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Ayn Rand Explains How to Idolize the Creator

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle. Currently Thursdays explore the work of Ayn Rand. Please send your favorite excerpts and quotes.

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Pianist Van Cliburn, Dead at 78

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Picked this up from the Washington Post:

Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.

The family moved back to Kilgore within a few years of his birth.

Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award.

My family had a music store when I was growing up, and Van Cliburn was generally considered a demigod at least by every piano teacher in the Southwest — the Texas boy who had beaten the Soviets at their own game, winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition so decisively the Russians couldn’t deny it. I met him once when I was about 10, and vaguely recall that he seemed awfully young — he would have been about 36 — and that he seemed to have big hands.

He died of bone cancer in Fort Worth, where he made his home.

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The Thirteen Weeks Novel Writing Program

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Can you write a good novel in thirteen weeks?  I don’t know. I can. The shortest time I’ve taken to write a novel was three days, which so far happens to be my best-selling novel. (Alas, work for hire.)  And I’ve written a novel in five years.  That novel remains to this date – deservedly and mercifully – unpublished.  While the idea isn’t bad, it will take some serious rewriting to make it readable, the sort of rewriting that turns it into a trilogy and gives it new characters.

If you go on the evidence of the market, you’d do best to write a novel in a shorter time than thirteen weeks.

My average novel takes a little over a month, but I don’t count research and outlining and run up at the thing (which means finding the right voice and all that).

So thirteen weeks is probably about right, particularly since I’ll be doing my usual thing and writing other things in the evening, as well as editing a couple of other novels.

While it is tempting for the amateur to think that the quality of a novel is directly proportional to how long you take to write it, as far as I can tell there is no correlation.  At least in terms of readability and salability — which is my definition of quality for this project — there were authors like Rex Stout, who had a long-lasting career and who wrote his novels in an average of a week per.  There are also authors like J. K. Rowling, who is reported to have taken three years to write Harry Potter.  There is of course Tolkien, who took more than a decade to produce his works.  There simply is no correlation between quality and time.

You write a novel in as long as it takes to get the novel written.  And that’s all there is to it.  Even now, even in my case, some novels will appear to me fully-formed and with some I have to struggle for every word.

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Why the Original House of Cards Is Infinitely Better Than Netflix’s Remake

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 - by Benjamin Kerstein

Thanks to my mother’s English heritage, and her dedicated preservation of it, I may be one of the few non-British viewers to have seen the original House of Cards long before the American remake. Having just “binge-viewed,” as Netflix no doubt intended, the remake – now the talk of the chattering classes and the entertainment industry – I wonder if this was a disadvantage for me. I was left constantly comparing the two, and while the American House of Cards is good television, beautifully made and surprisingly addictive, it is nothing compared to the BBC’s 1990 masterpiece.

As many readers likely now know, 2013’s version of House of Cards features Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, a skilled but utterly amoral House Majority Whip who, refused a major cabinet post by the new president, schemes his way to the top over the bodies of his rivals. Along for the ride, consciously or not, are his mistress, an ambitious reporter played by Kate Mara; a troubled congressman Underwood ruthlessly uses and discards; and the one person he never truly betrays, his loyal but conflicted wife.

It has its virtues, no doubt. Spacey is brilliant, as he always is when he plays monstrous but charming and fascinating anti-heroes. The machinations of both press and politicians seem far more realistic than on such idealized shows as The West Wing. And under the supervision of talented film director David Fincher, the show looks extraordinary, with cinematography and production design that easily surpasses most current feature films. Nonetheless, it doesn’t quite work; and likely because it either ignores or consciously throws aside everything that made the BBC House of Cards a landmark and a legend in the history of British television.

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A Reason for Faith: Onward Christian Egoist

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Reason vies with faith for dominance in the Republican Party.

Previous articles in this series: 

  1. 5 Common Accusations Leveled at Christianity
  2. A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial
  3. A Reason for Faith: 6 Fatal Misconceptions

When Abraham Lincoln needed to rally the nation toward unity, he referenced Matthew 12:25:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand…”

That principle proves timeless. Divide and conquer remains an effective tactic. Perhaps that informs the many writers on the Left who have strived to drive a wedge between followers of Jesus Christ and adherents to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Consider Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero, who once wrote that “marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond.” He cautioned Republican readers against conflating them:

Rand’s trinity is “I me mine.” Christianity’s is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So take your pick. Or say no to both. It’s a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.

Truthfully, one cannot be both a Christian and an Objectivist. As covered throughout this series, Objectivist epistemology does not allow for any acknowledgement of the supernatural. However, one can be a Christian and recognize many of the objective truths which Ayn Rand articulated. After all, Christians do not deny objective reality. We merely recognize an eternal context. Worldviews need not align to overlap.

