Silence, Please

Kaid Benfield:

Much of the emphasis in placemaking today is about creating liveliness, public spaces that attract people. I fully support that goal, especially in cities and in neighborhoods that have been dis-invested and dormant for decades, as so many of our inner city communities have been. I am proud to be part of the grand team of people who cherish robust city markets, squares, and so on. We need more of them.

But, for me at least – maybe it’s an introvert thing? – the places of quiet retreat are every bit as important, and especially so in large, busy cities and dense neighborhoods.

George Prochnik:

Slamming doors, banging walls, bellowing strangers and whistling neighbors were the bane of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s existence. But it was only in later middle age, after he had moved with his beloved poodle to the commercial hub of Frankfurt, that his sense of being tortured by loud, often superfluous blasts of sound ripened into a philosophical diatribe. Then, around 1850, Schopenhauer pronounced noise to be the supreme archenemy of any serious thinker.

His argument against noise was simple: A great mind can have great thoughts only if all its powers of concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on one point. Just as a mighty army becomes useless if its soldiers are scattered helter-skelter, a great mind becomes ordinary the moment its energies are dispersed.

And nothing disrupts thought the way noise does, Schopenhauer declared, adding that even people who are not philosophers lose whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts of sound.

Readings of C.S. Lewis will recognize Lewis’s sympathy with Prochnik’s argument. From The Screwtape Letters:

Music and silence – how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell – though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express – no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile – Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.

The Future of the Civic Orchestra

The New Republic reported on the financing problems facing civic orchestras:

The problems are financial and cultural, and the two are intertwined. For decades, orchestras operated on a subscription model, a kind of artistic socialism that spread the costs and risks of programming among a broad base of listeners. Audiences subscribed to a block of concerts throughout the season, choosing a night of the week that was convenient, or a series that generally appealed to their musical interests. Interspersed with familiar repertory were new or unfamiliar works, which might otherwise be difficult to sell to wary or conservative audiences. The large mass of Beethoven lovers subsidized the idiosyncratic tastes of the minority. The benefits of this system were myriad: advanced ticket sales stabilized orchestra budgets and made planning easier; the programming was diversified and refreshed, and the musicians were consistently challenged; and listeners formed communities, socializing with each other at intermission. At the same time, the orchestras also moved to a year-round season, competed with each other for top players, and adopted union contracts that guaranteed professionalism but have become increasingly cumbersome.

In short, orchestras became more like newspapers than Internet start-ups, with huge fixed costs and a distressing dependency on consumer loyalty and on habits that proved fickle. The subscription model failed to keep up with rapidly changing demographic patterns, with the blandishments of the emerging entertainment economy, and with younger audiences—whose heterodox taste included classical music as only a part of their musical interest—unwilling to commit to a block of Thursday-night concerts. During the flush years, including the 1990s, when many orchestras raised more than adequate cash to cover costs, musician contracts became more generous, leaving a legacy of obligations that continues to stress budgets. At some point—no one can agree quite when, with some citing the rapid expansion of the Internet more than a decade ago and others blaming the economic crisis of 2008—the trend away from the subscription model and new financial pressures converged, and a sense of crisis set in.

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The Rise of Soccer

Patrick Rishe:

As sure as my own soccer prowess is unprofitable (and likely unwatchable at this stage of the game), NBC’s massive investment in the English Premier League will expeditiously accelerate soccer’s popularity within the United States.

This weekend marks not only the beginning of the EPL season, but the inaugural weekend of live match coverage of EPL soccer on NBC.  And NBC is betting millions of dollars in the hopes that my assertion is correct.

Kyle Thetford isn’t convinced:

“Highest rating ever” may sound pretty impressive, and with last week’s talk about record viewing numbers, making history, and “new milestones,” you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a new era for soccer and America. Indeed, some commentators expect this new coverage to send it hurtling past America’s big four sports — football, basketball, baseball and hockey — to claim the top perch. Brian Ross at Huffington Post predicts that within 10 years “the NFL will be the No. 2 league in American sports.”

Don’t start trading in your Peyton Manning jerseys for Wayne Rooney ones yet, though. The importance of NBC’s new TV deal has been overstated. It probably won’t mark soccer’s long-awaited elevation in the U.S. sports scene — America isn’t as ready for soccer as some optimists are hoping.

