So…What Do I Get for my Income Tax?

A scene from the 1938 Frank Capra classic (pardon my repetition) You Can’t Take it With You. 

The sad thing is, the things listed here would actually be worth paying for. I’d kill to have my income tax only go to pay for battleships and government salaries.

The clip is also interesting for featuring a really incredible set of star-power packed into five minutes of film. That the legendary Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhof, the all-but-immortal Charles Lane (who was still making films in the 1990s) as the IRS man, James Stewart as young Kirby, and the inimitable Jean Arthur as Alice. Meanwhile, in the background, you can see character actors Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds, and Halliwell Hobbs.

Amazingly enough, that doesn’t even come close to exhausting the familiar faces in this film: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (most famous for the Jack Benny Program, and probably the premier Black comedian of the time) is on hand as the shiftless boyfriend of the family maid, hamtastic character actor Mischa Auer is a mad Russian ballet teacher, Edward Arnold is Kirby senior (giving the stand-out performance of the film), Donald Meek is another house guest, and H.B. Warner (one day to be Mr. Gower in It’s a Wonderful Life) shows up as a ruined businessman. And all directed by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Of course, the real point of the above scene is that Grandpa doesn’t need anything from the government. In fact, they don’t need anything from anyone. Interestingly, part of the reason they don’t need anything is because they have the right to private property; Grandpa owns the house in New York City that they live in (truly the past is another country) and can basically do what he likes with it. If he wants to invite any interesting stranger to come and stay, and if they happen to stay for decades on end, well, what of it? It’s his house.

This is a frequent theme in Capra’s works; skepticism of the rich is blended with a strong regard for property rights, because, in Capra’s view, the right to own property ensures individual liberty. The Vanderhof family can do as they like and ask nothing from anyone because they own their own house.

Owning their own property also allows them to be charitable and contribute to society. The Vanderhof’s aren’t idle bums; they (in Grandpa’s words) “Toil a little, spin a little, and have a barrel of laughs.” Everyone produces something, and no one asks for charity (well, except for Rochester’s character, who’s a lovable bum…but so is Micha Auer’s character).

This calls to mind Ephesians 4:28 “He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need,” which brings me to the other reason the Vanderhof’s don’t need anything from the government: faith and family. They support each other, and God supports all of them. Grandpa makes this explicit right off the bat when asked who takes care of them; “The same one who takes care of the lilies of the field,” and further emphasized by the scenes of him offering grace that bookend the story.

Personally, I’m very skeptical of Chesterton’s notion of ‘Distributism.’ Brilliant as he was, he had a glaring blind spot as far as economics were concerned (something he shared with many other brilliant men, including Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. It seems the qualities that make for philosophical genius tend to create gaps as far as economics are concerned). However, as an ideal for individuals, a self-sufficient household that asks nothing and produces worthwhile goods to support itself is something worth striving for. It is a very Christian and Biblical notion; each family supporting itself and providing charity to those in need from its own property, bound together by shared faith and love.

Property, faith, and family are the trinity that allows for individual liberty. In our world, we’ve largely lost all three to the extent that we hardly know what we have lost.

7 Things I Hope to See in Season 7

Yes, yes: I’ve been on a bit of a pony kick recently. So sue me; it’s my blog.

Season Seven started this weekend, and the first two episodes were really good, so I have high hopes for the future. Mostly I just hope they keep providing quality storytelling the way they’ve been doing, but I have my specific hopes as well. Here are the top seven things I’m hoping we’ll see in Season Seven.

I’m going to try to keep this as specific as possible, so not just “more Discord/Fluttershy scenes” or “More Discord/Trixie scenes” or “more Discord/Maud scenes” (Discord makes everything better), but actual, specific developments and storylines I’d like to see them tackle this time around.

Oh, and obviously there will be spoilers for Seasons 1-6.

  1. Villain Team Up:

“Villain team up, villain team up…”

I put this low because if it does happen it won’t be until the end of the season. We know that Queen Chrysalis is out plotting revenge, so what would be more natural for her than to figure out a way to break Tirek out and join forces with him? Then they could also bring on some other, lesser bad guys to serve as their henchmen: Sombra’s dead, but Garble would be a good fit as dumb muscle, along with a bitter and vengeful Wind Rider or Lightning Dust (actually, it’d be interesting to see her return in any capacity), and maybe even the Flim Flam Brothers. The point is, something like an Equestrian Sinister Six would be really cool, make a lot of sense given the position the characters are now in, and be a way to up the ante over previous season finales.

