Charlie's Blog: 2014


The 2%

People would rather die than change their diet.

Figures vary from 0.5 to 3% of the US population being vegan. For myself, I have settled on 2% as being the firm number. The irony of this is that people are keenly interested in health and fitness and diets. You have all sorts of products to cater to this interest such as gluten free products that are now the current fad. The diet and fitness industry is a colossal one with ABCNEWS reporting that it is a $20 billion dollar industry with 100 million dieters. With all of this interest in diet and health, you would assume that the vegan portion of the population would be larger than 2%. Yet, that number does not budge. I can also tell you that it will never budge. People will try any and every other thing except the one thing that works. This would be the vegan diet. Yet, people would rather die than go vegan.

It mystifies me when a doctor on television will tell people that they need to lose weight. Then, the dietary advice they give is to keep eating the same stuff they are eating. They put a little lip smack on "portion size," but they don't tell people to do anything differently except maybe opt for a baked potato instead of french fries with their bacon double cheeseburger. When it comes to nutrition, most doctors are useless and stupid.

Being vegan works. I can understand why people would be confused because of all of the bad information out there. So, this is how I cut through all of the confusion. I tell people to try being vegan for just three days. At the end of three days, I ask if they were successful. The ones who could actually make it for three days report feeling better. They have more energy. Then, I tell them to stretch it for two weeks. At the end of two weeks, these people report significant weight loss, increase in energy, and the disappearance of gastrointestinal issues. What happens after two weeks? That's simple. They go back to eating meat like a dog returning to its own vomit, and they try hard to forget what they discovered.

Why do people do this? The simple fact is that people love to eat crap. McDonald's has tried for years to offer healtheir fare on their menus, but they learn the same lesson again and again. People may ask for healthier options, but they will ignore them in practice. People want their McLardburgers regardless of what they say.

The confusion about diet comes from people who want to eat bad food but turn it into healthy eating. These people know better. If they can sow enough seeds of doubt, this allows them to indulge in their meat fantasies. I don't have a problem with people who want to eat crap. I do have a problem with people that lie. My only wish is that people would just admit that they would rather die than give up eating meat.

The only healthy diet is a vegan diet. Every other diet is healthy only in relation to that vegan ideal. A vegetarian diet is not as healthy as a vegan diet, but it is much better than the standard burger 'n fries diet of my past. When I debate people on the diet thing, my goal is not to get them to become vegan because I know that is never going to happen. I just push them to the point of admitting that they would rather die than be vegan. Once I am there, the debate is done for me. After that, they can eat and die.


Requisite Suffering

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'

In the popular mind, fortitude is considered a masculine trait. This is not to say that women don't have fortitude or can't have fortitude. Giving birth is an excruciating ordeal. Tending to children while also holding down one or more jobs takes great reserves of fortitude. Men have no monopoly on fortitude, but fortitude is seen as being a manly trait instead of a feminine trait. Why is this? It really comes down to the attitude towards suffering. Women and children see suffering as optional while men accept suffering as requisite. Where women and children avoid pain, men embrace it. Men see pain and suffering as unavoidable facts of life.

Women and children live in a distorted world provided by their husbands and fathers. Because someone else suffers, they enjoy rewards without suffering. For instance, the wife wants new cabinets in the kitchen. She goes shopping on Saturday, and she returns to see the new cabinets in the kitchen as if by magic. So, the remodeling urge moves to the bathroom where she wants a garden tub. The husband informs her of two unpleasant facts. The first is that the larger tub will require tearing out a wall and the loss of a walk-in closet. The second is that he doesn't have the money in savings to actually buy the thing because he just spent his wad on those new cabinets. Pouting ensues. In the clash between the wife's wishes and reality, reality wins as it always does.

Men are aquainted with reality. It usually happens when the hammer misses the nail and strikes the thumbnail instead. Men learn physics the hard way until they start listening to the older and wiser men. They also learn about the trade off. This is the simple reality that getting one thing often involves the sacrifice of another thing. For instance, you can have the peace and quiet of the country or the ease and speed of the city. You just can't have both. To have one automatically cancels out the other as a consequence of logic. This is requisite suffering.

Requisite suffering comes as an inescapable consequence of every choice we make. For instance, I had to choose between the lower cost and convenience of a small truck versus the greater power and utility of a larger truck with four wheel drive. There are times when I wish I had the larger truck. But when I am at the gas pump each week, I appreciate the smaller truck. I can't have both things in one vehicle.

Scammers will try and tell people that they can dispense with this requisite suffering. A great example of this would be the paleo diet that tells people that they can eat what they like, lose weight, and be healthy. Pseudoscience and people secretly starving themselves come in to sell people the snake oil. Meanwhile, the vegan doctors come in slim and healthy with the science and truth on their side. But here's the thing. Being vegan is hard. When you eat out at a non-vegan restaurant, you will discover how incredibly hard it is. But I am willing to sacrifice the steakhouse to keep from having my thoracic cavity cut open to fix the clogged arteries in my heart.

Trade offs are part of life. I see these trade offs in the media all the time, but no one wants to face the reality. For instance, the media tells women that they can work 60+ hours a week and also be supermoms at home and not suffer burnout and/or their kids calling their daycare attendant "mommy." The fact is that women can face the regret of not being there for their kids, or they can face the regret of their career opportunities drying up as years spent at home burn giant holes in their resumes. So, they toss out that mystical word called "balance" as in "work/life" balance. I have seen what working moms endure, and I can tell you that the balance is non-existent. It is something they tell themselves to blunt the reality that the juggling act is one slip away from disaster. This usually happens when a child becomes sick at school on the same day that a big project at work is due.

If all of this seems demented and sadistic, it is. But most of the pain is self-inflicted because people would not accept requisite suffering. Attempting to escape from requisite suffering does not result in less suffering but more suffering. This would be the husband who also wants to be a player on the side and winds up finding maturity too late in the grown up world of divorce court. You can't have it both ways.

Jesus talks about requisite suffering in the Gospel of Luke:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
LUKE 14:26-33 NASB
Being a Christian does not allow you to have your cake and eat it, too. I encounter this a great deal in my evangelism.  I meet people who are keenly interested in the Catholic faith, but this interest wanes when they count the cost of what they will have to give up. Some are in illicit second marriages. Others are shacked up with their lovers. Still, others don't want to alienate themselves from their Protestant family members. But I respect these people more than the Catholic woman I know who divorced her Catholic husband, stole another woman's husband, and still goes to Mass and takes communion as if it is no big deal. At least those who stay away do not compound their errors by also committing sacrilege with the body and blood of our Lord. This is why I say it is better to be an honest sinner than a hypocrite. This hypocritical woman wants all the benefits of being Catholic but none of the requisite suffering that comes from obedience.

Anyone who tells you that obedience to the Lord does not come at a cost is a liar. It costs. Jesus repeats this over and over in the Gospels. He never sugarcoated it. To follow Him literally meant poverty, hatred, torture, and martyrdom. This is why people should count the cost of things.

We count the count of cost of things in all sorts of worldly affairs. The most dismaying thing is when people are surprised when they actually have to pay these costs. They act as if some trick has been pulled on them, but the only trickster is their own self-delusion. People are good at counting rewards but not at counting costs. They want to eat cakes but not bake them. They want big houses but not build them. They want to make big money but not earn it. To the extent that these people are successful in avoiding requisite suffering, others suffer in their place. These are the parasites and scam artists of this world, but dishonesty comes with its own requisite suffering. And the deceitful will pay dearly.

All of this may seem depressing, but it shouldn't be. The only time suffering should be depressing is when it goes unrewarded. For most suffering in the world, this is the case. This would be the hardworking and faithful husband who comes home to be cursed at by his wife and kids because he doesn't make enough money to pay for their toys, cellphones, and designer clothes. This would be the faithful wife who tends to home and children only to discover the internet porn on her husband's computer and the burner phone in his jacket pocket with texts to his mistress. The fact is that we are more often punished instead of rewarded  for doing the right thing. This is why you have to be a Catholic Christian in order to be a saint. To suffer for doing good is such a monstrous injustice that it must be made right in the world to come. But if you don't believe in Christ or His kingdom come, all you are left with is the game of tit-for-tat. The result of this game is that the good inevitably become indistinguishable from the evil.

