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Douthat on Hume and Woods


Ross Douthat's excellent take on the over-reaction to Brit Hume's altar call:

The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume's remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines -- explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe's religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher -- including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both -- who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It's reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it's the most important one there is.

There is a tension here between religious tolerance and religious dialogue. Believers of all faiths who aspire to any kind of orthodoxy are often scolded that they need to be more tolerant of other religions. Simultaneously, believers and non-believers alike see the need for and value of religious dialogue. Yet when Hume suggests in about the gentlest way possible that Jesus Christ, whom Hume presumably holds to be Lord and Savior of all men, might offer one particular man some answers, heads start exploding.

You can argue that Hume is wrong on the question of Buddhism's teachings, but to scold him for bringing it up is to mock the concept of dialogue. To see how rational this is, I'll only point out that people who riot and kill when the pope quotes Byzantine emperors also mock the concept of dialogue.

The other argument that could be made is that an individual's personal faith, as opposed to religion in general, is something so intensely private that we shouldn't discuss it in public. This is clearly absurd, as is evidenced by the fact that Mark Sanford's intensely private beliefs sure seemed to be legitimate public fodder last year. It's also a bit of a laugher since the media have no problem discussing Woods' sexual life, trotting out his mistresses, publishing his text messages, speculating about his marriage, psychoanalyzing him from every conceivable angle and offering dimestore advice over how to handle the P.R. disaster, maintain his focus on his career and save his marriage. All this, and yet a bit of spiritual advice is outside the bounds of acceptable discourse.

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Weekend Reading

  • WSJ on the SEC:

    The breadth of the South's football culture creates a fanaticism that crosses all lines. People who didn't attend the schools, or go to college at all, still support them, and will even make donations. It's a group that insiders call "dirt-road alumni." After his business was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, Joe Yargo, a trucker from Hammond, La., who did not attend LSU, says he told his wife "I might lose my house, but I won't lose my season tickets."

    "Half the people in that stadium can't spell LSU," says political consultant James Carville, an LSU alumnus. "It doesn't matter. They identify with it. It's culturally such a big deal."

  • I have just returned from Santo Domingo de Silos, a Benedictine monastery where I spent four days--What four days! I have not been so happy this whole voyage--The life is so good, I can well join my homely upright friends & remain forever in this cloister--It is surely healthful & sane--It is also beautiful: & beside the world around it[,] it is free from superstition, religion, strife, stupidity, wastefulness, disease, & bad manners--The religion is a reverent habit which gives a great dignity to everything done. There is no excess--no sermonizing--inquisitiveness, or self-torture--I have not eaten better in Spain, than in S.D.S. The food is grown within the monastery--There is beautiful fruit, delicious honey, & wine, & Benedictine liqueur beyond words--One is rich here--The library is very rich too, and the cloister sculptures--of the 11th c. are the finest works of Spanish Romanesque art, without any parallel, & strangely isolated in history--There is also a treasure of mediaeval metal-work and Mss. [manuscripts], noble monks, generous life--fine talk & companionship & apparently the perfection of freedoms--one sings the Gregorian chants--& the mass is very simple & beautiful...

    ...I wrote you of how beautiful was the monastery at Silos. I saw little of its exterior or the surrounding country--The course of life is so pleasant and orderly within: & the work suggested by the buildings, the manuscripts, and the carvings, so absorbing, I had no wish to leave or to explore beyond. The monks were, every one, gracious and quiet; there was no touch of morbidity or suffering or extreme asceticism in them. I was embarrassed by their prayers which were brief and simple, but in which I could not join--I was embarrassed by my own lack of faith: for it seemed, in my non-participation--a criticism of these men, an estrangement, that was really only formal. The short chanting before and after meals was beautiful, a reverent thanks and acceptance--which surely I owed more than the others--In the mass, all was subdued: no shrill and over-resonant music (& no jingling of coins) as in the cities, but simple chants of the middle ages. The mass was a meeting of pious musicians--The church itself, an 18th c. baroque building, is an unfortunate hall for these services--The cloister outside is miraculous, with more in common with the chanting and the Benedictine life.

    Thruout the meals, which are excellent & served in a fine refectory, there is silence, except for a man who sits in a pulpit & reads chapters of church history. After lunch, after a brief prayer in the Chapel of Santo Domingo, the silence is relaxed--but in amusing gradation, lest a sharp transition indicate a suppressed desire, and a criticism of the restraint imposed. As we descend the steps of the chapel, we offer by signs the precedence to each other, gesture and smile, like dumb men; prolonging this talk till we are in the cloister where the first words are uttered. Then for a half hour we sit in the garden or a small chamber, and drink coffee and a delicious cordial, prepared by the monks.

