Your Six Minutes of Civilization

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Around The World In 10 Minutes


Andrei Rublev — which if you haven’t seen the film, you ought to.

One of the most things your humble writer faces from time to time is that there’s so much quality stuff out there: arts, culture, politics, and books.  Folks love to complain about the downfall of social media descending into cat pictures and Upworthy-style clickbait — and there’s some truth to that — but it sidesteps all of the really excellent stuff out there.  Truth be told, if you can push past the saccharine, there’s a lot of tremendous content that hearkens back to the blogosphere of 10 years ago, where arts, culture, politics, etc. truly reigned supreme.

Of course, my tastes vary from the eclectic to the sublime.  Politics just happens to be one of a many-sided intellectual palette, and though not all these things will interest everyone, I suspect that some of it might interest a few of you… and to that end, I’ll share.

Meet the 26-year-old who’s taking on Thomas Piketty’s ominous warnings about inequality (Washington Post):  Loyal readers will recall our previous conversation about Pinketty’s Capital and the discussion over r > g (rate of return on capital > economic growth) as an argument regarding income disparity affecting our ability to have a dialogue within a republican form of government.  Turns out, Pinketty was wrong… and the guy who flipped the card table was not only a 26 year old PhD candidate, but did it in the comments section of Marginal Revolution:

The comment blossomed into a near-unprecedented career opportunity for a student who just recently turned 26 years old, and who remains a year away from earning his doctoral degree. It will culminate on Friday morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where Rognlie will present a research paper before an often-cutthroat audience of all-star economists, including a Nobel Prize winner, Robert Solow, who will critique Rognlie’s analysis.

Organizers say it will almost certainly be the first paper at the prestigious Brookings Papers on Economic Activity that was commissioned based on a blog comment. It is also a rare honor for a graduate student to present a sole-authored paper there; a quick scan of Brookings records shows a similar appearance by the now-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs when he was a doctoral student in 1979.

Fear not the comments section, folks.  Just try to use your real name — no one takes a pseudonym seriously. Continue reading

Posted in Books, Catholic, Culture, Economics, Gardening, National Politics, Philosophy, Self-Sufficiency, Technology, Video | Leave a comment

Luddites Rejoice! The Book Survives!

Or more accurately, why low tech is the new tech:

It wasn’t meant to be this way. When ebooks took off in the mid-Noughties, many foresaw the death of the printed variety that has dominated the market for 600 years, and great was the wailing and gnashing of teeth among traditionalists. A slim, six-ounce Kindle could store hundreds of books, and the device was packed with nifty features for tech-addicted customers. The book was clearly headed the same way as the quill. Or the typewriter. Or, for that matter, the vinyl record.

Happily, the ebook pioneers forgot something important. There are some things that technology can’t replace, and readers began to realise that a proper book possessed something akin to a soul. Not just older readers, either. My 16-year-old son begged for a Kindle a few years ago. When I asked him last week if he still used it, he looked up from the hand-bound, folio edition of The Count of Monte Cristo he had got for Christmas, and blinked. “Oh, that, not really.”

What people are discovering in the whole “Old is Gold” movement isn’t that tech isn’t helpful to some degree, but that new isn’t always better.  Those old books really do have a certain quality to them.  Film really does have an advantage over digital.  Vinyl records really do capture analog sound better than MP3s.

Even typewriters are bouncing back. Spooked by the WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden affairs, intelligence agencies and political groups are reportedly returning to Cold War technology to keep their secrets safe. The glamour is back, too. Movie star Tom Hanks recently published a “love letter” to the typewriter, declaring: “The tactile pleasure of typing is incomparable… there is a sheer physical pleasure to typing.”

OK — so maybe it can go a bit far.  (full disclosure: I own and use a typewriter on occassion…)

Still, the movement does show that there is a certain space that technology fills, but the tried and true always seem to have a place.  Horse and buggy may have truly been replaced by an automobile for ease of use, but when it comes to the things that surround culture, it’s best to hold off on the death knell of any medium.

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A New Low in Israeli-American Relations?

Of is it the politicization of foreign affairs?

