Charlie's Blog: December 2015


Competition and Art

The whole concept of awards is silly, I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don't.

There is no competition in art. Of course, this does not keep artists from competing, but the whole concept is an absurdity. Woody Allen is famous for not attending the Oscars despite winning three awards and being nominated numerous times. His reason for not attending is fairly simple. Making movies is not the same as playing a basketball game. Art is not a game you win or lose.

Art is subjective. I won't go so far as to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I can say that Bob Dylan would stand no chance of winning on American Idol if he were a young man competing today as an unknown. Likewise, Woody Allen loses at the box office to a hack like Michael Bay, but I would rather attend an Allen movie than see another installment of the Transformers franchise.

I reject all awards for artistic productions. This would be the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzers, and the like. Trophies should be reserved for sports which are competitions. But art cannot be a sport. Yet, people try and turn artistic endeavors into sports. Why?

There is something sick and sad in turning things into competitions when they aren't competitions. The biggest offender in this regard today would be Food Network with their endless cooking competition shows like Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay. It is so bad now that chefs now trash talk each other almost like professional wrestlers trying to stir up fan interest in their faux competitions.

Talent shows like American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, and others also jump into this aesthetic competition thing. Then, there is the Miss America pageant and beauty contests. This narrative of competition is popular because it creates drama, but it is ultimately very silly. Chefs are not athletes. Artists are not baseball players.

People love to think of winners and losers in life as if life is some kind of game. Life is not a game. Art is not a game either. Neither is cooking. Where I work, certain employees try to turn the job into a game and a competition probably in some vain attempt to make work fun. I simply cede the victory and declare that they are able to pick way more cotton than I can for the master of the plantation. Some things can never be a sport. Work is one of those things.

Competition also lends itself to status where you are either a winner or a loser in life. So, you can spend the entirety of your life being a really good chef and building a solid relationship with your customers but watch it all get blown to hell because you lost the first round of Chopped to some tattooed Chinese recovering crystal meth addict hoping to win the competition for his mom's brain surgery and/or a down payment on a motorcycle who happened to turn out a slightly more flavorful dish made from gummy bears, jackfruit, calf liver, and dog feces.

The fact is that Apocalypse Now lost to Kramer vs. Kramer in the Oscar race for Best Picture. Now, I don't know which is the better picture, but I can say that I've only watched Kramer once and forgot it while I have watched Apocalypse more times than I can count. Was the Academy wrong that year? Or, was that just the year they were all going through messy divorces and wanted to forget Vietnam? Who knows? What I know is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to artistic preferences. This is because art cannot be quantified. There are no points in art or cooking or music.

I agree with Woody Allen. On Oscar night, you are better off staying in New York and playing the clarinet. There is no competition in art.


Going to California

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings.

From what I know, Robert Plant wrote these lyrics about Joni Mitchell while a 20-year-old banging out groupies. It probably embarrasses him now as an old man, but it speaks to a truth. Lust pales in comparison to love. Lust is to love what mere philosophy is to religion. This is an important truth, and I need to explore it further.

It is said that rock and roll got its name from a slang term for sex. I don't know if that is true or not, but it certainly fits the style of music. If rock and roll is lust, classical music would be love. Lust is easy. Love is hard. But love is the more satisfying of the two. Most people's frustrations in this area come from trying to turn lust into love.

I think the lust/love thing captures what it is to be a Christian. The popular notion is that being a Christian and a Catholic is somehow life denying, but this is not the case. It is life fulfilling. A life of hedonism is fundamentally a settling for a lesser life.

Stanley Kubrick said, "However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." These are the words of an atheist, and there was a time when I would have agreed with that statement. It is really a thought straight out of Camus. Kubrick struck me as a sad sort trying desperately to put meaning in a meaningless life. Here is a larger quotation from an interview with the director:

Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should he bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

This is life without God. Kubrick captures it so well. The only problem is that this nihilistic angst and suffering is truly needless. This is because God does in fact exist. As someone who has been a believer, an atheist, and a believer again, I can tell you that God is there. I encounter all types of people in my life, and I figure they would love to pick my brain because I have walked such an unusual path. But they never do. I have had more people ask me about why I became an atheist more than why I became a Catholic. That tells me more than what I could tell them. They strike me as people who put on blindfolds and declare that the outer world no longer exists.

I reflect a great deal about my unusual path. The fact is that I was always a seeker. I always wanted to know if there was more to life than just the daily grind and the few momentary pleasures an otherwise empty life could offer. I have always done the pendulum swing between philosophy and religion. For me, that religion in my younger days was the Protestant religion. I could probably agree with Richard Dawkins that Protestantism could be considered a form of child abuse. But atheism would also be child abuse, so I would part company with Dawkins on that point.

Protestant Christianity is what you would expect from a heresy. There is a flicker of life surrounded by nonsense. If you read Flannery O'Connor's stories, she nails this weirdness and odd Christ-haunted character of Protestantism. Basically, a Protestant Christian is sincerely stupid. They know nothing but are proud in knowing it. You don't know whether to laugh or cry at their predicament. I know that predicament well because I spent virtually 30 years in it until I finally fell through a hole in the floor and landed into militant atheism.

Catholics are a different breed altogether. They are either devout or atheist. Except for a few weirdos like Tom Cruise, I know very few cradle Catholics who have embraced an alternative faith. They either have faith, or they don't. I think the reason for this is because if God exists for them, He has to be Catholic. He isn't going to be Krishna or a Baptist.

This leads me to a question. Do atheists believe deep down that God exists? This is a hard question because St. Paul in Romans would say they do. The fact that atheists waste so much time on the internet arguing against God's existence suggest to me that they are not truly convinced in their atheism. But as an atheist, I never wasted my time on that crap. If there was ever a true atheist, it was me.

