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Ayn Rand, Archetypal Capitalist Wizard

Thursday, January 31st, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

I finally started Atlas Shrugged this morning. Many thanks to my Objectivist friends for inspiring me to read it. I’ll plan to share visual excerpts and blog on its themes Thursdays.

Highly Recommended: see Stephen W. Browne’s essays “Why I’m Not an Objectivist” Part 1 and 2 with which I tend to mostly agree. I already like most of Rand’s writing and ideas quite a bit. But to me she’s just one more intellectual crayon in the box. Never the less, I do look forward to learning how to color in the shade of Queen Ayn…

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image courtesy shutterstock / Lawrence Wee

Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Ayn Rand: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

10 Secret Reasons Why The Avengers Is the Best Superhero Film

23 Books for Counterculture Conservatives, Tea Party Occultists, and Capitalist Wizards

Time to Read Ayn Rand?

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How to Finally Understand 2001: A Space Odyssey

Thursday, January 31st, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Today’s PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection comes From Ed Driscoll’s “Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format” article:

Filmguide to 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Carolyn Geduld. Speaking of when Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic 2001: A Space Odyssey left so many audiences baffled in the late 1960s, co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke was fond of saying, “Read the book, see the movie, repeat the dosage.” Right idea, and while Clarke’s novelization of 2001 is available on Kindle, it’s not necessarily the best book for cracking the film’s mysteries. If I had to hand one baffled 2001 viewer the Cliff’s Notes to the movie, it would be Geduld’s book from 1973, which thoroughly charts out the film’s plot and leitmotifs.

The flat-panel news and information devices the astronauts read while eating dinner in 2001 directly inspired the iPad and Kindle. Now that technology has finally caught up Kubrick’s 1968 vision, shouldn’t the book that places them into context be accessible on those devices as well?

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

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The 3 Best Monty Python Sketches (Aren’t Necessarily the Funniest)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

Monty Python saved my life.

I was ten years old in 1974, when the Buffalo PBS station across the lake began airing the iconoclastic BBC comedy series every Friday night.

Being stuck in a cheap, dinky apartment that overlooked a burned-out church, with my bullying alcoholic stepfather and a meek, “see no evil” mother, surrounded at school by more extroverted, rough-and-tumble classmates — and very likely, without knowing it, clinically depressed — that half hour once a week sitting two feet from the TV was one of the only things I felt I had to look forward to.

Maybe ever, I thought at the time.

Ironically, my crappy stepfather was the one who turned me on to the show.

The first night, he “made” me watch it, the same way he was always trying to “make” me get a suntan or take up horseback riding or keep all the closet and cupboard doors in the house either open or closed depending on his inscrutable whim of the week.

My pouty resentment faded fast. For whatever reason — the cool accents, the breathless pace, the tame “naughtiness,” the “question authority” iconoclasm, the ineffable cuteness of Michael Palin — I got hooked on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

In high school, I finally met a couple of girls who shared my passion, and we became those insufferable sorts who communicate almost entirely in Python (and SCTV) catchphrases.

I bought all the Python’s albums and books by and about them, and repeatedly signed out hard to find titles from the library, like the one detailing their lawsuits and censorship battles.

(Which I suppose helps explain my enthusiasm for trouble-making and my relative indifference to being sued and otherwise denounced and condemned.)

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I Suspect Some Tasty Food Still Remains On Your Fingers

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Global Cute Animal Videos

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7 Pictures of An Adorable Siberian Husky Puppy’s First Beach Vacation

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VIDEO: Maggie Smith Goes 16-Bit in Retro Downton Abbey Game

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 - by Jon Bishop

The Super Nintendo and the country house — now, there’s a combination I don’t think anyone has ever imagined. According to Vanity Fair, Bill Kiley decided to bring Downton Abbey back to the 1990s and turn it into a game modeled after those of the now-defunct SNES.

Julie Miller writes:

Kiley began by simplifying the show’s theme song down to a video-game-befitting synthesizer remix. Over “a few really late nights,” the Downton buff culled images from video games including Clock Tower to mock up the resulting excerpt. By assuming the role of a new Downton footman, players are asked to complete several tasks from Lady Mary (spying on Mrs. Patmore to see if she is trying to poison Matthew), Anna (“If you can fluff five pillows in 20 seconds, I will let you read a letter from my jailed husband”), and Robert.

