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.
Martese Johnson And The Rhetorical Talisman (NBC News): Dr. Jason Johnson — a UVA graduate himself — discussed the impact “I go to UVA” had on him as a young man, and watching the video where Virginia ABC officers detained and put into the pavement 20-year old Martese Johnson:
“I go to UVA” is a nasty little golden ticket, born of a frothy mix of classism and institutional racism, and it’s doled out to only those certain African Americans that ventured into the hallowed white spaces deemed off limits just a generation before (UVA didn’t integrate until 1972). I used it exactly twice, once while being harassed by a shop owner at a store across the street from where Martese Johnson was beaten, and once more when I was being stared down by a cop that pulled me over.
I was lucky it worked.
“I go to UVA” is used sparingly, as a black person you know that at best it bestows a few minutes of privilege upon you that white kids at UVA take for granted. The image of Martese Johnson beaten and bloodied, screaming “I go to UVA” exposes the greatest, deepest fear that every single one of us had at UVA — that nothing protects us. That no matter how well-spoken you are, what clubs you’re a part of, or who you’re with, you can be infantilized, emasculated, and stripped of all your hard work, and public status in the blink of an eye.
There is a real difficulty here in trying to distill this event into a hashtag. Too often, we’re looking for the simple answer. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. End police brutality. Don’t present fake IDs (though that story seems to be dissolving in the wake of new evidence from Trinity co-owner Kevin Badtke’s interview with Coy Barefoot this week).
Yet Dr. Johnson brings up a well-thought out point that gets missed in a lot of the conversation. There is no amount of concision that could have possibly distilled what is expressed in his op-ed. If you get a chance, read it all — it’s a perspective few others get a chance to consider.
Farmland Without Farmers (The Atlantic): The yeoman farmer, that Jeffersonian ideal of the self-sufficient family tending to their 40 acres, improving the soil, selling their surplus for market, and living up to a Roman standard of republican virtue. In the wake of industrialized farming, that farmer is gone. But in the chase for higher yields, is it worth it?
To make as much sense as I can of our predicament, I turn to Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, and his perception that for any parcel of land in human use there is an “eyes-to-acres ratio” that is right and is necessary to save it from destruction. By “eyes” Wes means a competent watchfulness, aware of the nature and the history of the place, constantly present, always alert for signs of harm and signs of health. The necessary ratio of eyes to acres is not constant from one place to another, nor is it scientifically predictable or computable for any place, because from place to place there are too many natural and human variables. The need for the right eyes-to-acres ratio appears nonetheless to have the force of law.
We can suppose that the eyes-to-acres ratio is approximately correct when a place is thriving in human use and care. The sign of its thriving would be the evident good health and diversity, not just of its crops and livestock but also of its population of native and noncommercial creatures, including the community of creatures living in the soil. Equally indicative and necessary would be the signs of a thriving local and locally adapted human economy.
The great and characteristic problem of industrial agriculture is that it does not distinguish one place from another. In effect, it blinds its practitioners to where they are. It cannot, by definition, be adapted to local ecosystems, topographies, soils, economies, problems, and needs.
Read it all.
Standing Ovation: Rand Paul Blows Away Black Audience With Conservative Message at Bowie State (Breitbart): Been a long time since I’ve read anything of substance on Breitbart. So when I read this piece out of Matthew Boyle, I was impressed — because nothing of the essence of U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s rhetoric was missed:
One case he cited involved Christos Sourovelis, a Philadelphia man whose son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs off the back porch of his house. In response, the government seized his home—and the case caught national attention, which prompted the authorities to eventually abandon the home seizure under civil asset forfeiture because of the political pressure to do so.
“Their teenage son sold $40 worth of illegal drugs off the back porch,” Paul said. “The government took their house, evicted them and barricaded them. It’s like, how are we making anything better when we take the house? Maybe the house is a stabilizing force in the family? Maybe it’s grandma’s house and the kid’s 15 years old? Why would we take grandma’s house? Why would we take the family’s house based on not even a conviction but an accusation against a child who doesn’t even own the house? It’s way out of control.”
Interesting to see Paul pick up the “two Americas” rhetoric from former U.S. Senator John Edwards. The analysis, however, is spot on. When our laws trap folks into patterns of government-enforced criminal behavior, blame the politicians — not the police. Something our friends at Virginia ABC should be considering at this rate.
Eric Cantor Is Back — But He Never Really Left (National Review): Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor this week delivered a speech to students at the University of Virginia, capping off a week where Cantor’s return to the political spotlight seems to be taking the form of political outsider rather than political lobbyist. To wit:
“I’m in a position that will allow me the exposure to the decision-makers in the private sector, gaining a better understanding of how our economy is working,” Cantor explains. “I’m actually now on the front lines, seeing the results of those policies, and the decision-makers who really make the economy go and how they react and how they react to policies that come out of Washington.”
