October 28, 2019

Last Days Pre-Nostalgia

There’s a weird and perverse predilection in me for this to be the “last days”, to be nearing the apocalypse, even to the point of not quite being disappointed if Pope Francis doubles down on his loathing of church conservatives by displaying the Amazonian idols in St. Peter’s (update: he did not).

Both Donald Trump and Pope Francis feel like canaries in the apocalyptic coal mine, both singing “the end is nigh!" to different tunes.

One wants to live in interesting times as long as they don’t affect us unduly, which is a fiction we can believe to a rather astonishing extent. This wicked tendency is disturbing but perhaps goes with the human nature interest in extremes: extreme holiness or extreme debauchery. But especially the latter -- as the Henley song goes, we all love dirty laundry.

But whether this be the last times or middle times or what have you it doesn’t lessen the obligation to be holy or to die to self, which I think is part of my attraction alas. The delay in the Second Coming is an act of the mercy of God for which we should all be grateful.

How a Bill Doesn't Become a Law

It’s interesting to me to consider the ever on-going ripple-down effects of the activist judiciary. Since the adoption of a “living Constitution” (which effectively kills the Constitution), the judicial branch has become rightfully paramount to the legislative.

After all, if you’re in the position where a branch of government sanctions the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents and could rewrite the Constitution on religious liberty and freedom of speech, well, that concentrates the mind.

So there’s a bill (the Secure Act) stuck in the Senate despite 97 out of a 100 senators in favor of it. It helps address the looming retirement crisis by increasing amount older workers can contribute to 401k, protecting religiously affiliated organizations, protecting private-sector pensions, increasing 401k coverage to part-time employees, etc…

But the problem is Senate floor time is scarce due to the focus on judges (the latter also arguably due to the feeling that this is the last hurrah for the GOP and its hold on judges, given the demographic winter it’s on the cusp of).

A way around it is if you’d have unanimous consent:
In short, if a bill enjoys unanimous consent among every Senator, it doesn’t require any floor time. At this juncture, it appears three GOP Senators are refusing to allow the bill’s passage under unanimous consent: Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Pat Toomey. Senator Cruz has concerns about certain 529 college savings plan provisions. Senator Lee has concerns about a provision that provides some relief for small community newspapers. And Senator Toomey has primarily voiced concerns about certain technical tax corrections that impacts retailers, which he wants to see addressed through floor debate and amendment.

October 22, 2019

Appalachia at Dusk

We recently took and trip and drove through atmospheric old West Virginia, old because of the mountains and old because poverty contracepts the artificiality of newness. Veiny fronds and ivy weave around eighty year old farm equipment and hundred year old barns. Everything has a look of having settled in permanently.

We pass a historical sign marking an antebellum house on 35 South, General McCellan’s house if I read it correctly at 60mph. This road is a corridor I’d like to tour, but hard to park on a turnpike and it’s mostly all private land. Plus I hear they have shotguns in those hollers. It all gives off a “City of New Orleans” tune vibe.

Unwoke: Napa Valley
Woke: Appalachian valley

Napa nah, Appalachia yah. The white lightning tour > the winery tour.

We pass by South Charleston Industrial Park, which looks like an old penitentiary. A “Beef Jerky Outlet” sign. Dunes of black coal look as soft as Hawaiian black sand beaches. Hoary old mountains wearing fog wreaths like the coronas of ancient Roman generals.

Deathly looking truck ramps scale mountain passes for when brakes fail. How do they get down from up there? I google and learn: it’s a tow and a fine.  In a half-doze I dream a rhyme of a fen populated by a Renaissance festival: a Ren Fen.

Gallery at highway speed:

October 08, 2019

Motivational Indeed

Rousing and deeply moving/unsettling talk by a speaker at our department meeting today. Funny, sad, rich and uncommonly wise. Have I changed or has the company? Both? Regardless, this speaker comes from an obviously core Christian bedrock and addressed the sore sticking point for humanity today: the inability to see the sanctity of life and the extraordinariness of the “ordinary” person.

At the same time it was unsettling because he was deeply uncompromising on mediocrity. I tend to be exceptionally mediocre (oxymoron alert!).