In dialogue that is spot-on for Super Nintendo (but might make Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes cringe), Lord Grantham asks, at one point, “Footman, I require assistance! I have misplaced 10 of my most cherished cigars . . . I have guests coming over for a fancy cigar party. Without them, I’ll be ruined . . . I need you to explore the estate and the surrounding grounds for my fancy cigars.”)

It seems like retro, eight-bit mock games are in right now. They’re all over the Internet. What’s interesting is this: they seem to be popping up — the same can be said of shows like Downton Abbey — as we continue to fly toward that elusive, seductive place called “progress.” I think this is a playful signal from the culture. It’s saying: Whoa. Uh, pump the breaks, please.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

7 Times Downton Abbey Has Jumped the Shark

5 Covert Conservative Lessons in Downton Abbey

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Scaling A Babel Tower of Goddess Worship, Conspiracism, and Quantum Mechanics

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Schrodinger’s Cat: The Universe Next Door by Robert Anton Wilson, page 25.

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle. Wednesday selections currently focus on the counterculture satire of Robert Anton Wilson and related authors.

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Robert Anton Wilson: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

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7 Types of Dudes Who Annoy Everyone Just By Their Very Existence

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 - by John Hawkins

Do you ever look at another human being and just want to say, “Stop it!” — except, before the words leave your mouth, you realize that what you really want the person to do is to stop being himself? Asking a complete ass to stop annoying you is like asking a bird not to chirp or a fish not to swim. No matter how much you try to wish it away, it’s just what he’s chosen to be.

Male feminist

1) The Male Feminist

Maybe no one has informed you of this, but you are a dude. A man is not supposed to be a neutered, pansy-ass, emasculated weenie who trashes his own sex and spouts off lines Gloria Steinem didn’t even really believe when she first said them. Are guys like this trying to impress chicks? Were they brainwashed in a women’s studies class in college? Are they just uncomfortable with the fact that they have a penis? Whatever the case may be, these losers are so irritating that you get the feeling that even most liberal feminists have to choke back the intrinsic revulsion that they feel for these Nancy Boys.

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7 Times Downton Abbey Has Jumped the Shark

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 - by J. Christian Adams

Downton Abbey has jumped the shark, over and over and over again. Either writer Julian Fellowes is toying with viewers by presenting an undercover farce, or “Julian Fellowes” is really a 15-year-old girl using devices common to her age, such as sudden plot lurches, melodrama, tortured simplicity, and outlandish improbability. What started in Season One as a measured, engrossing, and beautiful series has become a weekly, preposterous chore.

Is Laura Linney in on the gag? Has she seen the episodes she is introducing?

Fonzie only jumped the shark once. Here are seven times Downtown Abbey has jumped the shark.

1. Downton Becomes a Hospital

Downtown’s grandest shark jump took place when the estate was turned into a hospital for World War I wounded in Season Two, Episode 3. The subtleties and grandeur of the drama were replaced by noise, racket, bandages, beds, and scores of visitors. To believe this disruption, one must believe that the village is an efficient destination for the war wounded. One must also assume there aren’t other barns, churches, banquet halls, or any other building closer to a railhead capable of handling the casualties. The Downton-becomes-a-hospital frolic and detour sucked the life out of the series and led to even more absurd, improbable plot twists such as the return of Thomas to Downton, the liaison of the maid Ethel and Major Bryant under Lord Grantham’s roof, and the patently impossible return of the terminal William to both die and marry Daisy.  Downton as hospital also produced a plot twist so ridiculous it deserves its own shark-jumping moment.

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5 Ideas You Need to Rise From Poverty to the Middle Class

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

It was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy emerges from the grey remains of her dislocated home into an exotic world of color. That was how I felt at twelve years of age upon my arrival in Minnesota.

Home up to that point had been the dank flat malaise of inner-ring suburban Detroit. In many ways, the Motor City evoked Dorothy’s Kansas. Everything was built on the grid system, many right angles, old houses of stone and brick. It was tangibly dull, colors muted by wear and grime. Winters were especially bleak. An amalgam of overcast, endless concrete and dirt-ridden snow drowned the world in grey. By comparison, the big skies and rolling hills of the Mississippi valley seemed a storybook paradise.

