Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—Churchill

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hell Just Froze Over: MSM Reveals Positive News from Iraq

And Newsweek Magazine of all places. I’m telling you that I was flabbergasted as I read this. One could expect such a report from NRO, The Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, you know, the conservative underground. But right out in the open at Newsweek’s international edition website? I wonder if the editor and writer might be looking for work in the next day or two.

Ok, enough of the sarcasm. I’ll let the title do the introduction: “Blood and Money: In what might be called the mother of all surprises, Iraq's economy is growing strong, even booming in places.” Of course it wouldn’t be quite so surprising if anybody in the MSM would have been paying attention these last few years. Think about it (I know, liberal journalists don’t really think), on any given day let’s say there are a dozen bombings and dozens die. Very sad, of course, and frustrating to no end, but this in a country of 25 plus million people roughly the size of California. The impression our friends in the media leave us with is that every square inch of the country is a bloody mess. It ain’t!

Check out some of the startling statistics:

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

Just think if for every 10 blood and misery stories there were just a few in our mainstream media like this, that actually explored more about Iraq than death and mayhem. Bush’s poll numbers would be up by at least 10%, the Republicans would still control Congress, and Democrats would be revealed for the cowards and political opportunists they are.

Is it so surprising that Iraq’s economy is so robust? As much negativity as is spread about the Iraqi people very little is said about the resilience and determination they obviously possess. The bad guys in the country are a small minority, but fear and example carry a lot of leverage. So many Iraqis keep quite and try to survive, to get by hoping that one day this madness will all be over. You can equate that hope with a growing GDP.

The human spirit has proven again and again throughout history that it is ultimately indomitable. Even in the darkest times of the unimaginable evil that comes from the other side of human nature, mankind has refused to give up, to retreat, to say it can never be better. I have an idea. Let’s all call Time Magazine and tell them to change their choice for “person of the year.” I really don’t feel worthy anyway. Let’s set up a draft movement to make the Iraqi people Time Magazine’s “People of the Year.” They are indeed worthy.

I could quote and comment more on the article, but it would be a waste of your time. Just go and READ IT, and then tell others about it. Maybe, just maybe, one day the secret will get out that all is not lost in Iraq.

From his parents do we know him?

Clarence Page asks if we know Obama’s middle name, gives it, says now we know.  OK, but do we know he’s the son of two Ph.D.’s?  Now we do.  The Hussein middle name is easily dismissed.  So what?  Lots of people have it.  But two Ph.D.’s for parents?  Not only rare but instantly controversial.  Do we really want so academically infected a person to rule us? 

Besides, his hot-seller book is brainless, to go by Dick Morris’s account of it:

In reading Senator Barack Obama’s #1 bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, one begins to wonder whether he is another cynical politician or just a helplessly na├»ve neophyte.

Morris, a Clinton specialist from a ‘way back, excerpts with alarming aim:

Sometimes he sounds downright juvenile. Consider this missive, which opens chapter five: “One thing about being a U.S. Senator - you fly a lot.” Brilliant! It gets worse: “Most of the time I fly … in coach, hoping for an aisle or window seat” (But not always.) “ … there are times when … I fly on a private jet.” Then, “the flying experience is a good deal different.” Wow.

Obama’s first book got a rave from the Time Mag cover-story writer-cum-sycophant — it “may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”  Give him credit for the “may be.”  Otherwise, just gasp.

Or accept it.  In the Time writer’s account, Obama does come to life.  Ditto in lawyer-novelist Scott Turow’s Salon story.  The more recent book is the one that made him the big money, however.  And helped his candidacy.  Bad books do that.  He has all that education to live down.  The American people get suspicious.  Ever since Woodie Wilson the Princeton president. 

Can we imagine ourselves electing another in his image?  Dems give us Gore and Kerry, Repubs give us GW, whom I vastly prefer.  But the son of two Ph.D.’s?  That’s the thing to learn about the Big O.  See how that flies once he’s on the hustings full-time.

Slight omission

Fr. Jn L. can’t call God his father. So he changes wording of a standard prayer during mass, subbing “almighty God” for “almighty Father.”  Or he won’t, maybe because he considers it unfair to women. In either case, he should (a) get over it, maybe seeing God as his father will help him lose or crowd out bad memories of his father if that’s the problem, or (b) accept the idea that as mass-celebrant he is not a free agent but operates in service of something considerably bigger than himself, namely the church.

Later, from Reader M:

It's a trend. At my parish, the pastor says the "Our Father" correctly, but just about any other reference to "Father" he changes to "God." It's for the two feminists in the congregation. He also substitutes "friends" for "disciples" at the opening words of consecration — "gave it to his friends" rather than "gave it to his disciples." This rewriting by a local nudnick priest irks me.

Our one-year ordained, 40-something priest must never have had a lick of Latin. He called it "Gow-dee-tee" Sunday today. A year ago he wanted to give a Latin touch to the Mass and said, "ecce PECK-atta mundi." [It’s “ecce” (behold) “agnus Dei” (lamb of God), who takes away the sins (“peccata”) of the world, or “the sin,” say some]  Oy vey. I recommend Lutheran Hour’s Rev. Ken Klaus on WGN-AM Sunday mornings 6-6:30 a.m. central. Good homily, usually on our Sunday Gospel.

Same as RC gospel, by the way.  Homilies are a longstanding RC problem.  Weak or even bad preaching is a specter haunting the RC church.  It’s not clear what RC bishops can do about this problem of the Uneducated Priest beyond holding a second Council of Trent — not an option at this point.  Commonweal Mag has been grappling with this problem. 

The Catholic priesthood in the United States stands at a crossroads. An increasingly sophisticated Catholic laity fills the church’s pews and staffs its ever-growing parishes, and yet the church has failed to produce a corps of new priests to match it-in either quantity or quality.

Longtime church researcher Dean Hoge “paints a worrying portrait”:

[T]oday’s new clergy are not only fewer in number but also older, less educated, less thoroughly schooled in theology, and less likely to see its relevance to ministry.

There was bad news already:

[T]he Keystone Conferences, which convened Catholic seminary faculties annually from 1995 to 2001, assessed merely 10 percent of their priesthood candidates as highly qualified, and estimated that roughly 40 percent exhibited educational shortcomings ranging from insufficient preparation to learning disabilities.

Now Hoge has discovered “a striking drop in theological preparedness”:

In 1990, only 17 percent of diocesan priests in his sample required remedial pre-theology courses after entering the seminary. Today, that figure has leapt to 47 percent. In focus groups, some priests even voiced serious doubts about the relevance of their theology courses to their ministry. How then can they hope to relate doctrine to experience when parishioners come knocking for counsel?

Or when they pew-sit and would rather not hear pet notions proclaimed during the canon.  How dare they?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trouble, I got trouble

It troubles me that a certain sentiment “troubles” Dawn Turner Trice in today’s Chi Trib. Her issue is Bill Cosby talking up hard work and perseverance to school parents when he recently settled a sexual harrassment suit. She is troubled by people’s paying it no attention because they like Cosby’s message.

She’s come a long way since January, 2001, when she gave considerable ink to a similar view about Rev. Jesse Jackson, exposed as a philanderer and father of an illegitimate child. Rev. J. had “taken a jump [actually several, over many months] and left a package,” realizing concerns voiced by an A.M.E. pastor in Iowa City about a handsome visitor who was giving his pretty daughters some attention in the summer of ‘63.

Not a problem, according to one of Trice’s sources in a Tribune piece.

"You deal with this the same way you deal with Bill Clinton," [Lorn Foster, an American politics professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.] said. "You teach fallibility."

In that respect, Foster said, almost every newsmaker in the 20th Century has had indiscretions and public failings.

"Really, if you use that criteria for not teaching Jackson . . . how do you teach Franklin Delano Roosevelt? How do you teach JFK?" Foster said.

Trice was not troubled by this, but she is by Cosby-excusing. Almost six years have elapsed, and that may be why. Who knows? In any case, my being troubled at her being troubled has less to do with Cosby vs. Jackson — middle-class values vs. victimhood in rebellion — than with a writer trying to disguise her feelings.

