Tofu Tidbits* 11/26/11

  1. To see ourselves as others see us.
  2. Undue influence.
  3. Schools and Imagination.
  4. Rehabilitating our built environment.
  5. Gail Collins on Ron Paul.
  6. Concern for the environment.

* Temporarily renamed in honor of the Nativity Fast, about which Mystagogy has some more information.


I think a lot about American religion. It’s fairly well known – indeed, it’s sometimes boasted of as proof of American Exceptionalism – that we are out of step with the rest of the Western world in our continued profession of religion and actual church attendance. To Western Europe, we may look like gullible rubes, inexplicably retaining religion.

But it hit me today that to people in “traditional” cultures, our religion probably looks not like religion at all. Perhaps it looks like a thin veneer over secular ideology.

Maybe I can flesh that out without being too offensive some day.


It is essential in these days to be able to protect ourselves from the influence of those with whom we come in contact. Otherwise we risk losing both faith and prayer. Let the whole world dismiss us as unworthy of attention, trust or respect – it will not matter provided that the Lord accepts us. And vice versa: it will profit us nothing if the whole world thinks well of us and sings our praises, if the Lord declines to abide with us.

(Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex)


Q: Why do schools set out to ruin the imagination?

A: They do so because imaginative children are by nature difficult to herd. Schools are built for a certain kind of efficiency and anonymity; they look like factories, and serve many of the same functions.

Anthony Esolen, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.


The Saturday New York Times has two notable columns on America’s built environment.

First, The Death of the Fringe Suburb by Christopher Leinburger, president of a coalition of real estate developers and investors that supports walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development. Leinburger claims that both empty-nest Boomers and leaving-the-nest Millennials want to live in walkable “town center” type locales. The result: as James Howard Kunstler has said, the suburbs become slums.

Many drivable-fringe house prices are now below replacement value, meaning the land under the house has no value and the sticks and bricks are worth less than they would cost to replace. This means there is no financial incentive to maintain the house; the next dollar invested will not be recouped upon resale. Many of these houses will be converted to rentals, which are rarely as well maintained as owner-occupied housing. Add the fact that the houses were built with cheap materials and methods to begin with, and you see why many fringe suburbs are turning into slums, with abandoned housing and rising crime.

That’s literally going to be ugly. But when you factor in the cost of fuel in post-peak-oil times, these new slums get a double-whammy of crappy conditions and high costs to commuting to jobs.

Second, Louise A. Mozingo, a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley, writes about the less-remarked aspect of sprawl, the suburban office. Having noted the role of highway building in the rise of the phenomenon, he starts with highway policy in prescribing the corrective:

  1. Halting agricultural land conversion (by not extending highways there).
  2. Connecting dispersed employment centers with alternative transit.
  3. Encouraging downtown development.

Both columns disappoint in different ways. Leinburger says we should build what the market wants and that we must revitalize the construction trades. My problem with that is that “the market” once wanted suburban sprawl, though we should have realized that a built environment dependent on oil had a limited life. I would be cautious of Leinburger’s approach, in short, because it smacks (even with his disclosure of his development connections in addition to his academic ones) of the sort of interest-group advocacy that got us into our problems. Still, one must listen to the voice of an academic with a second, business, hat, taking his advice with a grain of salt.

Mozingo’s problem is that his first two correctives require politicians with spines. Re-occupying city centers won’t happen, or will happen only chaotically after collapse,  if suburban pols keep bribing corporations with tax breaks. Need I elaborate what’s wrong with a plan dependent on statesmanship and vision?


Ron Paul once voted against giving an award to Mother Teresa because there’s no giving-out-medals-to-nice-people power enumerated in the Constitution. He also wrote lots of books.

“Chicken-hawks are individuals who dodged the draft when their numbers came up but who later became champions of senseless and undeclared wars when they were influencing foreign policy,” Paul writes in his chapter on conscription. “Former Vice President Cheney is the best example of this disgraceful behavior.”

Really, you can’t totally dislike the guy.

No, you can’t, Gail.


* * * * *

Bon appetit!

Having become tedious even to myself, I’m Tweeting more, blogging less. View this in a browser instead of an RSS feeder to see Tweets at upper right.

I also have some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Maybe if I link to it, I’ll blog less obsessively about it.