That first trip to Minnesota was made in order to spend time with my father. He had been maintaining an apartment in the Twin Cities while starting a new position with Northwest Airlines. We were to scout out potential homes in anticipation of transplanting the rest of the family, my mother and two sisters. It was perhaps the most visceral manifestation of upward mobility in our family’s history, chasing opportunity across the country.

It was the culmination of my father’s economic journey, which had its beginnings in poverty. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about my father’s childhood aside from the scraps I’ve managed to glean from remarks thrown here and there. I know enough, however, to understand that my father’s rise to the middle class beat the odds — which were stacked against him from the start.

Many years later, I continue to benefit from the choices Dad made. Now the father of my own young family, I stand atop his shoulders looking to grab the next rung. From that position, I realize that some of the essential concepts my father applied are still relevant to me today. As I seek to renew the momentum my father achieved, I reflect upon where he began and how he got to where he did. There are valuable lessons there.

First, it’s important to understand the goal. When we consider the quest for upward mobility, what is our measure of success? In a 2011 piece for Time magazine, assistant managing editor Rana Foroohar makes a crucial distinction:

You can argue about what kind of mobility really matters. Many conservatives, for example, would be inclined to focus on absolute mobility, which means the extent to which people are better off than their parents were at the same age. That’s a measure that focuses mostly on how much economic growth has occurred, and by that measure, the U.S. does fine. Two-thirds of 40-year-old Americans live in households with larger incomes, adjusted for inflation, than their parents had at the same age (though the gains are smaller than they were in the previous generation).

But just as we don’t feel grateful to have indoor plumbing or multichannel digital cable television, we don’t necessarily feel grateful that we earn more than our parents did. That’s because we don’t peg ourselves to our parents; we peg ourselves to the Joneses. Behavioral economics tells us that our sense of well-being is tied not to the past but to how we are doing compared with our peers. Relative mobility matters. By that standard, we aren’t doing very well at all. Having the right parents increases your chances of ending up middle to upper middle class by a factor of three or four.

It’s a mistake to take for granted the notion that “relative mobility matters” without asking why. As we consider some ideas for rising from poverty to the middle class, it will become apparent that improving our individual quality of life is a superior consideration to how our wealth compares with that of others.

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Are We Living in Arthur C. Clarke’s Future?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Today’s PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection comes From Ed Driscoll’s “Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format” article:

Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke: A quarter century before Star Trek: The Next Generation displayed its first replicator onscreen, Clarke was writing about them in Profiles, along with plenty of other futuristic technology; some we now take for granted (such as the Internet and the Kindle) and others that are still on the drawing board. Again, why isn’t such a forward-thinking book not an ebook as well?

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

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The 5 Most Fantastic Technical Advances Coming in Our Future of Abundance

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think vs. X-Events: The Collapse of Everything

In the Future, Will Sexbots Replace Real Women?

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An Open Letter To My Wife Regarding Our Netflix Queue’s Destiny for 2013

Monday, January 28th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Dear April,

As I mentioned to you last night, we’re reaching that point with our Netflix queue where we’ve consumed most of the stuff worth watching. The well of Battlestar Galactica and The Wire-level serial dramatic TV on DVD has begun to run dry. And as our recent experiments in trying to catch up on new releases have demonstrated — a Total Recall remake? Seth MacFarlane as a weed-smoking teddy bear with Peter Griffin’s voice? How desperate were we? –  we’re probably better off reaching further back if we’re to find a more consistent quality to our evening entertainments.

So here are a few potential paths we could consider:

1. Watch the entire Criterion Collection. Maybe in order?

You’re always complaining (rightfully) that the past few years I’ve spend too much time on politics and don’t show you weird, artsy movies anymore. Well here’s the mother lode and now we should start exploring it.

2. Watch the complete filmographies of great directors.

You mentioned last night that you’d be up for all of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. That’s a direction I wouldn’t mind pursuing (and it would include plenty of Criterion titles.) Among more recent directors I wouldn’t mind re-watching all of the Coen brothers or Darren Aronofsky. But I’d love to explore older directors too like Frank Capra and Billy Wilder. And you still haven’t seen most of Stanley Kubrick’s movies, right?

