All About Money

One of the things that I try to understand is the Great Divide between today’s Liberals and conservatives that has left us talking past one another on policy issues. Frankly, I have concluded that discussion with Liberals is often futile because we attribute different meanings to words and concepts.

One of those concepts, I suspect, has to do with “money”.  Let me throw the following proposition on the table for discussion:

Liberal /Lefties view “money” as a fixed, tangible quantity with intrinsic value, like gold coins, for example. Thus, the value of money is intrinsic to the lucre itself, be it coins or dollar notes. Conservatives, on the other hand, see “money” more abstractly as representing “created value”…as scrip or IOU on value created or received. As economists put it, money is a “medium of exchange” for value. So, for liberals, “money” is something tangible to that must be amassed by taking from someone else’s stash. For conservatives, “money” is something more abstract that must to be created (i.e. goods or services) directly (e.g., wages) or indirectly (e.g., inheritance) through the creation of “value”.

How might this color our perceptions of one another?

1) When people like Bill Gates amass a large quantity of money by creating products that many people wish to purchase, conservatives view Gates’ money as a reflection of the value that he created and contributed others. No hard feelings there – it’s a fair exchange. A Liberal/Lefty, however, sees only Gate’s amassed pot of lucre that appears disproportionately high compared to the lucre stored in other peoples’ pots. They see this imbalance as patently unfair, especially since this lucre was transferred from other peoples’ modest stashes into Bill Gates’ already whopping big stash: Bill has more, all of his customers have less.

2) When money is needed to achieve a desirable social or governmental goal, a conservative recognizes that such money needs to be generated somewhere to pay for this goal. This can only be done by either drawing down existing value (confiscating peoples’ lucre) or by creating new  ‘value” that can be taxed (i.e., growing the economy). A Liberal/Lefty doesn’t make this connection – they see the process simply as one of either redistributing the existing lucre from other peoples’ pots or creating new lucre by printing more money. The problem of printing new lucre, of course, is that it is still underwritten by a fixed quantity of value – expanding money supply representing a fixed value means that each dollar is worth less. We call that inflation.

I can’t tell you how many times Liberals have looked at me with puzzlement when I have asked where they expect to get the money for their favored social programs.

3) De-linking “money” from the process of wealth creation makes it easy for Liberal/Lefties to confuse using tax money to pay for unemployment checks, dance troupes or road repair as “economic stimulus”. You are, after all, taking lucre sitting idle in some peoples’ pots and putting that lucre into other peoples’ pockets to spend on purchases. Unfortunately, the fact is that such activities do not in themselves create new value. This cannot therefore “grow” the economy.

What do you think? Am I onto something? And, if so, what other aspects of the Great Divide does this help to explain? Does this help or hinder us in discussing our differences with the Liberal /Left?

30 Rock is subversive — and I mean that as a good thing

I don’t know what Tina Fey’s politics are, and I don’t want to know. The NBC show 30 Rock, which she writes and in which she stars is one of the best social satires around, which includes repeated deft and funny political asides. The show skewers both parties with such a light touch that, merely watching it, it’s impossible to tell with certainty which side of the aisle it favors, and that despite the fact that Alec Baldwin is a vocal Democrat and despite the fact that the show occasionally has Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, make remarks favorable to Democratic policies. With regard to these last, it’s impossible to tell whether she is using the show as a forum to advance these policies, or if she is ridiculing the Hollywood types who unthinkingly spout the can she sometimes throws in.

To the extent she may be a Democrat, or is believed to be a Democrat, Fey is allowed to get away with things that would never be tolerated on some imaginary Rush Limbaugh network. Last night’s show was a perfect example, in that it revolved around the guilt that permeates liberals’ relationships with individual blacks.

[SPOILER ALERT: THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS GIVE AWAY PLOT AND JOKES. IF YOU WANT TO SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, GO HERE AND VIEW EPISODE 16. AND IF YOU WANT TO SEE AN EPISODE THAT HAD BOTH ME AND MY HUSBAND IN TEARS OF LAUGHTER, VIEW EPISODE 15.]

The show’s premise was that Fey’s character went out on a date with a black man, only to discover that they were completely incompatible. When she tried to tell him during dinner that she didn’t feel they had anything in common, he insisted (loudly) that she was rejecting him because he was black. When her friend asked her later how she handled this situation, she confessed that she did it the only way she knew how: some light necking in the taxi, followed by the promise of more dates. She then wondered aloud how many more dates she’d have to go on before she could break up without being accused of being a racist. All the while, in her interactions with black people in subordinate positions (delivery man, secretary), she repeatedly patronized them, being overly friendly or making assumptions about them based on their race.

In the funniest scene of the show, Fey tells the man that she really plain old dislikes him. “Can’t we just not all get along?” “Nope,” he says. Maybe their children or grandchildren can be free to hate each other regardless of race, but they haven’t gotten to that point yet. She’s stuck with him.

[RESUME READING HERE IF YOU DIDN’T WANT TO READ THE SPOILER MATERIAL]

As I said, it’s impossible to imagine this type of humor — and it was really funny — being allowed from a source with conservative, rather than (probably) liberal credentials. Of course, part of why it works is because Tina Fey is, I think, a brilliant comic mind, both as a writer and a performer. Where she’s delicately sardonic and self-knowing, someone else could be grossly crude and offensive.

I did wonder, though, after watching the show, whether it had a larger truth that will affect a potential Obama candidacy. To the extent people are afraid of being viewed as racists, no matter their actual thoughts and motivation, will we see an increase in lying when pollsters call people to find out whether they’ll vote for him, either in the primaries or in the actual election? What do you think?

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30 Rock is subversive — and I mean that as a good thing

I don’t know what Tina Fey’s politics are, and I don’t want to know. The NBC show 30 Rock, which she writes and in which she stars is one of the best social satires around, which includes repeated deft and funny political asides. The show skewers both parties with such a light touch that, merely watching it, it’s impossible to tell with certainty which side of the aisle it favors, and that despite the fact that Alec Baldwin is a vocal Democrat and despite the fact that the show occasionally has Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, make remarks favorable to Democratic policies. With regard to these last, it’s impossible to tell whether she is using the show as a forum to advance these policies, or if she is ridiculing the Hollywood types who unthinkingly spout the can she sometimes throws in.

To the extent she may be a Democrat, or is believed to be a Democrat, Fey is allowed to get away with things that would never be tolerated on some imaginary Rush Limbaugh network. Last night’s show was a perfect example, in that it revolved around the guilt that permeates liberals’ relationships with individual blacks.

[SPOILER ALERT: THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS GIVE AWAY PLOT AND JOKES. IF YOU WANT TO SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, GO HERE AND VIEW EPISODE 16. AND IF YOU WANT TO SEE AN EPISODE THAT HAD BOTH ME AND MY HUSBAND IN TEARS OF LAUGHTER, VIEW EPISODE 15.]

The show’s premise was that Fey’s character went out on a date with a black man, only to discover that they were completely incompatible. When she tried to tell him during dinner that she didn’t feel they had anything in common, he insisted (loudly) that she was rejecting him because he was black. When her friend asked her later how she handled this situation, she confessed that she did it the only way she knew how: some light necking in the taxi, followed by the promise of more dates. She then wondered aloud how many more dates she’d have to go on before she could break up without being accused of being a racist. All the while, in her interactions with black people in subordinate positions (delivery man, secretary), she repeatedly patronized them, being overly friendly or making assumptions about them based on their race.

