Archive for February, 2009

It’s been centuries since I’ve posted a Weekly Wandering, and to my two devoted readers I sincerely apologize.  To restate the purpose of my Weekly Wanderings, I scour the Internet for interesting videos/articles/images/etc. regarding just about anything I find interesting enough to share with the fine readers of Criticism As Inspiration.  But I’ve recently been out of steam (to admit my weaknesses is a weakness of mine) and not much I’ve seen as of late has especially captivated me…until this:

This video (thanks to Wallpaper* [a magazine about an infinite number of things from architecture to media]) is a wonderful little video about a house (a “Sliding House”) that a guy named Ross Russell (I’ve never seen so many double consonants in a name) had built with his friend, architect Alex De Rijke, for Mr. Russell and his wife Sally.  It’s a snazzy little place—probably my dream house—and most of it is composed of framed glass when it is not obscured by a MASSIVE TWENTY-TON MOVABLE SLEEVE WITH BEAUTIFUL TIMBER CLADDING.  My “caps lock” key apparently got stuck…

Mr. Russell confesses, “I’ve never built a house before,” but I think that an international law should be passed that only he can build houses from now on.  At least when your sleeve breaks down you can still say you don’t live in this:




Now if only I posted a picture of this,

Kurt Wenner's 3D street art

Stolen from Sgt. Grumble's "Hell" post

my post could maybe top a grand like Sgt. Grumbles’.

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bobby_jindalSome of you may have heard of Bobby Jindal, the republican governor of Louisiana who was elected last year.  He was a congressman for Louisiana before that, and I have been reading about him for a while, as many conservatives point to him as a legitimate reformer.  He has become a de facto spokesman for the GOP and has been responsible for providing the republican “response” to some of President Obama’s speeches.

But it is his efforts in Louisiana that interest me most.  He came to power in a state known for its rampant corruption, and specifically for the crime and poverty of New Orleans.  Because of this, and the post-Katrina sentiment for change, he was able to be elected on his promises of reform – similar to Obama’s promises of hope.  And while our president attempts to “take advantage” of this fiscal crisis and possibly make sweeping changes to health care, banking, taxes, education, and more… we also can observe changes taking place in Louisiana.  A list of accomplishments that Jindal claims came under his watch in the last year is available here.  Some are:

  • Cutting Taxes. SB 87 cut taxes for the 6th time this year and enacted the largest single tax cut in Louisiana history. This bill will return $1.1 billion dollars over the next five years to Louisiana taxpayers.
  • Eliminating Vacant Government Positions. 984 vacant state government positions were eliminated at an estimated savings of $58 million.
  • Enforcing Strict Criteria for Use of Taxpayer Money. The Governor issued strict criteria for the use of state tax dollars toward new legislatively earmarked funding for Non-Governmental Organizations in order to safeguard transparency and accountability and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used for true state priorities.
  • Expanding Medicaid Coverage for Foster Children extends Medicaid health coverage until age 21 for children who have left the foster care system at 18.
  • Increasing Minimum Sentences for Solicitation of a Minor: Increasing the minimum sentence for computer-aided solicitation of a minor from one year to a two-year minimum when the victim is between the ages of 13 and 16; and a ten-year minimum when the victim is 12 years old or younger.
  • Allowing Firearms to be Kept in Vehicles: Allowing employees and customers to keep firearms in a locked motor vehicle in the public access parking lots of businesses.
  • Providing Expanded Educational Opportunities by increasing the cap on charter schools in the state from 42 to 70, and giving BESE greater flexibility to renew charter schools for shorter lengths of time.
  • Raising Teacher Pay by more than $1,000.
  • Expanding Access to a Quality Education, through $10 million in Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence.

It will be very interesting to watch to see how things turn out in Louisiana… especially since Jindal is refusing some money from the government bailout.  It appears, on the surface, that with his efforts some real conservative theories (charter schools, vouchers, reduced government, spending transparency) will be allowed to see if they work.  It’s also important to note that the state as a whole, but specifically New Orleans, lost a large portion of it’s population post-Katrina and has only returned to 60%-70% by some estimates, so it is likely this reduced population is more open to new ideas.  Jindal, like any politician, has many detractors as well, obviously most from within the democratic community… and there are things to find in his governance that many will find lacking.