3. Watch all of the Best Picture Oscar-winners. In order?

I’m just itching to start exploring more classic Hollywood films, especially those from the ’30s and ’40s. Time to really start understanding the history of this strange town that’s just 15 minutes down the road…

4. Begin to explore foreign film more?

First on the list I’d put Italian and Japanese cinema. During my film obsessive days I never made much progress plowing through Fellini and Pasolini’s filmographies. Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu still have too many titles I need to check off my list too.

5. Since we’re taking the year off from DisneyLand what if we compensated by educating ourselves on the totality of Disney’s output? What if we tried to watch more classic Disney films?

For my Monday family blogging at PJ Lifestyle I’m going to try and focus on Disney, the complete picture — the man, the company, and his films. I started reading Disney’s World by Leonard Mosley this morning and had no idea that the creator of the Happiest Place on Earth possessed such familiar flaws and shortcomings.

So which direction shall we go? Say the world and I’ll prepare the queue…

Love,

Dave

P.S. I also need your help with an article I’m working on. Earlier this month I promised readers a list justifying our choices for the “5 Do-Them Every Time Rides.” I have not yet delivered and suspect that your assistance is required…

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Walt Disney: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Sun Rises Over the Hills As We Make Our Way to DisneyLand…

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It’s Not the End of the World as We Know It

Monday, January 28th, 2013 - by Stephen Green
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North Koreans Forced to Cannibalize Their Own Children

Monday, January 28th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle News

via Starving North Korean parents ‘eating their children’ | The Sun |News.

HUNGRY parents in North Korea have been caught eating their CHILDREN to avoid starvation, according to reports.

One father is said to have been executed by firing squad for killing his two kids for food.

And it has sparked fears there could be further cases of cannibalism in the country.

The Sunday Times told how undercover reporters recorded several horror stories from inside the poverty-stricken nation.

They included one man who dug up his grandchild’s corpse to eat and another who boiled his child and ate the flesh.

Thousands of North Koreans are feared to be starving to death while their chubby leader Kim Jong-Un regularly dines on banquets.

It is claimed that more than 10,000 people could have died from in the provinces south of the capital Pyongyang alone.

Hat Tip: Mark Levin

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Extreme Makeover: Planned Parenthood Edition

Is Child Sacrifice a Recurring Villain in Today’s Pop Culture?

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Extreme Makeover: Planned Parenthood Edition

Monday, January 28th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
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Planned Parenthood recently decided to jettison the “pro-choice” label. “It’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards at a press briefing earlier this month. Rather than replacing “pro-choice” with a new and improved slogan, Richards said the organization’s polling indicates a need for a more “nuanced” message rather than definitive labels. Planned Parenthood found that many of those polled rejected both the pro-choice and pro-life labels, saying their views change depending upon the situation, so the group says their new messaging reflects the shift.

In a video released with the announcement, a cartoonish Julia-type character tells us: “Most things in life aren’t simple and that includes abortion. It’s personal. It can be complicated. And for many people, it’s not a black and white issue.” (Technically, for the baby, it is a very black and white issue as far as his survival is concerned.)

After a lengthy lecture about politicians — specifically male politicians — having no business making laws about abortions, we learn that,

The next time you talk about abortion don’t let the labels box you in. Have a different conversation. A conversation that doesn’t divide but is based on mutual respect and empathy.

The video then directs viewers to Planned Parenthood Action, the political arm of Planned Parenthood. At the site we find charts with surveys purporting to demonstrate the no-label narrative and stating that most people believe abortion should be legal. In the tiny print at the bottom you can see that the polling comes from an online survey.

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Walt Disney: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Monday, January 28th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Ayn Rand: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Robert Anton Wilson: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The 10 Things You Must Do at Disney World

Walt Disney’s 5 Greatest Innovations

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The Source of Both Infinite Happiness and Meaning

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Must we always choose between doing good and feeling good? Does a life of meaning require the sacrifice of personal happiness?

My friend Emily Esfahani-Smith explores these questions in a new piece at The Atlantic on the apparent conflict some in today’s secular culture have discovered between a “happy” life and a “meaningful” one (“There’s More to Life Than Being Happy“):

According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high — as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word “happiness” in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.”