Becoming an atheist felt like coming out of a delusion. I believed things that did not correspond to reality, so atheism felt like a bracing jolt from a long slumber. Protestantism isn't real. I am surrounded by Protestants in a land that is saturated in Protestant sensibilities. These people do not live in the real world. This was my outlook on them as an atheist and remains my outlook as a Catholic.

What do atheism and Catholicism both have in common? They both see the bleakness in the world and the darkness of humanity. The problem with atheists is that they hold out some glimmer of hope that they can figure it all out or make life worth living without God. In this repect, they are also deluded like the Protestants. It doesn't matter if you believe 2+2=5 or 6. Both answers are exactly wrong.

If you are a living atheist, you are a deluded atheist. To be a true atheist is to be a dead atheist. Since many atheists still draw breath, they are essentially tricking themselves with a self-created delusion. I know because this was my waking life each day. I had to figure it out each day why I should remain living. So, I started lying to myself saying things about freedom or believing that most people were basically good but ignorant. To see life as truly what it is would drive someone immediately to suicide. How can you see just how screwed up existence is and survive it? You have to be Catholic.

In life, there are only two real options--suicide or Catholicism. At its best, life is profoundly empty. At its worst, life is a living hell. I suffer every single day, and I think I suffer more since becoming Catholic. But I have hope where before I was hopeless. Hope can sustain you in the worst of situations. I survive this life on God's grace.

I say this all the time. Catholicism is more real than real. Basically, Catholicism is more real than atheism. This is part of what makes it more painful but also more reassuring. When a Protestant suffers, he or she wonders what they are doing wrong. When an atheist suffers, they scheme some way out of it or contemplate suicide as the final escape. When a Catholic suffers, it is just another day carrying the cross.

Recently, a person we know died. She was a convert to Catholicism, but she had a falling out with the priest in her parish and began attending the Methodist church instead. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, she returned to the Catholic church. She said, "Methodists are good about living, but they aren't good about dying." These are very true words. The implication is that Catholics are good about dying. Protestants don't do death. It is too negative. So, they sugarcoat that unpleasant thing and pop you in the ground.

For the fallen away Catholic, life has to get bad before they come home to the One True Faith. This is usually someone dying. I ponder why they ever fell away in the first place, and I think it just boils down to wanting to have a good time. Then, good times turn to bad times, but as long as the whiskey is still pouring, they will take the good with the bad. It is when the good is utterly gone that those fallen away Catholics come home. One extremely devout and famous Catholic couple I know came back to the Church after the death of their child. What it all comes down to is that most people live in a vast delusion. Suicide is giving into despair. Catholicism is giving into hope. I suspect the reason so many people don't become Catholic is they aren't ready to be happy. They choose Hell over Heaven.


Spontaneous Combustion

Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.

I don't like the spontaeous. If I only went in to work when I felt like it, I would never go into work. Similarly, good writers learn early that writing is less creativity and more work. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to get up each day, punch the clock, and get down to work. Never wait until you feel like writing because you will never write.

This lesson applies to realms beyond the written word. There are essentially two paths you can go down. The first path is the spontaneous path, but it doesn't go anywhere. This is where you indulge your feelings until you have lost the feeling to do anything. I call this spontaneous combustion. The spontaneous suggests some sort of effervescent lifeforce bubbling forth, but it is really inertia and death in the end. This brings us to the second path.

The second path is the disciplined path. Discipline brings life and freedom even though it may not look like it at the time. Discipline can be painful. Discipline is not self-indulgence but self-denial. There is suffering involved, but you move down the path and actually get somewhere.

I'm not sure where the spontaneous triumphed over the disciplined in the minds of people. I think forms of Protestantism that reject liturgical worship may have something to do with it. If you follow an order of worship and recite prayers, somehow, this is not authentic worship. So, chaotic worship is preferred because it is always from the heart. Likewise, classical music took a beating from jazz and rock with their jams and improvisations. Yet, I don't see either jazz or rock reaching the sublime heights of beauty or majesty that the classical composers achieved.

The path of discipline is the way to go in virtually all things. This applies to writing, but it also applies to your spiritual life. I am indebted to St. Josemaria Escriva and the spirituality of Opus Dei in teaching me the Plan of Life or the norms as a daily practice. Here is a description from Wikipedia:
Morning Offering
Mental prayer, also known as meditation
Daily Mass, Communion, and Thanksgiving after Communion
Rosary, a set of prayers which are typically said with the aid of prayer beads. A saying of the rosary consists (in total) of 53 recitations of the Hail Mary, six recitations of the Our Father, six instances of the Glory Be to the Father, one saying of the Apostles' Creed, and one saying of the Hail Holy Queen. Additionally, each saying of the rosary involved a private meditation upon one of the Mysteries. The Plan of Life calls for members of Opus Dei to say the rosary once each day.
Spiritual reading. Reading of the Gospel and some spiritual book
Penance. Some small act of penance or mortification.
A short visit to the tabernacle.
The Preces, a prayer which is specific to Opus Dei. It is said in Latin once each day by members.
Angelus, a prayer in memory of the Incarnation. Members of Opus Dei say the Angelus each day at noon (or as close to noon as possible). During the Easter season, the Catholic Church replaces the Angelus with the Regina Coeli.
Examination of Conscience. According to the Plan of Life, members of Opus Dei should take time out of their day to examine their conscience and reflect upon the day's events, where the members asks themselves questions such as "Did I treat anyone badly? Did I work hard?"
Three Hail Marys at bedtime
The Sign of the Cross with holy water
This Plan of Life seems daunting, but it is able to be done except perhaps for Daily Communion since most working people don't have the opportunity to attend Mass during the day. But I can say that even a modified version of this plan will yield huge spiritual dividends. It will go far in making a saint out of you.