Prothero employs the typical objection to any alliance between Christians and objectivists:

Real conservatism is also about sacrifice, as is authentic Christianity. President Kennedy was liberal in many ways, but, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was classic conservatism. Rand, however, will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than individual self-satisfaction.

Here, both Christianity and Objectivism are misrepresented. True, Rand deplored Kennedy’s classic inaugural exhortation, perceiving it to subordinate the individual to the collective (although it could be argued Kennedy intended the opposite). However, she never presented “individual self-satisfaction” as the standard of value. One can be fully satisfied in any given moment without serving their rational long-term self-interest.

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Michelle Obama at the Oscars: Deconstructing America

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 - by Jeanette Pryor

In his often-bizarre but oh-so-brilliant analysis of the disastrous Star Wars prequels, Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media (video embedded below) commented on the opening sequence of A New Hope:

Compare this fecal matter [the Phantom Menace plot] to the opening of the original Star Wars. You see, a guy named William Shakesman once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” This just means “don’t waste my time.” You keep it nice and simple. Without saying one word of awkward, boring political dialogue that goes on for ten minutes we know everything we need to know just by the visuals. Rebels. Empire. We get a sense of how small and ill-equipped the rebels are and how large and powerful the Empire is. The low angle implies dominance and the length of the Star Destroyer implies the long reach of the Empire. This shot says everything we need to without saying one word. In fact, this is so genius I have a feeling that George Lucas had nothing to do with it and probably fought against putting it in the movie.

Having Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, present an Academy Award was such a brilliant strategy for advancing the post-structuralist deconstruction of America, even the Obamas themselves probably didn’t realize how genius it was.

When the first lady’s name appeared in Oscar tweets I checked to see if they were posted by The Onion; it sounded like the perfect goofball story. My heart sank when I realized she was really participating, and though I am sometimes petty or partisan in spite of my best efforts, I know if Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan had been teleported to Hollywood, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach would have been the same.

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How Argo Blasts Hollywood And Why the Washington Redskins Need a New Name

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 - by Barry Rubin

Hollywood gave the film Argo the Academy Award for best picture. But wait a minute! Did the film industry members who voted for it understand what the film said?

To rescue five Americans trapped in Iran and hiding out from the Islamist revolution, the CIA seeks help from Hollywood. The plan is to pretend to make a movie in Iran and then smuggle out the State Department employees (who have been given refuge in the Canadian embassy)  as supposed members of the film crew.

BUT it is clearly explained in the film that the U.S. government knows that nobody in Hollywood will help since they don’t want to take a risk; cooperate with the CIA, which they regard as evil; or lift a finger to save the Americans. Only one man — an independent director — is enough of an outcast and rebel rogue to help. The film is thus not a celebration of Hollywood as hero but a condemnation of the town for its anti-patriotic, narrow selfishness. Naturally, nobody in Hollywood noticed this plot theme.

There’s a good parallel here with the kind of films Hollywood so often makes today which are consistent with this anti-patriotic theme. And, ironically, the Best Picture Oscar was handed out by Michelle Obama, backed by some soldiers in dress uniform. Yet here the irony builds. After all, it was the Obama Administration that did the opposite of Operation Argo: it refused to try to save four Americans, including the ambassador, who were killed in Benghazi.

So an award for a film about saving Americans is given by a representative of a government that did not save Americans in front of a cheering crowd of people who — according to that film — would have refused to help save Americans as both sides congratulate themselves on what great people they are!

Amazing chutzpah along with the assumption — almost totally correct — that no one would notice the hypocrisy.

Fixing a Big NFL Problem:

It has become fashionable of late to complain about the use of Native American names for football teams. One of those teams is the Washington Redskins.

But actually the Washington Redskins, the team of my home town which I still support, were not named originally after Native Americans at all. When the team originated in Boston in the 1930s it was named after one of the proudest moments of that city. Paralleling the theme of today’s Boston Patriots team, the Redskins were named after the Boston Tea Party.

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How Modern Life Transforms Men into Wussies

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 - by John Hawkins

Most people think Marv is crazy, but I don’t believe that. I’m no shrink and I’m not saying I’ve got Marv all figured out or anything, but “crazy” just doesn’t explain him. Not to me. Sometimes I think he’s retarded, a big, brutal kid who never learned the ground rules about how people are supposed to act around each other. But that doesn’t have the right ring to it either. No, it’s more like there’s nothing wrong with Marv, nothing at all — except that he had the rotten luck of being born at the wrong time in history. He’d have been okay if he’d been born a couple of thousand years ago. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman Arena, taking a sword to other gladiators like him. They’d have tossed him girls like Nancy, back then. — Sin City

Manly Activity

Ever watched a classic action flick? Of course you have. Movies like Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lethal Weapon, First Blood, and 300 have become fixtures in the American psyche. All these movies feature either a lone man or a small group fighting in a desperate, violent struggle and yet, somehow, coming out on top. Throughout most of America’s history, the average man could more easily relate to the experiences in those movies the way someone who shoots hoops at the park could relate to watching an NBA game. Sure, they might not have been able to do what they were seeing on the screen, but they were well-acquainted with violence. Either they had inflicted it, suffered it, or seen it up close and personal. We’re a nation that was birthed in a bloody revolution, where feuds and dueling were frequent occurrences, where intermittent battles with Indians occurred until the twenties, where roughly twenty percent of the male population served in WWII, and where fist fights and brawling were relatively common.

