Charlie's Blog: 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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

Take the 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.


How To Prevent Mass Shootings

Do you know what punishments I've endured for my crimes, my sins? None. I am proof of the absurdity of men's most treasured abstractions. A just universe wouldn't tolerate my existence.

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman went to the top of the tower at the University of Texas at Austin and proceeded to shoot people from his perch with a rifle. He killed 14 people and wounded 32 before police were able to gun him down. Whitman's story is important to remember because it is the first incident of what we know today as a mass shooting. The incident would have far reaching impact from law enforcement practices to debates about the causes of these incidents and how to prevent them. The most notable impact was the creation of the SWAT team that is now a permanent feature of law enforcement divisions.

Why did Whitman do it? There are many theories with the most popular one being that a brain tumor discovered during an autopsy was what drove Whitman to uncontrollably perform a well thought out and prepared ritual of mayhem. Others may point to his abusive father, Whitman's abuse of drugs, his frustrated career in the Marines, his parent's separation, and on and on. Whitman wrote in his suicide note:
I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.
Whitman requested that he have an autopsy done on his body.  But the clincher for me is when Whitman writes, ". . .I do not consider this world worth living in." This was Whitman's justification for killing both his religiously devout mother and his darling wife. He killed them as painlessly as he could manage before climbing the tower and committing mass murder.

Many thinkers, politicians, and pundits have opined about the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. Generally, the opinion about what should be done falls into two categories. One group says that we should control or ban all firearms or put restrictions on who can purchase them. The problem with this prohibition thinking is that it will probably be as effective as the prohibitions on alcohol and drugs have been. The other group pushes for more responsible gun ownership, yet they fail to explain why the good guys with guns are never around when you need them leaving the cops to hopelessly defend people's lives when it is obvious they can't be everywhere at once. But this debate overlooks the fundamental cause of all mass shootings. Mass shooters are fundamentally suicidal.

Suicide rates are at a 25 year high. Suicide kills more military members than war. In 2010, suicide passed car accidents as a cause of fatality. The suicide rate rises and falls depending on various factors such as the economy or family crisis. It is doubtful that it can ever be eradicated. But no one ever talks about mass shootings as acts of suicide of a high and aggravated nature. The debate is overwhelmingly about guns when the real debate is about an existential crisis.

Charles Whitman did not kill those people because of a brain tumor. The Columbine killers did not kill their victims because of Marilyn Manson CDs. The reason these people acted out is because they concluded that life was no longer worth living. The trigger event may have been nothing more than a bad mark on a school assignment. Yes, it really can be that stupid. So, the anger of the fundamental injustice of life combines with a feeling of futility, and the mass shooter decides that he (always he) is going to assert some sort of control over a life that has screwed him over. This is usually a destructive act where other people die to pay for the injustices of life. The killer may subscribe to various theories and beliefs to "justify" himself whether it is the nutty environmentalism of the Unabomber, the racial hatred of Dylann Roof, the "pro-life" stance of people who attack abortion clinics, or radical Islam. None of these philosophies are relevant to the issue. They are merely distractions from the fundamental motives of these killers.

Suicide stems from depression, and depression is simply anger without enthusiasm. The anger has no outlet, so it turns inward consuming the person's soul. By unleashing the anger out into the world, these killers find relief for their souls. We have to get to this core of anger. Why are people so angry? The answer should be obvious. These people are angry at God. But since God is in Heaven, this only leaves the victims of this world to pay the price these angry souls wish to inflict on the Almighty. For some people, self-destruction is the answer, and they pass away quietly and forgotten. Others don't want to go quietly, so they decide to take as many with them as they can.