If I could paraphrase Muhammad Ali, we should suffer now and spend eternity in Heaven with Christ. Everything we suffer in this life is worth it. As St. Paul put it, we are to run the race as to receive a prize. Heaven is really there. Christ really rose from the dead. All the promises are true. So, let us persevere in our daily trials. Let us accept the requisite suffering that comes from discipleship to Christ. Let us not lose sight of the eternal reward that makes this life bearable in all its agonies.


The Discipline of Humility

When you feel sometimes - perhaps without reason - that you have been humiliated; when you think your opinion should prevail; when you notice that at every moment your ``self'' keeps cropping up: your this, your that, your something else... convince yourself that you are wasting, killing time, and that what you should be doing is killing your selfishness.

My favorite character from the Vacation franchise is Cousin Eddie played by the incomparable Randy Quaid. There is a Cousin Eddie in every family. If your family doesn't have a Cousin Eddie, chances are you are the Cousin Eddie. Eddie was famous for bad taste, low IQ, being inconsiderate, and playing the redneck. Plus, those white leather shoes were just awesome. It makes me want to get a pair.

I wonder if I am the Cousin Eddie in my family, but I am learning to not let it bother me. I am mocked for my Southern accent or living in a state that is at the bottom of the list of good things like education and the top of the list of things like crime and illiteracy. I remember when I lived in Florida how everyone assumed I belonged to the Ku Klux Klan because I was from South Carolina. Becoming Catholic has only intensified the negative opinions about me not only to those who don't live here but also to those who do live here. I have learned to bear these things with equanimity. As Marcus Aurelius put it, "The best revenge is to not be like your enemy."

The discipline of humility is how to refrain from becoming like your enemy. It is accepting the role of the rube and the imbecile without anger or striking back. You let others think less of you. This is a hard thing to do until you realize that you are powerless to change what people think about you. The only options are to either confirm those negative opinions about you or to show by your example that they are not true.

My hero on humility is Blessed Mother Teresa. No one in my lifetime identified so much with the outcasts and the poor as she did. She even had a list of tips on how to practice humility. Here it is:
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.
What an awesome list. I admit that I don't do any of those things. I am in no danger of becoming a saint anytime soon. But reading this list humbles me, and I would be greatly humbled to be in the presence of such a holy woman as this. That's the weird thing about humility. It brings you greater dignity. I can also attest from my own experience that pride leads to humiliation and disgrace. How often I have run my mouth and made a proud fool of myself.

My resolution for the new year is to be more humble. I am going to strive to preach less and practice more. I am going to stop worrying about what others think about me. I will accept calumnies, insults, and detractions. In short, I am going to try and be more like Mother Theresa. The best step I can take in this direction is to accept the reputation of being that Southern rube, that cookie worshipper, and that papist. Much of our energy is wasted on defending ourselves from detraction. The best way is to just let it be and just be yourself.


The Discipline of Waiting

Those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

There is one thing you will get from reading the Bible. The people of God do a lot of waiting. The first big waiting game is the story of Abraham and Sarah as they wait for the fulfillment of the promise God gave to them that they would have a son. Years of barreness sorely tested the patience of that elderly couple. Yet, God delivered on His promise. The next big waiting game is the story of Joseph and his multicolored coat. It was a long wait before God's plan was fulfilled in Joseph's life. I ponder how he must have felt in that prison wondering how he had ended up there. Then, there are the Israelites and their slavery in Egypt followed by their wandering in the desert. There is the Babylonian Captivity. Then, there is the penultimate waiting game of the messianic prophecy culminating in the advent of Jesus Christ. Finally, all Christians wait for the coming of Jesus again to set everything right and to settle the accounts. The bottom line is that if you are a Christian you need patience because you are going to do a lot of waiting.

The favorite time of the world is what we call NOW. Now demands immediate answers, immediate satisfaction, and immediate gratification. The world does not like to wait. This is known as impatience. It is why people become so angry so quickly. It explains road rage and massive credit card debt as people opt to enjoy now and pay never. The world even elevates this immediacy into a sort of virtue as anyone who hasn't done their thing in the acceptable time span is deemed a failure. For instance, we laugh at the sixty year old woman who decides to return to college to get her degree. Youth is deemed more valuable than age. Vigor and energy are better than wisdom and experience. Jam that foot on the gas pedal as hard as you can. Carpe diem! Seize the day by the cajones and MAKE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF! NOW!!

God does not seem to care about this sense of urgency and immediacy. Time for us is like the sands through the hourglass, and we feel as if it is just slipping away from us. The underlying belief behind this urgent sense is that we are going to miss something. Opportunities are slipping by never to be had again. But all of this is a doubt about God's providence. There are no missed opportunities with God. Nothing happens that God does not know about or allow to happen. Everything will happen in its proper place and time because God is in control. Whenever we lose our patience or become exasperated because things aren't happening fast enough or become anxious that we are missing our chance, we are showing that we do not believe in God. We may profess with our lips to be Christians, but we show by our actions that we are little better than atheists.

Impatience is the one extreme. Fatalism is the other extreme. This was the Stoic answer to things. Essentially, life is ruled by Fate, so you should stop caring. Fatalism is the surrender of everything not to God and His providence but to apathy. The Buddhist and Eastern traditions are similar in their cyclical view of history. Existence is a big circle put on endless repeat. Nietzsche talked about "eternal recurrence." Existence in an infinite universe eventually turns into a series of repetitions. You don't ever having to worry about missing anything because it will come around again, and nothing really changes.

The Christian view of time is linear. The world had a beginning, and it will have an end. That time line is a long one. Change does happen, but it takes longer than you think. Usually, this is just a little bit longer than our patience. For the world, there are only two times that exist. The first is called NOW. The second is called NEVER. People either want it now, or they throw up their hands and stop caring as they resign themselves to Stoic fatalism and indifference. This infantile response is produced by the fact that people do not want to wait. But it is clear from the Bible and from history that God does want us to wait. He seems to delight in it for some reason, and I think it has something to do with changing us.

Christian patience is the midpoint between these two extremes of now or never. We are not to be impatient nor fatalistic. We are to put our trust in the Lord and wait on Him. This is incredibly hard. Basically, it is to want something very much but to wait for it to happen. This goes against the grain of our human nature. Abraham and Sarah lost patience, so they concocted Plan B involving the slave woman Hagar and the son she would bear for Abraham named Ishmael. When Plan A happened just as God promised, Sarah put Plan B out the door to go die in the desert.

The lesson from this story is that Plan B will be a failure and a regret. Fortunately for Hagar and Ishmael, God took care of them and included them in His plans. But Sarah wanted to force God's hand. Waiting is for losers, and Sarah was a go-getter. In hindsight, she looks rather foolish and shabby. This is what happens when you don't wait for the Lord.

This Plan B thinking takes the same form today in heresies like liberation theology which demands Marxist revolution instead of Christian patience when it comes to aiding the poor. Misguided priests have even taken up arms to become clerical Che Guevaras, and these renegade priests have all come to disgraceful and fruitless ends. Like Sarah, they aim to force God's hand. Similarly, there are those who call for an uprising in the Catholic Church to remedy all her faults not remembering how the last uprising turned out. Revolutions have a tendency to make things worse not better. Prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and acts of penance are for losers in the thinking of these people. They forget that Martin Luther was also zealous and had a good case to make, but his heresy and errors have produced the bitter harvest we still reap today. Those people would do best to learn from St. Ignatius of Loyola who brought about the real change through his obedience and patience. We would do well to learn to be radically obedient like Ignatius.

To be a Christian is to practice the discipline of waiting. God does everything in His time and place. This waiting is not a passive waiting as we should always be diligently praying, doing works of mercy, and tending to our jobs and families. Waiting is not idleness. Similarly, we should not become impatient trying to make things happen with our Plan B schemes. The discipline of waiting requires that we patiently endure for the time being while never losing hope that God will make it all work out in the end. All good things will come to those who wait upon the Lord.


