Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)

Defensive plays

Charles Krauthammer, taking a break from bemoaning the state of the world, devoted a column to baseball, specifically to the defensive plays made by a few members of the otherwise hapless but improving Washington Nationals.  I love his descriptions:

When you live in a town with a team that is passing rapidly through mediocrity on its way to contention — the Nats have an amazing crop of upcoming young players — you go for the moments.

I go to see Ryan Zimmerman charge a slowly hit grounder down the third-base line. This happens roughly once a game. Zim comes flying in, picks up the ball barehanded and throws it across his body to first base, perpendicular to the direction he’s running.

Except that this cannot be done. You could never get enough (velocity) on the throw to get the out at first. So Zimmerman dives forward, leaving his feet and hovering there for an instant, his body parallel to the ground in order to get more arm extension and thus more on the throw, which by now is nearly underhanded, his fingers almost scraping the ground. Batter out.

Try this yourself. Aim for a barn door. You will miss. And also dislocate your shoulder.

Another attraction is rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa. He has what in baseball parlance is known as range. A hard shot is hit to the hole between first and second, and Espy ranges to his left to snag it. Three weeks ago, one shot was hit so hard and so deep that he had to dive onto the outfield grass to reach it, sliding on his side in the general direction of the right-field foul pole.

Nice grab, but unless you can get the ball to first, it’s just for show. Espy starts to get up. But there is no time for standing. So, from his knees, while still sliding on the grass out toward the stands, he forces himself into a counterclockwise 180-degree spin to throw back toward first base — except that he actually begins his throw mid-turn, while facing the outfield, thereby gaining velocity from the centrifugal force (and probably the rotation of the Earth, although this remains unverified). It’s like throwing on your knees from a spinning merry-go-round that is itself moving laterally in a landslide. Try that.

Batter out.

The piece de resistance, however, is what center fielder Rick Ankiel pulled off last Sunday. It’s the bottom of the ninth, one out. The Reds have just tied the game with a solo homer. They need one more run to win. Batter crushes the ball to right-center field. If it clears the wall, game over.

But it doesn’t. It bounces off the wall, eluding our right fielder. Ankiel, who had dashed over from center, charges after the ball, picks it up barehanded and, in full running stride, fires it to third, to which the batter is headed and from which he is very likely to later score and win the game (there being only one out).

Now, when mortals throw a ball, they give it arc to gain distance. That’s how artillery works. Ankiel is better than artillery. He releases the ball at the top of his throwing motion, the ball rocketing out as if tracing a clothesline. It bounces five feet from third base, perfectly on line, arriving a millisecond before the batter and maybe 20 inches above the bag.

Quick tag. Batter out. Game saved. (Blown five innings later. But remember, it’s the Nats.) Said Nats broadcaster and former major leaguer F.P. Santangelo: “That might be the best throw I’ve ever seen.”

via The best show in town – The Washington Post.

If you don’t believe that first example, here is a picture of Ryan Zimmerman throwing:

Walk on

Here is a feel-good sports story:

Dominique Whaley’s photo is nowhere to be found in Oklahoma’s media guide. Before enrolling at OU, Whaley was an NAIA benchwarmer.

Some replacement for DeMarco Murray. Some replacement indeed.

Rising out of complete obscurity, Whaley rushed right into OU history Saturday night as the top-ranked Sooners crushed Tulsa 47-14 to open the season. Consider what Whaley accomplished against the Golden Hurricane:

• The most rushing touchdowns by an OU walk-on in a single game.

• The first 100-yard game by an OU walk-on in 36 years.

• Became the second Sooner to run for four touchdowns in his debut, with Murray being the other.

Whaley ran for 131 yards and four touchdowns on a game-high 18 carries, the final score coming on a gorgeous 32-yard scamper through Tulsa’s defense. . . .

At Lawton MacArthur High School, Whaley was beaten out by OU safety Javon Harris for the starting job at running back. Eventually, he was moved out of position to slot receiver.

Only two schools recruited him out of high school, including NAIA Langston College. Whaley didn’t start there, either.

“Maybe he should have,” said Stoops, who handed Whaley the first game ball Saturday.

But even after leaving Langston, Whaley never lost faith in his ability. Somehow, he never doubted he could start for a school like Oklahoma, where four- and five-star running backs are the norm.

Instead Whaley wrote down goals and stuck to achieving them, no matter how far-fetched they seemed.

