7 Quick Takes (1/25/12)

— 1 —

Via io9, I found this beautiful, unconventionally animated story of a man who set off to kill Death.

(Which naturally also reminded me of Mr. Teatime in Hogfather, which I heartily recommend).

— 2 —

Meanwhile in unconventional theatre news, First Things is reporting that a British theatre company is staging a sold-out production of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice: The Musical.  Here’s the synopsis:

In order to draw inspiration for his magnum opus, John Rawls travels back through time to converse (in song) with a selection of political philosophers, including Plato, Locke, Rousseau and Mill. But the journey is not as smooth as he hoped: for as he pursues his love interest, the beautiful student Fairness, through history, he must escape the evil designs of his libertarian arch-nemesis, Robert Nozick, and his objectivist lover, Ayn Rand. Will he achieve his goal of defining Justice as Fairness?

Anyone care to suggest song titles?

— 3 —

And this next musical adventure was unsurprisingly brought to my attention by Tristyn Bloom.  Two songs about Orthodoxy, one of which is to the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,
But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.
So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,
‘Cause in the end you’ll find, my friend, that we may live forever.

Superchristological and Homoousiosis
Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious
You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis
Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.
Immutable divinity make Logos out of air.
But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap–
and told them if they can’t recant, they ought to shut their trap!

— 4 —

And to pick up the theme of college chums who have ended up at First Things, Helen Rittlemeyer has moved her blog over to their site.  In addition to browsing her archives (and learning what The Brothers Karamazov has in common with Arrested Development), you may want to check out “Sex in the Meritocracy” her rejoinder to Nathaniel Hardon’s Sex and God at Yale.  Here’s a teaser:

This overachiever’s mentality has also determined campus attitudes toward sex. Few notice the connection, because the end result—sexual permissiveness—is the same as it was in the sixties and seventies, when the theme of campus culture was not overachievement but liberation, and the eighties and early nineties, when it was postmodernism and the overthrow of all value judgments. The notorious Yale institution known as Sex Week—a biennial series of sex toy demonstrations, student lingerie shows, and lectures by pornographers—wouldn’t have been out of place in either of these eras. Consequently, Yale’s sexual culture is often mistaken for mere depravity by outside observers who assume that it is just another byproduct of moral relativism…

Take a look at the Sex Week schedule of events (if you have a strong stomach) and you will see just how much of the itinerary is devoted to instruction—how to give the best this, get the most that, and generally become as accomplished at sex as you are at everything else. “Many of us here have never failed at anything, and we don’t want to start now,” explained a rather frank female attendee of a Sex Week event called “Getting What You Really Want,” quoted in the Yale Daily News in 2010. This attitude toward sex is not nearly as dark as the moral relativists’ savage antinomianism, but in a way it is more disturbing.

— 5 —

I leaned on Chesterton a bit when reviewing Pullman’s collection of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, so I quite appreciate Max Beerbohm’s parody of his paradoxical style.  Here’s an excerpt:

It is always in reference to those things which arouse in us the most human of all our emotions—I mean the emotion of love—that we conceive the deepest of our errors. Suppose we met Euclid on Westminster Bridge, and he took us aside and confessed to us that whilst he regarded parallelograms and rhomboids with an indifference bordering on contempt, for isosceles triangles he cherished a wild romantic devotion. Suppose he asked us to accompany him to the nearest music-shop, and there purchased a guitar in order that he might worthily sing to us the radiant beauty and the radiant goodness of isosceles triangles. As men we should, I hope, respect his enthusiasm, and encourage his enthusiasm, and catch his enthusiasm. But as seekers after truth we should be compelled to regard with a dark suspicion, and to check with the most anxious care, every fact that he told us about isosceles triangles.

For adoration involves a glorious obliquity of vision. It involves more than that. We do not say of Love that he is short-sighted. We do not say of Love that he is myopic. We do not say of Love that he is astigmatic. We say quite simply, Love is blind. We might go further and say, Love is deaf. That would be a profound and obvious truth. We might go further still and say, Love is dumb. But that would be a profound and obvious lie. For love is always an extraordinarily fluent talker. Love is a wind-bag, filled with a gusty wind from Heaven.

