General Revelation

Why don’t Christians have all the truth? Because non-Christians are smart and attend well to creation. Some highlights of recent revelations from people not explicitly illumined by the Holy Spirit or committed to Reformed Protestant epistemology:

First, a great piece on the films of Whit Stillman which includes this:

Though certainly a contemporary filmmaker and not in any sense a stranded nostalgist, Stillman nevertheless displays qualities that, while once common, are now so rare that they put him in stark relief against nearly all of his contemporaries. Perhaps most pronounced is his distinctive affection for his uniformly well-born characters. If revulsion for bourgeois hypocrisy seems an obligatory quality in American independent filmmaking these days, Stillman will have none of it. He offers instead a gentle satire of his characters’ foibles combined with a frank sympathy for their principles. While quite natural in Austen novels and RKO comedies of the 1930s and ’40s, this is rare today. Thus is it all the more striking that Stillman continues to receive critical acclaim from disparate publications and institutions, from a Vanity Fair photo spread for the 25th anniversary of Metropolitan to a volume of effusive essays from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Second, the short-sightedness of suburban growth:

Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms:

1. Transfer payments between governments: where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.

2. Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.3

3. Public and private-sector debt: where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.

In each of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange — a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation — is one element of a Ponzi scheme.

The other is the realization that the revenue collected does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the cost at $5 trillion — but that’s just for major infrastructure, not the minor streets, curbs, walks, and pipes that serve our homes.

The reason we have this gap is because the public yield from the suburban development pattern — the amount of tax revenue obtained per increment of liability assumed — is ridiculously low.

Last, the folly of an all volunteer military:

When the Gates Commission set up the rationale for the AVF in 1970, it did so at the behest of a president, Richard Nixon, who had come to see the conscript military as a political dagger aimed at his own heart. One could argue that the decision to abolish conscription was a foregone conclusion; the Commission simply provided a rationale for doing it and for volunteerism to replace it.

But whatever we might think of the Commission’s work and Nixon’s motivation, what has happened in the last 16 years—interminable war—was never on the Commission’s radar screen. Like most crises, as Colin Powell used to lament when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this one was unexpected, not planned for, and begs denial as a first reaction.

That said, after 16 years of war it is plain to all but the most recalcitrant that the U.S. cannot afford the AVF—ethically, morally, or fiscally.

Fiscally, the AVF is going to break the bank. The land forces in particular are still having difficulties fielding adequate numbers—even with lowered standards, substituting women for men (from 1.6 percent of the AVF in 1973 to more than 16 percent today), recruitment and reenlistment bonuses totaling tens of millions of dollars, advertising campaigns costing billions, massive recruitment of non-citizens, use of psychotropic drugs to recycle unfit soldiers and Marines to combat zones, and overall pay and allowances that include free world-class health care and excellent retirement plans that are, for the first time in the military’s history, comparable to or even exceeding civilian rates and offerings.

A glaring case in point is the recent recruitment by the Army of 62,000 men and women, its target for fiscal year 2016. To arrive at that objective, the Army needed 9,000 recruiting staff (equivalent to three combat brigades) working full-time. If one does the math, that equates to each of these recruiters gaining one-point-something recruits every two months—an utterly astounding statistic. Additionally, the Army had to resort to taking a small percentage of recruits in Mental Category IV—the lowest category and one that, post-Vietnam, the Army made a silent promise never to resort to again.

Moreover, the recruiting and retention process and rich pay and allowances are consuming one half of the Army’s entire annual budget slice, precluding any sort of affordable increase in its end strength.

All of these pieces relate to the United States’ growth as a world power and the way we pay (or don’t) for it. Stillman’s movie, Barcelona, is an amusing take on the convergence of economic interest and Cold War policy. And none of it will you (nor should you) find in New Horizons.

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Lenten Attractions

After reading a few posts, the idea of Lent may have some appeal.

First, it might be a time to catch up on films I’ve missed (though these are the sorts of films that the missus and I usually watch on the holy day):

Almsgiving, prayer, fasting. “Into Great Silence” is German filmmaker Philip Gröning’s almost yearlong sojourn with the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. It is a long film that challenges us to be silent and to contemplate the life of these monks who choose to live these qualities of Lent for 364 days a year. While some thought the film had no meaning, for those willing to take the time to stay awhile and watch, the film leaves a lasting impression on how to go into the woods, or the desert, and to live deliberately — alone, yet for others.

Or it could be a chance to drink more beer (didn’t see that one coming):

Seeing as beer has a long history as Lenten fare, I thought I would suggest five Bock style beers to sustain you during the long dark days until Easter.

Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock – Founded in the year 1050, the Weltenburger brewery is one of the oldest monastic breweries in the world. While it is sadly now a corporate operation, the brewery still makes a high quality Bock, which is no surprise when you’ve nearly 1,000 years to practice.

Salvator Doppel Bock – Salvator Doppel Bock is one of the first monastic Doppelbocks, brewed by the Paulaner brewery in Munich. This beer is dangerously good—it was once banned by the government because villagers complained that it was causing drinkers to become too lively.

La Trappe Bockbier – De Koningshoeven Brewery, commonly known as La Trappe, is a world-famous Trappist brewery founded in 1884. The brewery has grown heavily commercialized in recent years, but they still make an excellent Bock.

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel – The Andeschser Doppelbock is considered by many to be one of the best Doppelbocks in the world. Brewed in Andeschs, Germany by the Benedictine Monks of St. Boniface, it is one of the few successful monastic breweries still owned by monks.

Weihenstephaner Korbinian – The Weihenstephan brewery is considered by many to be the oldest breweries in the world. Founded in the year 725 by St. Corbinian, Weihenstephan Abbey began brewing beer in the year 1040. The brewery is now owned by the state of Bavaria, but its Korbinian Doppelbock is one of the finest in the world.

But while cradles find ways to make Lent less restrictive, converts keep Lent real (call it late-winter cleaning):

However busy we are, there are always certain tasks that are more palatable to us than others. They tend to gravitate to the top of the to-do list. (Planting the garden. Yes! Let’s do it!) Meanwhile, the really hated chores keep getting pushed back. I can go a long time without finding time to clean the fridge, sort the closets or make the dental appointments.

The hated chores still need to be done sometime. Make Lent that time. Prepare for Easter by doing all the really unpleasant tasks on your list, in preparation for a season of pleasant (if still frantic) activity.

I get incredibly excited for Paschaltide knowing that that’s when I get to stop sorting closets and turn my attention to the yard instead. (I hate housework and love yard work. That’s just me.) I file insurance forms and eat the nasty stuff from the back of the freezer during Lent. Sometimes I really get crazy and wash the windows. I rarely get through everything I intend, but however far I get, the penitential to-doing is going to stop once Easter comes.

Yes, the basement does need attention, but I’ll stick with one day in seven and leave the chores for Saturday.