Clearly, the rise of secularism bears a great deal of blame for the suicide epidemic. Since mass killings are an extension of suicide, we can say that the erosion of religious belief is responsible for the epidemic of violence. Not all atheists become mass killers, but all mass killers are fundamentally atheists. Even Charles Whitman expressed ambivalence about the the existence of an afterlife in his suicide note when he said that he hoped his mother would be in Heaven if it existed. As the American Journal of Psychiatry reported:
Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. No differences in the level of subjective and objective depression, hopelessness, or stressful life events were found. 
Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt
Western society especially the United States has become less religious. Let's be more precise. The USA has become less Christian. Religious affiliation has dwindled. One fifth of the American public now claim "none" as their religious affiliation. As for the rest, they are too ashamed to admit they don't attend services offered by the religion they have declared. For all intents and purposes, the USA is a nation of practical atheists. Whether these atheists are willing to admit it is beside the point. If you don't pray or go to church, you are an atheist.

I will sound like an Old Testament prophet at this point of the essay, but I don't care. This epidemic of mass shootings is simply the bitter harvest of generations of secular public school education, a media hostile to religion, and parents too sorry to give their children any moral or religious instruction. Without this religious sensibility, the masses are thrown into the existential wasteland of the past century that minds like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Camus grappled with. Those men at least had education and intelligence to fall on, but the masses are one great herd of imbecility having nothing more than popular entertainment to draw upon. They seek desperately for some answers to their existential despair and end up with a mix of a stupid ideology married to videogame violence. This impulse finds it fullest expression in radical Islam which now presents itself as the "answer."

The real answer for this crisis is the Christian religion. Atheism has no answers. You realize this when you ask yourself some fundamental questions. Why is life worth living? Why should I do right when I can just do wrong? Is anything really wrong? Since I will never have to answer for it, what is to prevent me from killing as many people as I can before taking my own life? The only answer the atheist can provide is that life is material and has no purpose. There is only pleasure, and then there is death. There is no right or wrong. There is no good or evil. You can see the impotence of these atheists when their only response to violent Islamic factions is to say, "Allah probably does not exist." Somehow, a purely scientific worldview doesn't cut it.

The way to prevent mass shootings is to return to a time when these things were rare. This was back before Whitman climbed that tower. In those days, such a brazen act shocked and horrified a nation. Now, I doubt we will get to the end of this week without hearing of another event like it. The reason the Whitman shooting in Texas was rare was because America still had a credible claim to being a Christian nation. You said prayers in public school and prayed before football games. Most people went to church, and it was a scandal if you didn't. Now, when these shootings happen, you get mockery concerning thoughts and prayers.

Somehow, religion is now the cause of the epidemic. Amazing. While liberals were using these tragedies to score political points, the conservatives were turning to God. This is what separates liberals from conservatives. Liberals are atheists. They mock God, and they mock all who believe in God. They are the ones who have done everything possible to remove God from the public sphere. Now, we have a godless and stupid generation that resorts to murder on a mass scale. Yet, when these atheists turn to a murderous religion like Islam, these same liberals decry the Islamophobia. Amazing. They are for anything so long as it isn't Christianity.

Christianity needs to make a comeback in America. God is the only fix for what ails this country, and I don't mean the god of Islam. When we people reclaim Christianity, they find a reason and purpose for living. They form a conscience. They pray instead of picking up a gun and shooting up a school or other public place. They become better people. Our government, our schools, our churches, and our families form what we become. Godless liberals have had it their way, and this is the result. We are a nation of homicidal maniacs and sex perverts masturbating to internet porn. God is not the joke. We are the joke.

I pray for this country. I remember hearing people from my younger days saying the exact things I am saying now and thinking they didn't know what they were talking about. I now know those fools were truly wise. But for some reason, no one can see the cause of the problem or its cure. They are blind. We have destroyed this nation, and somehow, it is God's fault.

It isn't God's fault. It is our fault. We have done this to ourselves. And God can and will fix this. He is the only one who can. God has not left us. We have left Him. We are now a godless culture of death and destruction. We need prayer and repentance.


The Positive Power of Defensive Pessimism

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.

People ask me if I am an optimist or a pessimist, and I have a hard time answering that question. This is because the answer depends on time horizons. In the long term of eternity, I am an optimist. In the short term of this temporal existence, I am a pessimist. In other words, I believe in heaven, but I think you have to go through hell to get there. A perfect world exists, but this world is not that perfect world.