Discipline is also needed in other areas such as an exercise program. I think disciplined reading is also a great idea. People who complain about the internet sucking up all their time from more serious reading should consider reading a few chapters from the Bible in the morning and at least a chapter from a real book in the evening. Just those two things will have the Bible read in a year and approximately book read each week. If the rest of your time is spent looking at cat pictures on Facebook, you won't feel so guilty.

Discipline is definitely a hard thing, but it is worth it even if you aren't perfect at it. Spontaneous action rapidly turns into inaction. Basically, most people are able to consistently do their jobs but not much else in their lives. It is sad that we have to turn ourselves over to some taskmaster to do what we should do. We should be our own taskmasters beating ourselves into submission to our plans for life. It is only then that we will ever achieve anything in this life. Greatness in anything does not come by accident.

This tying of one's life to a plan, to a timetable, you tell me, is so monotonous! And I answer: there is monotony because there is little Love.


PRINT--Small Is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.

I recently stated a truth in an email to my brother-in-law. All college professors should be conservatives, and all entrepreneurs and businessmen should be left wing hippie types. The reason conservatives make such good professors is because they still believe in things like objective truth, reading the great books, beauty, and order. Contrast this with the leftist Marxist postmodern professors who teach that language cannot convey meaning except when it oppresses some aggrieved minority. The reason lefties make such good entrepreneurs is because they have this crazy idea that creating value is better than making money. The irony is that they end up making a lot of money.

I don't know if E.F. Schumacher was exactly a conservative as his thinking evolved over his lifetime such that he moved from atheism to Buddhism to Catholicism. That later Catholicism makes him a conservative to me in that he embraced all those things that make conservatives great professors--order, truth, goodness, and beauty. And when I read Small Is Beautiful, I couldn't help but conclude that Schumacher would agree with my assessment of hippie entrepreneurs. You only have to look at Steve Jobs, Ben & Jerry, or Yvon Chouinard to win that argument.

Small Is Beautiful is the one volume of non-marxist economics that could occupy space on the shelf of a hippie. The book is a collection of essays that debunks the idea that "bigger is better." Bigger is merely bigger, but it is rarely better. We realize this when the giant factory that drew farmers from the fields for an easier life on the assembly line goes bust laying them off for a life of destitution. Schumacher questioned the conventional wisdom only to discover that what he was seeking already existed in the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Schumacher was essentially a distributist. Distributism holds that economies are more stable and serve human needs better when capital is distributed widely instead of concentrated in the hands of big government or big business. Whatever benefits are derived from the economies of scale that big outfits may bring, they are negated by the externalities of those operations such as pollution, chaotic business cycles, layoffs, and people dependent upon charity and welfare.

The defenders of the "bigger is better" models tend to reduce everything to economic output. This would be product and profit. The thing they overlook is that economics should serve human beings. What reigns today is the belief that human beings should serve economics. This is how you get a factory that churns out things to make people's lives better except their lives are made worse by the air pollution and the fact that they can't afford those products on their meager wages. If you doubt this happens, look at Beijing where the air is utterly toxic now as a byproduct of their "prosperity." I joked that the free market would solve the dilemma by selling fresh air in a can. Then, the free market did exactly that.

It would be comic if it wasn't so tragic. This points to the absurdities of economics where people don't matter. The Catholic Church teaches that an economy should serve human ends and needs. The simple fact is that Beijing was better off when the primary mode of transportation was the bicycle. Progress now renders the air unbreathable.

Small is Beautiful is essential reading for anyone who has come to question modern economics and realize the failures of a world where people have smartphones but no flush toilets. We value the wrong things, and that is the point of the book. Since its publication, I would add that today people live for no other purpose than to indulge the luxury and gluttony of a handful of very rich people and a government that exists for government. Distributism is the way out of this mess.



Do you know last year, when I thought I was going to have a child, I'd decided to have it brought up a Catholic? I hadn't thought about religion before; I haven't since; but just at that time, when I was was waiting for the birth, I thought, 'That's the one thing I can give her. It doesn't seem to have done me much good, but my child shall have it.'
EVELYN WAUGH, Brideshead Revisited

Once upon a time, there was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to the father, "Father, give me my share of the property that is coming to me." So, the father divided his property between his sons and gave the youngest son his due. The youngest son gathered all that he had, abandoned his father, and set off for the far country.

The youngest son had a good time in that far country squandering his wealth on gambling, wine, and whores. In short time, the son was broke and a severe famine hit the country. Starving, the son hired himself out to feed pigs, and the son envied the slop of the pigs wishing to feed himself on their portion. Seeing how pathetic he was, the son said to himself, "I am a fool. Even my father's hired hands have a better life than this. I will return to my father and see if he will hire me as one of his servants."

So, the youngest son set off to return to his father's estate, but when he returned, he saw the fields were barren. His father's house was falling apart, and he went into the house to find his father collapsed on the floor.

"Father! What has happened to you?!"

The father turned over and looked at his son.

"Wine has happened to me, son. How about fetch me another drink?"

The son was disgusted at seeing his father in such a deplorable state.

"Where is my brother?"

The father pointed to the other room. When the son entered, he saw two whores laying in a bed and his brother passed out face down naked in a puddle of his own vomit. The younger brother wretched at the sight.

"Father, what has happened here? What is the meaning of this?"

"Well, son, we were so devastated at your leaving that we started to wonder what we were doing wrong, and your brother and I came to the conclusion that we were too hard and strict in our ways. We worked too hard and were too thrifty. We were too severe with our praise of virtue and condemnation of vice. So, we decided to become more like you and indulge ourselves in the good living we are sure you found when you left us. I, for one, am happy that you are returned because my wine goblet is now empty. Do you think you could pour me another drink?"