In the funniest scene of the show, Fey tells the man that she really plain old dislikes him. “Can’t we just not all get along?” “Nope,” he says. Maybe their children or grandchildren can be free to hate each other regardless of race, but they haven’t gotten to that point yet. She’s stuck with him.

[RESUME READING HERE IF YOU DIDN’T WANT TO READ THE SPOILER MATERIAL]

As I said, it’s impossible to imagine this type of humor — and it was really funny — being allowed from a source with conservative, rather than (probably) liberal credentials. Of course, part of why it works is because Tina Fey is, I think, a brilliant comic mind, both as a writer and a performer. Where she’s delicately sardonic and self-knowing, someone else could be grossly crude and offensive.

I did wonder, though, after watching the show, whether it had a larger truth that will affect a potential Obama candidacy. To the extent people are afraid of being viewed as racists, no matter their actual thoughts and motivation, will we see an increase in lying when pollsters call people to find out whether they’ll vote for him, either in the primaries or in the actual election? What do you think?

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Unbecoming Jane

Miramax is releasing a new motion picture called “Becoming Jane Austen,” which purports to tell of Jane’s abortive romance with a wild Irish lawyer. There is no doubt that, when she was young, Austen met Tom Lefroy, a young Anglo-Irish lawyer, thought he was nice, and had fun dancing with him. That’s it. That’s what we know about him. If there’s anything else, it’s long gone, since her beloved sister Cassandra destroyed all of Jane’s letters. From this minute bit of information, the film’s makers have created an elaborate story that has Jane railing against the confines of her ordinary life, setting people’s backs up, and spying on skinny dipping young men (shades of another Miramax film, Room with a View). I’ve read several biographies of Jane Austen and none of them indicate that she was anything but an ordinary young English woman of the time, albeit one with splendid observational skills, a sparkling sense of humor, and biting wit. There’s no hint in the real history that she deviated from the social mores of her times (although one solid fellow citizen in her town did think her silly).

The movie makers seem to be succumbing to an uncontrollable urge to modernize poor Jane. The 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice turned me off completely because, within minutes of opening, it had Keira Knightley prancing and preening like a modern girl readying herself for a hip-hop evening. Not content with updating the books, the studios are now trying to update Jane herself. What they seem to have done, though, is turned the whole thing into a generic modern romance, with a feisty heroine who bucks the trends, and finds her true self at the end. It’s a perfectly fine plot conceit, but it offends me that they’ve involved Jane Austen in this effort.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I won’t blog here about my thoughts about Love, American Style, because I already wrote about it here, at American Thinker.  Check it out, and then be sure to come back and let me know what you think!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I won’t blog here about my thoughts about Love, American Style, because I already wrote about it here, at American Thinker.  Check it out, and then be sure to come back and let me know what you think!

What’s in a name?

My son asked me how Valentine’s Day began. I explained that, a long time ago, there was a man named Valentine who was known for his kindness to young couples who wished to get married (and he may have given doweries to poor girls so they could marry). He was also a Christian who died for his faith. When he was made a Saint, February 14 became his “Saint’s Day.” Every year, on that day, when people thought of him, they also remembered how he helped bring about marriages. St. Valentine eventually became associated with love, and the cards, chocolates and flowers soon followed. (You can read these and other theories about the holiday’s origins here and here.)

Valentine’s Day, sadly, isn’t what it used to be. While the little kids are still handing out cheesy cards to their classmates and eating candy hearts, big girls across America are castigating rape and having love-ins with their own vaginas. St. Valentine would be rolling in his grave.

All is not lost, however. As an antidote to the paranoid “Take Back The Night” feminist approach to love and romance — a view that equates all men with rapists — the Independent Women’s Forum has launched it’s “Take Back The Date” campaign, an idea aimed at re-romanticizing Valentine’s Day:

Take Back the Date is an IWF initiative to reclaim Valentine’s Day from radical feminists on campus who use a day of love and romance to promote vulgar and promiscuous behavior through activities like The Vagina Monologues.

This isn’t just about demanding flowers and candy from men. Instead, as I understand it, it’s about elevating both men and women to a higher plane of conduct that’s not just about random hooking up (read: “casual sex”) and date rape. Instead, it’s about respect, attraction and romance, old-fashioned ideas that might look pretty darn good to young people immersed in the sterile, hostile, demeaning world of modern college dating.

So, if you are in college or know someone who is, maybe it’s time to remind yourself or your friends what Valentine’s Day is really about.

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What’s in a name?

My son asked me how Valentine’s Day began. I explained that, a long time ago, there was a man named Valentine who was known for his kindness to young couples who wished to get married (and he may have given doweries to poor girls so they could marry). He was also a Christian who died for his faith. When he was made a Saint, February 14 became his “Saint’s Day.” Every year, on that day, when people thought of him, they also remembered how he helped bring about marriages. St. Valentine eventually became associated with love, and the cards, chocolates and flowers soon followed. (You can read these and other theories about the holiday’s origins here and here.)

Valentine’s Day, sadly, isn’t what it used to be. While the little kids are still handing out cheesy cards to their classmates and eating candy hearts, big girls across America are castigating rape and having love-ins with their own vaginas. St. Valentine would be rolling in his grave.

All is not lost, however. As an antidote to the paranoid “Take Back The Night” feminist approach to love and romance — a view that equates all men with rapists — the Independent Women’s Forum has launched it’s “Take Back The Date” campaign, an idea aimed at re-romanticizing Valentine’s Day:

Take Back the Date is an IWF initiative to reclaim Valentine’s Day from radical feminists on campus who use a day of love and romance to promote vulgar and promiscuous behavior through activities like The Vagina Monologues.

This isn’t just about demanding flowers and candy from men. Instead, as I understand it, it’s about elevating both men and women to a higher plane of conduct that’s not just about random hooking up (read: “casual sex”) and date rape. Instead, it’s about respect, attraction and romance, old-fashioned ideas that might look pretty darn good to young people immersed in the sterile, hostile, demeaning world of modern college dating.

So, if you are in college or know someone who is, maybe it’s time to remind yourself or your friends what Valentine’s Day is really about.

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Hurrah!

I wonder where she’ll go from here? It’s a tough (impossible?) act to follow.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the last of seven installments of the boy wizard’s adventures, will be published July 21, authorJ.K. Rowling said Thursday.

Rowling announced the publication date on her Web site.

The next Frank Rich

In a peculiar way, I’m becoming very fond of David Denby, one of The New Yorker‘s resident movie reviewers. It’s clear that he aspires to be another Frank Rich — Rich, of course, being the former New York Times‘ theater critic who made the leap to ultra liberal political op-ed columnist.

In the short time that Denby has floated across my radar, he’s never succeeded in writing a review that didn’t include an attack against the current administration. (See my posts here and here, for examples.) His latest movie review is no exception, as he waxes ecstatic about Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, which he calls “the most magnificent and large-souled record of a great American tragedy ever put on film.”  Come on, Denby.  Don’t hold back.  What do you really think about the movie?

The review has the obligatory FEMA bashing, and “where were the Feds” statements, but what’s really interesting is the part where Denby gives a laundry list of those people in the movie whom he most admires.  Here it is, and I’ve inserted a few hyperlinks to give a little more background on some of the things he references:

Keeping his own voice largely absent and his presence invisible, he [Lee] finds the city’s tattered survivors. He also consults a variety of lawyers and local politicians, and such luminaries as Harry Belafonte and Al Sharpton; the musicians and New Orleans natives Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard (the latter wrote much of the beautiful music for the film); the historian Douglas Brinkley, who makes impassioned critiques of Bush Administration officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and the Mississippi man (a doctor) who publicly advised the Vice-President, when he visited the area long after the storm, to go fuck himself.