Today?

The average man may have seen hundreds of thousands of murders on his TV screen and committed tens of thousands more playing video games, but he has also probably never struck another human being in anger in his entire adult lifetime. In other words, he may be captivated by the imagery he sees at the movies, but he goes home knowing that he will never even live out a pale imitation of what he’s just seen.

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The End of Backwards Compatibility?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Jon Bishop

Bryan Preston, in a recent post here at PJ Lifestyle, wrote:

Sony says that as things stand now, backward compatibility is not built into the PS4. Gamers will not be able to play legacy games on the new system, which may impact some of this year’s bigger releases like the Tomb Raider reboot. They say they’re working on it. They may be setting up to sell multiple forms of the PS4, some that will include backward compatibility for a price, and some that don’t. Backward compatibility can be gotten around via streaming games, but that requires hefty bandwidth that most American households still don’t have, or via downloads, which will take up valuable hard drive space and may create other issues. We’ll see. But the failure to provide backward compatibility from the get-go is an ominous sign that Sony may be looking to roll out their new box at one stated price, which is not the actual price gamers will end up paying if they want to keep playing their old Call of Duty titles on their shiny new systems.

I agree with him, but, sadly, backwards compatibility appears to be on the way out. According to Mark Deering of Gadget Insiders, the Microsoft 720 won’t be backwards compatible, either. It appears only Nintendo will allow its customers to play older games.

But it makes me wonder if Microsoft or Sony were ever interested in it at all.

Speaking from experience:  Microsoft only offered some backwards compatibility with its 360. And those games they said that worked often didn’t. So I gave up playing them on my system.

 

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Argo: With Apologies to Britain and Canada

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Abraham H. Miller
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I guess it’s fair to say that Ben Affleck is not doing a documentary … or is he? In a recent interview by Terry Gross with Affleck that I caught on National Public Radio, he notes how he studied the Middle East in college and wanted to include the information on Mohammed Mossadeg and the US intervention in Iranian affairs to bring Shah Palavi to power. Affleck left me with the impression that accuracy was very important to the project.

To underscore the film’s commitment to reality, Affleck included information in the film’s front cards that was important to him as a student of the Middle East. This consisted of the historical context concerning the violent overthrow of Mohammed Mosaddegh and the successful CIA plot to consolidate the power of the shah, Mohammed Pahlava. This coup ultimately, according to many observers, led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Is Argo a story that is fundamentally true but appropriately tweaked to create the successful commercial venture, or is it a dramatization that while inspired by real events is largely a work of fiction with a political message? And, if the latter, as Hillary Clinton might say, “Who cares?”

Obviously, I care because too many people, especially young people, go to the movies and are incapable of discerning fact from fiction, especially when a popular and entertaining movie seems to be sufficiently grounded in reality to provide historical context.

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PJ Media Interviews the Amazing Kreskin About America’s Future

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by J. Christian Adams

PJ Media had the opportunity to interview The Amazing Kreskin of TV talk show fame about being a real-life mentalist and guru of predictions. But our time with Kreskin included discussions ranging from the psychology of mobs, the modern American entitlement class and much more. PJ Media also obtained four predictions about the future of America from Kreskin and spoke with him about his new book Conversations With Kreskin.

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PJ Media: What is your new book about?

Kreskin: This is one of the most exciting delights I’ve done in my life. I’ve written 19 books and this is one is like a dream. It has behind the scenes of my record 88 shows with Johnny Carson and other hosts. The middle part has 8 pages of a comic by Joe St. Pierre of the first incident in my life that defined what I was going to do with my life. One of the passions of my life is to make predictions. This includes predictions based on the power of human suggestion.

I’m not a psychic; I’m not a fortune teller. But I predicted the outcome of the presidential primary election one year and four months before the election. I’ve done 71 interviews about it. I wrote out who I thought would be picked by the Republican Party for Vice-President a year in advance. I picked Paul Ryan. I’ve been asked endlessly how I did this. I jogged the night before my prediction and this name kept popping in my head. I knew the Democrats were going to win in November and I knew the person who would be picked for Vice-President.

