They Blew Up My Car

but it’s nothing more sinister than incompetence: the old Dodge minivan, with 190K miles on it, needed a new timing chain. We went for it, figuring $1300 for another year of use (gulp!) would be worth it.

Well, the dude working on the car evidently started it up before setting the timing – this is a mystery to me, but that’s how it was explained – and, because the timing was way off, basically bent, blew out or otherwise destroyed the valves.

So, we get to drive a nice brand new Dodge minivan for a few days while the shop rebuilds our engine, puts in new values and whatever else got fubared, and redoes the timing belt – all on a vehicle that is *this* close to being hauled off as junk.

Hey, maybe we can get *2* years on it…

Divorce & College: Two Cases of Fantasy Meeting Reality

This article about how divorce is losing its luster reminds me of this essay here on this blog, about how the percentage of people getting college degrees in America has not increased in 40 years, despite the incessant claim that a college degree is a meal ticket to a better life. In both cases, despite the received mythology and the stories they tell themselves, people come to see the truth, however dimly or haltingly.

In the case of college, it works like this: some careers are off limits to those without a college degree or 3, mostly for good reason – you want your doctor, lawyer and research biologists to be very well trained in their specialties, and that’s unlikely to happen without years of schooling. Many other jobs are largely restricted to college grads, despite there being little if any connection between the work and the degree. Do cops, airline pilots or managers of insurance adjuster really gain anything from college that couldn’t easily get elsewhere? Historically, people did these jobs without college degrees. Now, the college degree starts out used as a filter to keep down the number of applicants, then habit eventually enshrines it as law.

But for most ways of earning a living, having a college degree is pretty irrelevant to the job. (Note: I have a couple of nice college degrees, so this isn’t just sour grapes).  What your average guy sees: I can spend 4 years getting a college degree, going into debt or living in poverty or living at home, and – then what? I’ve always wanted to be a brick layer or auto mechanic or artist or – whatever. Maybe I should pursue a course that gets me where I’m going directly. Plus, I hear about all these people with English degrees not working, or doing jobs they could have gotten without a degree, and they’ve wasted years of their lives, years of earning potential, and possibly gone into debt – in order to sling coffee at Starbucks?

So, maybe 30% college grads is about all the economy can take. Maybe that reality is behind the stall in the number of people with college degrees after decades of increases.

Similarly, in the first story, people have been encouraged to think of divorce as this sort of random thing that can happen to anybody, without any really permanent or damaging effects. Sure, it hurts, but the core of your being – the unencumbered Will – remains untouched.

Anybody not willfully blind to the world knows this is not true – the human wreckage from divorce is all around us. The concomitant attempts to portray happy, faithful marriage as some sort of cultural Ivory-billed woodpecker also fails pretty regularly, as there are plenty of them out there. It helps the delusion that there is often a social divide between those who see marriage as a fundamental and permanent spiritual commitment and those who see it ‘for as long as you both shall love’. This article is interesting in that the women interviewed seemed to straddle those worlds.

While the stories are sad, the trend, if that’s what it is, is encouraging. Truth making a little bitty comeback – whoda thunk it?

Not Your Kids, or Mine, of Course…

Because, as either an FNGs, a woman married to an FNG, guys who wishes he were FNGs, or a woman who wishes or plans to be married to an FNG , we are both a lot more loving and a lot less tolerant and enabling of self-centered behavior in our kids. So they of course are going to be the good citizens of tomorrow and stave off the utter collapse of civilization for one more generation, God help them.

Just to be clear.

Schools. Culture. Science.

Speaking of stating the obvious: we rely more and more on schools and science the more our culture dies. This is a mistake, as explained below.

What’s slightly less obvious: the success of schools and science (however that success is defined) is a result of a successful culture. What obscures this truth is the sometimes silent, sometimes shouted from the rooftops claim that, somehow, successful schooling *results* in good culture and good science.

To quote Shrek: Yea, likes that’s gonna happen.