People praise optimism because it makes you do things. Optimism makes you get out of the bed each morning with a zest for life and big plans and all that. Many of the great achievements in life have been accomplished by optimists too blinded by their positive thinking to ever contemplate failure. So, like the lucky winners of lotteries, they praise optimism because you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. But the lucky winner is merely bait for the trap for the vast horde of losers who will be heartbroken and at least one dollar poorer at the end of it.

The world needs lucky fools. I am all for these gamblers. I doubt we would have reached the moon if Neil Armstrong and the rest of those guys ever stopped to contemplate that they were more likely to die than succeed. But the same optimism that fueled the moon landing is also the same optimism that makes people park their cash unquestioningly with a guy like Bernie Madoff. The problem with optimism is that while it makes you daring it also makes you stupid.

Pessimists have a firmer grip on reality. Pessimism makes you smarter. Pessimism is sobriety in a world of drunken optimism. The reality is that the world is fallen. Humanity is corrupted by original sin. You will always have to lock your car doors. Now, the worst does not always come to pass, but when it does, the pessimist is the only one prepared for it. This is because the pessimist saw it coming.

This foresight on the fallen nature of reality is what I think of when I hear the term "defensive pessimism." Defensive pessimism is a strategy for anticipating the worst and being prepared for it. For instance, if you keep bottled water and canned goods for the zombie apocalypse, you are a defensive pessimist. If you carry an umbrella even on a sunny day, you are a defensive pessimist.

Is there a downside to being a defensive pessimist? Yes, there is. It means never being a lottery winner. The upside is that you can spend your one dollar on a bag of chips and enjoy it. This is an important point to grasp, so don't let it slide by. The optimist lives a life of perpetual disappointment, but the pessimist is pleasantly surprised on a daily basis. The pessimist does take joy but in small things delivered on a regular basis. Pessimism leads to satisfaction. Pessimism makes things better. This is the paradox of pessimism.

I first discovered this paradox of pessimism with Ronald Reagan back in the eighties. People see Reagan as an optimist, but Reagan was a conservative which is a fundamentally pessimistic worldview. So, where did people get this idea that Ron was a sunny optimist? Well, that's simple. Reagan knew the liberalism of the sixties and the seventies would be a disaster, so he was the only one smiling when the rest of the country was disappointed. This is because optimism promises utopia and delivers hell. Pessimism preaches hell, and you find heaven when you avoid hell.

Now, you can't be a pessimist and also be an atheist. This is because a true atheist and a pessimist would be suicidal. The fact that some of these pessimistic atheists still keep drawing breath shows they must have some glimmer of hope in this world or at least the sneaking suspicion that the worst is yet to come in the afterlife they claim does not exist. The truly successful defensive pessimist accepts what the Bible teaches about fallen humanity, a world of misery, and the hope of Heaven and the beatific vision. This mix of hope and stark reality gives the defensive pessimist both a joyful heart and a hard realism at the same time. Life is a difficult road, but it is worth taking. You have to die to experience resurrection.

Good things come to those who suffer. The defensive pessimist knows this and accepts this. When the lights of optimism flicker out in the darkness of reality, it is then that you see the warm glow in the heart of the defensive pessimist. This is joy. This is the reassurance of knowing you are right. The defensive pessimist guards the most precious thing he has which is hope. Hope endures when it is based in reality. When hope is based on fantasy, it comes crashing down when reality hits. This is the foundation made of sand that comes from foolish optimism.

Be a defensive pessimist. Think the worst will come. And when it doesn't, you will have lost nothing but your delusions about life. This is the positive power of defensive pessimism. It is hope wedded to intelligence, prudence, and fortitude.

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable:
think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same
building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel 
might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was
really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become
pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.


Big Dictator

when asked if the world would be a better place if Hussein and Qaddafi were still in power.

I don't agree with everything Donald Trump says, but I do agree with him that the world would be better if we let evil dictators remain in power. Naturally, this statement demands a hefty amount of qualification, so here it is.

