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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "Steppin' Out"

A melodious, almost mournful, jazz reworking of the New Wave classic. This version has been around forever, thanks to the Joe Jackson's brilliant Live 1980/1986 double album, one of the greatest live albums of all time, but it can never hurt to listen to it again.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "Moonshadow"

Cat Stevens or Raffi? You decide.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rod Dreher Speaking in Wichita, KS

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Of the very, very few people who regularly read this blog (when I actually bother to post something, which isn't often these days), I'm doubtful any of them live in Wichita, KS. But if it just happens that, amazingly enough, someone who sees this post does in fact live in or within driving distance of Wichita, KS, then let me invite you: the author, journalist, and blogger Rod Dreher, someone whom I consider to be one of the most important popular thinkers and cultural critics in America today, will be speaking on the Friends University campus next Monday and Tuesday. His first presentation will be March 24th, 7pm, in the Sebits Auditorium in the Riney Fine Arts Center, titled “Why Community Matters: How You Can Go Home Again, and Maybe Ought to.”; the second on March 25th, 9:30am, in the Alumni Auditorium in the Davis Building., titled “Heart vs. Head, Ruthie vs. Rod: Why a Mature Christian Needs Both Faith and Doubt.” Rod's presentations will revolve primarily around his wonderful book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life (about which I have blogged here, here, and here), but he'll also be talking about family, community, localism, religious faith, and how traditional ways of life can be conserved in modern America. Whether you agree with Rod's priorities and perspectives or not, his is a voice and a story worth listening to and learning from. Hope anyone who can plausibly make it will find a way!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Internet, and Christopher Walken, Give Life Meaning. Again.

From here. (I've seen fewer than half of these movies. Should I feel bad about that?)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "If Not for You" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie"

I found myself spending some time this week listening to one of my very favorite concerts of all time, the huge Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration show at Madison Square Gardens, from back in 1992. It's only just recently been released on DVD, but I've had the concert on VHS (both tapes!) for years, and it's wonderful. I probably won't upgrade to the DVD though, because while it does include some backstage and rehearsal footage, it doesn't add any performances that I don't already have. On both versions some stuff from the show was left out, and is only available for those who managed to watch it live way back when, and record it off the tv (or who picked up a version from Japan). George Harrison's wonderfully fun and upbeat take on Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" from the concert has been around for a while, but not his cover of "If Not for You," which he first made famous by covering it on All Things Must Pass. Here, you get them both together.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan"

I've been finishing up preparations for a class on gender and equality that I'll be teaching for the next eight weeks or so, beginning on Monday, and I found myself wondering: how did feminist critiques first become real to me, raised as I was in a pretty conservative religious environment? Well, there several sources, I suppose--but this plus this was a big one, and that, naturally, led to this:

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Just think, my lawyer friends: if only you'd had a little more entrepreneurial spirit, this could have been you.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Genuinely Original Libertarian Argument?

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Yesterday evening, I participated in a symposium sponsored in part by Northfield School of the Liberal Arts, a private Christian academy, here in Wichita, KS. I've done a lot with Northfield over the years, as I strongly admire their sense of public engagement and their fascinating mix of evangelical traditionalism and downright hippie experimentation, including participating in an earlier symposium of theirs. The one last night, though, which focused on Pope Francis's recently encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)--about which I've written before--was really our best conversation yet, not the least reason for which being that I heard a libertarian argument that was enormously clarifying to me (despite being, in view, both wrong and frankly kind of ridiculous).

This is how it came about. While I'd come prepared with some remarks about Pope Francis's condemnation of consumerism, the discussion itself quickly veered in the direction which a couple of very pious, very evangelical Protestant, Tea Party folks wanted it to go, which is that Francis's comments, as learned and as valuable as they may be, were completely undermined by insistence upon social and collective responses to the problems he diagnosed. While one of these two gentlemen was more willing than the other to recognize that "capitalism" itself is a financial construct which has no clear basis in Christian scriptures, both of them were absolutely resolute in their belief that God called his people to an individualistic, free-market social order. So far, so good: I've heard this before, and it's never made any sense to me, but that's par for the course. But then one of these good fellows (the same more radical one who I mentioned above, a quite successful businessman whom I know and get along with well from previous interactions) went on a long theological spiel that was actually kind of amazing. He emphasized that he, unlike Catholics, understood the words of scripture (particularly John 3:8 and Revelations 22:17) to stipulate an unforced, unguided, "whosoever will" relationship with God--and moreover, since all interactions between Christians are to be guided by the Holy Spirit, the obvious conclusion is that Adam Smith's unforced, unguided, invisible hand is a good representation of the will of God, so long as the free market is population by Christians who are attentive to the Spirit. Thus, any truly Christian society, or even one which only aspires to such, must recognize that any regulation or redistribution which interferes with the free will decisions of individual Christians regarding how to dispose of their property or share their wealth--even edicts which exist to serve putatively Christian ends like community and equality--contravene the word of God. Hence, Pope Francis's insistence that we need to perceive an additional commandment against an "economy of exclusion and inequality" [paragraph 53], to say nothing of his defense of states as defenders of "the common good" [paragraph 56] and his call for "politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots...of the evils in our world" [paragraph 205], is simply nonsense from a Christian point of view.

