Archive for October, 2011

Boo, humbug!

Many Christian have traditionally celebrated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, and the preceding evening is sometimes referred to on the Christian calendar, therefore, as “All Hallows Eve.”  All Hallows Eve morphed over time (I don’t know the history) into Hall-o-ween, which in the United States is a much bigger deal than All Saints Day is anywhere else.  Some notable Christian holidays (Easter, Christmas) actually have pagan roots.  Halloween is the only observed holiday I know of that has become a thoroughly pagen holiday with Christian roots.

Maybe this particularly unholy history of the misnamed “holiday” lies at the root of my increasing displeasure (and sometime disgust) with Halloween. though I’m not one of those anti-witchcraft people who don’t let me kids read Harry Potter.   My religion does not mark the traditional Christian calendar (other than Christmas and Easter), so I’m not one to pay much attention.  However, when I lived in Finland there did seem to be a lot of religious holidays used by the overwhelmingly secular society as a means of getting the day off from work—one of the effects of having a state church.   Indeed, there used to be so many holy days, that some economic historians have noted that the reduction in religious observance of these holy days generated observable increases in annual economic output in Europe.

I liked Halloween as kid, but it was much less of a big deal then.  And since my mother is European, she never did relate to it.  This resulted in my not getting a lot of parental support or encouragement for the stressful enterprise of figuring out a costume.   What I hate most is the pressure or obligation to dress up.  If it suits others, fine.  Just get off my back if my costume for every event is the same: lame college professor.

I wish I had carved this pumpkin

And just because you may see Halloween as the perfect venue to show off your fun, creative side, don’t expect me to.  I prefer to express creativity that doesn’t involve sticking my hands in slimy pumpkins or, basically, any public activity that involves making clothing appear interesting.

If Halloween were about being clever, I would just enjoy people’s cleverness and be done with it.  But this whole scary, haunted, frightening part of the day is annoying.  I have been genuinely afraid before.  It is an emotion that sane people want to avoid.  And the pseudo-fear that comes from a haunted house or a scary movie seems just, well, pointless.  Reality is interesting.  Artificial horror is boring.   Having a young child go missing: scary.  Wearing an ugly mask with eyeballs hanging out: dumb.

Over recent decades Halloween has become, like other holidays, more and more commercialized.  We could point to Michael Jackson’s Thriller or the Pirates of the Carribean movie series as further adding to this trend.  Along with the commercialization, the holiday has gotten longer, pricier, and skankier.  It doesn’t seem to satisfy Paul’s admonition to pursue that which is  true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  And it has become much more in my face.  I don’t want it in my face, especially all the candy I have to eat but definitely don’t need.

Of course the little kids can look pretty cute in costume, and as a parent it is always enjoyable to see kids having a good time (though I’ve dealt with more whining, tired, sick, don’t-want-to-walk-home-in -the-cold kids than I care to remember).   I can’t help but feel, though, that the kids are being exploited a little bit to show off the creativity of parents (usually moms).  On the other hand, what do they care?  Stuff some candy in their faces, and they’re good.  Frankly, since kids are such an economic drag on the family, they actually deserve to be exploited.

I like having the cute kids (as well as the ugly ones) in the neighborhood come to my door and for my kids to visit the other homes around us.  It is a fairly low-cost way to strengthen community ties, to get to know each other a bit more.   Scrooge, therefore, wouldn’t like it.  Though,  since it is still mostly a non-governmental enterprise that doesn’t seem to be associated with higher taxes (at least for now), maybe he would?

But I still say, “Humbug!”

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“A common commitment to refrain from special favors serves the same economic function as a common commitment to refrain from stealing.”

Sounds like a fellow Pilei to me!

This provocative quotation from his piece on Reaganomics came in a close second:

“The Reagan economic program led to a substantial improvement in economic conditions, but there was no ‘Reagan revolution.'”


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BBC News Magazine:

Mass panic and hysteria swept the United States on the eve of Halloween in 1938, when an all-too-realistic radio dramatisation of The War of the Worlds sent untold thousands of people into the streets or heading for the hills.

The radio show was so terrifying in its accounts of invading Martians wielding deadly heat-rays that it is remembered like no other radio programme.

The reality:

Most newspapers printed dispatches sent by wire services such as the Associated Press, which extrapolated widespread fear from small numbers of scattered, anecdotal accounts.