Yeah, that’s quite a cast of luminaries there.  To the extent a man is known by the company he keeps and the people he admires, I’ve just learned a whole lot about Denby, all of which he would have done better to keep hidden from public view.

Wearing your Leftist heart on your sleeve

I’ve become very fond of David Denby’s movie reviews in the New Yorker, largely because he can’t resist letting his politics leak out all over the place. I’ve blogged before about his slobbering praise for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and his compulsion to use Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion as a forum for attacking George Bush. The same leakage occured when he reviewed Little Miss Sunshine, although to a lesser extent. Although I can’t get my hand on a copy of that review right now, I know that he attributed the family’s impovished state to George Bush’s America. Apparently Denby’s been a bit out of contact with the good news about the American economy.

This time, we’re told that Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is a good movie despite the fact that conservatives like and praise it. I’m not kidding — that’s precisely what he says:

“World Trade Center” is about courage and endurance as a function of family strength; it’s about suburban and small-town America trying to save the big city. Those are conservative themes, much praised for their appearance in this movie by the kind of right-wingers who have long hated Oliver Stone. Some of the euphoria—Cal Thomas, a columnist and a commentator at Fox News, calls the movie “one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving God Bless America films you will ever see”—is not only inane, it’s enough to turn you off moviegoing altogether. Can “World Trade Center” really be that bad? No, the ideologues laying hands on the movie won’t sink it.

The ostensible review spends only a scant one paragraph talking about the movie before turning to a rundown of Stone’s career, all aimed at assuring us that Stone loves his country:

For all the rough talk and messy action in “Salvador,” Stone was as earnest as any collar-grabbing country preacher: he wanted Americans to confront the country’s sins. The conservatives who began to attack him after “Salvador” had him all wrong. Stone was not some anti-American crank but an anguished patriot with an outsized capacity for anger and shame.

After the hagiography about stone, Denby returns to a couple more paragraphs of movie review. Then we get the last criticism: how can you believe in an ex-Marine who will drop everything, put on his uniform, and go to save people?

There’s only one element in the movie that feels too stiff. A slab-faced ex-marine, Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), an accountant who lives in Connecticut, hears God’s call on the morning of the attack, dons his old uniform, and moves into the smoking ruins after the official rescue teams have been called off for the night. Stone’s iconic treatment of Karnes could have used a touch of humor—like many inspired men, he seems a bit mad. But Karnes, solemn and remote as he is, may be important to Stone in ways that go deep. The vets in “Born on the Fourth of July” longed for home and for “things that made sense, things you could count on, before we got so lost.”

Of course, we all know that this is precisely the type of thing an ex-Marine will do.

On cultural degradation

My mother and I put our heads together tonight and began bemoaning the absence of charm in our modern world. The subject came up when, a propos something in our conversation, I quoted a line from “Singing in the Rain.” We fell silent a moment as we thought of that most wonderful movie, and then I asked (as one always does), “Why don’t they make movies like that anymore? It was so charming.” My mother’s response, naturally enough, was that our world doesn’t value charm or wit.  We live in more of a sledge hammer culture. The charm I find so, well, charming, is now seen as artificial and cloying. It sometimes seem that, if you’re not vulgar and somewhat mean spirited (especially in the entertainment industry), you’re simply on the wrong side of the pop culture divide.

After we’d mourned the loss of a sweeter past, I came home and, coincidentally, read two things that seemed to highlight both the impediments to charm in our modern world and the wit and delicacy we’ve lost. The first thing I read was Leonard Pitts’ article about a failed MTV satire. Since I’m woefully separated from pop culture (I no longer recognize the people in People), I hadn’t heard about MTV’s little PR disaster. Here’s how Pitts describes what happened:

The cartoon, an episode of MTV2’s recent animated series, “Where My Dogs At?” is not airing presently and the network, under fire from critics incensed by the program, has not decided whether it will ever be repeated. So I’m forced to rely on press reports. But they paint a vivid picture.

“Where My Dogs At?” chronicles the misadventures of two stray canines who offer, or so it says on the Web site, a “hilariously uncensored dog’s-eye view of celebrity and pop culture insanity.”

The episode that created the uproar had a look-a-like of the rapper Snoop Dogg, who strolls into a pet store leading two black women. The women are wearing leashes. They walk on all fours. And from there, it gets worse. The women squat on their haunches scratching themselves and, upon departure, one leaves an odoriferous souvenir — that is to say, excrement — on the floor. This, it seems necessary to remind you, is meant to be funny.

Aside from the ugly racism, the vulgarity is staggering. But about that racism — the black, female MTV executive in charge of the cartoon defended it on the ground that it was satire. The cartoon was meant to take to the extreme the fact that the real Snoop did in fact show up at an awards show with two women on leashes. Pitts acknowledges that there may be validity to MTV’s motive here — satirizing its own culture — put gets to the central point, which is that our culture may have become too extreme to satirize:

I love a good satire — did I mention that already? — but for me, this episode stands as stark evidence that our world is becoming ever more satire proof. Or, perhaps more accurately, ever more self-satirizing. I mean, if satire is defined as exaggerating the real in order to show its absurdities, what do you do when the real is a man who leads women around on a leash? Where do you go with that? How do you make it more ridiculous than it already is?

Satire draws in broad strokes. It argues by caricature. But increasingly the social and political life of this country is nothing but broad strokes, nothing but caricature. From the semen stained dress of a few years back, to the malaprop-ridden man in the White House; to the senator who says the Internet is a series of tubes, to the game show that requires you to eat worms; to Paris Hilton to Nicole Richie to no bottled water on airplanes, real life has become ridiculous and outrageous to a degree that often makes parody superfluous. At the very least it makes parody more difficult while simultaneously giving moral cover to hacks who use parody as little more than an excuse to be mean and crude.

I think Pitts is exactly right. When your dominant culture has itself become a parody, where do you go from there?

In any event, as I was contemplating what I think is a sad state of affairs, I got an email entitled “When Insults Had Class.” I’m copying the email here in its entirety because it does reflect a time when wit, not vulgarity, earned applause and recognition:

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” — Winston Churchill

“A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” — Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” — Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” — William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” — Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” — Moses Hadas

“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” — Abraham Lincoln

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” — Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” — Oscar Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play, bring a friend… if you have one.” — George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.” — Winston Churchill, in reply

Can you think of any modern personality who has produced even one bon mot comparable to the above?

Talking to Technorati: , , ,

A movie classic

Although we didn’t ask for it, TiVo decided to record Airport, the 1970 airport disaster movie that started a whole genre of movies about burning buildings and sinking ships, and goodness knows what. I’d never seen it before, although I’ve seen seen Airplane several times. As you know, Airplane, which was released in 1980, spoofs the disaster genre, especially Airport. I think Airplane is one of the funniest movies ever made, and I was able to reach that conclusion without ever having seen its inspiration. Having seen Airport, I’m even more impressed by Airplane’s spot-on spoof of all the cliches in that movie.

But having seen Airport, I’m also unsurprised by what a huge hit it was. Cliches and almost criminal overacting aside, it’s got a rollicking story line that keeps you going from beginning to end. It also has some very clever split screen techniques that get the story moving well past a few plot points that would otherwise be painfully boring. It’s got a lot of dramatic tension. I liked it. I also laughed like crazy, mostly at the wrong times, because it is a ridiculously silly movie. I recommend it highly for people who like period pieces and/or pretty darn good shlock adventure films.

