The Hunger Games and Voyeurism

Elyse Buffenbarger:

Recently, in search of genuine Greek coffee, some friends and I drove down Boston’s Boylston Street.

I glanced to the left and spotted a building under renovation. The scene struck me as odd: Only the bottom floor was bandaged in transparent plastic. My driver pointed out a wide strip of blue and yellow paint on the street before us—the Boston Marathon finish line. This was it, the place I had wanted to find but had been afraid to ask about: the site of this spring’s bombings.

Morbidly, I wondered if there were still blood stains on the pavement. My eyes swept the road, and as they did, I suddenly felt ashamed, as if I were looking for something that ought to be left unseen. A fire engine rushed by with sirens roaring, and I shuddered, thinking of the sirens that must have rang out on that April afternoon. Why had I wanted to visit such a scene? …

Show me the entertainment of a decade, and I will show you its anxieties. This proves especially true in film. The apocalyptic alien movies of the 1950s hint at Cold War paranoia. The dark dramas of the 1960s and early 1970s—Psycho, Taxi Driver—reveal the angst of Vietnam and the unrest of a nation brewing a revolution. Even the recent slew of zombie films betrays a discomfort with modern medical adventures—a fear that somewhere, somehow, an experiment will go horribly wrong, à la the cancer vaccine in I Am Legend. “In the absence of an effective general mythology, each of us has his private, unrecognized, rudimentary, yet secretly potent pantheon of dream,” mythologist Joseph Campbell says in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Though he speaks of the dreams we experience in sleep, he might as well be discussing film. Film—as well as music, literature, and all of popular culture—could well be the dreams of an uneasy society seeking collective catharsis in the anonymous darkness of the multiplex.

Our Fear-driven Work?

Yglesias on vacation days:

Americans take fewer vacation days than residents of most other rich countries, presumably because Americans generally get fewer vacation days than people in countries where vacation is mandated by law or by collective bargaining agreements. But Lauren Davidson wrote an interesting piece recently about how most people don’t even take all the vacation days they get.

While I was on vacation for the first time in a while (I’d been hoarding vacation days to save up for a long trip) I had a brainstorm about this. Or, rather, I found myself in an unusual position. A part of me was rooting for terrible traffic news from Slate. After all, I wasn’t around writing columns. I wasn’t participating in brainstorming meetings or chiming in on email threads. I did some tweeting, but not nearly as much and it wasn’t as news focused. Wouldn’t it be great for me if it turned out that without me doing all that stuff the business was falling apart? Conversely—what if everything was just fine with me gone? What would that say? Nothing good.

CS Lewis Reviews “The Hobbit”


For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.

Read the full thing. You can tell that CSL had a lot of fun with this one, including making a veiled reference to the group that he and Tolkien were both part of, the Inklings.

Christians and Care for the Elderly

Joe Carter:

“What if you die overseas and I’m not there,” my mom said when I told her I had joined the Marines. I laughed and said that even if I were a civilian and died in the United States she most likely wouldn’t be there. Still, she worried that she would one day get a call saying that I’d been killed or was dying far from home.

My mother worried for nothing. Instead, over a decade later, I was the one who got the dreaded phone call.

“Mom’s not expected to live much longer,” my younger brother said. “You might want to come home.” I had just arrived in Okinawa and had to fly back to mainland Japan. As I waited another three days for the next plane back to the United States, I began to wonder if I’d make it home in time.

The NYT, meanwhile, reported on the rise of cameras used by families to monitor their loved ones in nursing homes to make sure they’re not being abused or neglected.

Obamacare and the End of Solidarity

Brandon McGinley:

The social vision at the heart of Obamacare and of this administration, while adorning itself with the trimmings of solidarity, is in fact its inverse. Our leaders do not posit a cohesive society bound by mutual responsibility, only a collection of individuals loosely linked by reliance on the state. It is a hollowed-out solidarity, and state is quick to fill the void.

Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the recent “Got Insurance?” campaign launched by progressive advocacy organizations Progress Now Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. Two ads have received special attention.

The money quote:

Our choice is not, as is popularly believed, between individualism and collectivism; the former, as it dissolves the fibers of civil society, is merely an antecedent to the latter. Our choice is between civil society—specifically a civil society bolstered by a robust solidarity—and statism. Obamacare does not herald the victory of collectivism over individualism, but their alliance against civil society. Obamacare is not the fulfillment of solidarity, but its end.

The Dangers of Automation

Nicholas Carr:

On the evening of February 12, 2009, a Continental Connection commuter flight made its way through blustery weather between Newark, New Jersey, and Buffalo, New York. As is typical of commercial flights today, the pilots didn’t have all that much to do during the hour-long trip. The captain, Marvin Renslow, manned the controls briefly during takeoff, guiding the Bombardier Q400 turboprop into the air, then switched on the autopilot and let the software do the flying. He and his co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, chatted—about their families, their careers, the personalities of air-traffic controllers—as the plane cruised uneventfully along its northwesterly route at 16,000 feet. The Q400 was well into its approach to the Buffalo airport, its landing gear down, its wing flaps out, when the pilot’s control yoke began to shudder noisily, a signal that the plane was losing lift and risked going into an aerodynamic stall. The autopilot disconnected, and the captain took over the controls. He reacted quickly, but he did precisely the wrong thing: he jerked back on the yoke, lifting the plane’s nose and reducing its airspeed, instead of pushing the yoke forward to gain velocity. Rather than preventing a stall, Renslow’s action caused one. The plane spun out of control, then plummeted. “We’re down,” the captain said, just before the Q400 slammed into a house in a Buffalo suburb.

