To Each Zirs Own

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How in the world did we survive with only two genders?

It was bound to happen. Last Friday, the AP style guide approved the use of ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

Of course, it was necessary to explain the rationale: “We offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular, and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she,” Paula Froke, lead editor for the AP Stylebook, said on Friday.

Now that it’s official, some have celebrated what amounts to a progressive victory in the long-raging battle over pronouns. What started in the 1960s and 70s as a way to diminish gender stereotypes has come to full bloom in the obliteration of gender in the informal designation.

The objective bystander will note that in so doing, the AP has not only obliterated the concept of gender, but also grammar. The word ‘they’ has always been a way to identify more than one. As such, the attempt to accommodate for one demand has disrupted the language in other ways and ultimately left it more confusing and less effective. Continue reading

Can Prayer Change God’s Mind?

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In a small town in the American Middlewest, a young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, doctors find no signs of cancer; he has been completely healed. The church community celebrates the apparent miracle—the power of prayer saved this little boy’s life!

In a similar situation, in another small town in the American Middlewest, another young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Likewise, his church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, the little boy dies.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both cases, a child has a terminal disease and, in both cases, a large church community gathers to pray for the boy’s healing. Why is it that one boy lives and the other doesn’t? Did the second group not pray as hard? Did they pray incorrectly? In either case, did prayer work?

These are hypothetical scenarios, but the reader is sure to be familiar with these kinds of stories. A disaster happens, someone comes upon hard times, a friend comes down with a terrible disease. No matter what, we are encouraged to pray, the assumption being that the act of prayer will help to bring about a positive outcome in the situation.

When it ends the way that we want, we rejoice in the power of prayer. Of course, when it doesn’t end positively, or when something completely unexpected occurs, we say that it wasn’t God’s will and find some sort of meaning in what does happen.

While this is a comforting approach for some, it leaves many questions on the table. It can be misleading and, as a result, might end up hurting more than it comforts. A reassessment is called for.

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Fake News Isn’t the Problem, Relativism Is

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When the soon-to-be-president Trump called a CNN reporter ‘fake news’ to his face, it was both entertaining and ironic. First of all, it was great theater seeing such an esteemed agency being called out in such a public forum. But, if anyone is a peddler of fake news, it is Trump.

Fake news has become something of a boogeyman man of late. Since Trump’s surprising election, politicians and pundits from both sides of the debate have pointed to fake news as a major culprit in the debacle.

But so-called fake news is not limited to news agencies broadcasting dubious partisan views—that is just the most prominent example, so everyone, including the future president, is harping on it. Looking closer, we see that fake news actually stems from a more fundamental crisis of philosophy that has swept through our culture in the last decades: The belief that truth is relative and all one needs to do to make something true is to say it. That philosophy is what fake news is all about, and the Donald might be its most reliable adherent. Continue reading

On Mourning Celebrities

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2016 was uncommonly brutal on celebrities.

I might be a humbug, but I don’t get the grief over celebrity deaths. Yes, death is bad and it is especially sad to think of a talented person passing. As psychologist David Kaplan suggests in Lindsay Holmes’ reflection on Prince’s death, “We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.”

But is all the lamentation really appropriate? Continue reading

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Virgin and Child

2016
Oil and Gold Leaf on Canvas
5″ x 8″
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Why No One Leaves the Country After an Election

In the last few months, several celebrities have threatened to move out of the United States if the Donald became president. Notables such as Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Stewart, Cher, Samuel L. Jackson, and Miley Cyrus all put their feet down before the election as a way to protest the possibility of their side losing.

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Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart said he would consider “getting in a rocket and going to another planet, because clearly this planet’s gone bonkers” if the real estate mogul wins.

Of course, now that the election has passed, and the Donald has indeed been elected president, the celebrities are not so gung-ho anymore. As the Daily Mail reports, “Some dismissed what they pledged as a ‘joke’ and others simply went to ground when asked by DailyMail.com when they were packing up and heading to Canada or other countries.”

This is rather disappointing to some, who saw the purging of this group as the best reason to vote for Trump. It also brings into question the formerly rock-solid faith that fans had in the celebrities. As Miley Cyrus said, “I don’t say things I don’t mean!” What are we to believe now that she has apparently had a change of heart and now accepts Trump as the president?

This shouldn’t be a surprise. As explained in the 2010 essay, Juggernaut, I explored this kind of threat to leave and why it so rarely happens. In short, we live in a closed economy, and the threat to leave is a kind of wishful thinking that such an action would be productive. When the election is over, the realization that there is no better option sinks in, and we all end up dealing with what we’re given. Continue reading

If You Think This Is About Sexism and Racism, You’re Missing the Point

At first, it was entertaining to watch the talking heads try to make sense of the election results that they had been so wrong in predicting.

