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Templeton Project: Utopian Dreams

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Utopian Dreams.”

See also:

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One must remember when in dialogue with unbelievers that a utopian longing may be present.  Christians believe the kingdom of God will become fully realized in the future. It is by God’s power, not by human strength, that all things promised come to fulfillment.

For five-hundred years in the West  a number of authors have described fulfillment by human power.  Thomas More enlisted the Greek derived word. Utopia (meaning nowhere), as the title of his book, describing an ideal society.  A host of books, published since then, have dwelt on the same subject.  Dystopian (referring to highly dysfunctional societies) novels, mostly written in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, e.g. 1984 and Brave New World, are available in abundance.  A novel, The Light in the Ruins (by yours truly), that has recently been published by Westbow Press, is an example of this type of writing.

Many secular-minded individuals, certainly not all of them, long and work for an ideal society in which all human beings flourish.  Communism is a utopian ideology that has produced dystopia.  One need only read about the modern history of Russian and China or the equally nightmare reality of Cambodia.  Utopia seems as far away as ever.

The problem with utopia is that the requirements of a perfect society do not at all match the nature of human beings who from a Christian perspective are sinners.  Imperfect beings cannot produce a perfect society, but are more likely to produce its opposite.

In the literature many different kinds of utopia have been described.  Different writers have different ideas about what is ideal. Utopian and dystopian novels are most often critiques of present reality.

The fact is that only God can bring about a perfect society under His reign of love.  You may have opportunities to share this perpective when in dialogue with unbelievers.

It is good to listen carefully to others to discover their aspirations and hopes about the future.  Few people live under a regime of pure nihilism that denies any sort of fulfillment in the future.  Human beings were not made to look into the face of nothingness and exclaim, “All is well.”  Christians can encourage the belief that God will fulfill our lives through the coming of the New Jerusalem where love conquers all.  It is a matter of faith, not sight.

MIchael G. Tavella

August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Video Games and Culture

Video games have become a fascinating place to see people recognize and deal with the fallout of postmodernity.

by Fr. Blake Britton, on January 29, 2019
It would be rather simple to write a series of articles discussing the positive and negative aspects of video games or commenting on the coolest graphics and best storylines. But such a set of articles could not genuinely be called “Catholic.” Something that is “Catholic” deliberates the whole of things, meaning it does not interpret reality as piecemeal or a set of facts in isolation. The Catholic thinker is someone who contemplates, discusses, and writes radically (from the Latin radix—“at the root of things”) seeing reality as it is in its entirety; seeing a thing as it fits within the entire framework of existence. Thus, before we begin a dialogue about specific video games, we must first situate the topic within the context of civilization as a whole. We must go to the origin of this phenomenon and why it has taken the world by storm. The question therefore is, “Why are video games?”

Video games are first and foremost an expression of contemporary culture. A brief study in etymology will clarify our point. The word “culture” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root kwelə meaning “to revolve,” “sojourn,” or “dwell.” This would later evolve into the Latin word incola, “someone who inhabits/dwells” in a certain area. The activities of an incola for the care of his or her sustenance is the verb colere, “to cultivate/till” the earth. Colere is also a word of self-awareness, a recognition of humanity’s capacity for agriculture, construction, and landscaping. The human being is not like other creatures; humans can interact and cooperate with the world around them in a drastic way. One has only to recall the great edifices of Giza, Athens, and Rome for proof.

Even amidst their achievements, however, ancient people were mindful of mystery. They sensed that at the deepest core of reality, the world is given to man, not made by him. It is something simultaneously for us to be subdued and beyond us to be wondered at. The ancients’ realization of this fact led to the development of the verb colere into the noun cultura (culture), denoting “an acknowledgment of” or “honoring of” those things which are essential to a community’s livelihood yet not under their immediate control. One could plant the seed at harvest time (colere), but ultimately, it was the cosmic work of Renenutet, Demeter, or Ceres to provide for its growth (cultura). By studying this etymological and historical relationship between the words colere (to cultivate) and cultura (cult/culture), we can come to a better appreciation of “culture” in the proper sense. Culture appropriately defined represents a claim about the human person’s role in the infrastructure of the world; it is the fruit of a seeing where one truly is in the grand scheme of things; it is the expression of a person’s understanding of reality and their relationship to the order of the universe.

In light of the above-written reflection, let us return to our original question, “Why are video games?” Everything in a civilization is directly influenced by culture: language, food, clothing, music, inventions, architecture, etc. Each of these is a tangible manifestation of a metaphysical presupposition. In other words, the stuff we say, how we say it, what we wear when we say it, and the design of the building we say it in…all these things come from the same place. They are the fruits of culture, the consequences of a philosophical judgment made by society about the essence of reality. Video games are no different. As a matter of fact, I see video games as an apex expression of our postmodern technological culture. More than any other media, video games respond to and affirm the keystone assertion of our civilization: reality is what I make of it.The following quote from Shigeru Miyamoto (the famous creator of MarioThe Legend of ZeldaStar Fox, F-ZeroDonkey Kong, and Pikmin) summarizes the point lucidly: “Players [Gamers] are artists who create their own reality within the game.”