Saddam Hussein and Moamar Qaddafi were evil men. This cannot be disputed. They were terrible leaders who committed atrocities on the people they governed. They were nothing less than criminals. So, why allow men like this to remain in power? We should allow it because they are preferrable to the alternative which is chaos and atrocity on a massive scale. This would be the abomination known as ISIS.

Government has one overarching and supreme purpose. This purpose is to restrain evil. Government establishes and preserves order. Here are the words of St. Paul,
 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Now, these words rub raw our democratic sensibilities. Power comes from the people and not from God. The problem is that democracy shows how utterly unfit the populace is to govern itself. Government is instituted by God for the good of the people. Now, this begs a question. What if the government is evil? My reply is to point out that St. Paul is expressly pointing to the imperial government of Rome. This is the same government that would chop off his head. This would be the emperor Nero who would crucify Christians and set their bodies aflame to illuminate the night. How do we reconcile what St. Paul writes with what governments do?

The key to understanding this is to come to terms with the concept of authority. God is authoritarian. He is the supreme ruler of the universe. We must all live under His authority. Now, we can do like Satan and rebel against this authority. But what happens? Satan brings chaos and hell. All revolutions result in this chaos, and the chaos is only cured when order returns. Government is the restraint on chaos.

When those in power abuse their power, they are not living and governing under the rule of God's authority. These are wicked servants, and God will deal with them severely in His time and place. But we are not supposed to compound the error with our rebellion. When government does right, we obey. When it does wrong, we resist. Resistance is not the same as revolution. Resistance is obeying God's higher authority over the lower authority.

Jesus acknowledges this authority when He tells Pilate that Pilate's authority was given to him by His Father in Heaven. David does not slay King Saul even when he has the chance. Likewise, Israel is commanded to be in obedience to their Babylonian conquerors. The Bible is very clear about this issue of governmental authority. It is also clear about ecclesiastical authority as all Christians are called to be in authority to the Roman Catholic Church which Christ established.

When people try to overthrow authority, they are practicing rebellion. All rebellion is ultimately against God. You can see the consequences as the rebellion leads to chaos and anarchy. The French Revolution gave us the Reign of Terror. The Russian Revolution ended up establishing communism which was more authoritarian than any czar. And the Protestant Rebellion has given us Joel Osteen. The end is worse than the beginning.

The depravity of a government is proportional to the depravity of the people. You can see this with the Roman Empire. Rome was a depraved empire with paganism, bloodshed, and the rest. But as it became more Christian, it became kinder. This is also why the American Revolution which began in Enlightenment thought ended up returning to its Christian sensibilities with the Constitution. Hamilton, Madison, and the others could see the post-war chaos coming, and they headed it off. As stated in The Federalist Papers, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Because of original sin, government will always be here.

The Middle East is run by depraved men because Muslims are a depraved people. They are so depraved that men like Hussein and Qaddafi were moderates in that part of the world. Taking them out without something to replace them merely takes the lid off of a cauldron of extreme violence, mayhem, and atrocity. The only remedy to this madness is severe and extreme leadership. If the Middle East were to become Christian, benign leadership could emerge. When Christianity wanes or becomes non-existence, extreme leadership emerges. Liberty is the product of a people's virtue. Tyranny is the product of people's vice and depravity. In short, people get the government they deserve. If you want liberty, be a Christian nation.

The policy of the Bush administration was to take out dictators like Saddam Hussein. The policy of the Obama adminstration has been a continuation of the Bush policy with its efforts against Qaddafi and now, Assad. But Obama compounds the error by creating a vacuum where "democracy" would emerge. This is laughable. Every place this policy has been pursued has been unmitigated disaster. The neocon foreign policy of Bush was incredibly stupid, but the neocons did admit they would have to stay and fill the vacuum for decades. Obama just leaves so something worse can emerge like the Islamic State. Now, late in the game, Obama has decided to stick around in Afghanistan.

