was pleased with how it turned out, so I’m sharing it here.

Serve, baseline, volley, lob shot, approach
To master these you need a good coach

I wasn’t all that good at tennis
But 4 years I played at G-P High
Under the forbearing Coach Prewit
Didn’t improve much but I did try

There wasn’t much talent to work with
But Coach urged me to train and compete
To have a cool head and lead in front
To learn something new when I was beat

There’s joy and trials and growth pains being on a team
It means a lot, even when you’re not the crop’s cream

Coach nurtured an attitude that serves me well now
Regardless your place, work at it with all your heart
If what you want’s not there, find another way how
To sow seeds of success, you need a worker’s plough

Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Odds and ends 5/13/2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Disarming beauty

You can’t take from me that which is not mine
Take it from me and I'll offer you more
Possessions don’t my earthly state define
I love you and property I deplore
Things don’t help me with the Lord I adore

You can’t provoke me with a hostile blow
I’ll not be moved by fury to strike back
Hit one side and I’ll turn th’ other also
Thus I invite you to again attack
And reveal to you your heart’s color: black

You can compel me into your employ
But what if I want to finish your task?
What if God bestows on me the greatest joy
To volunteer for what you didn’t ask?
Open-handed spirit to yours contrast

Force is not how to defeat wickedness
It subdues flesh but aggravates the soul
Rather convict evil with pure witness
Heap on evildoer’s head burning coal
Disarming beauty to Jesus extol

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Independence trap

I can’t explain why I feel this way
How I’m made I’m told I have no say
Between me and the world there’s this tension
Other people don’t seem that genuine
Why not act like yourselves, instead of fake?
From the blue pool of real my thirst I slake
Call it as I see it, surely that’s best
I don’t act on someone else’s behest
In inviolate self my pride I gird
’Cause conformity is a dirty word

Heh heh heh, you fall into my trap, boy
Independence is the latest fashion
As is your disdain for the hoi polloi
Truth is you’re not the truth you imagine
Seek out others less, lest you see some joy
In God their Creator, so your heart I win

Related: “Truest self.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Odds and ends 4/28/2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Turn my heart

I know You, God, but who am I? I’m torn apart
I treat my brothers not with love but distrust
Daily I’m laid to waste by insatiable lust
Inside I’m against what Jesus’ teachings impart
I worry my soul, like flesh, will be ashes and dust
Lord, can’t You do anything to turn my heart?

Your lofty temple shines as a beacon of hope
But this will of mine just won’t cooperate
I’m finished trying to this old man placate
Lord, don’t let me perish on this barren slope
I’m slipping short of the top, I can’t anymore wait
Quick! send Your Spirit down for my heart to elope

In the final act I’m not me, but Your creation
Idolatry separated by a divine sieve
A broken heart fixed and filled, from which to give
And all will be clean under God’s supervision
With the old man dead Jesus in me can freely live
And graft His people to the Father’s nation


  • Jeremiah 31:33
  • Luke 11:41
  • 1 Cor. 3:16

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Disney values

After Indiana, big business, like Disney, is breaking against property rights in favor of same-sex marriage appropriation. Andrew Klavan asks why corporations oppose religious liberty:

What big corporations hate is freedom of the individual conscience, internally governed families, and churches powerful enough to stand up to the make-believe righteousness of government decrees. All of these things tend to generate independent action and thoughtful morality which can get in the way of profits. People who think for themselves and pray with others tend to be a little less quick to watch the latest soul-degrading film or half-time show or to buy a product simply because it’s the going thing.

Freedom is good for business in general, but it is not good for an individual business that has already made it to the top. Where freedom and competition thrive, prices fall and good ideas rise. Where government coerces, where government pays the freight, where government grants you “rights” to the labor and products of others, prices soar and good ideas that threaten the status quo are trampled under and left behind.

They oppose gender reality, too (see PayPal), and I doubt these are separate issues in their minds. This is the zeitgeist. If you’re inclined to buy one part of the big lie, you’re inclined to buy all of it.

They support gay “rights” and gender fluidity because their corporate offices are ivory towers, disconnected from reality. They’re in the business of salesmanship and public relations, which is absolutely opposed to giving offense to the cult of self and its shrieking, narcissistic purveyors.