You can condemn someone faintly but tellingly. That is, you can be troubled when you’re actually pissed off, or should be, based on the data you present. In which case as a writer, you’re in trouble.

A Christmas Film to Remember

Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, Turner Classic Movies is showing an excellent Christmas film, one which I recommend highly. Remember the Night (1940) stars Barbara Stanwyck as Lee Leander, a beautiful shoplifter in a big city (New York City, I think), whose court case is continued until after Christmas by clever assistant district attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray, who would costar with Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's 1944 venture into film noir, Double Indemnity), who realizes that no jury will convict her right before Christmas.

When Lee is led away to jail, however, Sargent's conscience convicts him, and he posts bail for her. Lee, however, has no money and nowhere to go, so when he discovers that she is from Indiana, where he is about to go to visit his family for Christmas, he offers to drive her to her mother's house.

Lee's mother, however, despises her because Lee never could live up to the puritanical woman's perfectionist standards of behavior, and the mother coldly turns Lee away at the door. Jack begins to understand how Lee ended up as a thief and so tough herself (to steel herself against the hurts she is sure are always on the way), and he brings her home to have Christmas with his family.

Barbara StanwyckNaturally Jack and Lee fall in love with each other, and a less suitable match could hardly be imagined. Further complications ensue, of course, and a pair of difficult moral choices arise, one for each half of the couple. They both ultimately do the right thing, with Jack the prosecutor showing impressive sympathy and mercy, and Lee the thief showing powerful moral strength.

As this description should make clear, Remember the Night goes to the heart of the Christmas story: redemption. And what is most wonderful about the film, helmed by steady Paramount studios house director Mitchell Leisen from a superb screenplay by Preston Sturges, is that it doesn't limit the theme to its obvious subject, the thief Lee, but also shows it in play in Jack and all the other characters.

This is a film that not only keeps the surface aspects of Advent and Christmas in the foreground but also, and more importantly, stresses the real meaning behind it, our human condition and overwhelming need for a a Savior.

This is one you really should not miss. As far as I can determine, the film is not avaiable in any official release on DVD, but a VHS version is available.

Highly recommended.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Brilliance of "Going My Way"

This is another long post, so I'll begin it here and invite readers to finish reading it at Karnick on Culture.

Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald in Going My WayTV stations tend to show the great 1944 film Going My Way, directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, more often around Christmas, even though only a couple of scenes are set during Advent.

The film, however, always repays watching. In particular, it illustrates the superiority of moral suasion over coercion in the creation of civil order -- a lesson always worth remembering. Although Going My Way won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the film's reputation rapidly declined beginning in the 1960s, and critical consensus has long dismissed as trite, sentimental, and unsophisticated. This is an entirely erroneous and indeed dimwitted interpretation of the film, and one that cries out for redress.

The story is familiar: easygoing, likeable Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned by the local Catholic bishop to help bring St. Dominic's Church, a faltering urban congregation led by Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), back to its feet and in particular to overcome its financial problems. Crosby's O'Malley represents the liberal side of the church -- as it was then manifested, it is important to remember -- and Fitzgibbon the conservative aspect.

The key element here is that Crosby's liberalism is entirely limited to means, not ends; he is merely trying to find ways to enable the church to treat the ills of a rapidly changing society, not to change its doctrines of belief. In the end, of course, O'Malley's approach proves surprisingly successful, and he is sent on to the next challenge. What is in the middle is a very intelligent, sophisticated, decent, and engaging film -- exactly what we should expect from McCarey, who is now greatly underrated.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the centrality of the motif of generational conflict, and specifically of reconciliation between parents and children. As such, authority is a central concern. Fathers O'Malley and Fitzgibbons initially suffer a good deal of conflict, until O'Malley is placed explicitly in a position of authority when Fitzgibbons consults the bishop and is told that O'Malley is now in fact his superior.

O'Malley had not told him this, preferring to spare him any emotional hurt, though it of course made O'Malley's work much more difficult. Their personal conflicts play out as a clear father-son type of relationship, and they end only when the father figure realizes that the time has come for him to hand over the reins of the "family" -- St. Dominic's church, of course -- to his "son". McCarey and the actors beautifully display the mixture of pride and melancholy in the handover of authority: Fitzgibbons is initially humiliated by it, but ultimately is proud of the fine man the Church has raised up to replace him. . . .

Continued at Karnick on Culture, here.

In the tank

Let’s hear it for NW suburban Gurnee neighbors of Chi Bears DT Tank Johnson for calling the cops about his pit bulls, pot smoking, and gunfire.  Ditto for Gurnee and other N. Suburban cops who knocked down his front door to get the loaded guns, etc. and rescue the two kids from accidentally getting plugged. 

Bad cess to Tank for failing to adapt to new surroundings, i.e. middle-class, law-abiding, orderly behavior as practiced in crispy-clean ‘burb as opposed to gun-totin’ SW U.S., where he came from and pot-smoking friends of which he has too many.

This is the issue here, not repressive gun or drug laws, which often deserve to be the issue.  Adapting to surroundings is the thing: when you move into a neighborhood where people’s accepted ways of doing things are new to you, study these ways and adapt, unless you reject them as incompatible with your mores and moral code.  In that case, either get out or hunker down for a long-haul squabble if not fight to the death. 

Ah, but nobody thinks Tank Johnson was making a statement for gun and drug law reform.  Nobody.  He was just sloppy about running his own household, including, by the way, his not being married to the mother of the two little kids, which says something about his casual approach to a life of orderly behavior. 

He is not a globe-trotting Hollywood star spouting geopolitical opinion and ignoring protocol which most have to undergo in adopting foreign-born kids.  Nothing so vulgar.  He is nothing but a slob with bad habits who doesn’t know how to live — not in Gurnee, anyhow, which he is in process of discovering.  Pray for Tank’s enlightenment in the matter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Nature of Man, or: I'm feeling a little abolished lately

The great debate between the moderns and those who still cleave to classical philosophy is about the perfectability of man. The moderns think that as a species we're getting better, evolving, if you will, via politics and science. The classicists believe that man's perennial problems are fundamental and therefore permanent because they're in our nature.

So, when modern science evolves to the point where we no longer need intercourse to produce babies---oh, wait, it already has---will we forget how to do the nasty?

Not so far, if you read the tabloids, but it does give one pause and a shudder, especially if he's of the soon-to-be-obsolete male persuasion. Although certain clinics provide a receptacle and a turkey baster to salvage the proceeds of Onanism, in the forseeable future it looks like science will be able to make sperms out of eggs. The perfectable hive won't need us as drones or even Onanists, and all we'll be good for is philosophizing, starting wars, and leaving our underwear on the bathroom floor.

The Abolition of Man is what another fellow called it, in a different context but not all that different. In another generation or a hundred from now, it looks like my species would be laying me off.

(Oh well, enough of this, I'm out. A couple of games I really want to watch are coming on and I have to hunt down the remote so I can toggle back and forth. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. It's his nature.)

A Brutal Christmas Album

If you've read my article on Christmas music below, you probably noticed that the Omniculture has made itself thoroughly manifest in that area, providing an astonishing variety of music for the season, for every taste.

And some for those with no taste at all, or at least an infinite sense of humor and boundless tolerance for chaotic assaults on the senses. Everything happens in the Omniculture, as I've noted, and the following post from CybersMusic illustrates that perfectly: it documents a death metal Christmas album.

Thanks to Mike of CybersMusic for discovering this wonder of nature and troubling to listen to it. I hope that he is out of the psych ward by now, cor bless him. Here's his review:

A Brutal Christmas - The Season in Chaos

Now that we're into the 12 days of Christmas, it's time to unleash the Christmas music. When I think of this holiday season, I don't usually think of the word brutal, unless we're talking about the crowds in the shopping malls.

Thanks to my friend at work Mark, who shared this with me today. This is the funniest, yet absolutely worst idea ever! OMG, this redefines bad. Christmas songs, motorbated into death metal.

