Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Goodness and Greatness in Art

S. T. Karnick's essay on greatness in art, specifically in literature, is worthy of extended reflection. (At the least, it was enough to pull your Curmudgeon out of retirement, though whether this is a good or a bad thing is for each Reform Club reader to decide for himself.) The problem is particularly intriguing for your Curmudgeon, as he holds to an unusual thesis: that there exists a universal aesthetic -- perhaps "meta-aesthetic" would be a better term -- that circumscribes our judgments about beauty. (This departure from the received wisdom that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" has caused your Curmudgeon to be disinvited from all the best parties and discussion salons. Despite the pall this has cast over his Yuletide, he's resolved to soldier on.)

A truly universal principle of any sort is a thing both exalting and terrifying. Exalting, because it hints at absolute knowledge, never to be contradicted nor doubted; terrifying, because it imposes an absolute boundary to some aspect of human action. For the claim to universality is a claim that the principle's domain of application is unbounded. One cannot escape its fetters no matter how far one wanders. Being impatient with constraint, we tend to dismiss such claims with prejudice, even when the evidence for them is ample and strong. So your Curmudgeon's notions about a universal aesthetic would remove individuals' option of judging an item beautiful if it failed the criterion. Needless to say, one can expect such an assertion to be resisted, especially in the nihilistic wasteland of contemporary "art." But if the principle is accepted, then beauty, which is one form of the property of goodness, becomes an objective matter. "Different strokes for different folks" might still apply to non-artistic activities and pleasures, but would no longer carry weight in judgments of artistic merit.

Broadly, there are three great questions before us:

  1. What is beauty?
  2. What is greatness in art?
  3. Are beauty and artistic greatness related in an objective way?

"What is" is the most dangerous question in aesthetics. It presages an attempt to define, and every attempt to define is simultaneously an attempt to exclude. So merely to ask "What is beauty?" puts one at odds with those whose conceptions differ, and of course with those who refuse all aesthetic restrictions. But let's imagine that we could assemble some non-trivial group of assessors who agree, without reservation, on what beauty is, whether intensively or by tabulation. Would they necessarily agree upon what items in their sphere of agreement are great art?

Art begins with artifice; a work of art must be a thing made by human ingenuity and effort. (Note how cleverly your Curmudgeon slipped the genus past you. Watch for the differentia; there'll be a lot of spin on it.) The judgment of whether an artifact is a work of art depends largely upon whether it has significant qualities beyond the utilitarian. For example, one would incur great hazard by deeming a commode, even American Standard's finest, to be a work of art. Such an object is all but consumed by its function. It might be beautiful, but its beauty will emerge from how well it melds its form with its function. Few art galleries would put a commode on display for their visitors to ponder; if you find one such, you've likely wandered into a Blackman's showroom by accident.

Art, therefore, must depart from the strictly utilitarian, even when the object under consideration is universally judged beautiful. Interestingly, this implies that the less useful an artifact is -- for anything -- the more likely it is to be allowed art-candidate status.

We have come to a critical juncture: Must art have a purpose of any sort, other than the depiction of beauty?

Your Curmudgeon believes that it must. Human beings do everything for a reason, which the great Ludwig von Mises captured in what he called the axiom of action: Men act only to create conditions better than those that currently exist, or to prevent worse ones.

The creator creates art for a reason. He chooses his genre for a reason. He selects his subject matter for a reason. He molds his production in a particular way for a bevy of reasons. Those reasons, in aggregate, constitute the purpose of the work. By the differentia stated above -- hah! You missed it, didn't you? Got him with a curve ball -- the work of art is not merely a useful item, and not merely a component in some such item. So the artist's purpose must stand outside the utilitarian domain.

The category of potentially non-utilitarian purposes is fairly narrow:

  • The communication of an idea;
  • The evocation of an emotion.

Your Curmudgeon would argue that the first of these is utilitarian at a remove; ultimately, there's nothing more useful than truth. That leaves us with emotional evocation: great art is art that's greatly affecting. For a quick test by contradiction, contrast this conception of greatness with one founded upon beauty alone. Many items of mere beauty, such as the paintings of Thomas Kinkade, touch the emotions not at all. They neither exalt nor disturb. Few would sincerely call them great.

Greatness is inseparable from achievement of one's purpose. Great statesmen bring peace and prosperity to their nations; great commanders triumph brilliantly even when the odds are against them; great scientists unearth important truths, to the advancement of knowledge and of Mankind; great athletes exceed the feats of their contemporaries, for our amazement and delight. In art, greatness must be measured by the artist's success in achieving his purpose: the communication or evocation of profound emotion. That success can have three dimensions:

  • Breadth of audience;
  • Intensity of reaction;
  • Longevity of impact.

A work of art that reaches few but affects all of them powerfully has a slender, unidimensional greatness. A work of art that reaches many and affects them all powerfully has attained a more robust, two-dimensional greatness -- and it need not be beautiful to do so. The nightmare fiction of Franz Kafka, the best known examples of which are "Metamorphosis" and "In The Penal Colony," is horrifying, yet it has profoundly shaken millions upon millions of readers. Francis Ford Coppola's movies The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are beautiful and ugly at intervals, but both are profoundly affecting; few walk away from them undisturbed.

The third dimension of greatness, persistence over a long period, is the hardest to attain; many artworks are too tightly bound to their spatio-temporal context to "travel well" down the centuries, and many forms of art are designed, deliberately or otherwise, to erode. Those that endure are Man's most precious patrimony. Ludwig van Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Ninth Symphony will exalt audiences until music is played no more. Auguste Rodin's sculpture "Caryatid Who Has Fallen Under Her Stone" is painful to see, but it evokes overwhelming pity and admiration for the subject's struggles with her burden, and will do so for centuries to come.

Great art stirs great emotions in its audiences. A great artist is one who can do so repeatedly and consistently.

Ordinary individuals, in assessing works of art, seldom think of these things. If Smith finds that some artwork moves him to joy or tears, he won't much care that Jones is left cold by it. His judgments for his own consumption need not satisfy a more abstract standard. But he who makes art a study of importance must regard technical masteries, conformance to trends, even the opinions of critics to be adjuncts at best, distracting sideshows at worst. He must apply the criteria of emotional effectiveness, breadth of audience, and longevity. There are no others.