PJ Media: You do lots of shows around the world, what is your wildest in-flight experience and did you know how it would end?

Kreskin: I’m on a plane, I’m flying to Sacramento from NBC in Los Angeles. It’s an hour after we should have landed. The flight attendant tells us we can’t get the landing gear down and might have to foam the runway. I went to the back of the plane to use the restroom. Back in my seat, I hear grinding noises and they announce that the gear was finally put down.

I’m the first to get off the plane, and at the bottom of the steps are the pilots. They thanked me. They said that the nervous passengers saw you walking around the plane and figured that if you were calmly walking around, that they knew the plane would be fine.

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Which Doomsday Scenario Is Most Likely To Hit First?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Official Description:

If you were worried about America’s future after the 2012 election, brace yourself—it’s going to be a lot worse than you imagined.

In Obama’s Four Horsemen, award-winning libertarian-conservative journalist David Harsanyi lays out the four great catastrophes that threaten to crush the America we know and love.

What are they?

  • Debt. Forget the fiscal cliff. We plunged over it in Obama’s first term—by $16 trillion—and when we hit bottom, that splat you hear will be our obliterated standard of living. It will be much worse, as Harsanyi shows, than anyone in the media is telling you.
  • Dependency. Welcome to Obamaland, where freedom is the problem, government is the cure, and bureaucrats are corrupting the relationship between government and citizen in ways that will lead us to ruin.
  • Surrender. Remember when America thought of itself as a force for good in the world? Remember when we stood by our allies? Today, the Obama administration kowtows to dictators, apologizes to those who hate us, refuses to defend American ideals, and is actively working to undo our superpower status with potentially catastrophic results.
  • Death. The Democratic Party once proclaimed that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. No longer. Now abortion is a positive good, to be subsidized and even exported at taxpayer expense. Obama’s Democratic Party is more than the party of higher taxes, spending, debt, and dependency. America’s majority party is now the party of death, with consequences we will soon regret.

Provocative, prophetic, and powerful, Harsanyi shows just how Obama’s four horsemen could trample America into the ground—and what we need to do if we are to have any hope of rising again.****

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

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

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

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Were the Oscars Sexist?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Robert Wargas

I only saw a few minutes of the Oscars, always an edifying spectacle if only because it has taught me how not to act in life: self-righteous, dolled up in Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld while speaking the language of Mother Jones and Karl Marx, prone to accepting little gold statues from a faceless politburo and then thanking them profusely for the honor, etc. This year the crapfest was hosted by Seth Macfarlane, who I actually think is more talented than people give him credit for.

Immediately after the crapfest was over–well, during it, too, thanks to asocial “social media”–all the hags and eunuchs on the blogosphere and in the glossy mags went into PC-status-seeker mode and began moaning about Macfarlane’s “sexism.” What do you think, dear readers? Was he sexist?

I’m not against denouncing genuine sexism, but I’m basically immune to the word now, except in its most extreme and virulent forms, thanks to its constant presence in our culture. (You can thank the hags and eunuchs for basically making it impossible to identify real racism and sexism in this country.) From what I can see Macfarlane said the word “boobs” too much, and this has offended certain people. Funny how it is now the progressive crowd that’s more offended by sexual language than Methodists and Baptists. On a lighter note, it’s interesting and somewhat refreshing that a media liberal like Macfarlane is finally the one being accused of an -ism. Nevertheless, Billy Crystal seems like the best choice from here on out.

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Previously from Robert Wargas at PJ Lifestyle:

Why Is Identity Politics Evil?

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In Defense of Cats

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Rick Moran

John Hawkins penned an article for PJ Media advancing the notion that cats are inferior to dogs “in every way.” He gave five reasons trying to prove this theory — tried and failed. In fact, though Hawkins’ entertaining article was written largely tongue-in-cheek, the underlying bias against cats came through loud and clear.

We cat lovers are used to this. Forget everything you know about race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, or political affiliation. The great schism in humanity is between those who love cats and those who don’t, and it’s been that way going on 5,000 years.

I suspect John really doesn’t hate cats. If he does, it’s because cats don’t like him very much. Felines have an unerring ability to size humans up and decide if they can be properly enslaved to do their bidding. In short, unlike with dogs, humans don’t choose cats. Cats choose them. Dogs have absolutely no dignity or discernment when it comes to giving their love and loyalty. Anyone who feeds them, pats them on the head, or, best yet, throws a stick that they can mindlessly fetch earns their ceaseless — and boring — adoration.

It’s been this way for tens of thousands of years. Genetically speaking, dogs are failed wolves. It is probable that the first wolves domesticated by man were Omega wolves — the lowest-ranking wolf in the pack — that hung around human campfires hoping to get a few scraps of food. The Omegas were kicked around by their own pack and this complex carried forward through the ages so that a dog today will do anything to please its master.

