Charles Murray taught me libertarianism in a hurry

One of my favorite songs when I was young was Betty Hutton’s Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry.  Because of the way my mind plays with words, the song always pops into my head whenever I think of Charles Murray, the deservedly famous libertarian thinker and writer.  The rhyming names are, of course, a facile connection between the man and the song.  The deeper, more meaningful connection is that Murray’s 1994 book, Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, was one of the pivotal books that hastened my transition from knee-jerk liberal to thinking conservative.

Bell Curve was so relentlessly logical it dealt a death-blow to the cognitive dissonance that is a necessity for a moral, rational Jew who lives in the real world, but who continues to vote the Democrat ticket. I read the book in 1995 and became hungry for more and more books that inevitably destroyed my Jewish, San Francisco, UC Berkeley, PBS, New Yorker, New York Times world view. (Some of those books were Keith Richburg’s Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa; Charles Sykes’ Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education; and, believe it or not, Arthur Schlesinger’s The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, in which an old Leftist mourned multiculturalism without realizing that he ushered it in America’s front door.)  It took until 9/11 before I was able to sever completely the cord between me and the Democrat party, but I never would have reached that state had it not been for The Bell Curve.

As always, there’s a point to one of my meandering introductions.  I was fortunate enough today attend a luncheon in San Francisco at which Mr. Murray spoke.  The theme of the speech was the same theme he sounded in his best-selling book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:  namely, that 21st century America is experiencing a class divide the likes of which has never been seen before in this country.

We’ve all seen this divide in the responses to the previous and current occupants of the White House.  George W. Bush may have come from an old American family, and been educated at all the right (i.e., Ivy League schools), but he was considered a class traitor by the Leftist elite, who relentlessly mocked his speech (“new-cu-lar,” “misunderestimated,” etc.), and sought to portray him as an ill-educated yokel who squeaked into the Ivies because of family connections.  Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the stoner who drifted into the Ivies on a cloud of marijuana smoke and affirmative action, is held up to the world as the most intelligent president ever to occupy the White House (never mind his staggering ignorance about everything but Leftist cant), in large part because he plays the class game so adroitly.

I certainly saw the class divide in my own world when a liberal family member was horrified to learn that I admired Sarah Palin — a gal who didn’t go to the Ivies, who believes in God, and who shoots moose.  He didn’t even bother to challenge me on political substance.  He simply said, “She’s not one of us.”  We stared at each other over a giant chasm of value differences.  To me, she’s “one of us,” because she believes in American exceptionalism, distrusts big government, supports the Constitution, recognized the inevitable loss of freedom that comes with socialized medicine, supports Israel, supports the troops, etc.  While this relative disagrees with Palin on every one of those issues, her real crime was being a yokel.  If he was the bumper-sticker type, he’d have had one that said “We don’t vote for yokels.”

The point Murray made in his speech is that the Bush/Obama or Obama/Palin divides are more than just political.  He began with something simple:  marriage.  Upper middle class white people marry — 84% of them today, as opposed to 94% of them when I was born.  Lower class people have abandoned marriage — 84% of them were married when I was born; only 48% of them are married now.  The problem isn’t just an economic one, although the economic effects of single-motherhood are so catastrophic that even the New York Times has had to acknowledge it.  Two-parent families are the glue that holds a community together.

As Murray said, single dads don’t coach Little League and single moms don’t go to PTA meetings.  In Marin County, Tiburon and Ross moms bring their formidable energy and skills to scarily efficient and excessive PTAs and school plays, while in San Rafael and Marin City (Marin’s genuinely poor communities), those same Tiburon and Ross moms, as charity work, try to do the same in communities that have virtually no parental participation.

It’s not just that the rich are richer and the poor are poorer (although that too is a problem, because it means the middle is vanishing).  It’s that the rich and the poor live entirely separate lives.  Back in 1960, even in affluent neighborhoods, neighborhoods were more blended than they are today.  Incidentally, much as I hate to give any praise to my former law-prof and current-Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, she diagnosed this problem almost a decade ago.  In The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke, she pointed out that the upper middle class drive for public schools that offer the same quality as prep schools drove up housing prices in certain areas, making it impossible for middle and working class families even to remain within the school district’s boundaries.  While Warren had the smarts to divine the problem, she’s so ideologically blinkered that she thinks government control and intervention is the solution.

Murray describes a lost American world in which the upper classes and upper middle classes sought to blend in, not to stand out.  They bought Buicks, not Cadillacs, because it was déclassé to flaunt ones wealth.  Nowadays, with stratospheric incomes propelled by information technology, you’re failing the new upper class if you don’t have the $100,000 Tesla.

Our children grow up untouched, not just by poverty, but by a connection to the blue-collar working class.  Many of the children in Marin have never met a parent who makes his living using his body (unless he’s a chichi personal trainer) as opposed to his brain.  I certainly know that’s the case for my little community.  I like to describe my delightful neighborhood as one populated by old people with young children.  This used to be a nice suburban working class neighborhood, with stay-at-home moms and blue collar or low-level white collar (i.e., teachers and clerks) dads.  Now it’s an expensive, upper class neighborhood where every adult has at least one degree, where all the fathers are professionals, and where the mothers were professionals before their income level gave them the luxury of staying home to raise their children.  All of us worked like the dickens in our 20s and 30s so that we could afford these homes in this top-flight school district for our late-in-life kids.

