"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, October 16, 2006

The NC False Prosecution Scandal—and What It Means

Your intrepid correspondent went on record early criticizing Durham, North Carolina, prosecutor Thomas Nifong for his outrageous rush to prosecute three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by a stripper. On May 3 I wrote my first words on the subject for the Reform Club site, as follows:
The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players [a third would be indicted shortly after I wrote this] despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.
Subsequently, I wrote in great detail about what I characterized as Nifong's outrageous railroading of the Duke players, in light of two excellent articles on the subject in National Review Online a month later, available here and here. I returned to the story several times, continually pointing out that Nifong had no case and was pursuing it solely as a vote-getting measure, knowing that it would fall apart eventually but hoping he could hold the line until the November elections had passed.

That is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition, as is evident in light of last night's 60 Minutes broadcast and several blistering recent criticisms of the press's unquestioning acceptance of Nifong's absurd claims, such as Kurt Anderson's influential New York magazine piece on the New York Times's obscenely credulous coverage of the case.

Instead of referring to it as the Duke lacrosse case or something of that sort, I continually referred to it as the "North Carolina false prosecution scandal." It is clear that events have continued to show this description to be the accurate one. On June 6 I called for Nifong's impeachment, the resignation of Duke University president Richard Brodhead (who collaborated in the public pillorying of the innocent men), and the prosecution of the accuser.

None of these things have come to pass, of course, but it is increasingly obvious that these measures are called for (even though Nifong's term is almost over), so I call for them once again.

The best coverage I've seen of the case is at Durham-in-Wonderland, where K. C Johnson, a history prof at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center has done yeoman work reporting regularly on the case since a couple weeks after its inception. I highly recommend it for those interested in all the sordid details of this prime specimen of prosecutorial misconduct.

For those who don't wish to wade through a full retelling of the horror that was the Duke prosecution, I'll summarize it briefly:
  1. A desperate prosecutor latched onto a non-case pregnant with racial, class, and sexual implications in order to boost his fading chances of winning his party's primary nomination to keep his job, with the vote just a few weeks away.

  2. Slavering over the salacious and politics-packed nature of the obviously false accusation, the largely leftist U.S. press corps leapt to convict the innocent young men through a trial by media, to feed the left's ongoing myth that powerful caucasian males continuously exploit women, "people of color," and those inclined toward unusual sexual practices in these here United States.

  3. Both the prosecutor and his bootlickers in the press were disgustingly wrong and should be horsewhipped and cast out of polite society.
From Karnick on Culture.

American TV Popular in "America-Hating" Europe

The reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated. That's a likely conclusion to draw from the great surge in U.S. TV program becoming available in Europe.

Advertisement for UK TV channel devoted solely to U.S. programming

What politicians say and do is one thing, but everywhere in the world, TV viewers vote with their remotes. In Europe, the increasing anti-Americanism of many politicians is belied by the mass audiences' great interest in, and presumably enjoyment of, American TV programs. In an article accurately titled, "As U.S. Is Reviled Abroad, American TV Charms," the New York Times reports:
In the parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have been enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1980’s heyday of “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“What a difference,” said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of the RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. “Five or six years ago, you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels.”

RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with “CSI: Miami,” a spin-off of the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” franchise, and continues with “House,” “Monk” and “Law & Order.”

RTL’s biggest commercial rival, ProSieben, owned by ProSiebenSat.1, counters with “Charmed,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Buoyed by strong ratings, RTL said last week that it planned to add a second night of American shows on Thursdays, starting Nov. 9. As recently as 1999, Mr. Zeiler noted, the only American programs shown during prime time on RTL in Germany were reruns of “Quincy,” as audiences tired of the formulaic American sitcoms and dramas that had once filled the airwaves. . . .

United States producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to European audiences. With revenue from sales of American rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover costs.
The Times's angle on the story is that in response to improvements in U.S. TV programming, European viewers are showing an increased ability to enjoy offerings from a nation whose politics they still nonetheless hate:
Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers set aside any anti-American sentiments when they settle down on the sofa.

“We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America,” he said. “In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture.”
But I suspect that the real duality is not largely within the individuals themselves but in the population as a whole. The Times story opens with the observation that a recent British ad campaign for a new UK channel that offers only American programming "reflected a not-uncommon European complaint about the United States at a time of international disenchantment with its foreign policy. 'Nothing good ever came out of America,' the posters read, in plain, white-on-black block lettering." These were teaser ads that were soon replace with ones saying, "Who says nothing good ever came out of America?" the Times observes.

Well, who does say that? European and American leftist elites, that's who. Yes, European voters elect leftist governments because, as Ben Franklin observed, they seek safety over liberty for themselves (and shall have neither), but that doesn't mean they hate America.

As they vote with their remotes to support U.S. TV programming, the populations of these nations are demonstrating that the real divide may not be between Europe and the United States but between leftist elites on both continents and the much more reasonable general population they want to rule. And it's highly possible that European poll numbers and voting patterns might start to reflect this difference. After all, advertisers both here and in Europe spend pots of money on the premise that TV can spur people to action, and a greater presence of U.S. TV programming ought to help Europeans understand our more individualistic mindset and sympathize with it more readily.

This greater interest in U.S. TV programs could be a warning shot for European politicians who make a living by despising America and taking every opportunity to thwart our government's policies. Such politiicians may be pleasing a much smaller group of people than they think, and their own political futures may ultimately reflect that choice.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Literature Above Politics

My good friend Randy Boyagoda has an Op-Ed in the NYT on the just-named Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is a Turkish writer who explores conflicts between East and West, Islam and modernity, and so on. But as Randy notes, Pamuk's real value is as a writer who explores the longings and tensions of the human heart. Go read it and congrats, Randy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Air America Crashes, Burns

Yup, it flamed out. It's toast.

Now, there are plenty of reasons given out there why it failed: liberals already have two of the three cable news networks, all the newspapers, and NPR to boot. Plus, Air America simply sucked.

But I think it failed because they wouldn't let any non-leftists on, not guests, not callers. It was a Johnny One-Note thing, and even liberals had to get sick of AA's 24/7 cant.

Center-right positions do just fine on the battlefield of ideas, and if Air America had been anything resembling open and professional, I'd have listened to it myself, cheering for the good guys, of course. But nobody goes to a store that only stocks one item.

Mel's Anti-Semitism: The Jews Made Me Do It

Tidbits from Mel Gibson's interview with Diane Sawyer:

“Now even before anyone saw a frame of film [of The Passion of the Christ], for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating,” he said. “And during the course of that, I think I probably had my rights violated in many different ways as an American, as an artist, as a Christian, just as a human being.”

Whoo, Mel. You're going to make a good liberal. Your right to make a controversial film without any controversy. But leave "us" Christians out of it, OK? And not so fast with the "artist" part, either.

“Let me be real clear here, in sobriety, sitting here in front of you on national television. I don’t believe that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I mean, that’s an outrageous, drunken statement.”

Stop the presses!

Drunk Gibson: Jews responsible for all the wars in the world

Sober Gibson: Jews not responsible for all the wars in the world

“What are they [Jews] responsible for? I think that they’re not blameless in the conflict. There’s been aggression and retaliation and aggression. It’s just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they’re not blameless.

“Now when you’re loaded, you know, the balance of how you see things - it comes out the wrong way. I know that it’s not as black and white as that. I know that you just can’t, you know, roar about things like that. [That's] wrong.”

No more wrong than whispering them, Mel, as your new-found sobriety has given you the wisdom to do. That's the tried-and-true way. Good to see everything's back to normal.

Fannysmackin' Our Vegas Mentality

William Peterson as Gil Grissom in CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe closing words of last night's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation express a truly great insight into contemporary American society.

After solving the case, the investigators ponder the question of who is ultimately responsible for the depredations of a group of teenage thrill-killers in Las Vegas, whether it is the parents or simply the kids themselves. Someone mentions the "moral compass" the young people should have been provided. Team leader Gil Grissom enters the room and provides a wiser perspective:
The truth is, a moral compass can only point you in the right direction. It can't make you go there.