Here Come the Big-Mouth Idiots

There is something rather interesting and revealing in all the recent controversies about celebrities running their mouths and acting like peabrains. You've heard about these controversies on the news, of course, such as Mel Gibson's drunken diatribe against Jews, comedian Michael Richards's racial slurs in response to being interrupted by a heckler during a disastrous nightclub comedy routine, Danny DeVito's drunken rant against President Bush on The View yesterday, etc.

That's the Omniculture for you. Everything happens, and everything gets on TV or the Web, which is the new TV.

In short, expect a lot more of this.

People often act badly under stress—which is when a person's integrity and strength of character shine through or the lack of these bursts forth. And there will always be stressful situations to endure, even for the wealthy, famous, and powerful. Hence, there will be many incidents of crummy behavior by such persons. In a society with strong democratic and egalitarian impulses and consequently little to no sense of noblesse oblige among its most privileged members, such trashy behavior is inevitable.

Given that eveything happens in the Omniculture and is immediately distributed to everybody by way of TV and the Web, this will simply be the way of things for the foreseeable future: Big mouths saying and doing stupid things, and other big mouths complaining about what they said and did. There will be no escape, short of moving to a deserted island without TV or internet access.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can We Judge Literature?

I stirred up some concerns among PKD fans with my Philip K. Dick article. Francis Poretto commented thoughtfully, suggesting that there is no way to discern true greatness in a writer. After stating, "For my money, a great writer is one who inspires me to great emotion," Francis asks, "How shall I judge Dick, or any writer, great, even if permitted to use my criterion?"

It's a fair question, and one that I implicitly answered in my original comment on PKD. Francis correctly observes that a numerical analysis of how a particular author measures up to an individual's chosen standards is impossible. Hence, he suggests, it's silly to engage in such discussions. "I think you can see where this is going," he concludes.

I can indeed see where that is going, and I am rather surprised to see someone who is most decidedly not a philosophical relativist taking the position Francis is staking out in regard to literature. Certainly it's true that we cannot hope to judge the quality of literary works and the overall achievements of their authors by some sort of quantitative analysis, but that is absolutely not the same thing as saying that there are no qualitative differences between such works and authors. And if there are such differences, then it is most certainly useful and salutary to discuss the matter.

Francis points out the following as possible standards, but then dismisses them:
-- Widespread critical acclaim?
-- Volume of sales?
-- The length of time his works have been read?
-- His avoidance of modifiers?
-- The effulgence of his imagery?
-- Some other criterion?
The answer, as you will have already guessed, is (f), some other criterion. Or, more accurately, some other criteria.

To wit:

Most assuredly there is a certain something at the heart of all great literary works that cannot quite be identified, much less quantified. Rather like the human soul, we perceive it but cannot isolate it. However, just as the human soul is held in a body that makes identifiable and even quantifiable actions, this heart of a novel is contained in (and indeed suffuses) a book that has identifiable characteristics. These characteristics can even be usefully quantified in some cases, though I believe it unnecessary for a valid literary analysis.

Specifically, it is possible to put individual tastes aside and discuss literature and the other arts in a rational and salubrious way.

We can observe, for example, that some books have deeper, more true, and more convincing characterizations than others. We can see that some have plots that are more interesting and diverting than others. Some have stories that are more plausible, convincing, and usefully reminiscent of reality than others. Some have descriptive passages that make the fictional world come alive more convincingly than others. Some have prose that is so beautiful and artful that it gives us distinct pleasure to contemplate. Some have moral implications that bring our human condition into greater focus and give us real insights into our position in the cosmos. And so on.

Yes, we cannot always quantify such things, but we certainly can make comparisons and discuss what is most worthy of our time and energy. And the point of my post was that a good many of the writings of Philip K. Dick are much more worthy of our time and attention than those of most mainstream American literary artisans of the twentieth century.

So let us indeed feel free to discuss the quality of authors' works, singly and in toto. We should always recognize that there is much room for disagreement, awareness of ambiguity, and differing assessments of how various works measure up to the ideal characteristics of literature, and that individuals can hold different rankings of importance among the various aspects of literary excellence, but that it is nonetheless both possible and necessary to discuss these works objectively and with a sincere search for truth at the heart of the matter.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What makes the 46% tick?

Is tribalism the issue in the matter of mainstream Dems supporting Todd Stroger, son of stricken Cook County board president John Stroger, in the recent election that gave him 46% of the Oak Park vote? This was a vote cast in the face of uncontested overwhelming evidence of budget-busting favoritism in hiring of friends and supporters with minimal regard to competence and other standard criteria, not to mention honesty in handling other people’s money.

Our ranking Oak Park Dem, state Sen. Don Harmon, was named in an 11/22 Chi Trib editorial with many other ranking Dems who endorsed Stroger. We may assume family matters for him, though Oak Park has traditonally shown a civic sense that counts for more than one’s tribe. It often does, anyhow, but not for the 46%.

That many do not care about hiring people with minimal regard for competence, etc. Tribalism may count among us also, but more likely livelihood or career — or those ol’ social values. Chief among these is the right to abort a fetus, with gay-rights issues not far behind followed from a longer distance by gun-banning and other such matters.

This is an interesting conflict, between social liberalism and political reform. It leads to asking if it is progressive — a cherished liberal description — to support the hiring of the incompetent or less competent because they will plant signs on street corners and knock on every door.

They Love Dick

It's official: Philip K. Dick is a great writer, according to the Library of America. As the Galley Cat at Media Bistro reports:
Buried at the tail end of Mark Sarvas's interview with Jonathan Lethem comes news of one project on the novelist's plate: "I'm helping preside over the utter and irreversible canonization of one of my (formerly outsider) heroes, Philip K. Dick: I'm writing endnotes for The Library of America, which is doing a volume of four of his novels from the sixties, which I also helped select."
I suppose that if Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and H. P. Lovecraft are great writers, then Dick is too. But in my view, this event is most important as further evidence of how poor the mainstream American novel was during the previous century. Solid but unspectactular and fairly uninsightful genre authors (though this last limitation does not apply to Dick) are touted as among the best the nation had to offer, and this is true because the mainstream novelists were so often confused, self-important, and wrongheaded.

A good many of Philip K. Dick's books and stories are well worth reading, but he really worked largely on frankly pulp material. His great contribution was to convey interesting, provocative, and important ideas in a pulp context, but that is like making a really fast production automobile. It's fast, but it can't run with the custom jobbies.

Dick stands out as an author because the "custom cars" of his time were so shabby.