How To Be Poor and Successful

No matter how much we may have reflected on all this, we should always be surprised when we think of the thirty years of obscurity which made up the greater part of Jesus' life among men. He lived in obscurity, but, for us, that period is full of light. It illuminates our days and fills them with meaning, for we are ordinary Christians who lead an ordinary life, just like millions of other people all over the world.

That was the way Jesus lived for thirty years, as “the son of the carpenter." There followed three years of public life, spent among the crowds. People were surprised: “Who is this?" they asked. “Where has he learned these things?" For he was just like them: he had shared the life of ordinary people. He was “the carpenter, the son of Mary." And he was God; he was achieving the redemption of mankind and “drawing all things to himself."

As with other events in his life, we should never contemplate Jesus' hidden years without feeling moved. We should realize that they are in themselves a call to shake off our selfishness and easy‑going ways.

There are lots of resources when it comes to the topic of success. There are quotations galore, books, seminars, infomercials, and snake oil salesmen that promise success with every product or tip. Then, there are those unsuccessful people who make pious platitudes about success being something other than what it really is, and we know it is just a cop out for them being failures. So, what is success? And how do you get it?

Success in the popular mindset is comprised of only two things. The first is having money and lots of it. The second is being in absolute tip top physical condition such that it results in you having six pack abs and looking very appealing to potential sex partners. You can be an absolute failure on everything else. You can be a triple divorcee. You can be a complete jerk. You can have your license revoked for DUI. You might be on your fifth stay in rehab. Your kids might be in prison. None of that matters. Success is being rich and good looking.

Getting rich is fairly easy. Try and become famous. It also helps if you have your own reality TV show. But this project can be hit or miss, so a surer route to riches would be to work as a rat in financial services. As for looking good, get a personal trainer and some cosmetic surgery. Voila! You are successful.

Now, people may disagree with my analysis. I admit that you could probably be ugly and still be successful. But you can't be poor and successful. No matter how you look at it, success is equated with money. Fame, status, and other things are nice but only because they can be converted into cash. 

Vanilla Ice may have dubious skills as a hip hop MC with only one hit to his credit. But he has milked that into reality shows which keeps him famous which makes him rich. Plus, he looks like he is in pretty good shape. Ice is a success. You can be a total clown but all that matters is that cash and the abs.

If you are poor and obscure, then you are a failure in life. Being rich makes you a somebody. Being poor makes you a nobody. You can be anonymous, but as long as you are rich, you are still considered a success by just about everyone. Get those dollars! Nothing else matters.

Now, there are those who aren't successful and say that success is making a valuable contribution to your community. But you only say this to people who aren't rich. If you gave people a choice between winning the lottery or making a "valuable contribution," they are going to take the lottery winnings. This is because you can make an even more valuable contribution to the community when you are rich. So, let's not kid ourselves with this cop out. Once again, get those dollars!

Now, there are other people who think this chasing after dollars is futile and stupid. So, they decide not to make money but to sneer at it and insult it and those with the big bucks. These sneering types are known as punk rockers. Punk rockers don't need money. They don't even need guitars that stay in tune. They are above all of this. And they show their defiance in the way they look, act, dress, speak, and their aversion for all social convention involving hygiene and decorum.

The weird thing about punk rockers is that they end up making a lot of money trying not to make money. Their anti-success becomes success, and they spend a lot of time trying desperately to convince their loser fans that they are not "sell outs." Somehow, you can be rich and still keep your "integrity."

All of this sounds like nonsense, and it is. We know money is equated with success because you wouldn't be reading an essay with the oxymoronic title of  "How To Be Poor and Successful" without having your curiosity piqued. What is the big deal about money? It obviously isn't about the things that money buys since you can have just about anything you need and many things you would want on a regular income. Money is equated with success not because of what money buys but because of what money represents. Money is a proxy for love.

When you are rich, it usually says two things about you. You made a valuable contribution to the world, and the world rewarded you for it handsomely. Or, in the case of the lottery winner, you are rich which means that you could possibly make a valuable contribution to the world. Either way, money is a way of keeping score of your worth to others. This is why rich people matter while poor people are just human garbage. This is why all poor people are seen as a drain on society. This is why abortion is promoted among the lower classes and the third world. If this sounds utterly evil, it is.

The world has it wrong. They are looking at the world through the wrong end of the looking glass. We know this when someone laments that teachers are paid less than rappers or reality TV show stars. We also know this when we see some rich mobster flowing in wealth while also being on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Finally, Jesus was poor, but nobody has the courage to say that Jesus was a failure. The simple fact is that sometimes rewards are matched with a person's value, but this is almost accidental. More times than not, the Teslas of the world get bulldozed by the Edisons.

Aristotle got it right when he wrote, "Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them." Success is like this. It matters less that you are successful than that you deserve success. For instance, it is better to poor with a great work ethic than rich and lazy. If you ever want to eliminate a person's success, you merely have to point to how undeserving they are. What was considered success is merely seen for what it is--injustice. The next time you meet a rich person, ask them this question. What did you do to deserve being rich? In a short time period, you will see it is entirely possible to be filthy rich and a complete failure in life.

The most successful person that ever lived was Jesus Christ. He alone is deserving of all glory, honor, and praise. Yet, He never got His due. This is because the world is unjust. The greatest injustice of all time is that Jesus who deserved everything was treated so shabbily. He was betrayed, beaten, spat upon, and crucified. Why did this happen? It isn't because Jesus was a failure. It is because the world is a failure. To be somebody in this world is to be aligned perfectly with this failure. This is why virtually all rich, powerful, and famous people are utterly depraved, vain, petty, evil, and stupid. These people should not be lauded but pitied. And they definitely should not be envied. Jesus said it well when He said you can't serve both God and money.

The example of Christ has a way of flipping the world's economy on its head. But the more accurate analogy is that Jesus turns the telescope around and puts the correct lens to our eye. He did this when the rich young man came to Him seeking approval and reassurance, and Jesus sent him away distraught. The disciples may have envied the man briefly, but then they pitied him grateful that they weren't rich.

People want to become rich because this connotes value, worth, and respect. These are all proxies for what we know as dignity. Success is not popularity. It is dignity. For instance, a war hero is wounded and returns to his family with a disability and does not complain. He lives out the rest of his days trying to be an ordinary person dying with enough money to bury him. After his death, some vain actor makes millions of dollars playing this man in a movie about his life. Then, he blows the millions on hookers and blow. Who was the success here? Was it the man who lived his life in quiet dignity? Or, was it the man without dignity who got paid to pretend he was the man with dignity?

It doesn't take much to realize that it is very difficult to be rich and also keep your dignity. This is because the only dignified thing to do with all that money is to give it away again. Andrew Carnegie got it right when he said, "The man who dies rich, dies disgraced." Basically, to die rich is to die with having done less good than you had the capability to do. It is like a giant sin of omission. It would be like a fire extinguisher salesman watch someone burn to death without helping him.

This brings us to the ordinary life of Jesus. His extraordinary life was the period of the three years of public ministry culminating in His trial and crucifixion. The ordinary life of Jesus was the 30 years prior to this that He spent as a carpenter and a nobody tending to His mother and earning His living. People have been flabbergasted over this ordinary period for virtually 2000 years. Fabulous tales have been concocted to fill in the "gap" of those years, but the reality is very ordinary. Jesus was a simple person living a simple life. The reason people have a hard time with this is because they can't fathom why anyone would "waste" their years on such a humble existence. Why didn't Jesus become a somebody? Why wait? But the fact that we ask these questions should give us some indication.

Jesus gave us His life as an example to follow and that includes those quiet years. For most of us, those quiet years should be the ones that we strive to achieve. They were successful years because Jesus lived a life of dignity. I imagine that His carpentry was excellent, and He stood by His work. He was honest. He worked hard. He loved His mother. He enjoyed the company of His family and friends. His life was free from scandal, turmoil, and strife. This is a successful life.

Dignity comes from humility. People who seek riches are not humble. These people are "go-getters." They shamelessly promote themselves. They believe their own hype. They exude confidence founded upon self-delusion. They also tend to be obnoxious and pushy and demanding. Their tempers are short. Their wisdom is lacking. They are neither kind nor selfless. And they seem less about creating value so much as getting paid.