As an obsessive soccer fan (and occasional soccer blogger), I suspect Thetford is closer to the truth on this. Pundits have been predicting that soccer would be The Next Big Thing in the USA for decades, perhaps most famously after the 1994 World Cup and the launch of Major League Soccer, which took a good decade to really get going in any serious way and is still far inferior to the European domestic leagues in terms of quality.

That said, the other story to keep an eye on whenever someone talks about the rise of soccer is the increase in fear about head injuries and American football. TNC has already quit watching the NFL and Patrick Hruby’s interview with one prominent football critic was featured on The Atlantic‘s site last spring after Junior Seau’s suicide. And the latest revelations on the NFL’s questionable player safety record only make Coates’ decision last fall more understandable.

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The Challenge of Syria

The Washington Post sums up the situation in the Middle East

Max Fisher on the latest developments:

It’s difficult to find a single sentence in Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful and at points emotional press conference on Syria that did not sound like a direct case for imminent U.S. military action against Syria. It was, from the first paragraph to the 15th, a war speech.

That doesn’t mean that full-on war is coming; the Obama administration appears poised for a limited campaign of offshore strikes, probably cruise missiles and possible aircraft strikes. President Obama has long signaled that he has no interest in a full, open-ended or ground-based intervention, and there’s no reason to believe his calculus has changed. But Kerry’s language and tone were unmistakable. He was making the case for, and signaling that the United States planned to pursue, military action against another country. As my colleagues Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan wrote, “Kerry left little doubt that the decision for the United States is not whether to take military action, but when.”

You can read a transcript of Kerry’s speech here.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that the US is ready to move in and British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament from their summer break to discuss whether the UK will be involved in a military intervention in Syria.

The NYT dedicated a Room for Debate feature to the issue that is worth your time.

Larison thinks the “they used chemical weapons, we must respond,” argument is faulty:

There is a broad, almost universally shared taboo against the use of chemical weapons. Attacking Syria doesn’t strengthen or reinforce that taboo. Choosing not to bomb a country whose government has used these weapons does not signal approval of that use, and launching some cruise missiles at government forces in response to that use isn’t going to keep them from being used in the future. All that it does do is potentially invite Syrian retaliation against the U.S. and its clients and allies.

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At the blog for Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, William Struthers notes seven temptations of a culture enamored with neuro-everything. The implicit criticisms aren’t always what you might expect. E.g.,

The first Dangerous Temptation, Neuro-Essentialism, is the belief that what makes you human is having just the right nervous system that functions in just the right way. Being a human being is essentially defined by your neurological anatomy and functionality. Unfortunately, this takes the nervous system out of the body. But any good biologist will tell you that the brain is part of an integrated system (and does some pretty important integration work in the process). The body should be an important component of what it means to be human. But the Neuro-Essentialist will disregard the body, saying, at the end of the day, it is all about your brain.

August 28, 1963

50 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous I Have a Dream speech in Washington DC. You can see the speech in the video above.

The Guardian put together a fantastic interactive presentation on their site that includes the story of the speech, tons of photos, and video.

B.D. Cohen, a reporter who was at the march, wrote about his experience there for The Atlantic:

A half-century ago this week, on August 28, 1963, five days after my 17th birthday, my parents dropped me off at the South Norwalk station of what was then the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad to board a special train headed for Washington and history — not that we had a clue about the historic nature of that summer day.

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What Makes Evangelicals Different? – Brett McCracken

It used to be that evangelical Christians were easy to spot. They were the ones boycotting things like Disney and SpongeBob Squarepants. They were the students in high school that wore True Love Waits rings, W.W.J.D. bracelets and prayed around the flagpole. They could be seen standing with bullhorns outside Planned Parenthood, leaving tracts instead of money as “tips” in restaurants, packing out stadiums for Promise Keepers rallies and reading Left Behind at the country club pool.

Evangelicals were a stereotype: they were too political, too capitalistic, too apathetic about the long-term health of the earth and her inhabitants. They believed in Noah’s ark and talking serpents but not global warming. They preached a gospel of grace but rarely acted graceful in their dealings with gay people, welfare recipients or liberals. They mourned the killing of innocent lives from abortion but seemed hardly to notice the millions of lives lost every year due to war, genocide, disease or malnutrition.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met an evangelical who fits the exaggerated stereotype described above.