Our culture preaches that you shouldn't be ashamed of anything you do anymore.

And unfortunately, this city is built on the principle that there's no such thing as guilt:

"Do whatever you want. We won't tell."

So, without a conscience, there's nothing to stop you from killing someone.

And evidently, you don't even have to feel bad about it.
That's a powerful statement, and entirely true. It's even more powerful on screen than on the page. The episode is called Fannysmackin' and is well worth seeing for this excellent brief speech.

From Karnick on Culture.

How to Bring Back Ellery Queen

The Roman Hat Mystery original cover artEllery Queen is the American mystery.

Who?, you ask.

Ellery Queen.

Still doesn't ring a bell?

The first line of this article is from the great mystery and sci-fi author and critic Anthony Boucher, and it is absolutely true. Yet Ellery Queen, whose heyday was the 1930s and '40 but wrote until the early 1970s, is all but forgotten today.

He was one of the greatest American mystery writers, creating maddengly complex puzzles that were fully explained in the end. His books were read by millions, and his character was adapted for the movies (poorly), TV (brilliantly in the case of the 1970s TV show Ellery Queen, produced by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link), and radio (also brilliantly).

But as I noted in my National Review article on the 70th anniversary of the publication of Queen's first novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, that anniversary passed by with little fanfare and no prominent reprints of Queen's novels, as did the 75th anniversary last year.

Queen is well worth bringing back, however, and an interesting article from Queen's diamond anniversary year on one of the best Ellery Queen websites suggests how this might be done, pointing out the impressive popularity Ellery Queen's works still enjoy in Japan, China, Taiwan, Germany, and elsewhere.

Ten Days' Wonder pb cover artI know this popularity well, as people from both China and Japan asked me for permission to translate my NR article on Queen when it appeared (which of course I granted).

The authors of the article, Kurt Sercu and Dale C. Andrews, suggest some very good ideas: one, that an enterprising publisher reprint the best five or six Queens in high-quality paperback editions with the original maps, introductions, casts of characters, and the like, and two, that a publisher work with the Queen rights holders to license a series of new novels featuring the main characters from the classic series.

These are both excellent ideas, and I encourage you to read the article and contact your favorite publishers with the request that they follow up on these suggestions. And if you have not yet read any Ellery Queen books, please head to your local used book store or online sources and pick up Calamity Town, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Chinese Orange Mystery, Halfway House, The Finishing Stroke, Cat of Many Tails, Ten Days' Wonder, The Player on the Other Side, and any others that strike your fancy. These are fine novels that should reach a much larger audience.

For a further introduction to Ellery Queen, see my National Review article here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Mush That Is Condi

Back in town. I notice from the papers discussing the North Korean---oops, make the Democratic People's Republic of Korea---that it took no time at all for the ineffable Condi to offer her usual buffet of platitudes, banalities, and striped-pants talk. (She is, however, a vast improvement over that self-promoting lifetime bureaucrat Colin Powell, a man who strove mightily to undercut the White House as a first priority simply as a matter of sport.) Her endless repetition of the trivial reminds me of the time when she was the Provost at Stanford, and was confronted with yet another of the juvenile pranks of the Stanford band, this time with a bit more bite---make that bigotry---than usual. Notre Dame had come to town for a football game, and the band thought that it would be just jolly---the highpoint of sophisticated humor---if they drove a "Popemobile" around the track adjacent to the playing field.

So: Would the band have driven a step 'n fetchmobile if a team from a black college were visiting. I rather doubt it; the bigotries of the Left are nothing if not specific. So what did Provost Condi do? Was anyone fired? Not that I ever heard; apparently she was too cowardly to stand up to the campus Lefties. Is Kim Jong Il trembling? I rather doubt it; even Madeleine Albright is more frightening, and for reasons very different.

Vote for Banacek!

Here's something a bit lighter for those as weary of politics as I am.

One of the best television programs ever was actually three or four programs in one. The NBC Mystery Movie ran from 1971 to 1977, on Wednesday nights its first season and then on Sunday nights for the rest of its run. Three series rotated week by week. Additional series were added on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 1972 and 1974.

Presenting a new TV mystery movie each week in a 90-minute slot (which was later expanded to two hours), the program was an immediate success, reaching number 14 in the ratings during its first season and fifth in its second. One of the programs, Columbo, received eight Emmy nominations in its first year alone, and won four of them that year. The, first, most popular, and best remembered programs from this series were Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife. These programs and some others from the series have been shown in syndication and on cable networks ever since.

Selected seasons of all three of these programs are now available on DVD—you can find them by clicking on their names here—but other shows from the series also did well in the ratings and are still remembered fondly. The popular program Quincy, M.E, starring Jack Klugman as a causy, caustic, whistle-blowing medical examiner, began its run as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series. Also fondly remembered are The Snoop Sisters, which starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, and Hec Ramsey, which starred Richard Boone as a crimefighter at the turn of the last century. The latter programs lasted only one and two years, respectively, and are seldom if ever run on television, which is a pity.

George Peppard as BanacekBut the best of the lot, and one of my personal favorite TV shows ever, was Banacek. The program starred George Peppard as Thomas Banacek, a suave but tough freelance investigator in Boston. The conceit was that Banacek would find things that had been stolen, which the victims' insurance companies were unable to recover, and he would restore them at double the percentage that the insurance company charged. Hence, he made a huge amount of money and lived very well.

Banacek was created by Richard Levinson and William Link, an exellent writing team who also created Columbo; Murder, She Wrote; and the superb but sadly short-lived Ellery Queen.

The thing that made Banacek really interesting, however, was that each week's crime was an "impossible" one. A large, bejeweled coach would disappear from a locked cargo hold of a ship in transit, a horse and rider would vanish from a racetrack during a practice run, an experimental car would be stolen from a train while in transit and watched by multiple witnesses, a football player would disappear after being tackled on the field before tens of thousands of fans in the stadium and millions of TV viewers, and other such puzzlers would occur in each episode.

George Peppard as BanacekThomas Banacek was the epitome of "cool" at the time. He would investigate these impossible crimes while doling out sarcastic comments, old Polish proverbs, and punches and karate chops (ah, those were the days!) to deserving meanies; sipping expensive brandy in his luxurious (but interestingly old-fashioned in its decor) apartment; tooling around in his chauffer-driven limousine and taking calls on his enormous "portable" phone; and romancing a never-ending series of scantily clad cuties played by the likes of Linda Evans. Unfortunately, his style in accomplishing the latter was an early 1970s pseudo-Dean Martin approach which is now highly outdated and a bit silly. But it's easy to overlook it as a mere sign of the times, in light of all that is good about the series.

During the run of the series, we find out that Thomas (never Tom!) Banacek grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and chose to apply his talents to good ends, unlike many of those with whom he grew up. People occasionally mock him for his Polish background or deliberately mispronounce his name. The former get a stinging rebuke or worse, and the latter receive a polite but pointed correction.

Though he does delight in twitting the insurance investigators who consider him a greedy dilettante, Banacek has risen above his original station in life in developing excellent manners overall, and he expresses open disapproval of those who fail to show proper politeness themselves. That's something I, for one, would like to see more of both in television and in real life today.

Murray Matheson as Felix Mulholland, owner of Mulholland's Rare Books & Prints in 1972 TV series BanacekBanacek would take an occasional physical beating himself when hopelessly outnumbered, but he always came out on top in the end. Aided by his loyal but dimwitted driver, Jay Drury, and his friend, mentor, and crack researcher Felix Mulholland, a bookstore owner, Banacek solved the crimes with great insight, perseverance, and panache, besting the plodding, corporate-drone insurance investigators who were perpetually trying to beat him to the solution. Of the latter, a tart-tongued young insurance investigator named Carlie Kirkland, played superbly by Christine Belford as Myrna Loy would have done it, provided an excellent foil and a feisty romantic interest.