Most importantly, corporations serve a consumer culture, where freedom of choice, no matter what the choice is, is the highest good. Publicly observed Christian morality, on which our civil society stands, obstructs unbounded nihilism in individuals. Assertions of morality in the public square threaten consumer culture, which threatens corporations’ gravy train. They are responding accordingly.

We can respond accordingly, and refuse to associate with these businesses. The free market is not anonymous. I’ll be boycotting Disney’s mediocre Marvel movies, mediocre Star Wars movies, and mediocre TV programming from now on. I’d rather forgo a little profit, lose a little pleasure, than know my money goes to such causes as the rottening of the core of America’s soul.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Unamerican creed

This doesn’t bother me that much.

So these Muslims prefer sharia law. At the very least, they honor something higher than worldly authority. Ask me if I prefer the American civil code over God’s law written on my heart. Ask me if I follow the American creed, based on the big lie of sexual self-fulfillment, over God’s law that sets me free from sin.

It’s no surprise secular liberalism is losing to sharia in the West. The inherent corruption is no competition to a supposedly god-ordained, if fundamentally flawed, alternative.

The missing follow-up question is, Should sharia replace the Constitution as the founding document? Should non-Muslims be shunned and oppressed for confessing belief in another, as they are all over the Muslim world? That’s just the civic-minded follow-up. What about, Should belief be coerced or persuaded on the evidence of God’s truths? Is God unendingly wrathful or forgiving to the penitent?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Odds and ends 4/5/2016

  • “The contemporary denial of reality,” Anthony Esolen
  • “Gender non-conformity running roughshod over parents’ rights,” Carl Trueman. I saw this coming after the Indiana RFRA hysteria, and really before then. Start here.
  • Daniel Harsanyi: “Our founders could never have imagined a person’s private property becoming the national property of a pagan inquisition, and federal and state governments, which were intended to encourage religious virtue (although not coerce it), serve as a conduit for compulsory servitude to the idols of hedonism.”
  • Jerry Falwell says leadership trumps principle. When I hear Donald Trump is a leader, I think of a line from The Dark Knight: “Buyer beware. I told you my compound would take you places. I never said they’d be places you wanted to go.” Even if he’d be a good leader, we don’t know if he’d be a good, good leader. So, buyer beware.
  • “I No Longer Say ‘Chair,’” Austin Ruse
  • Scott McKay:
    In short, Brussels has devolved into yet one more European city in which an unassimilable Muslim population rife with jihadists, overwhelmingly dependent on the welfare state and completely hostile to the values and standards of the host country. The terror problem in Brussels is of a piece with the rape problem in Stockholm and Malmo and Cologne, the sexual grooming and white sex slavery of Rotherham and Marseille and the jihadism of Paris — and Europe’s political class has responded to shocking revelation after shocking revelation of the depravity of their new residents with cover-ups and shaming of concerned citizens with terms like “racist” and — here it comes again — “Islamophobe.”
  • “Europe at War,” Rod Dreher
  • “Obama’s Cuba perfidy was worse than you thought … WAY worse,” Caleb Howe
  • Great line from Steve Deace: “Clearly we are duplicitous in creating an infestation of false converts who have mistaken cultural conformity for salvation.”
  • Excellent comment by Chris Rawlings via Rod Dreher:
    The prosperity of my law school colleagues made moral degradation much easier for them. It insulated them to an extent from real consequences (daddy will take care of it), it widened the possibilities for moral failure (the working poor will never have the opportunity to blow thousands on liquor and prostitutes in Thailand), and it allowed them to cover debauchery in a veneer of prestige and accomplishment (“Oh, so you’re an attorney?”). Prosperity is to nihilism what gasoline is to fire, I’ve found. And so I’m not entirely sure why we’re still privileging prosperity as an ontologically “higher” mode of living.
  • “Personal love and the call to chastity,” Samantha Schroeder
  • Bogus: “The dream of home ownership is crumbling for San Antonio young people.” Budget every month for a future down payment. Find a bargain. There are a lot of empty nesters downsizing right now.
  • TxDOT just netted a 2,400-percent loss on the Austin bypass. “Price for removing Texas tolls: $30 BILLION!” Remember this when they come back for more road funding.
  • God created man upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Good guy

Listen, I’m a good guy, better than most
I treat people right, don’t cheat or boast
I’m straight with the law, I’ve done no evil
People respect me, don’t think of me ill

See my wife, my job, my house
One look at my life, you can tell I’m no louse
What does God want with me, anyway?
Can’t Jesus see I’m doing okay?