    From letters from 20th century art historian Meyer Schapiro to his future wife, written while studying monastic sculpture in Europe. The letters are in the current New York Review of Books but are not online.

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Another deathblow to my childhood


The WSJ yesterday had a depressing story about the baseball card industry. In order to reverse a decline in sales, card companies are including ever creepier relics as "chase cards" -- big ticket prizes that entice collectors to keep buying packs.

I blogged once a long time ago about how bizaare relic cards are (money quote: "Yes kids, for months worth of your hard-earned lawn-mowing money you can purchase a shred of lycra which caressed the rear end of your favorite second baseman/left fielder."), and it seems it's gotten even creepier. It seems some card companies have upped the ante, moving from second class to first class relics:

Ms. Artusa, a baseball-card collector since the 1970s, found something unusual in one pack -- a scratch-off code that pointed her to a Web site. The site told her she had won something too delicate to include in a regular pack: a single strand of hair from the head of Abraham Lincoln.

Click through and you'll see the article is not dated April 1st.

For a long time now, the baseball card industry hasn't been about baseball and this is further proof:

The industry has since streamlined, but "the good old days of building a set, one 15-card pack at a time, are pretty much over," Mr. Kelnhofer says. While cheaper packs today go for around $2, he says, "the card makers' survival is predicated on attracting and keeping the collectors who make the big-ticket purchases."

Those are people like Ms. Artusa, who got the Lincoln hair. The night she and her husband came across their prize, they were going through a case priced at $1,800 and containing 192 packs of baseball cards.

What is this but legalized gambling?

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Let's talk about something else

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For all you ladies who grew up watching The Sound of Music and wanting to find your very own Captain Von Trapp, you probably don't want to read this review of Christopher Plummer's memoir. I did learn, however, that his daughter is "Honey-Bunny" from Pulp Fiction and the axe murderer in So I Married and Axe Murderer.

Also, this one's for Brandon: "A 65th Birthday Tribute to Joni Mitchell."

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Papa-Lu wins!


My You've Got Mail post below was chosen as the best answer by the guy who originally asked the question on Ask Meta Filter.

Hooray for the narcissism and misguided optimism of the 90s!

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Civilizational DeathWatch

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A Really Messed Up Relationship


This interview with doctor and author Daphne Miller from Gourmet is worth your time.

...the taste of hot is lost from a lot of people’s palates in the U.S., I think. Hot and sour and fermented are all sort of erased from the average American diet, so we basically just have sweet, salty, and fatty.

DM: Absolutely. There is hot, but it’s very combined with sweet. Hot is not actually an instinctual taste that we seek out, like sweet, salty, and fatty; hot is a learned healing taste. So [the food industry has] harnessed the idea that hot is somehow good, but matched it with loads of high fructose corn syrup so that it becomes palatable.

But fermented is probably one of the greatest losses, I’m figuring out. I swear, if we could get everybody in this country to eat one serving a day of a really good-quality yogurt that was relatively unsweetened, and truly made through a fermentation process, I think that in itself would be a major step forward in terms of public health. That, or some other fermented food. But most people have nothing that’s truly fermented in their diet. Even the pickles and sauerkraut and things that you can buy in some supermarkets across America aren’t made through a true fermentation process anymore. So they lack all the health benefits. But recently the medical literature has been showing that genetic information is actually put into our gut through eating fermented foods. It’s becoming really obvious that this plays a key role in everything from food allergies to possible cancer prevention...

CH: And so it’s really telling to look at cultures where Western diseases just don’t exist.

DM: Right. And the proof positive is that we’re exporting this disease now. So effectively. Okinawa was just amazing: You have this culture that is so remarkable for longevity and low rates of cancer, and within one generation, our food corporations have achieved near-magical results in terms of transforming Okinawans into a group of obese diabetics with metabolic syndrome. You have these grandmothers who are 100 watching their great-grandchildren waddle around and suffer from obesity.

Miller's new book, which explores the health benefits of traditional diets from around the world, is going on my "library list."

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For Whom?


