ornament 22 December 2003 ornament

The Americans Couldn’t Have Caught Saddam, Right?

The anti-Americans have already started the naysaying. Since there’s no denying that the capture of Saddam is good news (unless, of course, you’re Howard Dean), a London newspaper is now saying that the Kurds captured Saddam and turned him over to the Americans. Of course, there is this line in the story:

A former Iraqi intelligence officer, whom the Express did not name, told the paper that Saddam was held prisoner by a leader of the Kurdish Patriotic Front, which fought alongside US forces during the Iraq war, until he negotiated a deal.

Mysterious unnamed sources are responsible for a great deal of information these days, and “mysteriously” most of this information turns out to be false. News agencies should be more discerning in what they rush to print (just ask the New York Times). Unnamed sources are often just a good excuse for making something up.

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Happiness and The Individual

Peter Augustine Lawler has a superb piece on the pursuit of happiness. Lawler observes how most people equate happiness with individual happiness, and are willing to go to great lengths with biotechnology to make that happen:

We can see that the hope we place in biotechnology is based, in part, on our present desperation. In some ways — despite the wonderful and undeniable benefits we enjoy because of our technological successes, we find ourselves less happy than ever because we understand ourselves more than ever before as merely individuals. Family ties are weaker than ever, and even friendship is becoming merely networking. The critics are right that even our religion is often becoming cloyingly therapeutic or rather narcissistic, and we sacrifice and even deliberate hardly at all as citizens. We are more than ever under the libertarian spell of thinking that freedom means designing our lives without the constraints of others. We are more than ever merely “consenting adults.” Biotechnology, by itself, is far from offering any true antidote to our unhappiness as individuals; its central promise, of course, is to make our designer fantasies real. Our technological pursuit of happiness is never a cure for our real desperation; it can never be a replacement for virtue.

Lawler is right; biotechnology cannot bring us true happiness. Part of the problem is our warped view of happiness. I’ve actually talked to people who say that they don’t want to go heaven because they think they would become bored. Happiness is not merely sitting on a tropical beach. God has made our lives to intersect with others outside ourselves. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” In the course of human events, one must deal both with God and other people, and a person’s “happiness” must not be divorced from these dealings.

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ornament 20 December 2003 ornament

Are You Serious, Clark?

We caught just a little of NBC’s new National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, which aired tonight. I had tried to tape the show, but I’m glad my VCR skills have waned as of late. The movie was terrible—at least the last half hour was. Randy Quaid’s “Cousin Eddie” was the most hilarious part of the the first Christmas Vacation, but he was not the main character as in this one.

Humor only works well within the proper context—and the context of Eddie’s character as the main protagonist doesn’t work well. They should have driven this movie out in the middle of nowhere and left it for dead…

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ornament 19 December 2003 ornament

When Hearing is Reading

Here’s a debate I’m curious about: do you think that listening to an audiobook (book on tape, CD, etc.) can be considered “reading” a book? Usually on long road trips, like the ones we have planned for upcoming holidays, my wife and I like to listen to audiobooks while we drive. I started doing this, skeptically, when my wife was my then girlfriend/fiancee and we lived about 4.5 hours apart. I would drive on the weekends and to keep myself awake and pass the time, I would listen to audiobooks.

When I say I “read” The Fellowship of the Ring, I actually listened to the unabridged version being read to me. I read the print versions of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and I didn’t feel like I missed a step. So, the question remains; did I read it? What do you think?

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ornament 18 December 2003 ornament

Return of the King

Nope, I haven’t seen it yet—still anticipating. I thought, however, that I would point you to a couple of noteworthy reviews. Jonah Goldberg‘s is favorable, while Jonathan V. Last is a bit disappointed. It’s interesting to see what has been left out or changed from the books, which usually leaves something to be desired—as I’ve written about previously.