— 6 —

I don’t have any clever segue for The Verge‘s piece on the legality of self-driving cars, but I did quite enjoy it.  And I’ve still got two years before my non-driver’s state issued photo identification card expires, so shake a leg, regulators.

— 7 —

Finally, it’d be a shame to let a week go by without a few more Les Mis related links.  Alex Knapp is blogging for Forbes on pacifistic heroes in fiction, and Jean Valjean makes the cut.  In the novel, he shoots near the soldiers to repulse them from the barricade, but makes sure not to hit a single one.


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  • Anyone care to suggest song titles?

    “Dance of the Seven Veils of Ignorance”?

  • I think, with a few judicious word additions/alterations, it sings better to “I am the very model of a modern major general”

  • Freudian slip?

    Nathan HardEN.

    • I see what you did there.

  • Helen Rittelmeyer does not seem to disagree with a ton of what Harden says. She seems to say Sex Week is a bad thing. She even implies feminists see it as anti-women. She circles around the idea that the Yale leadership is anti-woman but does not dare say it. I guess Harder says it.

    It is a good point that not everyone is completely perverted by Sex Week. But isn’t the fact that the school leadership tries to destroy the morals of the students a problem? The dynamic of sexual conquest is always going to be there at a university but it should not be a part of the student-faculty relationship. Yale does not seem to get that. She is proud of her school but she seems to be doing damage control rather than a real defense.

    I like the idea of single-sex dorms sponsored by religious groups. It is very hard for a Christian family to find a living situation at a a good university where they are comfortable sending their child. I have a daughter with very good grades and she is going our local university mostly so she can live at home. She wants to so that is all good but I am amazed at the lack of choices. There have to be more parents and students who just want a university to teach science and not immerse them in a drug culture or a hookup culture. They might even want a better than random chance of meeting another student who wants the same thing.

    • Slow Learner

      Look, Randy, I went to a secular university (Oxford), in a secular country (the UK), with entirely mixed accommodation (everyone gets their own room, but your corridor/staircase will be mixed).
      Those who wanted to take drugs (and fail their degrees) did so.
      Those who wanted to hook up with eligible partners on a regular basis tried to do so, with varying degrees of success.
      Those who were more interested in making new friends, expanding their minds by reading and debate rather than psychedelic substances, and getting a good degree…did so.
      Most of my religious friends had found others with similar beliefs by – at latest – their first Sunday in town. Their church friendship groups were lively, interesting, and by all appearances since graduation deep-rooted.
      If your daughter shares your faith, that is unlikely to change wherever she goes to university.

      • Mike

        Yeah I’d agree with the slow learner. I also went to an uber secular on the fringe lefty type college and unless you really wanted to get into that stuff you didn’t have to.

        Although I’ll never forgot seeing the display put up by the school’s marxist lenninist club. I nearly died. I couldn’t believe there were still people around who believed in that stuff. Then I walked by the Christian groups and thought something kinda similar.

    • What is with these responses?

      Randy wasn’t suggesting that if you go to one of these colleges it somehow becomes compulsory to take drugs and screw a bunch of people. He was talking about the culture, and culture does have an effect on individuals. The advice of ‘oh it doesn’t matter where a person spends their time, their environment has no real effect on them’ is ludicrous. Culture matters, and everyone who’s thought about it for five seconds knows as much.

      Anyway, Randy,

      She wants to so that is all good but I am amazed at the lack of choices. There have to be more parents and students who just want a university to teach science and not immerse them in a drug culture or a hookup culture. They might even want a better than random chance of meeting another student who wants the same thing.

      I would suspect that there are some choices that are better than others, and which actively promote the sort of culture you’re talking about. But I imagine that many parents, especially nowadays, are willing to turn a blind eye to a university’s cultural failings so long as it boasts the right kind of success and fame. After all, people consider universities first and foremost (at least in my experience) with an eye on careers and career advancement. If the primary goal was to submerge oneself in a good culture, why would a university be on the map at all?