PKD's prose was usually serviceable at best, although better than, say, Theodore Drieser's glop. But whereas Dreiser's characterizations could be immensely powerful and the conflicts highly real and dramatic, Dick's characters are usually unable to sustain much interest, and the stories depend almost entirely on their ideas and interesting plot angles. Some of those concepts and ideas are so good that his writings have gained a strong foothold in the culture through film adaptations. For that reason, he's certainly one of the more important American writers of the second half of the twentieth century.

Philip K. Dick was indeed a great pulp writer, if there can be such a thing, and a very good writer within his limits. I'll call him a very good writer overall when at his best. And his elevation to Library of America status points out once again that genre literature, despite its limitations, was where it was at in American literature during the past century.

From Karnick on Culture.

Race in Michigan, Iraqi democracy, Bush secretive, etc.

* Steve Chapman in Chi Trib: Mary Sue Coleman, U of Mich pres., protesting 58% vote against racial preferences in admissions, "has been a staunch champion of . . . correcting racial discrimination by practicing racial discrimination." She defiant, standing in schoolhouse door.

* Slouching toward realpolitik: Trib's Clarence Page: "Americans appreciate the neo-conservative dream of spreading democracy through the Middle East [once described by GW as a way to prevent terrorism], but the Iraq disaster offers us a painful lesson on the limits of our grasp." Comment: How we deal with corrupt Iraqis is one thing, but leaving the field to the bad guys is another. There is such a thing as their morale too, is there not, to be strengthened by our departure?

* Devastating Novak column about firing of Rumsfeld and what it says about GW, who he says is "no malevolent tyrant" but like all Republicans in White House since Eisenhower, subject to "congenital phobia" about leaks. He is "secretive and impersonal" in his firing of people contrary to assurances. It's "not a good sign for for his concluding years as president," says N.

* "Autumn leaves, packs its bags," begins a poem by Andrew McNeillie, "Les Feuilles d'Automne" in Times Lit Supplement of 11/17/06, leaving me to wonder for a fraction what that comma was doing there. Between subject and verb? Let's not have it, OK? Then I saw that this was not the tried and true "autumn leaves," adjective and noun, but the same, subject and verb, as in "Autumn leaves [and] packs its bags." The poet had my attention.

* Up to 17 Chi aldermen are to be targeted for political extinction by Service Employees union. Question to be, per Mark Brown in Sun-Times 11/28, are they with the working man or not? No, it's are they with the unionized working man or not. The workers paradise of total unionization not yet arrived, we must keep in mind union exclusivity. Some have no chance to belong to a union. Some choose not to when given the chance. Either way, workers of the world have not yet united, notwithstanding many a heartfelt appeal to do so, at least since Marx and Engels.

The chief beef against the aldermen and women is their vote against the "living wage," a.k.a. big-box (store) ordinance which would have dictated what Wal-Mart and Target pay employees. This ordinance would have benefited the proletariat, say Service Employees, even as it kept out of Chicago a lot of low-price merchandise which the proletariat buys right and left: see shoulder to shoulder shoppers at the suburban Forest Park Wal-Mart, where the proles are finding what they want and the village is reaping sales tax to beat all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Soap Opera to Feature "Transgendering" Character

This undated photo supplied by ABC shows Jeffrey Carlson who plays a transgender character on ABC's soap opera 'All My Children.' The storyline with Carlson's character, a flamboyant rock star known as Zarf, begins on the Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006 episode of the daytime drama. (AP Photo/ABC,Lou Rocco)This Thursday, the ABC TV daytime serial drama All My Children will introduce a character who was born male and is being "transformed into a woman" through hormone treatments, surgery, and psychological retraining.

This is believed to be the first time an American television show has had such a "transgendering" character. Some programs in the past have had fully "transgendered" characters in the past, but you probably wouldn't remember them given that nobody watched. The L Word, on the Showtime cable network, has a character who is going the other way, from a woman to a "man."

According to the Associated Press,

"All My Children" was looking for something new, and knows its audience is always interested in anything to do with sexuality, said Julie Hanan Carruthers, the show's executive producer.

Like most daytime dramas, the program's ratings have been dropping, falling by almost 2/3 since the early 1990s.

Pardon me for thinking that this isn't going to improve the show's performance.

From Karnick on Culture.

Cancel the Order for Erin's New Lamborghini

The film hagiography notwithstanding, Erin Brockovich and her firm of glorified ambulance chasers aren't just greedy, they're patently morons.

From the LA Times
A judge on Wednesday dismissed 12 lawsuits in a headline-making case brought by Erin Brockovich-Ellis' law firm against Beverly Hills and its school district, alleging that an oil well at Beverly Hills High School caused cancers in former students.

Without explaining his decision, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer Jr. granted the request of Beverly Hills and other defendants to dismiss the lawsuits, saying he would issue a more detailed ruling within 25 days.

The case, which had been set to go to trial next month, broke in 2003 and quickly generated intense controversy. Beverly Hills takes great pride in its high school; alumni include actors Nicolas Cage, Alicia Silverstone and Richard Dreyfuss.

Exhibits A, B, and C. Cancer pays better, but if they'd have gone with brain damage, it would've been a slam dunk.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The “N” Word

Michael Richards’ comedy club tirade has been practically ubiquitous in the American media this last week. I happened to catch a non-Wolf Blitzer Situation Room and two of the objects of Richards' tirade were being interviewed.

I confess to being a charter member of the vast right wing conspiracy, and as such have little, actually no tolerance for political correctness. Yet I must also confess to some ambivalence as I see all the hubbub surrounding this latest installment of an offense against modern public verbal decorum.

When I hear two of the “victims” tell how much “pain” they claimed as a result of the event I get more than a little annoyed. It didn’t help that attorney Gloria Allred was threatening to sue Mr. Richards for infliction of mental and physical intimidation. One of the offended party even said his goal was to “punish” Mr. Richards if he wasn’t willing to apologize to them in person.

My first reaction was to say to these guys to just get over it. Quit being such wimps. As an American of Italian heritage being called dago, guinea, greaseball, goombah, or wop (thanks to The Godfather for the exquisite combination) wouldn’t faze me. Yet how would my grandparents and great-grandparents have responded in an atmosphere of real and virulent discrimination that existed early last century?