Humble people tend to be hardworking. They are also longsuffering exuding patience and fortitude. They leave everyone around them better instead of worse. People are fond of doing business with them because they provide value for the dollar. Their word means something. Typically, they are not rich, but they are not flat broke either. If they are broke, it is always a consequence of calamity instead of character defect. And when you meet them, you always feel they deserve more than what life has given them. Yet, these people do not complain.

The way to be poor and successful is to live in a way that is dignified and deserving. Be humble and work hard just like Jesus did in his ordinary life. Choose to be a nobody instead of a somebody. Will the world reward you with cash and honors? Probably not. But if it ever did, nobody could say that you didn't deserve them. The ironic thing is that truly successful people don't care. In Revelation 4:10, it says that they cast their crowns before the throne of Christ. I think saints never know that they are saints, but everyone else knows it. This is called being self forgetful. This is what humility is all about. You forget yourself. Give me the quiet dignity of the ordinary man over the folly of the superstar clown any day.


The Conversation Stopper

But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

My daily life involves contact with numerous Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and lapsed Catholics. They ask questions about my Catholic faith, and I answer them. I am versed in apologetics for the Catholic faith, and my experience as a Protestant and an atheist makes me uniquely knowledgeable about all of the arguments for and against the faith. For atheists, I deal mostly with the problem of evil. For Protestants, I have to debunk a lot of myths about worshipping Mary and statues or the Pope being the antichrist. I know the Bible, science, and church history. I will admit it. When it comes to the arguments, I am good at them. But the conversation always ends on the same issue.

"Your church is full of child molesting priests!!"

That is the last word. I do not know what to say to a line like that. I have no satisfying response to something like that. I can do like others and talk about guys like Jerry Sandusky or the many sex scandals among Protestants which are more numerous than in the Catholic Church. But none of that seems to make much difference to those who oppose the Catholic Church or to people like me that defend her. Child molestation and sexual abuse are heinous sins and crimes and are the most despicable in our society. They are so despicable that even hardened criminals behind bars will kill a child molester to somehow atone for their own sins. Yet, the Devil in all his craftiness has made the Catholic Church virtually synonymous with child rape.

Who is to blame for this scandal? The answer is obvious. The priests who sexually abused minors are to blame. But the greater blame rests on those bishops who knew of the abuse, tolerated it, and shielded these priests moving them around from parish to parish to help in the cover up of their nefarious deeds. This is grave sin, and our Lord has made clear in the verse I cited above that the punishment for their sins will be most severe. I would not want to be one of those people on the day of judgment.

When you want to beat a dog, any stick will do, but this sex abuse stick is the best stick ever. The licks from it are hard. It gets to the most sensitive parts and beats them to a pulp. I would rather die in a thousand horrific ways than ever cause offense to a child in this manner or even be accused of it. Yet, thanks to pervert priests and bastard bishops, I have to bear the shame of this scandal every time someone learns that I am a Catholic. Protestants have the luxury of changing their churches, changing the names of their churches, or what have you. The only difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics take the beating while the Protestants step out through the backdoor to the next church down the street. Catholics own it while Protestants disown it. As for atheists, child sex abuse seems to be the only atrocity they are unwilling to tolerate though they will defend abortion, euthanasia, forced sterilization, genocide, and just about any perverted sex act involving consenting adults though they would want the age of consent lowered to age 12. I can hear some atheists howling over this because a few think it should only be age 15.

The argument of all these people is the same. Because these evil priests were disobedient to the commands of Christ, that allows them to also be disobedient to the commands of Christ. So, they can spurn His church, His sacraments, His body, and His blood. They can live anyway they choose. And, when Judgment Day comes, they will cover their sins with the sins of these Judases citing the greater crime as permission for their lesser crimes. I know this because this is why the conversation stopper always comes at the end of the conversation. The moment people realize the truth they bring out the sex abuse scandal because this is all they have left. It is a conversation stopper because they want the conversation to stop. They don't want to hear anymore. This is why my response to this scandal is to stop talking.

I don't like talking. I don't think it makes any difference. I remember the wonderful Jennifer Fulwiler saying as much in an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN. You have to shut your mouth and just live it. When I do my examination of conscience at the end of the day, the vast majority of the things I regret are the words that come from my own mouth. I can't even call them sins because even the good and true things I say I regret because I feel that I have wasted my breath. This was the feeling I had when I left chastened and bruised from my attempt to convince a Protestant friend that we had it wrong about the Catholic Church. I had seen the light, and I wanted him to see it, too. He did not. He would not.

The faith is not a debate. I am a convert, so I know something about being on both sides of an issue. I was not argued into the faith. The big fear others had for me was that some bad Catholic would tick me off and send me back down the dark path of atheism. What they did not know was my extensive knowledge of just how bad Catholics could be from my one year at seminary and my extensive reading of Calvin and the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, bad popes, etc. As an atheist, the sex abuse scandal was a massive weapon in my arsenal. But as an atheist, I stopped using those arguments. I would point out to my atheist friends while I was an atheist that Stalin and Mao were atheists, so equating religion with genocide was not going to be a winning argument for us. As a Protestant, I knew that Catholics in England were hung, drawn, and quartered. As a Calvinist, I was always made to answer for the Salem Witch Trials. As a libertarian, I had to answer for the anarchist utopia of Somalia. We can chalk all this up to the ad hominem fallacy, but there is weight to these arguments. If what you believe is true, it should somehow make you a better person.

The conclusion that I came to was that no one had any saints. Camus asked famously in his work, The Plague, if an atheist can also be a saint. But The Plague is a work of fiction, and the answer is no. You can't be an atheist and be a saint. You also can't be a Protestant and be a saint. You can't belong to any philosophy, religion, or organization in the entire world and become a saint. This is true except for one place and one creed. The only place you will find saints is in the Roman Catholic Church. You will find plenty of sinners there along with bad priests and bad bishops and even some bad popes. But the most loving, humane, selfless, and sacrificial people that have ever lived have borne the name of Christ and partook of His body and blood at the altar rails of the One True Faith.

My confirmation saint was St. Joan of Arc, and I chose her for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was that she was condemned to death by the same church that would canonize her as a saint. Her story is one of betrayal by rat royalty and bad bishops. Despite this betrayal, she went to her death, burnt at the stake with the request that a crucifix be held up, so that she could gaze upon her savior as the flames consumed her. This failure by the bishops to recognize a saint but to choose to betray her is only outdone by the betrayal of Christ Himself by the religious leaders of His day. Other saints would suffer in similar ways at the hands of bad bishops.

There are bad people in the Catholic Church. In my diocese, there is a priest who has taken the reins of a parish and run it straight into the ground. This is because he is an arrogant bastard and a son of a bitch. I hear that he caused a sincere and sweet convert to leave and return to the Methodist Church. I watch as people who serve in that parish drop off and the website turn to garbage as no one even cares to update it anymore. The ironic thing is that this guy is from the tough school of things insisting on more reverence in the Mass and "doing things right." I can add to this guy all those other jerks who think the problem with the Catholic Church is the loss of the Latin Mass, priests facing the congregants during the consecration, and believers accepting the body of Christ in the hand instead of on the tongue. All the blame is put on Vatican II. But here's the thing. That sex abuse crisis predates Vatican II. They have cases going back to the fifities. Believing that what ails the Catholic Church can be remedied by a return to the Latin Mass is like a Baptist believing that the victorious Christian life depends entirely on abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.

Hosea 6:6 says, "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." This verse came to my mind as I sat in my pew for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was late and arrived just as the homily was beginning. I was mad because I was mean to one of the people who I blamed for making me late to this mass on a holy day of obligation. I was so consumed with meeting my obligation that I was a total jerk to someone I consider a friend. Stricken in conscience, I could not take the eucharist but abstained. I ended the Mass by texting my friend with an apology and asking for his forgiveness. I had sinned. The irony of my sin was that I committed it while fulfilling a religious obligation. It was a reminder to me of something I believe God had told me at an earlier time in my heart when I was received into the Catholic Church and took my confirmation.