Then, it got scary.

As the results came in, and it became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency, it seemed as though a light bulb flashed in their heads: Half of America is sexist and racist. Nothing else could explain this election of such a vile creature to the highest position in the land.

The musician Moby posted a meme that captured the consensus grief: “America, you are so much more racist and misogynistic than I’d ever imagined.” People wept in public at the clear evidence that America hates women, Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, and LBGT types.

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It is an understandable frustration considering the kind of rhetoric that Trump has espoused over the last year. The thought is that, since some 60 million Americans voted for a misogynistic, xenophobic bigot, some 60 million Americans must be misogynistic, xenophobic bigots. As an emotional Van Jones put it: “This was a white-lash against a changing country. It was a white-lash against a black president, in part. And that’s the part where the pain comes.”

But can that really be the explanation?

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Voting Frenzy a Sign of National Malaise, Not Vigor

With all of the attention focused on this election, it is easy to get caught up in a patriotic fervor.

Everyone posted ‘I Voted’ stickers and talked about how it is a duty to make your voice heard. Celebrities paraded around talking about how important it will be to have “the most qualified” candidate, Hillary, as president, and preachers talk about how important it is to have the supposedly pro-life Trump pick the next Supreme Court justices. Everyone disagrees on who should be president, but everyone agrees that voting for president is the most important thing we can do as Americans.

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Taylor Swift getting her vote on.

Even the most independent citizens are pulled in. They too can sense the importance of having their candidate in the White House, or, more importantly, not having their opponent in the White House. Everyone has gotten swept up in election fever.

But is this really a good thing?

It occurs to the objective observer that this election has done a lot of things to this country and none of them are particularly good. Four stand out:

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The Economic Theory of Sex

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The Economic Theory of Sex: Industrialism, Feminism, and the Disintegration of the Family

We face a crisis of sexuality.

During the last few years, we have witnessed an unprecedented breakdown of traditions and mores concerning sexuality and the family. Countries across the West have suddenly and seemingly irrevocably instituted same-sex marriage; a former athlete has won awards for publicly changing gender; and no one seems to know what restroom to use any more. What used to be taboo and frowned upon has become normal and even encouraged. What used to be normal and sought after is now viewed as unnecessary and possibly harmful.

Progressives see these developments as positive advancements in the interest of freedom and human rights. Meanwhile, traditionalists are concerned that we are entering a new phase of decadence that will precipitate the demise of our culture. Nobody can deny that we have reached a major turning-point in the history of civilization.

This crisis did not appear out of nowhere. As theorist Eric Robert Morse discovers, the seeds of this upheaval were planted hundreds of years ago in the rise of Industrialism and Feminism. With painstaking research and lucid prose, Morse presents a novel theory based in the Sexual Balance of Power, which is sure to agitate the intellect of progressives and traditionalists alike.

Buy the essay at these fine establishments:

Amazon    AmazonKindle  

The Misogyny of Feminism

When Taylor Swift recently declared herself to be a feminist, she said it was in part because she realized that Feminism isn’t necessarily anti-men. It is unknown whether she realized that it is in fact anti-women.

I have watched with great interest as Feminism has made a comeback in recent years. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Emma Watson have all made bold statements in favor of the movement; business leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg and writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have continued their support; and Hillary Clinton’s rise to the presidency has elevated the cause.

Altogether, the various initiatives and voices amount to what might be considered a Fourth Wave of Feminism.

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T-Swift and Lena Dunham probably talking about girl stuff.

The thoughtful reader cannot help but to ask ‘Why?’ After a century of reforms, why is it necessary to renew the charge? What are these new feminists after anyway?

If you ask a member of this Fourth Wave, they will likely tell you they are after equality. As Miss Swift put it, “Saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities.” To most, that is what Feminism has always been about, and that’s what it is still about.

Yet the casual observer will note that women have long had equal rights and opportunity. To be sure, women have the vote in every Western country, they dominate higher education, and comprise almost half of the U.S. workforce; contraception and abortion are not only legal, they are subsidized and mandated by the federal government; and a woman is the leading candidate for president of the United States of America. By all accounts, modern Western Civilization should be a feminist utopia.