Not being a person of African-American decent I cannot claim to be able to put myself into the shoes of those who were the object of Richard’s calumny. So when I immediately discount the offense I have to question my initial reaction. Is it valid? Do I diminish the hurt or the threat or the pain simply because my ancestors were not slaves?

I would argue that Black Americans are a special case not because of slavery or Jim Crow, but because their worldview of a hostile and oppressive country has been shaped by a warped civil rights establishment and a great heaping of liberal white guilt (see Shelby Steele). The resulting perception of victimization and thus powerlessness is a recipe for hypersensitivity and a very large chip on the shoulder.

Am I saying that throwing verbal assaults at black Americans is acceptable? Of course not. What I am saying is that the power of such assaults has as much to do with the perceptions of the offended as the words of the offender. This is obvious from a psychological point of view, but in modern American PC culture it is not allowed to be stated in polite company. Words are important, but if we imbue them with too much power we end up treating Mr. Richards in a way that is disproportionate to the offense. We also play into and contribute to the mentality of black victimization, which in my mind makes the cure worse than the offense.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Why Turkey Day is the Greatest American Holiday

First of all, because Thanksgiving's always on a Thursday, it guarantees at least most of us a four-day weekend, which is truly excellent. That's reason enough.

Even the birth of Jesus H. Christ (which even atheists agree was a very good thing) seldom gets us four days off because December 25 lands capriciously everywhichwhere on the weekly calendar. In fact, Bob Cratchit could quite justly have been docked for showing up late on the morning of December 26, after making too much merry.

Second of all, because Thanksgiving must thank God or the universe or whatever for the very special historical/geographical accident that is America. In this materialist world, anything that looks up and not down is a comfort to the human soul.

The Founders, even the most skeptical among them, spoke of a Providence that dropped them and their successors on these shores. America remains the light of the world, if only by default---there is no other nation and/or people to which humanity can look for inspiration.

Third, Thanksgiving's great because we actually eat our national bird, even if Ben Franklin was the only one who saw him that way. As a fat and fairly flightless piece of poultry, the turkey was unique to North America because it was incapable of re-migrating anywhere else. It was us.

(I don't disagree with the choice of the more universal symbol of the eagle for America---it would hardly do for our country to spend billions to put Neil Armstrong on the moon just to say, "The Turkey has landed." [WKRP fans appreciate how macabre that image would have been.])

Now, it was the collectivist Franklin Roosevelt who in 1939 set Thanksgiving permanently on a Thursday, to encourage Christmas shopping on the following "Black Friday," to goose commerce and help cure the Great Depression. For FDR's rare bolt of wisdom from the blue regarding the nurturing effect of free enterprise, may we also be thankful.

Providence takes funny turns sometimes, and if Thanksgiving as we know it has some relation to Christmas and spreading around some filthy lucre, like Bob Cratchit we should not look a gift turkey in the mouth.

Give me tryptophan or give me death.

I'm really looking forward to spending four patriotic days on my butt munching some serious national bird and maybe doing a little shopping in between. Best wishes to all here gathered, and let's thank Providence, Whatever or whoever it is.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Deja Vu and Time Travel Fiction

Denzel Washington contemplates the past in Deja Vu.
Two time travel movies are premiering today, one of those astounding mysteries of the universe that Hollywood creates every couple of months. Tony Scott's Deja Vu (directed with his usual great skill and creativity) is the bigger-budgeted and promoted film, and will probably do well at the box office. Darren Arnofsky's The Fountain promises to be a bit quirkier and probably won't make as much money but might obtain more critical accolades.

Time travel fictions are certainly interesting and have been around for a long time. Peter Suderman suggests, in National Review Online, that their appeal is based on a natural human obsession with mortality, which time travel naturally brings to the fore. I can't say I agree that human mortality is a special interest in time travel fictions, given that pretty much any narrative has a good deal to do with human mortality.

I think that the real appeal of time travel is in the possibility of changing things—time travel is the ultimate power trip. We've all done things we wish we hadn't, and failed to do things we wish we had. (Cf. the Lutheran rite of confession and absolution.) And we've all experienced things that we wish hadn't happened. Thinking about what things would be like if we had done things differently is a natural human endeavor, every bit as natural as mortality itself. And this is a particularly strong element in time travel narratives, and is in fact the central issue in time-repetition stories such as Groundhog Day and Daybreak.

That's what is really behind Deja Vu. Denzel Washington plays a BATF agent investigating a terrorist bombing, who discovers that he might just be able to go into the past—at a good deal of risk to his personal well-being—and prevent the attack, thereby saving several-hundred lives and possibly the lives of his ATF partner and of a beautiful, young, single woman who was murdered as part of the "collateral damage."

Of course, he does what people typically do in such movies, but this being a Denzel Washington film, there is a good deal of Christian imagery and thematic material, including a couple of prominent acts of self-sacrifice and a resurrection from death. There is a brief exchange about morality early in the film, but what is always at the forefront of the story is the desire to change our conditions, to make things right and avert trouble for other people.

As in Back to the Future, The Time Machine, and other such narratives, Deja Vu is most intensely concerned with the here and now, the present conditions of our lives. That's what makes it so absorbing and interesting, and well worth seeing.

From Karnick on Culture.

MDV's Outlook

We've admired Mike D'Virgilio's work on his own blog for awhile now, and are pleased as punch that he's accepted our invitation to join our crew. You'll find his first post for us below, and we look forward to more of his customary provocations.

Mike will continue his estimable solo career at (we've put in a link to it on the sidebar), and he'll share his best from that blog as well as original content especially for TRC.

Mike likes long walks on the beach, Montovani records and beautiful sunsets. He is the perfect man, and the ultimate internet dating partner. Unfortunately for our readers who are still on the market, he's already taken, at least according to his lovely wife and three beautiful and predictably frustrating children.

NB: MDV can resolve all your internet design needs large or small, as he's an account executive at Global Internet Management. He also holds an M.A. in theology, is an 8 handicap golfer, and plays a fine guitar.

(How well he plays that fine guitar we do not know, but his brother Nick scored it for him, and Mike taught Nick everything he knows.)

The world is a better place because of MDV, and already, so is our blog. Live long and prosper, Mike, and welcome aboard.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Libertarian Relativism

Poor libertarians.

They just don’t know what to do with all us religious folks. We tend to be toward the same side of the political spectrum as they are, so they put up with us, but they look at us like the crazy old uncle come to dinner. You have to put up with him, but you don’t have to like it! So whenever a libertarian writes about religion I find it somewhat amusing.