Well these eleven bands got together to cover their favorite Christmas songs and just about beat them to death. Death metal, that is. The album is A Brutal Christmas - The Season In Chaos.

Track four "Coventry Carol" is like, WTF? You call this Christmas music?!? This stuff makes me feel psychotic even when I'm straight. At least this title has the word Carol in it.

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence..." now that's a nice Christmas theme, isn't it?

I've never heard "The Little Drummer Boy" quite like this version. Tortured indeed.

The Christmas classics will never be the same again. My throat hurts after just listening to the vocals. Never mind the speed metal drumming and crunchy wall of guitars, or the throat ripping vocals.

Gotta love some of these names, too. Royal Anguish. Yep, it sure was. Tortured Conscience. More like tortured ears. Archer; Frank's Enemy; Hearken; EverSincEve; Faithbomb; Pure Defiance. Mmm, more egg nog. Throw another log on the fire. Crank it up to 11!

An amazon product review says "not for the faint of heart."

Aptly titled...A Brutal Christmas - The Season In Chaos. It could turn your red and green, black and blue.

Track Listing:
1. Angels We Have Heard on High by Archer
2. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Kekal
3. Mary Did You Know? by Royal Anguish
4. Coventry Carol (Lully Lullay) by Frank's Enemy
5. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silcen/O Come Emmanuel by Frost Like Ashes
6. The Little Drummer Boy by Tortured Conscience
7. O Come All Ye Faithful by Hearken
8. Child Messiah by Death Requisite
9. O Holy Night by EverSINcEve
10. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlement (take 2) by Faithbomb
11. Joy To The World by Pure Defiance
From Karnick on Culture.

The Sounds of Christmas

This one's rather long but it's somewhat informative and good fun, I think, so I'll begin it here and you can see the rest at its original home at Karnick on Culture. . . .

Advent is my favorite time of year, for all the conventional reasons, and Christmas music is for me an essential part of it. I listen to it as much as possible throughout the season. (I have found, alas, that this music does not work for me during other times of the year.) Unfortunately, there have not been many truly great Christmas songs composed during the past couple of decades, which means that most of the really good Christmas music is highly familiar to anyone who enjoys the airs of the season.

A shot of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert

Given that engendering a worshipful feeling is a strong part of the appeal of Christmas music for me, the specter of boredom is of course something to be avoided at all costs. Of course, the true classics never fade. By this I refer, naturally, to the major Christmas albums of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. All of these are quite beautiful and moving. Their makers were incredibly skilled vocal performers, and their talents easily overcome whatever human flaws these gentlemen may have had. The spirit shines through.

Unfortunately, I have listened to these recordings so many times that they now tend to slide into the background rather than capturing my full attention. Hence, they can no longer supply a steady diet of Christmas cheer, though they remain wonderful complementary dishes.

Bing Crosby White Christmas album cover artOne can, of course, cleanse the musical palate with a good many other Christmas albums of similar sorts, such as those by the Beach Boys, Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mario Lanza, Harry Connick Jr., Patti Page, Oscar Peterson, Mannheim Steamroller, Amy Grant, Dwight Yoakam, and even James Brown, Spike Jones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. As this list suggests, there is certainly a goodly amount of Christmas music for every taste, and probably an equal quantity for those with no taste whatever. As far as I can tell, in fact, I may be the only person in the country above the age of majority who has not yet released a Christmas album. This is something I hope to rectify soon. . . .

Continued for your pleasure here. Stop by and have a cup of nog.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Torah, Uncut

Not a thesis here, let alone an argument, and let alone a coherent one. Just "musing," an activity that the great and greatly underappreciated American scientist/philosopher, the Father of Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce said one should dedicate a few minutes to every day. Undoubtedly wise.

Aristotle was the great thinker about the order of all things. He was wrong about some and even many of them---the sun doesn't revolve around the earth, for instance. Still, he derived a lot of principles and truths by the purity of his thought alone that we still use today.

Although Western Civilization had mostly lost Aristotle, the great 12th century Jewish thinker Maimonides learned of him from the Muslims, who didn't.

Although he adored Aristotle, Moses Maimonides wrote that Aristotle's idea that the universe was eternal---always was and always had been---conflicted with Genesis. Maimonides wrote that if Aristotle were proven correct, he could live with that, but in the meantime, he'd hang with Genesis.

Ex nihilo, creation, ostensibly by Someone or Something, out of nothing.

800 or so years later, man in his scientific progress detected proof of a Big Bang. How 'bout that? Genesis was right after all. Weird.

Now, one can poke through the Mosaic Law and find a utilitarian explanation for say, keeping kosher. Some bad pig or rotten clams could do you in, and damned quick.

But the circumcision thing seems a bit perverse. It's reasonable to conclude that developing a layer of callous on the most sensitive part of a fellow's favorite protrusion decreases his sexual pleasure. But what would be the point of that? Genesis urges that man be fruitful and multiply, and the ancient Jews were not Puritans. (Sex is the proximate cause of human multiplication. You could look it up.)

Science, which is often synonymous with reason and fact, kicks up again lately in support of the Torah. In fact, the results were so exciting, clear, bold, and important that the researchers felt morally obligated to announce their findings immediately without waiting for further testing and peer review:

In the circumcized community, the transmission rate of the HIV virus seems to be chopped at least in half (and I suspect it's trimmed even more than that, as individual embarassments take a little off the top of surveys). Why, doesn't a tree live longer, render more fruit, and be less vulnerable to infection if it's pruned?

It stands to reason. Science and reason strike again, yet somehow the Bible got there first.

Not arguing, just musing, and wondering. Awed, perhaps. That's one Good Book, in a pragmatic sort of way.

The Inestimable Larry Miller

Larry Miller as Principal Jindraike in Disney's Max Keeble's Big Move - 2001Larry Miller is one of the funniest comedians around. Rather like a younger Bob Newhart but with a bit more of an edge, the balding, pudgy Miller has made a name for himself as a comic character actor in numerous movies and tv shows, but where he made his name was as a hilariously funny standup comedian who applied traditional morality and sound common sense to our crazy Omniculture society, a place that is simultaneously puritanical about progressive political shibboleths (such as tobacco, fatty foods, and economic freedom) and aggressively nonjudgmental about self-destructive personal behaviors such as sexual weirdness, drug abuse, willful ignorance, and atrocious manners.

Miller caught the inconsistencies and incongruities of that condition admirably, as in his memorable monologue about the five levels of alcohol drinking while on a night out, available here.

Miller has also become an accomplished writer of comic essays, primarily for The Weekly Standard's webpage, and he has a new book out, called Spoiled Rotten America, which sounds like great fun and a nice Christmas gift for your favorite blogger.

Comedy writer Warren Bell reviews it here. Here's an excerpt from the review:

Larry Miller is profound. He possesses an ability to look deep within a thing, whether it’s the racial divide in America, or the surpassing greatness of Lou Costello, and bring forth a richness of understanding, a new way of seeing it, or maybe a surprising and funny and sweet observation. His book is packed with laugh-out-loud moments, but they surround a wonderful, refreshing take on life, a traditionalist’s view that dares to note (for instance) that men are given to wander, but shouldn’t, because if they’re married, they promised not to. In the midst of a several-chapter rumination on adultery and the male libido in general, he hits on the Unified Moral Theory: “There’s no free lunch.”

Everything has a price, up front or later. That’s not cynical, it’s liberating, and a big step toward individual accountability, responsibility, and loyalty – which, if you think about it, is the whole point of the Ten Commandments to begin with. In fact, “There’s no free lunch” is a pretty good secular reduction of numbers 1 through 10 right there.

And here's a very brief excerpt from one of Miller's Weekly Standard Online pieces, discussing how he gives haircuts to his sons:

There was hair piled and sifted over everything in the room except for one place: the newspaper I had laid out. It was still as clean as when I slid it out of its womb that morning. It was amazing. That section couldn't have had less human hair on it if I'd left it wrapped on the driveway. The fact that it was also the section that has all the toupee and hair-restoration ads was not lost on me.