Banacek is truly an exemplary character in many ways, excepting only his corny, pseudo-suave romantic life, and it is a pity that this excellent program cannot be seen today.

It would be a fine thing if programs such as Banacek, The Snoop Sisters, and Hec Ramsey could be brought out on DVD.

The good news is that we can help make that happen.

If you go to amazon.com and search for Banacek on DVD, the page informs you that the program is not yet available but you can vote to have it put on DVD and amazon.com will inform the copyright owners of the demand for the program. The process is very simple—a single button click will suffice for most people—and given the number of absolutely horrendous TV programs already available on video, it would send a good message to the rights owners, MCA Universal, that there is an audience out there for good programs such as Banacek.

So, don't delay: do yourself and all of us a favor, click here, and vote for Banacek.

From Karnick on Culture.

Our Epistemological Problem

I just don't know how to talk to my lefty friends anymore. They refuse to watch Fox News, read National Review (Online or the death-to-trees version), and forget your Limbaugh. I have no idea if newsmax.com is any good because quoting it is entirely risible, so I don't even look at it.

According to the WaPo, et al., Denny Hastert is slime because he knew all about Mark Foley but didn't do anything about it. No Democrats knew nothing and even if they did, they didn't. Accordingly, the GOP deserves to lose all its seats in congress. What decent person could vote for the party of child molesters and those who cover up for them? I sure couldn't.

None of this is in evidence, of course, but who cares? If I read only what my lefty friends are willing to read, I'd be a Democrat, too. I'd have to be---what choice would a thinking person have?

For the record, and to take this out of mere partisanship, let me report that I get both Los Angeles papers, the Times and the Daily News. The CEO of Europe's largest airline industry just stepped down and they appointed a successor. The Daily News' headline was "Airbus Keeps Moving."

The Times reported, "Airbus Sinks Further into Disarray."

If "Airbus: Yes or No?" were on the ballot this November, they'd be
peeling exploded Democrat brainmeat out of every polling booth until 2007. These folks believe everything they read in their papers, so I just wish they'd get thrown a little cognitive dissonance now and then when it comes to our politics. "Hastert Declined to Ask for NSA Wiretap on Foley's Wi-Fi, Sources Say."


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Wages Of Fear

Historian Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, The Birth Of The Modern, A History Of Christianity, and other fine tomes written for the intelligent layman, makes a striking observation in his column of today:

In the 15 or so years since 1990 the U.S. current accounts deficit has gone from 0% to 7% of GDP. America is able to do this by offering the rest of the world the biggest choice of wealth storage options -- bonds and other assets -- that they can buy with their savings, knowing these instruments are secure and will give a good return on investment. The truth is, if you make a lot of money by making cheap goods, as the Chinese do, or by selling expensive oil, as the Arabs do, you either have to spend your money, riotously, or save it. And if you choose to save, you have to put those savings somewhere that is secure and rewarding.

Thanks to its political and social stability and its record of a continually growing economy, the U.S. has become -- almost unconsciously rather than through set policy -- the biggest and most successful wealth-storage economy in history. It exports wealth-storage facilities in exchange for net imports of goods. A recent calculation by the American Enterprise Institute shows that foreign storage claims of U.S. assets are $13.5 trillion, or about 25% of U.S. wealth (about 10% of global wealth).

However, as with Jimmy Goldsmith, this borrowing has enabled the U.S. to become richer and richer. The U.S. also invests abroad and now holds about $11 trillion in foreign assets. That leaves net foreign claims on U.S. assets of about $2.5 trillion. But this is only 20% of one year's income for America's enormous GDP. Moreover, while wealth stored in the U.S. is mostly in short-term assets, American wealth stored abroad is chiefly in long-term assets, and those will grow in value -- and grow faster -- than wealth stored in the U.S.

This is both staggeringly important and truly ironic. First, Johnson is entirely correct: the rest of the world is a scary place for money or property. He who has either must live in perpetual fear of being deprived of them by a sudden currency devaluation, a new tax scheme, or an outright expropriation "for the public good." Such things do happen here as well, but much more rarely and to a much milder degree. Thus, comparatively the United States is a haven for capital, the jumpiest of all Man's creatures. More, it will remain so for the indefinite future, as the condition cannot be undone except by the erection of a totalitarian dictatorship here in America, or the radical liberalization of the economies of the other nations of the world.

The irony is this:

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace....

We knew nothing of "hot money" on a large scale in the decades that preceded World War I, when great governments protected the gold standing of their currency as a matter of course, because it was the honorable and expected thing to do. But since the bad faith of the two greatest governments in the world, Great Britain in 1931 and the United States in 1933, we have had a world full of hot money, jumping about nervously from place to place, seeing no safety anywhere, but going from places that seemed unsafe to places that seemed less unsafe. We have had a world in which men have been afraid to make long-term plans. We have had a world in which conscientious and scrupulous trustees have been turning from "gilt-edged bonds" toward common stocks, not because the common stocks were safe, but because they were less unsafe than government obligations, and we have had them doing this with the approval of scrupulous and upright judges who have taken cognizance of the bad faith of the government....

There was bad faith by the British government, and there was bad faith by the United States government in abandoning the gold standard.

[From Dr. Benjamin M. Anderson's Economics And The Public Welfare, Chapter 45, on Franklin D. Roosevelt's abrogation of the gold standard and seizure of the nation's privately held gold.]

Food for thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Katie Couric's Ratings Plunge

Katie Couric exits the CBS television studios after the airing of her first broadcast as anchor of the 'CBS Evening News,' on Sept. 5, 2006, in New York.Left-wing news pixie Katie Couric, the first woman to anchor a major network TV nightly news show on a permanent basis, has been beset by continually falling ratings since the debut of her program over a month ago.

Last week, in the fifth week of her anchoring the CBS Evening News, Couric's program drew an average of 7.04 million viewers. NBC's Nightly News led the pack at 8.56 million, with ABC's World News grabbing 7.97 million, according to the Nielsen TV ratings service.

Couric's debut on Sept. 5 was the highest-rated news program of the night, as was to be expected, and the ratings for CBS Evening News are higher than they were a year ago, but the downward trend must be discouraging for CBS, which pinned its hopes on Couric's popularity as former host of NBC's Today Show.

The move to Couric, however, was merely a cosmetic one. As replacement for the openly left-wing weirdo Dan Rather, Couric was expected to bring a certain smoothness and subtlety to the presentation, but nothing more. She has presided over a program that breaks no new ground either in the ideas on offer or in the way of presenting them. Once the initial interest in seeing Couric sitting behind the CBS news desk wore off, there was nothing of value to attract viewers to her program.

Viewership of TV network evening news programs has been sliding for years, and Couric is part of that trend. Untiil the programs find a way to be more informative, fair, and sensible, the decline will continue.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Death of Classical Liberalism

From the latest speech by David Cameron, head of the UK's "Conservative" Party:

"It's been a great week.

This week we've shown we are back in the centre ground of British politics.

A stable economy.

Fighting crime.

Backing the NHS and our state schools.

Childcare and flexible working.

Improving our environment and quality of life.

Those are people's priorities - those are our priorities today.

Conservatives, converting a disused church into a community centre.

That's our idea - social responsibility - in action.

For us, that Britain is based on the idea of social responsibility.

That means a Britain where instead of always turning to the state for the answers…

…we turn to each other and ask: what more can we do together to solve this problem?

Right, let's talk about tax.

Everyone in this hall, me included, knows that a low tax economy is a strong economy.

But some people want me to flash up some pie in the sky tax cuts to show what we stand for.

Let me tell you straight.

That is not substance.

And that is not what we stand for.

Do you know what I think?

I think that when some people talk about substance, what they mean is they want the old policies back.

Well they're not coming back.

We're not going back.

As George Osborne said in that brilliant speech yesterday…

…we believe in sound money and stability always comes first.

We need to strengthen our pensions system.

Deregulate our employers and wealth-creators.

Invest in education, skills, the potential of our people.

Build a modern transport system.