Cathy Young, who writes for the libertarian bible, Reason Magazine, has an article in The Boston Globe called “The Religious Divide.” She argues that behind our country’s political divide is a religious divide, which few would deny. The two sides in this conflict are “between those who see religious faith as society’s foundation and those who see it as society’s bane.”

I think that is a good and concise way to phrase it. The problem I have with Ms. Young is that she sees both of these groups as two sides of the same coin (my guess is that libertarians see themselves as above it all, although their antipathy to religion is obvious). As she says:
Both sides in the debate traffic in simplistic stereotypes. Anti- religionists . . . assert that religion is dangerous because it has historically promoted violence and oppression . . . Equally misguided, however, is the claim made by many champions of religion that secularists lack the will to combat evil because they are moral relativists who don't believe in good and evil anyway. . . . A religion, like any other set of beliefs, can be used for good or bad. . . . Any passionately held belief, whether or not it includes God, can make some people intolerant, closed-minded, unwilling to look at facts that contradict their dogma, and hateful toward those who disagree.

Fair enough. But then she displays her bias with this sentence: “It doesn't help that religion has become intertwined with politics.” Ah, I see. The secularist, atheist can “intertwine” his faith with politics because his faith isn’t a “religion”.

Here she says it another way, and gives us a warning of the danger to come: “The new vogue for wearing one's faith on one's political sleeve is a prescription for religious strife.” So if I am a Christian, let’s say, then I have to keep my faith locked up tightly in a closet, let it out maybe on Sunday and in private conversations. If I happen to see that my faith applies to all of life and reality, even politics and how our nation is governed, then religious strife is sure to follow.

It is amazing how creative libertarians can be in trying to shut up people of religious faith, and we all know they are talking about Christians, be they the Catholic or Protestant kind. I guess atheists who attempt to impose their worldviews on us never contribute to this strife.

Her last few paragraphs again relativize the two, but make no mistake, everything would be fine and there would be no strife if religious people would just shut up!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Problems not solved

"Black Progress" Through Politics,” by Walter Williams opens with this:

Blacks and Hispanics, especially blacks, are the most politically loyal people in the nation. It's often preached and taken as gospel that the only way black people can progress is through racial politics and government programs, but how true is that? Let's look at it.

He goes on to inspect conventional wisdom that may have special meaning for Oak Park, where block-by-block westbound Chicago segregation stopped in the late ‘60s and race relations are never far away. He notes startling economic gains by blacks before politics went their way.

In 1940, poverty among black families was 87 percent and fell to 47 percent by 1960. . . . [I]n various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959. . . . [T]he rise of blacks in professional and other high-level occupations was greater during the five years preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than the five years afterward.

In 1940 a mere 15% of black children were born outside of marriage, in contrast to today's 70%. By the mid-'60s, when sociologist, later UN ambassador and senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan sounded the alarm about breakup of the black family, the rate had risen to 26%.

Crime has become a horrendous problem, having reached "a level . . . unimaginable to most Americans and unimaginable to blacks of yesteryear."

In 2005 “blacks were six times more likely than whites to be homicide victims, and 94 percent of black victims were murdered by blacks,” so that "the overwhelmingly law-abiding residents of [black] neighborhoods [live] . . . in fear of assault and battery, rape, robbery and various forms of intimidation."

The neighborhoods have become "economic wastelands." Their "most stable" residents leave. From political leaders comes no relief.  Instead come government programs, cementing blacks' dependency on them, as Democratic candidates did at the Oak Park Library last spring. Republicans at an earlier meeting -- not as well organized -- talked policies to help small business.

In Oak Park, school discipline and achievement come to mind as what angers blacks. Many a step has been taken to alleviate this anger. Focus has been on school programs. But how much difference have programs made? Not much. We would have heard about it. Rather than eliminating the problems, we have lulls between storms of protest and heightened political activity, such as the recent pressuring of state legislators to order up a study followed by a report finding no evidence of unfair discrimination, followed by another lull.

There must be a better way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Neo-Con Repents

"We increased the size of government in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office," sayeth non-neo-con John McCain today. But it sure works for the Democrats, so why not the GOP?

Adam Smith's wonderfully wise and sadly overlooked other book, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), tells us why:

We do not, therefore, thoroughly and heartily sympathize with the gratitude of one man towards another, merely because this other has been the cause of his good fortune, unless he has been the cause of it from motives which we entirely go along with. Our heart must adopt the principles of the agent, and go along with all the affections which influenced his conduct...If in the conduct of the benefactor there appears to have been no propriety, how beneficial soever its effects, it does not seem to demand, or necessarily to require, any proportionable recompense.

In other words, since the GOP is not known for "caring about people like me," as the pollsters so disingenuously put it (and a perception the Democrats spend a considerable amount of their time reinforcing), "compassionate conservatism" was playing a game it could not win. No matter how much largesse it spread around, no matter what good it achieved, no matter how many people it may have helped, it would and could never receive a whit of credit for it.

As a battered and bruised neo-con (if neo-conism still exists at all), I can say it was still worth a try, but I must defer to the wisdom of the ages, and the estimable Mr. Smith. The Theory of the Moral Sentiments is the Democrats' playbook, and stealing pages from it is folly, since they can get credit for doing absolutely nothing just by paying lipservice to "caring."

Strangely enough, the playbook for the party of Lincoln, evangelicals and others not bent toward materialist philosophy remains Adam Smith's second tome, An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), a far more worldly tract.

"[Americans] still prefer common sense conservatism to the alternative...Common sense conservatives believe that the government that governs least governs best, that government should do only those things individuals cannot do for themselves and do them efficiently," McCain addeth sagely, and hopefully.

Squabble by Dems

Democrats struggle to get House in order
Party's diversity will test its unity

is the head on p-1 Chi Trib, bottom left. Story by Zuckman reads well, has the Will Rogers item up front, reference to his

once-clever statement that he was not a member of any organized political party, he was a Democrat.

But to make their struggle the price paid for diversity, that shibboleth of contemporary socio-political talk, as in the head, is suspicious. We are used to newspapers talking this way about Dems. It's conventional wisdom. When splits occur among Republicans, however, it's a fight between conservatives and moderates, with sympathies in direction of the latter.

And of course, there's the admirable distance achieved in reporting Republican announcements or tactics. You can count on it: no reporter will be fooled by Karl Rove. With Dems, on the other hand, there's affection: there they go again, those lovable rascals.