The best policy is to not intervene. Whatever government exists in a place is probably the best that place can do. If a government or tyrant must be taken out, there should be a plan to fill that vacuum with another government. Order must always be the objective. Freedom comes from order. Order does not come freedom. That is a libertarian and progressive myth ignorant of the reality of human nature. Donald Trump is right. We have to tolerate the lesser evil for the sake of preventing the greater evil. I may vote for his lesser evil to help prevent the greater evil of Hillary Clinton if it comes to that.


The Choice

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Life is misery. Anyone who tells you differently is self-deluded or lying. Granted, there are some who fortune has blessed with a pleasant existence, but this pleasantness is nothing more than a mental escape from reality. At first, it begins with some shallow entertainment then moves to alcohol, drugs, and sex. Finally, there is the emptiness. We can understand why a starving orphan in the third world would conclude that life is misery, but it boggles the mind when some self-indulgent celebrity millionaire comes to the same conclusion and offs himself. When the fortunate in this world's goods conclude that life is not worth living, what does that say to the rest of us?

The reason life is so miserable for so many people is not the presence or absence of worldly goods or pleasures but the absence of God. Man truly does not live by bread alone. People need God. There is no substitute for God. The vain pursuit of worldly things is the futile quest in search of a substitute for God. The most vivid and potent example of this futility is the drug addict. Drugs are the best things this world offers because they bypass all the channels to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain. It's much easier to buy some crack than a mansion. Yet, we consider the addict to be the most miserable of creatures.

The least miserable of creatures is the saint. The saint has God. The saint loves God with the purest of loves. Yet, they suffer the most in this life. Often, this suffering may be self-inflicted through practices of mortification or simply comes as a consequence of refusing to play by the world's rules. To be a saint is to suffer in this world. Yet, despite this suffering, they are the only ones we can say are truly happy.

Life gives us a choice. Option A is to have all the world offers except God. Option B is to have God and suffer whatever this world throws at you. This choice is stark. It is the choice Christ presents to us when He tells us to take up our crosses. Some Protestants may try and soften this teaching or even deny it altogether with their prosperity heresies and being "too blessed to be stressed." But they are preaching a false gospel. St. Paul blasts this in 1 Corinthians 1:23 when he states bluntly that he and the others "preach Christ crucified." There is no Option C where you have both God and the good things in this world. Even those who are blessed in this life are called to give up those things.

This choice between God and the world may seem like a raw deal, but it isn't. Jesus clearly states in John 10:10, " The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." This abundant life seems like a cruel joke when you are suffering hardship and persecution. But the life of the world is not the life of the soul. When the soul is sad, no pleasure in the world can ever satisfy it. The end is death, and we witness this every time some poor soul opts for suicide. Conversely, when the soul is happy, no calamity can ever disturb this happiness. We witness this when martyrs choose Christ over life itself.

For most of us, the martyrdom is a smaller but daily choice to suffer. The suffering of Job was so acute because he did not understand why he suffered. But in the light of the cross, we have what Job lacked. We understand what Job did not. Job didn't get it. Yet, he still trusted in God. If Job could do it without understanding, we should be able to do it with understanding.

When I was a Protestant, I couldn't understand it. Faced with suffering, I lost my faith. My faith rested on the sand of Protestant heresy, and the winds and the rains came down on it. And my faith fell with a mighty crash. Protestants don't get suffering. I remember reading the work of evangelical author Philip Yancey on the issue of suffering. His answers were the most hollow thing I ever encountered in my Protestant days. The reason for this hollowness is because suffering has no value in Protestant theology. Yet, suffering is essential in Catholic theology. To suffer is to cease to be Protestant.

I escaped Protestantism by becoming atheist. Atheists will offer many arguments as to why there is no God, but they are all demolished until you are left with the last argument. Why does an omnipotent and benevolent God allow evil and suffering to exist? The reasoning goes that God is either deficient in goodness or power. Or, He is simply not there.  The atheist chooses atheism because he cannot abide the heresy of an impotent or evil God. This is why I became an atheist. I chose atheism because it was more real than Protestantism. But atheism is not reality.