Still, modern feminists are not happy. Indeed, they are fiercer than ever and ready for war. Why? Continue reading

How Barzun Predicted Brexit

Any time something huge happens in the world such as the recent Brexit referendum, with all the happy and unhappy voters, and the shocked onlookers from within and without Britain, it is good practice to turn to the old sage of San Antonio to see what he had to say about the issue, and where such astounding events stand in the course of history. If we refer to Barzun’s magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence, we find that he not only predicted the separation of the UK from the EU, but much more besides.

Nigel Farage (front), the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) reacts with supporters, following the result of the EU referendum, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Nigel Farage (front), the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) reacts with supporters, following the result of the EU referendum, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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The Death of Dissent

In the aftermath of the horrific attack in Orlando, we have witnessed a death that is equally troubling if only because of its scope and the fact that no one is talking about it—the death of dissent.

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A photo shared on Facebook of 49 birds flying over a vigil for the Orlando victims has gone viral. The photographer wished to remain anonymous.

Sympathy and support for the mostly gay victims has come from all corners of society including charitable gestures from Christians, Muslims, and others who are considered anti-gay. The sympathy and support is not what’s troubling. What’s troubling is that the sympathy and support have been rejected. Continue reading

How a ‘Personal Relationship with Jesus’ Steers Us Away from Jesus

I was recently at a talk on Catholic New Evangelization and the speaker began with a provocative question: What is our central goal and purpose as Catholics?

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A little personal relationship action in Ben-Hur.

After giving the audience a little time to consider, the speaker provided us with the answer: To have a personal relationship with Jesus. According to him, it was the only thing we need, and without it our spiritual lives could never be fulfilled.

Now, this hadn’t been the first time I had heard about the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus. It has always been popular with Protestants, and lately it has become a standard bearer for Catholics as well. But it struck me as odd that it should be considered to be the entire goal and purpose of our faith. Is that really what Christianity is all about? Isn’t a personal relationship a little lacking when considering the awe and glory of God? What does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus anyway? Continue reading

The Moral Obligation to Be Beautiful

Recently, the folks at Boundless posted a provocative article titled ‘Where Have All the Beautiful Women Gone?’

The idea? That our culture, with its Photoshopped images and instant gratification, has numbed men’s minds to women’s natural beauty. The beautiful women haven’t gone anywhere; it’s just that men can’t see them anymore.

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Doubtless, those with access to social media can relate. We are constantly bombarded by images of ‘idealized’ figures, and, naturally, have come to expect this in the people we see in real life. Not finding it there, we are left unsatisfied and swipe away any real beauty that we might encounter.

But is this really the main problem? Continue reading

It’s ‘Put me in cold’, people, not ‘Put me in, coach’

CHADWICK BOSEMAN as Jackie Robinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ drama “42,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ drama “42,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Ah, springtime.

The season of flowers, rain showers, and baseball. And, with Opening Day upon us, it is also the season of mangling the lyrics of John Fogerty’s ode to baseball, ‘Centerfield’.

Everywhere you turn during baseball season, you’ll hear this serenade of swat, and everywhere people will be singing it incorrectly. As you’ll hear it:

Put me in, coach
I’m ready to play today

And if you google the lyrics, that’s what you’ll see. It kinda makes sense, and everyone else is saying it that way, so no one thinks twice. Play ball.

The only problem is that those aren’t the lyrics.

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The Superhero Heresy

March 5, 2016

With several blockbuster superhero films out every year, there can be little doubt that supers are hotter than ever. Batman, Iron Man, X-Men—there’s even something called Ant-Man. But, amid all the hoopla, one is compelled to wonder whether we have lost sight of what a superhero really is.

There was a time was when a superhero was the embodiment of goodness—bright, confident, and in service of truth, justice, and the American way.

Not so any more.

Of the eight major superhero pictures due in 2016, all are dark and brooding, some are violent enough to garner an ‘R’ rating, and the biggest of them feature superheroes battling, not a villain with some dark past, but other superheroes. These days, it’s the superhero who has a dark past, truth and justice are relative, and the best any of the heroes can hope for is a utilitarian solution to an unsolvable problem.

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This is a far cry from the original superheroes. In 1978, Christopher Reeves starred as the genuine and honorable Superman in the first ever superhero blockbuster movie. It was a faithful telling of a hero, who had been a beacon of hope and goodness for generations in America.

Since, the superhero genre has exploded in popularity now touting thirteen of the twenty highest grossing films of all time. But, as its popularity has grown, the movies have grown darker and the heroes have grown more anti-heroic. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s Batman (1989) presented a darker twist on the superhero, albeit in a colorful and campy way. Then came X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, by all counts darker and dealing with more serious issues. By 2005, with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we could see that the cheer of Superman was no longer relevant. Continue reading

Why Anti-Trumpers Might Be the Bigger Problem

As 2016 Super Tuesday results filed in, a sinking feeling could be felt across the country. Political pundits and lay voters alike realized that Donald J. Trump had a good chance of securing a majority of the states’ primaries, which meant that he could win Super Tuesday, and winning Super Tuesday could propel him toward the nomination, and if he won the nomination he could foreseeably win the presidency. That sinking feeling led to an eerie realization: The Donald could become president of the United States of America.

