Category: Featured

I Was There When Vegas Came Back

What I Saw in Sin City

I went to Las Vegas last week, spending four nights at the iconic Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I spent Tuesday evening walking from the Nugget to the Strat, where I surveyed Vegas from 100 stories high for two hours.

The next morning, I covered five miles of downtown Las Vegas on foot, covering huge swaths of area.

On Thursday, I walked the length of the Strip, clocking in over 32,000 steps.

I took a two-hour bus tour and talked with the guide. I talked with Uber drivers. I chatted with all sorts of workers, from a farmers market vendor a half-mile north of Fremont Street to bartenders who make those frozen concoctions along the Strip.

I made notes. I came home and surfed the web. I bounced observations off my traveling companion (wife).

I then put all this into a giant blender and poured out these observations.


Primary Observation: Vegas is Back

Vegas, economists say, got hit the hardest among major cities. Nevada casinos alone saw revenues drop $6 billion in 2020. Vegas’ lucrative convention business was shut down. The reverberation through everything—other tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants—has been devastating.

I could see it Tuesday evening when Marie and I walked 2.1 miles from the Golden Nugget to the Stratosphere. We marveled at the ghost town feeling. After we left the Fremont Street area (which had plenty of people, but not crowds), we didn’t come across a single pedestrian until we got a few blocks from the Strat. The uber-cool Art District was empty . . . I mean, zero people. (The Art District isn’t terribly popular, but to see no customers or tourists over the course of about 20 minutes of walking?)

Once we got to the Strat, there were … Read the rest

How to be a Holy Drunk

A few notes on Sebastian Flyte

The early pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited describe the drunken antics of students Lord Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder (the narrator). Ryder makes the later observation that he “got drunk often, but through an excess of high spirits, in the love of the moment, and the wish to prolong and enhance it; Sebastian drank to escape.”

This difference is the same difference G.K. Chesterton touched on in his early book Heretics: “If a man drinks wine in order to obtain pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional, something he does not expect every hour of the day, something which, unless he is a little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day.”… Read the rest

The Chicken Heart that Sucks Out Our Souls

Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash

The great Stoic Epictetus pointed out that education is the means to freedom.

Unfortunately, education today frequently becomes the means of slavery.

Everyone knows that the cost of higher education keeps escalating. Even the excellent tax advantages of educational IRAs and 529 plans haven’t made it easier to pay for college because education inflation outstrips the plans’ benefits.

A handful of families can afford to pay for their children’s education, but most cannot. So what do those families do?

The children get student loans.

The result? The loans often hound the children into their forties, forcing them to work intensely to pay the principal and interest. Does a man with a snootful of office life and savage commutes dream of what so many great men, from Epictetus to Russell Kirk, lauded: a leisure tinged with slight poverty, a small amount of money but a large assortment of books, a meager stock portfolio but a blooming garden, a mediocre car but lots of time with his children?

Tough.… Read the rest

What is a Perfect Piece of Knowledge?

An allegory of sorts:

I once read the following (the source escapes me):

Our surroundings call forth certain behavior. We tend to act like students when we step in a classroom, and we tend to act like shoppers at the mall. This is . . . the logic of ‘ecological psychology’: I am not a wholly separate entity from my surroundings, but rather, my [surroundings] and I form an interdependent behavior setting.

I loved it. “Ecological psychology.” Whatta concept. It told me why I’ve always insisted on having a study/library in my house, where the kids’ clutter doesn’t roam and the kids themselves are vowed to civilized behavior when they enter. It explained why I reserve the room for calm reading, thought, and writing. It explained why I want to drink when I’m in a bar.… Read the rest

How to Think about the Cell Phone

Weapon of Self-Destruction or Tool of Self-Improvement:

The cell phone. Is it a great thing? A useful thing? An annoying thing? An addicting thing?

A ton of writers have condemned the cell phone on all sorts of grounds. They’re tired of rude talkers who use it in restaurants, parks, and churches, and they’re disgusted by the way cell phones seem to give people a sense of being: “I cell, therefore I am.”

