1. Not quite sure what to make of the fact that in the eleven or so years I’ve been writing on Mbird, I have never been forwarded a single news item more than this one. I suppose I should take it as a compliment, as Lord knows there are worst things to be associated with. But it’s true: the mighty have fallen–and they have fallen hard. We’re talking here about Billy Mitchell, erstwhile record holder on both Donkey Kong and Centipede, AKA he of the perfect Pac Man game. The fulfillment of all (arcade) righteousness has been shown to be an 8-bit sinner just like the rest of us. I’m presuming the reason so many emails have been sent my way has to do with number of the times I’ve invoked Billy in precisely those terms, most memorably in the following talk (skip to the 9min mark for the Mitchell stuff):

I feel for the guy, to be honest. I feel for anyone whose life becomes an illustration of the Law before they’re finished living it–which is probably more of us than we’d care to admit. Who knows, maybe being brought low will mark the beginning of something good for Billy, the way it did for good ol’ Steve Sanders after Billy caught him fabricating scores way back when. Iron sharpens iron was the phrase he used, I believe(!). In any case, the refining fire of Twin Galaxies has revealed that the first million point score in DK belongs to Steve Wiebe after all, and praise God for that.

For those who have no idea what I’m on about, consider this your opportunity to check out the absurdity and profundity that is 2007’s King of Kong, ASAP. And then pull up our prophetically titled post “I Gotta Try Losing Sometime,” which spells out some of the themes. For more law and grace gaming documentary fun, take a look at Man Vs Snake. Those in want of some extended thoughts on the strange consecration of Nerd-dom (and grace for humiliated Atari programmers), we’ve got you covered.


2. From the ridiculous to the sublime, or possibly vice versa, a convicting reflection from B.D. McClay on Commonweal, “You Can’t Earn Easter.” McClay starts out by expressing a sentiment that hits pretty close to home, namely, that Good Friday and even Christmas are whole lot more comfortable to contemplate and/or write about than Easter. Or you might say, sorrow and struggle are easier to relate to than joy. It’s not the observation itself that struck me as fresh, though, so much as her reasoning:

For those American Christians whose faith has been shaped—inevitably—by a reaction to the various feel-good Christianities that abound, the safest thing to do is simply to avoid any occasion of happiness. Focusing on anything other than the cross feels like cheap grace, a concession to the facile optimism all around us. We don’t deserve Easter, the general upbeat nature of the culture makes it impossible to celebrate properly anyway, and as soon as is humanly possible we should retreat back into the shadows.

…But all grace, by definition, is undeserved; that applies no less to the brooding intellectual than it does to the flagrantly wicked. And what distinguishes cheap grace from grace isn’t the extremity of our penance or devotion to suffering (read: brooding), but recognition of sin and a contrite heart—not, precisely, the same thing. Avoiding cheap grace may mean avoiding grace altogether.

She then relays the story of Margaret of Cortona, a thirteenth-century woman who took up a life of severe penance following years of moral turpitude. The visions of Christ that she detailed to her confessor at the time are notable by virtue of what they don’t contain, i.e., exhortation toward more fervent piety:

Christ emphasizes to her that to will only self-destruction is to refuse to accept mercy, that to focus intently on lack of desert is a way to avoid accepting what you haven’t earned. Since what is offered by Christ is impossible to earn, this retreat into penance can represent a way of turning away from God in a more subtle guise.

His love isn’t merited through suffering, but simply present for us, whether or not we ask for it and whether or not we deserve it. Grace is equally cheap and equally costly to anybody willing to accept it. And Easter promises us that something has actually happened, that our faith doesn’t simply depend on a conveniently unrealized future.

3. Amen to that. And amen to this next one, albeit a tad more reservedly. Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Natural Causes, hit shelves this week and it sounds like the ranking queen of iconoclasm (next to Paglia) is on form with an extended treatise on death, both hers and our own. Parul Seghal’s review in the Times contains a bunch of lines I plan to “borrow” at the earliest opportunity:

The most purely, proudly American genre of writing might be the to-do list. From Benjamin Franklin’s 13-week plan for self-optimization to young Gatsby’s daily routine (“practice elocution, poise and how to attain it”), nothing captures quite so well our essential optimism, mania for self-improvement and suspicion of leisure — not to mention the unapologetic grasping that so galled de Tocqueville.