Dig deep enough and, sure, you’ll find dirt
It’s not like anyone else I’ve hurt
So don’t stand there with your Bible and shout
I’m not the one God warned you about

Don’t be such a drag
On my happiness, I’m feeling fine
Don’t bother me with superstition
I don’t mean to brag
But my life’s in order, I feel fine
To hell with God, don’t need no religion

Make no mistake
I’ve done well for myself, I’m a success
But something inside just doesn’t feel right
I deserve a break
From all this, did I tell you, I’m a success
Big things are coming, my future is bright

I can’t recall ev’ry last deed was good
I’d change a few things I did if I could
No one’s perfect, of course, and I’m not
Least I’m no liar, killer, or thief, those lot

My hands brought me this far, so why change now?
I’m a good guy, it doesn’t matter how
I’ve done all right living for myself
Look, I don’t want yours or the Lord’s help

As long as my ability holds out
And this life gives me no reason to doubt
And no awful trials threaten to break me
See, I won’t be joining the Lord’s family

  • Proverbs 21:2
  • Ecclesiastes 9:1, 12
  • Luke 18:11-14
  • Acts 17:30-31
  • 1 Timothy 5:24

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Free college

A San Antonio city councilman has suggested the first 2 years of community college in Bexar County, Texas, be free. Two questions to ask:

  1. Is 2 years of free college what high school graduates need?
  2. Can Bexar County community colleges supply enough degrees at half the price without diminishing their value?

The second question is easier to answer, because the answer is no, unless the colleges spend way more money on teachers and staff than they are willing to spend. If a degree is supposed to be worth something, it has to cost something to produce. Selling degrees (or degree halves) for free overburdens the manufacturer and/or diminishes their value.

My father-in-law is a community college teacher. He says loose enrollment standards are killing scores, raising attrition, and demoralizing teachers, who are burdened with the task of raising graduation rates. Those problems would be exacerbated by a glut of teenagers with zero buy-in and with 2 years to kill. It’s true that cost is a barrier to college enrollment, but that’s a problem solved by scholarships and cost-cutting. Cost-eliminating worsens the problem created by loose enrollment standards: students taking their education unseriously. You could do what the public schools do and just graduate them, but eventually the lack of skills that they’ve failed to learn will drag down productivity, whether they become dependents or twiddle their thumbs at work.

The first question is more important because it implies a bigger question has already been asked and answered. What is the bigger question? It’s different for everyone, but for most people it’s, How do I make money?

The economic establishment prizes credentials, of which a degree is the prime example, as essential to breaking into the middle class and beyond. But the official measures of success have gotten away from what best serves people in real life. The degree, not an education, is the end itself. Most people who go to college go because it’s what you’re supposed to do after high school. Personally, they don’t know why they’re there.

George Gilder writes in Wealth and Poverty:

Characterized by a worship of degrees, diplomas, tests, credentials, and qualifications, this system has created a schoolmarm meritocracy that steadily extends the reach of its primary rule: you cannot pass if you cannot parse; if you cannot put the numbers in the right boxes at the requisite speed; and if you cannot perform in the accustomed academic mode.

The question college prospects should ask is, How can I contribute to society? What can I do to give to others to enhance their lives and create wealth? That’s a supply-side question that isn’t answered all the time—not even most of the time—by a college degree.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Another’s plan

O, to be a man worthy of greatness!
All the day long to be that man I strive
Relying on super ability
Cursing men and things who would me deprive

Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Ithaca opposite the Aegean Sea
Fair maiden guarded by sleepy dragon
They could be mine—if only I’m worthy

But limitations set in my person
Are the proof I deserve not to deserve
Treasures I thought waited for my taking
Achievements with which to my will preserve

What must I do yet to worthiness earn?
I am lacking but mastery discern
Hey now, these faults from my midst I should burn
Forge a new man over the old’s embers
Hew matter to the purpose of my will
Cut earth with a sword of remade members
And work to my satisfaction fulfill