By the way, as a period piece, the movie has some interesting moments. [Spoilers ahead, if you’re planning on seeing it.] Consistent with a movie for the 1970s, and a melodrama at that, marriages don’t fare well. Two of the protaganists end the movie with someone other than their original wife. Other subjects, though, get a treatment you wouldn’t find in a modern movie. For the one thing, the movie is pro-Life. One of the main characters, a pilot who is in a manifestly loveless — and childless — marriage is having an affair with a stewardess (as they were called in those days). She tells him she’s pregnant. He first suggests an abortion but, when she says she believes that would be wrong, and would rather give the baby up for adoption, he instantly converts to her point of view. By movie’s end, it’s clear that they’ll get married and keep the baby.

The other thing is that the movie is not anti-Catholic. The plane in crisis, since it’s going to Rome, has on it a priest and two nuns. When disaster strikes, they’re out there helping and calming people. The priest is both a man of faith and action, who eventually takes it upon himself to deal with the most obstreperous passenger. The nuns are not child beaters; the priest is not a child molester. How unusual nowadays. (By the way, my mother remembers with great fondness and respect the nuns who were interned in the same camps she was during the war. She says they were consistently cheerful and gave of themselves to all, including the two Jewish teenagers caught in a Japanese concentration camp. My paternal grandmother survived the war hidden in a Belgium convent.)

So, if you’re ever feeling like a long night of movies (Airport runs 2.5 hours), go to Blockbuster or surf to Netflix, and get yourself Airport and Airplane. They’re a great matched set.

Manly men versus slackers

I don’t ordinarily read Time Magazine, since I decided years ago, even before my political transformation, that it held little interest for me. (Although I distinctly remember, in 1982, a “hip” young man I worked with castigating it as a conservative mag fit only for parents.) The only reason I even read it now was because, while I was biding time in the orthodontist’s office, it was the only alternative to a car magazine. As is my practice with all magazines, I started at the back, with the light stuff. And that’s how I got to read Belinda Luscombe’s delightful op-ed about the men populating Hollywood’s recent batch of “romantic” “comedies” (both of those words deserve sarcastic italics, since the movies tend to be neither romantic nor funny). Here’s how Luscombe describes some of Hollywood’s latest offerings (all of which, I believe, have fared badly at the boxoffice):

Pity poor Uma Thurman. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, her new movie, she plays a superhero who falls for Luke Wilson, a not very successful architect. He does not reciprocate, a less than shrewd response to a woman who, with one glance, can set you alight–and I don’t mean with desire. In her last romantic comedy, Prime, she played a high-powered fashion consultant who’s dating a man who worked as a kitchen hand and moved into her apartment and played a lot of video games. Those are the men Uma Thurman gets. Or doesn’t.

But she’s not alone. In this summer’s The Break-Up, Jennifer Aniston lives with an overweight and slobby tour guide, while in Failure to Launch, Sarah Jessica Parker woos a man who dwells with his parents. Those guys would have bonded well with the lads from last year’s Wedding Crashers, who sneak into other people’s nuptials because they have no life, or with that 40 Year-Old Virgin fella. Or, for that matter, the gentlemen from Hitch or Fever Pitch or Along Came Polly or almost any other recent movie in the opening scenes of which boy and girl meet cute. They are, all of them, spectacular weenies.

She’s so right. These guys aren’t even New Age sensitive guys. They’re old-fashioned losers.

Interestingly enough, these Hollywood movies are the mirror image of the British chick-lit books I’ve been complaining about. In the latter, the women are boozy, pathetic losers who somehow manage to land the best guy in room. Although depressing, these stories are at least probable, since historically men have tended to marry down, and women up. The Hollywood movies, though, with their wildly successful women and flakey men are, well, weird. And just as I wondered why the British would go for stories demeaning to women, I have to wonder, even more strongly, why Hollywood would go for stories demeaning to men. Here’s Luscombe take:

Most of the men in these movies are under 40. Could it be that a generation raised by women who worked at paying jobs before pulling a second shift as homemakers simply find any situation in which women are not heroically gifted and energetic to be too much of a suspension of disbelief?

We know what the schlub love interests are not. They are not a female fantasy. Given Uma-like superpowers or even Condi-like earthly powers, women would not, surely, choose to waste them on bringing numskulls who look like Ben Stiller up to I’m-prepared-to-be-seen-out-with-you standard. Women need their superpowers for more important stuff like fighting illiteracy and deflecting people’s attention away from the fact they’ve gone maybe one day too long without shaving their legs. [Emphasis mine.]

Is this what Slackers, Gen X, Gen Y and the loonier side of Feminism have brought us to? A bizarre Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong, the children are above average, and the men are pathetic failures?

I’m already beyond the stage where I’m affected by these young men (I’m not dating anymore), but I find it depressing that both my son and daughter will be raised in a world where men are demeaned and women are (probably) depressed. Luscombe notes that we’ll never have the society or the wit to take us back to the wonderful snappy romances of the 1940s, or even the Cinderella tales of the 50s and 60s, but she raises a cry for some return to a time when men were men and women were beautiful:

It’s clear we can’t return to the days of Gigi and Daddy Long Legs and Funny Girl, when gawky young women were transformed into Givenchy-wearing lovelies by suave, much older men who danced well. Steve Martin tried that last year with shopgirl. In the scene where he puts his hand on Claire Danes’ naked back, audience members around me practically reached for their cell phones to dial child services. Meanwhile, the vicissitudes of show biz have done in the witty Spencer Tracy–Katharine Hepburn bickerfests, because they require people to actually pay attention. And let’s face it, we have all drunk at the Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan soda-pop stand once too often. So, yes, our romantic-comedy appetites are limited.

But would it be too much to ask to have women occasionally be the losers? Why is it that when stranded men are rescued by women it’s comedy but when women are rescued by men it’s an action film? Females have exactly the same rights to louse up and slack off and be really immature and dysfunctional as men do. If you put a banana peel in front of us, do we not slip? Enough is enough. The time has come to rise up, my sisters! Let’s fight for our right to be in the wrong.

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Romance novels are changing

Since I have a sometimes embarrassing fondness for romance novels (Mr. Bookworm teases me a lot), I’ve written about romance novels before (once about British chick-lit, which I think is demeaning to women; and once about the conservative morals underpinning American romances). I was therefore intrigued when AP did a little story about the Romance Writers of America’s 26th annual conference. The reporter chose to spin it by saying that the stories are changing, with more plot, and less frothy sex. That may well be true, and may explain why I like them more than I did twenty or so years ago. I’m a big believer in plot. What’s also interesting is the claim that, as the genre explands outwards, it’s attracting more male readers:

With the expansion of romance novels into science fiction and military tales, though, the male following is increasing, said Nicole Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the group. The 2004 market survey indicated that male readership jumped from 7 percent of romance readers in 2002 to 22 percent in 2004.

Kennedy cited the success of Suzanne Brockmann, who has written two series of romance novels featuring Navy SEAL teams, which Kennedy said are wildly popular among Navy SEALs.

Though romance writing remains an almost exclusively female vocation, some men have ventured into the field. Former Green Beret Bob Mayer, who has written many non-romance books under his own name and under the pen name Robert Doherty, teamed up with veteran comedic romance writer Jenny Crusie for a military romance called “Don’t Look Down,” released this year.