So keep an eye on Louisiana, and maybe we can make some comparison’s between LA and USA as far as how reduced government works vs. large government.  A bit of apples and oranges I realize, but it’s something… and since his legislature is democrat he’s making the changes in bipartisanship fashion, something Obama says he aspires to as well.

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Import Or Domestic?

Not talking about beer here.  Talking cars.  This post responding to news flashes that Obama’s advisers don’t drive American cars is very informing.  In a globalized economy, instituting protectionism is tough, even if you wanted to – which I don’t, btw.

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My favorite time of the year is here!  Some look forward to the Christmas season, and while I admire the cooler weather, shorter days, and magnificent prospect of the Incarnation, it is the Anastasis—the Resurrection—and everything building up to it that I find most compelling.

As an Ecumenical Christian I am often asked (by others and myself), “What makes an Ecumenical Christian such?”  I am excited to spend the rest of my life exploring this question, and one way that I can do that is by looking at the ways that the Church has historically rehearsed the Gospel, and one way to explore that rehearsal is through adherence to the liturgical year.  Lent is upon us (when it began is dependent on whether or not you adhere to Western or Byzantine Lenten practice), a time in which Christians are challenged to participate in a communal fast.  The whole concept of Lent, as you may know, is rooted in the narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus is baptized by John and is taken into the wilderness to be tempted, fasting for forty days and forty nights (3.13-4.2).

The severity and imposition of such fasts has changed dramatically throughout Church history.  In 1966 Pope Paul IV issued the Apostolic constitution, Paenitemini, granting more freedom with regard to fasting based upon various economic situations.  Paenitemini also orders that the abstinence that takes place during Lent ought to be substituted with “external acts of penitence” (Paenitemini, Chapter III).  I find Paenitemini to be a very authoritative and valuable assessment of fasts, and so in my exercise of the Lenten fast I have made it my aim to first abstain with the trust that God will provide for my needs both physically and spiritually, and exercising discipline by the power of the Holy Spirit of God to give up some things and take up activities with the goal of very intentionally experiencing life in relationship with God.  I believe that there are great benefits as one experiences life relating to God in the community of the Church, and essentially Lent is a great time to adhere to the Church calendar while practicing spiritual discipline (such as abstinence from food, communicating with God through prayer, spending time in solitude to meditate on the Gospel and God’s character, etc.).

I encourage you to take the time today, Ash Wednesday, to confess your sins before God and experience the great grace of the Gospel, one that invites us to participate in the mission of God—a mission fixed on recreating our hearts and minds as well as the hearts and minds of our neighbors—all for God’s glory.  And maybe spend the next month-and-a-half abstaining from something you enjoy, replacing it with a focused practice to know God more intimately.

O Lord and Master of my life!  Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages.  Amen.
Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

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To Facebook or Not To Facebook


Soooo, I have been treading a narrow line lately about whether or not to join the rest of the world and create a Facebook account.  I have long felt that social networking sites were predatory places for the frat boys and – pardon my french – sluts.  However my wife has an account and I have lurked occasionally and seen that, for the most part, it is not people posting semi-nude self-portraits or asking you to listen to their band.  It does seem to be a great way to stay connected and find out what people are up to with their lives, and to quickly communicate to a large group what is going on in yours.  I have many friends that I don’t see often enough, and it would be nice to stay more in touch.

I am annoyed though with the idea of people sending you cyber-drinks, or ‘pokes’ or whatever.  It seems like something for jr. high girls.  But again, like I said there is something that is drawing me in.  I feel like for me it would be the ultimate “did so and so get fat”, or “guess who got real hot after high school.”  But wouldn’t that get old after a week or two of browsing.  Anyway, I am on the fence.

Thoughts on Facebook?

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Touchstone magazine (which I had never heard of, but seems alright) has an article entitled Divorced From Reality, which discusses divorce amongst families with children.  It explore the evils of that separation, as well as the implications of having the government step in where the father used to be.


It is a very interesting read, and explores the family issues that I think are at the heart of so many of our societies problems.  There is so much evidence about the prosperity and success of children and their families when their parents stay married.  Family values is an issue that rings of James Dobson (to his credit I suppose, though I am not a huge fan) and so it can feel very evangelical, and thus oppressive to some.  The Touchstone article does a good job though of discussing the feminist movement and the freedom of divorce that many praise, while showing how the “results” of those movements are hardly praiseworthy.