Pope Benedict XVI was the pontiff during my RCIA, and I was very admiring of him as I still am for his orthodoxy, his renewal of the traditional rites with Summorum Pontificum, and his uncompromising stance as a cardinal prior to his election. But by the time I was done, Pope Francis was our new Holy Father, and his style and emphasis were quite different. I was not enthusiastic about him. I had my reservations about him right up to my confirmation. Then, I got it. It happened even as the chrism oil was still on my head. I had envisioned being a real lay leader in the church teaching classes, writing for websites and publications, and doing all sorts of rock and roll stuff. Being a convert, I could feel the zeal pushing me to being a firebrand and an uncompromising hard ass Catholic. Then, all of that passed from me in that confirmation. I had been all of those things as a Protestant and as an atheist. I was the most ardent guy in the room. The irony is that the most ardent guy would so easily abandon those paths.

They say in confirmation that you receive your gifts to be used in the Church and for building up the Body of Christ. I have always been a writer as I still am. I can also pass as a decent public speaker. One friend calls it the "gift of gab." But I know it now as the "curse of gab." The thing I learned from this new pope is that it matters less what you say and more what you do. I have a gift for words, and I can tell you that this gift is the one I value least. Talk is cheap. People are good at talking and writing. Very few are good at doing. The gift I took away from my confirmation is the desire to do the blue collar work that no one else wants to do. My best arguments come not from my words but from my actions.

The reason Pope Francis is the antidote to the sex abuse scandal is because the sex abuse scandal is merely the tip of the much larger problem of bad Catholics. The reason the sex abuse scandal is a conversation stopper is because Catholics need to shut up. The argument from the world is that Catholics are hypocrites. And what would Jesus say? He would agree with them because this is what He said about the scribes and Pharisees of His day who were short on mercy and long on sacrifice.

This is why I don't like talking. This is why I don't like having the conversations. It is because I feel acutely that my words don't match my actions. People ask me what the biggest difference is between Protestants and Catholics that I have observed, and I will tell you. Protestants have the biggest mouths. They are always flapping their gums. Protestants turned Catholic bring this into the Catholic Church with them which is how you can tell the converts from the cradle Catholics. The converts learn to tone it down. I know this because I have toned it down considerably. Zeal should be channeled into prayer and works of mercy instead of preaching.

This is the message of the epistle of James. I can quote from it, but it is better to just read the entire book. As I learned from Dale Ahlquist, the book of James is the most Catholic of the Catholic epistles because it gives you the quick and dirty on how to live as a Catholic. You can't read that book without feeling the sting of conscience and a burning in your soul. If I could sum up that letter in one statement, it would be this. Talk less and do more.

The Catholic Church needs saints. Scoundrels and hypocrites abound. But saints are so rare that it only takes one or two to make the difference. The simple fact is that we scandalize the Catholic Church everytime we fail to practice what we preach. Our words should be like captions on a photo. They should explain what you are seeing. But even without a caption, the picture still says a lot. This is what made the biggest impact on me as an atheist. It was meeting someone sincere in their Catholic faith and wanting what they had. I could give a thousand arguments for why Catholicism was wrong, but they were no match for a single good example. Now, I just want to be the good example for others. May God help me in this endeavor.


The Myth of Retirement

Retirement can be a great joy if you can figure out how to spend time without spending money.

1935 was a momentous year for retirement in the USA. This was the year that FDR signed the Social Security Act, and it changed old age for Americans. This is because retirement was virtually non-existent except among the aristocratic classes. Basically, you worked until the day you died which was usually around age 65. For those who had the misfortune to live beyond that, Social Security was a scheme to idle them in order to free up job spaces for the younger unemployed. The problem is that Social Security created an expectation for people, and they started living longer almost as a consequence of the desire to enjoy all that Social Security. Other problems emerged which I will detail in the remainder of this essay, but Social Security had the damaging effect of taking retirement from a rarity to becoming a virtual human right. People expect to retire and demand it. They also expect to retire at a comfortable level of income and lifestyle. This is the myth of retirement. The myth of retirement is that you can spend 20+ years in idleness without a diminished income or lifestyle.

This essay is basically a prose version of the hard data found on this webpage over at Statistic Brain. The average length of retirement is 18 years. You will need half a million dollars to have an annual income of $36,000 per year, but this assumes an annualized return of 6% with a 2% inflation erosion. The average savings of a 50-year-old is $43,797. Now, Social Security helps a bit, but the fact is that most people save too little, spend too much, and have unrealistic expectations about retirement. Social Security is also in trouble along with Medicare. Medical costs will wipe out most savings assuming that you have some. And as 2007 showed, an economic bust will have your old bones back working again. The idea that you can spend 20 years or more not working and not end up eating Alpo is not realistic.

For most people, retirement is not going to happen. For others, retirement will happen, but it will not be on terms they desire. Imagine a trailer in a mobile home park, days spent clipping coupons, and the highlight of your day being the milking of the senior citizens coffee benefit at McDonald's. I see this now among retired people who left the workforce on better terms with a robust bull market, a full pension, and Social Security/Medicare. Those terms will not be there for GenXers/Millenials. As for Boomers, they are already feeling the pinch, so they are opting to delay retirement because they like spending money and/or not eating Alpo. How did things get like this? This is because things were never like this.

Before Social Security, people worked until the day they died. They had large families, and they counted on their children to tend to them when their bodies gave out. Having many children spread the burden, and the shortened period of "retirement" was the year or so it took for the old timer to die from their infirmities usually being a form of black lung/mesothelioma/emphysema from working in hellish industrial environments or just sucking on the air in a smoke filled office. If retirement was longer, children liked having extended family to tend to their own children. All things considered, it was a good system which existed for thousands of years in many different countries. In some countries, these practices still continue today.

Social Security cut these familial bonds. When old people could get on the dole, the first thing they did was stop being nice to their kids. "Take care of your own brats!" they yelled. The next generation responded by having fewer kids of their own. This is because children eat up money that will be needed for retirement. This naturally eroded the base for Social Security as the Baby Boom turned into the Baby Bust. Then, those Boomers were even worse to their children pushing them to turn to student loans for college instead of seeing that their children had the same start in life that their Greatest Generation parents gave them. The generational conflict is now coming to a head as children tell their parents to enjoy eating Alpo as the children learn to get by on eating their own Alpo in their twenties and thirties. Those people now abstain from marrying and starting families altogether. Government social planners now look to Mexican immigrant families to plug the hole in Social Security.

If all of this sounds gloom-and-doomy, I am glad. The error here isn't in low savings or the Ponzi scheme of Social Security so much as the issue of retirement itself. Able bodied people should not retire. Social Security is just welfare for old folks, and government welfare in all forms has the nasty habit of destroying families. Women on food stamps like having kids out of wedlock. Similarly, government funded retirement makes parents nasty to their kids and kids nasty to their parents. And retirement would be defensible if these old people were sickly and unable to work. But Boomers are robust enjoying lengthened lifespans and doing crazy things like running marathons and climbing mountains and surfing. Yet, these people can't work a job?

The good news is that it has never been a better time to be old. Thanks to improved working conditions, better medicine, and knowledge about diet and exercise, people in retirement years are living longer and better than ever. I have this crazy idea that these people can keep working until age 70 or beyond. I know. This seems nuts.

I admit that there are some people who because of injury and disease are unable to work. I think these people deserve some form of assistance. But this is not called retirement but disability. And it doesn't always hit north of age 65. I know of a man who was clearly disabled with a blood disease in his fifties and was dead by 60. His fill in on his job was a 75-year-old robust man. I think Social Security should be abolished except as a disability program. It bothers me that people with injuries and disease should work to provide an income for others who are out hitting the beach and living the good life in their golden years.

I despise retirement. It is inimical to health and virtue. It destroys families. It makes people greedy and lazy. As a social program, those with a brain and a calculator can see that when there are more people in retirement than in the workforce, something is going to bust. The answer then will be a raise in the retirement age or forced euthanasia. If abortion was the answer to welfare moms, euthanasia will be the answer to welfare geezers. Forced exit is always the final solution to government problems.