So I see it. I could be wrong.

PlayStation 3 Revealed!

Everybody and her sister is lined up and literally (if not illiterally) camping outside the stores for the long-anticipated release of PS3 come midnight Friday.

And who can blame her or the occasional boy, either? PlayStation 3 is the most significant event of the 21st century, with the possible exeception of those planes flying into those New York City buildings and stuff.

But to properly appreciate the best new game of PS3, you need to know just a few pad commands first:

IaX1a=Up/Under/Left/Down/Over/Up, etc. and so forth

J74=Scratch My Nose
Za41=Play Metallica on my iPod
J92=Pop Cheez-Its in my Mouth
Ka7=Do My Homework
X89=Evacuate my Bladder/Bowels
(alt+ctrl+del)=Kill My Brother

Important Notes:

---Add a sysstat command to print things like number of clock cycles spent in the idle thread
---Add a psplink.ini option for a startup script, by specifying this a script will be run every time psplink is reset
---Add a uidinfo command to print some more info about a specific UID

(Well, duh!)

Safety Note: Do not use PS3 within 500 feet of lightning, water, a church or school, or a television.

That's about it. Here's a screenshot of the latest and greatest. It's called SuperDeathMatchUltraMegaSnoopDoggDisneySears Mark VII, for lack of a better term:
Enjoy, kids.

Thank God for PlayStation 3. Life is so much more fun now than it was in the olden days. This is a great time to be alive.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Democrats' New Age Conservatism—and the Viable Alternative

My recent National Review Online article on the political philosophy implications of the Republicans' loss in last week's elections has spurred a discussion about classical liberalism on my Karnick on Culture site, a discussion which I cordially invite all to join.

In my NR piece I brought up two relatively new notions: one is that today's Democrats are the real conservatives of our time--New Age Conservatives who want to preserve what there is to conserve today in American politics: "a high-taxing, high-spending welfare state; a political system in which incumbents have all the advantages; a flood of illegal immigration; increasing state-level socialism; a public education system that appears deliberately designed to keep people ignorant; the worst, most libertine aspects of the Sexual Revolution; a health-care system that is increasingly under government control; a new Cold War in which Islam and the West remain just short of open war; and so on."

My conclusion: "The Right lost because the Republicans failed to govern as classical liberals. Instead, in the economic sphere they ran up huge, unnecessary budget deficits attributable solely to massive spending increases. Small government went out the window as the Republicans massively increased federal control over elementary and secondary schools and passed numerous constraints on political freedom in the Homeland Security Act and the McCain-Feingold restrictions on political speech."

Here, I noted, is how the Democrats' New Age Conservatism played out: "The Democrats, for their part, ran as conservatives of the new kind — New Age conservatives. They presented themselves as against prolonging what they characterized as a failed Iraq adventure, against economic giveaways to the rich (meaning tax cuts), against Bush administration failures to reign in outlaws such as bin Laden and Kim Jong-Il, against immigration reform, against school reform, against Social Security reform, against anything that would challenge the current big-government system their Democrat forebears built (with all too much Republican cooperation)."

Reflecting on ideas I brought up six months ago in my article "The Crash of Big Government Conservatism," on Tech Central Station, I conclude in my NRO piece,

"The Republicans have been strongest when they have adhered to classical liberal principles and articulated them boldly, as in the Reagan years and Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution. They have been weakest when they have attempted to be New Age conservatives, as during the two Bush administrations when they have governed as Democrats Lite.

"The political right is well aware that the solution to economic and social problems is nearly always to unleash the creativity and intelligence of the American people and encourage representative government abroad without forcing it on anyone — not to place ever-greater restraints on initiative and economic freedom at home and attempt nation-building abroad before defeating the enemies of democracy. Yet the Republicans simply have not had the courage to defy the mainstream media and follow their principles.

"For the Republicans to have consistent electoral success and govern well, they must transform themselves from a Bush party of New Age conservatism to a Reagan party of true, classical liberalism."

I am trying in these articles to raise the idea that the Right is the true home of liberal thinking today, and that conserving the present situation is what the Left wants. I think that classical liberalism is the true center of American politics, and that if the Republicans embrace it, it will be all to the good both for them and for the country.

I've been discussing this further on my website, Karnick on Culture, and invite all to visit and leave comments and of course to discuss it here as well.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sharpening Up the National Razor

I'm wary of claims that one's own side is inherently more virtuous than their opponents. Some of my friends on the left are confident that the conduct of the people's business will be more civil under the Democrats. Just because Democrats and liberals are better human beings, y'know.

I allowed that the batch of Republicans who were just turned out did appear to be worse than the Democrats they themselves turned out, primarily (and exclusively, really, because they had a lot of gamesmanship in common) for the manipulation of the legislative process itself. Democrats were cordially uninvited to conference committees and reportedly sometimes the GOP didn't even give them copies of the bills they were supposed to vote on.

That's no good.

There may be another side to the story, however, altho I doubt it will be told in the media now. Democrats did misrepresent pending legislation to the press in attempts to build populist groundswell against it. So afterwhile the GOP said, screw that, we'll shut the bastards out completely.

I sympathize, but that's no way to run a democratic republic. And so, for this and many other sins, the GOP congressional majority was dumped, and few Republicans see that as unjust. I voted GOP this time around (no surprise there) only because I can't ever subscribe to the attitude that "things can't get any worse." I guess I've read too much history to believe that.

There are indications that aside from the Democrat half of The Gang of 14, there was a commitment on the Democrat side to pure obstructionism; certainly that was why Sen. McCain chided Sen. Obama when the latter caved in to pressure from his party and withdrew from a piece of joint legislation.

And if this is accurate:

Their sources claim that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), a six-term member of Congress, who has cooperated with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, will be a priority target for Pelosi's iron-fist approach to leadership.

"Nancy Pelosi wants total party discipline," a source in the Democratic Party leadership told Insight.

"If you played ball with the Republicans during this session, then you're not going to be given an important chair in the next session," said the source.

Apparently it was possible to work with the GOP, then, although it seems retroactively punishable by death.

I once ran across a comparison of liberal and conservative group ratings that had Jane Harman as one of the most centrist members of congress. Whether this bunch of Democrats is any "better" than the GOPers they turned out is not certain. Even before they have the chance to spill some GOP blood, they seem bent on a bloodletting of their own first.

