Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Friday night movie: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

Here’s tonight’s movie in English, but black and white:

IMDB rating: [7.6/10]

Or if you are brave, you can watch the newer, color (1990) French-language version, with subtitles.

IMDB rating: [7.6/10]

Description:

Cyrano de Bergerac is a Parisian poet and swashbuckler with a large nose of which he is self-conscious, but pretends to be proud of. He is madly in love with his “friendly cousin” (they were not actually related as cousins), the beautiful Roxane; however, he does not believe she will requite his love because he considers himself physically unattractive. Soon, he finds that Roxane has become infatuated with Christian de Neuvillette, a dashing new recruit to the Cadets de Gascogne, the military unit of which Cyrano is the captain. Christian however, despite his good looks, is tongue-tied when speaking with women. Seeing an opportunity to vicariously declare his love for Roxane, he decides to aid Christian, who does not know how to court a woman and gain her love.

Gascony (Gasgogne in French) is the south-west of France, and Normandy is in the north of France. Cyrano and the other cadets are from Gascony, but Christian is from Normandy.

This movie is very special to me, because I share many of the character traits and experiences of Cyrano. In fact, whenever I want to explain myself to a woman, I show her this movie and highlight certain parts. Like me, Cyrano has a distant relationship with his mother, and no sisters. Like me, his favorite color is white. For him, it symbolizes independence. For me, it symbolizes independence and also chastity, fidelity and secrecy. He wears a white plume in his hat, symbolizing his independence.

At one point in the movie, Cyrano is shown to be fond of making enemies rather than friends, because he resents the way that people are constantly trying to make friends and trying to make people like them. I have that same view. I get very annoyed with Christians who hide their convictions about truth and morality in public in order to be liked by others. In fact, I think that the two biggest challenges to being a Christian are the expectation that if God is real, then he will make you happy and the expectation that following Jesus will make people like you. It’s much better if Christians expect to not be happy and to not be liked – that’s the normal Christian life. Many Christians fall away from their faith because they feel that God should make them happy and that people should like them.

I wish that everyone watching the movie could understand French, because Cyrano always speaks in rhymes in the French. He is asked by someone how he expects to survive after he has offended some fool who is protected by a powerful nobleman. Does Cyrano have a powerful protector? His reply: “No, I have no patron… but a patroness” while putting his hand on his sword. In other productions of the play, like this one, he draws his sword.

Cyrano is also very lonely, and finds women very mysterious, and therefore very desirable. But he has a long nose, so he feels that he has no hope with them, and he doesn’t even try.

Look:

CYRANO:
Look well at me–then tell me, with what hope
This vile protuberance can inspire my heart!
I do not lull me with illusions–yet
At times I’m weak: in evening hours dim
I enter some fair pleasance, perfumed sweet;
With my poor ugly devil of a nose
I scent spring’s essence–in the silver rays
I see some knight–a lady on his arm,
And think ‘To saunter thus ‘neath the moonshine,
I were fain to have my lady, too, beside!’
Thought soars to ecstasy. . . O sudden fall!
–The shadow of my profile on the wall!

If you watch the 1990 version of the movie with subtitles, you can at least hear the rhymes – everything he says rhymes. French is a beautiful language. Here’s the play in French and in English for those who prefer to read rather than watch. If you read the play, you get more details but you lose the swordfights. Cyrano is the best swordsman in Paris, and not afraid to use his sword to make a point, so to speak.

Happy Friday!

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Arthur Brooks: earning your own success through work makes you happy

In the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel “somewhat successful.” It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.

The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.

Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were “very happy” about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.

That trajectory should be a cautionary tale to Americans who are watching the U.S. government careen toward a system that is every bit as socially democratic as Spain’s.

Government spending as a percentage of GDP in America is about 36%—roughly the same as in Spain. The Congressional Budget Office tells us it will reach 50% by 2038. The Tax Foundation reports that almost 70% of Americans take more out of the tax system than they pay into it. Meanwhile, politicians foment social division on the basis of income inequality, instead of attempting to improve mobility and opportunity through education reform, pro-growth policies, and an entrepreneur-friendly economy.