On the individual level, I would tell a person expecting to retire to postpone it until it is unavoidable. In the meantime, live a healthy lifestyle, live simply, and keep working. Work is good for you. It's like exercise except they pay you to do it. Your body and brain might give out by age 80, but a sedentary ten years is easier to prepare for than a boring thirty years. As for me, my intention is to be carried out of my job in a bodybag. Retirement is for wimps.

On a family level, I would tell people to have more children and be nice to them. Help them to succeed in life and help them raise their children. See children as assets instead of liabilities. When you are old and full of years surrounded by your kids and grandkids who love you, you will feel more social security than any government check could ever provide. Remember, it doesn't matter if it is Social Security, pensions, or a portfolio of stocks and bonds. Your golden years will always depend on the next generation. The only thing Social Security enabled was for old folks to be nasty to their kids and stop having them. Unknown to them, they were pulling their razors across their own throats. I hear there are wonderful recipes for Alpo.


Vegan Apostasy

I was listening to my body to have eggs and dairy and that sort of stuff. . .

Only 2% of the population are vegan according to most of the stats I hear quoted. Then, I heard that 10-12% of the population were ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians. Is this true? I tend to think it is, but I am open to being corrected. What we can say is this. The plant based lifestyle is a difficult one for people to follow. recently had a video on the Kempner Rice Diet which was an early study on the effect of a plant based diet in treating disease. The interesting thing was that Dr. Kempner had a hard time getting his patients to stick with the diet, so he resorted to whipping them. I have had two friends who were interested in my plant based diet agree to my two week challenge to go meatless. They reported weight loss, high energy, and feeling great. Both returned to being meatheads. The lesson from all of this is that the vegan lifestyle will always be an unpopular one. People would rather die than stop eating meat, and that is exactly what they do.

The science is firmly on the vegan side. A low fat vegan diet is the healthiest way to eat. It prevents and even reverses heart disease. It cures Type 2 diabetes. It does wonders in treating cancer and even multiple sclerosis. If you could take all the benefits of the vegan diet and put it in pill form, it would be the greatest drug ever invented, and its inventor would be hailed as a savior of humanity. But it doesn't come in pill form but in the form of whole foods, starches, grains, fruits, and vegetables. The science is indisputable at this point. Study after study reaches the same conclusions. And if that weren't enough, I tell people to try it for themselves, and they can tell a positive difference in as little as three days. I have been vegan for over a year now, and I feel awesome. It is the best thing I have ever done for my health, and it has given me hope where I had resigned myself to getting diabetes and having a heart attack at age 50.

Would I ever go back to being a meathead? This is unlikely as the smell of meat nauseates me now. I love the smell of a Chinese restaurant but a steakhouse makes me want to retch. My brain has switched from associating that smell with food to associating it with what it is--roasted flesh. It's sort of like how firefighters don't want to eat pork cracklings. Dairy and eggs are also not a big deal for me as I was always a take it or leave it person on that. My only real slip is that I will allow myself a chocolate cake on my birthday which is made with eggs and butter. I am OK with this as famously vegan Dr. McDougall allows himself a few boiled eggs on Easter. At my worst, I am merely a vegetarian.

I don't find being vegan that onerous or hard, but I think this is because I developed a strategy when I started. I am a creature of habit, so I took the habits I had and modified them. I ate cereal every morning, so I switched out the milk for almond milk. Now, I eat oatmeal as I find it more filling and gives me more energy. Likewise, I stopped eating hamburgers for lunch and started packing my own lunch. Dessert got switched from ice cream and cake to fruit. I found that as long as it is sweet then I am satisfied. As for dinner, I do vegan burgers, pasta with vegetables, vegan pizza, and other modified menu items. Becoming vegan isn't a radical change but just a collection of slight changes. I have to remind people that they already eat a vegan diet. It is just buried under animal flesh, cheese, and eggs.

The social aspect of being vegan is hard because no one understands or cares about your diet. Restaurants don't care. Friends and family don't care. No one cares until you decide you don't want to hang out at Quaker Steak and Lube with them. Then, you are the offensive one, the radical, and the extremist trying to push your diet on them.

I am vegan for health reasons and not ethical reasons. I understand the people who find factory farming and animal cruelty to be despicable. I am not so understanding of people who refuse to swat mosquitoes. The difference between me and the ethical vegans is that I eat honey. Honey is great. As far as I know, it is healthy and better than sugar. And I don't give a damn about "bee cruelty." When a bee stings me, I swat the thing.

This brings us to the ex-vegan. Ethical vegans go nuts over these people even going so far as to start a shaming website where they posted names and personal info so that these people could be harassed for leaving veganism. I don't agree with this. It is stupid and ridiculous. For the ethical vegan, leaving veganism is a sort of religious apostasy. This is because they have elevated animal rights to a religion. I already have a religion, so I'm not going to turn my diet into a religion. I don't think it is a sin to eat meat. This is because Jesus ate meat and fish. Even if you love animals, you will still feed them animal flesh. The ethical vegan position is not a viable position especially when these people encourage harassment and violence against human beings. Plus, I could never understand how many of these same people are pro-choice on abortion. It is a sin to eat a chicken nugget, but it is quite fine to abort your unborn child. This is stupid. One of the many blessings of being Roman Catholic is that it gives you back your common sense.

I can understand the ex-vegan who succumbs to temptation and starts eating cheese and hot dogs again. I get it. People are weak. They give in to temptation. It happens. Maybe these people will return to being vegan when they get tired of gaining weight with each meal or having chronic intestinal issues and smelly gas. At least they know better. The vegan apostate is another creature entirely.

The vegan apostate is that ex-vegan who abandons that lifestyle in favor of becoming a meathead for claimed health reasons. Naturally, these health reasons are all anecdotal. They will claim that they did it for their body, and that eating steak "feels right." They may even buy into the snake oil of the paleo crowd. This is willful self-delusion. I have no sympathy for these people. It is one thing to know the truth and fail to live up to it. It is another thing to deny the truth and bring it down to your level. The vegan apostate is a person who shuts off his or her brain for the sake of their stomach.

The biggest vegan apostate I know is former president Bill Clinton. Clinton ate the Standard American Diet and suffered for it. He had bypass surgery on his heart. He was knocking on death's door. Then, he discovered Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and stepped back from the brink of death. His health improved dramatically. He lost weight. He felt great. He sang Esselstyn's praises. Now, he has rejected Esselstyn in favor of the paleo diet. What a fool. It's like a Roman Catholic who becomes Mormon because the Latter Day Saints have better business contacts.

The paleo diet is pure dietary heresy with virtually no scientific backing. It is all ad hoc stuff. I see it merely as a rebranding of the Atkins diet which was a disaster for Dr. Atkins as he died obese with clogged arteries. Vegans and paleos go at it all the time, and the vegans always win the debate. This is because scientific truth beats pseudoscience. But the paleo diet has something the vegan diet does not have. It is easy to stick to a paleo diet. Anything that tells you to stick with your bad habits is always going to be easier and more popular than something that tells you the truth.

Now, I am no vegan fundamentalist. If science shows otherwise, I will follow what it recommends. But, folks, the science is not on the side of the paleo crowd. I wish it was because I'd like to see people eat crap and still be healthy. The world would be a better place if this were true. Unfortunately, it isn't true. As Flannery O'Connor put it, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." In the case of diet, this is literally the truth.

It isn't the failure to show discipline that annoys me so much as the lying. I can't bash on someone for being weak because we are all weak. But it is especially evil when someone deludes themselves and others when they know better. The vegan apostate is one of those people because they know better. A big part of the reason I did not become vegan for many years was because of the misinformation these liars put out there. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes confused with the truth. There was so much conflicting information and advice out there that I had concluded that it was all crap and that people didn't know anything about nutrition. Then, I watched Forks Over Knives which cut through all of that crap with solid scientific truth and information. The movie is bold, unapologetic, and relentless. I was convinced, and I changed that week. Sometimes, the truth needs to be shouted a little louder than the lies.