We don't know if the electorate, in its disgust over the eventual "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" conduct of the Republican Class of '94, put statesmen or Jacobins in their place. The early returns on our latest revolution indicate that the guillotine, or the "National Razor," as they sardonically called it in France some 200-odd years ago, waits in the wings, at least metaphorically.

Aw, Steny, we hardly knew ya. But you should have known, after 67 years on this good earth and 25 years in congress in service to the Democratic Party, that the Revolution has no friends, only enemies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Delicious, informative

Red Baron four-cheeze pizza deserves a huzzah or two or three.  The lady of our house and I just had it for Sat. night dinner after a hard day of shopping and reading — she did the former, I the latter (about blogging).  And we are ecstatic or at least well pleased.  Buy some today!

The reading was of a book I can also recommend, Blog Wild!: a Guide for Small Business Blogging, by Andy Wibbels, a Portfolio book from Penguin.  Even for the blogger of several years like me, it has good info, mainly so far, at p. 50 of 275, on technical aspects.  The author, “a blogging evangelist,” offers his GoBlogWild site for further reference.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Neil Young's "Living with War"

A promotional shot of pop musician Neil Young gamely bearing up under President George W. Bush's perfidiesTo get a feel for the new political atmosphere in the wake of the Democrats' takeover of both houses of Congress, I've been listening to Neil Young's most recent album, Living with War, recently, which was released earlier this year. As you may be aware, especially if you've seen the superb Saturday Night Live parody of it, the album is a collection of retro-1960s-style "protest" songs opposing the Bush administration and the American public's sheeplike acceptance of his many atrocities (ooops—overtaken by events, Dude!).

A sympathetic appraisal of one of the most talked-about songs on the album, "Let's Impeach the President," can be found here. It captures what some people find to like about the album—its lyrics.

I'm always much more taken with and interested in the sound of a musical composition rather than its words, and Living with War certainly is a disaster in terms of musicality. Nearly all of the songs are musically primitive, as is apparently Young's intention, presumably to ensure that the listener attends primarily to the lyrics.

The latter, however, are just as mundane and uncreative as the music. Consider these characteristic lines, from the ingeniously titled ditty "Shock and Awe":

Back in the days of "mission accomplished"
Our chief was landing on the deck
The sun was setting on a golden photo op
Back in the days of "mission accomplished"

Thousands of bodies in the ground
Brought home in boxes to a trumpet's sound
No one sees them coming home that way
Thousands buried in the ground

Thousands of children scarred for life . . .

Neil Young thinkng up brilliant lyrics setting President George W. Bush good and straightWell, you get the idea. The accumulation of cliches such as "the sun was setting," "a trumpet's sound," "photo op," "bodies in boxes," "buried in the ground," and "scarred for life" is truly breathtaking. In addition, the deceptiveness of "thousands buried," when the number of thousands is three (and I agree that one death is too many and tragic) is blatant and will persuade only those who already agree with the author. The rest of the lyrics are dominated by similarly deceptive left-wing cant.

Bob Dylan this certainly is not.

And for Young to allude to Dylan's 1960s protest songs, as he does prominently in "Flags of Freedom," is to invite a comparison so disadvantageous to Young as to be utterly shaming.

It would be nice if the lyrics quoted above were not characteristic of the whole album, but alas they are. It's that infantile: BUSH IS BAD!!!

Thanks for the subtle analysis, Neil.

The biggest problem with Living with War, however, is simply that it doesn't sound like a Neil Young album. Neil Young, despite his annoyingly adolescent, adenoidal whine of a "singing" voice, has put together a good many appealing songs in the past. Unfortunately, Living with War is as musically lame as it is lyrically unimaginative, with the sole exception of "Flags of Freedom," which, although rife with lyrical cliches, does have a nice sound to it and could actually have found its way onto a real Neil Young album.

All in all, Living with War is a dreadful bunch of glop, but it does wonderfully typify where the left is today: cant, slogans, open hatred, and disingenuous nonsense.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sausage fight on SW Side

Chi Trib has a front-pager that belongs in a neighborhood section, if there were one, but to the general reader I know best, myself, is meaningless.

Lawsuit over sausage cuts family links at plant, stores :

Bobak brothers sever ties; ruling sets limits on wholesale operation

has intense meaning to the Bobak family and their customers, I’m sure, and the story made the cut to the web site page, getting even bigger play than in hard copy.  For the first three paragraph-sentences — a triple lede, by gar — we are given so little information, it hurts:

When Stan Bobak discovered what his brother was doing, he was shocked. Then he got angry.

But in a way, he also was relieved to have solved a mystery: So that's why John wasn't ordering as much sausage as he used to.

The accusations of a betrayal are as sensational as they sound.

Look.  I do not know Stan Bobak and am not in a position to feel his pain, or shock or anger, whatever.  I am glad he was relieved, of course, on general principles, and I am in general prepared to be shocked or even angry that John had cut down on his sausage order.  But neither do I know John.  And if the accusations of betrayal are as sensational as they sound, I would like to figure that out for myself, rather than be told before I know what the hell they are.

The story continues as best it can, already dealt a body blow by its amazingly leisurely lede that but for the sausage reference might have been about marital infidelity — for not ordering sausage substitute hanging with Stan’s wife — or murder — for not ordering etc. put not showing up for weeks on end.

A reorganization occurred, presumably of the sausage company, which we are told is well known — sorreeee, I didn’t know!  One brother would handle the sausage, the other the kielbasa etc. 

But then Stan says he caught John making his own sausage and trying to pass it off in his stores as those made in Stan's plant on Chicago's Southwest Side.  [Make that “Stan caught John,” etc., ending with “he says.”]

This crucial info comes in the fifth paragraph-sentence — too far down, folks, for your usual Saturday breakfast-table-reader who is dedicated to Father Tribune from his youngest days but does have other things to do and read.

End of next ‘graph, we get the local angle: John has three stores, in Burr Ridge, Orland Park and Naperville.  So.  This one’s for YOU there, in and around those three marvelous towns.  Why did not Chi Trib say so in the first place?  The rest of us, in Oak Park and elsewhere, could have gone on to various AP and LA Times stories strewn throughout today’s paper, wishing happy reading to sausage-buyers and -eaters in those three marvelous towns, strewn over the southwest suburbs.