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Inward Styling

My car is dirty. I haven’t been to the car wash in months. I usually take in the “freebies” that come every time it rains. My car is dirty—on the outside. On the inside, my car is virtually spotless. I’m pretty neurotic about people leaving trash in it, and I clean the dust and the interior regularly. I vacuum the inside of the car more than twice as often as I wash the outside. Rarely will you find a candy wrapper, empty cup, toothpick wrapper, or napkin in my car. Often you will find me heading straight to the trash can after exiting my car.

OK, I’ll admit I’m a little weird—that goes without saying. There’s not really any big point I’m trying to make in telling this except to say that more people tend focus on keeping the outside of their cars clean than the inside. That’s fine with me—I don’t see the inside of most people’s cars and I’d rather not see “WASH ME,” or “KILROY WAS HERE” engraved into the dirt that’s caked upon the car in front of me. Better that driver drown in a sea of coffee cups or AOL CDs or whatever else he has in his car than to be seen driving a dirty car.

And so I reach the thesis of this blog entry in a deprecated, round-about way—in the third paragraph! For this entry has nothing to do with automobile cleanliness, really. What I want to address is style, and how style is quickly becoming the criteria for which things are judged.

Books like Virginia Postrel’s , The Substance of Style (a book I really need to read), addresses the importance of style in our culture. TV shows like “Extreme Makeover,” which depict persons styling their bodies are rampant across the airwaves. Roberto Rivera addresses specifically the show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” He observes:

…what I find most noteworthy about “Queer Eye” [is] the way that the show embodies the triumph of “style” in American life. While the expression “style over substance” has been part of our cultural lexicon for decades, this is something else. It’s more like “style is substance.” It’s the belief that all there is to a person ― and to some extent, to human institutions as well ― are surfaces. To use a culinary analogy, it doesn’t matter how the food tastes as long as the presentation is excellent.

To be fair, gay men didn’t invent this notion. (Although, there’s probably a book waiting to be written about how such a cultural shift was a necessary pre-condition for the emergence of the “gay moment.”) Domesticity without the domus, a rightly-ordered household, is Martha Stewart’s stock-in-trade. The average American wedding costs $20,000 yet people understand less about the institution of marriage than ever before. Or, look at the magazine rack at the check-out counter. Most of the magazines are about “style”: who’s got it, how to get it and how to avoid a stylistic misstep. Go home, turn on the television, and there’s more of the same. If your concern is your inner life, they’ve got bupkes. If you’re decorating a room, accessorizing, or worried about making a good first impression, there’s no shortage of “help.”

Why? There are several reasons but the one that immediately comes to mind is that we’ve concluded that the interior of a person, institution, custom or ritual is basically unknowable or, in any case, immune to criticism and judgment. In other words, it’s so subjective that it’s impossible to talk about it. So, all there is to talk about are appearances, what we call “style.” In this context, people who can tell you the best way to shave (“slowly and with the grain”) or accessorize (“holding a new belt over a pot of boiling water can give it a nice matte finish”) are superheroes of sorts, protecting the innocent clueless from making the ultimate fashion faux pas. And, ironically, whereas being judgmental about a person’s interior dispositions is verboten, being so about their “style” is almost mandatory.

Rivera here makes an excellent point, and it’s nothing new. People rarely talk about inward things in the public square. Even worse, people tend to not even reflect upon the inner life themselves.

Herein lies great danger, because, as Jesus said:

What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. [see Mark 7:14-23, ESV]

We take great pains as a society and as individuals to fix and maintain the surface of things, but only an inward transformation can produce lasting results. Whether we try to wrap ourselves in the latest styles or style ourselves as being without style, we must all not overlook our own inward fashioning. This can be an ugly process, and we will inevitably find things that will undo us. There is hope, however, in our undoing. In Christ, our Maker has undone us and re-fashioned us. The interiors of our cars may not all be clean, but rest assured that our hearts, however vile, can be made so.

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ornament 17 December 2003 ornament

Brick & Mortar

Last year I did a good 90% of my Christmas shopping online. This year, due to many circumstances, I am forced to do all of my shopping in brick and mortar stores. Last night I ventured out without the benefit of my wife, a seasoned shopper. For the sake of pending gift surprises, I’ll leave the names and places in this entry to the reader’s imagination—but I will say that I won a great battle and it felt pretty good.