And we need to do more to promote British trade and investment.

In this age of globalisation and fierce international competition from India, China, Brazil…

…we cannot afford to sit back.

We have to fly the flag for British business.

As our economy grows, one of the most important calls on the proceeds of that growth is the NHS.

The NHS is vitally important to every family in this country.

It certainly is to my family.

I believe that the creation of the NHS is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.

It is founded on the noble but simple ideal that no person should ever have to worry about their healthcare.

But it's about more than that.

The NHS is an expression of our values as a nation.

It is a symbol of collective will, of social solidarity.

That is why the British people, of all political parties and of none, are so proud of it, and so attached to it.

I have always believed this."

There were a few paragraphs about terrorism and foreign policy later in the speech, which you can read here if you have the stomach for it.

And as highlighted in the italics mine passage above, social responsibility not of the individual, but in communitarianism. From what I gather from this speech (these are the Tories, mind you, not Labour or the Lib Dems) is that the individual, in the birthplace of classical liberalism, the UK, has simply ceased to exist.

There's some mush about lower tax rates (although pointedly NOT Thatcherism!), a call to patriotism in the name of British business (in order for it to create more tax revenue), but most of all a pledge of ideological fealty to universal health care, not even as a right, but as an ethos, today's overarching value in the United Kingdom.

Turning empty churches into community centers? Health care as one of the highest achievements of Western Civilization? Flexible working hours? Mass transit? We fought the Nazis for this?

New TV Program Cancellations Begin—"Dark" Dramas Among First to Go

CBS and NBC have begun chopping low-performing new programs, to go along with Fox's placing of Happy Hour on "hiatus."

CBS has cancelled its ill-advised drama Smith, and NBC has dropped Kidnapped.

Ray Liotta, central character of CBS TV program SmithThe networks' penchant for "dark" dramas seems to have backfired in these instances, and it seems likely that more casualties will happen soon.

It was easy to predict that Smith would be a disaster. The show's central characters are thieves, and not attractive, suave, clever ones like those played by Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the like in recent films, people who brilliantly sneak into guarded facilities and slip out with the slag without being detected. No, the thieves in Smith are basically armed robbers, and their hesits are violent and result in injuries and deaths of innocents.

That's not a formula likely to appeal to normal people, and the casting of Ray Liotta and Virginia Masden as the central couple sealed the deal: neither of these two talented performers has ever proven to be the type of person one would be inclined to invite into the living room every week. With such a low likeability factor on so many levels, it's a wonder CBS ever went forward with the series. Now it's gone.

PR photo of actress Dana Delany exemplifying the grimness of NBC TV program Kidnapped

Timothy Hutton does appear to be a likeable chap, especially from his time as Archie Goodwin on the excellent, unhappily short-lived A&E series Nero Wolfe, and Dana Delaney has been on popular programs before, but Kidnapped tossed their likeability aside in order to emphasize their anguish as wealthy parents of a kidnapped fifteen-year-old son.

Delroy Lindo is appealing in the program as a police inspector, but the lion's share of the running time of each episode has been given over to an uninteresting private consultant who helps families deal with kidnappings. Jeremy Sisto appears to be playing the character as well as possible, but the producers' decision to make the series unrelievedly "dark" prevents him from giving the character much of a personality.

That's the problem with the show as a whole: The whole thing tries so hard to be serious that it ends up being depressing.

The producers of these programs could learn a lot from Donald Belisarius, creator of the current CBS-TV program NCIS and previous hits JAG and Magnum: P.I.

Belisarius understands the importance of comic relief and likeable characters in TV crime dramas. The little quirks and interesting character relationships in NCIS are often as appealing as the crimes the characters are trying to solve, and that's never a bad thing. The best thing about a mystery is the mystery, but too much gloom and doom indicates a lack of perspective on the producers' part, and it tends to push audiences away fairly quickly.

This season's new "dark" programs may be imitating 24 to some extent, but they fail to recognize the optimism at the center of Fox's hit show: no matter how bad things get, Jack Bauer is going to fix them at the end of the day (literally!). Jack's resourcefulness and indomitable spirit make him not only admirable but also likeable, and that is what these new, dark dramas tend to lack.

A crime story without optimism is like a romance without love: It can be interesting, but there's no lasting pleasure in it.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Bravo" for the Omniculture

One of the biggest trends of the past couple of decades has been the increasing commercialization of what used to be thought of as a counterculture.

The 1950s and '60s movement to question all existing values quickly entered the mainstream, and in the 1980s it basically became the mainstream, insofar as there is such a thing in our fractured Omniculture. The values pursued are originality, passion, assertiveness, authenticity, and the like.

In the Omniculture, a place without a central set of widely shared values, enormous corporate conglomerates pursue particular audience slices by means of "edgy," aggressively weird programming.

Pay-cable series such as Six Feet Under and Weeds, for example, are programs that really make very little sense as entertainment or popular art, although there are interesting thoughts to be found in them, but they are able to find an audience because a certain thrill is given to viewers as participating in something truly "challenging" that sets them apart from their boring neighbors who watch football and shop at Wal-Mart.

Frame image from TV series Six Feet Under

This is vividly true of the cable network Bravo, which started out as basically an opera and ballet channel and in the past few years has evolved into an outlet for would-be urban sophisticates—under the ownership of corporate giant NBC, and with large investments of money from the latter.

Project Runway promo shot

A new article in Broadcasting and Cable summarizes it well:
For a network that began life more than 25 years ago as a pay channel devoted to performing-arts programming, Bravo has come a long way. Once the bastion of opera, ballet and repertory theater, it's now the network of Runway host and supermodel Heidi Klum, bad-boy R&B singer Bobby Brown and the Fab Five.

Since being acquired by NBC in 2002, Bravo has morphed into a decidedly more middle-brow programmer, with celebrity-studded unscripted series like Runway, Top Chef and Being Bobby Brown aimed squarely at viewers in the advertiser-prized 18-49 demographic. But while other networks have attracted new—and younger—viewers with similar programming changes, [Bravo president Lauren] Zalaznick and her team are zeroing in on a select group of smart, affluent viewers, with an aggressive marketing strategy positioning the once buttoned-down network as fabulously hip and positively off the charts with buzz.

And there are signs that it's working. Project Runway, which celebrates the creative process—and cut-throat competition—behind clothing design, is the most watched series in Bravo's history, with an episode last month drawing a record 4.1 million viewers. The network's third-quarter primetime audience was its highest ever, with an average 627,000 viewers.
Of course, what is "fabulously hip and positively off the charts with buzz" today is ordinary and dull tomorrow. That is why the boundary of strangeness and perversity must always move outward, as today's "sophisticates" attempt to prove themselves more adventurous and authentic than their predecessors.

And that is why the Omniculture, in concert with new technology, continually fractures the society into radically smaller pieces. It remains a mystery as to what the ultimate outcome of such a process must be—but it doesn't seem likely to be overly salubrious.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Those Evil Yet Lovable Innocent Terrorists

There's been some new legislation about the jihadistish prisoners currently held by the US. My best understanding is that a) it was mandated by a recent Supreme Court decision which said, we have no clue about all this---so go write a law, y'all;

b) Without it, CIA agents could be prosecuted by a future administration for what is deemed OK by the previous one; and

c) It's important that congress (and the president) declare the Official American interpretation of Geneva and other international codes so that CIA agents cannot be prosecuted by foreign or international courts.

So that's the legal thing.

What is not commonly known is that through the good graces of such peacemakers as Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan, secret laptop videoconferences with al-Qaeda were held---although Mother Sheehan's wi-fi failed to function in her ditch outside Crawford, TX---and a private deal was reached that's fair and just to all parties, things being what they are. The Reform Club has the scoop.

From now on:

---Al-Qaeda will make every reasonable attempt to sharpen their knives, daggers and swords before they cut our heads off. Using dull blades for decapitations is so 2004.

---Aforementioned heads must be dropped within a mile or two (or three, in a pinch) of wherever they dump our bodies, to help with the sorting out.

