Posts tagged with: Dylan Pahman

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dee-Tiny-HouseThere is a kind of trendy “green” simplicity that is a luxury only the comparatively wealthy can afford, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. But there is a movement catching steam that might perfectly encapsulate a type of solar-powered simplicity:

The tiny house movement is a recent trend in the United States for building and living in eco-friendly domiciles about half the average size of an apartment. Graham Hill, a tiny house architect, described his philosophy in the New York Times: “Like the 420-square-foot space I live in, the houses I design contain less stuff and make it easier for owners to live within their means and to limit their environmental footprint.”

Among the tiny house online community, there is a healthy realism despite the otherwise romantic appeal. Melissa Tack, who built and lives in a tiny house with her husband Chris, recently reflected, “This isn’t the life for everyone, people find their happ[iness] in many different ways. I have a friend that finds her happiness in 8-12 cups of coffee a day, and others that enjoy spending their time with friends and family. Living in a Tiny House is what you make it to be.”

Read the rest here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

hunger-games-catching-fire-extended-tv-spotTomorrow I’ll be offering up a more extensive commentary on the second movie of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” Until then, you can read Dylan Pahman’s engagement on the theme of tyranny, as well as that of Alissa Wilkinson over at CT. I’ll be critiquing Wilkinson’s perspective in my own review tomorrow. I think her analysis starts off strong, but she ends up getting distracted by, well, the distractions. But I commend her piece to your review, and in the meantime I’ll also offer a couple of notes on the film.

The film version doesn’t depart much from the source material, which is always a good thing when you have a strong source material. There is some streamlining of the plot and things are condensed a bit, but this is no doubt necessary to fit everything of relevance in to a 2.5 hour film.

One of the nice things that they do in the films is to show things that happen “off stage,” so to speak, in the books, which are presented from Katniss’ perspective. In this way, we can find out some things that Katniss doesn’t know, and some more texture is added to the narrative. In “Catching Fire,” the theme of hope flares up again, as it did in the first Hunger Games.

In an exchange between President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker argues for more explicit brutality contrasted with puff-piece entertainment to bring the rabble in the districts in line. Snow expresses doubt, noting that “fear” only works to oppress “when there is no hope.” As long as Katniss is alive, the people have hope. Heavensbee persuades Snow, and in doing so deceives him, hoping to further foment revolt with such tactics.

But as I’ve also observed with before, the hope offered in the Hunger Games really is just a temporal hope. The bread that people seek really is literal bread. There is little in the way of spiritual nourishment offered to anyone in the films, despite the sometimes heavy-handed religious imagery. “Bread first, then ethics” remains the motto of life in Panem.

Oh, and Heavensbee also drops a plug for my book when, in the midst of the Quarter Quell, he exhorts Katniss to “get her hands dirty” a bit.

EndersGameFormicOver at Think Christian, I take another look at Ender’s Game, focusing on the leitmotif of understanding and communication in Orson Scott Card’s work. This applies particularly to inter-species communication.

We might, in fact, riffing off the Norwegian parody pop song, say that the central question of Ender’s Game is, “What does the Formic say?” Ender is the only one with the genuine curiosity to find out, and doing so is how he moves beyond his bloody calling.

What we find out, in a sense, is that on the Formic understanding, each human being has the dignity and worth of a queen. We are all queens, or as the Bible puts it, made in the image and likeness of God. This reality becomes all the more salient when like the Formic queen, “dynamite with a laser beam,” we too are killer queens, to make another pop culture connection (HT: Dylan Pahman).

A key difference between the film and the book is that the film is pretty thin on answers to that question of inter-species communication. There is much more about what the Formics think and feel in the book. I’ll post some of the relevant sections, which include significant spoilers, below the break. If you have not seen the film, you should not read these sections!

But for those of you who have seen the film, just think about that question of understanding the Formics as you revel in “The Fox (What Does it Say?)”

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“Wishful thinking will not fix our nation’s spending and debt problem,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The longer we procrastinate, the harder it will be for us to actually do it.”

In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of wise stories and sayings from the first Christian monks, the following is attributed to one Abba Zeno: “Never lay a foundation on which you might sometime build yourself a cell.” This saying has at least two possible applications: 1) Do not start something you do not intend to see through. 2) Do not put off for tomorrow the asceticism you can do today. Unfortunately, both of these lessons are lost on our federal government when it comes to financial responsibility, and it is our children who will pay for the sins of their fathers.

The full text of his essay is here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

“When loans are guaranteed by the state and detached from market forces and personal responsibility,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary, “those institutions being paid with that loan money experience inflated demand as everyone and anyone now can go and wants to go college. As a result, tuition prices have been inflated. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Federal Student Loans: A Problem of Subsidiarity

by Dylan Pahman

Ever see one of those used car ads that says, “Bad credit? Drive today!” The implication being that the dealer will happily arrange a loan regardless of the borrower’s credit history. For years now, the federal government has been running a similar scheme: “Poor student? Go to college anyway!” While this campaign has had better intentions behind it, it is no less of a problem. In the field of higher education, the federal government has usurped the roles of families, private organizations, and markets, with negative moral and economic consequences.
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When government provision is expected in all areas of life we begin to neglect our personal obligations to our families and neighbors, says Dylan Pahman, assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. “For the ancient Jews, intergenerational relations were a religious matter,” says Pahman. “The command ‘honor your father and mother’ (cf. Exodus 20:12) served as a bridge between duties to God and duties to neighbors. Our situation today may be quite different than that faced by Jews in the Roman Empire, but our problem is the same: We are missing the mark when it comes to our primary duties to one another.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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Several of my friends on Facebook pages posted a link to David Dunn’s Huffington Post essay on gun control (An Eastern Orthodox Case for Banning Assault Weapons). As Dylan Pahman posted earlier today, Dunn, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is to be commended for bringing the tradition of the Orthodox Church into conversation with contemporary issues such as gun control. As a technical matter, to say nothing for the credibility of his argument, it would be helpful if he understood the weapons he wants to ban. Contrary to what he thinks, semi-automatic weapons can’t “fire a dozen shots before a fallen deer even hits the ground.” Like many he confuses machine guns (which are illegal anyway) and semi-automatic weapons (not “assault weapons”). Putting this aside I have a couple of objections to his application of a principle from the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, economia, to the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms.