Mayer and Crusie met at the Maui Writers Conference three years ago. Both were looking to do something different, and they decided to collaborate. Crusie writes the parts that come from a woman’s point of view, while Mayer weighs in with the male perspective.

That’s a big leap in male readership, and one I find heartening, considering that I like the genre, and that I believe in the values system unpinning so many of these books.

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Whether or not you see the movie, just read the review

When two people leave me messages saying I must, absolutely must, read a movie review, I take that seriously.  I therefore headed over to the Washington Post and read the review for Ant Bully.  I can now tell you that you must, absolutely must, read the Ant Bully review.  Even if, after the first couple of paragraphs, you’re thinking to yourself “La, la, la….  This isn’t my kind of movie, and I find some computer animation a bit frenetic, and this sounds silly, etc., ” don’t stop reading.  You won’t want to miss the last few paragraphs.

The slippery slope or true democracy

I can’t decide if this is the beginning of the end for any hope of normal society in Holland, or if it is an appropriate event in a free society, which allows issues to be aired and decided upon by the voters:

A Dutch court refused Monday to ban a political party whose main goal is to lower the age of sexual consent from 16 to 12. The judge said it was the voters’ right to judge the appeal of political parties.

The party has only three known members, one of whom was convicted of molesting an 11-year-old boy in 1987. Widely dubbed the “pedophile” party, it is unlikely ever to win a seat in parliament. The group would need around 60,000 votes, and pollsters estimate it would get fewer than 1,000.

Opponents had asked The Hague District Court to bar the party from registering for national elections in November, arguing that children have the right not to be confronted with the party’s platform.

“Freedom of expression, freedom … of association, including the freedom to set up a political party, can be seen as the basis for a democratic society,” Judge H. Hofhuis said in his ruling.

“These freedoms give citizens the opportunity to, for example, use a political party to appeal for change to the constitution, law, or policy.”

Disgusting as the thought of this political party is, I’m included to agree with the judge that, as long as the pedophile “politicans” aren’t actively engaged in pedophilia, which is illegal, they have a right to a voice in the political process — no matter how disgusting that voice is. Your thoughts?

Funny that they don’t mention who he is

One of today’s most emailed NPR stories discusses a book by Robert Jensen, a professor of media ethics and journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.  In his book, Jensen purports to explain why all white people are in fact racists. I haven’t listened to the story, nor have I read the book (although I did read the excerpt of the book at the NPR web site). Frankly, it sounds like liberal, guilt-ridden psychobabble to me, but what do I know?

Oh, wait. I do know one thing. Jensen is no stranger to the media. While you probably won’t hear it on NPR, these are a few more things you should know about Jensen if you read his book:

According to the Professor Watch List, Jensen introduces the “unsuspecting” student to a crash course in “socialism, white privilege, the truth about the Persian Gulf War and the role of America as the world’s prominent sponsor of terrorism.

“Jensen half-heartedly attempts to tie his rants to ‘critical issues’ in journalism, insisting his lessons are valid under the guise of teaching potential journalists to ‘think’ about the world around them. Jensen is also renowned for using class time when he teaches Media Law and Ethics to ‘come out’ and analogize gay rights with the civil rights movement,” the list entry for Jensen reads.

Aside from classroom idiocy, Jensen was a strident voice after 9/11.  In an article published on September 26, 2001 in the Houston Chronicle, Jensen offered these pearls of wisdom:

But as I listened to people around me talk, I realized the anger and fear I felt were very different, for my primary anger is directed at the leaders of this country and my fear is not only for the safety of Americans but for innocent civilians in other countries.

It should need not be said, but I will say it: The acts of terrorism that killed civilians in New York and Washington were reprehensible and indefensible; to try to defend them would be to abandon one’s humanity. No matter what the motivation of the attackers, the method is beyond discussion.

But this act was no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism — the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes — that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime. For more than five decades throughout the Third World, the United States has deliberately targeted civilians or engaged in violence so indiscriminate that there is no other way to understand it except as terrorism. And it has supported similar acts of terrorism by client states.

If that statement seems outrageous, ask the people of Vietnam. Or Cambodia and Laos. Or Indonesia and East Timor. Or Chile. Or Central America. Or Iraq. Or Palestine. The list of countries and peoples who have felt the violence of this country is long. Vietnamese civilians bombed by the United States. Timorese civilians killed by a U.S. ally with U.S.-supplied weapons. Nicaraguan civilians killed by a U.S. proxy army of terrorists. Iraqi civilians killed by the deliberate bombing of an entire country’s infrastructure.

So, my anger is directed not only at individuals who engineered the Sept. 11 tragedy, but at those who have held power in the United States and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic. That anger is compounded by hypocritical U.S. officials’ talk of their commitment to higher ideals, as President Bush proclaimed “our resolve for justice and peace.”  [Emphasis mine.]

It goes on in this vein, but I really don’t want to waste my blog space with this type of stuff.  You get the drift.  And the people of the great state of Texas get to pay this man’s salary.

Now, do you really want this man lecturing to you about racism?

Funny that they don’t mention who he is

One of today’s most emailed NPR stories discusses a book by Robert Jensen, a professor of media ethics and journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.  In his book, Jensen purports to explain why all white people are in fact racists. I haven’t listened to the story, nor have I read the book (although I did read the excerpt of the book at the NPR web site). Frankly, it sounds like liberal, guilt-ridden psychobabble to me, but what do I know?

Oh, wait. I do know one thing. Jensen is no stranger to the media. While you probably won’t hear it on NPR, these are a few more things you should know about Jensen if you read his book:

According to the Professor Watch List, Jensen introduces the “unsuspecting” student to a crash course in “socialism, white privilege, the truth about the Persian Gulf War and the role of America as the world’s prominent sponsor of terrorism.

“Jensen half-heartedly attempts to tie his rants to ‘critical issues’ in journalism, insisting his lessons are valid under the guise of teaching potential journalists to ‘think’ about the world around them. Jensen is also renowned for using class time when he teaches Media Law and Ethics to ‘come out’ and analogize gay rights with the civil rights movement,” the list entry for Jensen reads.

Aside from classroom idiocy, Jensen was a strident voice after 9/11.  In an article published on September 26, 2001 in the Houston Chronicle, Jensen offered these pearls of wisdom:

But as I listened to people around me talk, I realized the anger and fear I felt were very different, for my primary anger is directed at the leaders of this country and my fear is not only for the safety of Americans but for innocent civilians in other countries.

It should need not be said, but I will say it: The acts of terrorism that killed civilians in New York and Washington were reprehensible and indefensible; to try to defend them would be to abandon one’s humanity. No matter what the motivation of the attackers, the method is beyond discussion.

But this act was no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism — the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes — that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime. For more than five decades throughout the Third World, the United States has deliberately targeted civilians or engaged in violence so indiscriminate that there is no other way to understand it except as terrorism. And it has supported similar acts of terrorism by client states.

If that statement seems outrageous, ask the people of Vietnam. Or Cambodia and Laos. Or Indonesia and East Timor. Or Chile. Or Central America. Or Iraq. Or Palestine. The list of countries and peoples who have felt the violence of this country is long. Vietnamese civilians bombed by the United States. Timorese civilians killed by a U.S. ally with U.S.-supplied weapons. Nicaraguan civilians killed by a U.S. proxy army of terrorists. Iraqi civilians killed by the deliberate bombing of an entire country’s infrastructure.