A look of horror and disgust crossed the son's face.

"Pour your own drink you stupid old bastard."

With that, the youngest son left his father and brother to return to that far away country to feed the pigs once more. And he wept bitterly for what once was but is no more.


Stairway to Heaven

I think we're in a disposable world and 'Stairway to Heaven' is one of the things that hasn't quite been thrown away yet.

Led Zeppelin has been unfairly linked with the occult for decades. It probably didn't help matters when Jimmy Page bought the former home of occultist Aleister Crowley, a man described as the most evil man that ever lived. Whether that Crowley assertion was true or hype is another matter. But people forget that Robert Plant wrote lyrics inspired by The Lord of the Rings, arguably the greatest Catholic novel ever written. I doubt Plant was deeply religious as the Zep guys were famous for their debauchery. But I can say they have matured since those days of hedonistic excess.

It is the day after Christmas as I write this. This Christmas has been a difficult one because of gift buying. I can honestly say that I have every material thing I desire short of a piece of land for a homestead. Except for that, God has blessed my household, and I am grateful for all His gifts even the ones I didn't like at the time. I have matured enough in my walk with the Lord to see that He keeps you in the midpoint between excess and despair. Life will not be comfortable, but you will know He is there still providing.

I have been working on some material that I have been considering for submission to other websites, but I have come to the conclusion that this would be a bad idea. The only reason I consider these other avenues of publication is because they have heavier traffic than the humble C-blog. In the old days, you sent stuff to publications because they had a printing press and a network of distribution. I remember sending things to The Atlantic back in the day and collecting a drawer full of rejection slips. Then, when blogs became a thing, I laughed because I didn't need the dead tree media anymore. I could be my own publisher and editor.

A Catholic blogger recently elected to leave the Patheos website and begin her own website for her writing. I think this is a good idea. I am a big proponent of the DIY ethos. It fits with my distributist outlook on things. The problem with the world is that people sell out. For instance, a new tech firm starts out with an innovative product or service except now they sell the firm at the first opportunity to Google, I mean Alphabet, or Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. It probably makes business sense to cash out instead of trying to slug it out for years against the big boys. But this is how monopolies grow. There is no law of the land or economics that demands that you sell out. People just do it because they are lazy.

In Star Wars lore, the question is asked. Is the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force more powerful? The answer is that the Light Side is more powerful, but the Dark Side is quicker. Now, this is just a stupid movie, but I think this bit of lore is applicable to the real world. Good is more powerful than evil, but evil is quicker. The reason people fall to evil is primarily a consequence of impatience. Likewise, the reason the small guy sells out to the big guy is because of the same impatience.

I have often wonder why hippie types make such great entrepreneurs, and I think it boils down to the fact that they don't sell out. They don't care about money, so they stick with their operations in pursuit of higher values. The most potent example of this would be the Grateful Dead who did every dumb hippie thing in the book as a touring band and became rich as a consequence.

If there is one great business lesson to learn from those guys, it is to never sell out. Distributists agree. What eroded the self-sufficient agrarians of yesteryear was their temptation for an easier and more certain life in the cities and the factories. Then, they ended up broke and homeless in a decade when the factories laid them off. This is what happens when you sell out.

I don't want to sell out. This is why I think I am better off not submitting to other websites that might have better traffic. The most important thing you have is not capital or a customer base but independence. I say this as craft beer brewers fall all over themselves to sell out to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

I am sticking with my blog. I run this thing the way I like it, and I think it would break my heart to see my stuff cut to pieces by some editor. Plus, I can tell you that no one publishes rambling essays like this one.

A new year is upon me, and the mind turns to resolutions. I already have my first resolution which is to not sell out. Perhaps a second resolution will be to write more stuff. Beyond that, I will have to think about it a bit. When you are Catholic, you are always working on self-improvement, and I don't mean gym memberships. The closest thing I have to a vice would be drinking two to three PBR's each week. I have to drink those few beers, so I will have something to give up for Lent. Beyond that, I could probably get more exercise which is hard because of my job which is also exercise. We'll see.


Christmas Reflections

Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

Few people use the verses from Revelation as a text about Christmas. Everyone loves to see the cute baby in the manger and hear about the wise men from the east who come to see him. But I like to see the Christmas story for what it truly represented--God's spiritual atom bomb dropped in the world as the ultimate assault on the Devil. Naturally, Satan didn't appreciate this one bit and moved against the newborn child. We know this as the massacre of the innocents in Matthew's gospel. Herod the Great in his paranoia had newborn children killed to try and squash the newborn King of the Jews. Scholars and historians debate whether this event ever happened, but we know that Herod killed his own sons to prevent them from ever taking his throne. The slaughter of the innocents was a non-event in a kingdom rife with atrocity. I think this is why Matthew records it where others do not. It was spiritually significant though just another day in the history of evil sort of like abortion today.

There are two groups of people the Devil despises. The first are the Jews. The second are the Christians. Throughout history, both groups have taken the brunt of violence and bloodshed. Why does the Devil go after these people? It is his way of getting back at God and thwarting God's plan. I have often wondered why the Nazis were so maniacal in wanting to kill the Jews. Even when it was clear that they were going to lose the war, the Nazis desperately ramped up their concentration camps to kill even more Jews. The war was a secondary consideration to their primary purpose in the Final Solution. It is truly bizarre stuff.

The madness of the Nazis makes perfect sense if you believe the Devil was pulling their strings to achieve the aim of Jewish elimination. The Jews are still part of God's plan and an essential part of that plan. I won't go deep into eschatology here, but the end of time will culminate in the Jewish acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah. But if the Jews no longer exist, this can never happen. The Devil wins the chess game. The irony is that the Holocaust ended up putting the Jews back firmly in Israel.