Popular culture has also divided.  As  I like to tell my kids, back in the 1940s, everybody listened to Bing Crosby and Benny Goodman, and in the 1950s, everybody watched I Love Lucy.  Now, our popular culture is divided up by 500 cable channels, God-alone-knows-how-many pop music charts, and movies targeted to micro-stratum demographics.  Murray saw this as a class issue, and I agree.  He pointed out that the audience before him watches Mad MenDownton Abbey, and Breaking Bad, while that other class is watching shows we don’t even know exist.  (Although I do know about Duck Dynasty and one day, if I can drag myself to the TV, a box I usually avoid, I  might watch it.)

I’m very aware of the pop culture chasm, of course, because I have kids.  My blogging means that I know everything my kids know, which is very fortunate.  I’m usually a step ahead of them, and can deconstruct Miley Cyrus or “I kissed a girl and I like it.”  They wouldn’t listen to me if I just concluded that it’s “nasty” or “inappropriate.”  They do listen to me because I can describe the behavior in detail and, in the same detail, explain why it’s destructive.  Most parents, of course, don’t have the freedom to be as informed as I am, and the children pay the price.  They grow up in a pop culture world where it’s not just that “anything goes,” it’s that anything that is base, demeaning, and immoral is elevated and emulated.

I do believe, though, that children are beginning to see through the noise of a sleazy, degrading pop culture, and they’re recognizing that, no matter how much they’re forced to read a second-rate, civil-rights-era play such as Raisin in the Sun, that they’re being lied to.  Whatever pathologies may be plaguing today’s black community, they understand that systemic institutional racism is no longer an issue., especially when there’s a black man in the White House.

In other words, the fact that the Left controls the discourse in the media and the schools, so that children get a monolithic Leftist world view, also means that the cognitive dissonance grows and grows.  In this way, we’ve become like the Soviet Union, where people became cynical as they looked at housing shortages and hunger while the government trumpeted the stunning success of whatever iteration of Stalin’s Five Year Plan happened to be in vogue that year.  Our children too are struggling with cognitive dissonance.  It’s a slow process, as I know personally, but a real one.

All in all, it was a very good lunch.  The meal was delicious (perfectly prepared chicken, wild mushrooms, and fruit tart), and the intellectual food was just as good.  If you live in the Bay Area, I strongly suggest that you get on the Pacific Research Institute (“PRI”) mailing list.  The speakers that PRI brings to San Francisco are always worth hearing.

How did we get from there to here in just 100 years?

I’m not feeling very inspired today, so I haven’t posted anything original.  Thankfully, though, I read fine blogs and have been able to link to many wonderful things.  At The Mellow Jihadi, Ex Bootneck has written a truly wonderful (and very sad) post about the West’s devolution.  I won’t say more about it, because I don’t know how to describe it in brief without losing what makes it special.  Just check it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

NSFW VIDEO: “It’s not porn….”

I meant to include this video in my Robin Thicke Blurred Lines post, but forgot.  Thankfully, considering how often I forget things, I’m comfortable having “better safe than never” as my motto.

As you watch the video, keep in mind my point, which is that Robin Thicke’s song is consistent with the societal mores the Left has brought to America.  Or as Bill C elegantly stated, “Blurred Lines is just a song about seduction just like songs of the past.  But seduction has a different flavor when promiscuity is the default position of society.”

Please be aware that this video has a lot of graphic language, so don’t watch it at work or when children are within hearing range.  Having issued that content warning, the kicker at the end makes it worth watching.

Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines isn’t a rape song; it’s the depressing 21st century descendent of classic seduction songs

Robin-Thicke-Blurred-Lines-Ft-TI-Pharrell

It’s time for me to take a break from trying to save the world by using my infinitesimally small corner of the blogosphere to talk some sense into the Left (although, somehow, I don’t think they’re listening to me) and, instead, to leap to the defense of an unlikely pop culture figure:  Robin Thicke.  My thesis is that his song is not about rape.  It is, instead, both the lineal descendent of classic (and respected) American seduction songs and a depressingly insightful look into the schizophrenic nature of sex among American young people, which treats women like whores, but allows them to cry foul like delicate Victorian maidens.

One could say that Robin Thicke, riding high on the wave of one of the biggest hits of the year, a song called “Blurred Lines,” doesn’t need my help.  He’s raking money in hand over fist.  If I earn in my lifetime a tenth of what he’s earning on this song, I’d be a very rich woman.

Nevertheless, Thicke has incurred feminist ire because, they claim, Blurred Lines is about rape or, at least, it’s “rapey”:

Having already clinched the number 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, Robin Thicke’s catchy single “Blurred Lines” is on the path to being the party anthem of the summer.

However, despite its popularity, the hit song — which also features Pharrell and T.I. — and its accompanying music video haven’t been sitting too well with some critics who say the tune is not just disparaging to women, but could be seen as “rape-y.”