You can find Miller's Weekly Standard pieces here, and get more info on his book here.

Conan the Influential Barbarian

John J. Miller of National Review has put together a nice overview of Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" tales, for the Wall Street Journal. Miller notes that Conan has been a highly popular character in the original pulp tales and subsequent comic books, movies, and simply as a widely known fictional character. Miller's article is well worth reading as an introduction to this important literary phenomenon.

Comic book cover image of Conan the Barbarian
Conan was the muscular, aggressive hero of 21 narratives the lonely, unhappy, Texas-born and -based Howard wrote in the pulp era. Miller does a good job of describing the character and his influence:

With Conan, Howard created a protagonist whose name is almost as familiar as Tarzan's. In his influential essay on Howard, Don Herron credits the Texan with begetting the "hard-boiled" epic hero, and doing for fantasy what Dashiell Hammett did for detective fiction. Suddenly, the world--even a make-believe one such as Conan's Hyboria--was rendered seamier and more violent, and Howard described it in spare rather than lush prose.

Conan has a knack for locating damsels in distress, but he is no knight in shining armor who piously obeys a code of chivalry. Instead, he is a black-haired berserker from a wild and wintry land called Cimmeria. He has little patience for social conventions he doesn't understand. "The warm intimacies of small, kindly things, the sentiments and delicious trivialities that make up so much of civilized men's lives were meaningless to him," wrote Howard in "Beyond the Black River." Conan occasionally thinks his way out of a problem, but more often he reaches for a weapon and slashes his way out. "There's nothing in the universe cold steel won't cut," he boasts.

To this I would add the following brief observation:

The bleak, existential approach that Miller correctly attributes to the stories and which Herron traces to Hammett is a byproduct of the post-World War I culture in which writers looked at traditional values of honor and concluded that they were no longer viable in the cruel world that had been revealed by that horrendous war.

They were wrong, of course, in that the new world needed those values more than ever before, but that was the thinking, and the Conan tales reflected the violence of the trench wars superbly. They ironically brought the modern world to a mass audience through a series of adventures set in an ancient world. That is the kind of achievement pulp fiction can accomplish.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Black Cultural Crisis

The esteemed editor of this fine blog saved me from my ignorance. I had written a piece about an article of Stanley Crouch thinking he is a liberal. Boy was I wrong. Not sure how that happened. I know I’ve read stuff by him before, but for some reason I had liberal on the brain. What he says would have been astounding coming from a real liberal, but it’s merely fantastic coming from him. So we’ll consider this take two. I came across a bio piece in Salon from 1999 that gives some good background on what makes Mr. Crouch tick. I’m glad he’s on our side in the culture wars. Here is what the author says about the label that Crouch might carry:

Although routinely and incorrectly described as a black conservative, Crouch calls himself a "radical pragmatist." To the uninitiated, his philosophy might best be described as rigidly humanist. It centers on an unsentimental vision wherein we must fight the siren temptation to obsess about our (mostly superficial) differences, lest we miss the chance to embrace our (very real and very numerous) commonalities.

Now to my updated take on his most current missive . . .

As we’ve seen more and more black liberals are finally speaking the truth about the problems with black culture. Stanley Crouch has been doing this for years, and it could be argued he paved the way for black liberals to finally begin admitting the truth about the sickness of much of black culture. In a piece this week he writes about hip hop culture, and the degradation it promotes. Even better is how he calls white liberals and the black middle class on the carpet for their silence in the face of this scourge besetting black youth.

That was part of what has surely become a cultural crisis in which young black men adorn themselves with surface trappings and take on the obnoxious vulgarity of thugs in order to meet the expectations of young black women who have embraced their own degradation, seeming to find it sexy. That degradation is expressed in the misogynistic doggerel that dominates popular hip hop recordings.

Added to this low-lying mix are the supposedly sympathetic white liberals, who are more than happy to submit gutlessly to the black middle class. These white liberals have been intellectually hustled into believing that the inarticulate thug and the freelance slut are young black people in their natural state.

The black middle class, terrified of being defined as a group that kowtows to "white values," does not tend to have the nerve to stand up to this crabbed vision of life or ethnic "authenticity."

But, at the end of the ride, the ones losing and left holding the bag are neither white liberals nor the black middle class. The tragic losers are those black kids who believe that their true identity is achieved through illiteracy, thuggish behavior, dropping out of school and psychologically ingesting the subterranean attitudes toward women that are espoused by pimps. They are sloughing through a spiritual sewer, incapable of knowing just how much it stinks.

Wow. Those are some strong words that black elites cannot blow off so easily today. Bill Cosby, who several years ago who created “controversy” by saying things exactly like this, opened the door for others to admit the problem. It is likely that blacks like Crouch who have been preaching in the wilderness for years are finally getting through.

This is a profound condemnation of the very essence of liberalism. For at the core of modern liberalism is a kind of antinomianism, a conviction that to be truly “authentic” mankind, to use that antiquated phrase, need not be encumbered by constrictive moral laws. Of course nobody can live that way, but their hypocrisy never seems to bother them. So white liberals and the black middle class (90% of whom embrace a liberal Democrat Party) can vicariously live their amoral secular philosophy through black, and many white, youth.

Unfortunately turning around an entire culture is a very difficult thing (whether it be sick or infected), to state the obvious, and as long as liberalism eschews traditional morality and religion taking on hip hop and the black underclass will resemble spitting into the wind. Talk as we know is cheap, so it will take more than talk to change things. We also know a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (that’s a biblical allusion for you liberals out there), and the noxious fruit of liberalism has shown us these last several decades just how destructive is that tree.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I have a new paper on the effects of federal price negotiations for pharmaceuticals, as advocated by many of the Democrats (and others) for the new Medicare Part D benefit. You can see it here.
Comments welcome.

When the End Is the Means

Stephen Murmer has found a new way, perhaps a defining 21st century way, to suffer for his art.

Mr. Murmer is an art teacher at a public high school in Richmond, Virginia, by all accounts an amiable and popular instructor. Mr. Murmer is also "Stan Murmur, the *ss-Painter," who dunks various below-the-belt parts of his body into paint, smears them on canvas, and sells the creations online for hundreds of dollars apiece. (The sudden notoriety has caused bandwidth problems for his site, so don't all click the link at once, OK??)

Both students and faculty have known about the Professor Buttbrush alter ego for several years, and despite a certain unease no official reprimand was delivered, until this past week. Apparently, the school administration just became aware that "Stan Murmer" had appeared on a cable TV show to discuss and demonstrate his, uh, unique talent, and that moreover the clip was attracting attention on YouTube.

Mr. Murmer has been suspended with pay from his teaching duties while an inquiry is underway; the ACLU hovers above the scene squeaking about freedom of expression; the students find the whole controversy "kind of retarded" and no doubt Stan Murmur is going to become much better known and sell a lot more paintings once Jay Leno gets hold of this.

So the story combines several perennial TRC themes: the Omniculture, in its iconic YouTube incarnation; the duty of role models in a culture teetering on the edge of degeneracy; personal freedom vs. responsibility; and the possibility of a long string of barely tolerable puns and double entendres.

I'm posting this without a real opinion one way or the other. On the one hand, my high school art teacher was a prune-faced old scold with the personality of a stalag commandant and the creative scope of a rutabaga. She spent her instruction time ripping up students' work and redoing it in her own image, and in the six years I attended Westfield Jr.-Sr. High she never once unloaded the pottery kiln without cracking every single object inside. I would have traded her for Mr. Groucho Thong in a heartbeat. On the other hand, I had to admit relief that my daughter's art teacher spends her offtime serving in the Navy Reserve and we are unlikely to be treated to a look at her panties, on YouTube or anywhere else.

In an age when Chris Ofili's elephant dung painting is the hit of the Tate, painting pictures of tulips with your rear doesn't seem that cheeky.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Infected or Sick?