So, my anger is directed not only at individuals who engineered the Sept. 11 tragedy, but at those who have held power in the United States and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic. That anger is compounded by hypocritical U.S. officials’ talk of their commitment to higher ideals, as President Bush proclaimed “our resolve for justice and peace.”  [Emphasis mine.]

It goes on in this vein, but I really don’t want to waste my blog space with this type of stuff.  You get the drift.  And the people of the great state of Texas get to pay this man’s salary.

Now, do you really want this man lecturing to you about racism?

A perfect bootstrap argument

The New York Times has come up with an editorial that contains a perfect bootstrapping argument, one that works off the premise it is supposed to prove.  It's an almost impressive piece of dishonest rhetoric, whether or not one agrees with the sentiment expressed. 

The context for this amazing piece of rhetorical sleight-of-hand is the Times' editorial chastizing the President for supporting the anti-gay marriage amendment.  I should say here that I agree with the amendment.  As I've noted before, I don't have a big problem with extending legal rights to committed gay couples via civil partnership laws.  I've known many extremely committed gay couples who have ended up in heinous end-of-life situations because of the absence of such protections. 

However, to me, marriage is also a religious issue, and male/female marriages, with their commitment to children, cannot be tossed lightly aside because in the last 25 years there's been agitation to change dramatically an institution that is as old as recorded human history — that is, the joining of a man and woman.  And while I would never liken homosexual relationships to such things as bestiality and pedophilia, I don't have any doubt but that a door opens when homosexual marriages become the law.  To the extent a society contemplates a fundamental change like this, it should do so after a bit more very, very, very serious thinking.

But I'm digressing wildly here, aren't I?  (A not uncommon thing for me to do.)  Let's get back to the Times.  First, it takes the President to task for actually thinking the gay marriage issue is important.  How dare he get his knickers in a twist about an amendment aimed at preserving traditional mores and, in many people's minds, saving the whole fabric of society?  But the real kicker for me lurks in the editorial's second paragraph: 

Mr. Bush's central point was that the nation is under siege from "activist judges" who are striking down anti-gay-marriage laws that conflict with their own state constitutions. That's their job, just as it is the job of state legislators to either fix the laws or change their constitutions.

Please note the unproven assumption in the above paragraph that these various state judges are correct when they decide that their respective state constitutions support gay marriage.  That's a pretty big leap of faith.  I say that with special emphasis because I've known so many judges who are, if you'll pardon the expression, drooling idiots who can barely read the Constitution with their fingers tracking slowly under the words and their lips moving.  (And my humble apologies to any judges reading this who are brilliant legal thinkers and who truly possess that rarity, a judicial temperament.  Further, if one of you is reading this, I bet you have some colleagues who fit my description perfectly.)

Just to itself look even more stupid than those judges I described, the Times goes on to say this:

If there's anything the country should have learned over the past five years, it is that Mr. Bush and his supporters have no problem with judicial decisions, no matter how cutting edge, that endorse their political positions. They trot out the "activist judge" threat only when they're worried about getting out their base on Election Day.

This is the same Times, of course, that got itself into an apocalyptic frenzy over the spectre of a Scalia, Roberts or an Alito, all of whom were going to send this country back into the Stone Age.  I don't even want to touch the Times' behavior with regard to Clarence Thomas, in part because, in those days, I have to admit I was cheering the Times on when it mounted its loathsome attacks against him.

Anyway, does anyone take these Times editorials seriously any more, or are they just a more polite version of the usual Left of center rhetoric, aimed at overawing with emotion to hide the lack of any intellectual core? 

An eccentric musical savant

NPR's Fresh Air recently did a replay of a 1996 interview with Tiny Tim (born Herbert B. Khaury), who died only a few months after the interview.  It's quite amazing.  Tiny Tim was a complete nut, but also a true musical savant, with an encylopedic knowledge of old American music, and a wonderful, although somewhat bizarre, musical gift.  If you have any interest at all in popular music of yesterday (we're talking before 1920), and if you enjoy eccentrics, you should definitely take the time to listen to this interview.  He's really something.

Crime and Punishment

The West Wing, the now defunct NBC show, is the ne plus ultra illustration of how Democrats think the world should be run. Indeed, you can amuse yourself with a list of top Left Wing scenes culled from all of the show's episodes. Last night, though, I was struck by a plot line that didn't make the list. A bit of background:

A season or two ago, a subplot involved a crippled space shuttle with three astronauts inside. There appeared to be no way to rescue them until someone leaked the fact that the military had a top secret space shuttle, invented for matters of national security, that could be sent up at a moment's notice. As it happened, that rescue didn't need to be done (either the astronauts died or their shuttle fixed itself; I don't remember which). Investigation eventually revealed that Toby Ziegler was the one who spilled the beans. His motive: his brother, an astronaut, had died in some sort of astronaut-type accident years before, and Toby couldn't bear that to happen again.

Here's where it gets interesting. From the moment Toby was identified as the culprit, all the other characters were mad at him. But they weren't mad at him for putting his personal interests and the lives of three individuals ahead of America's security, they were mad at him for humiliating them and putting them at risk professionally. Ziegler himself, when finally caught, was mad too. His attitude seemed to be "How dare that destroy my life this way?" When he wasn't mad, there was maudlin self-pity: "How could they destroy my life this way, and the lives of my children by a woman to whom I'm not married and with whom I don't live?"

Fortunately, Toby's life wasn't destroyed, and everyone could live happily ever after. In the show's swan song last night, ficitional President Jed Bartlett's last act before leaving office was to grant clemency to Toby Ziegler, the man who compromised America's security in the fantasy world of The West Wing.

The episode had me thinking two things. First, we now have a lovely template of how the Left thinks about the NSA phone monitoring program. The program reviewed the occurrence of calls to and from telephone numbers, and was intended to track telephones that were used to dial up phones owned by known terrorists.  It could, therefore, not only have identified terrorists making calls to each other, put also some people who were, for reasons unrelated to terror, regularly calling these same known terrorists. In liberal land, that last — an innocent person swept into the net for having conversation with a terrorist — is untenable, so it was totally okay for the press to break the law and put America at greater risk by revealing vital security information. And since personal feelings are so much more important than law and public safety, those who broke these laws shouldn't have to suffer the consequences.

The other thought this episode triggered is the meaning civil disobedience has in today's world. (Some of you may recognize a few recycled ideas from an old post here.) Although civil disobedience has always been around — that is, at all places, at all times, people have been willing to risk their lives, safety or comfort for their beliefs — it was Henry David Thoreau, in the mid-19th Century, who best articulated the "official" definition of that doctrine.

Thoreau objected to a poll tax because he felt the money was being improperly spent to support slavery and the war with Mexico. Rather than paying the tax, he took a principled stand, refused to pay the tax, and went to prison. His single night in jail inspired him to write an essay about a citizen's obligation to strike out against unjust laws — and to demonstrate the law's invalidity through the citizen's personal martyrdom. In his essay, Thoreau ruminated about irritating laws versus unjust laws, and about the vehicles available for protesting the latter. These protests include voting or, if that won't work, doing such things as refusing to comply with an unjust law, or refusing to pay a tax that supports something unjust. Significantly, Thoreau felt that, if voting was not an option, the other actions gained weight from an attendant sacrifice — which, in America, is usually imprisonment:

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her–the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. [Emphasis mine.]