Has anyone heard Robin Thicke’s new rape song?” blogger Lisa Huyne wrote in a post in April. “Basically, the majority of the song…has the R&B singer murmuring ‘I know you want it’ over and over into a girl’s ear. Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity … Seriously, this song is disgusting — though admittedly very catchy.”

Before I get any further into examining the claim, let me note that the people who are claiming the song is “rapey” overlap to a significant degree with the women who advocate something called “gray rape.“  Gray rape is consensual sex right up until the woman says it isn’t.  The catch with gray rape is that the woman doesn’t have to say “no” before or even during the actual sex act for it to be rape.  She can decide hours or days later that, despite her drunken “yeses” and gropings, in retrospect she really didn’t want to have sex with that guy, so it must have been rape.  Talk about “blurred lines.”

You’re a classy crowd, my dear readers, and I suspect many of you don’t have children in their teens and twenties.  I’m therefore willing to bet that many of you, even if you’ve heard of the song, haven’t actually heard the song itself or, if you heard it, it was in the context of Miley Cyrus’ twerking and tonguing.  (I have to admit that the twerking was indistinguishable to me from the vulgar dancing that characterizes all modern popular music performances.  It was that tongue . . . that loathsome, snake-like tongue, that seemed to have an independent life force.  Ick.)

You might also have heard about the song because of the unrated video with the topless women (and don’t forget the repeated boasts about the size of Thicke’s  . . . er.  Never mind).  Or maybe you just heard about the yucky allusions to all sorts of perverted sexual practices in the mainstream video (the one your kids and grand-kids watch), which is filled with nudge, nudge, wink, winks about everything from bestiality to bondage.  Both videos are nasty enough I don’t want them at my blog.

But I don’t want to talk about the videos.  I want to talk about the song’s lyrics, which are “rapey.”  Just to be clear, here “rapey” song lyrics are bad.   Drugging and sodomizing a protesting 13-year-old girl, as Roman Polanksi did, isn’t bad because it’s not “rape-rape.”  Presumably, if Polanksi had sung to the protesting teen while he had his wicked way with her, that conduct would have been “rapey” and therefore bad.  It”s important to keep these details straight….

My first point about Thicke’s song is that it’s just the latest in a long line of American seduction songs.  Let’s do a little time travel . . . back to 1949 when Frank Loesser wrote the classic Baby, It’s Cold Outside.  It is such a great song.  My favorite version is the one with Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting, and I have no fear about sharing it with you here:

Were this song to be released today, it would definitely be called “rapey.” I mean, the sleaze is telling the protesting woman how attractive she is and assuring her that she wants want he has to offer. You can see how coercive — e.g., rapey — he’s being when you study the lyrics. In the words that are not in parenthesis, you know that she’s conflicted (blurred, maybe?) and desperate to escape, while in the parenthetical words, you can see how this sleazy octopus groping her, assuming that she wants what he’s offering her, and not taking “no” for an answer. Rapey!!!

I really can’t stay
(But, baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go ‘way
(But, baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been
(Been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice
(I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)

My mother will start to worry
(Beautiful words you’re humming)
And father will be pacing the floor
(Listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry
(Beautiful, please don’t hurry)
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
(Put some records on while I pour)

The neighbors might think
(But, baby, it’s bad out there)
Say, what’s in this drink?
(No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how
(Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break the spell
(I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)

I ought to say no, no, no sir
(Mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
(What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay
(Oh, baby, don’t hold out)
Ah but it’s cold outside
(Baby, it’s cold outside)

I simply must go
(But, baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no
(But, baby, it’s cold outside)
The welcome has been
(How lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm
(Look out that window at that storm)

My sister will be suspicious
(Gosh, your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door
(Waves upon a tropical shore)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
(Gosh, your lips are delicious)
Well, maybe just a cigarette more
(Never such a blizzard before)

I got to get home
(But, baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say, lend me a coat
(Its up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand
(I’m thrilled when you touch my hand)
Why don’t you see
(How can you do this thing to me?)

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
(Think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied
(If you caught pneumonia and died)
I really can’t stay
(Get over that hold out)
Ah, but it’s cold outside
(Ah, but it’s cold outside)

Where could you be going
When the wind is blowing
And it’s cold outside?
Baby it’s cold, cold outside

With those classy, elegant, seductive lyrics in mind, please take a look at the lyrics to “Blurred Lines” and you’ll see that, while they’re more graphic, the tone is identical:  He’s telling her she’s hot, he’s assuming he knows what she wants, and he’s not taking “no” for an answer:

Pharrell & Robin Thicke Intro:
Everybody get up, WOO!
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

Robin Thicke Verse 1:
If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say
If you can’t read from the same page
Maybe I’m going deaf
Maybe I’m going blind
Maybe I’m out of my mind

Robin Thicke Bridge:
Ok, now he was close
Tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal
Baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers
That man is not your maker
And that’s why I’m gon’ take a

Robin Thicke Hook:
Good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

Robin Thicke Verse 2:
What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place
I feel so lucky, you wanna hug me
What rhymes with hug me
Hey!