As such, video games have become a fascinating place to see people recognize and deal with the fallout of postmodernity. The virtual world is a seemingly limitless medium in which gamers can experience, suffer, respond to, and escape the egoism, relativism, atheism, and mechanism of culture. I recall one person on YouTube who posted at the bottom of a video game soundtrack: “This Soundtrack, this Game…it feels like a therapy. Especially when you feel down it feels like every sound, every movement you make, everything you can see is there to heal your wounds, your soul…I really love it…” This comment is a perfect example of what we have been discussing.

On the one hand, video games make clear where our culture has failed, where we as a people have lost the language, skill, and discernment to engage the deepest and most vital facets of our being. On the other hand, video games are a rich mine in which to excavate the needs of our people so as to reintroduce basic human qualities and reignite the divine spark of a sedated society.

In the end, what we millennials and post-millennials want is the real world, not the artificial world. Our wanderings in the lands of Minecraft and the mountains of Skyrim are a crying out for reality, not a rejection of it. We long to witness the breath-taking beauty of creation, soar into the heights of authentic heroism and experience the life-giving dynamism of true freedom. “We want reality!” This is the rallying cry of our generation. Unfortunately, many of us are convinced that it no longer exists. So, we seek in the virtual world what we wish existed in the real world.  The world outside our suburban home or terraced row-house is a cold, uninviting place flanked on all sides by the ravenous beast of materialistic industrialism and the constant noise of the machine. We sympathize with Romano Guardini when he first saw the decrepit smokestack of a modern factory disrupting the flawless majesty of Lake Como, Italy. At that moment, he knew the “world of natural humanity, of nature in which humanity dwells, was perishing” (Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como). A world of money, flashing billboards, and high-rise corporations is nothing compared to the peaceful islands of Uncharted 4 or the awe-inspiring scenery of Final Fantasy X.

Besides, why should we participate in the “real world” when all it seems to offer is passing fads, superficial pleasures, and relativistic opinions? We would rather save a magical kingdom, run through endless leagues of virtual pristine forests, or complete a daring mission to gain XP for our avatars. At least then we can feel like we have purpose; we can feel like we have the opportunity to achieve greatness and see a world left better by our living in it.

Show us something beautiful. Prove to us that the world outside our game room can be as inspiring, challenging, and fulfilling as the world within our game consoles. If you can do that, then you will awaken the hearts of millions and summon a generation of men and women ready to complete the greatest quest of all time: the quest to holiness and sainthood in Jesus Christ.

The original article can be found here.

Unemployment Compensation is not an Automatic Entitlement

Many potential clients who contact me assume that anyone who leaves a job for any reason is automatically entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits. That is far from reality.  Unemployment compensation benefits are administered by each state, and the state in which one has worked, rather than the state in which one lives, makes a determination of entitlement to benefits, based on that state’s laws. I have been a seminar organizer and presenter for unemployment compensation issues in Pennsylvania, and this Firm has handled hundreds of matters dealing with all facets of unemployment compensation.

Unemployment compensation is sometimes a complicated process, and although an applicant doesn’t necessarily require the presence of an attorney at the hearing stage, it is highly recommended. One can generally receive unemployment compensation if one has been laid off, one has been terminated without committing willful misconduct, one does seasonal work, one doesn’t appear for work, or one feels they were forced to leave their job due to some action committed by an employer.

One generally cannot receive unemployment compensation benefits if one hasn’t developed enough working credits, one has broken a work rule or committed some other type of willful misconduct, one resigns without cause, one is working at another job for a certain number of hours a week, or one is operating an independent business.

The above conditions are the broadly set parameters, but they are subject to individual interpretation or a referee’s decision. At the application stage one of four things can happen:

  • The Agency decides that an applicant is eligible to receive benefits. If the former employer doesn’t disagree benefits will be received.
  • The Agency decides that an applicant is not eligible to receive benefits. The applicant can then appeal and request a hearing before a referee.
  • The Agency decides that an applicant is eligible to receive benefits, but the former employer disagrees. The employer can appeal and request a hearing before a referee. If a hearing is not requested by the employer, the applicant will receive benefits.

Let’s examine a typical situation when an applicant applies for unemployment compensation benefits which can result in loss of benefits:

Mary worked for a large company which was undergoing a reduction in force. Mary was given the option of accepting a severance package although it wasn’t certain that Mary would lose her job, and there was also the possibility that she could work in another department of the company if she lost her job. Mary accepted the severance package and applied for unemployment compensation benefits. Her former employer stated that she voluntarily accepted the severance package although her job had not yet been eliminated, requested a hearing, and Mary lost the hearing and benefits.