      Not to mention, it’s sometimes hard to discover this kind of culture unless you do a really thorough check of it, beyond checking out the materials and some webpages.

      • Mike

        Ok in the broader sense yes I agree. BTW I was a lapsed Catholic trying to be an uber-lefty at the time so who knows.

  • Darren

    #1 is pretty freekin’ awesome!

    #6 – also cool, been following this one ever since the DARPA challenges of 2007 / 2008. The implications are staggering. In a world with no drivers:

    No accidents

    No auto insurance

    No traffic tickets

    No DUI’s

    No auto-body shops

    Half of ER visits never happen

    Half of trauma and orthopedic surgeries never happen

    No taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers

    Who cares if your car is fast, or powerful, or sexy – it might as well be a taxi, so all cars trend towards econo-commuters or minivans. Car ownership plummets, replaced by something resembling ZIP car.

    Further roboticization of war as manned aircraft and armored vehicles, then ultimately ships, are automated.

    Staggering when you think how much of our GDP is just to feed the car, the support structure needed, and the consequences thereof.

    Pretty big social upheaval coming soon…

    • Brandon B

      I was struck by the comment at the end of the Verge’s article: “Making a computer that goes three million hours between failures is a difficult task.” That means no operating system crashes, no security flaws, no botched upgrades.

      Mind you, I think it can be done, but it’s not going to be cheap.

    • Mike

      …unemployment at Obama levels LOL Just kidding.

      • Darren

        Oh, we had that 10% unemployment all through the 2000’s, it was just hidden under a housing bubble that occupied 6% of the workforce using borrowed money…


        • Mike

          Which was created by democrats pushing banks to lend to so-called disadvantaged communities but who ended up lending to ninjas instead. LOL

          • Darren

            You are aware of who was running the show in the 2000’s, yes?

  • Darren

    #4 is rather brilliant, as well. Sex for the overachiever; mastery of the Kama Sutra replaces SAT scores as the new bragging right. No wonder the Christian Right considers Yale to be the Devil’s own alma mater!

    Just sorry that I can’t afford to send my kids there…

  • That video is awesome — great story, great animation, great style. I just finished Hogfather a couple of weeks ago, so I know who Mr. Teatime is, too. And if I may be permitted one more “hey, I recognize that reference” — Max Beerbohm! I read his Seven Men last year, didn’t think I’d encounter someone who knew him.

    • Mike

      How about this: w/o googling obviously what is shifgrother a reference to?

      • Shifgrethor is a reference to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

        • Mike

          Yes, great book.

  • Mike

    1. A man sets out to kill Death and winds up saving Life!
    2. “one of these things is unlike the other one; justice demands I treat them the same”? How aweful is that?
    3. Arius always reminds me of the anti-histamine.
    4. Maybe Yale-ies or whatever they’re called need to slow down.
    5. Didn’t the ancient Greeks have like 5 words for love. My favorite is agape love. It has a nice repetition to it.
    6. My car practically drives itself already – it’s an automoatic.
    7. Pacifistic heroes…hmm…that’s a tough one.

  • grok87

    I love the Chesteron parody- who doesn’t love isosceles triangles!

    Scarecrow: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Oh joy! Rapture! I got a brain! How can I ever thank you enough?

    So are there any triangles for which this is true?

  • Do you need a driver’s licence pep talk?

    I am the most absent-minded and clumsy person I know of. When I first tried to get a licence at 19, I failed the practical test. Thrice.

    But: Last year I got one at the first try of the second series of tries (I’m a few years older than you) though after about twice as many lessons as everyone else. Now I have lots of fun whenever I get to borrow a car. Honestly, driving is fun. And my driving is safe too, so it’s not like I just bate the system.

    Soo, point: Even if talent varies, this is absolutely learnable behavior. I did it without natural talent and if I could you can do so more easily. Honestly it’s just a question of hours spent behind the wheel and all natural clumsiness can be compensated for. And you’re already doing Aikido for clumsiness compensation, no? So you can book this to the same moral account.