These trends do not mean we are doomed to repeat Spain’s unhappy fate. But our system of earned success will not defend itself.

What I find most interesting is that the people who vote for Obama don’t even realize how they are making themselves more and more unhappy by being more and more dependent on government. It’s the bluest states that have seen the lowest income growth, the lowest job growth, lower home prices, and the highest unemployment. All of this talk about taxing the rich and spreading the wealth around through bigger and more intrusive government hasn’t worked.

More government means less prosperity, and less prosperity means fewer jobs, and fewer jobs means less happiness. Punishing your successful neighbor and borrowing huge amounts of money from the next generation of Americans does not create jobs. And without a job, you’re not going to be happy.

We need to have a public policy that recognizes that human beings are spiritual creatures, and we aren’t happy unless we chart our own course and earn our own success instead of depending on government to take it from someone else and hand it to us.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Food stamp president: nearly 16 million more people getting food stamps since Obama’s election

From CNS News.

Excerpt:

 Since taking office in 2009, food stamp rolls under President Barack Obama have risen to more than 47 million people in America, exceeding the population of Spain.

“Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” said Obama during his first joint session address to Congress on Feb. 24, 2009.

Since then, the number of participants enrolled in food stamps, known as the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), has risen substantially.

When Obama entered office in January 2009 there were 31,939,110 Americans receiving food stamps.  As of November 2012—the most recent data available—there were 47,692,896Americans enrolled, an increase of 49.3 percent.

Not only are we borrowing trillions of dollars to pay for all these handouts, but being dependent on government is not good for people.

Arthur Brooks explains in the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel “somewhat successful.” It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.

The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.

Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were “very happy” about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.

If we really cared about people, we would give incentives to job creators (“the rich”) to create jobs for them. Earned success makes people happy.

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American job creators struggling to find qualified applicants for basic jobs

From the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

More than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing went unfilled in 2011 due to a skills shortage, according to a survey conducted by the consultancy Deloitte.

The problem seems soluble: Equip workers with the skills they need to match them with employers who are hiring. That explains the emphasis that policy makers of both parties place on science, technology, engineering and math degrees—it is such a mantra that they’re known by shorthand as STEM degrees.

American manufacturing has become more advanced, we’re told, and requires computer aptitude, intricate problem solving, and greater dexterity with complex tasks. Surely if Americans were getting STEM education, they would have the skills they need to get jobs in our modern, high-tech economy.

But considerable evidence suggests that many employers would be happy just to find job applicants who have the sort of “soft” skills that used to be almost taken for granted. In the Manpower Group’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, nearly 20% of employers cited a lack of soft skills as a key reason they couldn’t hire needed employees. “Interpersonal skills and enthusiasm/motivation” were among the most commonly identified soft skills that employers found lacking.

Employers also mention a lack of elementary command of the English language. A survey in April of human-resources professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the AARP compared the skills gap between older workers who were nearing retirement and younger workers coming into the labor pool. More than half of the organizations surveyed reported that simple grammar and spelling were the top “basic” skills among older workers that are not readily present among younger workers.

The SHRM/AARP survey also found that “professionalism” or “work ethic” is the top “applied” skill that younger workers lack. This finding is bolstered by the Empire Manufacturing Survey for April, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It said that manufacturers were finding it harder to find punctual, reliable workers today than in 2007, “an interesting result given that New York State’s unemployment rate was more than 4 percentage points lower in early 2007 than in early 2012.”

Stuart Schneiderman blames the focus on equality and self-esteem over competition and achievement:

The American school system has failed America’s students. It has especially failed to teach the skills required to do the kinds of high tech jobs that are increasingly available.
American children are deficient in science, technology, engineering and math, in what are now known as the STEM subjects.
It should surprise no one. A pedagogical policy promoting self-esteem over achievement must diminish the best students in order to make the worst students feel good about themselves. The result: a large cohort of undereducated underachievers who are proud of their incompetence.
In STEM subjects there are right and wrong answers. When these subjects are taught correctly, you will find that some children are markedly better than others.
Children improve because they emulate their betters. They strive to get better because they want to be as good as someone else.
If the best students are rewarded other children will want to emulate them. If the best students are demeaned no one will want to emulate them.
If you refuse to call on them in class, if you refuse to hold them up as exemplary, if you turn math exercises into storytelling and feeling sharing you are going to drag everyone down.
If you say that no one is better than anyone else, you are saying that no child should strive for greater achievements.

