We would all agree that digital technology has made life better in many respects. But in what ways do smartphones, email, social media and the Internet in general bring pressures to bear upon us that diminish human dignity and work against us in the free market, our social connectivity, and the interior life? Douglas Rushkoff has been thinking and writing about these very questions for years. He is a media theorist and author of the book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. He has produced documentaries for CNN and PBS and is regular contributor to the New York Times. He spoke with Acton’s Paul Edwards for this edition of Radio Free Acton.
In November of last year, we had the privilege of welcoming bestselling author Amity Shlaes for a visit here at the Acton Building while she was in Grand Rapids to speak about Calvin Coolidge at Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Aside from being a fine author of some very thought provoking books on history and economics, she’s a delightful lady, and it was a pleasure to have an opportunity to make her acquaintance personally. At the time, she was very excited about a project that she had been working on which was soon to be released to the public – a graphic novel adaptation of her best-selling book, The Forgotten Man. Her enthusiasm for the project was infectious, and I’ve been looking forward to its release ever since. (You can pre-order a copy of the book, which is set to be released on May 27.)
But how does one take a nearly 500 page hardcover book that revisits the economic history of the Great Depression and translate it into a visual presentation on the printed page? It wasn’t a simple process. Paul Rivoche is the artist who worked with Shlaes on the project; in this interview at Graphic Novel Reporter, he describes how the original book was reworked in order to create a compelling visual story:
The original book was nonfiction and of course not at all structured to be a graphic novel. It’s an economic history of the New Deal/Great Depression era, described from an alternative viewpoint. It has a huge cast of characters — all real people — and discusses many abstract ideas. To make it work as a graphic novel, we had to find a new structure for the same material; we couldn’t follow the exact arrangement in the print book. For example, there are many jumps in location in the real-life story we tell, and all these characters coming and going. In prose, it worked because you imagine it in your head, stitching it together, following the steady guidance of the author’s voice. In comics form, the same thing was disorienting. We learned that if the visuals change too fast, without enough explanation, the reader easily becomes confused when dealing with such complex events, all these different scenes and faces. To solve this, we decided to introduce a “framing story” using a narrator, Wendell Willkie. In telling the story, he guides us — at times directly, and in other scenes we hear his voiceover narration in captions. Also, we had to make the story as visual as possible, not all “talking heads,” which make for dull comics. Instead, we highlighted interesting locales: the Hoover Dam, the great flood of 1927, Willkie’s famous debate, and many others. In every scene we aimed to introduce as much movement, action, and characterization as possible.
The full interview has more detail on the project; After the jump, you can listen to an August 2012 Radio Free Acton interview with Amity Shlaes on her then-forthcoming biography on Calvin Coolidge.
An aristocratic British teenager is kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, escapes and returns home, becomes a priest, returns to his land of captivity and face off against hordes of Druids. Here are five facts about the amazing life of St. Patrick, the Indiana Jones of Christian saints:
1. Taken from his home in southern Britain, Patrick was captured by pirates in A.D. 405 when he was only sixteen years old and sold into slavery in Ireland. He would spend over half a decade as a captive in the pagan land of Druids. During his captivity, Patrick embraced the Christian faith of his upbringing, something that had mattered little to him before his kidnapping.
2. Patrick managed to escape Ireland and make his way back to his home in Britain. Inspired by a dream, he sensed God’s call to return to Ireland in order to share the gospel with the pagans. Patrick assumed he’d meet his demise in Ireland, yet never feared. “Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises,” he said. “But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven.”
3. Pagan kings and warlords felt threatened by Patrick’s missionary work. But Patrick was able obtain the favor of local leaders and to gain safe passage by paying bribes to authorities in Ireland. Of the bribes he paid, Patrick said, “I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more.”
4. A legend often associated with St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea during one of his sermons. But snakes are not actually found in post-glacial Ireland because of the country’s geographical position. Some historians believe the snake imagery in the legend alludes to Patrick banishing Druids from Ireland.
5. Though we can’t be sure when Patrick died, tradition holds that he lived into his seventies and died on March 17 in the latter half of the fifth-century A.D. In twenty-five or thirty years of evangelistic work, he led thousands of Irish pagans to Christ and was responsible for Ireland’s becoming one of the most Christian nations in Europe. For this reason he is called “the apostle of the Irish.”
Dennis Prager at Prager University reminds us that big government makes everything else (goodness, charity, self-reliance) smaller. Big government also creates a sense of entitlement amongst citizens, creating ingratitude and resentment – hardly what one wants in society.