The notion of civil disobedience gained great currency on the liberal side in the 20th Century because of two men who put it to its highest and best use. Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Had each not been willing to accept imprisonment, thereby demonstrating the manifest unfairness and immorality of the laws against which each struggled, neither would have even appeared as a footnote in the history books.

Nowadays, though, whether in the fictitious world of The West Wing, or in real life, people break laws with impunity and to applause. I was most strongly reminded of this when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome, in February 2004, suddenly announced that he was going to ignore California's laws against same sex marriage, and have the City issue marriage licenses to all gay couples desiring them. Newsome was a fifteen minute wonder. The Press oooh'ed and aaah'ed about his bravery. But, really, what was so brave? Newsome wasn't running any risks politically in San Francisco, where a critical mass of voters approve his step. He wasn't running any risk of humilitiation or ostracism, because he became the media's darling. No one even mentioned prosecuting him for breaking the law, or impeaching him for violating his official obligations. It was a media stunt, but it wasn't civil disobedience, because we didn't get the spectacle of a righteous man felled by an unjust government.

As I noted above, precisely the same thing happens in the fictional world of The West Wing. A beautiful nexus with entertainment also appears in the whole Steve Colbert thing. I happen not to be a Colbert fan. To me, his comic persona is the political idiot savant — except that he routinely leaves out the savant part.

What was so fascinating about the kerfuffle following the Press dinner is how even those who had to admit that he wasn't actually funny were still thrilled about his bravery. "He spoke truth to power." Let me correct this misperception. There was no truth to power at play there. Colbert insulted the President to his face, the President was a gentleman about it, and Colbert was lauded in the press the next day for his bravery in insulting a gentleman to his face. This is not truth to power. This is not civil disobedience. This is the refined behavior of a four year old in a snit. It's only on the modern Left, which considers brave acts without consequences, that Colbert is revered as an intelligent political satirist.

UPDATE:  The lovely thing about an idea is seeing someone run with it and take it to great places.  Patrick did that at the Paragraph Farmer, where he used the "speak truth to power idea" as the starting point for a wonderful riff about the success of the West's intellectual flexibility.
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Schizophrenia on the children’s music front

I'm intransigently hostile to a great deal of modern pop music, because I consider it ugly, crude, vulgar, violent and hypersexualized. (I feel like saying here, "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?) I don't even like Radio Disney because, although it presents the slighter cleaner end of the modern music spectrum, I still think it's indoctrinating my children in that fare. What's ironic in today's music culture is that it turns out that traditional songs, folk songs, are being bowdlerized like crazy to "protect" our children. Patrick, of Paragraph Farmer fame, is at The American Spectator with a charming essay charting the silly changes being wrought in children's music as we try to protect our children from dying geese and Tom Dooley's untimely demise.

Schizophrenia on the children’s music front

I'm intransigently hostile to a great deal of modern pop music, because I consider it ugly, crude, vulgar, violent and hypersexualized. (I feel like saying here, "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?) I don't even like Radio Disney because, although it presents the slighter cleaner end of the modern music spectrum, I still think it's indoctrinating my children in that fare. What's ironic in today's music culture is that it turns out that traditional songs, folk songs, are being bowdlerized like crazy to "protect" our children. Patrick, of Paragraph Farmer fame, is at The American Spectator with a charming essay charting the silly changes being wrought in children's music as we try to protect our children from dying geese and Tom Dooley's untimely demise.

“We are sorry. The humanoid you have reached is no longer….”

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes a screamingly, hair-pullingly funny article about her failed effort to book a flight for herself and her family. We've all been there: the extremely nice Indian phone operator who never quite understands your American English; the fact that, when dealing with a big company, every employee has different ideas about corporate policy; and the hollow fiction of the "contact us" email addresses or forms, that just send computerized answers back your way. It's all there. There's also a useful link to Get Human, a website set up to help us with the difficulties of deal with modern corporate phone systems.

“We are sorry. The humanoid you have reached is no longer….”

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes a screamingly, hair-pullingly funny article about her failed effort to book a flight for herself and her family. We've all been there: the extremely nice Indian phone operator who never quite understands your American English; the fact that, when dealing with a big company, every employee has different ideas about corporate policy; and the hollow fiction of the "contact us" email addresses or forms, that just send computerized answers back your way. It's all there. There's also a useful link to Get Human, a website set up to help us with the difficulties of deal with modern corporate phone systems.

Suburbs and urbs

My son belongs to a music group that functions in a large urban area, but has suburban satellites. My son trains with one of those satellites. In the days leading up to performances, all of the satellite groups descend on the urban center for final rehearsals. I got to audit one of those rehearsals the other day and was struck by the differences in boys.

There are many similarities of course. When you gather 50 boys between the ages of 6 and 10 in one room, you're going to have the itchiest, twitchiest, wiggliest group of people you've ever seen or even imagined. The secret to perpetual motion was hidden in that room.

What was different amongst the groups of boys from different geographical regions, though, was attitude. Without exception, the little suburban boys were respectful. Their bodies may have been wiggling, but their attention was on the teacher. Most of the urban boys were also respectful, although with a little more of an edge. However, there was something in that room that I haven't seen in the suburbs: out and out disrespect. A handful of those ten and under kids had already completely internalized urban attitude. They were "cool" — and cool means rude. I was shocked.

Now, it would be easy to say that I'm looking at just a small group of 50 boys total, and shouldn't reach general conclusions. Likewise, the fact that most of the urban boys were good, and that they constitute a much larger group of boys than my little suburban cadre, means that the majority of boys are going to be good. My small group is therefore statistically anomalous.

All of these excuses for that disrespectful behavior are possible if one ignores the fact that I'm used to interacting with huge groups of suburban boys — at soccer, at baseball, at school, at parties, in the neighborhood, etc. No matter how large the group, I've never seen "attitude" amongst these boys. Some are naughtier, some are more active, some a little sullen, but none think that they're so cool that they can treat adults with blatant disrespect.

This difference in communities is especially interesting given that the parents in my community are all good, card-carrying liberals, and they tend to be non-disciplinarian parents (spanking is not a parenting option in my community and can, for the unlucky parent, lead to a visit from Child Protective Services). The parents are not united by religious, political or social conservatism. Yet, somehow, they've managed to raise their children with a small town ethos that includes respect and honor. Perhaps there is something about living in a community that looks like a setting for Beaver Cleaver or the Brady kids that leads inexorably to parenting expectations that mirror those imposed on these fictional characters.

Your comments and observations on this would be very welcome.

Image from Brad Silverman.

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There won’t always be an England

England used to epitomize manners.  Those of us brought up on English literature or literature about England (Jane Austen and Henry James spring to mind) knew that it was a society wedded to proper behavior — indeed, to a stultifying degree, sometimes.  Hollywood jumped on that paradigm and, since its inception, has been bringing us movies either mocking or applauding those polite British. 

Well, let's jump into the 21st Century, and recognize that the England of good manners is well and truly gone.  Writing about the rampant, ugly anti-Americanism that permeates England, specifically as it showed itself during Condoleeza Rice's recent visit, Carol Gould has this to say:

Whatever critics think of her, the angry protests and the surly children at the school she visited simply left observers with an impression of a miserably rude and churlish British populace behaving like a medieval mob.

Typical were the remarks of a Muslim demonstrator, who proclaimed that “Condoleezza Rice should be sent to Iraq, tried as a war criminal, and executed.” Small children shouting mean epithets and carrying confrontational placards, and youngsters inside the school hanging their heads and refusing to talk to Rice were shameful moments in Anglo-American relations.