The key word in the Declaration of Independence isn’t life, liberty or happiness, the writer Patricia Hampl has pointed out. It’s pursuit.

All this striving is getting in the way of living, Barbara Ehrenreich argues in “Natural Causes” — and it’s making dying more painful and humiliating than it needs to be. “Every death can now be understood as suicide,” she writes. “We persist in subjecting anyone who dies at a seemingly untimely age to a kind of bio-moral autopsy: Did she smoke? Drink excessively? Eat too much fat and not enough fiber? Can she, in other words, be blamed for her own death?”

Ehrenreich is so offended by the American conflation of health with virtue and offers charming contrarian essays on the “defiant self-nurturance” of cigarette smoking, for example, and the dangers of eating fruit.

4. While we’re pushing back on American performancism, the Social Science Article of the Week would have to be Sarah Perry’s “Deep Laziness,” which unpacks something (wonderful) called “the principle of least action”, ht RS:

There is intense laziness apparent in the natural world (which one might come to understand simply by watching household pets). Christopher Alexander (in The Nature of Order, Volume II, pp. 37-39) notes many disparate examples of natural “laziness” that hint at an underlying principle (in history of science, the “principle of least action”): a soap bubble minimizing surface area, Ohm’s law, the shape of a river’s meander. “Many systems do evolve in the direction that minimizes their potential energy,” he says. “The deeper problem is that we are then faced with the question, Why should the potential energy be minimized?”

5. Why indeed. Time to laugh: While I’m as keen on Awkward Russian Wedding Photos as the next guy, the funniest thing I’ve seen this week is definitely the Rockwell Retro Encabulator video (my fave’s below but the original is also amazing). Here I thought the showrunners of Patriot were the trailblazers in engineering humor… Whatever the case, thank God they’ve fixed the side fumbling:

6. Next, writing for The Washington Post, Christine Emba boils down Patrick Deenan’s Why Liberalism Failed, the much buzzed about book which Will commented on at some length a few weeks ago. Emba highlights what Deenan sees–and some would say overstates (if only a bit)–as the psycho-emotional fallout of classical liberalism, namely “Liberalism is Loneliness”. While all rather birds-eye, it’s still worth throwing into the hat for anyone interested in this increasingly urgent topic. We talk about it more on this week’s Mockingcast:

Deneen thinks [classical liberalism] has proved itself a disaster — “not because it fell short but because it was true to itself.”… On the right end of the ideological spectrum, he notes, classical  celebrated the free market, which facilitated the radical expansion of choice. On the left, liberalism celebrated the civil right to personal choice and self-definition, along with the state that secured this right by enforcing the law.

Both approaches basically converge into the same thing: a headlong and depersonalized pursuit of individual freedom and security that demands no concern for the wants and needs of others, or for society as a whole.

As liberalism has progressed, it has done so by ever more efficiently liberating each individual from “particular places, relationships, memberships, and even identities…” In the process, it has scoured anything that could hold stable meaning and connection from our modern landscape… And in the end, we’ve all been left terribly alone. That’s the heart of it, really. Liberalism is loneliness.

7. An amazing essay appeared on Pitchfork over the weekend tracing the genesis of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings “comeback” release. Like the author, I happen to prefer what came later (the song “Redemption” is still an all-time offertory classic), but those roots had to be planted somewhere and thank God once again for Rick Rubin–whose clothes, Cash apparently said, “would’ve done a wino proud”! I also had no idea that U2 were partially responsible for jumpstarting the whole thing. Mysterious Ways, people.

8. Finally, on the podcast front, Scott Jones’s interview with former conference speaker Mark Mattes about Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty is highly recommended. The second episode of Pelican Pie is up and it’s great. Russell Brand’s sit-down with Jordan Peterson did not disappoint (their odd exchange on the Sermon on the Mount notwithstanding). And Leslie Jamison talks to WNYC about her phenomenal memoir The Recovering. Oh and a new episode of The Mockingcast just dropped!