Why, when I realize that journalists misrepresent topics that I know something about — such as religious liberty — do I trust them to accurately cover issues that I don’t know much about?
In an age where words like “courage” and “bravery” are often tossed about casually, a new book captures the immense heroism and resolve of 11 American POWs during the war in Vietnam. Alvin Townley closes his new book Defiant with these words, “Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history. We should not forget.” Townley easily makes that case by telling their stories and expanding on previous accounts by including the battle many of their wives waged to draw attention to their plight back home.
Defiant focuses on the Alcatraz 11, captured servicemen who were isolated by the communist North Vietnamese in a prison they nicknamed “Alcatraz.” Like many early POWs, these men were tortured. But they faced unimaginable cruelty with steely resistance. Before they were moved to Alcatraz, they were all pivotal leaders at Hoa Lo Prison, reinforcing the Code of Conduct and communicating through the tap code. At a staged propaganda news conference in 1966, Naval pilot Jeremiah Denton was able to blink out in Morse Code the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E, allowing the American government to know for the first time the horrific conditions inside the prison. The aviators were beaten with fan belts, kept in stocks and leg irons, tortured with medieval rope devices, and locked away in isolation for years. In his book, When Hell Was in Session, Denton proclaimed, “We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.”
Townley’s book does a masterful job of weaving the stories of these men together to portray how their courage and resistance exemplified, to the highest degree, the principles of freedom. James B. Stockdale, the senior officer of the 11, like other tortured prisoners, was permanently crippled by his captors. His defiance continually inspired those imprisoned with him. Stockdale quoted Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim about the men under his command, “A certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last.” (more…)
The Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) — the “Adam Smith of the North” — once asked:
Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’
Unfortunately, this mean and blasphemous thought was soon popularized as an obvious and incontrovertible fact by Chydenius’ contemporary, the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In An Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that excesses in population are held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive checks (hunger, disease, war) raised the death rate while preventative checks (abortion, birth control, postponement of marriage) lowered the birth rate.
At the beginning of 2013, I compiled a list that included 1,034 predictions for the coming year. I later went through and narrowed it down to the top 500 that I was absolutely certain would happen. Even after cutting the list down, though, I only managed to achieve a 67% accuracy rate. (Unfortunately, I forgot to post that list in public so it is difficult to verify. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)
This year, in an attempt to get 100% correct, I’ve cut my list of predictions to the ones that I’m absolutely sure will come true. Here are 14 can’t-miss predictions for 2014:
• Agricultural subsidies will come under increased scrutiny after the discovery that soylent green, one of the America’s most heavily subsidized crops, is people.
• The mainstream media’s fascination with Pope Francis will end after they discover that the Pope is indeed still Catholic.
• An existential crisis brought on by constant criticism will cause the fact-checking organization Polifact to change it’s name to Pilatefact and it’s slogan to “What is truth?”
• A rogue architect will use dynamite to blow up the Cortlandt Homes housing project.
• The United Nations will be the subject of another scandal after it’s discovered that no-bid contracts were offered to Halliburton for the purchase of the UN’s fleet of Black Helicopters.
• Congress fails to pass an immigration reform bill. Hungry, job-less workers, with no discernible skills or ability to speak our language will continue to pour in from Canada.
• Buoyed by the successful launch of HealthCare.gov, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the launch of the Affordable Email Act (aka Obamamail). Americans will be forced to choose their email provider based on “metal plans” (Bronze – AOL, Silver – Hotmail, Gold – Compuserve).
• Iraq will officially change the country’s name back to ‘Babylon’ in a successful attempt to freak out pre-millennial dispensational Evangelicals.
• A bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans agree to filibuster a proposed bill only to discover that the Tea Party caucus was not introducing new legislation but merely reading the text of the U.S. Constitution.
• After selecting “Twerking” as their Word of the Year, the Oxford English Dictionary pronounces the official death of the English language
• Peter Jackson will announce he’s begun filming a 12-hour version of The Silmarillion in order to complete his lifelong ambition of ruining every book written by J. R. R. Tolkien.
• Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor will win the 2014 Wolfgang Musculus Award for being the only person alive who has heard of Wolfgang Musculus.
• After a close mid-term race, President Obama will narrowly win re-election.
• For the 61st year in a row, political activists will once again attempt to immanentize the eschaton.
Shannon Love reminds us that what great-great-grandparents would consider utopia is what we consider modern life:
Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.
Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.
How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.
Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.
I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.