Music lessons

I thought I was pretty up on contemporary culture for someone past the half century, but then I saw on “American Idol” that this guest artist (I can’t even remember her name!) was about to pass Elvis in some major milestone. Elvis! And I didn’t even notice her. When the Idols sang her songs, which the judges talked like were golden oldies, I knew none of them! Not that I missed anything, since they sounded to my ears like the most bombastic dreck. These songs made Elvis seem like Shostakovich.

Anyway, although I am not unlearned about popular music, I am way out of date. Not that an adult should be fixated on angst-ridden music for teenagers, but there can still be music out there that merits attention. I have a student, Nathan Martin, who is my tutor about today’s music. He burns me CD samplers of contemporary music that he thinks might interest me. I admit that some fine musicians are making good music today, though I can’t remember their names either.

Nathan is working with some other Patrick Henry College students on a webzine entitled Patrol. Go there for contemporary music criticism and good writing. I’ve added it to my blogroll. As a sample, I offer this account
of the recent demise of “CCM,” the contemporary Christian Music magazine that just went out of business, giving thoughtful insights about this frustrating genre.

Behold postmodern, post-ideological politics

Anne Applebaum writes about the London mayoral race, between a clownish upper-class Tory and the incumbent, a clownish Marxist. It has degenerated into a rather comical clash of personalities. She suggests that this is a picture of the post-ideological politics that many of us claim we want. In our postmodernist frame of mind, ideas do not matter (since there is no truth), so personality and entertaining shenanigans are all that is left. Here is what she says:

This is a personality contest, and a deeply unserious one at that: If the good people of London really thought their traffic mattered that much, Boris wouldn’t be a candidate and Ken would never have been elected in the first place. But it’s a competition nevertheless worth watching. This campaign could well be a blueprint for future elections since it is “post-modern,” and post-ideological, in the deepest sense: In a world in which “issues” are not the issue and no one takes political parties seriously anymore, there’s nothing left to talk about except who said what to whom and whose tongue was sharper while doing so.

Usually, we don’t have this problem in the United States, our politics being too partisan and our nation too divided to allow for it. But a glimpse of what it could be like is available in the form of the Democratic primary, which has also deteriorated, unsurprisingly, into a particularly nasty personality clash. Any long-drawn-out contest between two people who don’t — let’s face it — differ that much on fundamental issues will invariably turn into farce; whether it’s an amusing one, as in London, or a “bitter” one, as in Pennsylvania, depends on the characters of the candidates involved.

So three cheers, then, for ideological politics or at least for real clashes of ideas, and let’s hope our presidential election, when we get to it, includes some: At least ideologically divisive elections make everyone talk about things that matter.

I think she overstates the matter, or, perhaps like post-ideological Londoners, misses that there is a huge ideological divide between the conservative Tory and “Red Ken” who defends Stalin and who wanted to stage a rally celebrating Fidel Castro. Ideologies are still important, though perhaps the public is getting so postmodern they don’t even recognize them. Still, the reduction of politics to personality, image, and soap opera is probably the true postmodernist political legacy.

How corn lifts all prices

We’ve been talking about the price of wheat. Here is what is going on with corn and how the ethanol-fueled prices are affecting nearly every other kind of food:

People who use corn to feed cattle, hogs and chickens are being squeezed by high corn prices. On Monday, Tyson Foods reported its first loss in six quarters and said that its corn and soybean costs would increase by $600 million this year. Those who are able, such as egg producers, are passing those high corn costs along to consumers. The wholesale price of eggs in the first quarter soared 40 percent from a year earlier, according to the Agriculture Department. Meanwhile, retail prices of countless food items, from cereal to sodas to salad dressing, are being nudged upward by more expensive ingredients such as corn syrup and cornstarch.

Rising food prices have given Congress and the White House a sudden case of legislative indigestion. In 2005, the Republican-led Congress and President Bush backed a bill that required widespread ethanol use in motor fuels. Just four months ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed and Bush signed energy legislation that boosted the mandate for minimum corn-based ethanol use to 15 billion gallons, about 10 percent of motor fuel, by 2015. It was one of the most popular parts of the bill, appealing to farm-state lawmakers and to those worried about energy security and eager to substitute a home-grown energy source for a portion of U.S. petroleum imports. To help things along, motor-fuel blenders receive a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol used through the end of 2010; this year, production could reach 8 billion gallons. . . .

Although ethanol was once promoted as a way to slow climate change [so says the Post, tODD!], a study published in Science magazine Feb. 29 concluded that greenhouse-gas emissions from corn and even cellulosic ethanol “exceed or match those from fossil fuels and therefore produce no greenhouse benefits.”

No wheat

More on the price explosion in food, which I think is much more serious than the high price of oil. See Emptying the Breadbasket. Here are some sample facts:

Last year, wheat cost $6 per bushel; this year, it’s $20. Farmers still don’t want to grow it, though, because it is riskier, subject to disease. Research to develop disease-resistance wheat has all but halted, since the public is irrationally scared of genetic alterations. And farmers can make even more money from soybeans (from the Chinese) and corn (from government-subsidized ethanol plants). Besides, the way the farm bill works, farmers can still get wheat subsidies even when they switch their acreages to corn! In the 1980s, half of the nation’s fields grew wheat. Now, only 10% do. Because of the low dollar and desperate foreign governments, our reserves are getting bought out. We now have the lowest amount of grain in storage since World War II, enough to last the world for 4 days.

Cranach is a family-friendly site! Really.

Karate and Whatnot from VA makes this complaint:

Oh, and I can’t check Veith’s blog during lunch at work any more – it’s blocked by the company filters for having “adult/sexual content”! ROTFLOL! That’s GOT to be an IP-based filter instead of content-based! Anyway, my veneer just got thinner!

How can that be? We had the same problem here at Patrick Henry College, no less!, the filters blocking this blog. I’m wondering if there is some word posted somewhere that is triggering this, but I really am trying to be as pure as pure can be, above reproach and all that. And I hate the thought of losing readers to these filters.

Does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with this? (tODD, thanks for letting me know about the spam filter Akismet. It’s working beautifully against that problem.)

The necessity–and value–of church divisions

Rev. William Cwirla offers some provocative and oddly encouraging thoughts about why divisions within a congregation or church body are, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “necessary.” See Blogosphere Underground: Devilish Distractions. A sample:

Dissensions and divisions have their root in our old Adamic flesh (Gal 5:20; 1 Tim 6:4; Titus 3:9). The old Adam loves to stir up trouble wherever he can find it. Dissensions and divisions in the church arise from false teachings and false teachers who subvert the Gospel (Rom 16:17; Jude 19). Paul’s desire for the Corinthian congregation is that it be united, of the same mind and judgment (1 Cor. 1:10). Yet Paul goes on to make this remarkable statement: “It is necessary that there be divisions (Gk: heresies) among you so that those who are proven might be manifest among you” (1 Cor 11:19). In other words, the soundness of a teacher is tested in the face of controversy, and divisions serve the purpose of showing who is proven.

Rev. Cwirla goes on to apply what this means and why. He does not praise church divisions, mind you, seeing them as sinful; and yet God uses them nonetheless.