Officials in Washington said that the “chickenshit” epithet — with which an anonymous administration official branded Netanyahu several months ago — was mild compared to the language used in the White House when news of Netanyahu’s planned speech came in.

In his address the Israeli leader is expected to speak about stalled US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to urge lawmakers to slap Tehran with a new round of tougher sanctions in order to force it to comply with international demands. The Mossad intelligence service on Thursday went to the rare length of issuing a press statement to deny claims, cited by Kerry, that its chief Tamir Pardo had told visiting US politicians that he opposed further sanctions.

So the Republicans talk to Likud; Democrats to Israeli Labour?  Of course, before we get on our high horse about politics stopping at the waters’ edge (a principle I emphatically endorse), let’s not forget Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back in 2007 shortly after the Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to put him back in.

Nevertheless, it is impolitic at best to be labeling the leader of one of our closest allies in the Middle East as “chickenshit” in the middle of perhaps some of the most intense negotiations to broker a Palestinian peace.

When most presidents seem to focus on foreign affairs in their second term, President Obama seems to be failing miserably to establish concrete results when in 2008, his campaign had set the standards so very high.  That’s unfortunate — because much more could and ought to be done… with less cowboy diplomacy, if one can borrow the term.

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Extra Points for Jeff Schapiro This Morning…

The RTD’s Jeff Schapiro opines on the bills concerning business and free enterprise moving through the 2015 General Assembly.  I do have to give credit for a classic line:

The legislature has been in session only a week, but already the sturm und drang of an election year has become a screen behind which complex and costly issues unfold often unnoticed — until consumers get the bill.

Goethe +1!

Posted in Culture, Virginia Politics | Leave a comment

FLS: Don’t Rush Virginia’s State Anthem

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star doesn’t think the bill that would make “Our Great Virginia” our Virginia state anthem — set to the tune of “Shenandoah” and sponsored by Speaker Bill Howell — should be passed into law.  To wit:

If Virginia is indeed in the mood to revisit the matter of its musical representation, it should consider its options.

The eight finalists from the old subcommittee remain on its website. They include an old Carter Family song, “Longing for Old Virginia.”

Its merits include a lack of offensive lyrics.

No offensive lyrics?  I mean, if that’s a hurdle to jump then great start, I suppose…

But I digress.  I’ve long argued that there are excellent alternatives, “Shenandoah” being one of them.  Eddie From Ohio’s “Old Dominion” is a close second and a shop favorite here.

But for a really chest thumping anthem?  One that really screams Virginia?  You couldn’t do worse than “Jefferson and Liberty” could you?

The full lyrics:

The gloomy night before us flies,
The reign of terror now is o’er;
Its gags, inquisitors, and spies,
Its herds of harpies are no more!

Rejoice, Columbia’s sons, rejoice!
To tyrants never bend the knee,
But join with heart, and soul, and voice,
For Jefferson and Liberty!

No lordling here, with gorging jaws
Shall wring from industry the food;
Nor fiery bigot’s holy laws
Lay waste our fields and streets in blood!

Here strangers from a thousand shores
Compelled by tyranny to roam,
Shall find amidst abundant stores,
A nobler and happier home.

Here Art shall lift her laurelled head,
Wealth, Industry, and Peace, divine;
And where dark, pathless forests spread,
Rich fields and lofty cities shine.

From Europe’s wants and woes remote,
A friendly waste of waves between,
Here plenty cheers the humblest cot,
And smiles on every village green.

Here free as air, expanded space,
To every soul and sect shall be —
That sacred privilege of our race —
The worship of the Deity.

Let foes to freedom dread the name;
But should they touch the sacred tree,
Twice fifty thousands swords would flame
For Jefferson and liberty.

From Georgia to Lake Champlain,
From seas to Mississippi’s shore,
Ye sons of freedom loud proclaim —
“The reign of terror is no more.”