Remember that the hearing before the referee is a quasi adversarial process, and the legal concepts of presenting evidence properly, entering objections properly, cross-examining witnesses, raising legal arguments, etc. will be adhered to. The hearing is likely the only, and certainly the best opportunity that an applicant will have to make their case, because higher levels of appeal generally do not involve the granting of another hearing.

CLAIMS ARE DECIDED ON A CASE-TO-CASE BASIS. THEREFORE, IT IS A GREAT IDEA TO HIRE A LAWYER IF YOU WILL BE ATTENDING A HEARING.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

HHS Says California Violated Federal Conscience Protections On Abortion Coverage

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights today issued a Notice of Violation (full text) to the state of California finding that the state violated federal law by making elective abortion coverage mandatory in all policies offered by insurance companies regulated by the state’s Department of Managed Health Care. A Christian church and a Catholic religious order filed complaints with HHS saying that California’s Mandate Letters to health care plans resulted in the religious organizations being required to offer their employees policies that cover abortions, in violation of the conscience provisions of the federal Weldon Amendment.

The Notice of Violation explains:

… [T]he only exemption California offered (to a health plan issuer) was limited to plans covering a narrow set of “religious employers” under California law. However, the Weldon Amendment protects from discrimination all plans that decline to cover abortion, without requiring any plan issuers, sponsors, or beneficiaries to have a religious character or have a religious reason for not providing or paying for such coverage…. [E]ven a categorical exemption of “religious employers,” as defined by California law, would have only been available to approximately 37% of those employer groups who, prior to the Mandate Letters, had health care coverage that limited or excluded abortion.

The Notice of Violation concludes:

If OCR does not receive sufficient assurance that California will cease requiring all health care plans, as a class, to cover abortion, or that it is willing to negotiate in good faith towards that end, OCR will forward this Notice of Violation and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the appropriate HHS funding components for further action under applicable grants and contracts regulations. Such referral may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds in accordance with the Constitution and applicable Supreme Court case law.

HHS also issued a press release explaining its action which in part quotes the Director of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights:

We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Templeton Project: Humor in Dialogue

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Humor in Dialogue.”

See also:

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Humor is appropriate in apologetic dialogue and witness, but there are boundaries to it.  I suggest these guidelines:

  1. No humor is acceptable that is at the personal expense of the other individual or individuals or is meant to discredit them.  It is the world view that needs to be discredited and revised through new insight, not the person.  If the person is deceptive, the strategy will probably show without help.
  2. Disarming humor to prove a point is acceptable, but one should be careful not to insult another.
  3. Off-color jokes have no place.
  4. Illustrative humor to explain your Chrisitan perspective is appropriate. (See Matthew 5: 27ff and 19: 24–examples of hyperbole)
  5. Telling jokes can be good if they are pertinent to the point that is being made. They should never serve as a distraction.
  6. One shouldn’t seek to show that the other is a fool.  This will come to light by what the other person or persons say and do.  They do not need your help. (Proverbs uses the word fool, for those who are fools.  But, in the course of a dialogue one should refrain from its use, for it does not promote conversation).
  7. Humor should always serve to further defense of the faith and witness to Christ.
  8. Laugh with, never at another person.  (Though it may be good at times to laugh at ourselves for our own foolishness).
  9. In the Warner Brother’s cartoon “Robin Hood Daffy,”  Daffy Duck shows that he is an incompetent Robin Hood.  Throughout, Porky Pig in the role of Friar Tuck laughs at Daffy.  At one    point, Daffy says, It is to laugh” with a sour, ironic humor.  He obviously does not mean what he says.  At the end Daffy becomes a friar like Tuck rather than pretending that he is an effective Robin Hood, “Defender of the Poor.”  Was Porky’s laughter helpful (I don’t think he meant to be helpful).  We should use humor to help others gain insight, not to get a good laugh.  We would expect the same treatment.  (I must admit, the cartoon made me laugh, but it’s only a cartoon).
  10. We should never be patronizing, showing in our words and actions that we feel superior to another.  (Being contemptuous can backfire).

Always remember what the author of Proverbs says:  “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” (Proverbs 10: 14 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

How Everything Became the Culture War

America’s petty tribal arguments are now driving the bus on serious policy. Here’s why we should worry.

Michael Grunwald is a senior staff writer for Politico Magazine.

You can find this article here.

To understand how American politics got the wayit is today, it helps to rewind the tape to the presidential campaign of John McCain—specifically to his effort to win back a listless crowd at an otherwise forgettable campaign event in south-central Pennsylvania in the summer of 2008. The Republican nominee had opened by promising a country-over-party approach to politics, recalling his compromises with Democrats like Ted Kennedy: “We’ll have our disagreements, but we’ve got to be respectful.” The Republican crowd sat in silence. McCain then denounced Vladimir Putin’s incursion into independent Georgia, warning that “history is often made in remote, obscure places.” No one seemed interested in that particular remote and obscure place.

