Archive for April, 2008

All Fact and No Meaning

The other night I watched “Stranger Than Fiction,” a film written by Zach Helm, directed by Marc Forster, and starring Will Ferrell, the radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah.  Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.


Reluctantly, I admit, I was swept away by Ferrell singing a song by Eric Wreckless, “Whole Wide World,” like Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s song from OnceFalling Slowly”: ”take this sinking  boat and point it home, we’ve still got time / raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice” – what great lyrics.


What’s got me in this sappy mood?  Like David Brooks, I am growing weary of the presidential campaign which is “all about message management, polls and tactics. The communication is swift, Blackberry-sized and prosaic. As you cover it, you feel yourself enclosed in its tunnel. Entire mental faculties go unused.”


For an escape, Brooks reads an essay written by Michael Ward, “C. S. Lewis and the Star of Bethlehem,”


…while we moderns see space as a black, cold, mostly empty vastness, with planets and stars propelled by gravitational and other forces, Europeans in the Middle Ages saw a more intimate and magical place. The heavens, to them, were a ceiling of moving spheres, rippling with signs and symbols, and moved by the love of God. The medieval universe, Lewis wrote, “was tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.”


When we say that a star is a huge flaming ball of gas, he wrote, we are merely describing what it is made of.


I am suffering from too many facts and too little meaning.


Whole Wide World

By Eric Wreckless


When I was a young boy

My mama said to me

There’s only one girl in the world for you

And she probably lives in Tahiti


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her


Or maybe she’s in the Bahamas

Where the Carribean sea is blue

Weeping in a tropical moonlit night

Because nobody’s told her ’bout you


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her

I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Find out where they hide her


Why am I hanging around in the rain out here

Trying to pick up a girl

Why are my eyes filling up with these lonely tears

When there’re girls all over the world


Is she lying on a tropical beach somewhere

Underneath the tropical sun

Pining away in a heatwave there

Hoping that I won’t be long


I should be lying on that sun-soaked beach with her

Caressing her warm brown skin

And then in a year or maybe not quite

We’ll be sharing the same next of kin


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her

I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Find out where they hide her


PS Check out Agent Provacateur’s new campaign featuring Maggie.

Easterlin Paradox – Can’t Buy Me Love

The Easterlin Paradox paradox is the juxtaposition of three observations:

1) Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
2) But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
3) As countries get richer, they do not get happier.

In his 1974 paper “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence” Richard Easterlin offered an appealing resolution, arguing that only relative income matters to happiness. Other explanations suggest a “hedonic treadmill,” in which we must keep consuming more just to stay at the same level of happiness.

But recently, economists Justin Wolfers and Betsy Stevenson, both of the University of Pennsylvania, reassessed the Easterlin paradox using Gallup polls done around the world. They conclude that, contrary to Easterlin’s claim, increases in absolute income are tightly linked to increased self-reported happiness.

Continue reading here.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Alas, after 122 years, the South St. Paul stockyards have closed.  The story made it onto the front page of the NYT on Monday (check out the audio slide show).  Can’t say I’ll miss the smell.

On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, there was a story about the rising cost of food worldwide (deadly rioting in Haiti and Egypt – take a listen here). 

All this reminded me of two great essays by Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry about eating as an agricultural act.  Here’s an excerpt from Berry’s essay:

Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.” If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want — or what they have been persuaded to want — within the limits of what they can get. They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold: How fresh is it? How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing or packaging or advertising add to the cost? When the food product has been manufactured or “processed” or “precooked,” how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?


Heaven’s Mouth

Two movie recommendations:


After spending a week on the beaches of western Mexico, we came home and watched Y Tu Mama Tambien (literally “And your mother, too”, slang: “Yo Mama”) a 2001 Mexican film directed by Alfonso Cuarón and written by Carlos Cuarón. The film is about two teenage boys taking a road trip with a woman in her late twenties.


The film is full of nuance, double entendre and commentary on the political and economic realities of present-day Mexico.  The boys, Julio and Tenoch, and the beautiful Luisa (Maribel Verdú), go on a road trip to find a mythical beach: Heaven’s Mouth.  The characters share surnames with notable figures in Mexican history:


  • Luisa Cortes (Spanish Conquistador)
  • Julio Zapata (Mexican revolutionary)
  • Tenoch Iturbide (Tenochtitlan, Aztec capital)
  • Silvia Allende de Iturbide (Mexican emperor)
  • Diego “Saba” Madero (Mexican president)


Alfonso Cuarón also directed Children of Men (Clive Owen, Michael Cane, Julianne Moore) another road movie set in the UK in 2027.  A central theme of Children of Men is a crackdown on illegal immigration and… 

What happens when society is unable to reproduce, using male infertility to explain this problem.  In the novel, it is made clear that hope depends on future generations. James writes, “It was reasonable to struggle, to suffer, perhaps even to die, for a more just, a more compassionate society, but not in a world with no future where, all too soon, the very words ‘justice,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘society,’ ‘struggle,’ ‘evil,’ would be unheard echoes on an empty air.”

Are we frightened of being wrong?

Sir Ken Robinson gave a speech at the 2002 TED Conference on education, creativity, and society. Robinsons suggests that society needs to give the same “status” for Creativity & Education… we tend to reward progress of education but not creativity in our education system. He also talks about how children are not afraid to be wrong… they will just say what they think, but by the time we reach adulthood we have become afraid to be wrong because of the stigmatism of making mistakes. If we are not prepared to be wrong we will never come up with something original. We are educating people out of our creative capacities. Below is the link to his awesome presentation. I highly recommend that every parent watch this video.

Should it take 5 years to graduate from college?

Just thought I would take a moment to share some humor on the lighter side.  I admittedly agree that it was entirely my fault that it took me 5 years to graduate college but I was living my own little Dead Poets Society.  Frat parties, sleeping late, & hacky sack on the front porch… carpe diem!  Well here are some gentlemen displaying their college antics… my hunch is that they might be on the 6 or 7-year program at their institution of higher learning?  Enjoy.



We are all atheists about most of the gods… some just go one god further?

This is one that I started writing over a month ago when my PC locked up… I didn’t even realize that it saved it as a draft… here goes.

I thought I would share this video from Richard Dawkins at the 2002 TED conference.  Richard’s presentation titled “An atheist’s call to arms” discusses his view that there needs to be a militant uprising of atheists.  With roughly 30 million citizens (Americans – added for clarity) who claim to be “non-religious/secular,” why is this voice so dormant in our society?  I personally liked his suggestion that we are all atheists of some sort… we don’t believe in the god of the golden calf, we don’t believe in the god of tooth fairies, or we don’t believe in God / Allah… and some of us just go one god further.


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