At the first store where I made a purchase, the cashier asked for my phone number (with area code, of course). Here I was faced with a decision—I could do one of three options:

  • Give the cashier my phone number, thereby giving the store vast amounts of information about myself.
  • Give the cashier a false telephone number (I have in the past given out the phone number to my freshman dorm room from 10 years ago), resulting in a slight pang of the conscience.
  • Decline to give my number, possibly resulting in a meltdown for the cashier because he or she does not know what to do in such a situation.

Last night, I decided to go with the third option. I simply said, “I’d rather not give out that number.” The cashier quickly avoided any semblance of eye contact, furtively looking down to the register, hoping for an answer there. “I have a blank space in front of me,” the cashier must have been thinking, “what do I do now?” Thankfully, management didn’t have to be called in—I think the cashier just entered a few random numbers and completed my sale.

The whole experience was quite refreshing—an epiphany of sorts in the way that I shop. I suggest you try it too. Think about it—why do we so freely dispense of information that is not necessary to the sale?

The ironic thing about this is that I could not have been so bold as to withhold my information if I were ordering online. Most checkout pages have “required fields” where one must put a telephone number, so there are still some benefits to shopping brick & mortar style.

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ornament 16 December 2003 ornament

An End for the World of Men?

I’m not referring to some obscure Lord of the Rings passage here, but to Terrence O. Moore’s superb article, “Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown,” on the loss of manhood in our society. Moore, a former Marine, college professor, and school principal, sees boys today developing into one of two types: wimps and barbarians. Link via Hugh Hewitt.

This is required reading. You’re not allowed to read anything else on this site until you’ve read this article.

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ornament 15 December 2003 ornament

The Mother of All Days?

The Reuters news agency, who prefers to call the 9/11 murders “freedom fighters” rather than terrorists, has decided that there was too much jubilation going on following Saddam’s capture. So, they release this article:

Joy at the capture of Saddam Hussein gave way to resentment toward Washington Monday as Iraqis confronted afresh the bloodshed, shortages and soaring prices of life under U.S. occupation.

The article is full of anti-American quotes. Articles like this make me wonder whether or not the reporter has a list of known whiners that he or she goes to when they want to give the “alternative” position. The views expressed in the article certainly do not match with those of this Iraqi blogger:

Before this, I prayed the traditional prayers of thanksgiving. That I, and the Iraqi people should see this day! This, surely, is the mother of all days for us. The heroes of our valiant Pesh Mergas, and the heroes of the U.S. Fourth division have done it. Now is the time to unleash the Iraqi Counter Terror; now is the time to go for the kill. Let us go after them. Don’t lose this moment. They want to recant and live in equality with the people? they have a chance – otherwise they will have to go. I am too overwhelmed with emotion to write coherently; please excuse me. The foul mouths of the enemies of our people everywhere and the neighboring vultures and hyenas be stuffed with dirt; we will come after you; your time will come.

Long live the great alliance of Mesopotamia and the United States of America and her allies. Now is the time, now is the time; Do not delay; unleash the Counter Terror.

Of course it stands to reason that Reuters didn’t interview him—he is for Counter-Terror, not Counter-Freedom Fighter.

UPDATE: It’s funny how this Reuters article hasn’t gone unnoticed. Evangelical Outpost and OpinionJournal‘s Best of the Web, among others, picked up on this. I think Reuters’ constituency is smarter than Reuters gives them credit.

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Dean’s Doublespeak

Howard Dean can’t make up his mind:

“I congratulate our troops on capturing Saddam Hussein,” Dean said at a fundraising concert that featured singers Bonnie Raitt and David Crosby. “He’s a bad person and we’re all better off with him in captivity. But you should know that my views on Iraq have not changed one bit.”

Let me get this straight—Dean think’s that it’s good that we captured Saddam, yet he thinks it was wrong to go get him. Hmmm…

I guess I can’t blame him for doublespeak though—I really do hope that Dean gets nominated as the Democratic candidate, but I’d never even consider voting for him.

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