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What had been an impossibility suddenly became real; what was for so long a joke was suddenly no laughing matter.

A chorus arose from the commentators, soft at first, but by Super Tuesday a full-blown bellow: Stop Trump! The Donald would be atrocious for American democracy, and we must do everything we can to prevent his nomination. People pulled out the stops; comparisons to Hitler were rife; Whoopi Goldberg threatened to leave America.

But, in reading over the commentary, hit pieces, and outright propaganda that arose to stop the unconventional candidate, it occurred to me that Trump really isn’t the worst thing for American democracy—the troop of anti-Trumpers and their logic are. Sure, Trump is a clown and has no business being the president of the country. But the anti-Trump haters are out-clowning him, and almost making a Trump presidency appealing because of it.

Here’s why:

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Stella Maris

2015
Oil and Gold Leaf on Wood
8″ x 10″
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Our Misdirected Outrage over Columbus

Thanks to social media, we now know that Christopher Columbus was the only person who ever mistreated anyone in the history of the world. Everywhere we read that Columbus was a cruel tyrant of a man who facilitated slavery, wanted nothing but gold, and brought about a genocide of a people. To read these narratives, it would seem that Columbus was a man capable only of evil, that no one in his day opposed his cruelty, and nothing good ever came from his efforts.

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For those who aren’t quite eager to believe the revisionist fancies found across the Internet, here is some perspective on the anti-Columbus outrage from the authority on Western cultural history, Jacques Barzun:

The outcry in the United States denouncing Columbus during his 500th anniversary year takes us back to Madrid around 1540; for contrary to common opinion, the concern about exploitation of the natives dates almost from the beginning of Spanish colonization. Queen Isabella herself condemned the abuse and issued edicts against it; so did Charles V. The strongest of the protesters, Bartolome de Las Casas, had continual access to the emperor and aroused the public by his vehement writings. In “New Spain” itself, the clergy and the religious orders, Dominican and Jesuit, were active opponents of the evils of forced labor and lawless brutality. By Charles’s legislation these were crimes with definite penalties attached; enforcement was the difficulty: it depended on the character of the officials on the spot. Preaching the truth that these “Indians” were not red devils but fellow men loved by God even though they were not Christians could influence but few. The men and women who left the homeland for America were a mixed lot with mixed motives; on Columbus’s second voyage were “ten convicted murderers and two Gypsy women.”

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From the 2000 masterpiece, From Dawn to Decadence, by Jacques Barzun.

The conquistadors’ impelling goals have been summarized as “Gold, Glory, and the Gospel.” At any time, neither Gold nor Glory is a respecter of persons, and Gospel occasionally sins; together they do their worst when the scene is vast and sparsely populated, when communication is slow and policing haphazard. If we think back to the western frontier of the United States down to 1890, we find not exactly anarchy but free-wheeling crime and violence that took its toll of lives and goods, and sent not a few venturers scuttling back to the relatively civil order of the Midwest.

The Spanish colonists committed atrocities from greed and racist contempt that nothing can palliate or excuse. But to blame Columbus is a piece of retrospective lynching; he was not the master criminal inspiring all the rest. It is moreover a mistake to think that because the native peoples were the sufferers, all of them were peaceable innocents. The Caribs whom Columbus first encountered had fought and displaced the Anawaks who occupied the islands. The Aztecs whom Cortez conquered had originally descended from the north and destroyed the previous civilization. To the north and east many of the tribes lived in perpetual warfare, the strong exploiting the weak, and several — notably the Iroquois — had slaves. In short, what happened on the newfound hemisphere in early modern times continued the practice of the old: in ancient Greece alien tribes marching in from the north; likewise in the making of the Roman Empire, in the peopling of the British Isles by Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans; in France, Italy, and Spain by Franks, Normans, Lombards, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and later by Arabs. Everywhere the story is one of invasion, killing, rape, and plunder and occupation of the land that belonged to the vanquished. Today, this fusion or dispersion of peoples and cultures by means of death and destruction is abhorred in principle but flourishing in fact. Africa, the Middle and Far East, and South Central Europe are still theaters of conquest and massacre. And Columbus is not the responsible party.

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