Lonelier it gets, farther the goal looks
Cruel world pushes back without relent
It spins by another’s plan, so by that
Measure I’m condemned, it’s no accident

By applying mind over matter
I always thought one’s fortune could reverse
But true blessings come down from high above
Not up from deceitful desires, perverse

To ruin leads the flesh-driven effort
The forms of earthly things that I debase
Have their set purpose in a heav’nly plan
In which their maker resemble a trace

Building on my terms I labor in vain
What in the earth realm do I have to gain
To reduce God’s to mine and thus profane?
Father, help me only for You to yearn
To order not just my members, but will
Set fire to myself, let the old man burn
And work to Your satisfaction fulfill

  • Psalms 127:1
  • Luke 9:25
  • Romans 7:23
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-13
  • Galatians 6:8
  • Ephesians 4:22
  • Colossians 3:1

I believe God made the physical world to thwart our selfish designs so we should turn to Him for sustenance.

See also my poem “Truest self.”

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

I just finished this terrific book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here are passages that stood out to me:

Where moral difficulties are taken so seriously, where they torment and enslave man, because they do not leave him open to the freeing activity of obedience, it is there that his total godlessness is revealed.

...

By calling us he has cut us off from all immediacy with the things of this world. He wants to be the center, through him alone all things shall come to pass. He stands between us and God, and for that very reason he stands between us and all other men and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality. Since the whole world was created through him and unto him (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2), he is the sole Mediator in the world.

...

The otherworldliness of the Christian life ought, Luther concluded, to be manifested in the very midst of the world, in the Christian community, and in its daily life. Hence the Christian’s task is to live out that life in terms of his secular calling. That is the way to die unto the world. The value of the secular calling for the Christian is that it provides an opportunity of living the Christian life with the support of God’s grace, and of engaging more vigorously in the assault on the world and everything it stands for.

...

The whoremonger desires to possess another person, the covetous man material things. The covetous man seeks dominion and power, but only to become a slave of the world on which he has set his heart. Whoredom and covetousness alike bring men into contact with the world in such a way as to defile them and make then unclean. Both vices are idolatry, for their victims have ceased to belong to God and Christ, desiring the goods of their own world instead. But when we create our own god and our own world, what we are really doing is to deify our own lust. We are then bound to hate our fellow men, as obstacles standing in the way of our wills. Hatred, jealousy, and murder are all of them the fruits of selfish lust.

The German Bonhoeffer was no doubt familiar with Nietzsche, whose deification of the will established a tyranny of self, which is all the rage. Read here and here.

Here, right from the beginning, is the mysterious paradox of man. He is a creature, and yet he is destined to be like his Creator. Created man is destined to bear the image of uncreated God. Adam is “as God.” His destiny is to bear this mystery, in gratitude and obedience towards his Maker. But the false serpent persuaded Adam that he must still do something to become like God: he must achieve that likeness by deciding and acting for himself. Through this choice Adam rejected the grace of God, choosing his own action. He wanted instead to unravel the mystery of his being for himself, to make himself what God had already made him. That was the Fall of man. Adam became “as God,” sicut deus, in his own way. But, now that he had made himself god, he no longer had a God. He ruled in solitude as a creator-god in a God-forsaken world.

However, the riddle of human nature was still unsolved. With the loss of the God-like nature God had given him, man had forfeited the destiny of his being, which was to be like God. In short, man had ceased to be man. He must live without the ability to live. Herein lies the paradox of human nature and the source of all our woe. Since that day, the sons of Adam in their pride have striven to recover the divine image by their own efforts.

...

God sends His Son—here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or a better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought, or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will, and action but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh bin the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image had been recreated on earth.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

The real constitution

In keeping with my theory that a popular revolution is more likely than top-down tyranny to transform the nation, I think the simple fact of Donald Trump’s support is more important than his (potentially) being president. The man he is—a troll, a blabber mouth, and a big government paternalist—has less real impact than who his supporters think he is, a reflection of the character of the body politic. Bad leaders come and go. The people are the real constitution and they determine the country’s direction.

Two main forces animate Trump supporters:

  1. They are sick of having the progressive agenda forced down their throats.
  2. They are sick of the Constitution/rule of law standing in the way of achieving their goals.