From the "Hell in a Handbasket" file:

For teen readers

True and fictional tales of abuse, addiction and other kinds of adversity

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Thug life


If you have an hour to spare, check out this fascinating NPR podcast. It's Sudhir Venkatesh reading from and discussing his book "Gang Leader for a Day." Venkatesh is a sociologist who for his dissertation studied the relationship between the Chicago crack-gang Black Kings and the Robert Taylor housing projects where they operated. If you've read "Freakonomics", you'll recognize Venkatesh from the why drug dealers live with their mothers chapter.

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Merry Christmas Happy New Year Happy Birthday


To all the ladies:

Becoming Cary Grant

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PJ O'Rourke on the Boomers coming of age - Social Security Age.

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That sound you hear...

| the simultaneous combustion of the heads of feminists all over the English-speaking world.

Dr Miller is an evolutionary psychologist—and the author of the theory that the large brains of humans evolved to attract the opposite sex in much the same way that a peacock's tail does. His latest foray, into the flesh-pots of Albuquerque, is intended to investigate an orthodoxy of human mating theory. This is that in people, oestrus—the outward signs of ovulation—has been lost, so that men cannot tell when women are fertile.

This theory is based on the idea that in evolutionary terms it benefits women to disguise when they are fertile so that their menfolk will stick around all the time. Otherwise, the theory goes, a man might go hunting for alternative mating opportunities at moments when he knew that his partner was infertile and thus that her infidelity could not result in children.

However, this should result in an evolutionary arms race between the sexes, as men evolve ever-heightened sensitivity to signs of female fertility. Dr Miller thought lap-dancing clubs a good place to study this arms race, because male detection of female fertility cues would probably translate into an easily quantifiable signal, namely dollars earned. He therefore recruited some of the girls into his experiment, with a view to comparing the earnings of those on the Pill (whose fertility was thus suppressed) with those not on the Pill.

The results support the idea that if evolution has favoured concealed ovulation in women, it has also favoured ovulation-detection in men. The average earnings per shift of women who were ovulating was $335. During menstruation (when they were infertile) that dropped to $185—about what women on the Pill made throughout the month. The lessons are clear. A woman is sexier when she is most fertile. And if she wishes to earn a good living as a dancer, she should stay off the Pill.

There's a lot to unpack there. First off, you gotta wonder where this guy gets his grant money.

More seriously, I do recall a comment by a female friend of mine that one of the reasons she got hit on so much at her office was that she was the only lady there who wasn't chemically neutered.

Really, this is intuitive, and the evolutionary theory posited in the second paragraph can be turned right around. It may benefit women (evolutionarily, not morally, of course) more for the signs of their fertility to be discernible to ensure that a mate is available at the right time. Even if he doesn't "stick around." In fact, looking at the reproductive tendencies of our own lower classes confirms this: women using less birth control, men not sticking around, very high birth rates.

Which, ahem, is why marriage and the traditional family are so important. Without it, society has no effective way (outside of legal coercion) of matching up fathers with the children they beget. With the drastic weakening of marriage we've seen over the past several decades, we have - ta da! - lots of fatherless children, even with widely available birth control. (Which gives the idea that men are good at sniffing out fertile women a little more credibility.)

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Speaking about the epidemic of fatherlessness in black families, Mr. Cosby imagined a young fatherless child thinking: “Somewhere in my life a person called my father has not shown up, and I feel very sad about this because I don’t know if I’m ugly — I don’t know what the reason is.”

Dr. Poussaint, referring to boys who get into trouble, added: “I think a lot of these males kind of have a father hunger and actually grieve that they don’t have a father. And I think later a lot of that turns into anger. ‘Why aren’t you with me? Why don’t you care about me?’ ”

The absence of fathers, and the resultant feelings of abandonment felt by boys and girls, inevitably affect the children’s sense of self-worth, he said.

- Bob Herbert on Bill Crosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint's noble crusade to encourage men to be fathers.

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On Prayer and Public Schools


The role of religion in the public schools is a frequent point of debate between the religious teachers and me. They argue religion in the school will improve behavior and increase academic performance, while I do not understand why people feel the tyrannous need to force their particular religion on the public sector.

Or maybe some feel the tyrannous need to force all religion except irreligion out of the public sector.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what "teaching" consists of in Chicago Public Schools (emphasis mine, and no offense, mom):

Almost all of the students in our school are religious and we have difficult discussions about abortion, homosexuality, the power of prayer, etc. For instance, which is the bigger sin: to “kill my child” through abortion or for an unstable and unprepared teenager to bring another child into the world? Of course, neither the students nor I ever sway the other’s opinion.

These damn religions kids won't swallow my pro-abortion propaganda! As Shea would say: reason #983643264923432 (or whatever he's up to these days) to homeschool.

