Houston Wright, Butcher

From Texas Monthly:

Houston Wright cut meat, made sausage, and cooked barbecue at Kreuz Market in Lockhart for sixty years. He was tying sausage there before the brick building that housed the market (and is now home to Smitty’s Market) was built in 1924. He was deaf and mute by then—former Kreuz Market owner Rick Schmidt said the disability was the result of a stroke when he was nine. Smitty’s owner Nina Sellsagrees on the age, but blamed spinal meningitis. Either way, they called him “Dummy.”

When I first noticed the collection of photos at Smitty’s pinned to a glass covered bulletin board, I asked Nina Sells about the cluster of images featuring a tall black man. She said, “Oh, that’s Dummy,” and I was slightly taken aback by the name. But she said it wasn’t meant in a mean way; that’s just what everyone called Houston Wright. Nina described those photos from the seventies that now hang behind the glass. “He would tell you a story, and that’s what I wanted to capture here,” she said. “He couldn’t talk but he would tell you things by acting them out, and we’d all listen.”

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

From Pacific Standard:

The first time I saw my wife walking around the Georgetown campus I shouted out “Buongiorno Principessa!” like a buffoon. She was Italian, radiant, way out of my league, but I was fearless and almost immediately in love. We lived in the same freshman dorm. She had a smile bello come il sole—I learned some Italian immediately to impress her—and within a month we were a couple. She’d stop by my room to wake me up if I was oversleeping class; I taped roses to her door. Giulia had a perfect GPA; I had a mohawk and a Sector 9 longboard. We were both blown away by how amazing it feels to love someone and be loved back.

Two years after graduation we married, when we were both just 24 years old and many of our friends were still looking for first jobs. We packed our separate apartments into one moving truck and told the driver, “Go to San Francisco. We’ll give you an address when we find one.”

The Rise of Orthodox Atheism in Russia

From the Interpreter:

Despite Vladimir Putin’s very public invocation of religion and his tight embrace of Patriarch Kirill, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church has fallen over the last year, the result of government policies which could be called “covert secularization” and the spread of the notion of “Orthodox atheism,” according to Boris Kolymagin.

In a commentary in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Kolymagin argues that the Russian government has become increasingly involved in the affairs of the church, blocking the recovery of Russian Orthodoxy from Soviet oppression and reducing the church’s influence on many aspects of public policy.

And that in turn means, he continues, that “’Orthodox atheism,’” a term used by and associated with Alexander Lukashenko, “’the last dictator of Europe,’” has now crossed the Belarusian border and is “proudly marching through Putin’s Russia,” however much Moscow political technologists try to conceal that fact.

Fat Free Chocolate and No Smoking

Zizek saying Zizek things:

During a recent visit to California, I attended a party at a professor’s house with a Slovene friend, a heavy smoker. Late in the evening, my friend became desperate and politely asked the host if he could step out on the veranda for a smoke. When the host (no less politely) said no, my friend suggested that he step out on to the street, and even this was rejected by the host, who claimed such a public display of smoking might hurt his status with his neighbours … But what really surprised me was that, after dinner, the host offered us (not so) soft drugs, and this kind of smoking went on without any problem – as if drugs are not more dangerous than cigarettes.

This weird incident is a sign of the impasses of today’s consumerism. To account for it, one should introduce the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment elaborated by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: what Lacan calls jouissance(enjoyment) is a deadly excess beyond pleasure, which is by definition moderate. We thus have two extremes: on the one hand the enlightened hedonist who carefully calculates his pleasures to prolong his fun and avoid getting hurt, on the other the jouisseur propre, ready to consummate his very existence in the deadly excess of enjoyment – or, in the terms of our society, on the one hand the consumerist calculating his pleasures, well protected from all kinds of harassments and other health threats, on the other the drug addict or smoker bent on self-destruction. Enjoyment is what serves nothing, and the great effort of today’s hedonist-utilitarian “permissive” society is to tame and exploit this un(ac)countable excess into the field of (ac)counting.

Nebraska’s Natural Beauty

From the WaPo:

After 30 years of working as an award-winning photographer for Sports Illustrated,Bill Frakes traded basketball courts and football fields for the open ranges and expansive landscape of his native Nebraska. Frakes began sharing photographs of sunbursts cutting through bright blue skies and mighty clouds rolling over red clay rocks via Facebook, and today–along with partner Laura Heald– launches a year’s worth of photographs he has amassed on a Web site called The Nebraska Project. In the excerpt below, Frakes describes for In Sight his work and his lasting love for Nebraska’s natural beauty.

And here is the NYT giving my home some love:

In 1954, as an impetuous, irascible 16-year-old, I got my first view quite by accident of Nebraska’s Sand Hills. In my sophomore year of high school it had occurred to me that the lakes and forests of Michigan were too small for my burgeoning personality. I was an athlete of sorts, a student leader, but also an addict of Faulkner and James Joyce. Throw in Rimbaud and Dostoyevsky and I was an absurdly premature powder keg and felt I should look in a far field.

With the help of the only teacher who didn’t think I was nuts, I wangled a job at a resort in Colorado by saying I was a college student, a small fib. My mother gave a resounding “no” to my trip. My father, however, said “yes,” and that was my trump card. He was a government agronomist but had a somewhat shaky youth. At my age he was working as a shovel man on a cross-Michigan pipeline, camping out even in winter. I often think of this hardship compared with my own rather flimsy problems.

Over an arduously goofy summer in which I discovered that college girls necked more intensely than the high school girls back home, the most memorable event was slopping coffee all over the saucer of Earl Warren, the chief justice of the Supreme Court at the time. I was embarrassed, but then I had never seen a famous person in real life.