Becoming Catholic was to encounter a reality more real than my stark atheism. When Marx calls religion the opiate of the masses, I have to laugh at the absurdity. This is certainly true of Protestantism but fails when it comes to Catholicism. I thought atheism was as real as it gets. But my introduction to Catholicism was an encounter with something that I can only describe as more real than real. This was Christ crucified.

Suffering was an essential component of Christianity. Heaven is for those who suffer. That suffering will either be here or in the fire of purgatory. Atheism produces numbness in your soul such that you feel nothing. Protestantism makes you sensitive to suffering but turns you into a wimp. Catholicism turns up the pain, but it gives you the grace to endure it. This is that abundant life Jesus was talking about.

There are prelates in the Catholic Church today who think that they need to soften the message a bit. They need to make it less stark and painful. They call this softening "mercy." God is merciful because He forgives. But the cross remains. We are to carry it. We have to choose to suffer. For the person with same sex attraction, this means celibacy. For the person in a bad marriage, this means fidelity. For the person in an illicit second marriage, this is repentance and abstinence. To cease suffering is to become Protestant. Any prelate who teaches this false mercy and preaches Christ not crucified is a Protestant in Catholic garb. They have rejected the cross and now teach others the same rejection.

To love Christ is to suffer in this world. But to not have Christ is to suffer in your soul. The soul is more important than the body. To be a living sacrifice is to choose the soul over the body. The choice is to either live in order to die or to die in order to live. I hate the world. There is not a day that goes by that I am not filled with horror and disgust at what this world offers. At its best, this life is simply empty. At its worst, life snuffs out everything except the light that comes from God's grace. The only way out of this life of misery is through God.

When you make the choice to carry your cross, you learn that its burden is light. That is the paradox of it all. This is why many martyrs could happily go to their deaths even cracking jokes along the way. I suspect that they consider the absurdity of being murdered by people who are themselves going to die. Legend has it that Pontius Pilate killed himself in Gaul during the reign of Caligula between 37-41 AD. He may have died under different circumstances. The one thing that is certain is that Pilate is dead. The people that kill us jettison us from a life that is a hell. I can handle being tossed out of Hell and thrown into Heaven. This is martyrdom.

You should feel comfort at this point in the essay. That is the beauty and the paradox of the cross. As painful as it is, it brings sweet relief to the soul. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That is life. The only places in this world that I find happiness and comfort are in the sanctuaries of my parish and my home. The rest of the world can go to Hell, and it will. I just don't care. I have had what the world offers, and it doesn't amount to anything. I have made my choice, and I hope that I have helped you make your choice.


The Nudge From Hudge and Gudge

In the United States both plates and portions have increased dramatically over time. A really good nudge would be to make them smaller.

Microsoft desperately wants you to adopt Windows 10 on your devices. This desperation has made them pre-load Windows 10 on 7 and 8 machines, and now, it seems some people have Windows 10 forced on their machines without them asking. This was called a "mistake" by Microsoft, but I know better. They are pushing. They are like a desperate boy pawing some scared girl in his car on a Saturday night where the boundary between foreplay and rape becomes blurred. First, they try beer to loosen her up. Then, they start yanking on clothes. They are nice at first only to make it your fault when you refuse, and they force you down and push you into "compliance." Microsoft's next strategy will be to unlitaerally and immediately end all support for all previous versions of Windows. I can feel the "nudge" coming. Somehow, in all of this, I still have choice as a consumer.

Progressives will point to this latest action by Microsoft as just another example of corporate evil, and I agree. It is evil. Yet, this same bullying has reached a zenith in the USA under the administration of Barack Obama. Thanks to Obamacare and all the sneaky crap in there, some hospital workers must now comply with a mandatory flu shot. Basically, you get a worthless flu shot with its attendant hazards, or you get fired. This wouldn't be so bad as the despotism is clear to see, but no one wants to be seen as the bad guy and the enemy of freedom. So, the employee who refuses the flu shot is said to be "voluntarily terminating" their employment. This lets the hospital off the hook on their unemployment compensation insurance. That last part is what changes the shove of aggression to the "nudge" of what Cass Sunstein calls libertarian paternalism.