The Devil slaughtered the innocents in an attempt to thwart the first advent. Similarly, he wishes to kill the Jews to thwart the second advent. You can see the Devil's work in the irrational hatred of people for Jews, Christians, and the Catholic Church. Our current president who bends over backward to not offend Muslims thinks nothing of making some nuns pay for contraception. What I draw from that is that Islam is from the Devil, Catholicism is from God, and Barack Obama is evil. When you bend over backwards to not say an offending word against people who rape and murder but you take special delight in rubbing nuns' noses in it, you are evil. But I digress.

When God took on the form of a baby in a manger, the universe changed. It is said that the place once occupied by Lucifer in Heaven is now the place where our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary sits. We see this in the Magnificat, Mary's hymn of praise in Luke's gospel:

And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. 
LUKE 1:46-55 Douay-Rheims

The "mighty from their seat" is the Devil cast from Heaven while the humble exalted is Mary herself. Mary bore the Christ child and became the Mother of God. Today, she is the Queen of Heaven. By saying yes to God, she crushed the head of Satan.

This was foretold all the way back in Genesis in the protoeuangelion or first gospel. The verse says, 
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. 
Different translations say that "she" will crush Satan's head. Whether it is Christ or His mother, it makes no difference since both worked to put Satan down. But in giving birth to Jesus, our Blessed Mother undid the sin of Eve. Protestants do not hold Mary in high esteem, and you can see this in their low regard for women. Protestant men especially love to talk about women being subservient to men, yet never mention the duty of men towards women. If you want to know who killed chivalry, it was Protestants.

Christmas is ultimately about the Incarnation. As I reflect upon it, it is staggering to behold. The great God Almighty who created the cosmos and exists infinite and all powerful became a baby. He slobbered on Himself and pooped in a diaper. He nursed at His mother's breast. If some part of you recoils at that fact, then you understand why the Devil thought it ludicrous. Many theologians believe that Lucifer rebelled against worshipping an incarnate deity saying that he would not serve. Basically, the Devil would not worship a God that pooped in a diaper. It was too scandalous. So, Mary's yes replaced the Devil's no, and she has taken his place. God destroys the proud, and He exalts the humble.

You will see that many of the heresies are obsessed with denying that this child born in Bethlehem was not the incarnation of God. Arianism denied Christ's divinity turning Jesus into merely the highest being created by God. Islam derives from this Arian heresy giving esteem to Jesus as a prophet but denying His divinity. Other heresies like Docetism will admit divinity but try to deny His humanity. Why are so many heresies concerned with the nature of Christ? It is because they all wish to extinguish that truth that causes so much grief and pain to the Devil. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Or, in the case of Christmas, He was fully baby.

God was a baby. It just blows the mind. God loved us to much that He became a baby. That baby was the light of the world. That baby changed everything. The dragon wished to devour that baby as soon as it was born, but the dragon failed. That great beast went against a woman and a baby and lost. This leaves us with a question. Will you worship and serve a God who became a baby? I can only speak for me, but I will worship and serve. Mary said yes, and I say yes. Pride led to Lucifer's fall. The way of humility is the path to exaltation. This is what Christmas is all about. It is taking that humble path like that baby in the manger. May He be praised forever. Merry Christmas!


Stagnation Nation

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues; he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science which puts it to use; and his selfishness is no less blind than was formerly his devotedness to others. If society is tranquil, it is not because it is conscious of its strength and its well-being, but because it fears its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort may cost it its life. Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure. The desires, the repinings, the sorrows, and the joys of the present time lead to no visible or permanent result, like the passions of old men, which terminate in impotence.

I was struck with a thought some time ago, but it won't leave me. It was simply a question. Why does no one really care about any of the new music of Paul McCartney? No, seriously, this was the question on my mind. Why is a 70+ year old man condemned to performing songs he wrote in his twenties and thirties? And if he is a Beatle, why doesn't he keep turning out the same caliber of music he did in his younger days? Certainly, maturity must count for something. Yet, what has McCartney achieved beyond age 40?

I contrast McCartney with another songwriter--Ludwig von Beethoven. That man seemed to get better with age writing some of his best and most loved works when he was an old and deaf man. Why has McCartney stagnated where Beethoven flourished? I think I have an answer to that question, but I will save it for the end. I must first go on a bit of a rant about the stagnation of our modern times.

The new Star Wars movie has come out, and the criticism I hear most frequently about it is that it is little more than a repeat of the original movie. In short, it is a remake of A New Hope except with the politically correct token black guy and a female lead. Beyond that, there is nothing new about The Force Awakens. This is not surprising since most of what is coming out of Hollywood are sequels, remakes, and reboots. That town is deep in creative stagnation. Perhaps the big budgets make producers and directors skittish about taking gambles on fresh creative visions, but I don't think that at all. I think they have reached creative exhaustion. The movies merely reflect the wider culture where new cars look like old cars, and people wear the same fashions from 20 years ago.

This is the generation of the reboot, the rehash, and the recycled. Let's give it a name--the Recycled Generation. The twenty first century still feels firmly like the twentieth century, and this would be the 1960s for the most part. No one seems interested in dressing like people from the Roaring 20s or donning the dapper gear of the 1930s. And why the 1960s? The answer should be obvious. The answer is rock and roll.

Rock and roll was born in the 1950s and reached its zenith in the 1960s. I can date this zenith. It was June 1, 1967. This was when the Beatles released their Sgt Pepper album. The Beatles were the greatest act in rock and roll, and Pepper was their greatest work. You can see where the Beatles and others built up to that moment with previous works like Pet Sounds from the Beach Boys, and you can see where it was immediately copied by the Stones with Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Both of these events are watersheds because they mark the high point and the immediate low point of rock and roll. We can debate the merits of the Stones vs. the Beatles, but one thing is clear. Rock and roll began to copy itself almost immediately. I would argue that it has done that ever since. Nothing new has come in rock and roll that wasn't there with the Beatles and even the Beatles were never really the Beatles again.

