Recommended Readings (March 2014)

Every once in a while, I try to acknowledge some of the most interesting articles that I’ve read recently. (Feel free to check out my lists of recommendations from February 17thJune 20thJuly 28th and August 8th.) I’ve tried to recommend readings that are relatively timeless, with some from this month and some from sources from the past. I tried to include articles that are interesting or funny or thought-provoking or insightful or all of the above, but there’s no real methodology. Below, in no particular order, I’ve provided the links and some of my favorite quotes from the readings.

1. “Make Fun Of Everything” by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (Time, March 13, 2014) – Comedians Key & Peele took on political correctness in a short and thoughtful opinion piece in Time magazine.

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the true purpose of humor: to help people cope with the fears and horrors of the world.”

“To not make fun of something is, we believe, itself a form of bullying. When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection? Or don’t possess the mental faculties to recognize the nuances of satire? A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”

2. “Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism” by David Masciotra (The Daily Beast, March 9, 2014) – Columnist David Masciotra examined Americans’ anti-intellectualism in today’s society, explaining and building upon some of the points made by historian Richard Hofstadter in the 1960s.

“Anti-intellectualism, according to Hofstadter, is a “resentment of the life of the mind, and those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life.” He was very clear in his insistence that Americans are not dumb. There is great intelligence in Americans, just as there is great professionalism. The problem is that professional intelligence is mechanical and functional – utilitarian. It is about the completion of an assignment, and the execution of a formula. Due to it having the operative mode of a machine, the preferred way of exercising the mind, for many Americans, takes on what Hofstadter labeled “mediocre sameness.””

“When has it ever been “practical” to study philosophy? Or art history? Or English literature? No one studies the humanities or fine arts for their practical value. They meticulously examine Van Gogh’s paintings, or closely analyze Hemingway’s novels, because it makes them feel more fully human. It enlarges the imagination, rattles the emotions, and offers the promise that through the intellectual mine work of artistic and philosophical discovery, they might emerge from the pit of the mountain with something more valuable than silver, gold, or coal—the truth.”

3. “Obama’s failure to deliver for millennials” by Jonah Goldberg (The Dallas Morning News, March 16, 2014) – Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online, columnist Jonah Goldberg discussed the disillusionment and cynicism of many millennials and what it could mean for Obama nad Democrats.
“Now, I should say that I often find generational stereotyping pretty annoying. For instance, there was no “greatest generation.” Sure, there were a bunch of great Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy. But is some guy who was in jail in 1943 for petty larceny deserving of special respect because he was born around the same time as a guy who won the Medal of Honor during WWII?
Honor, glory and respect are earned individually, not collectively.”
“But, as Mario Cuomo once said, politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. And the prose of the Obama years has been an incoherent and disillusioning run-on sentence. His signature achievement, Obamacare, was designed from the outset to screw young people, overcharging them for products they don’t need in order to subsidize older Americans.”
4. “15 Years In Environment Of Constant Fear Somehow Fails To Rehabilitate Prisoner” (The Onion, March 4, 2014) – The Onion, as it often does, brilliantly – and, of course, hilariously – mocks our justice system and its apparent inability to rehabilitate criminals.
““It just doesn’t seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society,” said chief warden Albert Gunderson, who noted that, as hard as it was to believe, Raney’s recidivism proved that his criminal impulses had not in fact been corrected by the sense of grave distrust he felt toward every other person in the facility, including both fellow inmates and prison authorities, every day since 1999.”
5. “The Agony of Perfectionism” by Derek Thompson (The Atlantic, March 10, 2014) – Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson writes about perfectionism, wondering if “hard-earned success in life is wasted on the people least likely to appreciate it.”
“Some economists and psychologists prefer to think of us as falling into two mood groups: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers are perfectionists. They want the best of everything, and they want to know they have the best of everything. Satisficers are realists. They want what’s good enough, and they’re happy to have it.
The trouble with perfectionists is that, by wanting the best, they aspire to be perfectly rational consumers in a world where we all agree that’s impossible. It’s a recipe for dissatisfaction, way too much work, and even depression.”
“Maximizers apply for more jobs, attend more job interviews, spend more time worrying about their social status, and wind up less happy, less optimistic, “and more depressed and regretful” than everybody else.”
6. “The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes” by Chris Arnade (The Guardian, December 24, 2013) – In an essay for The Guardian, Chris Arnade explains how “The people who challenged his atheism most weren’t priests, but homeless addicts and prostitutes.”
“I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.
None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.”
“They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.”
“Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.”

7. “Neither ‘Noah’ nor its critics can read Bible writers’ minds” by Kathleen Parker (The Dallas Morning News, March 17, 2014)  – For The Dallas Morning NewsWaPo columnist Kathleen Parker discusses some of the controversy surrounding the film Noah, especially some of the complaints from fundamentalists.

“To wit: In the literal tale, no one speaks until after (spoiler alert) a dove sent to find land returns with an olive twig in its beak, indicating the flood is over and the world is saved. In the movie version, people talk, which is awfully helpful in following the narrative.”

“Note the frequent use of the word movie in the preceding paragraphs. This is because Noah is — a movie. It is not a sermon or a call to prayer. It cost $130 million to make and is intended to entertain, inspire and — bear with me, I know this is crazy — make money. It does not presume to encourage religious conversion, disrespect a prophet or evangelize a snake, though it does glorify virtue in the highest.”

“To each his own interpretation, but at least one conclusion seems self-evident: The Bible’s authors were far more literary than we. They clearly had a keen appreciation for parable and metaphor, as well as a profound understanding that truth is better revealed than instructed.
If the literalists prevail, we just might need another flood.”

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