---Aforementioned bodies must be dumped at the side of the road and not where they can be run over, although those cute little islands with the palm trees on divided highways are OK, since few people drive there.

---Our bodies and/or heads may not be set on fire unless we check the "cremation" box in the Preferred Method of Disposal section of Human Rights Watch's Hostage-Abductee Questionnaire (Form 267B).

---All forced conversions to Islam come with a 30-day money-back guarantee, although failed converts, as apostates, must still be hunted down and executed although it's not exactly in the Qur'an, but only in a Hadith. But just in case.

In return, the US agrees:

---No waterboarding after 10 PM.

---No secret prisons in Romania. Romania sucks. Really.

---No more of that damn Christina Aguilera music. That fits any human being's definition of torture.

And at Guantánamo Bay:

---All soccer balls must be inflated to FIFA specifications of 60-110 kilopascals. (1 pascal [Pa] ≡ 145.04×10−6 psi) Abu Hamed (not his real name) lost a goal last week when his perfect shot scooted over the crosspost due to an overly hard ball. It was clearly America's fault.

---As we're getting past our jihadi primes around here, the Noble and Holy Qur'an must be made available in large-print editions.

---Too much garlic in the hummus, and the halvah is kinda spongy. The lamb kabob is pretty good though, but who does somebody have to IED around here to get some camel?

---All feces, sperm or urine thrown by detainees at their guards will be returned to its rightful owner(s), in hermetically sealed plastic bags to avoid contamination of the contents.

---Since the early mid-afternoon call to prayer comes right in the middle of Oprah, TiVo shall be declared an essential human right.

---Jesus Christ, man, don't you dare return us to our Muslim home countries!!!! What, are you savages??????!!!!!

A War Of Ideas

Perhaps nothing has shaken my natural optimism quite as roughly as this: war, which nation-states had once managed to "tame" into scheduled battles at appointed places, between uniformed armies that exhibited deep respect for the lives and property of noncombatants, has returned to its oldest and most savage roots. The most recognizable force behind this regression dares to call itself a religion, but in the absence of Islam, no doubt the "aspirations" of secular terrorist groups would have served equally well.

War, broadly speaking, is the collectivization of our tendency to seek our ends through violence. It should surprise no one that persons of low mentality and no morality should find violence an appealing means. Nor should it surprise us that persons of intelligence and good will should abhor it, even when they concede the necessity. Yet bafflingly, the savages, who by logic ought to fall on one another as readily as on us, have shown the greater facility for organizing themselves for war, while we of the nominally civilized world, for whom organization is a fundamental, deeply driven skill, wring our hands and endlessly seek a gentler way.

Terrorist scum, incapable of living peaceably in the world as they find it, have turned the world's great cities into hostages. They even slaughter those in whose names they claim to fight, without pause or pity. Villainous governments cheerfully exploit such groups, and our fear of them, to stave off the administration of punishment for their crimes.

Our magnificent military forces are, if not paralyzed, at the least greatly frustrated by the ease which which the terrorists strike their chosen targets. They yearn to be unleashed and to spring upon the foe, but until the instant he strikes, he's nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, the country they've set free and hope to guard as it establishes an acceptable system of government writhes and bleeds under the blows of the terrorists. Its people ask ever more angrily why we can't shield them any better than we've done.

I am a military thinker and a lover of justice. I burn with the desire to close upon these miscreants -- at the very least, to play a part as a planner and weaponeer in effecting their demise. But the precepts with which I've addressed armed conflict in the past are unsuitable to the wars of the present, and I can find none with which to replace them.

  • We cannot rely on our traditional ways of pursuing villains, for the villains have mastered the art of hiding among persons from whom we cannot distinguish them, and who fear them more than they fear us.
  • We cannot adopt their tactics for our own. They don't care whom they hurt. We do.
  • We cannot simply rampage through the lands that gave birth to the terrorists, slaying indiscriminately. It would be tantamount to national suicide.
  • ...but we cannot accept the status quo.

This is a war of ideas: strategic and tactical ideas. Today, the terrorists have the cutting-edge ideas, the initiative, and a range of targets against which to use them. Until we succeed in wresting those advantages away from them, the outlook will be bleak.

What, then, must we do?

Liberty and Culture

I've just returned from a conference on great Americans' contributions to the nation's ongoing discussion of liberty and order. What struck me most strongly was the fact that our opinions on liberty depend so greatly on our cultural treatment of the issue, and that the latter depends so thoroughly on leadership.

To read the speeches and other writings of great leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the two presidents Roosevelt (as much as I disagree with the positions of these last two individuals), one is positively revolted by the puerility and ignorance of our modern politicians. Since Ronald Reagan there has not been a leader in either American political party whose thinking and writings could approach placing them in a class with these persons, or even as close as several notches below.

Certainly one could suggest a variety of reasons for this, but the greatest of these, I believe, is a simple deficiency of interest in and understanding of basic principles. Our modern politicians seem far too caught up in politics, as opposed to being interested in and willing to investigate in depth the principles behind human action and political activity.

This has always been true to some degree, but today's leaders seem constitutionally incapable of distinguishing the foundational from the ephemeral.

President Clinton's long lists of policy prescriptions divorced from any principle other than the notion that the federal government exists to take every possible action that can be imagined to contribute somehow to making everything better for everybody, is a perfect example of this sense of governance divorced from principle. So is George W. Bush's stark inability to explain precisely what principles motivate his bewilderingly contradictory policies (such as cutting taxes while rapidly raising federal spending or calling for school choice while nationalizing K-12 education).

Our current-day politicians are thorough products of the Omniculture, a place without a shared set of central values. Hence, their immersion in minutiae and limited ability to adress issues of fundamental principle should not exactly surprise us.

However, even if it is too much to expect, and unwise to want, our poltiical leaders to be entirely free of the cultural assumptions of our time or to live in an ethereal world of abstract contemplation of Platonic ideals, it is not only possible but in fact necessary for our societal health that they engage the greatest thinking of the past and apply to the problems of our time the principles found therein.

That they fail to do this is entirely their fault and is not excusable by reference to broader social and cultural trends. It is simply wrong.

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Stigmatizing Stigma

In response to Christianity Today’s big question – How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good? – Amy Laura Hall shares some thoughts about the use of shame in addressing the rising tide of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Her comments could not be more timely, and though directed specifically towards Christians, they are part of a conversation that transcends any partisan divide, and as such, is applicable to all members of society.

Now one need not accept Ms. Hall’s curious history of Christianity’s use of shame (forgive me if I do not accept Margaret Sanger and an unnamed Methodist clergyman as representative) to acknowledge that well-meaning people throughout history have employed it. So rather than focus on her contention that Christians should be moving more towards welcoming unwed mothers and their children, and away from stigmatizing them – as I fail to see how this might be countercultural - I’d like to look at whether there is any legitimate place left for shame in modern moral world.

Certainly shame is on the decline. Our collective lack of moral confidence and fear of the scarlet letter H (hypocrisy) make it a very rare occurrence indeed for someone today to criticize the decisions made by others. And yet, out-of-wedlock pregnancy is one issue that transcends these concerns, and is widely accepted by all sides as problematic. In her encouragement to the church to seek out unwed mothers and serve them, Ms. Hall reminds us that real lives hang in the balance, and that it is incumbent upon us to partner with God to turn even regrettable human choices to good. This is no doubt sound advice, redemption being foundational to the Christian worldview. That said, it is hard to see how such a response helps to move us forward in the broader issue of minimizing future unwed pregnancies. At the heart of redemption is the acknowledgment of sin, and it is not entirely clear from the following quote that Ms. Hall regards this as a necessary step.

This does not mean that Christians cannot say it would have been preferable had this young woman not shared herself intimately with a boy…

And it is here where we begin to see the limitations of pure kindness; what may in fact be the subtle absence of actual care. Promoting the good is easy enough to get behind, but don’t we also have a duty to confront that which is wrong? Is it love for the person that keeps us from necessary correction, or is it more likely that we are avoiding an inconvenient and difficult task? Confrontation has become out of vogue, as so many of its practitioners are less than attractive. Yet shame has a place, even if its implementation proves to be confusing and difficult.