Call the Trump idolatry post-democratic conservatism, a defensive reaction to post-democratic liberalism, or progressivism. (Charles Murray has the best take on this.)

The lie and its bearers have no interest in sharing the country with half its people, or tolerating truth to disrupt their totalitarian reordering of nature. That’s what calling people who disagree with you bigots means. Trump’s rise indicates said “bigots” will not play by the rules of civility to resist them. If these be the two dominant political forces in America, hostile divorce or civil war are then the logical outcomes.

It remains true as ever that voting is like 1 percent of democracy. The majority of democracy is living out your principles in the mundane stretches of ordinary life, in the broad valleys between the peaks. That’s a more effective argument than a well-written essay by a stranger.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The inner and the outer

Can a man hold fire against his chest without burning his clothes? Can a man walk on hot coals without scorching his feet? (Proverbs 6:27-28)

Let’s dispel notions that the inner life has no effect on the outer. You cannot court sin and keep it at arm’s length. You dance with the devil and pretend all you’re doing is thinking, while you dubiously hold the members of your body in check with strength of mind and willpower and inborn virtue. We all know thoughts are the foundation of action, and actions have justification in thought. Thoughts, good or bad, are the foundation of your relationship with God and your relationship with people.

This is why secular sin-avoidance is not an acceptable form of communion. The inner life determines the outer life. We’ve gotten used to saying what we do in private is not anyone’s business on the assumption these areas of our life are distinct. Real people, though, aren’t submarines, which have watertight doors to stave off flooding from one compartment to the next. Corruption spreads from the inner to the outer with disregard for such false, intellectual separation.

So let’s think and conduct ourselves in private like the people who we want to look like before the world.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Four quotes

“The crisis, incredibly, made the biggest banks bigger. And it made the Federal Reserve, an unelected body, even more powerful and therefore more relevant. The major reform legislation, Dodd-Frank, was named after two guys bought and sold by special interests, and one of them should be shouldering a good amount of blame for the crisis. Banks were forced, by the government, to save some of the worst lenders in the housing bubble, then the government turned around and pilloried the banks for the crimes of the companies they were forced to acquire. The zero interest-rate policy broke the social contract for generations of hardworking Americans who saved for retirement, only to find their savings are not nearly enough. And the interest the Federal Reserve pays on the excess reserves of lending institutions broke the money multiplier and handcuffed lending to small and midsized enterprises, where the majority of job creation and upward mobility in wages occurs. Government policies and regulations in the postcrisis era have aided the hollowing-out of middle America far more than anything the private sector has done. These changes even expanded the wealth gap by making asset owners richer at the expense of renters.” –Michael Burry

“Believe me, sir, those who attempt to level never equalise. In all societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The levellers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things; they load the edifice of society, by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structure requires to be on the ground.” –Edmund Burke

“By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos.” –T. S. Eliot

“Talk they of morals, O! thou bleeding Lamb
The best morality is love of thee.” –Arnobius

As Paul says in Romans 1, sin is the punishment for disassociation from God. Effecting a life of purity by works alone without grace to cover one’s sins treats the symptoms of godlessness, not the cause.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nothingman

The earthen grave lies open for Charlie Hebdo, the chestless cheerleaders of post-national “values.” The Wall Street Journal reports:

The cover of the new edition—due on newsstands with a press run of 1 million copies on Wednesday, a day before the grim anniversary—depicts God with a Kalashnikov slung over his back, cloak and beard spattered with blood, under the headline “The killer is still on the run.”

...

In the editorial, Mr. Sourisseau said all that the newspaper had survived over the decades gave him and the staff the “rage” to continue, extending his enmity well beyond Islamist terrorists to those he accuses of wishing for his paper’s demise—from Catholics to “jealous journalists.”

“Never have we wanted so much to beat the crap out of those who dreamed of our disappearance,” he wrote.

They’re so blinded by their atheism they can’t see the one true God that can save them from the enemy at the gates. They fail to detect the stakes of this game playing out in the Near West, that defanging righteousness leaves them vulnerable to evil.

For them just one question remains: When you have nothing to live for, why live at all? May the empty-headedness of “Je suis Charlie” be remembered forever.

Related: “Je ne suis pas Charlie” and “Europe’s insurgency.”