I am very disappointed that former vegans like Bill Clinton and Anne Hathaway have chosen to turn from their healthy diets to paleo garbage. They contribute to the confusion that is out there and confirm people in their poor diet choices. Just be honest and say that you don't have the self-discipline to be vegan. But don't lie to yourself and to the world and say you did it for your health. You did it because you like to eat crap. Give me an honest sinner any day over a lying saint.


The Habit

I write to discover what I know.

Some people smoke. Others drink. Others chew their fingernails while others including myself can't get through a day without two or more cups of coffee. Everyone has their habits. Some are benign. Others are malignant. Then, there is my habit. My habit is writing. It consumes a large part of my leisure time, and it eats a gigantic chunk of my mental life. If given the time, I would write every single day. I don't have to make myself write. It irritates my insides in a way that I think the cigarette smoker always craves a hit of nicotine. I write to return to a state of normalcy. I write for relief. Writing is a habit just like any other. I just can't decide if this writing habit is malignant or benign.

I dream of not having to write. I think of how nice it would be to sleep in each morning instead of having this overwhelming need to tap plastic keys to make words emerge on a glowing screen. I consider the many hours I have spent pouring it all out. I have been doing this sort of thing for years going all the way back to childhood. At my age now, I consider it as time wasted and think of all the many things I could have accomplished in those hours at the keyboard. I would know at least one foreign language by now. I would be able to play a mean game of chess. I would be the fittest person I know. I would be rich. Instead, I am a failed writer who can't stop wasting what is left of his life producing words to add to the millions of words that already exist that nobody reads.

Why do I write? I would like to think that I write for the benefit of others, but that would be a self-delusion. There is no benefit in what is unread. We write so that others may read. What chef makes a meal to sit on a table and grow cold and then be thrown in the garbage? No, I am not going to fool myself into thinking that my writing serves some humanitarian purpose.

A more ludicrous proposition would be the idea that writing will make me rich. Somehow, the C-man will get his big break and people will pay top dollar for his words and/or the movie rights. But I have known that writing only makes writers poor from my earliest days with pen and paper. It always surprises people to learn that the authors of many bestsellers have to keep down a dayjob to make ends meet, and these are the successful writers. Some successful writers like Nassim Taleb actually lose money to write a bestseller since being a hedge fund manager is way more lucrative than putting words on paper and doing book tours. Writers don't do it for the money except for the really bad writers.

I write out of compulsion and habit. I write for the selfish purpose of relieving whatever it is that is inside of me. Flannery O'Connor got it right. I write to discover exactly what it is that I know. I don't really know something until I have put in on the page or the screen. I will go back and read things I have written, and I am astounded that I actually wrote those things. I don't really know where they come from. When I talk about the things I write about, my conversations sound like one disordered jamble of madness and incoherence. People give me that weird look that asks, "What the hell are you talking about?" I know that I come across to the people I meet as both intellectual and insane. It is only when it all turns into these words that I am able to take that swirl of ideas and words in my head and turn them into something meaningful and coherent. Writing an essay is like mining one's brain and taking the crude ore of the intellect and turning it into the shiny finished product of these words that you are reading now. I confess that I don't know what I know until I have turned them into these written words.

It is said that Flannery O'Connor continued writing even on her deathbed. They found written pages under her pillow even when ordered by her doctor to cease and desist. I can identify with that. It is like the smoker in the hospital who sneaks a puff in the bathroom when the nurses aren't around. Writers are habitual creatures. It is no coincidence that so many of them are smokers and drinkers. Flannery O'Connor is my favorite writer because she seemed free of those vices. For her, daily mass and her Roman Catholic faith kept her from the sad but stereotypical excesses of other writers. Of all the writers I have admired, she strikes me as the most normal, the most well-adjusted, and the sanest. The irony comes from the fact that her work is the most bizarre stuff you will ever read.

I have tried to quit this writing habit, but I must now admit that I am unable to pull it off. I am good at quitting. I can quit just about anything. I walked off a job once just because I was tired of the madness of the place and wanted to keep my sanity and my dignity. I quit eating meat. I quit being an atheist. I can quit just about anything except being a writer. I only look at the cost of my writing and the many possible things I could have done with the time and energy. But I should face the reality. My writing is what kept me from all those other destructive things like alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide that plagued all those other writers like Hemingway and Woolf. Writers are messed up people. They write in order to not do something worse. I confess that I am one of those messed up people. My faith in God makes me whole again, but it was the writing that kept me alive when I refused to believe in Him.

I would really like to quit this habit of mine, but I just can't seem to do it. I know that I don't write for others but for myself, and there is a guilt in that. It is a selfish thing. But writing isn't like playing golf, hunting deer, or going fishing leaving families widowed and orphaned every Saturday. Writing is done for me, but it makes me a better person. Writing is more like prayer, going to Confession, or taking exercise. Writing fixes what is in the mind. It purges and purifies. Writing is not self-indulgence. It is too laborious and painful to be indulgent. Writing is willed suffering and release. It takes madness and turns it into sanity. It brings order from the chaos.

I don't know where I go from here. My intention was to quit this writing thing once and for all. But now, I know that my intention should be to quit kidding myself that I am ever going to quit writing. I am going to write until the day I die. It will cost me as it already has. But that cost is less expensive than the alternative. God made me this way. It was His good pleasure to put this compulsion and need in me. I really wish I knew the reason why He made me this way. But I don't know. I just know that I have to keep doing this.


Stop Watching Sports

Sport must be amateur or it is not sport. Sports played professionally are entertainment.

One of my favorite basketball players of all time is Dennis Rodman. I liked Rodman because he made a mockery of basketball. Now, let's not make Mr. Rodman the scapegoat here because I think all professional athletes make a mockery of their respective sports. What I appreciate about Rodman is that he mocked the sport flagrantly and without apology. Rodman was not always as flamboyant as he is today. His NBA career started with the Detroit Pistons where he was a dedicated player who put heart and soul into the game and earned the nickname "The Worm." But his time with the Pistons ended in personal crisis as the team was broken up after their championship runs. When Rodman was traded to the Spurs, the Dennis we know today emerged. What made this change in this low key role player? Rodman embraced the fact that basketball was entertainment. He wasn't there to play ball. He was there to put on a show.

Rodman made a statement about professional sports that is lost today. Sports in which the athletes are paid are inherently corrupt. No professional sports star can ever be a hero. Because millions are riding on an athlete's performance, sports as a whole has turned to performance enhancing drugs to ensure that the show is performed to the exaggerated expectations of the viewing audience. People debate how prevalent PEDs are in various sports, and they point to the fact that so many athletes do not test positive on random drug tests. But as the career of Lance Armstrong proves, you can survive an entire decade of cheating without getting busted. Lance was make believe. Part of the reason he was able to get away with it is because people wanted to believe in him. Another part of the reason was that those in charge of the sport of cycling wanted to believe, too. Lance was big money. But once the checks were cashed, Armstrong could be disgraced. The sad thing is that it is a sure bet that all professional cyclists are on some sort of PED.

Fans of sports wring their hands about the situation. Should PEDs be allowed? If not, how do you catch the cheaters? And, how will you ever clean up sports? The answer to these questions is an easy one. You don't need fancy tests to detect steroids and EPO. If there is money in the sport, there are performance enhancing drugs. This is professional football. This is baseball. This is track and field. This is the Olympics. If money is to be made from prize purses, salaries, and endorsements, there will be cheating to get it. Cleaning up sports is easy. Remove the money from those sports. When this happens, steroids and EPO will vanish.

This crazy idea of removing money from sports is called "amateurism." Back in the day, people from the upper classes participated in sports without financial remuneration. They did it for fun or what have you. Golf and tennis spring to mind. Then, colleges and universities got in on it and maintain the outward dedication to amatuerism to this day even if it is a sham. But then, people started to see the potential for profit because these sports were great entertainment. So, professional sports were born. Gambling was the first corruption followed by performance enhancing drugs. Professional boxing is a complete joke which no one watches today because of its corruption. Other sports like professional football, hockey, and MMA resemble human chicken fights. Cheating is so bad now that people take it as a given that their favorite athlete is on the juice.