Perhaps it makes sense here to consider where things have gone wrong with our use of shame. For many, shame is viewed as a sort of glue that holds society together. It is the tool that helps it promote its morals (and enforce compliance) among its members. Shame is justified on the basis that society has the right to discourage individuals from causing it injury. I believe that it is out of this understanding that shame is most frequently abused. In this view, members of society ascribe to themselves victim status, which then grants them permission to cast off any sense of responsibility to help those in distress while bolstering their own sense of superiority by devaluing others.

The use of shame in such a scenario is obviously less than satisfying. But what would happen if we shifted our focus so that we were primarily concerned with the well-being of the individual? Natural law, despite its universality, is not immune to the corruptions of the flesh. And so, we know that we will be faced time and again with the question of how to help the individual who has heard the case for moral behavior but finds it difficult to resist temptation? I submit that it is here that shame has its proper place, as it is useful in reinforcing the cost of moral transgressions. For what is sin other than a fundamental lack of understanding of the real consequences of one’s actions? Relationships based on integrity demand that we recognize and account for our nature, that we hate the sin while retaining our sympathy for the sinner.

The words, ‘You should be ashamed of…’, far from being the utterance of prudes, may be among the greatest kindnesses that we can extend to one another. Shame, or guilt, is the critical sensation that we are given to help shape our character so that we may reach our full potential. It is not something to be avoided or stigmatized. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us – with all the grace that we possess – to work to ensure that it remains a healthy presence in our lives. Without it, life would be completely unlivable.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Nielsen to Report Viewership of TV Commercials

I've written frequently about how technology is changing the media industry—both on this site and in articles such as today's piece on media consolidation on Tech Central Station—and one of the most significant events yet is about to happen: the Nielsen service is about to begin reporting on how many people watch the advertisements on commercial programs, in addition to the previous convention of reporting how may people watch the surrounding programs.

The first such ratings will be released on November 18 of this year.

This is a highly important change, of course, and it has TV executives understandably nervous. In a time when DVRs and the TV remote make it easy for viewers to zip through commercials without watching them or to switch back and forth among various channels to avoid sitting through advertisements, the companies that pay for TV programs are of course intensely interested in knowing whether the programs are actually delivering viewers to their ads and not just to the programs around them.

The effect of this new information will not be solely on television, by any means. Certainly advertisers have already attempted to lure viewers to watch their ads by creating amusing scenarios, little mysteries, and the like—as they have always done, but now more commonly and perhaps a bit desperately. That's old news.

The real significance will be if the ratings cause advertisers to decide that they are not getting the best return on their investments in TV programming and choose to migrate more to newspapers, magazines, radio, and especially the Web. That would depress television's profitability, though over the long run it would continue to rise as the overall economy contnues to grow.

What it would do most profoundly, I think, is raise the attractiveness of the web.

And what that infusion of money will do will be to accelerate the corporatizaion of the web, although it will still remain a more diverse medium than television, with a buy-in cost of basically zero for content providers (meaning all of us). More money will flow to web content providers, a much larger proportion of whom will not be affiliated with corporate giants than is currently the case with any other communications medium.

If that happens, this could be another great tidal change in the American mass media. The opening of the media into a wider range of voices will continue and accelerate, and although efforts by big government and big business to control the communications media will continue, the technological and social momentum will almost certainly be too much for them to overcome.

I'm betting that the effect will not be immediately obvious but that over time it will indeed be momentous.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Evolution Of A Conservative: Strongholds And Salients

I'm principally a military engineer, for which reason (among others) my thinking tends in a military direction on susceptible subjects. Politics being the pursuit of power over others without the overt use of force, political philosophy qualifies as such.

Tactical analysis of ground-war situations seeks to discriminate between defensible and indefensible positions. The infantry can't be on the move all the time; when it's not, the positions it seeks to hold must be defensible, or it will be assaulted and possibly overrun. Though this sort of consideration is less emphasized in modern military studies, it retains a certain fascination for military historians, particularly those who focus on World War I.

One of the lessons of World War I is of the danger of salients to the side that holds them. A salient is a distinct forward protrusion in an otherwise smooth defensive line. Unless the natural features of the terrain dictate otherwise, such a bulge tempts a two-pronged converging assault -- "pinching the salient" -- to create a breakthrough. Such assaults were several times critical to events on the Western Front. The sole effective counteraction is to withdraw from the salient, smoothing the line to a uniform defensibility.

American conservatives, whose natural inclination is to defend that which they consider good, have several times in the past century tied themselves to positions on specific issues that had become indefensible because of larger cultural and technological changes. In sober truth, the larger changes have sometimes been deplorable, but such things are not easily reversed, and their effects on the enforceability of certain kinds of laws must be respected. For example, the ubiquity of the automobile has indirectly made laws against adultery, which at one time was a felony in every state, completely unenforceable. Changes in popular attitudes toward sexual pleasure have similarly vitiated the laws against (consensual) sodomy. Changes in popular attitudes toward intoxication have eliminated all serious possibility of enforcing the many laws about drug use. The list could be extended, but the point has been made.

When William F. Buckley defined the conservative as "one who stands athwart the gates of history crying 'Stop,'" he was principally thinking of the Communist tide and the seemingly inexorable advance of statist impositions through America's free-market economy, but topics such as popular sexual morality, drug use, and gambling were undoubtedly part of his concerns as well. During the decades immediately after World War II, the usual response to conservative plaints was to ignore them. Politically, intellectually, and socially, statist liberals were in the power seats. After the New Deal years, they appeared to be cemented into them. Even self-nominated conservatives such as Dwight D. Eisenhower were well disposed, in practical terms, toward the statist trend.

The conservative dilemma of those years was that not every position we wished to defend was defensible. Statist intrusions on the economy could be fought, though we did a poor job of it. The cultural milieu was a tougher nut. In time, technological advances plus the perfusion of American culture by hedonistic assumptions had made State enforcement of sexual and self-abuse morals, among others, impossible -- even self-defeating.

Many conservatives lament the surrender of those positions. Some of them have good reasons, too: many of the fruits of the Sexual Revolution, in particular, have left a bitter taste. But given the enveloping techno-cultural environment, such things are political salients whose defense is impossible. Stubbornness about them exposes conservatism to great damage with no practical prospect of gain.

The most recent crop of conservative thinkers and pundits have dramatically de-emphasized old-style "State moral conservatism," which the past century's technological and cultural changes have so greatly undermined. Most of these voices are moderately to strongly in favor of decriminalizing drug use; they have little to say about gambling or premarital sex. From a political perspective, this is to the good, and not only for tactical reasons. To harp on such things made their predecessors look unattractively priggish, which weakened their ability to reach the broad national audience on subjects about which it was still reachable.

None of this should be taken to imply that the older "moral conservatism," shorn of its explicitly political aspects, was in any sense wrong. It had become unenforceable -- indefensible -- in a practical sense. Doggedness about it, even when conservatives are in power, would require the weakening or outright retraction of Constitutionally guaranteed rights of great importance, but would not materially improve the chances of success. It would also drain the vitality from initiatives toward greater economic liberty premised on those rights.

Conservatives have begun to learn to beware the policy salient and concentrate on the stronghold of defensible principles. More is necessary, but well begun is half done.

More anon.

ABC Rethinks Saturday Nights, Shuns Babysitters

Saturday night has long been a desert on television because the networks and cable channels came to the conclusion that nobody worth chasing for advertisers is at home then. Hence they largely programmed cheap shows that had a chance of appealing to babysitters.

Much of the Saturday night programming in recent years has been replays of theatrical movies which most people have already had several chances to see in the theater and on other cable channels, magazine programs about murderers, and reruns of shows that had appeared earlier in the week. That's why the nets run those three-hour marathons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on Saturday night.