Have any of you readers ever heard this argument before? Maybe I have before, but if I have, I didn't recognize it for what it was. In any case, I've never heard this particularly kind of Christian libertarian anti-statist spelled out in such detail, not to mention which such fervor. I really had to thank and congratulate this man; his sermon enabled me to understand just how deeply grounded in scripture some evangelical Protestants believe a radical individualism to be. And I should emphasize that, when it came to the particular details of his response to the specific ills that Francis condemned, I was in agreement with probably 80% of them or more, as they mostly revolved around attacks on powerful financial institutions and our addiction to a consumption economy which can be well expressed in localist or social-democratic as well as libertarian terms. But for anyone who knows my writings, it won't be surprising to hear me say that I find this overall argument both scripturally groundless (I don't see anyway to present a fundamental--and I think mostly correct--Augustinian understanding of our will's relationship with the Holy Spirit on the one hand, and marketplace decisions on the other, as somehow equivalent) and philosophically and sociologically ridiculous (the marketplace, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, is I think characterized far more by the concentration of social power than by the independent decisions of free agents, and consequently has to be responded to collectively--and, obviously, one hopes democratically). For now, though, I just want to know: has this kind of Christian libertarian argument been commonly expressed for a long while, and I've just somehow missed it? Or did I, last night, encounter a genuinely original claim? I'd appreciate someone more familiar with this line of thought letting me know. My thanks in advance.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Defending the Oscars (Sometimes)

It's easy to dump on the Academy Awards; doing so in practically a tradition, one that I've joined in with plenty of times. If you want this year's version, just to build up your snark in preparation for this evening's edition of the annual overblown spectacle, try here or here or here or here, or just Google some more of your own. But you know--sometimes the armchair critics are wrong. But there are at least two times when, as time has gone by and the negative critical consensus has built, I've had to say to myself: no, actually, I think the Oscar voters got this one right.

1. Chariots of Fire deserved the Best Picture award in 1982. This movie doesn't stand out as hated so much as ignored--but if you remind people that Chariots of Fire was nominated the same year as Raiders of the Lost Ark, the fury quickly mounts. A hackneyed, synthesizer-drenched pedantic morality play (or so the critics screech), winning out over one of the greatest adventure movies of all time! Impossible! Well, I disagree. Raiders is a tremendous film, a genre-defining thriller that never misses a beat--but Chariots was just as expertly realized, a careful unity of acting and cinematography and soundtrack that enlisted the viewers in a powerful act of myth-making. And a highly intelligent one too; Vangelis may have long since passed his sell-by date, but Chariots purposefully-overwrought-but-never-unreasonable depiction of class conflict, athletic dedication, religious devotion, ethnic pride, and patriotism still works, scene after scene.

There were, to be sure, crimes perpetrated at the Oscars that year--rewarding the Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn for treacly On Golden Pond, for example, instead of the far more deserving Paul Newman for Absence of Malice and Susan Sarandon for Atlantic City--but the Best Picture race wasn't one of them.

2. Roberto Benigni deserved his Best Actor award in 1999. Not everyone hates Life is Beautiful, but those who do hate REALLY hate it; they find it an utterly despicable, profoundly immoral, aesthetically cheap pastiche of a film--and the central cause of that horror is Roberto Benigni, who they consider a horrible pathetic clown of a man. His win over Edward Norton's vicious turn in American History X is taken taken as evidence of Hollywood's anti-Semitism, or some such thing. Again, I disagree. The viewers who respond to this strangely farcical comedy set during the Holocaust are simply unable to take the opening words of the film seriously: that the whole thing is presented as a bedtime story, a fairy tale, a parable. For myself, as someone who doesn't really buy into the whimsical (and arguably condescending) relationship between Benigni's character and his son, but who found a certain sacrificial beauty to it all the same, Benigni's performance throughout the final half of the film--where he was constantly terrified and yet always able to fully enter into the ridiculous fantasy he is spinning for his boy--was clownish in the best sense, and amazing to watch.

It pains me to say this; also nominated for Best Actor that year was Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters, which I think is a tremendous, too-soon forgotten movie. But no, Benigni deserved it.

Others choices, anyone? Anyone willing to go against the critical consensus and defend Out of Africa or Forrest Gump or A Beautiful Mind? Or even Crash? (Well, of course not that last one; let's not go COMPLETELY crazy here.)

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "Into Temptation"

Two fine Australian musicians--Neil Finn of Crowded House fame being the much better known, but Paul Kelly has quite a discography as well--singing a fine, thoughtful, mellow tune together. I think I completely passed over "Into Temptation" decades ago. My mistake.