The conventional wisdom is that rock and roll is a young man's game. Granted, there are plenty of old timers still rocking like the Rolling Stones, but they are stuck playing songs crafted in their youth. They are nostalgia. Younger generations are stuck with copying their fathers and grandfathers. And let's admit it. Most of it is pathetic and sad.

Other forms of music do not have this prejudice for youth. You can be an old country singer. You can be an old composer of classical music. I compare Paul McCartney with composer Ennio Morricone who in his eighties has seen no diminishment in his creative powers. Even Paul McCartney's orchestral works are superior to his latest rock/pop efforts. Rock and roll is always faced with a vexing and damning question. Is rock and roll dead?

The answer to that question can be found in Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote a profound work known as The Birth of Tragedy where he delineated two categories known as the Apollonian and the Dionysian. I can only give you a Cliff Notes version of his theory. Here's the gist of it. The Apollonian is art that is ordered and beautiful reflecting the god Apollo. When you think of Apollo, think Michelangelo, classical music, and monarchy. Then, there is the Dionysian which is chaotic, frenzied, mad, and exciting like you would expect of the god of wine and revelry. When you think of Dionysus, think Picasso, rock and roll, and revolution. Nietzsche said that great art was the combination of both of these elements.

Nietzsche's theory has had great influence on my thinking, but I firmly believe that there are no new truths. There are simply old truths said in new ways, and those new ways may obscure the nature of these old truths. This is what Nietzsche did in The Birth of Tragedy. I will now make clear what he obscured.

Dionysus is simply Satan. Apollo is Christ. Rock and roll is an inherently dionysian form of music which is why it is exciting at the beginning but dies of exhaustion. This is because all of the Devil's creative capital is borrowed capital. The Devil is not the original. God is the original. The Devil is just a copy. His own glory was reflective of the greater glory of God. Deprived of God and the beatific vision, the Devil fell left with what he had--a dying ember of his former greatness.

Rock and roll is like this because it borrowed from other musical forms. This is why rock was at its greatest in the sixties and at its worst today. Its creative capital has been exhausted. It has nothing new to feed it, so it feeds on itself. This same auto-cannibalism has spread out to other areas like movies, television, fashion, architecture, and the like. The stagnation has occurred because of the deadening nature of secularism. Even Nietzsche admitted that the Dionysian needed the Apollonian to survive. But does the Apollonian need the Dionysian to survive? Of course not.

Rock and roll may be exciting at first, but it becomes mere noise at some point. This is all that a non-Christian art form can be. It must shock to make you feel alive, but a shock can only rouse the living. It cannot raise the dead. Rock and roll is out of shocks, and this is true for the rest of American culture. We are living in the nation of stagnation.

The new Star Wars film captures this stagnation perfectly. What made the original Star Wars triology so great was that it was essentially Christian in its story. It dealt with evil being overcome by good. The Dark Side is tempting because it is powerful, exciting, and quick. Yet, those characters on the Dark Side had a peculiar habit of looking like living death.

This is the face of stagnation. It is the exhaustion of borrowed capital. Likewise, the franchise is exhausting its borrowed capital. We can apply this same dynamic to Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, secularism, democracy, and what have you. They all steal from the wellspring of life and then try to erase the source.

The source of all truth, goodness, and beauty is God Himself. God is the source of life. Those art forms that know this and recognize this remain vibrant and alive. Those artists that remain in contact with this source remain alive and do not stagnate. This is why an almost 90-year-old composer of classical scores can remain relevant while the 70-year-old rocker is pathetic. And the reason our culture keeps going back to the 60s  or a movie from the 70s is because that was the last time there was still some life in those art forms. Yet, if they go a little further back, they will find what they are seeking which is not the imitation of life but life itself.

The irony of it all is the Dionysian seems to offer the promise of the new, but it dies. The Apollonian seems stuck in conformity to old standards, yet it is the only thing that remains alive. If you doubt this, watch jaws drop on one of those talent shows when the talent sings opera. It is like seeing the dead come back to life.

Cultural renewal will only come when our culture returns to the source of its life which is the Christian faith expressed in its fullest in the Catholic Church. People will call this high art. This would be Dante and Shakespeare. This is Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. This is Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Bernini. This does not mean that all music must be classical in order to be beautiful or that all words should be written in iambic pentameter. It does mean recognizing God as the source of all that we hold to be beautiful, true, and good.


Four Sticks

Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.

Where will I ramble today? Right now, I have a severe cold that has turned my head into a giant snot bubble. This particular strain has been making the rounds where I live, so I am taking my turn on the disease merry-go-round. It makes doing anything difficult but not impossible. But I will endeavor to write what is on my mind.

The first thing I have been contemplating has been this recent rate hike the Fed has done after all these years of virtually free money. Naturally, the market is heading down as the air leaves the bubble. I think this is needed, but I suspect the Fed will rescind this rate hike at its next meeting as the economy and markets begin to collapse. Needless to say, I despise the Federal Reserve and central banking, and I think we should go back to the gold standard and sound money. Either way, I think gold is the only safe place to park your money for the long term.

The new Star Wars movie is out, but I don't know if I care to ride that train again. The original trilogy was awesome, but I realize that was by accident. George Lucas had a few flashes of brilliance, but he is inept as a director and as a storyteller. Basically, Star Wars owes its greatest debt to Joseph Campbell and the limited budget of the original trilogy. The demise of the Star Wars universe has come as a consequence of technology and merchandising. The simple and pure fact is that people love a good story. Lucas forgot that.