Not so, cats. From the cat’s point of view, it is we that should do anything to please them. Do they turn their nose up at the food we put in front of them? Try a different dinner, stupid human.

Busy and don’t want to be bothered petting them? Try ignoring a cat determined to have you pay attention to him. If you do, he is likely to deliberately knock over that glass of soda on your desk right on to your keyboard. Those who think it an accident are delusional.

As for Hawkins’ 5 ways that cats are inferior to dogs, I will make short work of his thesis.

1) Dogs are much smarter than cats.

Scientific studies prove that dogs are smarter than cats. But this is silly. There isn’t a scientific study that has been devised that can hold a cat’s attention for more than two minutes. Any test a dog can pass, a cat has no use for. It’s like asking an MIT grad to take the same math test as a second grader.

Besides, cats have a vested interest in keeping their superior intellect hidden from humans. The absolute worst thing that could happen to cats would be if we started to take them for granted.

2) Your dog loves you. Your cat couldn’t care less if you were murdered by clowns.

What appears to a dog lover as indifference is actually a sign of a cat’s psychological health. Dogs have massive insecurities and feel they must constantly demonstrate their love. Cats are totally secure in the knowledge that they have you by the short hairs, so to speak, and feel absolutely no need to give any outward manifestation of their affection. They believe it says volumes that they allow you to exist in almost the same space as they do, although not on the same plane of the universe.

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6 Classic Recordings That Have No Business Existing (Part Two)

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle
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Click here for Part One.

#3 — “Takin’ Care of Business” (1973) by BTO

Some Canadians consider the old “Hockey Night In Canada” theme song their country’s “other” national anthem.

However, just as many would probably vote for this accidental tune by Bachman- Turner Overdrive.

(FYI: “American Woman” — our other other anthem — was improvised, too, at a gig at a curling rink after Randy broke a guitar string.)

Alas, the best version of this classic story is only available to premium subscribers to Dennis Miller’s radio show.

But it’s almost worth $50 just to surf along with Miller’s contagious enthusiasm as Bachman — a great storyteller as well as musician — relates this mini-epic saga as only he can.

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5 Busybodies Who Want to Parent Your Kids

Monday, February 25th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard

Parenting isn’t easy under any circumstances, and parents seem to be under excessive pressure today to do everything “right.” Books, classes, and websites abound to teach parents how to do what used to be a rather simple proposition. Experts are everywhere; unfortunately, some will undermine your confidence in your ability to parent your own children.

The “Expert Class” has  convinced parents that they’re inept and completely incapable of completing the simplest of parenting tasks without consulting them. And it’s not just the credentialed experts. Friends, family members, and people on the street liberally dispense advice and many parents feel so overwhelmed that they lose confidence in their ability to make good decisions for their children, constantly second-guessing themselves. Worse, many parents leave the parenting up to the “experts.”

Dr. Ray Guarendi, clinical psychologist and father of ten, describes the pressures this way:

Few things can ruin the enjoyment of parenthood more surely than a fear of mistakes. Nowadays so many parents live with the daily worry that they will accidentally set in motion some emotional hang-up that will plague their youngster through childhood and maybe into adulthood. One single parent mom told me she was reluctant to discipline her strong willed son because she didn’t want him to grow up with bad feelings towards women.

It’s no surprise that parents are so skittish. They’ve been blamed for everything from Waldo’s bellyache to his dropping out of school. Somehow, some way, the finger gets pointed back at the folks. They must have miscalculated or blundered at some crucial stage along the way. Out of ignorance, inexperience, lack of sophistication or savvy, they’ve done something to create the instability or defect in Sigmund’s mental health.

Let’s begin with a basic premise: They are your children and you know them better and love them more than anyone else on the face of the earth. This doesn’t mean that you’re a perfect parent or that you’ll never make any mistakes, but it means that more than anyone on the earth, you care about the well-being and success of your children and therefore are the best qualified to make decisions on their behalf.

However, in order to be an empowered, confident parent, you must learn to recognize when others, whether they are “experts” or family members, overstep their bounds and when it may be appropriate—and better—to trust your instincts and judgement.

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Charlie Martin, Late-Blooming Athlete: Week 4 — Fitness and the Video Revolution

Monday, February 25th, 2013 - by David Steinberg

(See Week One, Week Two, and Week Three. The key passage:

The majority of activities people are accustomed to doing at a gym are neither efficient means of getting fitter nor particularly safe. A typical trainer at a typical gym is now a terrible investment, both for your fitness level and because elite-level training information is freely available online. There is no substitute for an actual qualified trainer at a quality gym, both in instruction and motivation, yet you can do great things for yourself on your own, with a computer. Charlie’s PJ Lifestyle entries strike me as a good opportunity to demonstrate this; he’s agreed to be somewhat of a lab rat.)