When sports become professional, they become corrupt. Anyone who participates in these sports is corrupted by association with these sports. I will go further. Any athlete who accepts money for being an athlete is corrupted. That last statement is a showstopper. Now, we do not hesitate to say that a woman who has sex for money is a prostitute. Well, an athlete who performs for money is also a prostitute. This is because they are doing it for something other than love. And when you, the fan of professional sports, watch your games on television, you are watching athletic pornography. You are not watching human beings performing at the height of their virtues but merely watching people abusing their bodies to make a dollar.

Some will make the argument that the paid actor or the paid musician is no different than the paid athlete, but they do not see the error in their thinking. The paid actor is making believe. The paid actor is paid to entertain. The same is true of the paid musician. For the creative artist, integrity has more to do with selling some additional product like branded vodka or iJunk from Apple. But that is the subject for another essay. I can say that I am on safe ground when I make the claim that people expect their athletes to be more than just mere entertainers. If they didn't, professional wrestling would be more widely watched than professional football. Boxing fans wouldn't be so upset over the numerous fixed fights that have turned boxing into professional wrestling. Sports fans wouldn't care that a baseball game was thrown to help gamblers make a huge profit. But sports is entertainment which is why sports fans are either gullible dupes or jaded cynics.

People ask me why I gave up watching sports, and I tell them that if I am going to watch make believe I will just rent a movie. My advice to people is to stop watching sports. Give them up. Take back your time you are wasting watching bad entertainment. Watch a movie and play sports instead. A sport should be something you do and not something you watch. It could be hiking, bowling, golf, running road races, or playing hoops in the driveway with your kids. Be your own hero for a change. This is the essence of amateurism. And if you are good at a sport, enjoy it at the highest unpaid level possible. This would be collegiate intramural sports because even college sports have been tainted by professionalism. Or, you could just bowl in the local league. You will have fun and probably get in shape.

If it is amateur, it will be clean. If it is professional, it will be dirty. Just don't try and fool yourself into thinking that professional is clean. It isn't. Professional sports are entertainment. Rodman knew it and elevated his game into a circus. He put on a good show because that's what fans want. They want the win, and they want the lies to be true. A professional athlete is a professional liar. A fan of professional sports is a dupe. It will always be this way.


The Cowardice of the Minimalist Aesthetic

I will not subscribe to the argument that ornament increases the pleasure of the life of a cultivated person, or the argument which covers itself with the words: “But if the ornament is beautiful! ...” To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horserider, a piece which is covered over and over with decoration. The man of the fifteenth century would not understand me. But modern people will. The supporter of ornament believes that the urge for simplicity is equivalent to self-denial. No, dear professor from the College of Applied Arts, I am not denying myself! To me, it tastes better this way.
Ornament and Crime

There is a show on HGTV where a couple flips houses for a living. They take old houses in states of decay and ruin and remodel them to sell for a profit. Naturally, the remodel of an old home into a newer home requires aesthetic judgments, and those judgments tend to be on the safe side. Walls are always painted white. New appliances tend to be gray stainless steel. Wallpaper is a no-no. The aim of these aesthetic choices isn't to make a home the most beautiful it can be but to give the least offense to the prospective buyer. When buyers look at a home, they tend to complain of a "dated" look and a preference for a "modern" look. But what is modern? And when did this become an aesthetic? And why does it matter?

The stupidity of minimalism came to a head for me when Apple decided to produce an iPhone in white. Stop the presses! A white iPhone?! What boldness!! What courage! Now, you could express yourself in either black or white. It seems people forgot the existence of those candy colored Macbooks.

Apple used to make fun products before they started making cold gray boxes. They brought back color for their iPods when they stopped selling so well. But you're never going to see a woodgrain Apple product. Anything regarding personalization and expression are relegated to after market accessories for your Apple products. People don't like the minimalist aesthetic. They have an insatiable need to decorate and personalize everything they own. This impulse seems hardwired in the psyche of the human being. Even cave men were interior decorators.

The modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was miffed when residents of his minimalist Lake Shore Apartments hung curtains in the windows. This variety could not be tolerated. The chief virtue in minimalist design is uniformity. The expression of humanity and individualism is forbidden. Variety is the enemy. Ornament is a crime.

The minimalist aesthetic is an anti-human aesthetic. It is a hatred of humanity and individuality. Adolf Loos expressed this clearly in his landmark essay, "Ornament and Crime." The common man loves ornament and variety. The modern man loves the absence of these things. The modern man wants smooth lines and the absence of decoration. His color palette gets reduced to white, black, and gray. The modern man wishes for the timeless quality that is achieved when all ornament and decoration are removed. The minimalist aesthetic is never dated. It is always new.

Loos would make the argument that this sort of minimalism was more productive. By eliminating ornament, the production of utilitarian objects would take less time to build or make and could be offered at a reduced price. The argument seems to make sense from a purely rational viewpoint except that minimalist objects devoid of ornament almost always cost more than those with decoration. In addition, industrial designers like Apple's Jonathan Ive will spend considerable time and resources to achieve the perfection of drab in their products. Who knew that boring required so much effort? As Mokokoma Mokhonoana put it, "A minimalist does not charge you for what he did. He charges you for what he did not do." Basically, minimalist designers are like the tailors of the emperor's new clothes. They make nothing and get paid and celebrated for it. But minimalism does not come cheap. A Barcelona chair will cost you more than a caned rocking chair that took many hours to complete.

Another argument that Loos made was that the absence of ornament would remove the dated aspect of things making them timeless and never needing replacement except for wear and tear. Minimalism is immune to fashion. An aesthetic like Art Nouveau is married to a time and place. The minimalist aesthetic is wedded to nothing. Of course, this argument is also nonsense as people who buy minimalist objects are always upgrading to something simpler and more refined. The iPhone is already on its sixth incarnation, and Apple fans will no doubt eat up the iPhone 7 which will have only a minimal difference in design.

So, if Loos's original arguments don't hold water, why do people opt for this minimalist aesthetic? The answer goes back to our house flipping couple. The minimalist option is the safe option. It is the least offensive of aesthetics, so it should have the broadest appeal. No one ever complains that their toilet paper is too white. It is better to be boring than to be ugly.

Any aesthetic commits you to a worldview. When you decorate something, you are making a choice. Choices are dictated by values, and values are determined by worldviews. This is why the punk rocker looks decidedly different in contrast to the suited businessman. The workman chooses his tools according to function and utility instead of color. The homemaker chooses her decor to appeal to the desires for comfort and warmth. The rich man will choose things that highlight his wealth like a gold watch while the poor man will choose something that lasts long or costs little. Minimalism attempts to be valueless. The same iPhone the poor man carries is the same as the rich man. It is one size fits all. There is no worldview represented by minimalism. It is a blank, a void, a zero.

When minimalist aesthetics become problematic is when its austere emptiness becomes equated with beauty and perfection. It's like believing the best book ever written is a notebook with blank pages, and writing in those notebooks will make them worthless. Blank space is a good place to start, but minimalism makes it the finish. There is no room for humanity in the minimalist aesthetic. The human becomes a blight on the platonic perfection. You can tell in Mies van der Rohe's madness that he would have preferred that no humans actually live in his structures. The problem is that people rarely pay architects to make buildings with no function. When they do, lawsuits happen.

Who does the minimalist fear? The minimalist fears the critic both now and in the future. Like the unprofitable servant who buried his talent in the ground out of fear, the minimalist refuses to gamble by making a commitment to a choice of values. The minimalist refuses to convey beauty but prefers the blank page and the blank canvas. Maybe someone else will put something in that blank space, but the responsibility will be all theirs. Minimalism is creation done by the CYA method.

Emptiness is not beauty. Austerity is not functional. Minimalism is not courageous. Art and design always requires a commitment to something, and minimalism is the refusal to make the commitment. As one minimalist put it, "What you see is what you see." Any minimalist who disagrees with this assessment will have moved away from their minimalism in their disagreement. Minimalism is cowardice. It is a retreat to a neutral zone of nothing. The result is a lot of cold looking buildings people don't mind seeing torn down and a lot of timeless products nobody ends up caring much about.