Bridge

Hook

T.I. Verse 3:
Hustle Gang Homie
One thing I ask of you
Lemme be the one you back that ass up to
From Malibu to Paris boo
Had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So, hit me up when you pass through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
Swag on ‘em even when you dress casual
I mean, it’s almost unbearable
In a hundred years not dare would I
Pull a Pharcyde, let you pass me by
Nothin’ like your last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that
So I’m just watching and waitin’
For you to salute the true big pimpin’
Not many women can refuse this pimping
I’m a nice guy, but don’t get confused, this pimpin’

Robin Thicke Breakdown:
Shake your rump
Get down, get up-a
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don’t like work
Hey!

Robin Thicke Verse 4:
Baby, can you breathe
I got this from Jamaica
It always works for me
Dakota to Decatur
No more pretending
Cause now you’re winning
Here’s our beginning
I always wanted a

Robin Thicke Hook

Pharrell & Robin Thicke Bridge:
Everybody get up
Everybody get up
Everybody get up
Hey, Hey, Hey
Hey, Hey, Hey
Hey, Hey, Hey

Pharrell & Robin Thicke Outro:
Everybody get up, WOO!
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

I’m not comparing the quality of verse.  Loesser’s song is sophisticated and charming, with delightfully light, intelligent lyrics.  Thicke’s song has a catchy (very catchy melody) but the lyrics are crude.  They reflect the realities of culture that celebrates “Hooking up” as a sign of female liberation, even while blurring lines about what constitutes a “nice” girl, a “girl in touch with her sexuality,” a girl who enjoys what voters in Colorado and Washington say should be her inalienable right to pot, and a “girl who’s going to cry ‘gray rape’” the next day.  There are no boundaries in this world — both the world of the song and the sexual world in which we’ve placed our young people.

Yes, the T.I. line that “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” is absolutely revolting, but for high-school-aged kids this is their reality.  At high school dances across America, the only dance the kids do is “freak dancing.”  For those unfamiliar with it, freaking is kind of like twerking, except that the girl doesn’t bend over.  Instead, she writhes erotically while the guy stands behind her and rubs himself against her butt (not near her butt, but against her butt).  As I described it the teenage girls I know, take away the “transgressive glamor” and all that freaking means is that a strange guy masturbates against your butt.

My children tell me that this is the only type of dancing done at their high school.  If you don’t want to freak, you don’t get to dance.  Yet another blurred line in today’s sexual culture.

To the extent there’s anything wrong with Thicke’s vulgar, yet catchy song, the problem isn’t with the song, it’s with the culture that gave rise to the song.  (You can read whole books on the subject: Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.) Within that context, the song simply describes the myriad kinds of sexual activity in which America’s young people are encouraged to engage, with the only limitation being a woman’s right to cry rape at any time, before, during, and after apparently consensual intercourse.

I’m not trying in this post to excuse rape.  I am saying only that Thicke and his team, in addition to writing the 21st century version of a “seduction song,” have unwittingly exposed something deeply disturbing about young America’s sexual culture.  It’s a sick Faustian bargain in which boys get virtually unlimited sex, provided that they’re willing to take the risk that the girl who writhed against them Saturday night, got stoned and drunk with them around midnight, and apparently willingly engaged in all kinds of variations on old-fashioned male/female sex with them in the wee hours of Sunday morning, can claim later that, hey, she was just blurred, and her real line was “no.”

An unofficial contest: Translating what Lena Dunham was talking about

This is an unofficial contest, because there’s no prize beyond the satisfaction of trying to figure out what one of the more talented and morally lacking voices of the young generation meant in a tweet:

What in the world does Dunham mean by talking about a “twelve year old genetic male”? Is she referring to what we used to call an adolescent boy? And if she is, is she making a sarcastic pop-culture reference to the modern world of identity politics (which Leftists have untethered from biology) or is she perfectly serious? Oh, and here’s another question: Why does he need her? Is she referring to the endless stories about morality bereft female teachers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who keep cropping up in the news because they’ve seduced adolescent boys entrusted to their care, or is she just promising him that she can teach him how to wax his ‘stache?

Help me, please. I’m lost in this modern world of ours.

Three degrees of separation

I enjoy reading my Liberal-Lefty friends’ Facebook posts because they are so insightful into the mindsets of the Left.

One insight that I have gained over time is that the differences between us conservatives and the Progressive/Left are so profound that they are unlikely to ever be bridged, barring some cataclysmic, life-changing events. What I have tried to do is understand why this is so. I share this with you because I greatly appreciate the insights that Bookworm group has to offer on such issues – be it “yay” or “nay”.

Our disagreements appear to come down to three levels of separation.

1) First, there are objective facts (OK, I am being deliberately redundant here). These are easy enough to resolve. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock world has arrived: everybody is so overwhelmed with information that we can’t absorb and process all there is to know and we therefore choose our facts selectively.

As Ronald Reagan said, ““It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”

In discussions, factual disputes are easy enough to resolve: my typical response to Liberal /Lefties is simply tell them to “Google it”. Amazingly, many apparently don’t know that you can Google entire texts or sentences. A good example was the recent George Zimmerman trial…many people with whom I disagreed told me outright they were too busy to bother looking up facts. The Left operates on so many facts that just aren’t so.