McCain just couldn’t connect with the crowd, until he unleashed a garbled riff about how Congress shouldn’t be on recess when gasoline prices were soaring. “My friends,” he said, “the message we want to send to Washington, D.C. is: ‘Come back off your vacation, go back to Washington, fix our energy problems, and drill and drill now, drill offshore and drill now!’” It lacked the poetic brevity of the “Drill, baby, drill” line his future running mate, Sarah Palin, would use to fire up crowds, but the York Expo Center suddenly erupted with raucous cheers. It felt visceral, almost violent, as if McCain had given his supporters permission to drill someone they hated. McCain flashed an uneasy grin, like a kid who had just set off his first firecracker, delighted but also a bit frightened by its power. He wasn’t really a drill-baby-drill politician, but he could sense his party drifting toward drill-baby-drill politics.

A decade later, McCain is dead, bipartisanship is just about dead—his funeral felt like the rare exception that proved the rule—and the leader of the Republican Party is a world-class polarizer who mocked McCain’s service while cozying up to Putin on his way to the White House. President Donald Trump has pioneered a new politics of perpetual culture war, relentlessly rallying his supporters against kneeling black athletes, undocumented Latino immigrants and soft-on-crime, weak-on-the-border Democrats. He reverses the traditional relationship between politics and governance, weaponizing policy to mobilize his base rather than mobilizing his base to change policy. And in the Trump era, just about every policy issue is a wedge issue, not only traditional us-against-them social litmus tests like abortion, guns, feminism and affirmative action, or even just the president’s pet issues of immigration and trade, which he has wielded as cultural cudgels to portray Americans as victims of foreign exploiters. These days, even climate change, infrastructure policy and other domestic issues normally associated with wonky panels at Washington think tanks have been repackaged into cultural-resentment fodder.

At a time when Blue and Red America have split into two warring tribes inhabiting two separate realities, and “debate” has been redefined to evoke split-screen cable-news screamfests, this ferocious politicization of everything might seem obvious and unavoidable. But it’s also dangerous. It’s as if the rowdy cultural slap-fight the kids were having in the back seat has moved into the front, threatening to swerve the national car off the road. Transforming difficult analytical questions into knee-jerk emotional battlegrounds will dramatically increase the danger that thoughtless short-term choices will throw off our long-term national trajectory. And even beyond the impact on the quality of our public policy decisions, the ferocious politicization of everything is not healthy for the American body politic, which is why a Russian troll farm used fake social media accountsto gin up protests and counterprotests about hot-button issues like police shootings and Trump’s border wall. Our foreign adversaries like it when we yell at one another.

Honestly, though, we don’t need much prodding. Democrats and Republicans are increasingly self-segregated and mutually disdainful, each camp deploying the furious language of victimhood to justify its fear and loathing of the gullible deplorables in the other. One side boycotts Chick-fil-A (over gay rights), Walmart (over sweatshops) and companies that do business with the National Rifle Association, while the other boycotts Nike (over Colin Kaepernick), Starbucks (over refugees, gay marriage and non-Christmas-specific holiday cups) and companies that stop doing business with the NRA. We live in an era of performative umbrage. Every day is Festivus, a ritual airing of our grievances about Kathy Griffin, Roseanne Barr, fake news, toxic masculinity and those fancy coffee machines that Sean Hannity’s viewers decided to destroy for some reason. Every decision about where to shop or what to drive or what to watch is now an opportunity to express our political identities. The 24-hour news cycle has become a never-ending national referendum on Trump.

Politically, it makes sense that debates over highly technical challenges like energy and climate change have been transformed into shirts-and-skins identity issues. Ron DeSantis, the Trump-loving Republican former congressman running for governor of Florida, recently proclaimed that he’s “not in the pews of the Church of Global Warming Leftists,” a very 2018 way of expressing opposition to carbon regulations, renewable energy subsidies and other forms of climate action. He wasn’t disputing that the planet is getting hotter, or questioning the scientific data on the dangers of fossil fuels. He was clarifying which team he’s on, and more specifically which team he isn’t on, the team of tree-hugging scolds who look down on ordinary Americans for eating bacon and using plastic straws. You can see that sentiment expressed in less genteel ways if you search YouTube for “rolling coal,” where pollution-porn videos flaunt diesel trucks (sometimes dubbed “Prius repellents”) retrofitted to spew thick clouds of black smoke into the air, the transportation version of a middle finger to the opposing tribe. And there’s no denying that the opposing tribe of conspicuous composters and recyclers and Tesla drivers have their own identitarian rituals that pointedly broadcast their wokeness.