See the rest here.

Jody Bottum on Same-sex Marriage

Last week Joseph Bottum, former editor-in-chief of First Things published an essay in Commonweal in which he came out in support of same-sex marriage:

There’s this guy I know in Manhattan. Call him Jim. Jim Watson. We’re friends, I guess. We used to be friends, anyway—grabbing a hamburger together near Gramercy Park, from time to time, or meeting out on the Stuyvesant Town Oval on a summer afternoon to play some folk and bluegrass with the guitar strummers, mandolin pickers, autoharpers, and amateur banjo players who’d drift by. None of us any good, but fun, you know? Old-timey Americana like “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Pretty Saro,” and “The Orphan Girl.” A version of “Shady Grove,” I remember, was one of his specialties: When I was just a little boy, / all I wanted was a Barlow knife. / But now I am a great big boy, / I’m lookin’ for a wife.

A few years ago, his friendship began to cool, bit by bit. You understand how it is: a little here, a little there, and last time I was through New York he didn’t even bother to answer my note suggesting we put together one of our low-rent urban hootenannies. The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay.

Well, actually, gay isn’t the word he would use. I have what might be the worst ability to recognize sexual orientation on the planet, but no one needed sensitivity to guess Jim’s views. Not that he was campy or anything when I knew him, but he was always vocal about his sexuality, naming himself loudly to anyone nearby with words that polite society allows only in ironic use by gay men themselves.

Anyway, Jim gradually started to take our difference personally, growing increasingly angry first at the Catholic Church for its opposition to state-sanctioned same-sex marriage and then at Catholics themselves for belonging to such a church. His transformation didn’t come from any personal desire to marry—or, at least, from any desire he ever articulated or I could see.

The piece ran at the same time as a story in the Times about Bottum’s change of opinion about same-sex marriage.

Rod Dreher replied:

Again, I agree with Jody Bottum that Catholics and other traditionalists are probably going to lose this fight, and I agree with Bottum’s analysis of why we’re going to lose. That’s why I have been arguing for the past few years that conservatives should rethink our strategy for prudential reasons, orienting ourselves around protecting religious freedom in the face of the inevitable. I still believe that. What I don’t believe, and don’t understand how any conservative can take seriously, is the hope that giving up the fight will buy the Church any goodwill, or will give the Church new credibility to speak its truths to modern people. This is wishful thinking. Ask liberal Protestants how their churches have fared since liberalizing and accepting same-sex marriage as good — a stance that is more radical than even Bottum calls for. Ask Anglican Bishop Tengatenga how much goodwill his about-face on gay marriage bought him. At least the Catholic bishops, for all their sins and failings, are going down fighting for principle instead of reaching a de facto concordat with a new order that the Church teaches is profoundly immoral.

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The Rise of Drones

This month’s issue of The Atlantic featured a cover story by Mark Bowden on the increased use of drones in military combat.

From the story:

Consider David. The shepherd lad steps up to face in single combat the Philistine giant Goliath. Armed with only a slender staff and a slingshot, he confronts a fearsome warrior clad in a brass helmet and chain mail, wielding a spear with a head as heavy as a sledge and a staff “like a weaver’s beam.” Goliath scorns the approaching youth: “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?” (1 Samuel 17)

David then famously slays the boastful giant with a single smooth stone from his slingshot.

A story to gladden the hearts of underdogs everywhere, its biblical moral is:Best to have God on your side. But subtract the theological context and what you have is a parable about technology. The slingshot, a small, lightweight weapon that employs simple physics to launch a missile with lethal force from a distance, was an innovation that rendered all the giant’s advantages moot. It ignored the spirit of the contest. David’s weapon was, like all significant advances in warfare, essentially unfair.

It’s long but well worth your time. The story also has provoked a number of other blogs and news reports on the complex issues surrounding drone use.

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Aquinas on Arduous Goods

From a recent post by Ron Belgau at First Thoughts:

An arduous good is a good that requires struggle. A good that is worth fighting for. And a good that inspires fear and hope and endurance in the face of adversity.

“Arduous good” is also a phrase that is seldom spoken in Hollywood, and almost never heard on Madison Avenue. In that silence, the poverty of our culture is laid bare.

Celibacy is an arduous good, like marriage, or grad school, or climbing Mt. Rainier, or raising children.