“I didn’t come here just to make the team,” he said. “I didn’t come here just to play special teams. I came here to start. That was my goal.

“My next goal is to be the best in the country. You have to continue to make goals.”

Stoops first noticed Whaley a couple of years ago. As a scout-team back, he gashed OU’s first-team defense during a scrimmage. Whaley got so winded from the long runs that trainers had to carry him off the practice field and administer IV fluids, Stoops said.

Whaley tore OU’s defense up again this past spring game. . . .

Asked to grade his performance, Whaley gave himself a “C,” maybe worse. A what?

“I had a busted blocking assignment that could’ve killed our quarterback,” he said. “I’m still thinking about it.”

Please forgive him. After all, he’s only a walk-on. Who just might be OU’s unlikely answer at running back.

via SoonerNation: Whaley has breakout night in Sooners’ win – ESPN.

The coming Obama landslide

Now that President Obama’s poll numbers are at record lows is a good time to make my prediction:  He will win re-election.  Easily.  Maybe in a landslide.

That the economy is a mess and that he has botched so many of his jobs will make no difference.  Yes, polls show any generic Republican can beat him.  But we have no generic Republicans running against him.  They are each highly particular.   And they all either turn off or scare to death the general public.

It isn’t that they are necessarily too conservative.  A conservative could have a good chance today.  But not an angry conservative.

To be sure, when Americans want their leaders to “do something” to fix the economy, that is not the best time to sell an ideology of limited government.  So actual conservative policies–as opposed to just conservative rhetoric–will be a hard sell.  But what Americans want most of all is someone to bring them out of the national funk.

The model, again, is Ronald Reagan, the cheerful and optimistic conservative, who brought us out of the malaise of Jimmy Carter.  That’s what would win today.  But there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon, as far as I can see.

In the meantime, even though they don’t think very highly of him, Americans will go along with Obama again.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.  No need to change horses in midstream, all of those maxims.  He comes across as more likeable than his opponents, and I believe that–not economics–trumps everything else.

Please understand, I am not saying that the current crop of Republican candidates might not all make good presidents and better than what we have now.  I am just saying that none of them, in my opinion, is electable.

As I have said, most people hope they are right.  I find myself more often hoping that I’m wrong.

If you can shoot down my analysis, I’ll be much obliged.

Zero job growth

Economists expected SOME job growth in August, but the numbers came in worse than expected:  ZERO job growth in non-farm occupations.

WebMonk alerted me to this, urged me to post it while the information is hot off the wires, and was helpful enough to link to the actual Department of Labor report.  It’s fascinating, though depressing, to read the details.  A sample, but you can read more with the link below.

Nonfarm payroll employment was unchanged (0) in August, and the unemployment rate held at 9.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Employment in most major industries changed little over the month. Healthcare continued to add jobs, and a decline in information employment reflected a strike. Government employment continued to trend down, despite the return of workers from a partial government shutdown in Minnesota.

via Employment Situation Summary.

To relate this to the above topic of conversation, this might be evidence that the economy will be so bad that the public will vote for a new president.  But do you think the vast numbers of the unemployed are more likely to vote for a “limited government” message or for a “spend even more to get the economy moving again” message?

Party our way into extinction!

People who oppose abortion  like to call themselves “pro-life.”  Proponents of abortion object to that term, which implies that they are “anti-life.”   But one of the most forthright defenders of abortion–also post-birth infanticide, euthanasia both voluntary and involuntary–really is “anti-life,” arguing philosophically that human life may not be not worth living.  Why?  Because we will experience suffering and because all of our desires will not be met.  (OK, he does conclude by saying that life is worth living in the sense of not wanting to shut off evolution, which gives hope that things might get better.)

I am referring to Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, who just over a year ago wrote this for the New York Times, a favorable review of David Benatar’s  Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence:

To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.

Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s  view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction! . . . .

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – NYTimes.com.

What are the weaknesses in this argument?

Do, however, note Singer’s honesty in following the implications of his presuppositions.  (If there is no God, just a meaningless material universe, of course there can be no ultimate hope.  Or reason not to kill unwanted infants.)  But note too our contemporary culture’s UTTER inability to deal with suffering, to the point that it is widely considered better to die than to suffer, or to kill to stop suffering.  And note our contemporary culture’s UTTER orientation to the will, to desire, as if ANYTHING that interferes with our desires must be a great evil that casts doubt on the value of our lives.

HT:  Collin Hansen at Christianity Today


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