Recent exchanges here at The Reform Club have given your Curmudgeon to think, for the first time in a long while, about the gray and misty borderland between a sick culture -- i.e., one that's laboring under an explicit and undeniable cultural malady that could eventuate in disfigurement, disability, or death -- and one that's been infected by a toxic agent but has not yet begun to suffer visibly from it. The distinction is important, for many an infection merely strengthens its host without ever causing him the least inconvenience. The subject hasn't gotten a lot of hard thought, despite the passions cultural pustules can raise.

Your Curmudgeon intends to press hard on the biological analogy. Analogies are indifferently useful in policy analysis, but indispensable to cultural analysis, because a culture is itself an analogical conception. There is no object in the material realm to which one can point and say, "There's my culture. Like it?" Nor is a culture sufficiently abstract to be classed with items of pure logic; it invariably unites a profusion of physical and informational objects, which vary in innumerable ways, with a profusion of private and public attitudes toward them, which vary at least as widely.

Though there will undoubtedly be objections to any definition of something so diffuse, one must at least attempt to define a culture before proposing to assess its health. Here is your Curmudgeon's definition:

A society's culture is the union of its perceptible themes, motifs, and constraints in all aesthetic and semi-aesthetic matters with the attitudes toward them that prevail among its members and its sources of authority.

To this let us add conceptions of cultural infection and sickness:

A culture is infected if it has accepted elements which, under certain conditions, could cause sickness, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional, in members of its supporting society. A culture is sick if its dominant elements conduce to such sickness.

Yes, such a formulation raises important questions with non-obvious answers. For example, "intellectually sick" is a term one might never have encountered before happening upon this screed. Nevertheless, it has a clear meaning. As the intellect is our tool for acquiring useful knowledge about the laws that govern the world, an intellect is justly called sick if it is incapable of reaching correct conclusions about cause and effect. Intellects afflicted by an unshakeable belief in magic are therefore sick. "Cargo cults" are a typical real-world case.

But there are more pressing questions than that one. Is it really possible for a culture, defined in the fashion above, to induce significant maladies in individuals immersed in it? Since Man possesses free will, it should be possible to withstand anything non-material the world throws at one, no?

In theory, yes. In practice, not everyone possesses the strength or the endurance to hold off a culture-borne infection. The power of the culture arises from its ubiquity and its persistence; in many ways it's merely peer pressure writ large.

Consider the situation of a man bathed in a sea of disease bacilli. Perhaps he's entered a hospital whose sanitary standards are indifferent or worse; perhaps his family is currently down with "something that's going around." If his exposure is prolonged and his immune systems are not perfect, something is likely to establish a beachhead within him. Depending on the size of that initial colony and the stresses upon him, the invading bacilli might or might not succeed in multiplying sufficiently to cause him visible symptoms of illness: discomfort, fever, congestion, skin rashes, lesions, hallucinations, disorientation, or death. It's at that point that he would be called sick, but even if he were sufficiently strong to withstand the microbial invasion without ever displaying a symptom, it would still be valid to say he'd been infected.

It is defensible to say that American culture has been infected by several toxic elements:

  • Pointless prurience in art and fashion;
  • Sadomasochism as a motif in sexual depictions;
  • Entertainments that slander freedom, capitalism, and love of country;
  • "Art" that categorically rejects beauty as one of its objects;
  • "Music" that celebrates social ills from discourtesy to violent hatred;
  • Innumerable fictions and dramatic works that foster undeserved guilt and self-hatred, condemn procreation and undermine family feeling, promote hostility between the sexes, portray large categories of persons as intrinsically evil, or present ugly futures as inevitable.

No doubt this list could be extended, but the point has been made. Nor is it disputable that the psychic pressures engendered by such themes and motifs do afflict some Americans, particularly our younger set, to their detriment. The remaining question is one of degree: How many seriously afflicted infectees do we require to deem the culture itself as sick, rather than merely infected?

Questions of degree are endlessly debatable; just assemble a group of any size and try to get unanimity from it on what constitutes poverty. But many would allow that the proliferation of visible self-mutilations is at least disturbing. Many would allow that a youth population that seeks out entertainments specifically for their damaging qualities has some severe problems. And many would allow that a public sector that provides material support to ugly, offensive art, to "documentaries" that slander the nation itself, or to expressive works that condemn the principles upon which the society is based, is a danger sign of no small importance. Such infections are already claiming victims in significant numbers.

Your Curmudgeon would say that our culture is sick for one reason above all others: thanks to cultural infections of the sort tabulated above, nearly half of us have no confidence in our nation's ability to meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or uphold our vision of justice without abandoning its founding principles. A large number of Americans completely reject the philosophical basis of their country, for no better reason than that major cultural trends have imbedded that rejection as a core theme. How American society can continue to function, given so great a number of disaffiliated participants and hangers-on, is a huge question, upon whose answer the future of the nation will depend.

How parishes thrive

Rev. Jack Wall is leaving Old St. Pat’s in Chicago after 24 years.  He found four people when he arrived, now there are 3,000.  It hosts the famed “ass mass,” attended by spouse-seeking young Catholics.  It’s solvent and thriving, which is no small thing in our time.  Wall is off to the Extension (bishops’ missionary) Society, where his exquisite marketing skills should find an outlet.

Yes, marketing.  Wall has not let his light remain under a bushel, to adapt his Leader’s phrase.  Not only has he worked hard, beginning by hands-and-knees scrubbing of an encrusted rectory-kitchen floor.  He has demonstrated entrepreneurial shrewdness of the first order, finding a niche and filling it.

A, he has ridden the Irish-heritage pony hard.  The place reeks of Celtic ambience and draws disaffected or wandering Irish people from far and wide.  B, he has made it a hot gathering place for the young, whom he dispatched sometimes to various help-neighbor works such as tutoring kids at nearby, historically all-black St. Malachy’s parish on the West Side — historically not since its start, which was as Irish as St. Pat’s but declared black in the wake of black migration.  C, he has raised money and made important political connections, such as with the incumbent Mayor Daley and family.

None of it would matter if he and the other staff did not preach and teach and work hard for their own people, inspiring them to work for others.  But neither would this preaching etc. have mattered without the marketing.

His is the first of the Chicago Triumvirate of niche-marketed parishes which have been immensely successful in the last 30 years.  St. Sabina on the South Side is a black cathedral.  Rev. Michael Pfleger has made of that once-Irish bastion a gathering place for the well-heeled but race-conscious black community.  Al Sharpton has “preached” there (scare quotes by me).  So has “Minister” Farrakhan, who we presume did not make his crack about what’s under the Pope’s cassock.  But believe me, apart from these distractions from The Message, that St. Sabina jumps with Christian-related noise and joy.  Solomon in all his glory had not an orchestra like Sabina’s.

The other of the Three is St. John Cantius, whose modern founder and pastor, Rev. Frank Philips, who had been sent there by his Resurrectionist superiors to close the place — farsighted and idealistic they were, indeed — went to Wall for advice.  About niche marketing of The Word, to be sure, though Fr. Frank did not use the phrase when he told me about seeing Wall.  St. John C. is traditionalist, has had Latin masses (in addition to English) from the start of its renovation by Fr. F.  It has become a mecca for Catholics enamored of old-time Catholicism who also like splendid music.

All three churches are grand and old and sparklingly renovated.  All three parishes are busting with Catholics.  God hath wrought this in part through marketing skills of his ministers.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apocalypto Opens Strong

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, reviewed earlier on this site, opened strong this weekend, leading the movie box office race with a take of $14.2 million. That is much less than the opening weekend take of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which brought in $83.8 million in its first weekend in 2004.

Overall box office was down 25 percent from the same weekend last year, when The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opened. However, the relatively strong performance of Gibson's movie, which has no big stars and is set in the past and spoken in a defunct foreign language translated in subtitles, suggests that his recent run-in with the law and controversial statements made while under the influence of alcohol did not harm the film's appeal.