As long as America keeps sorting itself into two factions divided by geography, ethnicity and ideology, pitting a multiracial team of progressives who live in cities and inner-ring suburbs against a white team of conservatives who live in exurbs and rural areas, this is what debates about public policy—or for that matter about the FBI, the dictator of North Korea and the credibility of various sexual assault allegations—will look like. We will twist the facts into our partisan narratives. The self-inflicted wounds will infect more and more of our lives. And if you want something else to worry about, consider where it might be spreading next.

Politics has always been adversarial. Traditionally, though, we’ve had a fairly robust national consensus about a fairly broad set of goals—a strong defense, a decent safety net, freedom from excessive government interference—even though we’ve squabbled over how to achieve them. What’s different about drill-baby-drill politics is the transformation of even nonpartisan issues into mad-as-hell battles of the bases, which makes it virtually impossible for politicians to solve problems in a two-party system. Cooperation and compromise start to look like capitulation, or even treasonous collusion with the enemy.

Take infrastructure spending, which was once reasonably uncontroversial, at least in principle. Today, many conservatives portray it as a liberal plot to siphon rural tax dollars into urban bike paths, subways, and high-speed rail boondoggles that unions will build and Democratic city slickers will use. The Trump administration actually changed the rules of the most prominent grant program for local transportation projects so that it explicitly favors rural projects, infuriating liberals who now see it as a slush fund for sprawl roads to nowhere serving out-in-the-boonies Trump voters. The war over Obamacare has a similar mine-versus-yours feel; many Republicans see it as a scheme to redistribute tax dollars (and the hard-earned Medicare benefits of older Americans) to lazy and entitled Barack Obama voters, while Democrats see the intense opposition to universal health care as generational warfare on behalf of the aging white GOP base.

There’s no denying that the opposing tribe of conspicuous composters and recyclers and Tesla drivers have their own identitarian rituals that pointedly broadcast their wokeness.

Trump has never shown much interest in the details of policy, but he does understand how to use the levers of government to reward his allies and punish his enemies. He froze the pay of federal employees, a key Democratic constituency, while approving a $12 billion bailout for farmers, who, like other industries, have taken a hit from his trade wars, but, unlike other industries, tend to vote as a Republican bloc. Trump’s tax bill hammered blue states by reining in deductions for state and local taxes, while his energy policies have provided relief to red states that rely heavily on fossil fuels. His administration has picked fights with California, the epicenter of coastal-elite Blue America, over fuel-efficiency standards, net neutrality and water policy.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this shift is happening at a time when college-educated voters are trending Democratic and noncollege whites have been Trump’s most reliable constituency. Policies that hurt colleges, like policies that hurt cities, are policies that hurt Democrats. To listen to pols talk about college these days is to watch a wedge issue in its embryonic stage, as substantive questions about the cost and relevance of higher ed, the burdens of student debt, the adequacy of worker training and the power of political correctness on campus start to morph into red-meat attacks on pointy-headed elitists who look down on ironworkers and brainwash America’s youth. Republicans are starting to fit the Democratic push for universal free college into their larger critique of the Democratic urge to hand out free stuff to Democratic voters. And they’re portraying a liberal arts education as a culturally liberal thing, like kale or Kwanzaa or reusable shopping bags.

I saw a soft-edged version of this anti-college theme at a manufacturing roundtable that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, held in September in Youngstown. DeWine listened for an hour as a group of executives complained how teenagers are constantly told they need college degrees to get ahead in life, how students who might flourish in programs to prepare them for factory jobs are steered into mainstream classes they hate. DeWine perked up when the director of a local career center said that only 12 percent of students who pursue four-year degrees end up earning enough to pay off their loans and that many never learn about other options. “The goal should be exposing kids to more things, not forcing them into anything,” DeWine interjected.

“We need to stop pushing everyone into college,” Renacci said. “Let’s get this stigma off our backs: You can live the American dream without college.”

Renacci’s event was supposed to be about trade, but none of the local farmers expressed any concern about the beating they’re taking from Trump’s trade war. What they expressed concern about was illegal immigrants who commit crimes and demand handouts; the deep state; Democrats who want to steal from Medicare to fund Obamacare; and Antifa thugs. Even though their party controls Washington and Columbus, they believe they’re under siege; one 60-something farmer told me he’s afraid to speak out because “radical Democrats will burn your house down.” When I said that seemed unlikely in the rural expanses of Ashtabula County, he said I should check out the angry leftist millennials he’s seen when he’s visited the Ohio State campus, “wearing boots and backpacks and shouting stupid slogans.” I asked him whether he supports government spending on higher education for those millennials, and he shot back: “I’ll tell you what I don’t support: free college for illegals and higher taxes for me.”