2) The second level of separation involves our assumptions or premises. These are tougher to resolve, because we assume and presume events based on our past experiences. I suspect that we humans are hard-wired to build assumptions (true or false) as a defense mechanism: for example, my cave ancestors probably assumed that to allow a saber-tooth tiger to stand in their path was not a good thing and that such assumption is one reason why I stand here today.

We go through life building mental templates on how the world works in order to short-circuit decision making and evaluation. Otherwise, we would soon be overwhelmed with indecision. As long as our world templates work for us, we continue to hold onto them. Many formerly Liberals (e.g., David Horowitz, Bookworm) only became conservative when one or more events (e.g., 9/11) rendered their previously comfortable world views untenable. For me it was Reagan’s second term, when his policies led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and an economic resurgence. I, young man at the time, knew then that my Democrat world template had been very, very wrong.

I use the word “comfortable” deliberately, because our templates represent our comfort zones. Losing that comfort zone is terrifying. Imagine if all of a sudden nothing in the world made any sense to you; you would feel totally deracinated and quite possibly insane. You would also feel a deep sense of personal failure, as in “how in the world could I have been so deluded?”

And, the older you get, the more frightening that sense of loss, confusion and failure would be. So, the older we get, the more desperately we defend our mental templates, selecting and force-fitting “facts” to fit our own perceptions of reality. I believe this is where modern Liberalism and Progressivism are today (Google “Paul Krugman”). As Thomas Sowell put it, people of the Left expect the world to conform to their misperceptions. Eventually, however, reality hits like a 2 x 4 between the brow…as in “Detroit”.

I believe that this dynamic also explains the sheer viciousness expressed by many on the Left when the presumptions of their world templates are threatened (as by Sarah Palin or by black conservatives, for example). This is also the reason why I believe that world Islam will fail, because it doesn’t work and eventually people in Muslim worlds, aided by the internet, will eventually realize this (some of my Middle Eastern friends assure me that many already do). Reality is a harsh mistress.

This level of separation helps to explain why Liberals and Conservatives usually talk past each other. We try to rationalize our positions to each other, but our rationalizations only make sense if the other party shares the same assumptions and understandings of how the world works. We operate from completely different templates.

3) Faith. This the most difficult and potentially dangerous degree of separation, because it addresses fundamental values that are non-negotiable. Our “faith” defines how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world, irrespective of facts, logic and reason. I cannot, for example, “prove” the veracity of my Christian faith. Environmental extremists and atheists cannot “prove” the righteousness of their positions. We just “know” that what we believe to be true is true. There is no logical argument that I know of that can challenge faith-based values. Our values define who we are and how we perceive the world to be. Utopian fascist ideals (Progressivism, Nazism, communism, Islamism, etc.), for example, are defined by a faith in a future to come – they require no proof. Abortion is a similar issue of faith and values – there is no middle-of-the-road compromise if you believe abortion to be murder and that murder is wrong (a value proposition). Psychologists have claimed that only very powerful shocks to the system can challenge faith.

I have no dealing with the first degree of separation. I admit, however, that I am totally stumped on how to address (2) and (3). Any ideas?

Porn, comedy, and an increasingly jaded culture (but don’t give up all hope)

I overheard two women talking the other day.  One told the other that her teenage son was looking at internet porn.  Worse, her husband wouldn’t help her stop this behavior because, as he said, “I used to read Playboy when I was his age, and it didn’t hurt me.”  Is it really possible for the father of a teenage boy to be that clueless? This daddy’s ignorance about internet porn is so great that it may prove that reading Playboy when he was a teen did hurt him.

Playboy nudes were wholesome.  I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but the Playmates were like the girl next door, except without clothes.  For at least the first twenty or more years of Playboy‘s history, these gals were an every man (or boy) fantasy brought to life.  The teens and young men perusing the pages could easily pretend that Miss January was that cute brunette down the street, or that Miss July was the hot girl you admired on the other side of the classroom.

Marilyn Monroe Playboy picture

Eventually, though, the pleasure centers in male consumers’ brains stopped getting a thrill from “mere” nudes.  They started gravitating in greater numbers to magazines such as Penthouse or Hustler that showed women who were not only undressed, but were also engaging in sexual acts.

With the advent of the internet, though, the old-line magazines, both hard and soft core, couldn’t keep up with the gravitational pull of the internet.  And in the internet world, where porn is king, purveyors had to keep on-upping each other if they wanted to keep traffic coming to their sites.  Changes to content, instead of happening in human years, over the course of decades, happened in fruit fly years, over the course of weeks or even days.  If I’m a porn site mogul, I show nudes, but lose traffic to the guy who shows nudes playing with themselves, so I up the ante by showing two nudes playing with each other, so he ups the ante by adding two men and, perhaps, a dog or two. And so it goes, with each competitive iteration getting more perverse in a never-ending effort to catch the attention of an increasingly jaded viewing public.

Eventually, you end up with scenes such as this one, which I’ve censored appropriately to remove any and all pornographic or distasteful images: [Read more...]