Cantor bracketed the evolution of the Conservative Reform Network with two fundraisers in Richmond, followed by some fairly direct words about where Republicans nationally and statewide were falling down and where the party needed to lead. Don’t call it a comeback…
Richard John Neuhaus: A Life (First Things): I picked up my first copy of First Things in September 2001. Since that time, I have been a loyal and devoted reader, and can safely say that Fr. Neuhaus helped develop my own particular brand of conservative ethics — straddling the line between my Catholicism and my political ideology, and doing so in a way that was gentlemanly, firm, direct, and more than this unafraid. His passing left First Things in a bit of a rut, one that has recently been filled in (and admirably so) by R.R. Reno. In fact, Neuhaus’ own thoughts have allowed me to bridge the gap between my own Jesuit/Franciscan inclinations and that of Neuhaus’ own Lutheran predilections, one that Bearing Drift editor Jim Hoeft and I have mused upon in the past over bourbon and cigars — though I’m sure Fr. Neuhaus would have preferred red wine.
I have picked up Fr. Neuhaus’ biography recently, and though I haven’t had the chance to peruse it yet, I’m looking forward to the treat. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for reviews.
The Specter of an Arab Israel (Politico): Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s crushing win over his erstwhile center-left allies was an unprecedented victory for the Israeli center-right. Netanyahu, now unencumbered by the prospect of continuing the “grand coalition” with either Labour or the oddly-named Zionist Union, will have a much more free hand to do as he pleases with regards to handling HAMAS, settlements in the West Bank, and Iran — just to name a few issues facing the Jewish State.
Yet the most surprising aspect of the elections was the rise of the so-called Joint List. This is a rough coalition of primarily Arab parties within Israel that traditionally represent Palestinian concerns and have refused to join in coalition with either of Israels major parties for fear of collaboration. And yet…
By playing their cards right, Israel’s Palestinian citizens can, at the very least, position themselves as potential kingmakers of the future of Israeli politics. This could happen sooner than people think, since the distribution of power in the Knesset has grown only more dispersed in recent elections, when the party or list that ended up forming a governing coalition won an average of only about 30 seats (the exact number that Likud won this time). If so, that makes it even more plausible that a Palestinian-joined coalition, representing a united front of Israel’s 18-percent Arab minority, could gain power and influence.
There was another irony of this election. Israel’s Arab citizens have struggled for decades as a political anomaly and under significant discriminatory and exclusionary measures. But it was precisely one of those recent initiatives from the ascendant Israeli right wing, a “Governance Bill,” passed in March, 2014, that gave rise to the Joint List. The law raised the threshold for Knesset membership from 2 percent to 3.25 percent of votes cast. It was widely perceived as primarily aimed at damaging, or even eliminating, Arab representation in the Knesset because Hadash and Balad would not have qualified under the new system. The response was for the Arab-oriented parties in Israel to band together in an unprecedented manner and actually strengthen their political profile.
How much of this is wishful thinking on the part of the Israeli left (or the paid OFA staffers on the ground in Israel attempting to affect the outcome of the March elections) or reality is probably too soon to say. Whether the Joint List can speak with one voice is another matter altogether… but its growth signals a new wind in Israeli politics if its presence can be maintained.
Worst of all worlds: late capitalist materialism and the unending cycles of Slavoj Žižek (UK New Statesman): I have a mild dislike/hate relationship with the writings of Zizek. Not the man, mind you… I’m sure he’s brilliant and would love to listen to his expound on whatever runs across his mind. But the topics run from so off the chart that they have zero minus application in the real world, to an anodyne calling card from 1980s Yugoslavia. Where is he coming from? What does he want?!
Reading Žižek’s Stakhanovite output over the 26 years since the publication ofThe Sublime Object of Ideology, one could be forgiven for wondering if this undeadness isn’t the model, conscious or not, for his fevered productivity (he published no fewer than six sole-authored books in 2014) – less the overflowing inspiration of the creative genius than the work of an automaton on an unending loop. The Žižekian corpus reads increasingly like a philosophic iPod Shuffle, recirculating the same repertory of jokes, analyses, interpretations and provocations in different sequences and combinations.