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This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write.

How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.

Read the whole thing.

Related, earlier this month at Fox News, from Dr. Keith Ablow, “We are raising a generation of deluded narcissists”:

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.

This data is not unexpected.  I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.

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Distractions, however, are temporary, and the truth is eternal. Watch for an epidemic of depression and suicidality, not to mention homicidality, as the real self-loathing and hatred of others that lies beneath all this narcissism rises to the surface.  I see it happening and, no doubt, many of you do, too.

We had better get a plan together to combat this greatest epidemic as it takes shape.  Because it will dwarf the toll of any epidemic we have ever known. And it will be the hardest to defeat. Because, by the time we see the scope and destructiveness of this enemy clearly, we will also realize, as the saying goes, that it is us.

Among the big paradoxes in America today that it’s impolite to mention: how we’re willing to work for happiness. If you offer to sell someone a happy pill, they’ll gladly sacrifice a meaningful chunk of income and endure a host of annoying side effects to have the chance of it. But provide them with free instructions on behaviors proven to generate happiness and instead you’ll receive insult, ridicule, and dismissal. None of the unhappy will even consider experimenting with the solution. Instead they’ll continue to seek happiness through trolling internet forums and expounding on their superiority while hiding behind an anonymous handle.

The root of being “happy” is in how one chooses to define what the word means. Everyone has the freedom to decide for themselves what set of life circumstances will satisfy them. Or, in the Dennis Prager, Abraham Lincoln mode of putting it: You are as happy as you choose to be.

How can you choose to bring happiness to yourself? In the America of 2013 it’s necessary to say explicitly what Esfahani-Smith and Ablow infer. The easiest, cheapest, most effective path to a joyful life is also the squarest: prayer and the sincere practice of other religious rituals. Pray to a Higher Power for happiness on a consistent basis and it will indeed begin to come. Now long-term happiness, that’s a more challenging prospect, but still wholly within the grasp of every human being on the planet who makes the choice to pursue it…

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Worship Singer Paul Wilbur Just Made History Performing In Cuba

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 - by Myra Adams
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About five years ago, after my husband and I first heard Paul Wilbur perform at a messianic temple in Ft. Lauderdale, we became instant fans. Since then, we have played his CDs in our cars repeatedly.

Wilbur’s songs appeal to traditional Jews and Christians alike. He has performed in Israel on numerous occasions, and his love for that nation, coupled with his own Jewish heritage and love of Christ, is the hallmark of his music ministry, making him a unique performer.

As a result, Wilbur’s popularity as a singer, songwriter and praise/worship leader has grown tenfold around the world since we first heard him perform in a small venue.

His music resonates with me, and not just because we are both Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, but in the extraordinary way his songs fill any room (or car) with passion and love.

Now, as so often happens when I’m inspired to write something with a spiritual theme for PJ Lifestyle, a deeper dimension of the topic is revealed while I am doing “research.” (A quick Google search.)

Such was the case with Paul Wilbur. I had already decided to write about him because I thought PJ Lifestyle Sunday readers would appreciate knowing about him and hearing some of his music.

That was when I discovered, just this past December, Paul Wilbur made history as the first singer to perform at a religious concert event in Cuba with the full permission and “blessing” of the communist Cuban government.

Watch him here as he speaks about this historic trip.

His Cuban concerts were truly amazing events for this struggling nation and its oppressed people.

Perhaps, just the fact that Wilbur’s two “praise and worship” performances were even allowed to proceed, is a signal that some potentially major political, social and or spiritual changes are about to be instituted by the Cuban government.

Which begs the questions, “Is God at work in Cuba and if so, is HE using Paul Wilbur as a catalyst?”

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, check out Paul Wilbur Ministries and discover what a tour de force he has become around the world.

And, if you are ever presented with the opportunity to see him perform live, do not hesitate.  Trust me when I tell you your faith walk could be impacted, even if you have little faith or none at all.

Finally, I will close with a video of Paul Wilbur performing a song that ranks high among my favorites.

Please do watch until the very end, for this song builds and soars and I predict your spirits will be uplifted right along with it.