Lest you think there's some looming merger of religion with Illinois schools, the author's hissy fit (complete with pictures of BLACKS IN CHURCH to really scare you!) is because the state legislature overrode Gov Bla's veto of a bill requiring schools to hire chaplains break at noon for the Angelus teach Scripture, scrap evolution for young-earth creationsism start with a moment of silence.

Isn't it interesting how hatred of religion can lead to an abandonment of reason?

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Shiny Happy People at Work


This piece on the burgeoning "funsultant" business had me belly-laughing. A taste:

A considerable corpus of literature on their discipline is amassing. I use the word "literature" loosely, to mean a series of often ungrammatical double-spaced sentences put on paper, slapped between festively colored covers, and sold to mouth-readers with too much discretionary income. While most business books, according to Kihn, are written on about a 7th-grade level (there are exceptions like Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens that are written on a 5th-grade level), the funsultant literature regresses all the way back to primary school. Since we all forget to play as adults, as funsultants repeatedly tell us, they seem intent on speaking to us as though we're children.

Their books are thick with instances of how successful businessmen keep things loosey-goosey at work. Forget industriousness, talent, and know-how--the wellspring of employees' satisfaction, creativity, and prosperity is fun. In Mike Veeck's Fun Is Good, the cofounder of Hooters Restaurants reveals, "I don't know if we could've survived without humor," whereas to the untrained eye it looked like Buffalo Chicken Strips served with large sides of waitress's breasts were the secret to his success. Whatever. "Fun" is the cure-all for anything that ails your company.

If you thought there were only 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work, as suggested by the smash book that's been translated into 10 languages, then you're shortchanging yourself, because technically, there are 602 ways, according to the follow-up, 301 More Ways to Have Fun at Work. Using examples culled from real companies in real office parks throughout America, the authors suggest using fun as "an organizational strategy--a strategic weapon to achieve extraordinary results" by training your people to learn the "fun-damentals" so as "to create fun-atics" (most funsultants appear to be paid by the pun).

Here's an abbreviated list of the jollity that will ensue at your place of business if you follow their advice: "joy lists," koosh balls, office-chair relay races, marshmallow fights, funny caption contests, job interviews conducted in Groucho glasses or pajamas, wacky Olympics, memos by Frisbee, voicemails in cartoon-character voices, rap songs to convey what's learned at leadership institutes, "breakathons," bunny teeth, and asking job prospects to bring show and tell items such as "a stuffed Tigger doll symbolizing the interviewee's energetic and upbeat attitude" or perhaps a "neon-pink mask and snorkel worn to demonstrate a sense of humor, self-deprecating nature, and sense of adventure."

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Jeffrey Zaslow, writing in the Wall Street Journal has two recent columns (1, 2)about the growing tendency to cast men as potential child predators. The first is about the subtle messages that are being sent (example: a billboard campaign warning against predators that shows a man holding hands with a little girl), while the second features some reactions by male readers. Frustrating reading, these articles make. Yeah, men are more likely to abuse, but when a man eating lunch in an airport with his daughter gets reported to the cops, something has gone horribly wrong.

Of course some of this (like the airport episode) is due to ignorant people overreacting, but who wins when every child looks at every man as a potential abuser?

Hat-tip: Bettnet

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“What happens to Israel will happen here?


With apologies to all (!) my Christian Zionist readers, this is some freaky sh*t.

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Tickle me dead

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Is it selfish/rude/horrifyingly inhuman/just plain wrong to look at this list of Fisher Price toys that were recalled due to lead paint and note with a snicker how many of them contain the word "Elmo"?

Perhaps. Perhaps.

Uh.. not so humorous update: A factory manager at one of the Chinese manufacturers involved hung himself.

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Everybody is getting into the act. Even Peggy Noonan's column is about the Sopranos this week.

Would this be a bad time to mention that I've never seen it?

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Get a (second) life

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This pretty much leaves me speechless.

The current population of virtual worlds, also known as "massively multiplayer online role-playing games" (mmorpgs) such as World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and Second Life, is estimated at more than 20 million. The population of Mexico City is 19 million.

Entropia Universe offers its players a debit card that can be used at real-world atms to withdraw up to $3,000 a month from their supply of virtual cash.

An estimated 500,000 Chinese gamers are "gold farmers" who perform menial tasks inside online worlds to create virtual goods to sell to players in the West.

A typical gold farmer earns $65 to $100 a month.

No pun intended, but some people inhabit a completely different world.

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

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