A great director that gets story and the shortcomings of technology is Christopher Nolan. I was amused to learn that the director of the Dark Knight trilogy does not own a cellphone and does not have an email address. When he makes movies, he prefers real over CGI whenever possible. He also prefers film to digital cameras. The result of this virtually anti-tech stance is an embrace of the timeless craft of storytelling. At the very least, it makes me feel perfectly fine carrying a flip phone in a world of smartphones.

Nolan is not completely anti-tech as he does employ some CGI in his moviemaking. But it is not gratuitous. This is very important because it makes us consider what should truly matter with tech innovation. Does the technology improve my life? Does it make things better?

Educators know the limits of tech as they have used all sorts of gadgets and whatnot to make teaching easier, but it all comes back to books, paper, pencils, and the chalkboard. I can't help but experience that the people with the smartest gadgets are the dumbest people I know. I am convinced that the only real thing pushing the popularity of smartphones is that they allow men to masturbate to porn more easily. Otherwise, they are simply really bad phones that turn people into ADD freaks unable to withstand a minute of non-stimulation.

People are bored, but this is not a tragedy. Boredom is a resource because it becomes the fertile ground of imagination. Technology kills imagination. First, it eliminates the boredom by providing constant stimulation such that you never really have time to think. Second, it fills in the gaps of people's imaginations with digital creation. For instance, old horror movies are scarier than the CGI horror movies because a dark room was all that was needed for people to lose their minds. This is also why The War of the Worlds was so awesome on the radio but not so good when it became a big budget motion picture. Then, there is the fact that books are so much better than movies.

Truly great artists and creative minds learn to leave spaces blank. A work of art is not complete in itself but is completed in the mind of the observer. This is why you should always leave some room for mystery in any story.  You can explain a mystery later if you choose, but you must leave another mystery in its place. With Star Wars, the mystery was Darth Vader. Who was he? How did he become the man in the mask? And what was up with that emperor guy? Lucas answered those questions, but they were not satisfactory answers. I suspect it was because people had imagined something better than what Lucas delivered.

I have my own stories to write, but I hesitate to write them. Writing fiction is way harder than writing non-fiction. But I need to get on that horse no matter how much it tries to buck me off. There are no good stories today. All the good stories we have come from yesterday. I need to put my imagination back to work.


Charlie's Blue Collar Gospel

Out of the current confusion of ideals and and confounding of career hopes, a calm recognition may yet emerge that productive labor is the foundation of all prosperity.

There are two attitudes in the world towards work. The first and honest attitude towards work is that it makes the world a better place. Hard work is good for the soul. Work provides services and produces things that benefit other people. Work provides a living for yourself and for your family. Yet, this attitude is threatened by the second attitude that has become prevalent and predominant in certain sectors of our culture and society. This is the attitude that work is for suckers.

The "parasite class" is the name I give to these people who believe that work is for suckers. We all know these people. These are the people who have no real job except to find ways to skim off of the hard work of honest people. Most of these people are corporate managers, government bureaucrats and workers, financial services professionals, and college administrators. These people are not into honest work, but they believe they are entitled to higher compensation for their dubious professions because they are smarter than the average bear. Basically, they believe they are better than the people they dupe out of their hard earned dollars.

No one likes to be called a parasite. Yet, what else can we call these parasites except parasites? A host can live without parasites, but parasites cannot live without hosts. We don't need these people which is why these parasites are at pains to justify their existence. This is how you get a silly term like "job creator." Jobs are not created by parasites. Jobs are created by human needs. Since most needs are filled by labor, jobs appear for those who can labor. It isn't rocket science.

The capitalist will claim that jobs are created by capital, but capital is worthless apart from labor. Capital itself is created by labor, perpetuated by labor, and increased by labor. Capital does not come from a vaccuum. Capital is wealth collected from previous productive effort for the intention of increased productive effort. This would be the farmer who plows his field with a mule and saves for a tractor made by human hands in some factory. The bedrock of everything is labor.

The parasite class is not very good at producing anything. They are very good at getting paid. Their goal is to attract the greatest compensation while offering the least in return. To accomplish this requires a great deal of selfishness, self-delusion, sociopathic tendencies, and other varieties of evil and mental damage to overcome the reality that these parasites are little more than thieves. This disgusting evil reaches its zenith when these evil worms try to portray the honest class of working people as inferior and even as parasites. You can witness this when Walmart workers strike for better wages in order to get off welfare because a job should at the least allow people to make a living. And what do these people get for standing up for themselves? They get called worthless pieces of crap by the very people who are the worthless pieces of crap.

All of this begs a question. Is work for suckers? It would seem so. It doesn't make much sense to be an honest worker when you can get the same money or more for doing nothing. Why work hard? Why be honest? Why be good? The answer to that question depends not upon economics but upon theology. Is God real? And do the meek really inherit the earth?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist, and there is no ultimate justice. This leaves striving according to the motto of the wolves of this world--GET LAID AND GET PAID. What would a world of nothing but parasites look like? It would look like nothing because it can't exist. Parasites can produce nothing for themselves in much the same way the Devil can produce nothing good but must coast on the leftovers of his fallen state. In order for good to exist in the world, there must be good people to produce those things. Parasites may not believe in God or justice, but they depend upon others to believe in God and justice to keep producing things for them to steal.

This is an argument I win on a daily basis when challenged by a parasite to produce more. I always ask why. There may be a threat of termination as if fear is what keeps me working. But since there is no God in the world of the parasites, I ask them what keeps me from taking my revenge upon them at the first possible opportunity and with as much savage pleasure as I can derive from the act. In other words, what does the slave have to lose by waiting for his master to fall asleep and slicing his throat in the night? The parasite cannot answer this. He must appeal to God and justice which is exactly what all those Southern slave owners did in the day. But this puts the parasite in the dock of his own courtroom. You can't have it both ways. You can't ask for justice while also being unjust.