Education for the brainwashed generation

I know I’m just grumpy, but this promotional mailing from Ithaca College rubbed me the wrong way:

Ithaca flier

Ready to write environmental wrongs.  Ithaca College will turn your academic passions into unforgettable experiences — and make you ready for the adventure of your life.

I know that the first sentence is meant to be a clever pun, but it’s not.  At first glance, I thought it was a typo or blatant grammatical error.  On second reading, I thought Ithaca was promising to teach students how to plan to create environmental wrongs.  On third reading, I realized that Ithaca is offering to teach students how to “list” environmental wrongs, although I suspect there’ll be a fair dollop of creative writing (i.e., anthropogenic climate change) thrown in.

The whole thing — with the smug girl and the promise that documenting, or making up, environmental wrong is the “adventure of your life” — made me queasy.

Am I overreacting?  I probably am.  But as Kurt Schlichter said about Lena Dunham’s and HBO’s vile, nihilistic show Girls, we need to know what’s out there, because it is out there, and it’s aimed at our children.

Too tired to work

Had an interesting conversation at Church today. One of my friends, a Polish immigrant and self-made millionaire was discussing the immigration issue with a upper-middle class, white-bread soccer mom (let’s call her “Nice Liberal Lady”. My entrepreneur friend and I both agreed that some form of legalized immigration was needed for people with low educational skills because, sadly, too many Americans are unwilling to do jobs that demand physical labor.

But, hold on, said Nice Liberal Lady. Her son, it seemed, lived at home with his unused college degree because working in a fast-food restaurant or other similar menial job would only distract him from his career path. Not so, responded my entrepreneurial friend – “when my father died when I was young, I worked any job that I could get – even two or three jobs at a time, just to get money on the table. We Polish people know that when times are bad, you work extra hard instead of preoccupying yourself with feeling sorry for yourself (I am paraphrasing, but that was pretty much the gist).

Whoa, said Nice Liberal Lady: “I have a problem with that, especially having grown up with a workaholic father. The fact is, I am too exhausted to be constantly looking for a job or working more-than one job.” She let it be known that she really resented the implication that she should be expected to go out and work hard to earn her own financial support. The proper solution, it appeared, was that is was therefore OK to let other people exhaust themselves to pay benefits to the members of our perpetually exhausted non-working classes.

I pointed out to my friend, afterwards, “the reason that you were able to rise up and take on all these jobs is because you did not begin with the assumption that you were owed a certain standard of living.”

We really do live in two very different and irreconcilable worlds.

Ironically, a headline article in today’s Chicago Tribune focused on Polish people in Chicago returning to Poland in search of better opportunities. ’nuff said.

Greg Gutfeld’s book about the “Tyranny of Cool.”

Thanks to a handy-dandy Amazon gift certificate, I just bought myself a Kindle copy of Greg Gutfeld’s The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.  It sounds like a book that is simultaneously important and enjoyable.  I’ll be reading it with a close eye, because his ideas about challenging Hollywood’s pop culture feed into the ideas that Lulu and I are playing with.

Aurora and our deadly sins

Is the media to blame for the Aurora shootings?

I would like to make the case that it is, not for any specific action that any specific media outlet has taken, but by its very nature.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler published his seminal work, Future Shock, in which he predicted that one of the big challenges that we would face in the here-and-now is an over-saturation of media-mediated information stimuli. I believe that he predicted this more accurately than even he imagined.

I propose that the most pernicious damage wrought by the media is the way that it amplifies the worst in human nature. Our Judeo-Christian heritage likes to emphasize the seven deadly sins destructive to our nature and our relationship with God, to whit: gluttony, greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust and pride.

We live in an unheard of access to wealth and information. It isn’t hard to see how our material cornucopia enables the sins of Gluttony and Greed. We are a society, as Dinesh Dsouza famously remarked, where even the poor can be fat. Sloth, well…we have a welfare state that does its utmost to protect our citizenry from the consequences of sloth, so naturally we have more of it. Anger? We enjoy a world of violent sports, video games and cinema and our media rewards demagogues for whipping-up resentments based on race or class. Flash mobs, anyone? What about Lust? Even small children have ready access to pornography in popular magazines, the cinema or from the internet…it’s being normalized. Envy? Messages that stoke peoples’ sense of entitlement to other peoples’ labor and possessions find a ready audience. The media constantly reminds us of how much “the other” has that we don’t.

The most deadly of sins, according to the ancients, is pride or vanity. It is pride that drives people to seek fame, be it by demanding the latest fashions, coloring their hair, decorating their bodies, performing on American Idol or filming themselves having sex or beating up innocent people. Pride or vanity is the craving to be noticed and acting out violence for the Videocam lense is vanity writ large.

This, as the ancients point out, has always been the case. Two hundred years ago, however, it was much harder for people to gain social approval for their worst human excesses or to get noticed for committing mass murder. First, it was hard to get the one’s primal pride messaged out beyond one’s immediate locale. Second, community involvement and trip-wire taboos imposed strict guidelines on and early intervention into aberrant human behavior. Third, when self-control failed, retribution tended to be swift.