There are real policy debates to be had over higher education, and they’re important. U.S. universities aren’t blameless: They’ve jacked up their tuition costs much faster than inflation, overpopulated their faculties with liberals, failed to hold themselves accountable for the employment outcomes of their students and policed speech to the point that they look more concerned with stamping out “micro-aggressions” than promoting free inquiry. At the same time, a lot of work has been done to try to make colleges, especially community colleges, more relevant to the job market; DeWine’s roundtable event highlighted a model partnership between local educators and manufacturers. The Obama administration also established tough new rules limiting federal dollars to institutions that don’t move students into gainful employment. Ironically, the Trump administration is trying to roll back those rules, as well as others providing relief to students defrauded by Trump University-style for-profit diploma mills.

What they expressed concern about was illegal immigrants who commit crimes and demand handouts; the deep state; Democrats who want to steal from Medicare to fund Obamacare; and Antifa thugs.

But modern politics isn’t about these nuances of policy substance. It isn’t evidence-based. The debate over immigration isn’t really about measured wage effects or growth effects; it’s about whether a diverse America is the “real” one, and whether nonwhite newcomers make the country great. The Trump fans who came to see Renacci in Ashtabula County didn’t care any more about the details of higher education studies than they cared about the details of Paul Manafort’s guilty plea or our trade deficit with Canada. (It’s actually a surplus, a fact that will change approximately zero minds about Trump’s trade rhetoric.) The signal of substance breaks through the noise of politics so rarely that the noise has become the signal.

Donald Trump was not the first Republican president to exploit America’s divisions. Think of Richard Nixon rallying his “silent majority” against bra-burning, free-loving, acid-dropping hippies, or even George H.W. Bush running against flag-burning and Willie Horton. And Trump didn’t create the so-called Big Sort of Americans into two ideologically polarized, geographically and racially segregated, mutually suspicious partisan camps. The rift between the mostly white camp of gun-owning, evangelical-church-going Fox News watchers who live relatively spread out and the more diverse camp of Whole Foods-shopping, funky-cafe-going NPR listeners who live closer together has been widening for decades.

Trump may be America’s leading culture warrior, but a war requires two armies. The frequent journalistic safaris into the right side of America’s divide tend to focus on the unwavering faith that Trump supporters have in Trump, but polls suggest the left side is just as prone to motivated reasoning about politics, and perhaps even more consumed by anger over politics. In a Pew Research Center survey, 47 percent of liberal Democrats said that if a friend supported Trump, it would put a strain on their friendship, and 68 percent of all Democrats said it’s “stressful and frustrating” to talk to Trump supporters. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, had to fire his youth outreach director for posing for an Instagram post while wearing a shirt featuring the 2016 electoral map, with blue states labeled “United States of America” and Trump states labeled “Dumbfuckistan.” It was a perfect manufactured-outrage episode for our time—needless to say, similar shirts on which the blue states are labeled Dumbfuckistan are available for purchase—but it did reflect a common Democratic disdain for Republican rubes in the provinces.

So the culture war is not all about Trump. But Trump has a destructive genius for exploiting the culture war, exploding Washington’s norms of decorum and euphemism to trash his adversaries and torture the truth, portraying Puerto Ricans as ungrateful, immigrants as dangerous and Democrats as un-American. You’re with him or you’re with the terrorists. And the rest of Washington, which was already uncelebrated for civility, has followed him into perennial attack mode, to the point that even Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh bellowed partisan conspiracy theories during his confirmation hearing.

Our higher education system is still one of America’s most valuable competitive assets, and breaking it in a fit of cultural fury would be the national equivalent of choking on diesel smoke to own the libs.

It’s hard to have serious public debates about the massive changes in public policy that Trump is pursuing, because there’s no longer a clear path for facts and logic to break through the daily onslaught of demonization and obfuscation. We’re too busy fighting to think. It’s especially tough to have an evidence-based debate about an issue like trade when Trump proclaims at one rally that his tariffs have prompted U.S. Steel to open seven new plants, and after fact-checkers point out the actual number is zero, he ups the number to eight or nine at his next rally. He understands that modern political debates don’t depend on facts or logic. Where you stand—on questions of whether to believe Kavanaugh’s accusers and whether there was any collusion with Russia, as well as questions about corporate tax rates or lifetime insurance caps—depends almost entirely on where you sit. Deficits are bad when your team is in charge, benign when my team is in charge. I’m being denied due process by a witch hunt, but you belong in jail. I’m no puppet; you’re the puppet.

This is presumably how entire countries turn into Dumbfuckistan. The solutions to our political forever war are pretty obvious: Americans need to rebuild mutual trust and respect. We need to try to keep open minds, to seek information rather than partisan ammunition. We need to agree on a shared foundation of facts from authoritative sources. But those words looked ridiculous the moment I typed them. Americans are not on the verge of doing any of those things. Once the dogs of war have been unleashed, it’s hard to call them back. And we should at least consider the possibility that we’re fighting this forever war because we like it.