 

  1. Button Mash:
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    “Psst! This guy!”

    It’s the biggest long shot on this list, but I can hope. For those who don’t know, Button Mash is the fan name for the colt playing a video game in Hearts and Hooves Day, who has since garnered something of a cult following thanks to an abortive fan-made series focusing on his life, and has become one of the most popular characters to pair with Sweetie Belle (even her voice actress supports that pairing). Considering that the writers have incorporated fan notions of Derpy, Doctor Hooves, and so on, I’d really like to see them to do the same for Button.

 

 

  1. The Return of Diamond Tiara:
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    “Now that you don’t hate me, can I come back?”

    Never thought I’d be asking to see more of that little brat. But we haven’t seen anything of her since her reformation in season five; what’s she doing now? In fact, what’s she like now? It’s kind of hard to picture a non-bullying Diamond Tiara (which might be why she hasn’t been around). We don’t necessarily need a whole episode centered on her, but at least having her show up as a supporting character so that we can get some idea of where she is now would be appreciated. Maybe have one of the CMC feeling down and have her come over to talk to them, or do a school-centric episode where she and the CMC end up as rivals again and they both have to deal with old feelings of dislike surfacing in the heat of competition. With how well they’ve handled other reformed villains, I want to see them deal a little more with her.

 

  1. Gabby and Gilda Episode:
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    “Please, please do an episode with me?”

    After meeting the adorably overactive Gabby the Griffin in Season Six, and with Gilda now reformed, I think a griffon-centric episode just begs to be written. Gabby’s ultra cheeriness combined with Gilda’s sullen sarcasm could be absolutely hilarious, and it would let us see how Griffonstone is coming along in the friendship department, as well as further developing both their characters (frankly, we need to see more of ‘good Gilda,’ since she’s been so hated for so long and thus far we’ve only seen her good side in the denouement to one episode and in a silent flashback in another). So, yeah, a griffon episode seems to me to be exactly what’s called for.

 

  1. Spotlight One of Pinkie’s Other Sisters:
    Limestone_-what'd_I_say_about_the_boulder-!-_S5E20

    “How come we don’t get more screentime!?”

    I love Maud, as does pretty much everyone, and I believe we’re getting a Maud episode early on in the season, which is great. But I would also like to see Pinkie’s other two sisters, Marble and Limestone, receive more development. We know Pinkie spends a day with each of them; what easier than to show us one of those days? I’d especially like more of Marble, who’s adorable (Limestone’s kind of a jerk, but that might make her relationship with Pinkie all the more interesting). Maybe give her actual dialogue this time? It’d be nice to get a better idea of their relationship, whether they’re as close as Pinkie and Maud, how Pinkie handles Marble’s shyness, and so on. Have Fluttershy or, alternatively, Rainbow Dash join them and the potential for sweetness and hilarity is through the roof.

 

  1. Scootaloo’s Parents:
    Scootaloo_crying_S4E05

    “Doesn’t anyone care about my home life?”

    Six whole seasons and we still have no idea who is responsible for this kid. I’d really be interested to see some of her home life, especially to finally learn who her guardian is, and whether she lives with both parents, one, or someone else entirely (I get the sense her home life isn’t very happy: it might be interesting to explore that). We could also see how her parents/guardians deal with her apparent disability, what they think of her relationship with Rainbow Dash, and so on. You could also use it as a chance to bring back Diamond Tiara, with the two of them bonding over their shared experience of an unhappy family life, in contrast to Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. This is a storyline bursting with potential just waiting to be tapped.

 

Before Number One, some Runners Up:

-Another Pet-centric episode: Because the pets need more screentime.

-Ember comes to Ponyville: A friendly, but not-too-friendly dragon princess comes to Ponyville; this practically writes itself.

-Owlowicious and Spike centered episode: These two play off each other so well it’s a crime they don’t have more time together.

-Princess Celestia fighting and not losing for once: Yes, yes; need to preserve the drama, but come on! She’s supposed to be one of the most powerful characters in the series and she’s won precisely one on-screen fight this whole time…and it was a flashback!

-Another Rainbow Dash solo number: She’s voiced by a professional singer: let’s take advantage of that, shall  we?”

And the number one thing I’d like to see:

 

  1. Sunset Shimmer Comes to Equestria:
    Sunset_Shimmer's_warm_smile_EG2.png

    How can you say no to that face?