Today, by contrast, people are encouraged by our media environment to act out (is there anything more narcissistic than “reality TV”?). We live in a Kardashian society where even young kids are encouraged to seek media fame.

People can now project their worst sinful excesses onto vaste audiences with minimal effort. Once having done so, they are guaranteed 24/7 news coverage, book rights, movie scripts and the protective umbrella of the modern justice system. Whoo-hoo! The Joker rules!

Holmes, like a string of mass murders before him, wanted fame. He wanted to be noticed. Because his pride got the best of him. Our media culture provided all the tools that he needed to amplified the worst consequences of his human nature. Take away our media-saturated environment and there would not be nearly the incentive.

So, what say you? How do we fix this?

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels” – St. Augustine of Hippo.

Stereotypes, the “N” word, and our decadent popular culture

It’s a long post title, but actually quite a short post.  What I really have is a matched set.

First, an image that’s been circulating on the liberal side of facebook:

For those of you who aren’t too conversant with popular culture, the one on the left is Snoop Doggy Dogg, who has avoided arrest, while the one on the right is Martha Stewart who was, I think, unfairly convicted on a very technical financial technicality.

Stewart has dedicated her life, obsessively so, to bringing beauty into people’s homes. She believes that every aspect of home-making can be made meaningful. She has a charming screen presence and, apparently, an . . . um . . . assertive off-screen presence. People resented Stewart’s success, especially because they felt that someone who was a harsh-task master and arrogant should be brought down a peg. Me, personally? I think she has uplifted American culture.

Snoop? He’s a gangsta and proud of it. Indeed, he’s one of the original gangsta rappers. He may have avoided the law, but everybody but gang members, wannabe white boys, and record executives, knows that Snoop is a profoundly damaging influence on American culture. Considering the lives he’s probably destroyed, jail is too good for him.

Don’t believe me? Check out Zombie’s latest (serious content warning) which takes a look at what our children are listening to and seeing, courtesy of Snoop and the gang(stas).

Crazy people, the Zeitgeist, and cannibalism

Crazy people have always reflected their own society’s pathologies.  In a pre-modern era, crazy people thought they were the Devil or, perhaps, the Hammer of God.  In the atomic/space exploration age, insanity tended to involve aliens.  People thought they were abducted, thought aliens were among us, or thought that they were themselves aliens.

What are we to make of modern crazy people, though?  They’ve taken all of the old pathologies — Devil worship, hammer of God, aliens — and added a new twist:  cannibalism.  Just in the past few days, we’ve had one guy eat off another’s face, although he didn’t live to tell the tale; a Maryland man dine upon his roommate; and a Devil-worshipping gay porn star film himself murdering his lover, whose flesh he later ate.  A few years ago, a Canadian man killed and ate a fellow traveler on a bus, claiming his victim was an alien.  Richard Fernandez has collected other recent cannibal stories that are impossible to ignore.

What the heck zeitgeist is this that sees so many insanities end with cannibalism?

Cannibalism is nothing new.  Starving people have routinely resorted to cannibalism.  In the Soviet Ukraine, when Stalin implemented policies that deliberately starved the peasants off their land, “an orphan was a child whose parents hadn’t eaten him.“  The Donner party survivors reputedly ate those who died.  When a plane crashed in the Andes, the survivors also turned to cannibalism.

Cannibalism also has a long medicinal history.  Stealing gold wasn’t the only reason grave robbers pillaged Egyptian mummies.  Powdered mummy was an important part of many pre-modern medicine chests.  Blood from a hanged criminal was also believed to be good for people.

Many religions have also promoted cannibalism.  The Aztecs were notorious for their human sacrifices, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands for important religious festivals.  This not only kept enemies in line, but it also ensured that a society that had systematically stripped the surrounding landscape of animals, was still able to get the iron and protein necessary for survival.  Pagan tribes throughout Europe (and the Americas) also engaged in cannibalism, believing that they strengthened themselves by eating their enemies’ flesh and blood.

The first religion to take a stand against cannibalism was Judaism.  The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac — which, of course, ends without any sacrifice at all — saw the Jewish people put to rest any notions of satisfying God with human flesh.  Jews took that idea and made it concrete when they institutionalized rules that barred body mutilation (no tattoos or piercings for religious Jews) and required that bodies get buried within 24 hours of death, thereby depriving surrounding pagan tribes of the opportunity to mutilate and eat Jewish bodies.

The genius of Christianity (and I have no idea whether this was accidental or on purpose) is that Christians understood, and were able to convince others, that Jesus Christ was the last and best blood sacrifice.  By drinking the wine and eating the wafer at the sacrament, the potency of actual cannibalism was transmuted into the even more potent effect of symbolic cannibalism.  And that was the end of ritual cannibalism in the Judeo-Christian culture.

Proscribed by Jewish law, and elevated to the ultimate non-corporeal mingling with God under Christian doctrine, Westerners not only did not want human flesh, they disdained it.  They’d eat it medicinally or under starvation conditions, but theirs would not be the hands that struck the death-blow.  Instead, the more superstitious or desperate among them might take advantage of an already dead body, be it a hanged criminal, a thousand-year old mummy, or a dead comrade in the Ukraine, the Sierras, or the Andes.  Killing for blood . . . a big Western cultural no-no.  (The recent market in dead babies in Asia shows that this cultural no-no is certainly not universal, but it has taken hold in most parts of the First World, and the pseudo First World.)