    (Or maybe it’s a money problem and I just made an ass of myself, because paying for all those lessons is a real problem my moralizing won’t help with. In that case sorry, and I feel your pain, because that’s pretty much why my fourth try had to wait too.)

    • leahlibresco

      No, I have no interest in learning to drive. When I practices (prob less than 5 hours total) I found it either boring or terrifying, and I hate both. I live in cities!

      • grok87

        Well I get that. But…

        1) Optionality is very important in life. No-one knows what direction God will call us in our lives in the future. We need to be open/prepared for multiple possibilities of how to live our lives, not just the ones that are working for us now.

        2) Unfortunately in the US, aside from say DC, NYC, maybe Boston, driving a car is tough to avoid. As one gets older, spouses and children enter the picture. A typical pattern in the area where i live (NYC area) is that people often stay in the city with one kid. But once you have two or three the push to the suburbs becomes inexorable.

        3) The best time to learn to drive is when one is younger. It is not going to get any easier as one gets older. Is this an “Ugh” field for you? http://lesswrong.com/lw/21b/ugh_fields/
        Do you need to turn into your flinch? Maybe try taking a driving lesson once a month just to desensitize yourself to the fear/boredom.


    • Darren

      I must respectfully disagree.

      As fun as it may be (and it is), putting a human in charge of two tons of metal and glass projected at lethal velocities is just an all around bad idea.

      Growing up in Kansas, driving was pretty much a given. I started myself at 14 and was mighty proud of it. I also, over the years, made very credible attempts to kill myself (inadvertently) by motor vehicle at least a half-dozen times. It is only through dumb luck and medical technology that I did not succeed.

      I now have children of my own, and for all my attempts at disabusing them of the notion, they appear to be as stubbornly convinced of their indestructibility as I was at their age.

      Few things could please me more than none of them ever learning to drive.

      Just my $0.02, and in no way claiming it is more right than yours, just perhaps informed of a bit more (painful) experience.

      • Oh, I actually agree that self-driving cars will be much better and should displace human-operated ones. I just don’t expect it to happen fast enough for people to plan their life around it now.

        And meanwhile not driving may be safer than driving, but by that logic never leaving your house would be even better. For example, the experience of shopping must suck even more for families without cars.

        Of course it also plays a role that a man without a driver’s license is basically assumed to have lost it through drunk driving. I think it’s socially more acceptable for a woman not to drive. But if any of your kids are sons, driving will still give them a net evolutionary advantage even after factoring in the teenage smashup risk.

        • Darren

          You are right, it is awfully hard to function in America without driving. And you are also right, back in Kansas, a grown man riding the bus or a bicycle was either poor or drunk… 🙂

          After a lifetime of driving, I moved to Boston and discovered a world without cars (in fact, a car is a major hassle), and a culture where it was cool to bicycle to work in sneakers and black socks (lookin’ at you, Mr. President). I still have a bit of the new-convert’s zeal about it, so glad my last post did not come across as me being a jerk (or if it did, you are being gracious about it).

          The fact is, cars are safer now than ever. I am just looking forward to the day when driving a car oneself was just another one of those crazy things us old-timers did, like not wearing our seat belts, not having our kids in car seats, and blasting down the interstate in the back of a truck bed…


          • I don’t understand the driving hate here, folks….I mean, yes, if you live in the city, you can go without driving. But my city–our buses aren’t that good, folks.
            My grandmother doesn’t drive. She lives in Pittsburgh. My grandfather, who drove her around, died a few years back. Now my aunts, who live in the city, have to take her EVERYWHERE–to church, to the grocery, to the hair salon, etc., etc. She has no independence and is DEpendent on everyone else to get anything accomplished.
            Knowing how to drive is a necessary life skill. The idea that it “isn’t safe”–um, life isn’t safe. None of us are getting out of here alive, guys. Riding a bike isn’t safe!