A Most Unlikely Saint (The Atlantic): Tradition is the democracy of the dead, as the late G.K. Chesterton reminds us. Red meat for conservatives who adhere to the call of the tried and true, but terrifying for the reactionaries of the left, if for no other reason than that Chesterton himself refused to be caged or categorized:
In his vastness and mobility, Chesterton continues to elude definition: He was a Catholic convert and an oracular man of letters, a pneumatic cultural presence, an aphorist with the production rate of a pulp novelist. Poetry, criticism, fiction, biography, columns, public debate—the phenomenon known to early-20th-century newspaper readers as “GKC” was half cornucopia, half content mill. If you’ve got a couple of days, read his impish, ageless, inside-out terrorist thrillerThe Man Who Was Thursday. If you’ve got an afternoon, read his masterpiece of Christian apologetics Orthodoxy: ontological basics retailed with a blissful, zooming frivolity, Thomas Aquinas meets Eddie Van Halen. If you’ve got half an hour, read “The Blue Cross,” the first and most glitteringly perfect of his stories featuring the crime-busting village priest Father Brown. If you’ve got only 10 minutes, read his essay “A Much Repeated Repetition.” (“Of a mechanical thing we have a full knowledge. Of a living thing we have a divine ignorance.”)
Chesterton was a journalist; he was a metaphysician. He was a reactionary; he was a radical. He was a modernist, acutely alive to the rupture in consciousness that produced Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”; he was an anti-modernist (he hated Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”). He was a parochial Englishman and a post-Victorian gasbag; he was a mystic wedded to eternity. All of these cheerfully contradictory things are true, and none of them would matter in the slightest were it not for the final, resolving fact that he was a genius. Touched once by the live wire of his thought, you don’t forget it. And what is genius? Genius is Hammy the squirrel, in DreamWorks Animation’s 2006 classic Over the Hedge, five seconds after he gulps down an energy drink. The Earth stutters on its axis and then stops turning, the soundtrack comes to a soupy halt, and Hammy saunters through a sudden, humming immobility, past the transfixed pest-control guy and around the frozen laser beams of the lawn-alarm system. He is, of course, moving at incredible speed—but with supernatural nonchalance. His ecstatic velocity has put everything around him into the slowness and vagueness of a dream. That’s what geniuses do.
Whether or not Chesterton will ever be canonized, I haven’t the foggiest idea. His anti-Semitism will undoubtedly be his insurmountable impediment. It is a ghost that sadly comes around the corner to shock and horrify newcomers to Chesterton’s work, while providing an excellent foil for the same coterie of those who view the world through a lens that refuses forgiveness and accounts sins against the consciousness of mankind as so many bricks.
Thankfully, Chesterton’s worldview afforded avenues of forgiveness and redemption. His admirers do well to imitate the nobler parts of Chesterton’s character rather than focus on the most disdainful aspects.
Why Are We So Afraid To Talk About Ida? (Catholic News Agency): Quick! Oscar for Best Foreign Film! Who won it?
If you chose “Ida” then you chose well… first, the trailer:
I had the privilege of watching this film this week, and it is a powerful and profoundly Catholic film that contrasts the harsh judgement of dialectical materialism vs. the open forgiveness of Christianity, and how each worldview handles tragedy.
So what is the problem? Well, for starters… no one is talking about it:
Why has the Catholic world been so (mostly) silent on this? Is it because it’s a foreign film and so no one heard about it? Is it because no one has 80 minutes to spare to watch it on Netflix? Is it because it includes complex characters in all their humanity who don’t perfectly embody sainthood at all moments?
Well, it won an Oscar, you’re reading this blog, and you’ve already seen all of House of Cards, and neither do you, so enough with the excuses.
In my opinion, this is a film we should be shouting about from the rooftops.
Who cares? If the greater point about “taking back culture” is anything, then films such as Ida really ought to be getting more play. In fact, there’s been a tremendous number of amazingly solid Catholic films that have come out over the last 10 years — an intensity not seen since perhaps the golden age of cinema in the 1940s and 1950s — that the Catholic world simply isn’t sharing with one another. Are we really so wrapped up in the secular that we can’t make room for the spritual?
Here’s hoping otherwise.
Everyone Has Been Drinking Guinness Wrong, Including Guinness (Esquire): The perfect pour… a two and a half minute exercise that requires a 60% fill, a minute of settling, followed by a 40% top off and more settling. We all know this as superior human beings with a finer sense of culture, refinement, and to be blunt — we’re not hooligans. Right??
Kyle Kensrue has heard all the myths about Guinness as well. A certified cicerone (essentially a sommelier for beer) and the beer director at New York’s Randolph Beer, he told me: “They say that by taking your time and pouring Guinness in increments, you are able to let the beer cascade after each pour, making it more dense and creamy. I’ve never actually tried to pour in increments, but the science makes sense to me.” Although, he also noted, “You could do it with any nitro beer theoretically.”
There you have it. You can thank me for the science, or you can thank me for introducing the word “cicerone” to your vocabulary.