Libertarian paternalism is simply an oxymoron. It is coercion cloaked in a choice architecture where you are free to choose the right thing or suffer the consequences. It is essentially the same deal the mugger offers you when he says, "Your money or your life." The sane world knows this as a false choice, but the bizarro world of big government and big business sees it as the freedom to choose. As long as one option is better or even slightly better than the other one, this coercion is justified. Choice becomes meaningless and merely a pyschological prop for people too stupid to think for themselves. Ultimately, freedom is not a thing in itself but a semantic concept in much the same way that the old school communists labeled their governments "people's republics" when they were neither a republic nor for the people.

Libertarian paternalism is simply a polite form of totalitarianism. The poster boy for this polite totalitarianism is none other than our current sitting president, Barack Obama. Essentially, passive aggression has been elevated to a policy. Since statecraft is soulcraft, this mindset has flowed out into the wider world such that corporations and organizations have become pushy in all things. People are reduced to a herd, but this is OK as long as the cattle cars aren't headed to Auschwitz.

Words mean things. This may seem tautological and elemental, yet the world keeps forgetting it. We have Orwell to thank for pointing out how regimes try to change the meaning of words and language. In this case, the word "freedom" has been bastardized and distorted beyond any resemblance to its original meaning. Freedom is simply the ability to act, think, and speak without coercion, hindrance, or restraint. Libertarian paternalism is the removal of freedom because it coerces.

This libertarian paternalism has taken hold primarily because of the thought, writings, and efforts of Cass Sunstein. Sunstein is a lawyer who joined forces with the economist, Richard Thaler, to write the book known as Nudge. This book is essentially the bastard offspring of a pairing between a donkey and a snake. It is such a ludicrous concept that you can't even imagine what the beast would look like. Yet, we can grasp it if we consider the problem that Thaler and Sunstein were trying to solve. How do you make people choose wisely without taking away their freedom? The obvious and common sense answer would be that you can't. The freedom to choose implies the freedom to choose poorly. You can't have it both ways. But in law and economics, fools try to draw square circles anyway.

Sunstein would be just another academic idiot except that he became a mentor to Barack Obama. Bad ideas become real nightmares when the government embraces them, and Obama embraced this one. And why has this bad idea been tolerated? It is because the nudge toward the preferred end is justified by that preferred end. The end justifies the means. Now, most intelligent and humane people reject this Machiavellian dictum since many atrocities and crimes against humanity have been justified under this logic. What Sunstein provided was a new language to restate an old evil. Essentially, the date rape will become more enjoyable if you scream less.

The corporate world has embraced this libertarian paternalism in regards to their employees demanding "compliance" with a myriad of Byzantine rules and policies with many in conflict with others. As one manager told me once, "I don't fire people. They fire themselves." Now, these same evil idiots are extending this bizarro thinking to their customers. Basically, they want to churn their customer base for more sales by building choice architectures that nudge them into coughing up more dough. They can't make you buy the new product, but they can make it where you can't use the old product anymore. Durable goods become bread and milk.

For Hudge and Gudge, choice is the enemy. They know they can't beat you into compliance without being evil or trick you into compliance because you have gotten smart. So, they try a form of Jedi mind trick to convince you that you want they have. It's like a mugger begging you to not bludgeon yourself to death with his baseball bat. Ultimately, the only freedom they can't take away from you is the freedom to die. Choice architecture is not for you but for your overlords to overcome their own cognitive dissonance produced by their naked aggression and evil. As conscience becomes blunted, the evil will increase, and society as we know it will become politely nudged into a living hell.


Minimize and Maximize

Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.

It has been awhile since I have written about minimalism. I don't consider myself a minimalist anymore though I do pursue a brand of simplicity that I label as "voluntary poverty." The difference between minimalism and voluntary poverty is the same as the difference between foolishness and common sense. This essay is about common sense.