What keeps the meek in check is their morality and their belief in God. When the meek are unleashed from morality and religion, their cruelty exceeds all bounds. From slave revolts to popular uprisings to labor riots, the meek always have it in their power to take instant revenge. It is not surprising that it happens but that it doesn't happen more often. But it happens often enough for the parasites to sleep in fear. That sword cuts both ways.

So, who is the fool? Who lives in fear? Is it the slave? Or is it the master? As a wage slave, I can tell you that I sleep well at night. I can look myself in the eye and not feel shame over how I make my living. I also believe in God, and I believe that all the books will be settled one day. Those who did their work honestly will be rewarded, and those who stole will enter into everlasting damnation. There will be no end to their misery, and it will be proportionate to the misery they inflicted upon others.

No one gets away with anything. Those who enjoy now will weep later. Those who weep now will enjoy later. But there must be some reward in this life for those who make an honest living. There is, my friend. This reward is called dignity. When you are blue collar, you know inside that you are better than the parasites. It is enough to be worthy of an honor you may never get. But to have an honor undeserved is despicable. Parasites know this. They try in vain, but all they can do is reward themselves with plaques and property. Never forget this. Scum drives a BMW.

Our time is a time of amnesia. People have forgotten the dignity of work and the working class. This is why our economy is in such bad shape now. We have a generation of college graduates drowning in student loan debt. How did this come about? We can blame the lenders and the colleges, but someone with the brains to go to college should be able to read the newspapers or do the math of simple interest. The reason this has happened is because those graduates wanted to escape being blue collar. They wanted to join the parasite class, but the parasites fed on them instead and left them with the tab. Their more humble and less ambitious blue collar peers now work slightly better paying jobs than Starbucks but without the debt.

The financial services sector grows and grows as they are the ultimate parasite industry sucking up the most wealth while producing zero wealth. Financial services is the fattest tick on the hide of this dog, and that tick will explode in a shower of blood and gore. The only fear of the financial services parasite is being forced to make an honest living with his own two hands. These people scream the loudest about capitalism and free markets despite the fact that they lobby hard for laws to make their debt slaves pay.

The federal government is the other tick that will explode. Unfortunately, everyone will be hurt when this happens. They jump out of windows on Wall Street, but I have no idea what they do in DC when calamity strikes. I would love to see government parasites turned out of their bogus jobs, but the only government workers that get the shaft are the military veterans. Congresscritters will get their pensions until the end of their days. Then, they will go to the lower reaches of Hell.

The people in this country need to do real work for a change, and they need to believe in doing real work again. Our nation's prosperity has slipped as parasites feed while workers tire of feeding parasites. This country needs to be blue collar. The best people in this country are the ones driving tractors and pick up trucks. These are the ones who build our bridges and our roads, wait our tables, cook our food, and care for our sick. These are the ones who teach our kids, defend our nation, and build our homes. These common people are the ones who built this nation and pay this nation's bills. And the ones who have destroyed this country are the ones who have gotten a free ride on the backs of these working people. You want to make America great again? Then make hard work count. Reward the producers and punish the parasites. When this happens, prosperity will return because prosperity comes from hard work.


Rotten Apple

Good design is aesthetic.

The new Apple iPhone battery case is a tombstone on the grave of Steve Jobs. Jobs would never have let this thing go into production. But it now exists like a worm in the legacy of Apple and its founder. How did this happen?

The one word I hear about the new case is "ugly." Over and over, critics can't get over the ugliness of the thing. Naturally, I have to laugh because I have thought Apple products were crappy for years. But they did have one singular virtue. They were beautiful to look at. Most of this is credit to Apple's product designer Jony Ive, a disciple of Dieter Rams. Steve Jobs was less a creator and more of an editor. Jobs had taste in a world full of nerds.

The new case is tasteless. Other products like the Apple Watch were COA--Crap On Arrival. Without the Jobs veto, Apple will turn out more and more crap. As for the rest of their products, they will degrade considerably. Critics will lament this turn of events as some kind of tragedy, but I believe that the aesthetic of Apple will now match the inferiority of its products. Let me elaborate.

The first problem I have had with Apple products is the fact that they were hideously expensive. Bill Gates bested Jobs simply by opening up an avenue for cheaper consumer products. Likewise, Google has repeated the Gates trick with the Android software that powers an array of smartphones at many different price points. It doesn't cost more to produce Apple products than these other products. Apple just charges more. The thing people forget about all those great Dieter Rams designs is that they were for common household products that were cheap. What is wrong with cheap?

The second problem I have had with Apple products is that they lack durability. This may be a personal issue because I am a rough-and-tumble blue collar guy, but I know an iPhone would last exactly one day in my pocket. My current rugged flip phone is scarred pretty badly from the abuse it gets, so I know I can never own a smartphone in its current form. I realize that durability and beauty conflict with each other. Here is the rugged Sonim smartphone:

Now, I think this beast is beautiful, but I can understand why others would see ugliness where I see beauty. The iPhone is beautiful in its design, but it is really indistinguishable from the Sonim when you cram it into one of those protective cases. It's like painting a Mona Lisa to hang in a closet.

The third problem that I have with Apple products is its closed ecosystem. Apple works pretty hard to get you into their world of products and software such that there is no escape. Then, they grind you to pieces with their upgrade cycle. It is easy to enter the world of Apple but good luck finding the exit. If you're going to be a buyer of Apple products, save yourself the hassle and go all in. Otherwise, stay out.

Where does Apple go from here? All I can say is that when Jobs was alive he was the dictator. Now, the market will be the dictator. Apple will carry on with something left of Jobs in its DNA, but it will degrade as compromise creeps in. People will leave Apple like air leaking from a balloon, and they will not return.