Dunn is correct in his assertion that economia says that the “letter of the law is subordinate to the needs of the soul.” But (and again, Dylan pointed this out) Dunn is a more than bit off when he says that a priest “might choose to ignore” the canonical tradition if “enforcing a canon is going to make someone feel ashamed, despair, or leave the church.” While there are times when a priest might tolerate a sin, what Dunn describes in his essay seems closer to moral expedience than pastoral prudence. Sin is still sin and while a priest might at times take a more indirect or a lenient approach to a person struggling with a particular sin, this is a matter of pastoral prudence in the case of an individual.  Dunn fundamentally misunderstands, and so misapplies, the canonical tradition to his topic. And he does so because he blurs the difference between pastoral prudence and public policy. Contrary to what radical feminism would have us believe, the personal is not political and this is evidently something that Dunn fails to realize. (more…)

Angola Inmates in the Auto Body Shop.

Angola Inmates in the Auto Body Shop.

When I drove into Angola, La., to interview Warden Burl Cain and tour the prison grounds, I wasn’t nervous about talking with the inmates. I had already read multiple accounts calling Angola “perhaps the safest place in America.” The only thing I was a little nervous about was being an Ole Miss football partisan amidst a possible sea of LSU football fans. Even for such an egregious sin in Louisiana, at Angola, I was extended grace and hospitality. It made sense though, because above all else, Angola is a place of contradictions. People are locked away, most of them forever, but I saw and felt genuine hope and compassion. Historically, it was well known as one of the most brutal and violent prisons, but I felt much safer and at home inside the prison than I did in Baton Rouge. I met inmates who had committed horrible crimes, but had equal or more theological and biblical knowledge than I do, a seminary graduate.

I met thoughtful and reflective people who crave authenticity. You can tell a transformation had occurred and honestly the realness of many of the inmates I met was convicting for my own faith and life. Angola can’t but help change you and a big reason for that is Warden Burl Cain. I interview him in this issue of R&L. Cain is helping to encourage and foster the growth of men the rest of the world have long given up on.

There is a lot of great content in this issue. Wesley Gant contributes an essay titled “The Perfectibility Thesis — Still the Great Political Divide.” It’s an excellent overview of ideological divides and the aim and purpose of government. Dylan Pahman offers a review of Ronald J. Sider’s Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement. I review Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year by Charles Bracelen Flood.

The “In the Liberal Tradition” tribute honor this issue belongs to President Calvin Coolidge. During his inaugural address today, President Obama challenged Americans to live up to the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. A great study of those meaning and ideals was offered by Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of the founding document. There is more content in this issue, and the next issue will feature an interview with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk.

In his excellent post yesterday on the presidential debates and how both candidates misrepresents facts, my colleague Dylan Pahman wrote:

Wishing to be charitable, I might characterize the politicians vying for our nation’s highest offices as “repeatedly mistaken,” but somewhere along the line someone on both sides is simply choosing to overlook the facts, unless we are to believe that both our president and his challenger have hired utterly incompetent researchers to support their campaigns—hardly a concession that instills me with much confidence in either of them.

Had Dylan not included this sentence I likely would have whole-heartedly agreed with his diagnosis (it doesn’t take much to convince me that both candidate are less than honest). But that line forced me to do some soul-searching since I have been a researcher for two different presidential candidates during two different primary seasons.

While it might be the case that I should be included among the “utterly incompetent researchers,” I made an honest effort when preparing debate prep materials to provide my candidates with accurate and wholly truthful information. The problem is that what constitutes “accurate and wholly truthful information” is far from obvious. Some facts are straightforward. When I included data such as “the economy grew by X% in quarter Y,” I had sufficient references to back up the claim. But other assertions, particularly about a candidate’s prior statements or political record, required relevant context in order to be established as truly “factual.”

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There’s more to voting than tallying up the number of yays and nays. Although you’d never guess it by the numbingly perfunctory attitude taken toward voting by most Americans—especially in this late hour—who see it either as the highest duty of a good citizen, or as an inconvenient inevitability.

What makes voting worth it, anyway? Is it the possibility of shaping our nation’s future? The opportunity to express our deepest-held principles? Or is it worth it precisely because not doing it would be a civic or moral failure that we wish to avoid?

A recent conversation at Ethika Politika draws some of these questions together. Responding broadly to my characterization of Alasdair MacIntyre’s now somewhat popular case for non-voting, Acton’s own Dylan Pahman offers a perspective that emphasizes real-life consequences stemming from our attitude toward civic choices. Pahman takes as a philosophical basis for this approach William James’s idea of genuine options, suggesting that voting meets all the criteria, and that to not vote is, strictly speaking, not a real option.

As the defensor MacIntyri, here—at least for the sake of argument—I submit that Pahman’s analysis, while logically consistent, introduces a false assumption about the nature of morals vis-à-vis public life. In other words, I think that favoring a “duty to consider the consequences” need not take precedence over—and certainly needn’t extinguish—one’s “focus upon the personal, moral value of voting.” What are personal morals, after all, if not deeply connected to reality?

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