My wife and I have a running joke. We say to each other at various moments to "go wash your bowl." This comes from the Zen Habits blog and its creator, Leo Babauta. Now, I like Leo, but my wife thinks he is just a bum with a blog. This is why the "wash your bowl" thing is so funny to us because it is the sort of thing you would hear from someone who doesn't have to work for a living. You have to admit that life is pretty sweet when all you have to do to earn a living is barely write a blog and take a picture of your iMac with your new iPhone. If this is making you angry, go wash your bowl.

The reason I like Leo is that his one trick pony of simplifying is still a pretty good trick. People should simplify their lives as much as possible. It reduces stress. It reduces clutter. It helps the environment. It helps you become humbler. It saves money. There is much to recommend for living a minimalist lifestyle. The problem is when minimalism becomes the end instead of the means to an end.

The problem with minimalism hits you square in the face the moment you actually achieve a minimalist state of being. Once you have eliminated every last thing you can live without, you realize that minimalism is boring and empty. This is not living.

When washing your bowl becomes living death, the temptation is to return to the McMansion lifestyle of maximalism and the acquisition of material things. This is what 90% of the rest of society is doing or wishing they could do. The sad thing is that this full life is as empty as washing your bowl.

If satisfaction is not found at the extremes, you might conclude that it must be in the middle of those extremes. You think Aristotle might have it right with that Golden Mean thing. Perhaps that Buddhist middle way is the ticket. So, you reduce your clutter by half, and your life is only half as boring and empty. Balance offers some hope of having the best of both worlds with none of the downsides, but it never works out that way.

I prefer a path that I call the Way of Syzygy. A syzygy is just a pair of opposites. For instance, a warm fire on a cold day would be a syzygy. A cold beer on a hot day is another syzygy. Pleasure and pain is a syzygy. Syzygies abound in life and nature. There is light and darkness. There is good and bad. There is life and death. There is Heaven and Hell.

Now, you might be tempted to think I have replaced a Zen mindset with a Taoist mindset, but I am no Taoist. I am a Catholic, and I think the syzygy is the essence of common sense though it seems paradoxical at first glance. A great example of a syzygy in the Catholic tradition is Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday, but it is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the pentitential season of Lent when you fast and abstain from selected treats as you work on your soul. Before this season begins, you feast because you need to get rid of all that rich food that will be spoiled by the end of Lent. It's also great fun. The city of New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebration that came from its intensely Catholic roots. Of course, fornication and drunken debauchery are not good things, but they do get the spirit right. Catholicism is a religion of feasts and fasts.

With minimalism, the fast has no accompanying feast. Life is reduced to sitting in an empty space washing your bowl. The point of having that bowl is to eventually put something in it like a nice vegan chili or tomato soup. You should wash your bowl, but you should also dirty that bowl with the same frequency.

The way of syzygy is to embrace two extremes or opposites simultaneously. For instance, you should work very hard six days out of the week and not hit a lick on the seventh day. You should combine gluttony with fastidiousness by eating a lot of food but only plant based food. You should be a miser with saving money but also charitable to the unfortunate.

With material things, you should be as minimalist as possible. With time, you should fill your days with as much activity as you can cram into a day. You probably wonder who lives like this, and you need only look at the monks, nuns, and friars who belong to religious orders. They live in poverty and simplicity, yet their lives are full of worship, service, study, work, prayer, and love. They are always busy. In short, you should minimize some things in order to maximize other things.

For ordinary people, I would tell you to declutter your home, reduce your wardrobe. and eliminate as many non-essential material items as possible. Then, get a bookshelf and fill that thing up. Get a dayplanner and fill every hour with something to do other than washing your bowl. I believe God gives people the things they need, but He also expects us to do things with the time we have. Empty your home but fill your time. The best way to fill your time is to give it away to others. Pour your heart out into the world, and it will come back to you full each time.

Embrace the extremes of minimalism and maximalism. It sounds difficult, but it isn't. It's not walking a tightrope while juggling chainsaws. This would be that ridiculous feat of "balance." Just go to the extremes, and it will work out fine for you. Then, you will conclude that this way of syzygy is wisdom and common sense. And you will be happier for it.