In fact, the publicity surrounding the incident and Gibson's contriteness may actually have spurred some interest in the film, according to an industry analyst quoted by the Associated Press. AP notes that the film's appeal was fairly broad: "Disney reported that Gibson's Apocalypto drew solid crowds across-the-board, with movie-goers equally split between men and women and the core of the audience ranging from 18 to 45."

From Karnick on Culture.

Augusto Pinochet, Rest In Torment

The AP writes quite approvingly that former Chilean strongman Gen. Pinochet is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead.

He's not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead.

I wonder if they'll write an equally bad review when his fellow cutthroat Fidel Castro finally croaks.

Fat chance. You put a "People's Republic of" or some such nonsense in front of a country's name and give them Universal Crap Healthcare, and you're a saint, not a tyrant, no matter who you waste.

(Mitt Romney recently figgered out this li'l fact, instituting a healthcare program as governor of the People's Republic of Massachusetts. If he weren't a Republican and a Mormon, the AP already would have anointed him heir apparent for January '09. But Romney has never disappeared anybody, which is why Massachusettsians, in their 1994 US Senate election wisdom, went for Ted Kennedy instead. By comparison, Romney is a bit of a slacker.)

Sunday, Sunday . . .

Soon it will be Christmas Day. . . .

Mary Ann gave me communion this morning with serious face. She did not greet me as if I had just arrived with six paying customers at her restaurant, grinning and seeking strong eye contact. I took the host with gratitude, to her as well as to the Savior who died for my sins.

Fr. John M. began his sermon with his walking the Brooklyn Bridge recently. I related to this, having walked it some months back myself. He pictured a sort of community forming, people going in the same direction as dedicated Christians do. Alas, my mind wandered as a cloud. Reader, I fell off that bridge before Fr. J. got to the end of his sermon. Maybe next time . . .

We prayed for those who "accepted the call to lead the church," and for a dreadful moment, my hearing failed me, and I thought the lady said "leave." That will be the day, when we make that prayer. However, the devil was at work in me in other ways, leading me to ponder those who angle and play cards right to make bishop. There have always been those among us. In fact, Our Leader warned us, did he not? Beware wolves in sheep's clothing?

Meanwhile, the parish came up in the black this year, by $51,000, while supporting the parish school, which had almost closed 18 months ago. The school's $198,000 deficit was borne by the parish, or -- for financial report purposes -- the church. Of the three categories, church, school, and religious education (of public school kids), only the church is in the black. Which is another way of saying that the parish's education ministry has been taken on by the parish.

And why not? Andrew Greeley, featured in a Sun-Times interview story today with the Lutheran church historian Martin Marty, once inveighed against Catholics who were ready to jettison parish schools. He convinced me but hasn't said anything about it lately, not in his newspaper columns at least, where George W. Bush and the Iraq war has been his focus. He and Marty were born on the same day, Sun-Times tells us. It was a good day for liberals.

They are called "icons" in a head, by the way. But Chi Trib uses "icon" today for the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose icons (images) are widespread in the Mexican community. If Greeley and Marty are icons, what the heck is the Virgin?

To return to preaching, where we began, Fr. Kilbridge, O.P., at St. Vincent's (another parish) the other day, preaching on the Immaculate Conception of that very Virgin, Mary -- out of Gualupe or otherwise -- quoted Wordsworth. In a throwaway reference, Fr. K. called her "our tainted nature's solitary boast." Boy. Here I am used to truly pedestrian references from the pulpit -- and I do not refer to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, which has great possibilities -- and this man quotes Wordsworth. W. was no Catholic, of course. He used the phrase in his poem, "The Virgin":

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast; . . .

W. died in 1950, four years before the pope "defined" the Immaculate Conception as a sure thing. No connection, we may be sure, except that W.'s using that language lends credence to the widespread belief that founded the definition.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chew This Over

After almost fifty years of promising, and failing to deliver, "no child an unwanted child," the acolytes of Margaret Sanger have a new weapon in their arsenal: chewable mint flavored birth control pills.

I am a little nonplussed at the fanfare surrounding this development. Having come late to Holy Mother Church and Her theology of the body, I have had a certain amount of experience with these products, and I can state from personal knowledge that your average birth control pill is about one-third the size of a Tic-Tac and could be swallowed by any mammal the size of a guinea pig with no complications. Why a chewable version is more appealing is lost on me.

It does occur to me, however, that there were howls of outrage when Eli Lilly compounded a liquid peppermint version of Prozac. They were called drug-pushers and child abusers, even though the liquid formulations of both Prozac and competitor Paxil had been designed for senior citizens who do often have trouble swallowing pills.

We all know what's going on here. Just put the stuff in bubblegum and be done with it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gibson's Apocalypto

Mel Gibson directs Apocalypto

Upon hearing that Mel Gibson was filming a story set at the end of the Mayan empire and performed in an ancient foreign tongue translated into subtitles, one might well have wondered what possessed Gibson to undertake such an odd task. Indeed, many people wondered exactly that.

Well, now we know, as Apocalypto premiered today in theaters across the United States. The film tells the story of a young father, Jaguar Paw, from a small tribe who is taken prisoner after a Mayan attack force destroys his village and takes the adult survivors back to the city to be sold into slavery or sacrificed to some alien "god." After a miraculous deliverance from the sacrificial blood altar, he escapes, pursued into the jungle by a Mayan SWAT team. At this point Gibson begins a remake of Cornel Wilde's 1966 film The Naked Prey, and the action sequences are as good as in most such films.

What is interesting about the film is how neatly it fits into Gibson's career and the themes of his previous films. At the center of Apocalypto is a man on the run trying to protect his family from an oppressive, violent, decadent regime, as is the central story of Braveheart, The Patriot, Signs, and others, or a surrogate family as in The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, We Were Soldiers, etc. And of course the theme of self-sacrifice for the good of others is the central idea of The Passion of the Christ.

In the case of Apocalypto, Gibson's choice of a story set in a distant time and place and spoken in an unfamiliar language strips away contemporary concerns and points us toward the central question of what exactly it is that causes people to do such violence to one another and exploit each other so routinely.

The film positively bursts with ideas. Gibson begins the film with a quote from the philosopher Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Gibson suggests that the Mayan civilization fell not because the Spanish we so powerful but because the civilization was itself so weak and decadent, a condition he makes clear in the scenes in the Mayan city. He also makes sure to draw out similarities between the Mayan civilization and contemporary Western society.

But he does not appear to do so simply in order to suggest that our society is decadent and that the real danger to us is not from Islam but from left-wing atheists (although he undoubtedly believes that to be true). No, the point is to bring out the universality of this human impulse to exploit and destroy. As an elder of the small tribe states in a campfire story early in the film, there is a hole in Man that causes him to take all that he can until the earth can give no more.

Gibson would call this hole Original Sin, and he clearly sees it as universal among human beings. But there is an antidote, he makes evident, and it too is universal, at least in availability. That is love. For it is Jaguar Paw's love for his wife and child that motivates him to escape and return to his village, in hope of rescuing them from a pit in which they were hiding from the invaders and are trapped.

Hence we see the familiar Gibson themes of self-sacrifice and the fight of the individual against a corrupt society. On the political level, the classical liberal idea of the home, family, community, and religion as superior to the state is as important in Apocalypto as in Gibson's other politically oriented films. The notion that social decadence and widespread self-indulgence lead to political oppression is another familiar Gibson theme evident in the film.

Expressing the film's religious foundation, Gibson provides images symbolizing baptism (two prominent ones) and a scene representing a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection. Religion is at the center of this film, and that religion is Christianity, despite the setting in a pagan civilization.

It's impressive indeed to see what is basically a silent film present so many interesting ideas. Gibson is most certainly a hghly talented and inventive film writer and director, and Apocalypto is a stirring example of what intelligent cinema can achieve.

From Karnick on Culture.