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In addition to the other contributions that make your daily life more productive, Steve Jobs — and the competitors he dragged with him — inadvertently revolutionized fitness and sports training by jamming a powerful camera into your phone. Those hours you spent as a kid practicing your jumper, your pitching motion, Bobby Brown’s culturally significant dance moves, etc. could have been fantastically more productive had you been able to work with the instant feedback of video.

If familiar with the nascent study of human expertise — most folks aware of it were exposed via Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers; the field is led by scientist K. Anders Ericcson — you may recall the conclusion that an average of “10,000 hours” of “deliberate practice” is generally required to gain such skill in any endeavor. What cheap, available video does: it makes the “immediate feedback” component of deliberate practice profoundly more accessible.

I asked Charlie to send me video of him doing a few reps of what we’ve discussed as the “Core Curriculum” of human movement: the squat, the deadlift, and the press. The point is to see what range of motion he currently has, both in the interest of injury prevention and for discussing the significant advantage that good technique will give you as an athlete. (As taught at a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer Certification, technique equals strength. A correction here and there makes you stronger without additional training.)

Here’s the video. I’ll tell you the basics of what I’m seeing, feel free to weigh in if you notice anything else. Like, say, a cat:

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His deadlift: His lower back is not rounding to compensate for a lack of mobility in the hips, which typically is great — if you are going to get hurt deadlifting, it will probably be from your lower back rounding while under load. But: we can’t quite tell if he does have sufficient hip mobility, because the upper back is compensating quite a bit. Considering Charlie, like everybody, is at a computer all day, he needs to focus on being able to get those shoulder blades back and down so he can get his spine into a strong position. You want that spine nice and straight, tailbone as far as possible from the crown of your head, and you don’t want to lose any of that positioning during the movement.

His (front) squat: Charlie apparently does have pretty limber hips. Any upper body mobility issues aren’t masking anything with this movement. He can get his hips below his knees, which counts as a full squat, without anything horrible happening in his lower back. Also — from the front view, his knees do not buckle inwards towards each other at all, another common fault.

His swing: The swing is pretty close to a deadlift, I would give the same notes as above.

His press: There it is. An efficient press would complete with the arms vertical — Charlie’s arms are leaning forward at the top of the movement. Imagine he’s got 150 pounds up there: he will either start to topple forward, or he will need to work much harder to not do so. When you can’t get your arms vertical, your muscles need to do work that your skeleton is prepared to handle.

To safely and efficiently do the key functional movements of a human body, Charlie should focus his efforts on getting those shoulders freed up. For next week, we’ll look at some strategies for doing that.

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Memories and Mysteries of a Friend Dead at 40

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

Trying to locate people I knew long ago through Google and other searches is something I seem to engage in when I’m at a standstill, unable to come up with something else to do. And that situation, since I’m excessively busy, tends to occur late at night, when I should be going to sleep but feel the day is not quite finished, still lacking something.

The problem here is that late at night, before going to sleep, is not the best time to engage in searches that may be emotionally risky.

As a few nights ago when — rather suddenly, without really thinking about it — I Googled “Bill Wiley” (not his real last name) and the name of the high school we both went to, Shenendehowa. It’s in Clifton Park, New York, a small town a bit north of Albany.

Boom — I found his obituary. Shown on the original page of the newspaper of the small California town where he’d been living. Dated March 21, 1994.

So his death was not exactly breaking news. Bill no longer played a huge part in my thoughts, but memories did come up occasionally, and I had even told Tami some stories about him. Memories and stories, it turned out, of someone long gone from this world.

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This Photograph I Took Early This Morning Symbolizes Every Broken Hollywood Dream

Sunday, February 24th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

I’m always stumbling across strange items early in the morning as my dog Maura and I run around our San Fernando Valley neighborhood. Today we found this pair of broken sunglasses sitting on the stoop outside an apartment building.

I popped it into my pocket and as we continued jogging up the street my mind speculated over the range of possibilities: whose were they? How did they get broken? Did somebody break them by accident? Or were they intentionally broken? How come whoever left them didn’t bother to throw them away? Were they forgotten? 

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Reminder: You Don’t Have To Be Jewish To Enjoy a Kosher Lifestyle

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Official description via Amazon:

Book Description

Publication Date: September 1, 2004

“Traditional Judaism injects sanctification into the ordinary habits of everyday life.Keeping kosher helps us pause and think about what we eat, and how we eat it, and elevates the act of eating.”

What does it mean to keep kosher? Many may be familiar with the basics: no bacon, no shrimp, no cheeseburgers. But the Jewish dietary laws go deeper than that, and How to Keep Kosher explores the ins and outs. Why are some foods deemed kosher while others are not? Why can’t you mix meat and dairy dishes? How do you turn a nonkosher kitchen into a kosher one? Do you really need multiple sets of everything — dishes, pots, pans, and utensils? How do you keep track of what’s what?