    Now that she’s taken over the role of protagonist in the Equestria Girls films, I would love to have a cross-over episode where Sunset temporarily returns to Equestria. I’d like to see her struggling to readjust back to being a pony after being a human for so long, see her getting to know the pony versions of her friends, and especially have her meet Starlight. The two characters fulfill basically the same role, so bringing them together would be a great opportunity to highlight their differences. Plus it would be interesting to see them compare notes on being reformed villains mentored by Twilight (I’m thinking something like the “two assistants” episode of Monk). I also think the two would play off each other really well, with Sunset the more active, take-charge figure and Starlight the more cerebral, bookish character. Basically, this could be a fantastic and exciting storyline and a great chance to develop one of the coolest characters in the series, so…make this happen.

 

My Federalist Little Pony

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Stop the Presses!

I just got paid for writing about My Little Pony: Achievement unlocked!

Read the whole thing here:

One of the best characters on the show is Luna, the Princess of the Night. She starts off as the villainous Nightmare Moon in the pilot episode, but after her defeat and redemption becomes a recurring heroic figure.

Her first appearance after the pilot has her trying to adjust to a world that is not only much different from the one she remembers (she was trapped in the moon for a thousand years; long story), but one in which she is basically the boogey man. Nightmare Night, the Equestrian equivalent of Halloween, is even based around placating her so she won’t gobble up young ponies.

Luna is understandably put off by this. She wants to be loved and admired, but the other ponies, especially goofball Pinkie Pie, constantly act afraid of her, and her odd, intimidating manners don’t help. She gets so offended that she threatens to eliminate the holiday.

But then, when Twilight (the show’s protagonist) finally catches Pinkie and tells her she doesn’t have to be afraid of Luna anymore, Pinkie cheerfully responds that she isn’t, really. It’s just being scared is part of the fun of Nightmare Night. Having the real-life Princess Luna there is like having Count Dracula show up to your Halloween party.

Then Twilight convinces Luna that, instead of trying to escape her spooky reputation, she should embrace it. As the reformed Princess of the Night, no one really knows how to take her. But as Nightmare Moon, the terrible mistress of darkness, she’s just an extra-special spooky attraction who makes the celebration that much cooler. Her willingness to play along makes her much more approachable.

We complain a lot about stereotypes, but I think most stereotypes are only harmful when applied indiscriminately to real-life people. But just in fun, or as part of a story, there’s nothing harmful about them. They’re part of our shared heritage and can serve as a link with different kinds of people. The incorrectly familiar is still familiar, but the unknown is simply unknown.

Embracing the horror-show version of herself instead of demanding to be accepted on her own terms gave Luna a connection with the other ponies, who then felt at least some familiarity with her and thus could relax in her presence, which allowed her to alter their preconceptions in a more organic and mutually respectful way.

That’s because whether someone’s ideas about you are accurate or even offensive is less important than whether they can actually talk to you, and you can’t talk to someone whose main topic of conversation is “Your ideas about me are wrong.”

Milo Murphy at the Federalist

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My next piece is up on The Federalist: this one about Milo Murphy’s Law, the latest show from Phineas and Ferb creators Swampy Marsh and Dan Povenmire.

If I could make a living writing about philosophy in cartoons, I would be okay with that.

It is one of the core beliefs of western culture that a man’s worth is measured, not by what happens to him, but by how well he faces it. Hector manning himself to face Achilles in a battle he knows he cannot win. Socrates choosing to drink hemlock rather than betray the truth. The saints enduring tortures rather than renouncing their faith. Whatever the turn of fortune’s wheel, a man’s response is what really counts, not the changing clutch of circumstance. Milo is the cheerful, family-friendly embodiment of this doctrine: a middle school Job with a sunny disposition.

By contrast, the modern idea, born of the likes of Marx, Freud, and their ilk, is that circumstance, society, “privilege,” or whatever other pseudo-academic synonym for “luck” you prefer, is what truly makes a man what he is. Whether it is ascribed to genetics, psychology, or economics, it amounts to the same thing: the idea that fortune, not action, determines a man’s destiny.

The antagonists in Milo’s world adopt this deterministic view, such as his classroom rival, Bradley. Bradley resents Milo, not just because his presence promises a disaster in the near future, but more because he’s jealous that Milo gets all the attention. He thinks that, if only Milo weren’t around, everyone would admire him instead.

Except Bradley is a boring, stuck-up grump, something that would remain so even if Milo weren’t around. He’s so focused on competing with his classmates (“In your face, other people!”) and on how they’re supposedly keeping him back that he doesn’t even consider how he could better his situation.

Read the rest here

Have a Bleak Good Friday

I am quickly growing to be a fan of Mr. John Zmirak over at Stream. He effectively wrote what I would have liked to have written regarding Good Friday (a good thing too, as I probably wasn’t going to write it):

It’s all too easy to let this holy day get swallowed up by Easter. We know how things turn out. Death gets swallowed up by victory. Jesus goes down into darkness just for a weekend.