The thing I remember most about Trump’s rallies in 2016, especially the auto-da-fé moments in which he would call out various liars and losers who didn’t look like the faces in his crowds, was how much fun everyone seemed to be having. The drill-baby-drill candidate would drill the Mexicans, drill the Chinese, drill the gun-grabbers, drill all the boring Washington politicians who had made America not-great. It sure as hell wasn’t boring. It was a showman putting on a show, a culture-war general firing up his internet troops. It wasn’t a real war, like the one that Trump skipped while John McCain paid an unimaginable price, but it made the spectators feel like they were not just spectating, like they had joined an exhilarating fight. They got the adrenaline rush, the sense of being part of something larger, the foxhole camaraderie of war against a common enemy, without the physical danger.

It’s not clear how a fight like that would ever end.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

We all know that the phrase “penny wise and pound foolish” refers to people who do things to save money, but end up spending much more because they did not do a simple cost/benefit analysis. I receive many calls weekly from potential clients who, regardless of how much they earn, automatically say they cannot afford a modest retainer to proceed with their case. Others want a “guarantee” that the amount they pay for a retainer will gain them the results they want. I note that when the economy is not doing well, or the media is trumpeting bad economic news or employment figures, or mortgage foreclosures, that people are even more reluctant to spend on legal services, because they consider this to be “optional” versus “mandatory” spending.

Let’s explore the cost versus potential benefits of hiring a qualified law firm to represent you, by viewing the below Example.

Alan is earning $100,000 a year. He has been with his employer for 10 years. Well, ever since he returned from family medical leave after two months for surgery for a condition which was not work-related, he has been criticized for his work performance. That criticism has escalated from verbal to written warnings, and when he contacts me he has just been placed on a performance improvement plan. Alan asks me if I can guarantee that if I contact his employer he will be able to keep his job. When he hears that the majority of time this Firm can be of significant assistance to him, but we can’t guarantee results, he says he can’t afford a retainer. The end result is that Alan is fired, and that his employer alleges that he broke a work rule which led to his termination, and disputes his right to receive unemployment compensation. Alan represents himself at the unemployment compensation hearing and loses. Alan is therefore without a job, without a neutral job reference, without insurance benefits, and without unemployment compensation, all because he did not want to pay a retainer to a lawyer.

What I might have been able to do if we were retained.

I might have been able to allege some form of discrimination and keep Alan’s job for him. I might have been able to secure a severance package for Alan if indeed the employer was intent on terminating him. This package may have included salary, benefit continuation, and sometimes legal fees. I might have been able to have the employer lay him off instead of terminate him for breaking a company work rule. I might have gotten Alan a neutral versus a negative job reference for future employers. I might have gotten permission that Alan can represent that he was laid off or resigned so he can state that on future employment applications without lying. Even if I didn’t get Alan any additional funds, I most likely would have been able to negotiate an agreement which would have permitted him to locate other employment without a black mark on his record.

Can I guarantee that I could have accomplished all of these things? No, but I negotiate these matters regularly and my clients are usually pleased with the results. ALAN WAS THEREFORE PENNY WISE AND POUND FOOLISH. Stay tuned in this Blog for other examples of being penny wise and pound foolish in hiring a lawyer.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

Tennessee Passes Law Protecting Faith-Based Adoption/ Foster Care Agencies

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

Yesterday, the Tennessee General Assembly gave final passage to HB0836 (full text) which bars denial of licensing or funding for faith-based child placement agencies. The law protects agencies that refuse to participate in placing a child for foster care or adoption in violation of the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. According to AP, Gov. Bill Lee’s Communications Director says that the governor will sign the bill.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Templeton Project: Of Self-control

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Of Self-control.”

See also:

_____________________________

Self-control, or temperance, is one of the four cardinal virtues along with courage, prudence and justice that come to us from pagan philosophy.  It is found in the list of fruits of the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5: 23).  It is a virtue that pertains to keeping the passions and desires under control.  It bespeaks moderation.

Can we restrain our passions in our speech to others?  In the midst of dialogue and debate can we refrain from out of control  behavior.  This is a test for the man or woman who would be self-controlled.  To be unself-controlled is a great temptation. We do not need any coaxing to bad behavior.

In a discussion where there are high stakes (as religious faith always is), it is very tempting to call someone a name, interrupt, be accusatory, blame, distort, attempt to manipulate, make fun of, yell, insult, discredit another’s character, dismiss, and so on, and so on, and so on ad nauseam.

We must remember our identity as Christians.  We can pray that the Spirit give us a better capacity for self-control.  We can test our ability in our relationship with loved ones, especially our spouse and children.  In debate we can be emphatic and committed to our faith without being unself-controlled.

Paul writes,  “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (I Corinthians 9: 25 ESV) Controlling our temper and anger in everyday relationships is a sign that we may do the same in our private and public apologies of the faith. Our discipline must be intentional with those we love, especially spouse and children. I have failed many times in this endeavor, but I also hope that today and tomorrow I will do better. We must focus on a discipline of moderation. The Holy Spirit will lead us to do this.