Whether you are thinking about adopting a kosher lifestyle or already have a kosher home and just want tounderstand what it is all about, Lisë Stern’s How to Keep Kosher is essential reading. You will learn about the biblical and historical origins of keeping kosher, the development of the kosher certification system, specific food preparation requirements for Shabbat, Passover, and otherholidays, and how to actually set up a kosher kitchen.

In straightforward language, drawing upon explanations from the Torah and Talmud, along with interviews with rabbis, academics, and laypeople who keep kosher, Lisë explores all aspects of Judaism’s ancient dietary traditions as they are carried out in today’s kitchen, with its range of modern appliances — dishwashers, food processors, and microwave ovens. For the first time, one book explains both Conservative and Orthodox perspectives on kashrut, as well as opinions from other Jewish affiliations.

When Lisë was nine, her parents decided to make the change — transform their home to a kosher one — as a core part of their evolving commitment to Judaism. Because Lisë experienced the transition as a child and keeps a kosher home today, she is uniquely qualified to explain all aspects of this traditional practice.

Setting up a kosher kitchen lays the foundation for implementing the tradition; the proof is in the potato pudding. As Lisë notes, the Talmud says, “Room can always be found in one’s stomach for sweet things,” and the wealth of information is sweetened with more than forty recipes for Shabbat dinners and lunches as well as holiday and festival celebrations. Traditional recipes include Chicken Soup with My Mother’s Ethereal Matzo Balls, Sliced Potato–Onion Kugel, and Hamantashen; new classics are Chilled Cucumber–Yogurt Soup, Rosemary Sweet Potato Kugel, Enchilada Lasagna, and Chocolate-Flecked Meringues.

Stern’s How to Keep Kosher is an inclusive, user-friendly handbook filled with answers to the fundamental who, what, where, when, why, and how questions surrounding the Jewish dietary laws — making these laws both accessible and appealing.

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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:

The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s

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13 Weeks: Season 2, Week 3 — Homo What?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Homeostasis.  This is our vocabulary word for today.

Homeostasis is “[t]he ability of the body or a cell to seek and maintain a condition of equilibrium or stability within its internal environment when dealing with external changes” (via Biology Online.) On any diet or exercise program, homeostatis may not seem to be your friend.

7-day weight 7-day glucose 7 day bodyfat Weekly Fitocracy Points
Start 272.50 116.00 33.10%
2013-02-21 273.79 115.29 29.16% 1169
Delta 1.29 -0.71 -3.94% 1169

Certainly, for the last six weeks it hasn’t seemed to be mine. Above is a table of the current results of this second season (I’ll be running similar tables for comparison for the rest of this 13 week season.) I’ve been keeping to the diet pretty religiously, with a very few days in excess of my 30g carbs target. According to LoseIt!, I’ve run a total calorie deficit in the previous six weeks of roughly 42,000 kcals (Calories), or on average about 7000 kcals a week. It only requires the tiniest application of higher math to see that at 3500 kcal/pound, I should have lost 12 pounds, or should have been losing 2 pounds a week.  While I’ve hit several new lows, including breaking 270 about ten days ago, I haven’t lost any weight, according to the 7-day running average, since the second season started. In fact, what has really happened in  is that I’ve actually gained something like 1.3 pounds.

This could be depressing. Believe me. What this is, is a demonstration of my body trying to preserve homeostasis. Basically, bodies don’t want to change, and they have mechanisms to prevent it.

Luckily, this isn’t a weight-loss experiment, this is a better-health and better-glucose experiment. (Repeat after me….) And I’m doing much better there — my cholesterol is now great, my glucose is near normal (and it’s been ten days or so since I cut my metformin dose in half, with no apparent damage to the glucose level), and — here’s the kicker — my body fat has dropped from around 33 percent to just over 29 percent — which means I’ve changed my body composition fairly radically in these three weeks.

Now, part of this is another demonstration that the naive “calories out minus calories in” model of weight loss is once again breaking down.  Of course, since that model is so entrenched in so many people’s minds, the usual doctor’s explanation would be “you must be cheating”, as I talked about in an earlier episode; presenting the food diary and such wouldn’t deter them.

Another possible explanation is that it’s water — just as when they tell you rapid weight loss early in a low-carb diet is “only water”. But just as when I was dropping weight quickly, we’re talking about a lot of water. “A pint’s a pound the world round”, and that means we’re talking about 12 pints, 6 quarts, a gallon and a half of water.  Call me crazy, but I’m thinking an additional gallon and a half of water would be pretty obvious in edema and puffiness and heart failure and such.