Of course, such a choice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If purveyors program only for teenage girls, then teenage girls is the audience they are going to get—if that.

That's why it's interesting to see ABC trying something different, running college football on Saturday nights.

Michigan State's Ervin Baldwin (51) celebrates his second-quarter touchdown on an interception against Notre Dame during a college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006, in East Lansing, Mich. At left is Michigan State's Demond Williams (9). (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

The games they've chosen so far this season have been good ones, and last night's Notre Dame-Michigan State matchup turned into an "instant classic," as the announcers aptly described it.

Notre Dame went into the game under intense scrutiny after their loss last week to Michigan, and the Irish got behind early and stayed there nearly all the game. Heavy winds and driving rain roared into the stadium throughout the second half, making it immensely difficult to mount a passing attack on offense, which made it even tougher for ND to score points and mount a comeback.

On top of all that, the wind direction actually reversed at the end of the third quarter, when the teams switch goals, so that the Irish had the wind against them the entire second half of the game, instead of being able to move with the wind in the last quarter.

In the end, however, the Irish stormed back as their defense finally managed to put some pressure on Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton, and the ND offense finally kicked into gear as QB Brady Quinn started to show better throwing accuracy and/or his receivers managed to run their routes more accurately.

In the end, the Irish won 30-27 on a 27-yeard interception return for a TB by ND cornerback Terrail Lambert.

Notre Dame's Terrail Lambert intercepts a Michigan State pass and returns it to score the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter a 40-37 college football win over Michigan State, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Notre Dame didn't look like a potential national champion by any means, but it was a great game—and it certainly was much more interesting than another episode of 48 Hours Mystery.

It's good to see ABC try this, and it seems to me that it will be a good thing if the choice proves successful.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Offending Christians OK at NBC, Bothering Atheists Not an Option

Yesterday we noted that NBC is leaning toward including Madonna's mock crucifixion scene when it airs her concert special in November. Catholic and Orthodox church organizations have protested the aging pop star's inclusion of the scene in her concert shows, and they will undoubtedly view a decision by NBC to run it as an insult to Christians.

As noted yesterday, NBC is probably going to run the scene, and there will probably be complaints from Christians.

NBC will undoubtedly be willing to endure any controversy and in fact expect to benefit from it.

Not so with atheists.

NBC is airing the Christian program Veggie Tales, but it has censored out all refernces to Christ and Christianity. According to the AP report,

Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber always had a moral message in their long-running "VeggieTales" series, a collection of animated home videos for children that encourage moral behavior based on Christian principles. But now that the vegetable stars have hit network television, they cannot speak as freely as they once did, and that has got the Parents Television Council steamed.

The conservative media-watchdog group issued a statement Wednesday blasting NBC, which airs "VeggieTales," for editing out some references to God from the children's animated show.

"What struck me and continues to strike me is the inanity of ripping the heart and soul out of a successful product and not thinking that there will be consequences to it," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council. "The series is successful because of its biblical world view, not in spite of it. That's the signature to `VeggieTales."'

The references to Christ and Christian values offended the network's broadcast standards, the AP story reported:

Two weeks ago, NBC began airing 30-minute episodes of "VeggieTales" on Saturday mornings. The show was edited to comply with the network's broadcast standards, said NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks.

"Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view," she said. . . .

All programs set to air on NBC must meet the network's broadcast standards, said Alan Wurtzel, a broadcast standards executive. "VeggieTales" was treated the same as any other program, he said.

"There's a fine line of universally accepted religious values," he said. "We don't get too specific with any particular religious doctrine or any particular religious denomination."

Veggie Tales DVD cover art

The program's creator/producer, Steve Vischer, said he understands the network's position:

"VeggieTales is religious; NBC is not," he said. "I want to focus people more on `Isn't it cool that Bob and Larry are on television?' "

What NBC thinks is cool is something a bit different: grabbing a particular audience of impressionable young people without offending powerful anti-Christian advocacy groups such as People for the American Way and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

To get uncensored copies of the Veggie Tales programs, click here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tribune Co. Joins Reversal of Media Consolidation

The nascent but distinct and ongoing reversal of the corporate consolidation of the U.S. media received another boost yesterday with the Tribune Co.'s announcement that it is willing to sell any or all of its 11 newspapers and 25 television stations.

The Tribune Co. announcement follows hard on the heels of the selloff of a dozen newspapers by Knight Ridder, which was the nation's second-largest newspaper chain (after Gannett).

“The restructuring of these partnerships frees the company to move quickly to pursue strategic alternatives to further enhance shareholder value,” said Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons. “Under these terms, all shareholders benefit.”

The firm's newspapers have been hit hard by competition from the internet, as the New York Times reports:
The media business has been in turmoil as readers, viewers and advertisers have shifted their habits and turned to the Internet. Newspapers in particular are facing a slump in circulation and little growth in advertising revenues while at the same time facing rising costs.
The competition has depressed the media giant's stock price, and the only thing that has raised it, interestingly, has been the increasing recent rumors that Tribune Co. would divest itself of some of its holdings:
Tribune shares, like those of other public media companies, have weakened significantly over the last few years, falling 36 percent since 2003, when Mr. FitzSimons took over. But the stock has risen recently as speculation has increased that it might sell some assets, and it shot up 4.4 percent yesterday.
As reported earlier on this site, the corporatization and business consolidation of the U.S. media, which began in the 1960s and caused much anguish among leftist critics and media analysts, was in fact a positive thing that actually increased competition in American mass media. And as I noted in in the post cited at the head of this paragraph, it was always very likely that the consolidation would reverse once it became necessary in order for media firms to make themselves leaner and more effective at responding to competition. This, too, will increase competition and will ultimately be a good thing, as I suggested earlier.

The current de-consolidation, then, is a response to competition and will itself create greater competition.

That is how markets work: brilliantly.

From Karnick on Culture.

NBC to Air Mock Rock Crucifixion?

Madonna crucifiedNBC TV is pondering what to do about rock singer Madonna's upcoming TV special on the network. A video of the middle-aged pop star's latest concert will be broadcast on the network in November. The problem: Madonna sings one song, "Live to Tell," while suspended on a cross, bound by silver cuffs and wearing a crown of thorns.

Catholic and Orthodox church groups have protested the spectacle. Madonna defends it by saying that it is not "anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous." She says that in fact Jesus himself would be just like her if he were here today: "It is no different than a person wearing a cross or 'taking up the cross' as it says in the Bible. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing."

OK. . . .

NBC will probably air the scene. E! Online reports:
NBC President Kevin Reilly told TVGuide.com several weeks ago that the scene will probably stay put because Madonna "felt strongly about it" and considers it a highlight of her show.

"We viewed it and, although Madonna is known for being provocative, we didn't see it as being ultimately inappropriate," Reilly said.
This was a foregone conclusion, really. The scene is obviously a central part of the show, and the network would be subjected to widespread scorn if it deleted it. They wouldn't have bought the program if they weren't wiling to air the scene.

As to what it all means, I suspect that most of the audience will get the message Madonna is trying to send in her usual unsophisticated, unsubtle way: that religion is all about caring about other people and doing good works.

That sounds nice on the surface, but it is very bad theology because it considers only half the story—the part about loving God with all one's heart, and all one's soul, and all one's strength is missing, and it is the foundation for the message about loving one's neighbor as oneself.

Nonetheless, I doubt that the scene will have any real effect on what people think about the Almighty, one way or the other.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugo, Ghoul

Yesterday's peroration by Hugo Chavez at the United Nations was historic. His referring to President Bush as the Devil is more than a sideshow, a vaudeville act or a burst of insanity. It is a precedent. No one has ever ratcheted up the hostile rhetoric to that plateau. Nobody. Not even wacky old Baroody from Saudi Arabia with the two-hour rambles. And it is never good when folks stop trying to put their best face on in public.

As for the content of his message, and that of Ahmadinejad who preceded him to the pulpit, I took my scalpel to it in my patented way in today's The American Spectator.