This is especially interesting to me because I have many friends who are divorced (even at this young age) and I see their pain, but also witnessed the fractured nature of their marriage in the first place.  I don’t believe that the prevalence of divorce shows that people in the past were living in marriages they hated, but rather that the ease of divorce has actually caused a disintegration of people’s investment in that institution, creating a cycle of uncommitted marriages and quick divorces.

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Sigur Rós

I’ve been listening to Sigur Rós a lot lately, so thought I’d throw a few videos your way.  They truly have some of the most beautiful and powerful songs I’ve ever heard.  Because of the “hopelandic” language the singer uses, it opens the songs to be a soundtrack for almost anything you want.  Please enjoy.

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To Sum Up

walter3Walter E. Williams writes here about a topic you’ve heard me gripe on before… managing economies.  He just does it better.

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I was recently finishing up a book called The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care by Sally C. Pipes, and was struck by two examples that were brought up in regards to mandates ordered for the good of public health and what the perceived results were.

One, was the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1994 that mandated nutritional and caloric info be printed on all food products.  The argument was, if people knew what they were eating, they would eat healthier.  As the book points out, from 1995 to 2007 “the percent of obese Americans increased by two-thirds.”

Second, was the example of the educational efforts at informing Americans of the hazards of smoking.  Pipes includes this quote from Dr. Daniel Horn who said, “You could stand on the rooftop and shout ‘smoking is dangerous’ at the top of your lungs and you would not be telling anyone anything they did not already know.”  In fact Pipes references a study that show smokers overestimate the potential health risk, with the average smoker reckoning their risk of developing lung cancer at 43 percent, when it is actually between 5-10 percent.  So even when people are theoretically “over-informed” on a hazard, they may still well participate in it.

These are clearly not proven causal reactions, but are certainly indicative of the fact that government intervention is not a panacea for poor public choices.  These two examples (along with our cigar smoking post) caused me to try and think of other areas where mandates for the public good go unheeded.  A few quick ones off the top of my head are:

  • Auto Insurance – Around 14% of drivers are uninsured despite the law requiring it
  • School truancy – By law children of a certain age are required to be in school.  However a quick search of truancy rates in public education will show that behavior does not follow the law
  • The Tax Gap – Close to $300 billion a year is estimated to be owed, yet unpaid, to the government.  There is good proof that as taxes increase people’s tendency to evade or avoid paying taxes increases
  • California cellphone law – Anecdotally, from what I see on the freeway and roads, I can attest to a severe refusal to obey this law
  • Long Beach water prohibitions – Again, anecdotally, I can tell you that people do not follow the rules laid out by the Board of the Long Beach Water Commission, such as times to water lawn, use of hoses for car washing, etc… despite our extreme water situation

I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should rid ourselves of all laws because they aren’t all followed 100% of the time.  I mean this just to show the gut reaction to regulate something does not necessarily produce the desired results.

That said, I would love for us to start to peel back some of the laws that affect personal liberty (ie. helmet laws) and exist solely to “protect” the very individuals that they regulate.  Would love to see more thought/examples in the comments.

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I get my allowance next Friday, then I'm going to buy you a HUGE teddy bear!  I love you baby.

I get my allowance next Friday, then I'm going to buy you a HUGE teddy bear! I love you baby.

Drudge linked to a report from The Sun about a 13-year old boy whose 15-year old girlfriend just gave birth to their daughter.  He seriously looks to be nine years old or something.  It’s sad and obviously not ideal, but hopefully this child gets raised in a loving way.  It does crack me up though when the article says:

Britain’s youngest known father is Sean Stewart. He became a dad at 12 when the girl next door, 15-year-old Emma Webster, gave birth in Sharnbrook, Bedford, in 1998. They split six months later.

I think it’s hilarious when we use “adult” terms when dealing with children.  They “split”… as if they were in a serious relationship and despite their best efforts it just wasn’t working out.

Individual liberty is an interesting thing that we try and regulate (as discussed here often).  We tell people they can’t drink until 21, vote until 18, can’t smoke in a building – but nature will still remind us every once in a while… we can have children at 12.  As Spiderman’s dad uncle (according to Sir Elijah) wisely said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

UPDATE: Apparently little Alfie needs to take a paternity test.  Seems the mother is, as Austin Powers would say, “like the village bicycle.”

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