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Not Everyone Wants to Be Saved

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

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The Waiting for ‘Superman’ of the New Atheists

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What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

There is an afterlife, and a benign deity. At least, that’s the testament of tens of thousands (some say it’s now millions) of people all over the world who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) (an online collection of these reports is here).

Two books now at or near the top of the New York Times bestseller list are about NDEs. One is by Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon whose brain was attacked by a rare bacterial meningitis. It plunged him into a weeklong coma during which he had an extraordinary NDE involving an encounter with the deity. Alexander says the NDE had to be real because his brain was severely incapacitated by the meningitis and far from having sufficient capacity to produce such a vivid, elaborate experience. (His Daily Beast article based on the book now tallies 115,000 likes.)

The other current NDE bestseller is by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent, the former being the father of Colton Burpo, who, when he was four years old, had an NDE during emergency surgery that also involved contact with the divine. Todd Burpo is a pastor, and his son’s NDE had a strongly Christian cast to it; Alexander, while formally Christian, was a pronounced skeptic before his NDE, and it had a decidedly nonsectarian character.

During his NDE, Alexander was guided by a mysterious, heavenly young woman, already something of an urban legend known as the butterfly girl. Four months after the NDE, he saw for the first time a photo of his biological sister (Alexander was adopted) who had died in 1998—and had an overpowering sense of recognition.

Colton Burpo, during his NDE, met a miscarried sister he had not known about and a great grandfather who had died thirty years before he was born, and related details about both of them he couldn’t possibly have been familiar with. Alexander, for his part, also mentions a report in a book by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross about a twelve-year-old girl who, during an NDE, met — and later described — a deceased brother whom she had never known about.

The skeptics can always find reasons to doubt any such report. Such accounts are, however, proliferating — and NDE research is still quite young, the phenomenon having become common only in the 1960s when medical techniques began enabling doctors to revive patients who, in the past, would have crossed over for good. And such reports are going to keep proliferating, more and more and more — and the skeptics will have a harder and harder and harder time.

Indeed, the NDE skeptics already remind me of a basketball team falling further and further behind in the fourth quarter. I’ve only been reading and watching videos about about the subject, when I can find time for it, for somewhat less than a year, and I’m hardly steeped in knowledge about it. The skeptics, though, while claiming they represent the “scientific” approach, are actually the side that has decided to cling to certain rigid dogmas no matter what countervailing evidence comes in.

For them, no NDE can be real; there can be no non-brain-based consciousness, no transcendence, no deity, nothing beyond the immediate life of our five senses, doomed to disappear once its strictly physical, cellular foundations expire. For reasons I don’t understand, any suggestion to the contrary seems to irritate if not incense them; I don’t know what it is they need to negate or why a materialist outlook is so precious to them.

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Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format

Saturday, January 26th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

I was a slow convert to the idea of ebooks. My wife bought one of the first Kindles, and I couldn’t get past the off-putting appearance of the text on the screen in the Kindle’s first iteration. But then I tried the Kindle app for Windows. And the Kindle app for my Android Tablet. And slowly began to fall in love. I could read anywhere. I could free up space on my overflowing and limited physical bookshelves. I could easily quote what I had just read in a blog post. The idea of being able to carry my entire library with me and having it accessible in locations as diverse as the treadmill at the gym or a seat on an airplane became increasingly irresistible.

But not my entire library, alas. There are numerous examples of books that I’d repurchase in a second to read on my Kindle that simply aren’t there yet. Nor are they available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader; I’ve searched.

Off the top of my head, in an ideal world here’s what I’d like to see in the Kindle format. Amazon links are included, if you’d like to get started reading any of these titles now in good ol’ dead tree format — which might be a good idea, as I suspect the wait for some of these might be glacial.

Alvin Toffler’s Back Catalog: Toffler’s Future Shock was a huge bestseller when it was first published in 1970. A decade later, The Third Wave, the sequel to Future Shock, would be  name-checked by Newt Gingrich during the heady days of the “Republican Revolution” in 1995, shortly after he became speaker of the House, which gives a sense of how the book’s predictions held up in the interim 15 years. Toffler’s War and Anti-War applied the principles of the Third Wave to warfare; Powershift applied them to business. Given that The Third Wave was a pretty accurate prediction of how the Internet reshaped society in the 1990s, if any book deserves to be available in electronic format, it’s this one. Where is it? (For my interviews with Toffler, click here and here.)

Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke: A quarter century before Star Trek: The Next Generation displayed its first replicator onscreen, Clarke was writing about them in Profiles, along with plenty of other futuristic technology; some we now take for granted (such as the Internet and the Kindle) and others that are still on the drawing board. Again, why isn’t such a forward-thinking book not an ebook as well?

Filmguide to 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Carolyn Geduld. Speaking of when Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic 2001: A Space Odyssey left so many audiences baffled in the late 1960s, co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke was fond of saying, “Read the book, see the movie, repeat the dosage.” Right idea, and while Clarke’s novelization of 2001 is available on Kindle, it’s not necessarily the best book for cracking the film’s mysteries. If I had to hand one baffled 2001 viewer the Cliff’s Notes to the movie, it would be Geduld’s book from 1973, which thoroughly charts out the film’s plot and leitmotifs.

The flat-panel news and information devices the astronauts read while eating dinner in 2001 directly inspired the iPad and Kindle. Now that technology has finally caught up Kubrick’s 1968 vision, shouldn’t the book that places them into context be accessible on those devices as well?

The Death of the Grown-Up, by Diana West. The subhead of West’s book is “How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization.” As Michelle Malkin noted in 2007 when she interviewed West on her book, others have written about the increasing child-like naiveté of society, but West was perhaps the first to explain how it has hamstrung our fight in what was once called the Global War on Terror. That we had (have?) a war named after tactics rather than the enemy we’re fighting is due to the GWOT receiving its name largely through a process of elimination, as West noted in her book and the articles that preceded it, as political correctness allows few other choices.

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TRANSCEND: The Ray Kurzweil Plan to Live Healthy Until We Finish Evolving Into Cyborgs

Saturday, January 26th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Official description from Amazon:

Publication Date: April 28, 2009

In 2004, Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD, published Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Their groundbreaking book marshaled thousands of scientific studies to make the case that new developments in medicine and technology will allow us to radically extend our life expectancies and slow down the aging process. Soon, our notion of what it means to be a 55-year-old will be as outdated as an eight-track tape player.

TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever presents a practical, enjoyable program so that readers can live long enough (and remain healthy long enough) to take full advantage of the biotech and nanotech advances that have already begun and will be occurring at an accelerating pace during the years ahead. To help readers remember the nine key components of the program, Ray and Terry have arranged them into a mnemonic:

Talk with your doctor

Relaxation

Assessment

Nutrition

Supplementation

Calorie reduction

Exercise

New technologies

Detoxification

This easy-to-follow program will help readers transcend the boundaries of our genetic legacy and live long enough to live forever.

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

New Year’s Resolution #6: Stop sacrificing health on the altar of workaholism. Saturday Bookshelf suggestions explore various diet and exercise regiments.

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Shutterstock image courtesy /  Andrea Danti

Related at PJ Lifestyle:

13 Weeks: Week 11 — In Which We Consolidate Our Losses

PJTV: Glenn Reynolds Interviews Singularity Rising Author James D. Miller

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13 Weeks: Week 12 — In Which We Get Cross and Fit

Saturday, January 26th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

It’s week 12 of 13, and time to start thinking about the next thirteen weeks. I’ve taken to calling it my “second season,” indulging my fantasy of writing for TV. As I’ve been saying for a while, I’m going to emphasize the fitness part of the training for the next thirteen weeks.

This is in addition to the dietary changes that turned out to be the focus of the first 13 weeks, so let’s summarize the whole: overall motivation and what I’ve been doing.

It started back in the middle of October, when I was doing my morning pages and found myself writing about how my father had died at 69, my mother at 77, and I was now 57; neither 12 nor 20 more years seemed near enough. What’s more, I weighed 301.5 pounds, I was clearly type II diabetic, I was having real sustained trouble with both gastric reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and I was avoiding going up and down the two flights of stairs in my own house.

Come right down to it, the motivation was that I don’t want to die.