Revival in France

Friend of the blog Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry:

On a recent Sunday, my family and I only showed up 10 minutes early for Mass. That meant we had to sit in fold-out chairs in the spillover room, where the Mass is relayed on a large TV screen. During the service, my toddler had to go to the bathroom. To get there, we had to step over a dozen people sitting in hallways and corners. This is business as usual for my church in Paris, France.

I point this out because one of the most familiar tropes in social commentary today is the loss of Christian faith in Europe in general, and France in particular. The Wall Street Journal recently fretted about the sale of “Europe’s empty churches.”

Could it be, instead, that France is in the early stages of a Christian revival?

Yes, churches in the French countryside are desperately empty. There are no young people there. But then, there are no young people in the French countryside, period. France is a modern country with an advanced economy, and that means its countryside has emptied, and that means that churches built in an era when the country’s sociological makeup was quite different go empty. In the cities — which is where people are, and where cultural trends gain escape velocity — the story is quite different.

The Thin Reed of Humanism

Chad Wellman:

When Wieseltier invokes “scientism,” he’s gesturing toward real concerns about the reductive materialism or naturalism that tends to underlie the work of popular polemicists like Dawkins, Dennet, and Pinker. He is not denying that our world and our selves can, in part, be explained through material mechanisms. I assume he enjoys the benefits of modern medicine like the rest of us.

But terms like “scientism” and “technologism,” however well-intentioned, can obscure more than they clarify. Those who bandy them about presume, as the historian James Schmidt lays out, a number of things. First, they presume that there are different ways of knowing the world. There are limits to a uniquely scientific knowledge. There are some things that cannot be fully explained by modern science. Second, they presume that they can discern what those boundaries are. And, finally, they presume that they can diagnose the deleterious consequences of these illicit boundary crossings.

I’m sympathetic to all three of these premises. But I’m much less confident in our ability to identify where science begins and ends than those who so diligently guard the borders of knowledge exclaiming “scientism!” when they suspect interlopers. Those who invoke “scientism”—and there is a long tradition of its use and occasional abuse as Schmidt has wonderfully documented—put themselves in the position not only of policing the borders of knowledge but also of distinguishing real science, a science that knows its place, from a false science, a science that engages in constant and illicit “border crossing.”

Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery

From Religion and Politics:

Marilynne Robinson’s new novel Lila has been greeted with rapture—not just by critics but also by a host of readers who rely on Robinson for novels that change the way they experience life in the world. During the last days of the countdown to Lila’s release, breathless fans took to the Internet to testify to the power of her prose. One commenter on the website The Toast wrote that Gilead “hooked me like a gasping fish”; another said that as she read it “I kept feeling like I’d been hit in the stomach by something huge and wonderful, and I’d have to stagger off and deal with my pathetic scrabbling soul until I was able to face reading more. It was like staring at the rising sun.” Anticipating Lila, a third reader vowed, “I will read this book slowly and intently and then reread it seventy times seven.” I have been one of these ardent, gasping, staggering fans. Two years ago when I had the opportunity to teach a senior seminar at Yale on anything I wanted, I chose to teach one on James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson. My students and I read all of Robinson’s novels and spent a reverent afternoon with her papers in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. We reached into boxes and pulled out translucent, grease-spotted letters written while Robinson was cooking dinner, and spiral-bound notebooks filled with the transcendent sentences that would become her first novel Housekeeping, her neat cursive words about loss and resurrection inscribed next to crude, crayoned cars drawn by her small son. We held in our hands tangible evidence of the miraculous intimacy between the quotidian and the sublime. – See more at: http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/12/22/marilynne-robinson-in-montgomery/#sthash.mPmXYeaC.dpuf

The View from the Glass Cage

Alan Jacobs:

Some years ago, Nicholas Carr published a long essay in The Atlantic called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He wrote of Google’s ambitious leaders that “their easy assumption that we’d all ‘be better off’ if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling … . In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.” The book that emerged from that article was calledThe Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, and the titular metaphor drew on the two-dimensionality of the “web”: everything networked, everything accessible from everywhere, all laid out on a flat mental surface, ready for analysis and recombination. No depth, no shadows, no mystery.

In his new book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Carr continues to pursue this line of thought, but complicates his earlier critique in a twofold way. First, he sees the Googlers’ desire to “outsource” intelligence to nonhuman brains as just one among many examples of automation; and second, he situates the automating impulse in a long historical context. The result is a book that impressively extends and deepens the argument of The Shallows. Carr has proven to be among the shrewdest and most thoughtful critics of our current technological regime; his primary goal is to exhort us to develop strategies of resistance.

Jesus is Lord on the Crow Nation Reservation

An interesting story:

The Crow government wants the world to know the name of its God and has erected a sign along Interstate 90 to declare it.

The message, “Jesus Christ is Lord on the Crow Nation,” is proclaimed on a new, 33-foot illuminated sign in Crow Agency, which shares the image of the tribal seal. It was funded by the tribe.

Tribal officials and religious leaders hailed the sign during a ceremony Tuesday as a declaration of belief and a standard against the social and economic ills that have plagued the tribe.

“Within our nation there is a struggle of peace,” said A.J. Not Afraid, tribal secretary. “This is part of the foundation to initiate peace, initiate joy, initiate happiness.”

Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/crow-government-erects-sign-proclaiming-jesus-is-lord-on-reservation/article_c08ae906-5937-52e9-9dce-7789ce919ebf.html#ixzz3NpCmUvXG