Satanic Rituals and the Freedom of Expression

I make no secret of being amenable to certain curtailments on the freedom of expression. (You likely didn't know that, but it's not because I keep it a secret but because no one (wisely) ever asks.) Free expression is a treasure, I grant it; but it is still possible to idolize a treasure to the point of dysfunction.

I am often disappointed to see who lines up on my side of the expression issue and who doesn't, and also to see how freedom of expression--formulated by the Founders as a limit upon government--is wielded in matters where government isn't even involved, but simply two or more groups of opinionated people.

Take the brouhaha in Boston over a branch of Harvard University sponsoring the performance of a Satanic Black Mass on their campus.

"[T]he Harvard Extension School said that it supported 'the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.'"

Well, okay, and they have them. But you are not the government, Harvard Extension School, you are an institution of education. Is it backward of me to expect that perhaps an institution of education should be one of the groups standing up *against* such a bankrupt act? Because it is bankrupt--not just morally and socially, but educationally as well. A modern recreation of what (I am guessing a bit here) the 19th Century tittered over upon perusing some scrounged-up wild medieval tales of outrageous blasphemy invented in the mind of a cloistered monk? What do we learn from this, except that some people are overly enamored of transgressive behavior (or what they perceive to be transgressive behavior)?

Of course the Catholic community in particular is going to raise their voices over this: They are very explicitly the target of the act in question. But how did educators become not only so blind but also so craven? When did they start to believe that the exhibition of any object or behavior is implicitly educational and a salutary expansion of the mind? When did they stop standing up for the *enrichment* of minds and just begin defaulting to the indiscriminate exposure of minds? I am sure there are many faculty and staff at Harvard who will cringe at the idea of this demonstration taking place on their campus. But how many will raise their voices to object, not only because it is offensive to millions of people, but because it is offensive to a right notion of learning--because it is coarse, fraudulent, and empty?

Lost at Sea and In the Trees

2010 was an amazing year for music. 2011 was a bit pale in comparison, but still had a number of bright lights (Bon Iver, King Creosote, Beirut).

Then again, I always wonder how much of what I find enjoyable in music at a certain time can be attributable to my own psychological bearing at the time, and whether the musical winds are blowing with or against me.

Anyway, 2012 seemed like a year of weak wind to me, but maybe it was the direction I was sailing. Two years ago, I was deep into indie-alt-folk-type stuff. To some extent, Mumford & Sons and Lumineers have taken those sounds mainstream, but, golly, did I get sick of hearing them this year in a way I never get sick of The Tallest Man On Earth or Josh Ritter.

I was going to call Fun. my guilty pleasure of the year, but why call it "guilty"? It was a pleasure to listen to, and as much of a true experiment as we get in popular rock these days: digitized classic rock anthems. I'll take it. My kids liked it too.

I don't have a whole lot of other stand out albums. The Tallest Man On Earth's album was not his best, although it had a number of good tunes (1904 does compete with his best tracks). The Walkmen made good on the promises of 2010's Lisbon, but somehow I was less interested to hear it.

Thank God, then, for Lost in the Trees and their The Church That Fits Our Needs. The subject matter is intensely personal: memories of band-leader Ari Picker's mother and reflections on her death by suicide. Okay, so it's a downer on a lot of fronts (though not as much as you would think), but the music absolutely soars. Picker's band is chock full of classically trained musicians. Which you have to be if you're playing music that owes as much to Shostakovich as Radiohead.

The Church That Fits Our Needs came out in March and it never had any competition over the whole rest of the year. It will be a highlight of this decade. At least, it will if you're sailing the winds I'm sailing.

Cogs of Comedy

Thinking about comedy. I know, not something one probably thinks about much, or should think about. But I realize that the comedy I enjoy best is the stuff where I have some insight into and appreciation of the comedic mechanics. I guess I like seeing the humor cogs turning as much as seeing what they turn out.

Got thinking about this because I saw this little preview of a Jim Henson Workshop project that's improv comedy + muppets. Love it. I don't know why I was surprised that these folks can make those puppets so expressive without rehearsing it over and over. Goodness, they're talented. In general, I just love improv comedy. It's not as funny as scripted comedy on paper... but, you know, it's not ON paper and knowing that makes it much more enjoyable. (I know: duh. I never said I had profound thoughts.)

Also, listening to My Brother, My Brother, and Me and I love it. I don't know if I'm the last person on the internet to hear about this (apparently it's pretty popular, but that could mean 50,000 listeners or 5mil). The interplay between these three real-life brothers is just incredible. You can tell they've been doing skits with and playing off each other for years and years. I've had to stop listening to this at work on my headphones because when I'm trying to suppress the giggles my coworkers probably think I'm either weeping or spasming.

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Anyone who doesn't perceive what Pope John Paul II called the "Culture of Death" needs to take a look at this article by a woman who says she wishes her mother had made the "selfless" act of aborting her.

In many ways it's helpful to see the logic of the pro-choice position drawn up to its conclusion: Although I now live a happy life with a family, I was poor and abused, so I never should have been born.

Note well how hastily and superficially she dismisses the idea of adoption. "Oh, my mother could never have given me up for adoption!" (What happened to the virtue of selflessness?) This is not some minor point: It's a testament to the strength of the abortion ideology that adoption has to sit in the corner with a blanket over its head and not be seen nor heard. There is no solution but death!

Jane McGonigal and the Deathbeds of the Gaming Generation

The more I see of her, the more I think we all need to see less of Jane McGonigal. If you don't know her, she's a smart, well-meaning, idealistic woman who wants to show how much good games can do. They're going to "save the world," if I remember her words correctly.

In this latest video, she addresses a concern first expressed (in a certain form) in the 80s by the late Dani Bunten, an early pioneer of multiplayer gaming: "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'Gee, I wish I'd spent more time alone with my computer.'"

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Out of the Vale of Years (only one, actually)

I'm more than a little ashamed that it's apparently been a year since I've posted to LiveJournal. Although many folks have moved on, there's still a purpose to LJ, even if I forget about it sometimes. Like for posting extremely nerdy game-related stuff that half my Facebook acquaintances wouldn't give a damn about.

This includes the fact that Troy Goodfellow is starting a series examining how science and technology are presented in strategy video games. If you didn't see his series on national character, you don't know what you're missing (I'm looking at you, walrusjester).

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He'll Be a Doctor Someday...

Watched "Jude" with a young Christopher Eccleston through On Demand last night, just to see him in something different. (It's a generally well made movie that no one in their right mind should watch. If you're familiar with Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," you'll know why.)

Anyway, Jude, the stonemason aspiring to scholarship in Christminster, is hanging out at the pub with his stonemason friends. One of the pub denizens, credited (I find out later) as "Drunken Undergraduate," taunts Jude to stand up and say the whole Creed in Latin for everyone to hear. The actor? A young David Tennant.