Stuart didn’t say it, so I will. It’s important to be careful about handing your children off to any school, especially the feminized public school system. The public school system from administration to the classroom is not welcoming to values like competition and individual achievement – which are more often (but not exclusively) associated with men. Unfortunately, there just aren’t many men in public school classrooms. Public schools favor security and equality of outcomes. These goals are best achieved by growing government to minimize individual achievement and to maximize the “safety net”, so that individual striving doesn’t matter. Another goal of the public school system is to increase the amount of money they are paid. They want higher taxes and more government spending, so that they are paid more. Their job is not to get your children skills so they can be independent of government. They want more government. They want more security. They want less personal responsibility. They want less individual achievement.

I think that teachers should have to work in a field related to what they want to teach in for at least 5 years before being admitted to teacher’s college. That requirement alone would improve education drastically.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who pays the bill for handing out $2.2 trillion of entitlements per year?

This article by Nicholas Eberstadt is the most popular article on the Wall Street Journal right now. I found it through Doug Ross’ links.

First, a quick review of the entitlement situation:

What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances. Within living memory, the federal government has become an entitlements machine. As a day-to-day operation, it devotes more attention and resources to the public transfer of money, goods and services to individual citizens than to any other objective, spending more than for all other ends combined.

The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.

In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America. Scaled against a notional family of four, the average entitlements burden for that year alone approached $29,000.

Government’s job used to be to handle responsibilities like roads and bridges or like defending us at home and to defending our national interests abroad. But now government seems to be more interested in redistributing money taken from job creating businesses and their workers to those don’t create jobs and those who don’t work. What happens when you punish people for trying to succeed and reward people who don’t even try?

This is the result of wealth redistribution:

The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqueville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830s extended to personal finances. The American “individualism” about which he wrote did not exclude social cooperation—the young nation was a hotbed of civic associations and voluntary organizations. But in an environment bursting with opportunity, American men and women viewed themselves as accountable for their own situation through their own achievements—a novel outlook at that time, markedly different from the prevailing attitudes of the Old World (or at least the Continent).

The corollaries of this American ethos were, on the one hand, an affinity for personal enterprise and industry and, on the other, a horror of dependency and contempt for anything that smacked of a mendicant mentality. Although many Americans in earlier times were poor, even people in fairly desperate circumstances were known to refuse help or handouts as an affront to their dignity and independence. People who subsisted on public resources were known as “paupers,” and provision for them was a local undertaking. Neither beneficiaries nor recipients held the condition of pauperism in high regard.

Overcoming America’s historic cultural resistance to government entitlements has been a long and formidable endeavor. But as we know today, this resistance did not ultimately prove an insurmountable obstacle to establishing mass public entitlements and normalizing the entitlement lifestyle. The U.S. is now on the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive and accept transfer benefits from the government. From cradle to grave, a treasure chest of government-supplied benefits is there for the taking for every American citizen—and exercising one’s legal rights to these many blandishments is now part of the American way of life.

As Americans opt to reward themselves ever more lavishly with entitlement benefits, the question of how to pay for these government transfers inescapably comes to the fore. Citizens have become ever more broad-minded about the propriety of tapping new sources of finance for supporting their appetite for more entitlements. The taker mentality has thus ineluctably gravitated toward taking from a pool of citizens who can offer no resistance to such schemes: the unborn descendants of today’s entitlement-seeking population.

We used to want to earn our own success. Now we want to live on the backs of children not yet born. Slavery is a horrible crime, no matter where it is practiced. Isn’t it a kind of slavery to live it up now and then pass the bill for it on to generations not even born yet? It strikes me as a kind of slavery – taking an unfair portion of the income of others so that we can live at a higher standard than what we can afford through our own choices and labor.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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