There were others. For instance, when the Lord Mayor of Blackburn, Ysuf Jan Virma, greeted Rice and then went outside to the demonstrators and waved his arms to goad on the angry rabble, their shouting drowning out the press conference she was trying to hold with Jack Straw. What was so impressive about Rice’s visit was her ability to keep her dignity and to rise above the ugly scenes that plagued her visits to Liverpool and Blackburn. Even so, she received little sympathy from the media. When I suggested to a fellow journalist, who is a supporter of the antiwar movement, that there may be a few reasons to admire an accomplished classical pianist, linguist, scholar and diplomat, he responded that he would not have his children sit in the same room as a war criminal.

But the often-crude reactions to Rice may be reflections of a broader rudeness among the British populace. I got a taste of that rudeness when I recently visited a London pub. For reasons I still cannot fathom, the portly bartender refused to give me the time of day and treated me as if I were a black trying to purchase food in a Mississippi diner in 1955. I asked him why he was being so unfriendly and received a scowl for an answer. He muttered something to the effect that he did not have to talk to me at all. Other Englishmen in the pub shot me the same hostile looks. One can’t help but wonder if this is what the world can expect when it pours into London for the 2012 Olympics.

Now, London has never been a very friendly place — at least not in the almost 30 years since I first went there.  It always suffered from the sins of being a big, a very big, City.  What Gould describes, however, goes beyond the ordinary brusqueness of urban dwellers and into a breakdown of civility that really seems to herald the beginning of the end. 

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Friends in interesting places

Some time ago, when I was still blogging at Blogger, I wrote a post asking what an American theocracy would look like.  I asked this question because it occurred to me that, while liberals were frantically throwing around statements about Bush's "ultra conservatism" and "scary fundamentalism," none were articulating what they thought would happen if Bush really and truly had his way — short, of course, of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned. 

My dear friend Patrick, at Paragraph Farmer, took that idea and ran with it.  He ran so far and so well that he got an entire article published in "The New Pantagruel."  Patrick imagines a world that is actually more humane than that currently dominated by secularism, although I suspect some of that humanity is Patrick's own, and cannot just be attributed to his imagined theocracy.  Significantly, Patrick doesn't see any witches getting burned, gays being flayed, or adulterers stoned.  It's a nice world.  Make sure you go and visit it.

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Is innate human biology hostile to the welfare state?

Working away today, I caught an NPR story about social and behavioral scientists who are beginning to study altruisim and freeloading (which can be flipsides of each other). The results of the studies indicate that the healthiest groups (at least in economic models) are those that, not only do not reward freeloading, but actively punish it:

[S]cientists in England and Germany conducted an economic game. The goal was for each player to make as much money as possible.

But to be really successful, people had to cooperate by pooling their funds.

People in the game could join one of two teams. The first depended on voluntary cooperation. The second allowed members to sanction those who didn’t chip in.

Bernd Irlenbusch of the London School of Economics says students’ behavior changed dramatically over time.

“In the beginning participants were very reluctant to join the sanctioning institution,” she says.

But they soon figured out that people in the sanctioning group were making more money because more people contributed. There were fewer freeloaders.

After every round, Irlenbusch says, more students switched to the sanctioning group, even though members had to pay money if they wanted to sanction someone.

She says eventually even the freeloaders in the first group switched to the second group and changed their ways. And they began punishing anyone else who didn’t cooperate.

In other words, a traditional society, a capitalist society with traditional Judeo/Christian values, seems to be the most profitable for all. Just as significantly, we seem to be hardwired for that type of society:

Fowler says the explanation for altruistic behavior may be that our brains are wired to reward us for punishing freeloaders.

“That might be why we see individuals having an emotional and even sort of a brain response to punishing,” he says. “They actually feel pleasure when they punish people for violating a social norm.”

And Fowler says it takes just a few punishers to change the behavior of a lot of freeloaders.

More on manly men

I did something I rarely do:  I made an impulse purchase of a just-released movie on DVD.  I simply couldn't resist buying  The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I then watched it again with the kids, and found it just as good as I remembered from viewing it in the theater last December. 

[SPOILER ALERT] I also concluded that my first impression of a few months ago was correct:  this movie is a celebration of a manly man.  This particular manly man is Peter, who goes from being a frightened bossy school kid, to a formidable warrior — not for fame or glory, but because it's the right thing to do. [END OF SPOILER ALERT.]

If you're new to my writing, you can find more of my thoughts on this point in an article I did at American Thinker about the movie.  However, if you haven't yet seen the movie, get the video, enjoy it tremendously and then, if you're still interested, read my article (it's a bit of a spoiler, so you shouldn't read it before seeing the movie).

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The triumph of faith over reason

Faith is a tremendous virtue — when it comes to religion.  It has dubious value in the political field, as Thomas Sowell so neatly explains:

What is more frightening than any particular policy or ideology is the widespread habit of disregarding facts. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey put it this way: "Demagoguery beats data."

People who urge us to rely on the United Nations, instead of acting "unilaterally," or who urge us to follow other countries in creating a government-run medical care system, often show not the slightest interest in getting facts about the actual track record of either the UN or government-run medical systems.

Those who believe in affirmative action likewise usually see no reason to find out what actually happens under such policies, as distinguished from what they wish, hope, or imagine happens.

The crusade for "a living wage" that will enable a worker to support a family proceeds without the slightest interest in finding out whether most people who are making low wages actually have any family to support — much less seeking out the facts about what actually happens after the government sets wages.

People who have made up their minds and don't want to be confused by the facts are a danger to the whole society. Since the votes of such people count just as much as the votes of people who know what they are talking about, politicians have every incentive to pass laws and create policies that pander to ignorant notions, if those notions are widespread.

There's more, which you can read here.

Are we fanatics?

I seem to be on a binge of books that make me wonder. Today's book is Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. This is a book I mentioned before in connection with my reflections on whether a religion can abandon founding tenets and still be considered true to itself.

Krakauer's book focuses on two breakaway polygamist Mormons who committed violent murder against their sister-in-law and her fifteen month old daughter. In tracking down the events that led to these killings, Krakauer tells, not only the murderers' story, but also the history of the Mormon church. And that history inevitably embraces those who now claim the banner of the original Mormon faith — something they do primarily by embracing polygamy. What characterizes so many of the fundamentalists he describes is that they started off as ordinary Mormons or non-Mormon Christians; they had various epiphanies that led them (they believed) to seminal truths; and they were convinced that, having learned these revealed truths, everyone who didn't embrace the truths was wrong or evil.

Well, folks, that could be me. I started life as an ordinary liberal Democrat (who always had conservative leanings); I had an epiphany in the wake of 9/11, when I decided the world had arrayed itself in an Us vs. Them pattern, and that those who deny this pattern are wrong; and I constantly hark back to a pure America of the Good War of the 1940s, and the (at least superficially) coherent society of the 1950s. I'm now sure enough of my newfound beliefs to blog about them regularly and to try to convince people, through my blog, to see the world as I see it. Certainly, my husband, who has remained true to his original Democratic faith, perceives me as having gone off the deep end.

So my question is: Have I gone off the deep end? Where does commitment end and fanaticism begin? When does a change of heart cease to be the reasoned development of the intellect and become the kind of blind faith that can lead one to commit dangerous or wrongful acts? Feedback anyone?

UPDATE:  Perhaps the self-restraint Dennis Prager discusses in this article (conservative vs. liberal self-restraint) is part of what separates the fanatics from those who are merely committed to a belief system.