So, where are we?  Judeo-Christian culture proscribes cannibalism.  We no longer believe in the medicinal use of already dead bodies.  And none of the killers mentioned at the beginning of this article were starving.  Instead, they were crazy.  So why is cannibalism resurgent?

And while I’m asking that, what’s with the Zombie craze?  This is not an irrelevant question.  Not only are zombies the un-dead, they also dine on human brains.  They’re somehow part of this zeitgeist that has Western culture seeing itself as cannibalizing itself.  But while normal people joke about it, and watch scary movies, the crazy people are on the move, looking for their next meal.

I don’t have answers.  I just have questions.  Do you have answers?

Slouching into slavery

What the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors don’t realize (yet) is that they have been suckered into becoming the agents of their own enslavement.

Orwell had it so right in defining the Left because he was a man of the Left. The term “Orwellian” now refers to the Left’s use of terms to mean the direct opposite of the intention of an idea or act (“war is peace”, for example). Orwell also noted the need for the State to invent enemies as a means of deflecting attention away from its own actions. It’s all about deflection away from true agendas.

Let me explain. Granted that the OWS movement is defined by many grievances, one underlying theme of  the OWS protests is the onerous debt assumed by students. I have sympathy for this because, as many commentators have already pointed out, these students were sold a bill of goods. The idea was that, whether qualified or motivated or not, kids could simply participate in the university experience, supported with “generous” (i.e., taxpayer-funded) government aid, and exit with a paper degree and guaranteed, high-paying job bereft of drudgery. This is the siren song that led to the inevitable crash upon the rocks of debt slavery.

Universities, those bastions of entitlement, have made out like bandits, taking the students money in exchange for worthless promises and worthless degrees. The government financed this process using “free” taxpayers’ monies and, in the end, developed a class of dependents that will spend the rest of their lives working their way out of indentured servitude at the behest their government masters (the Golden Rule is those that own the gold, rule!). For, as these students are slowly realizing, government debt and dependency is forever…there is no escaping their obligations.

It used to be that students could tap loans from private lending institutions that assumed the risk of a student borrower’s success or failure. If the student went bankrupt, the bank suffered. That is how capitalism and free markets should work. Not so with Liberal government. When the Obama administration took over these lending services, it took away failure as an option. Today, neither students nor their parents can escape their student debt obligations and the total student debt outstanding has been estimated to approach $1.0 trillion.

Many of these OWS students are now answerable to their government masters for the foreseeable future and during their most formative years… a period when they should be free to work toward satisfying careers, saving to purchase their own homes, preparing to raise families and, eventually, achieving financial independence. Instead, as long as the government holds their debt, it can now dictate how these students will lead their lives in service to their government’s regime goals (as in, “we will forgive x-amount of your debt if you “agree” to work in only certain prescribed professions or government-approved public works programs under certain given conditions dictated by us, your master) Or, let’s try the Chicago Way: “as long as we hold your debt, you will only believe certain things, work for certain causes, and vote in certain ways” . Their indentured servitude has taken away their freedom to think, to act and to build their own futures. Even more sadly, for many of these students, their expensive college educations amounted to little more than indoctrination whereby to accept these circumstances as a good thing: witness the large number whose goal in life is simply to work for “non-profits”.

The especially egregious aspect of this is that it is poorer students that have so been hooked into government dependency. But then, that has pretty much been par for the course for Liberal government, hasn’t it? Government did this before, with poor blacks and the War on Poverty. Government programs enslave the poor through indentured dependency.  Rich or talented kids don’t have to worry about this: they have parents, scholarships or trust funds to ensure that they never become indentured government debt pawns. The especially pathetic part of these events is that these indebted students and graduates have been led to believe, through Orwellian deflection, that the agents of their servitude are banks, conservatism, political and economic liberty, and capitalism – the very agents that could yet free them – rather than the government and academia that shackled them.

I suspect that, deep down in their hearts, many of the OWS protestors are slowly coming to realize their predicament. They’ve been had. Eventually, I expect, they will come to learn the truth about their servitude. I hope that they will still have the strength to resist.

I think that it is safe to say that slavery, not democracy, has been a defining condition for the great majority of human history. This may not be a point stressed in the Orwellian halls of academia that groomed this new government slave class at these students’ own expense, but it is a historical truism, none the less. It would truly be sad if what we are observing at the various OWS rallies around the country and world is simply an age-old historical evil reasserting itself in modern drag. What we are now seeing as the product of the college experience is the emergence of two classes: a wealthy, highly educated ruling class and a subservient, dependent, servant class that got suckered into paying the Liberal/Left ruling class to deprive it of intellectual and economic choices under the Orwellian guise of “freedom”. The Liberal/Left has done a bang-up job of severely crippling a generation of our children. I would be hard-pressed to conceive of  a more gross corruption of the American ideal.

I hope that I am wrong. What do you think?

 

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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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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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?

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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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