At least one writer, though, decries all this decrying. Jeffrey Tucker, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://www.mises.org/story/1849), cogently argued that it’s just more criticism of capitalism, of the Marxist sort. It’s an approach that’s been used repeatedly: Criticize a new technology as an extension of man’s alienation, pepper the essay with quotes from Nietzsche and Freud, and raise the specter of addiction. A few more such jeremiads and the psychiatric profession has a new mental illness to profit from, then maybe the government will get involved with funding.

Tucker also thinks it’s just fear of something new:

“Because our eyes see something new, something we haven’t been socialized to expect, and because the market is expanding and democratizing so rapidly, it creates the illusion of something having gone oddly wrong. Instead of seeking to understand it, the temptation is to reach into pop culture’s bag of ideological bromides and decry it as some sort of pathology.”

These are excellent points.

But he doesn’t address questions that any good disciple of Marshall McLuhan would ask: How does this technology affect the user? What is this need to be in constant touch with everyone, everywhere?… Read the rest

How to Raise a Sane Child

Rule Number One: Don’t be a Nominalist

My three-year-old son Jack received a menagerie of thirty-some plastic animals at Christmas to go with the dozen or so he already owned. He played with his “anmuls” constantly, carrying them around in different containers (wagon, bag, box, hat) and setting them up in odd places, like the piano.

One night he came running to me, terribly excited, saying I had to see a surprise in his room. It turns out that he and his big sister, Abbie (5), had put the animals on the dresser. But not in a haphazard fashion. In Jack’s awe-filled words: (the “r” is soft in Jack’s pronunciation): “See, yions, tigus, cheeeetahs! El’phants, then hippos. Dogs. See, yitto (i.e., “little”) anmuls then big anmuls, see!”

In short, Jack, with Abbie’s help, had arranged all the animals close together based on species and roughly in order of size. The elephants and hippos were first, followed by the various big cats, then horses and zebras and similar animals like deer and antelopes, then dogs.

It was riveting stuff for ol’ Jack.

Gilson and the Problem of Universals

By chance, I had just come upstairs after reading from Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience. I had been reading Chapter III, “The Road to Skepticism,” which deals with the problem of universals.… Read the rest

Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor Reveal Something Ironic about Our Modern World

Essences become meaningless in both a perfect and marred world.

In one of his last works before his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

The Dream

In this story, the narrator goes to another solar system and lands on a planet where the inhabitants are people just like us, but untainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden. They live, the narrator tells us:

“In the same paradise as that in which . . . our parents lived before they sinned.”

But the narrator, being a fallen man, corrupts the inhabitants:

“Like the germ of a plague infecting whole kingdoms, I corrupted them all.”

They then begin to act like us on earth. In the words of Russian literature professor Arthur Trace:

“They invent morality because now there was immorality; they make a virtue of shame, whereas before they had no need for shame; they invent the concept of honor because now there is such a thing as dishonor; they invent justice because now there is injustice; and they invent brotherhood and friendship because there is hatred.”

Arthur Trace, Furnace of Doubt (1988), 24.

In short, on the unfallen planet, there was no virtue or morality because there was no vice or immorality in contrast. There was no distinction between bad and good.

It was a morally-existentialist world: no essences; just existence.

I fear we’ve reached a similar point in our culture, where the moral essences, like bad and good, no longer carry meaning. But it’s not because we’re the perfect planet of the Ridiculous Man. I fear it’s because we’ve deviated so far from that perfect planet that we’ve come full circle to a similar situation.

This is the point of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction.… Read the rest

Stop Being So Serious: Ten Hints

Shortly before he was martyred with others in 203, St. Saturus related a vision he had of heaven. He said he and the other martyrs were carried eastward to a garden, where a handful of angels started exclaiming, “Here they are! Here they are!” The martyrs were taken to a group of elders and an aged man with a youthful face. The martyrs kissed the aged man, and he touched their faces with his hand. Then the elders told them, “Go and play.”

Fr. James Schall understood why the martyrs were told to go and play.

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs explores the unseriousness of serious human affairs and the seriousness of unserious human affairs. Yes, it is a paradoxical book, but that’s only to be expected from Schall — a devoted reader of G.K. Chesterton.


Schall’s book is a series of loosely-connected essays that revolve around a very basic question: How ought we to live our lives? He never tries to offer an answer to such a question, but he provides guidance in an array of areas, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing.” To these, I would add Writing and Receiving Letters, Watching Sporting Events, and Spending Time With Friends.… Read the rest