There was and is a second motivation that I only came to understand during this first thirteen weeks. I’ve been overweight, heavy, and fat since I was a child — the first time I remember it being an issue I was between six and nine, and I think it was probably the summer I was seven. I was running through the house in shorts and no shirt, and I slapped my belly for some reason, and my mother just exploded that I should go put on a shirt, I was fat and disgusting. She also liked to dwell on a couple of minor scars on my face and joke to her friends that she’d get me plastic surgery when I was 18 and after that I was on my own. So make that fat, ugly, and horribly scarred, and disgusting.

I don’t think it was the first time I was called fat, but I do think it was the first time I had cared that I was fat. It was not, however, the last.

During this 13 weeks, I had a sudden insight. Now, I actually like people, at least in small groups. I like talking with people, I like finding interesting people and interacting with them. Put me in front of an audience, say giving a talk, and I both enjoy it and seem to be good at it. (Here’s me in front of an audience several years ago, talking about “big organizations that act like idiots.”) But whenever I’m dealing with people one on one, I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I’m fat, ugly, and disgusting. And yes, this did tend to be an impediment in that sort of social situation.

So, anyway, motivation #2 was to just to not feel fat, ugly, and disgusting. Neither losing weight nor improving my blood sugar is actually going to make much difference to the extensive baggage, but one result of doing this and writing about it has been to at least uncover the issue; I’ll be unloading the baggage and calling Goodwill about it during this 13 weeks.

The Goal of No Goal

One of the rules I set for myself at the beginning of this, although perhaps I didn’t say it in so many words, was that I wasn’t setting any goals: I was trying something for thirteen weeks to see what effect it had on certain measureable things. Last week, I laid out some other rules for the next 13 weeks. Let’s lay these out again, generalized a little bit.

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The First Draft of the Book Karl Marx Wasted His Whole Life Writing

Friday, January 25th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

New Year’s Resolution #5: Read the Five Big Books of Anti-Marxism. Friday Bookshelf selections currently focus on the work of Leszek Kolakowski, Paul Johnson, Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Ayn Rand, and Whittaker Chambers

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology

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The Gatekeepers Keeps Information from Viewers

Friday, January 25th, 2013 - by Rick Richman
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The Gatekeepers — currently Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary, opening February 1 in New York and Los Angeles — is a movie that could only have been made in Israel.

Six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli agency dealing with domestic terrorism, each spent 12-15 hours in filmed conversations with Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, who spliced excerpts into a 97-minute film dramatized with archival footage and animated recreations. At the end, Moreh shows some of the “gatekeepers” saying Israel is winning battles but losing the war; that the use of force can never be wholly successful and eventually degrades those who use it; and that Israel is in danger of becoming “a Shin Bet state.”

It is a well-made, thought-provoking film, but the conclusions in the last two minutes are not entirely supported by the 95 minutes that precede them. In significant ways, they are in fact contradicted by at least one of the “gatekeepers” — Avi Dichter, who served under Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon from 2000 to 2005. Dichter summarizes Moreh’s apparent position: if we use force against the Palestinians, they will use force against us; and if we stop using force, they will stop using force. Dichter tells him the first part of the equation is true, but that the second is not.

In another exchange, recounted by Moreh at a recent screening, Dichter recalled receiving a 5 a.m. call with intelligence that a terrorist would bomb a bus later that morning, while Israelis were commuting; someone was found who fit the description of an alleged accomplice, but he was unwilling to talk; you have two hours, Dichter said, to find a person on his way to perpetrate a mass murder. So what do you do? At the screening, Moreh did not hazard an answer; and the non-response reflects the lack of easy answers to the issues in the film.

The film’s press materials claim that “for the first time ever,” the former Shin Bet heads are sharing their insights publicly, and Moreh says he was “startled” they agreed to talk to him. But in fact they have spoken publicly before — in a two-hour joint interview in 2003, published at the time in Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, in which the “gatekeepers” expressed the same conclusions. The 2003 interview was instrumental in influencing Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza — with results different from those confidently predicted at the time. But the 2003 interview goes unmentioned and unaddressed in the The Gatekeepers.

As a result, while the film raises important questions, it also withholds important information needed to answer them. The film uses allegedly “first time ever” interviews to push the same points that were pushed back in 2003 by the same people, which produced disastrous results. A better film would have explored why things failed then, and why they have failed since, rather than simply push the same points again as if they had not already been given a real-life test.  

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