It’s funny that after treating work as a joke, a Dilbert cartoon, that now it’s morphed into a different thing. My experience is sometime between 2006 and 2009 executives simply stopped being obtuse and really changed in a radical way.  More common sense-oriented and more purpose-seeking. And definitely more employee-centric.

For example, needless meetings stopped happening and became far less boring, especially on the department level. It is inconceivable in the ‘90s we’d have as a meeting venue the Columbus Zoo, and mix business with pleasure.

It’s remarkable how the culture shifted. In the old days of the 90s, every other day you’d have some new top-down management fad you’d have to indulge, beginning with “ponc” which stood for “price of non-conformance” and which became a rallying cry among the troops, with all of us calling each other “ponc-ers”.

There was an atmosphere of mandatory overtime, pointing fingers, and pointless exercises - basically all the stuff that went into Dilbert’s popular cartoon. But it’s as if the execs started reading Dilbert and reacted to it - or maybe it’s when we became a private company. Execs even started using Gallop to measure employee satisfaction. That'd cray-cray in 1990.

I suspect some of it is also the influence of Silicon Valley, where the tech companies have a more laid-back style and emphasize employee comfort. You get more with honey than vinegar.

Or it’s simply that the millennials (who are now the majority of the work force and drive many a decision) are not motivated by hierarchy or “force” but by being treated like an adult with less overhead and supervision. It’s odd to see institutions change, but if you live long enough you see stuff.

The result is to feel a loyalty to the company in a new and more visceral way. It’s interesting to see the change in our department getting a speaker who would speak to average man instead of one who assumed that his audience were all executives chasing only the bottom line. He was human - no cyborg salesman - and spiritual, and it was a disconnect to hear this at work, if only because most of the time I’ve failed to see the spiritual side of work (which admittedly is idiotic). But it’s inconceivable someone so authentically spiritual in the ‘80s or ‘90s would've spoken. It was cutthroat world and the goal was to make money so as not to have layoffs.

The speaker, Kevin Brown, inadvertently gets to the sickness in capitalism which is to treat everything and everyone as transactional.

The money quote was: “Can you look in the mirror and see the faces of the people who helped you get to where you are?”. In other words, we look into the mirror and may either despair or be complacent and self-satisfied, but what we should see is that we are not autonomous units but reflections of all that came before us - the teachers, preachers, mentors, parents, strangers, the person who serves you now, etc. They all played a role in our becoming. There’s no such thing as a “self-made man”.

October 06, 2019

Brandt Jean Forgiving Amber Guyger

Interesting to see the varied responses to the video of the man forgiving the cop who killed his brother. It’s almost a Rorschach test.

Al Sharpton: “He’s not doing it for her. He’s doing it to grow as a Christian.”

Displays denial of God’s grace, shows Pelagianism and reduces humanity to being incapable of doing something for another without self-interest.  Also contradicts Scripture in pretending he can read another person’s heart.

Others on Twitter: “He did it because therapists teach us that you have to forgive in order to move on and not influence your health and well-being negatively.”

This is the therapeutic model that sees religion as a means to an end, that of the god of health, rather than the ultimate end in itself.

Others: “It’s Stockholm Syndrome where you sickly love your oppressor.”

The cynic’s choice, a conspiratorial mindset that sees human behavior only in political and psychological manipulation terms.

Others: “He’s a fool.”

Others lack the vision to see forgiveness as anything but weakness.

October 02, 2019

Down with Theistic Evolution

Much appreciate the link below on Orthodox theology on the Fall called "alterism". Taking their cues from early Church fathers other than Augustine, they mention an alternative to the belief that the world as currently configured, using evolution and death and survival of the fittest, is what God called "very good" in Genesis.: Orthodox theology alterism.

The gist of it is the Big Bang was not the beginning of creation per se but the result of human sin. Prelapsarian life wasn’t just the same as our life except we don’t die, but was similar to how we currently view resurrected life. Augustine influenced the Church (including Aquinas) by suggesting that everything was the same pre-Fall except man had better control of his unruly members (i.e. no lust or gluttony, etc..).

To say it’s a stretch to believe that prior life was radically different than our current life is no different than saying our future life in the new Heaven and new Earth will be radically different than our current one. Both require an element of faith. And since we know no more about our future life than our prelapsarian one it doesn’t seem heretical to think the early Church Fathers’ "alterism" fits far better than theistic evolution.