Now that’s a state anthem!  Though one could suppose that mentions of “streets in blood” and “worship of the Diety” might be just a tad offensive for some more tender sentiments…

Posted in Video, Virginia Politics | 1 Comment

SHOCKER: The Virginia Pilot Doesn’t Like The SOLs

Color me confused, but I haven’t quite figured out what the liberal obsession with Common Core is just yet.  Certainly, I understand why conservatives, homeschoolers, and a number of folks who abide in the loving arms of common sense have against it.

Yet I haven’t quite discovered how the algorithm “Common Core Good : Standards of Learning Bad” really works:

Virginia is different from those other states, as is its curriculum in civics, something that befits a state where the first Europeans arrived in 1607. A state home to the New World’s oldest legislative body (hint: That’s the General Assembly). The birthplace of presidents, including four of the first five.

Despite a mark of 86 percent on the current SOL civics exam, legislators would have the state’s teachers stop what they’re doing – stop helping Virginia’s kids actually understand citizenship – to help them memorize answers to a federal test.

Normally I’d fob this off with a “read it all” or something to that effect, but those two paragraphs right there are the thrust of the argument.  The rest?  Well… lots of fury but hardly sound.

One problem?  The Virginia Pilot waxes furiously on how such standards are rather unnecessary, as 86% of Virginia students already pass the civics portion of the SOLs, and even cites the Virginia Education Association’s (VEA) opposition as reason enough to oppose HB 1306.

Yet with five seconds of careful pruning, the Daily Progress discovers this little gem:

“We’ll come out in opposition to that one,” she said. “We’re not in favor of increasing any standardized testing hoop.”

So which is it — is this unnecessary, as the VA Pilot suggests?  Or is it increasing the standard, as the VEA suggests (and uses as the basis of it’s opposition)?

Again… color me confused.  But it sounds as if Delegate Dickie Bell might be on to something if even the opponents of the bill don’t clearly understand why they are opposed… other than they simply are opposed to the SOL’s in principle and would much rather have a more federalized approach towards measuring the education level of Virginia students.

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Style Weekly: Morrissey’s Strange Odyessy

If there was one line to describe the odd and deplorably hilarious saga of l’affaire Morrissey, this paragraph has to take the cake.

Morrissey arrives at the General Assembly building about 20 minutes before the session is scheduled to begin. He tells reporters that when he was released from jail this morning, his Jaguar was covered in ice and he couldn’t get the door open.

Because those are the daily problems of most inmates at the Richmond City Jail — yes?

All due apologies to Homer and Odysseus, of course.

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Your Three Minutes of Civilization

Brought to you by The Chieftains… who are fine purveyors of civilization and culture.  And whiskey.  And music.  And Ireland.  And awesome.

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The Death of Culture and the Cultural Class?

Evan Kindley over at Slate bemoans the collapse of the creative class… or perhaps, the collapse of the old order at the expense of the new while writing a review of Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash:

Timberg falls prey to the professional Jeremiah’s tendency to focus only on what has disappeared—without attending to what has risen up in its place. Timberg is right to blanch at the astonishing number of jobs in publishing and journalism that have been lost since 2008 (about 260,000, according to a figure he cites from U.S. News & World Report). This has, indeed, been a disaster for the creative class. But he fails to note that there are signs of life as well.

The entire jeremiad is worth a read, and the book itself might be worth perusing.  What is fascinating — at least to your humble writer here — is the contrast between the old creative class of writers, journalists, and artists in contrast with the newer creative class of designers, content creators, and social media experts.

Kindley sidesteps the precise value of each, I think… and perhaps the quality vs. quantity argument that many might offer in today’s environment.  Culture has never been cheaper and more accessible, and without the gatekeepers, we don’t even know what is good culture vs. bad culture.  Whether or not this is an old or new argument seems to objectively miss the point.  One might argue very plainly that the loss is keenly felt in the tradeoff between gatekeepers and Big Data, and whether or not the monetization of culture was really worth the exchange.

…but I digress.  This is a blog after all, and I benefit from the democratization of content to one degree or another.  Still, once upon a time the blogosphere was one of culture, arts, and ideas.  Even the most basic perusal of Facebook and Twitter would reveal a world of emojis, outrage, and cat pictures.  Tough to argue there’s something gained in that.

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