Michael G. Tavella

August 6, 2019

The Transfiguration

The Huxley Trap: How technology and masturbation tamed the sexual revolution

By Ross Douthat and published on Nov. 14, 2018 in the New York Times and can be found here.

There are times in any columnist’s life when you worry about being too much oneself, too on-brand, too likely to summon from one’s readers the equivalent of the weary line delivered by a colleague listening to J.R.R. Tolkien read aloud from his Middle-earth sagas: “Not another [expletive] elf!”

The appearance in the same week of a Politico magazine essay on how conservatives lost the culture war over pornography and an Atlantic cover story on the decline of sexual intercourse makes me concerned about this possibility — that if I weave both pieces into an argument about our culture’s decadence, my readers will find it to be a little bit predictable, a little, well, too much.

But like Tolkien with his beloved elves, I’ll persevere, because the articles are worth the recommendation. For Politico, Tim Alberta tells the story of how the internet essentially killed off the anti-pornography movement, by making pornography so ubiquitous and porn use so pervasive that trying to regulate it in any meaningful way seemed like giving orders to the tide.

Then Kate Julian’s Atlantic examination of what she calls the “sexual recession” looks at a surprising reality of life in the sexually liberated West — the fact that despite (or because of?) our permissive culture and the sweeping availability of entertainments that cater to every kind of sexual desire, the sexual act itself has fallen somewhat out of fashion, along with its usual accompaniments (relationships, marriage, childbearing), while onanism and long-term celibacy are on the rise.

Conservatives didn’t expect it because they believed that sexual liberation would inevitably lead to social chaos — that if you declared consent the only standard of sexual morality and encouraged young people to define fulfillment libidinally, you would get not only promiscuity but also a host of dire secondary consequences: Teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates rising together, a pornography-abetted spike in rape and sexual violence, higher crime rates among fatherless young men … basically everything that seemed to be happening in the 1970s and 1980s, when the anti-porn crusade Alberta describes was strongest.

But many of those grim social trends stabilized or turned around in the 1990s, and instead of turning teenage boys into rapists, the internet-enabled victory of pornographic culture had, perhaps, the opposite effect. Rates of rape and sexual violence actually fell with the spread of internet access, suggesting that the pleasures of the online realm were either a kind of substitute for sexual predation, a kind of sexual tranquilizer, or both. And that tranquilizing effect seems to extend beyond predation to the normal pursuit of sexual relationships, because some combination of Netflix, Tinder, Instagram and masturbation is crucial to the decline-of-sex story that Julian’s Atlantic essay tells.

So the pornified, permissive post-sexual revolution order today seems much more stable than conservative pessimists expected 30 years ago, with no social collapse looming on the horizon.

But liberal optimists were wrong as well — wrong to expect that the new order would bring about a clear increase in sexual fulfillment, wrong to anticipate a healthy integration of sexual desire and romantic attachment, wrong to assume that a happily egalitarian relationship between the sexes awaited once puritanism was rejected and repression cast aside.

This isn’t the sex-positive utopia prophesied by Wilhelm Reich and Alex Comfort and eventually embraced by third-wave feminists. It’s a realm of fleeting private pleasures and lasting social isolation, of social peace purchased through sterility, of virtual sex as the opiate of the otherwise sexually unsuccessful masses.

And the one person who really saw it coming was Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World,” the essential dystopia for our times, which captured the most important feature of late-modern social life — the way that libertinism, once a radically disruptive force, could be tamed, domesticated and used to stabilize society through the mediation of technology and drugs.

True, none of our pharmaceuticals quite match his “soma” — the “perfect drug,” a booster calls it, with “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol” but no hangover or religious guilt. (Our own versions are more dangerous and unevenly distributed.) But our hedonic forms of virtual reality are catching up to his pornographic “feelies” and his “Violent Passion Surrogate.” (“All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”) And on the evidence of many internet-era social indicators, they increasingly play the same tranquilizing and stabilizing roles.

Above all Huxley nailed the way that a society sufficiently far gone into hedonism will lose even the language to describe clearly why, say, “a single-use silicone egg that men fill with lubricant and masturbate inside” (a recent Japanese innovation mentioned by Julian) might not be a positive development.

The people trying to argue against porn in Alberta’s article, or the people struggling to articulate their sexual and romantic discontents in Julian’s, are trying to find their way back to a worldview that takes moral virtue and human flourishing seriously again. But they inhabit a society that often recognizes only arguments about pleasure versus harm, and that at some level has internalized the logic of Mustapha Mond, one of the Controllers of Huxley’s world civilization: “Chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”

Pleasant vices and stability: With some technological assistance, that’s the sexual culture we’ve been forging. The only good news, and the best evidence that we might yet escape Huxley’s trap, is that we retain enough genuinely-human aspiration to be unhappy with it.

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