Ironically, perhaps, their jabbering deflected attention away from President Bush's own address. The President said a series of horrific things that are neither accurate nor sensible. He declared that the Palestinians have been undergoing the "daily humiliation of occupation", which is total bullhockey. He also said that the Palestinian vote for Hamas was not a vote for terrorism but for reforming corrupt governmental institutions. That goes well beyond naive into Jimmy Carter-like duncish self-delusion.

And so yet another well-intentioned President bites the dust in the Arab-Israeli conflict, substituting wish fulfillment for sensible analysis. Something like the syndrome noted by the Wall Street Journal some years ago of people who visit the Wailing Wall and suddenly decide they are the Messiah or Elijah.

Patrick Henry Would Be Appalled

Y'know, I'm like many or most Americans these days in feeling zero responsibility if the factions in Iraq choose to fight each other until the last man, woman or child is standing. We gave them their freedom and even now spend our blood and treasure to help them keep it.

The war is over. This is now a mission of mercy, and yes, the dreaded nation-building, a distinction I deeply wish our president would make. We discharge any moral obligation every day and even if we packed up and left now, the US and the UK have nothing to apologize for.

Because the Kurdish people are free and thriving. And you know what, they're thankful to America. You could look it up. If the end result is freeing only the one-third or so of Iraq that has decent people in it, and which has taken the baton of freedom from tyranny and run with it, that is good enough. I heard a Kurd on the radio today reporting that five new universities have been built since Saddam's well-earned whacking, where before there was only one.

If the tyrants and moral cowards (yes, France, I'm talking to you) of the world hate us, and they do (and they should), as evidenced in the past few days by the pathetic circus that is the United Nations, we should wear their scorn as a badge of glory. You can judge a man, or a nation, by its enemies.

And when Patrick Henry exclaimed give me liberty or give me death, it was beyond his imagination that when both options are available anyone would choose the latter.

But if that's the way the other two-thirds of Iraq wants it, who are we to interfere?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Arnold and the Nice Sea Otters

More news from the Golden State. Governator Arnold has just signed a bill allocating some tax dollars toward saving sea otters. And how did this historic law come to pass? Well, the bill was promoted by Assembly Democrats Dave Jones and John Laird, the former of whom has a son "who cried upon learning that the threatened California sea otter population is not thriving." I am not making this up.

New York Times Redesign to Distinguish News, Opinion

The New York Times has implemented a fairly subtle redesign in its print editions today.

Henceforth the paper's news stories will have justified text, meaning that they have an even margin on both left and right. Stories that include any analysis or opinion will have a ragged right margin, in which most lines end before reaching the right side of the printed column.

The only exception will be the editorial pages, where the justified margins will remain.

The newspaper's editors say they do not expect the change to be obvious to most readers, but they think that it will have a "subliminal effect" in providing readers unconsciously with the critical distinction between news stories and opinion or analysis.


Noting that many readers had expressed confusion and dismay over the frequent inclusion of reporters' opinions in what were ostensibly news stories, and the resulting impression that the newspaper was surreptitiously trying to inculcate readers with a left-wing bias, the Times's "credibility committee" recommended the slight redesign.

From Karnick on Culture.

Competition on the Web

As noted earlier on several occasions in this space, big media companies are doing their level best to extend their current broadcast, cable, and satellite hegemony to the internet. Rupert Murdoch talked about his firm's strategy yesterday. News Corp's approach goes against the grain of current trends, which is for media firms to develop connections with internet portals.

Murdoch said that News Corp, the parent company of the Fox brands, is going to use a moden in which web surfers are expected to go directly to the firm's various sites. AP reports:

Rupert Murdoch told an investor conference Tuesday that he didn't see a need to distribute programming or other media content from his News Corp. conglomerate through Internet portals.

Murdoch, asked why he hadn't made deal with large aggregators of online content like Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) or Microsoft Corp.'s MSN portal, said he didn't see that strategy as necessary for building Internet traffic.

"We're not sure the portal model is the way of the future at all," Murdoch told a conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs. "We think people are going straight to the sites."

Murdoch, whose acquisition of the hugely popular social networking site MySpace.com has inspired envy among other media moguls, cited the example of Yahoo's HotJobs employment site, but noted that Internet users might go to any number of other Web destinations that also carry job listings.

Given his history, I wouldn't bet against him.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fox to Chase Christians

Still image from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeAs I wrote in The Weekly Standard a few weeks ago, the best way for Christians to affect Hollywood is not to protest but to go to more movies, make clear their love for the medium, and praise Hollywood for what it does right.

(Regular readers of this site and the author's other writings will know that I live by those words.)

Now Fox Entertainment is showing exactly how quickly and surely such a strategy can work. The LA Times reports:

In the biggest commitment of its sort by a Hollywood studio, News Corp.'s Fox Filmed Entertainment is expected to unveil plans today to capture the gargantuan Christian audience that made "The Passion of the Christ" a global phenomenon.

The home entertainment division of Rupert Murdoch's movie studio plans to produce as many as a dozen films a year under a banner called FoxFaith. At least six of those films will be released in theaters under an agreement with two of the nation's largest chains, AMC Theatres and Carmike Cinemas.

The first theatrical release, called "Love's Abiding Joy," is scheduled to hit the big screen Oct. 6. The movie, which cost about $2 million to make, is based on the fourth installment of Christian novelist Janette Oke's popular series, "Love Comes Softly."
The production costs for this film do not sound exactly stunning, but the picture is obviously an experiment and a way of gauging exactly what the market is for such films on a regular basis, as opposed to big-budget "event" films such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series. That makes good business sense for Fox and is good for the Christian audience in that success will not be defined as huge box office grosses but by a much more modest standard:

FoxFaith films, to be based on Christian bestsellers, will have small budgets of less than $5 million each, compared with the $60-million average. The movies each will be backed by $5-million marketing campaigns. Although that is skimpy compared with the $36 million Hollywood spends to market the average movie, the budget is significant for targeting a niche audience, especially one as fervent as many evangelical Christians.
There appears to be a huge market out there for Christian programming, the LA Times, story notes:
For instance, "The Passion" grossed $612 million worldwide, thanks in part to its appeal to Christians. Another spiritual odyssey, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," took in $745 million globally. Most recently, Christians came out for this summer's controversial "The Da Vinci Code," which has brought in $754 million worldwide.
The risk inherent in sending out a stream of low-budget films is that Fox will conclude that Christians will watch any kind of crud as long as it includes a scene in which a major character "accepts Christ into their life," which is what Christian fiction today all too commonly consists of. Fortunately, the studio seems to be after something quite different from that:
"A segment of the market is starving for this type of content," said Simon Swart, general manager of Fox's U.S. home entertainment unit.

"We want to push the production value, not videotape sermons or proselytize."

Aesthetic quality and an understanding of the subject matter will be essential to the plan's success:
"If this is something Fox is doing only to exploit the audience — or if it's something they don't believe in or are doing cynically — then there could be problems," said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, a box-office reporting service. "There isn't a huge turnout for these films unless they speak to what Christianity is all about. People want a guide to life and Hollywood has ignored that by saying nothing or dwelling on vices."
It makes great business sense for Fox to pursue a new and strongly defined audience as movie box office intake has been decreasing in recent years:
Over the last four years, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has quietly built a network to mobilize evangelical Christian moviegoers in an era of diminishing box-office returns. The network includes 90,000 congregations and a database of more than 14 million mainly evangelical households.
Other studios are watching and considering whether to follow suit:
New Line Cinema's "The Nativity Story," scheduled to be released in December, tells the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter to give birth to Jesus. Legendary Pictures, which has a multi-film deal with Warner Bros., is planning to make a movie version of John Milton's epic 17th century poem about the fall of man, "Paradise Lost."
The latter sounds very interesting indeed, with its clear potential for grand drama and powerful visual imagery.

One hopes that Christians have learned—or relearned—that a customer has much more influence than a scold.

From Karnick on Culture.