The Bane of Conservative Cultural Criticism

The Achilles heel of most conservative cultural critics is their tendency to characterize repugnant works of pop culture as establishing that society as a whole, or some great swath of it, is irredeemably corrupt. In commenting, for example, on Carol Iannone's scathing review of the pro-homosexual and apparently exceedingly vulgar and imbecilic British film The History Boys (written by the overrated and immensely asinine author Alan Bennett), Lawrence Auster of View from the Right claims that "the British elites despise their country, their culture, their history, and secretly or openly wish to have done with it all."

Auster says that this movie shows that Britain is on a "path to national suicide."

One play, of course, does not a culture make, and Auster can undoubtedly claim his point is that The History Boys is not conclusive in itself but is revealing as part of a massive chain of evidence of corruption. Auster, however, writes, "by the time the movie ended, the realization hit me that the British elites that created a movie like this, that praised and recommended a movie like this, seek with cold and deliberate malice the destruction of their country."

Now, that is surely wrong, and it is why conservatives so seldom gain much traction in discussions of culture. The "irredeemably corrupt society/elite" argument is simply an unsophisticated, incorrect, and uninteresting critique.

There is undoubtedly a significant proportion of the British elite that is as corrupt as Alan Bennett, and there is surely a goodly portion that is sympathetic to them although they cannot bring themselves to go that far. But there are also certainly a great many who don't accept the premises of Bennett and his ilk. That's the Omniculture: Everything happens.

A shot from TV program Footballers' WivesLook at the BBC and other British television, for example, and you'll find a good deal of material that is repugnant to the sensibilities of a reasonable, spiritually and mentally healthy person, and you'll also find much that is sensible and good. Even in openly sleazy shows such as Mile High and Footballers' Wives there are highly traditional assumptions and moral lessons to be derived. It all depends greatly on the viewer's own point of view.

Things are just a lot more complex than Auster appears to be willing to recognize. It seems clear to me that people are struggling, in England and the United States alike, to find a wordview, mentality, and culture that makes sense after the post-World War II demolition of American society's shared values. It is a process that is ongoing today, and no one can say where it will ultimately lead, whether toward destruction, regeneration, or a perpetual unhappy tension between the two. It is simply not ours to know at this point.

The fact is, anybody can cherry-pick a few especially vivid examples of popular culture on either the wilder or more traditional edges of the Omniculture and claim that things are getting worse or getting better. But the creation of simple dichotomies and the demonization of one's cultural enemies will get us nowhere. False and/or simplistic, Manichean statements simply undermine one's credibility and that of one's allies in the struggle to redeem the culture.

From Karnick on Culture.

TRC Emeritus Alan Reynolds' New Book

I don't know if Alan is still active one way or the other with TRC, but his new book is apparently out and it sounds like great stuff. Even though I've handed in my TRC retirement to blog with American Spectator, I'm just sentimental enough to plug Alan's work here at his (and my) old stomping ground. Here's what National Review's Rich Lowry had to say about it:

If you don’t yet believe that we live in a de facto caste system, just wait until the new Democratic economic populists take over Congress. They will rely on the usual myths to portray the American economy as an engine of inequity and dispossession, benefiting only the very rich.

In advance of this onslaught, Cato Institute scholar Alan Reynolds has written a new book, Income and Wealth, that explodes much of the downbeat conventional economic wisdom.

The key difference between the richest and poorest households, Reynolds finds, is simply work: “Most income in the top fifth of households is from two or more people working full time. Most income in the bottom fifth is from government transfer payments.” According to the Census Bureau, there are almost six times as many full-time workers in the top households as in the bottom, and 56.4 percent of the bottom households didn’t have anyone working at all in 2004.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Civil War? So It’s Not Just a Matter of Semantics After All

An Army Maj. General who studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College should know, and from everything I can see I agree. Iraq is not currently in a Civil War. Does it matter? You bet it does.

Let’s call them the Humpty Dumpty press (to add to the growing list of mainstream media epithets). As you will remember, the egg like fellow appeared in a famous story by Lewis Carroll and made the following comment:

“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

I cannot think of a better description of the hubris of the modern mainstream media. When they say a thing you had better not question them. They determine reality, and what they say it is, is what it is, nothing more nor less. Of course we know that the goal of our esteemed press is to make President Bush look bad, so anything that will do that is what they will do. Civil War is a bad thing, Iraq is in Civil War, Bush started the war; Bush is bad. Irrefutable logic.

But let’s look at a few facts as our Army Maj. General puts them:

I don't see a civil war in Iraq. I don't see a constituency for civil war. The vast majority of the people want hope for their families, not to massacre their neighbors or divide their country. A poll conducted in June by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan group that promotes democracy, found 89 percent of Iraqis supporting a unity government representing all sects and ethnic communities. No wonder no "rebel army" steps forward to claim credit for vicious car bombs and cowardly executions of civilians.

I see debates among Iraqis -- often angry and sometimes divisive -- but arguments characteristic of political discourse, not political breakdown. The Council of Representatives meets here in Baghdad as the sole legitimate sovereign representative of the people, 12 million of whom braved bombs and threats last December to vote. No party has seceded or claimed independent territory. . . .

I studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College. I respect the credentials and opinions of those who want to hang that label here. But I respectfully -- and strongly -- disagree. I see the Iraqi people suffering from overlapping terrorist campaigns by extremist groups combined with the mass criminality that too often accompanies the sudden toppling of a dictatorship. This poses a different military challenge than does a civil war.

That last point shows that words actually mean things. They aren’t, a la the mainstream media, only for making impressions to push their political agenda.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Paris Hilton, Scary Godmother

Our own estimable and wise Jay D. Homnick, in a post below, properly excoriates Paris Hilton for evangelizing Eurotrashiness to the American starlet class that includes Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. The difference between them and Ms. Hilton is that as an heiress, she gets her sleep, whereas Mses. Spears and Lohan* have two conflicting clocks to punch, partying and working for a living.

Now, I'm sure this isn't a flattering photo of Ms. Lohan, but she looks a matronly 50 years old. She's 20. But perhaps her new mentor can at least instruct her on how to leave a good-looking corpse.

Lord save us from easy early success and the hard living that goes with it. (He has already spared me, for which, upon further review, I'm deeply thankful.)

(*Bet you didn't know "Mses." is the plural of the neologism "Ms." Neither did I 'til I looked it up a moment ago. Then again, I just learned the correct spelling of "Britney" and "Lindsay" too. All of which makes me feel good, not bad, although admittedly closer to 50 than 20.)

Culture and Nature: Animals Gone Wild

Our friend and fellow classical liberal Ilana Mercer has a very interesting and well-argued article in today's American Spectator, on how a powerful and widely held cultural idea has actually changed the natural world, and for the worse. Mercer points out that the often laudable effort over the past couple of centuries to discourage mankind from harming animals has had an awful unintended consequence: many animal species are losing their fear of human beings and are increasingly attacking humans.

Mercer argues:
While Western man works to rid himself of the most basic ethical instincts, like defending his kinfolk, animals remain true to their nature. Wild beasts intuit that their teeth and talons are meant for tearing flesh -- any flesh, the easier the better. It makes perfect animal sense to attack a thing that is docile, slow, and passive, like the not-so sapient Homo sapiens.

It has been decades since animals were aggressively repelled from human habitat, and they now brazenly make themselves at home in manicured suburbs. It used to be that men killed and hunted encroaching creatures. Thanks to decades of cultural and legal emasculation, they no longer have the urge or license to protect home and hearth. Instead, they robotically intone the Sierra Club's subliminal propaganda: animals are the true homesteaders of the planet.

The handful of honest experts left admits that attacks are up because politically correct policies have bred fearless critters. The Pavlovian response to aversive treatment has been bred out of the wild animal population. Mary Zeiss Stange, author of Woman the Hunter, says that hunting ultimately has less to do with killing than with instilling fear in animals that have placed us on their menu. If animal rights activists possessed a dog's smarts, they'd understand the perils of such a program, for an unafraid animal is a dangerous animal; an unafraid human an endangered fool.
Certainly we should never be cruel to animals, Mercer agrees, but killing animals is part of our human condition, and in an attempt to become hypercivilized and suppress the parts of our nature that our intellects consider less savory, we become in fact less than fully human and upset the balance of nature:
This wildlife worship is thoroughly antediluvian, down to its human sacrifice component. Human beings should care for and be kind to animals. That's ethical (if not compulsory). But people's safety and survival must always trump that of animals. A society that reverses this ethical order is philosophically primitive, base, and ultimately immoral.