In fact, we know that tomorrow He will be rooting around in Hades to free Elijah and Esther, Abraham and Moses, even schlemiels like Adam and Eve. They will follow Him to glory. So it’s all too easy for us to fast forward through the Passion. Just so, lax Christianity would glide over the darkness of sin, to focus on forgiveness. That’s natural, of course. But then, our nature is fallen.

To really embrace the grace that’s offered by this season, we must master our minds and emotions. We should travel the road of these holy days at the same speed as the apostles. It won’t help us to jump ahead. In fact, it impoverishes everything.

Go here to read the rest, and have a somber and bleak Good Friday.

pieta-large.

The Passion and the Fall of Humanism:

At the Passion of the Lord, we see the true futility of humanistic hopes. Here is assembled representatives of the best humanity has to offer: Roman Law, Greek Philosophy, Jewish Faith, and they all utterly fail.

The Law that was the bedrock of the Roman Empire, and indeed of all human institutions, proves impotent. Pilate knows Jesus is innocent; he declares him innocent. Yet he has him crucified anyway. Why? Because “a riot was breaking out.” The Law only works when people obey it; in the face of mob violence, it becomes impotent. This is a fact that has been demonstrated time and time again, from Jerusalem and Alexandria to Ferguson and Berkley; however strong the law is, a mob of angry and ignorant people is always stronger.

There is no hope in the law.

Greek Philosophy breathed into Roman life and created the sophisticated society that now ruled the known world. It had begun as a search for truth…but now, with Truth staring him in the face, Pilate, the representative of that society, can only ask, “what is truth?” The very idea of discovering the truth simply doesn’t make sense to him, at least compared with the need to deal with the political situation facing him.

No hope in Philosophy.

Jewish religion was the most advanced and developed faith in the ancient world; the one true faith that worship the one true God. Yet here are its chief representatives utterly failing to abide by their own religion. Not only do they fail to recognize the Messiah, but they then proceed to prostitute their faith to political convenience with a sham trial and the shameful declaration “We have no king but Caesar.” Nor does pagan faith fair any better. Pilate is warned by his wife not to have anything to do with Jesus, for she’d had a dream portending great evil. But he dismisses this omen and proceeds on cold political calculation.

And right there is the common thread; the reason why humanism fails. Because anything that is not focused on God ultimately will be focused on the self, or on some extension of the self. Humanism will always boil down to mere politics, politics to the will of the mob, and the mob to unreasoning emotions. Humanism fails because humans are not what they would be. We aren’t as clever or as rational as we would like to think ourselves. As St. Paul says, “What I would do, I do not, and what I would not do, I do.”

That is the true horror of our situation, which Christ came to rescue us from; we are rational beings that cannot behave rationally. We see what we ought to be, but cannot be it. Even if certain individuals achieve a rough approximation, they remain outliers unable to do anything to save the larger community from itself.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the result of original sin.

 

Link: 20 Things Every Man Should Be Able to Do

It’s rare to find good advice these days, especially on the internet, where everyone and anyone suddenly becomes an expert toting batches of statistics in service of advice that is typically shallow or obvious or both.

That’s one reason I like Chad Howse of Be Legendary and Average 2 Alpha: the guy actually seems like a legitimate thinker who believes what he says. More importantly, his advice actually has some substance and moral intelligence to it. Like this 20 Things Every Man Should Be Able to Do post. Most of the time, if you found a post like this on the internet, it would start off with something like “Make Mistakes and Keep Trying,” or “Express His Emotions,” or something equally trite. The first entries on this list?

1. Find meaning in suffering

To be a man is to endure what others cannot. Every man should read Man’s Search for Meaning, for an explanation of what it is to find meaning in suffering, but also Unbroken, to understand that no matter what we’re going through, it could be both worse and others have endured worse and come out better for it. Whatever you’re embroiled in, seek the meaning of it, seek the challenge within it, and turn it into something that strengthens you.

2. Bear any burden

We’re asked to not only bear our own troubles but to take on those of others and aid them in their difficulty. Know this. It isn’t just about you, but about those who depend on you.

Cool, huh?

The list goes on from there, with no token “silly” entries (i.e. “Put up with chick flicks”). Every entry is about either a practical skill / ability or a virtue. The whole list is, as the title indicates, about being the best man you can be, and actually has an idea what is meant by that.

You can see why I like this guy’s writing; it’s rooted in eternal values (he often cites classical and historical sources) and offers little conciliation to modernity. After you finish this list, you should stick around and check out more of it.