If you find the above assertions incoherent or even blasphemous, recall that there’s a huge array of interests and individuals who’s livelihood depends on schools holding a sacred spot in our society – these people have pretty much pushed the rational opponents of schooling (e.g., Orestes Brownson) off the public stage entirely. and we can’t entirely discount the presence of a Stockholm Syndrome – having been prisoners of schools for well over a decade, we cut deals to save our psyches.  The upshot: posing the perfectly reasonable question of what, exactly, school is good for is far more emotional for most people than can be explained by the question itself.

Let’s say you start with culture instead. For an extreme Catholic example, look at St. John Bosco – he worked with abandoned and orphaned boys. The very first thing he did was create a culture – he knew that there was no point in trying to start a school until the boys belonged to something, felt affection and obligation to something. So, he and his brother teachers first and foremost treated the boys with respect – no bullying, no making them receive the Sacraments for their own good, no harsh discipline. Next, Bosco and Co provided a vivid, constant example of what a meaningful adult life was like – they were happy, hard-working, intimately involved in the lives of others, caring for the weak.  It is within this context that ‘schooling’ took place. The primary material  goal of Bosco’s  education was to get the boys a job – again, a job is just one important way we have a meaningful roll in our culture. Only as a secondary goal were academics pursued.

To recap: Bosco, a great lover of children and famous for his ability to connect with them,  knew that the major lack in the lives of these boys was family – the smallest unit of culture – and that that lacuna must first be filled before any other progress can be made. Because the boys lacked families, they also lacked any means for joining adult culture – namely, they couldn’t get a job, which meant they couldn’t get married and raise a family (couldn’t, as it were, attain FNG status! See, it’s all connected!).  So Bosco worked to reconnect the circle that was broken for these boys – by becoming family for them, by helping them get a job, he enabled them to join that great interlocking chain of family circles we call a culture.

Science, in the context of culture, is just another useful craft. The mythology tries to convince us that great scientists are some sort of James Dean style outcasts, operating on the fringes of culture and fighting off culture’s ignorance in order to lead us, kicking and screaming, into the future. This is historically utter nonsense, but hey, who learns history any more?

QED: School and Science succeed because of culture.

Formerly Normal Guys – 1st Pass

Here’s the game: once upon a time, guys tended to get married, stay married, raise a bunch of kids with their loving wife, and work in order to support their familial Jones. That’s just what Normal Guys did.

Now, a preponderance of guys seem to be trying to get rich, get girls, practice serial polygamy, opt out of the whole ‘Dad’ gig and otherwise defy everything that used to define a Normal Guy.

So, as a guy who would have tidily fit into the old Normal Guy category, I’m going to take it upon myself to identify and wax rhapsodic about any men I come across who would have formerly been considered pretty normal – Formerly Normal Guys, in other TLA-friendly words.

Things that are right out:

– Lots of wives;

– Obvious trophy wife;

– No kids, or one or two ‘perfect’ kids. FNGs actually liked kids – loved them, even – and instead of viewing them as little human Certificates of Achievement, instead viewed them as actual human beings Normal Guys were blessed to have a chance to live with. Exceptions can be made to this rule for either circumstances beyond control (think GKC) and for voluntary celibacy, such as Catholic priests (JPII seemed like a FNG, but it seems a little sacrilegious to call him a FNG. Issues remain to be ironed out, here);

– Wedded to career – willing to sacrifice human relationships to get ahead, whatever that means.

What else?

Seal, Olusegun Division

Seal is somebody whose music I’m a little shocked I like. The only way to explain it: The musicianship is outstanding. Anyway, wondering: can we grant him honorary FNG status, because he’s married, has kids whom he takes along with his wife every year for a family celebration of his and his wife’s  anniversary? Or do we need more than that?  Or does he have Tiger problems we don’t know about?

Wrestling out loud here with the definition of FNG – it should be generous, in the warm guy way that you see at neighborhood  picnics and Knights of Columbus barbecues, willing to overlook lots of little foibles, but not meaningless. In Seal’s case, ‘little foibles’ might include: “Married a supermodel” and “owns beach property in Mexico”.

OK, so Seal’s a stretch.