Jacobs comments:

Consider this: if the Inuit lose something when they use GPS instead of traditional and highly specific knowledge of their environment, what would I lose if I had a self-driving car take me to work instead of driving myself? I’ve just moved to Waco, Texas, and I’m still trying to figure out the best route to take to work each day. In trying out different routes, I’m learning a good bit about the town, which is nice — but what if I had a Google self-driving car and could just tell it the address and let it decide how to get there (perhaps varying its own route based on traffic information)? Would I learn less about my environment? Maybe I would learn more, if instead of answering email on the way to work I looked out the window and paid attention to the neighborhoods I pass through. (Of course, in that case I would learn still more by riding a bike or walking.) Or what if I spent the whole trip in contemplative prayer, and that helped me to be a better teacher and colleague in the day ahead? I would be pursuing a very different kind of flourishing than that which comes from knowing my physical environment, but I could make a pretty strong case for its value.

Apple’s New Headquarters and That Hideous Strength

This piece from Think Christian made me think of the NICE’s headquarters in Lewis’s classic:

I have the opposite of a NIMBY mindset, but it grieved me nonetheless to see the city of Cupertino, Calif., roll over, paws up, for the zoning approval of Apple’s new headquarters. I’m convinced this building will be bad for Apple and worse for Cupertino.

The giant bike tire of a building, designed by the office of Lord Norman Foster and expected to cost $5 billion, comes with sterling credentials: America’s greatest company, Britain’s greatest architect, carbon-neutral, yada, yada, yada. But what is this thing?

The media has already started referring to it as “Apple’s Spaceship.” Readers of a certain age may be reminded of the giant space station that appears in the second act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I suspect the resemblance is more intentional than not. Foster (and Apple) would probably like this building much better if appeared to be floating free of the earth, like the concept design for the Guadalajara soccer stadium by Massaud and Pouzet. In its circular plan and its resistance to any acknowledgement of streets, sidewalks or indeed the city of Cupertino, Apple’s new command post exhibits all the worst abstracting tendencies of Modernism – great for iPhones, not so great for cities.

The Christian Humanists

If you missed this piece from Bradley Birzer, please do read it:

In a world agog with labels and categories we too often leave important ideas behind. With paleocons, traditionalists, neocons, Leocons, libertarians, classical liberals, anarcho-capitalists, distributists, and agrarians, the right can be as bad as the left in its fetish for classification.

One group that defies easy definition are the women and men we might call Christian Humanists. In 1939, the New York Times gave their philosophy a lineage. “This is the theme recurring in much of the writings of some of the foremost thinkers of our day, such as the late Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, and [Nikolai] Berdyaev, Christopher Dawson, and T.S. Eliot.” The newspaper of record might have added others: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their circles in Britain, as well as philosophers Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson in France.

“Humanism is a tradition of culture and ethics,” proclaimed the English historian Christopher Dawson, “founded on the study of humane letters.” The moment St. Paul quoted the Stoics in his mission to Athens—“In Him we move and live and have our being”— he bridged the humanist and Christian worlds. (The line came from a centuries-old Stoic hymn, “In Zeus we move and live and have our being.”) From that point forward, Dawson argued, any separation of one from the other led to what we must consider “dark ages.” Just as “man needs God and nature requires grace for its own perfecting, so humane culture is the natural foundation and preparation for spiritual culture.” Christianity and humanism mix so readily, wrote Dawson, that they “are complementary to one another in the order of culture, as are Nature and Grace in the order of being.”

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska

Kurt Andersen:

Among Alexander Payne’s first five feature films, two are stories of men at existential crossroads who embark on road trips, and three are set in Nebraska. His sixth, “Nebraska,” which comes out at the end of the month, is both — two men, father and son, amusingly and movingly working through interior crises as they drive together across Nebraska.

From “Huckleberry Finn” on, in prose and then in film, the road trip has been more and more a go-to narrative spine for great American stories — “Sullivan’s Travels,” “On the Road,” “Travels With Charley,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “Easy Rider,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Badlands,” “Paper Moon,” “Midnight Run,” “Thelma and Louise” and many more.

Yet despite having made three road-trip movies — or by his count, including “The Descendants,” three and a half — “I don’t have any particular fondness for road pictures,” the director tells me from the driver’s seat of his car, going 70. “Shooting in cars is a drag. Shooting in cars is awful.” O.K. . . . but he’s a single guy who owns five automobiles (as well as an R.V.): a 2003 Honda S2000, a 1977 Ford Ranchero, a brand-new top-of-the-line Tesla, a 2004 Audi A6 (which he’s just sold) and the station wagon in which we’re about to start cruising around Nebraska for two days. He just drove here alone from Los Angeles by way of Telluride, 1,770 miles. And he is behind the wheel of his hulking 1988 Ford Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park as we embark on our journey, me in the shotgun seat.