But the body composition — and one other thing — are hints at what I think is actually happening. That other thing is that after weeks of little change, I’ve begun to have measurements changing. Specifically, I’ve lost 2 inches around my neck and 5 (!!) inches around my waist from when I started the first 13 weeks.

The third favorite explanation of this would be that I’m gaining muscle as well as losing fat, and that one I think is plausible. What’s more, you can do that even when you’re running a big calorie deficit, as I have been, because a pound of fat contains about twice as many calories as a pound of muscle. The explanation that makes sense is that I’ve lost fat at 3500 kcals a pound, and gained muscle at 1800-odd kcals a pound, leaving me slightly heavier, and a good bit skinnier.

I can live with that.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

13 Weeks: The Thirteen Weeks Method

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What Will Happen if I Consume Too Much Calcium?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 - by Theodore Dalrymple

It is tempting for people to suppose that if a little of something is good for them, then a lot of it must be better. Unfortunately this is not always or even usually the case; and I first realized that people are inclined to make this mistake when, as a student many years ago, I was shown a baby who was bright orange; it was suffering from a condition known as carotenemia. The parents, having heard that carrots were healthy, concluded that only carrots were healthy, and fed their baby accordingly.

A study from Sweden, recently published in the British Medical Journal, examines the important question of whether calcium supplements are good for middle-aged and old women. The question is important because millions of women around the world take such supplements – 60 percent of American middle-aged and old women, for example. There is no one quite like the Swedes for carrying out such epidemiological studies because the medical records of their population are by far the most comprehensive in the world: creepily so, one is sometimes inclined to think.

What the Swedish researchers found was that the graph of the relationship between calcium intake and death rates was a U-shaped curve. People with a low consumption of calcium had a higher mortality than those with a moderate consumption, but so did people with a high consumption.

The sample of women was not small, and in the period of study 11,944 of the 70,259 women studied had died. Those with a high dietary consumption of calcium alone had an increased death rate of 1.4 times for all causes of mortality, 1.49 times for cardiovascular mortality, and 2.14 times for ischaemic heart disease (heart attacks) compared with those whose who consumption of calcium was associated with the lowest mortality, that is to say a moderate consumption.

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Why We Cannot Determine Who Is the Truest Marxist

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

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Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle. Friday Bookshelf selections currently focus on the work of Leszek Kolakowski, Paul Johnson, Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, and Whittaker Chambers

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

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

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Why I’d Give the Oscar to Ang Lee’s Beautiful Life of Pi

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 - by Andrew Klavan

It’ll be a pretty rich but not unexpected irony if the Oscars freeze out Zero Dark Thirty because it tells the truth about waterboarding, and reward Argo because it covers up the fatal incompetence of the Carter administration. Personally, though, I thought the charm of Silver Linings Playbook outweighed either of them and, if I had to choose among the movies I’ve seen, I’d pick Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Spoiler here: I’ll try not to give away the trick to Pi, but if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you might want to move on.

I really enjoyed the Yann Martel novel but in the end, the whole Pi deal is really kind of spiritually twee — cute and dear, I mean. All religions are a path to God. Which explanation of life do you prefer? Really??? Who cares what you prefer? What about the truth? And what about the fact that the truth tends to be exclusive? That is, if one thing is true, frequently another, opposite thing cannot be true. The sky can’t both be red and blue at the same time. God is either there or not — and he either wants you to love your neighbor or slay the infidel, but probably not both. The theology of Pi is comforting nonsense when you get right down to it.

So while I enjoyed the story of the novel, and while I enjoyed the surprise ending, I couldn’t help but give a shrug when it was over. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and then pretty much forgot the whole thing.

Ang Lee’s movie version is different. That is, it’s exactly the same — same story, same trick, same twee approach to theology. But the feel is different. First of all, the thing is just freaking beautiful. Not beautiful in a heavy-handed way, but it actually captures a sense of the wonder and beauty and terror of nature. The special effects are beyond belief — and not like the special effects in a monster movie; they really mean something. And finally, the choice Lee makes about how to play the ending, which at first put me off, actually serves to give the film a sense of tragedy and depth and sorrow that the book simply doesn’t have. It’s really a hell of a film. I loved it. I think it’s the best by far of the ones I’ve seen.

And hey, speaking of the controversy that, they say, will cost Zero Dark Thirty the trophy, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain got similarly smoked in 2005 for showing gay cowboys. Instead they gave it to Crash, which stank. So even though they gave Lee the director statue, they owe him a best picture film.

Never mind. I’m a minority of one here judging by all the previous awards this season. I guess I’ll just skip the Oscars and let time prove me right.

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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture. Visit for additional comments.

More recent movie and book recommendations from Andrew Klavan at PJ Lifesytle:

Proof of Heaven Isn’t… Still… 

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