"Arm yourself with knowledge when you go out into the wilderness," advised one guru, following yet another perennial, ritual, human sacrifice to the Goddess Gaia. Wrong: apply your knowledge and arm yourself!
Good advice from a very wise woman.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Christmas Treat from Roy Wood

Cover image of Wizzard BrewHere's a treat for you—a video featuring Roy Wood. Wood is one of the great — and most unfairly underappreciated — rock music composers of all time. He was the leader of the terrific 1960s band The Move, started the Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, moved from there to form the rock-oriented band Wizzard, and created in his solo albums some of the best pop music albums of the past three decades. His solo albums Boulders and Mustard, in particular, are absolute classics. Roy still tours Great Britain but hasn't made an album in many years. There's always hope, however.

Boulders is not available at all on CD at this point, which is an absolute pop culture tragedy, but the rumor is that it will soon be released by a British company. The good news is that Wizzard Brew, which I consider to be the best album by Roy Wood's Wizzard, has just been remastered for CD and is now available with eight superb bonus tracks. It's a must-have, and you can have it here.

One of the bonus tracks is Roy's huge Christmas hit "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day." Here's the video, from YouTube. I hope you'll enjoy it:

From Karnick on Culture.

Hugging, Mugging, or Simply Bugging?

From the snow covered sidewalks and overheated shopping malls of Minneapolis comes the latest evidence that Western Civilization is falling down some dark Wonderland rabbit tunnel and will eventually land on its butt in a pile of discarded dreamcatchers, stuffed pandas, and other faux-spiritual kitsch: people who come up to total strangers in public places and hug them. How do such things come to be?

I was sitting around thinking, 'How can I make a difference?'" says Carrie Rupp, a 22-year-old pool-maintenance worker from Minneapolis and "instigator" of the Hug Brigade.

There's one clue. A pool maintenance worker in Minneapolis has about eight months of downtime per year, since they're typically used as skating rinks from October to May. That much time on your hands, you're bound to think up some goofy stunts.

Some people approve of this in-your-face Leo Buscaglia aggression, others object. The Mall of America told the Hug Brigade to get lost after a couple of hours of harassing shoppers.

You know what this is? It's G-rated hooking up. Our culture has become so confused by materialist metaphysics that it mistakes the outward signs of emotion and affection for the real thing. Young women believe that having sex with casual acquaintances will give them satisfaction without complications. They don't understand that sex is only emotionally meaningful because you it is something you do only with some you trust so thoroughly that you are willing to open the door of your most secret, most sacred room and let him in. The reason a hug makes you feel better is because there is someone in your life who cares about you enough to give you a hug. The hug is a signifier for a relationship of interdependence and mutual concern. Believing a hug from a stranger makes life better is a triumph of the artificial over the real.

Upon Further Review, It Sure is the No Fun League

I still like the NFL, especially when my hometown Philadelphia Eagles are playing, but it's just not the same anymore.

These days, the NFL players call it the "No Fun League" because it's a 15-yard penalty if you celebrate a touchdown or a great play too much. But things were getting a little extreme, like a guy planting a cell phone in the goalpost so he could do his act if he scored, so I have some sympathy for the league trying to put it all in perspective. It's not like V-J Day or anything.

But I hate the Instant Replay rule, where the officials take a couple minutes to review the TV replays in order to certify their decisions, and here's why:

Several years back, the Eagles were in the playoffs. It was about 10 AM Pacific, when the games from the east coast start out here. I was still lazing in bed, as is the only civilized custom for a Sunday morning, but I'd ordered the help to bring me breakfast early as I wanted to catch the game.

The Redskins took the opening kickoff and proceeded to march decisively downfield. Around the Eagles' 15-yard line, they fumbled, and an Eagle defender scooped up the football and ran it back 85 yards. The official trailing the play, his two arms so beautifully extended toward the heavens, signaled touchdown, Birds. From impending disaster to triumph in the space of ten seconds. It doesn't get any better than that in sports.

I threw the breakfast tray off my lap, leaped out of my quite warm and comfy bed, and did the finest shimmy you ever saw since your sister Kate's.

Then the words of doom from the TV filtered into my fevered mind---"The play is under review." I didn't see what I just saw. I unfelt what I just felt.

Of course, the touchdown was taken away. The official with his arms upraised was wrong---the Redskins runner was "down by contact" before the fumble. So instead, it was first and ten deep in Eagles territory, Redskins. The 'Skins scored a TD, the Birds lost, and that was that. I haven't felt the same about anything I've seen in an NFL game since. You always have to wait for the other shoe to drop, and even when it doesn't, there's still either an uneasiness or a downright emptiness.

So when the Eagles saved the game with an interception in the end zone with 7 seconds left on Monday Night Football this week, I felt nothing. My brain permitted my face a smile, but put my heart on hold. They took all the fun away.

Intercepted! Yes!!!! No??? Maybe so?

The play was reviewed, as is the rule, and yes, two minutes later when it finally passed replay muster and the feet were adjudged inbounds, the NFL allowed me to feel and perhaps even celebrate. The Eagles had won. But I didn't dance, let alone shimmy. Yay, I said, with as much enthusiasm I could.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lowlanders Tiring of Smutty TV

Who would have thought that the merry Dutch, world pioneers of mass-marketed pornography, would eventually tire of all the smut flowing into their neat and tidy homes? Yet it has happened, according to a Reuters/Hollywood Reporter (HR) story:

Despite a long tradition of television that pushes the boundaries of the acceptable in the Netherlands, Dutch viewers are being turned off by a wave of controversial programs.

Some weeks ago, Rotterdam-based columnist Hugo Borst was watching the daily news on family channel RTL with his 11-year-old son while having dinner. At 6:45 p.m. -- with no warning -- father and son were witness to excerpts from a home video showing the goalkeeper of a Dutch professional soccer team being introduced in embarrassingly intimate terms to a sex toy by a girlfriend.

Furious about the unexpected images, Borst called the program's editor for an explanation. The response was that the sex video was considered a news item because it was placed on the Internet that day by the goalie's vengeful ex-lover.

Borst's reaction was to write a column under the headline: "Have they lost their minds at RTL?"

Maybe they have, but until recently such programs drew big ratings. That appears to be changing, however. Citing a "less explicit—but nonetheless controversial" program called The Golden Cage, the Reuters/HR story notes, "The storm of publicity surrounding the Talpa program has not resulted in high ratings. Since its October bow, the show has lost nearly 66% of its original 1 million viewers. This may indicate that the Dutch are no longer impressed by taboo-breaking programs."

An innoccuous image from the Dutch TV program Spuiten en Slikken
That may be because all the taboos have already been broken. As the Reuters/HR story observes,

Another show raising eyebrows is "Spuiten en Slikken" (Shooting and Swallowing), on which every sexual persuasion can be found. It broadcasts on the youth-oriented public broadcaster BNN, currently the most risque station in Holland. The program, which claims to have an educational purpose, caused a scandal even before its first episode. One of the presenters experiments onscreen with all kinds of soft and hard drugs. The program also features the exploration of sexual activities, including S&M, swingers clubs, squirting female orgasms and prostate milking (shown in full detail), leading to a flurry of political disapproval.

The Dutch have had their fair share of tasteless television in recent years. Considered by some as the nadir of gutter TV, "Patty's Fort," which aired in 2004 on RTL, saw minor Dutch celebs led by former pop singer Patty Brard gather for a colonic irrigation session in a health spa, with the scatological results shown to the audience.

How such things can be considered either educational or entertaining is a true mystery to this analyst, but that the Dutch are tiring of such fare certainly is an interesting news item with real implications. Perhaps leaving a little mystery to such things really is a good idea.

From Karnick on Culture.