Homo homini rodentius est

Dreaming of the 4th

Declaration of IndependenceWhen I was a kid — probably no more than 15 or 16 — I wrote a 10-page essay entitled “Should We Follow the Dream?” in which I came up with arguments for why the American Dream (really Jefferson’s vision of liberal democracy) was still meaningful to young people and a worthy ideal to dedicate one’s life to. As soon as I had finished writing it, I read it approvingly, placed it into an envelope and mailed it off… to the President of the United States. Not as insanely egocentric as you might think — actually, it was an act of some desperation. About the same time I visited my local parish priest, Father Murphy, to tell him that my faith was failing — I had started to think that there was no one listening to my prayers at night (his impatient response: “Pray harder”). I wrote to the president not because my fervor for America was so great, but because it was weakening. I grew up through the tail end of Vietnam and Watergate, witnessed the paralysis caused by the Iranian hostage crisis, the partisan rancor over Reagan’s policies, the inattention to AIDS and poverty. The disconnect between the ideals of the nation and its practice was so great that I started withdrawing a personal committment and trust. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. That continued for a long time, helped along by a generation of craven politicians who, it seemed, would sink to any depth to win power. It has only recently started to change. For the first time in a long time I feel like I’m in sync with many of my fellows, who have grown weary of vicious partisan politics from the extremes of the two parties. In my own life a feeling of boredom and weariness is often a sign that some situation has grown unbearable and must be changed. It feels like the country is on the verge of deciding something big.

Here are a couple of suggestions for things to do to mark the 4th:

1. Take a few minutes out of your day (no more than 20, to be sure) to re-read something you haven’t read since high school. [Read all of it]. It’s accessible, it’s important and I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

2. If you have a few dollars you can spare, send them to the folks at [The Wounded Warrior Project]. They’re doing good work, but they can’t do it alone.

Happy Independence Day

Amy Sedaris and Martha Stewart – a classic

In this clip from Conan, Amy teaches Martha how to make a grilled cheese sandwich in prison. This was early 2001, long before Martha’s legal troubles. Amy clearly saw it coming. Also, a foul-mouthed earful of her most hilarious character: Piglet (no… not that Piglet). Enjoy.

The search for a genetic grail

genetic brainEverytime you turn around, there’s a story in the news about a new study that is described as finding “biological” causes of behaviors and traits that, traditionally, were matters of individual inclination or moral suasion. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed stories in [The New York Times] about genes for risk-taking, yet another “what-makes-them-gay” [article] suggesting birth order is the key — even one saying that [choice of occupation] may be at least partially determined by your genes. There seems no end to our appetite for stories that locate our essence in the laboratory. But at what risk?

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Short Bites

Darwin’s Tortoise Rolls onto Back for Last Time…
Harriet the tortoise, believed by some to have been brought back to England from the Galapagos by Charles Darwin himself [has died] at the age of 172. DNA testing has raised questions about the Darwin link, but it is still amazing to think that when this creature was born Andrew Jackson was President. Kinda’ puts your own life in perspective, eh?

Are Blogs Bad for You?
[This fellow], writing in ChristianityToday, thinks so. He makes some valid points about the limitations of today’s technology that, for all of the hype, doesn’t map very well to the needs of human communication. Blogs may very well be bad for you. But not this one.

America’s War on Science
In a slightly [breathless editorial] over at SEED Magazine, they’re taking a marketplace approach to the problem of production of home-grown scientists and engineers. In short, we’re not producing enough of our own and need to import more. Apparently, this is one area where we need more of a trade imbalance. What they neglect to address is the fact that we still [produce a lot of techies] — just not as many, per capita, as when the Russkies were breathing down our necks with a bazillion missles…

10-year Erection Leads to Stiff Penalty
Some poor guy in Rhode Island has been walking around with a [Bionic Boner] for 10 years. You might think that’s a good thing, but it isn’t — to the tune of $400,000.

Bloggers blabbing: a Slate symposium

Slate Blogging Symposium

Last night I attended a symposium at the New York Public Library celebrating the 10th anniversary of Slate magazine and addressing the current state of online journalism. Michael Kinsley moderated a panel made up of Arianna Huffington, Malcolm Gladwell, Jacob Weisberg and Norman Pearlstine. It was a good talk by some of the brightest lights in the world of journalism and culminated in a very typically New York moment.

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