Newspapers, moreover, reported no deaths or serious injuries related to The War of the Worlds broadcast: had panic and hysteria seized America that night, the mayhem surely would have caused many deaths and injuries.

For newspapers, the so-called “panic broadcast” brought newspapers an exceptional opportunity to censure radio, a still-new medium that was becoming a serious competitor in providing news and advertising.

The myth of mass panics seems to underlie a lot of bad policy-making. Remember the overreaction to Katrina? So it’s pretty unsurprising that the oft-told tale of mass panic during Orson Welles’ broadcast turns out to be completely false. People are more resilient than paternalists give them credit for.

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George Will opens up on Romney.  Will conservatives go for a choice or an echo?  A small part of his WaPost article worth reading in full:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable; he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the Tea Party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming.

The problem is that there are few great options for conservatives and libertarian Republicans to flock towards in opposition to Romney.  I wonder why these types of voters don’t give Huntsman a more serious look.*  It is still hard to imagine that the Republicans have basically chosen to go with Romney, Perry, or Cain.  These men are really the three best options on the Republican team!?!  Talk about a failure to build a deeper bench from 2008 forward!  So would one of the alternatives in the race, if nominated, be more like Rand Paul or Sharron Angle?

I repeat, say it ain’t so Mitch…

* Pileus does not endorse any candidate.  I’m just arguing that those with authentic conservative and libertarian views would probably find much to like about Huntsman.

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You can’t work in higher education without seeing all manner of craziness and inefficiency.  Thus it isn’t hard to be at least somewhat sympathetic to education reformers, incremental and radical.  That being said, I was waiting for a gag line at the bottom of this piece from the Pope Center about how to save money on education.

Now to be fair to the author, she admits that “extreme reductions are possible, but they may be far in the future.”  So she isn’t exactly all that optimistic either about radical savings.  But I’m not sure we should even take seriously too-good-to-be true ideas like Rick Perry’s plan for a four-year education that costs $10,000 total (tuition and state/university support combined).  Can we really imagine (without making huge leaps of faith about a future world quite different from the one we live in) a rigorous four-year undergraduate degree with intense instruction in the liberal arts and sciences costing that little?

Higher education costs are much higher than necessary, but even the on-line only Western Governors University costs $6,000 a year just for tuition – and that is for the cheapest program in a “university” with serious downsides.  Likewise, the ultra-small colleges also touted by the Pope folks are going to cost roughly $10,000 a year.  And let’s not take this as a serious alternative to a proper formal education: “UnCollege, which calls itself ‘a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success,’ lists dozens of free or cheap learning options for those who want education without a degree.”

I think it is much more honest to say that it might not be worth it for some to go to college rather than selling the notion that there are supercheap alternatives out there or on the horizon that aren’t just, well, cheap.  And let’s not forget that many might not be suited to the enterprise.  There is no such thing as a great, cheap lunch.

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Note to Rangers Fans

What you are feeling now is kind of how it felt to be a Red Sox fan in 1986 after Game 7.  Of course, you’d have an even better sense if you had to previously endure selling Babe Ruth and watching the Yankees win about a hundred World Series*, 1946, 1967, 1975 (catcher interference!), 1978 (Bucky **** Dent), and lots of bad years and close calls in-between those moments of excruciating fan pain.

Nonetheless, you get my point – and I feel for you.  It will get better.  Even Sox fans got to eventually see them break the Curse.  Makes me almost want to root for the Rangers until they win the World Series.

* Slight exaggeration there.

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Sticks and stones

Here is one difference between out-of-control Tea Partiers and out-of-control Occupiers.   The Tea Partiers throw (according to reports lacking some credibility)  racial epithets at politicans.  The Occupiers throw rocks and bottles at police (seen on film).

There is a certain irony inherent in protests from a group who, when it comes right down to it, want an even more coercive and redistributive government.  Even more ironic is their vilifying the public face of the government, namely the police trying to keep the peace (and protect the rights of those people who don’t think they have the right to occupy public or private property).  Here in America we do things differently: the pro-government people attack the police, the anti-government people respect them.  Weird.

But the troubling part of the story is not really that some yahoo throws racial epithets or rocks.  The troubling part is that the main stream media think the former is more serious than the latter.

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