You can also buy this stuff at Jewel or Dominick’s stores or on Archer Ave. near Midway airport.  Fine.  Is it tasty?  The issue was decided in favor of these locations in federal court.

"In retrospect this could have been solved very easily," said Stan Bobak, the eldest of the three Bobak sons. "John could operate as many as 100 retail stores if he wanted, God bless him. But we would handle the wholesaling. But he didn't do that. He started making sausage."

That’s it!  The buried lede!  It all began when John started making sausage!  Do that and cut the story in half, and you have the makings of what might bring back or keep a few readers.  Forget your media bias, undeniable though it may be.  Forget your absence of local coverage: we have it here, gone clumsily astray.  Here is the answer to hemorrhaging circulation for mainstream newspapers: Look in your every story and FIND THE BURIED LEDE, damn it, before they bury YOU!

And offer a free quarter-pound of kielbasa to all who can prove they read the WHOLE STORY, stem to stern.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The mayor and the tattler

Chicago’s Mayor Daley says convicted and sentenced 11th Ward politician Donald Tomczak “disgraced his family. Basically, he destroyed himself."  He talked that way just the other day about his former aide and current Cook County board commissioner Forrest Claypool, who did not endorse Daley’s choice for county board president.  It’s what comes to mind for Daley.  He thinks familially, or we should say tribally.  Tomczak stole money from the public, whom Daley is sworn to serve.  But citizens as a whole are not what come to mind for him.

Daley had hired Tomczak in 1989 after saying he’d fire him, because his people had muscled Daley’s in the just completed campaign.  But he apparently valued the man’s ability to get things done.  Asked about this, he said he did not “care what allegiance [people] had as long as they were doing the job,” citing what his father, the first Mayor Daley, had taught him, and his “church beliefs,” which enjoin that he “never be vindictive."  This is sickening.  Days after virtually threatening Claypool, he preaches forgiveness.

Chi Trib’s John Kass is buying none of it.  Daley “protected” Tomczak, who

ran trucks on water projects, took at least $400,000 in bribes and commanded armies of political patronage workers hired in violation of federal court decree.

He quoted a prosecutor:

"Clearly, some of Mr. Tomczak's crimes were condoned, they were facilitated and I believe in some respects they were honored by high-ranking portions of the City of Chicago.”

As for disgracing oneself,

When Daley's guys do federal time with their mouths shut [Tomczak's isn’t], the mayor praises them, or sends their sons $40 million in city contracts.

It’s Tomczak’s tattling that got him the mayoral condemnation.


Meanwhile, back at the county, the interim board president has made higher-paying work for an employee close to the Stroger organization, billing it as reform.

Eighth-ward supporter Joann Robinson is set to get an $11,000 raise from her current forest preserve job. She'll be making $91,000 while overseeing a seven-person department that includes a newly-created deputy HR director who will be making $65,000 a year.

Her unenviable task?  To make sure hiring is on the up and up. 

“Business as usual,” said the soon to be destroyed Claypool, describing it as:

"Raise property taxes to pay for more bureaucracy and [lucrative] jobs for political patronage appointees. If this is indicative of the type of reform we can expect going forward, it's going to be a rocky four years."

Get ready.

Life Imitates Simpsons: 2006 Elections

Mayor Quimby of the SimpsonsIf you want to understand the huge tail-whuppin' the Republican Party took this week, there's a great Simpsons episode of a few years back that explained it all in advance.

You may remember the episode, "Sideshow Bob Roberts." In this classic installment, "Diamond" Joe Quimby, the blatantly corrupt, sleazy, porkbarreling, free-spending, incompetent, unprincipled, oversexed, self-indulgent jackass mayor of Springfield, is running for reelection for the umpteenth time, in this instance challenged by Sideshow Bob, the murderous TV clown.

During their televised debate, Quimby, suffering from the flu, flounders badly, and, brushing his hair back off of his sweaty forehead, even looks as if he has devil horns. The TV station broadcasting the debate instantly chooses to surround the beleaguered mayor with a circle of flames, to complete the job of characterizing him as a devil, adding the disclaimer, "Flames added for effect."

It's a hilarious moment, and it's exactly what happened to the Republicans this year. They governed all too much like Mayor Quimby in recent years, squandering their hard-earned reputation for fiscal respnsibility, realism, relatively limited government, and efforts to combat political corruption (the latter represented by the Gingrich House's reforms in the '90s). Instead of these things, they came to be known for spending worse than drunken sailors (a correct characterization), sexually sleazy (unfair in that they were probably no worse than the Democrats overall, had anyone cared to look), corrupt (fairly accurate, given the real scandals in which they were involved, although a similar attention to the Democrats would undoubtedly have revealed at least an equal amount of vile ooze), and incompetent (again, fairly accurate, alas).

So the Republicans, despite numerous warnings from many quarters (including the present author), went their merry way and received the just fruits of their efforts. In short, they looked exactly like Mayor Quimby.

The U.S. press, with great glee, added flames "for effect," and the deed was done.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This county ain't ready for reform

Black politicians in Chicago have to learn how to wink and nod like white ones. They are entirely too obvious in their corruption, as in freely discussing the jobs they expect to get as payoff for supporting Todd Stroger, just elected Cook County board president.

"If percentages are based on jobs, then I'm doing damn good," Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) was overheard telling Ald. William Beavers (7th) [at a victory party], referring to the vote he got out for Stroger and the county jobs he expects in return.

"I expect him to reach out to a good guy like me for recommendations for qualified candidates in top jobs he has control over," Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) said, complaining about the lack of West Siders among 26,000 county employees.

Even with FBI nosing around, such supporters as Brookins and others are expecting rewards, not to mention Stroger's "godfather," Beavers, who won his own county board seat and will be Stroger's "muscle," says Sun-Times.

Race pride — whites do nepotism, why can’t we? — is well and good, but jobs and the power that comes from controlling them are what keep machines oiled.

Meanwhile, S-T sins against the light with this editorial comment, with which they are stuck in view of their earlier ridiculous campaign endorsement:

By electing Todd Stroger president of the Cook County Board, voters handed him and the Democratic Party the responsibility for cleaning up the mess that is county government. The question looms about whether he is sincere about doing that, or whether he filled his campaign with empty promises of reform merely to defeat Republican Tony Peraica.

Perish the thought.

Making the rounds . . .

. . . is this very funny 2008 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION AGENDA:

7:00 P.M. Opening flag burning.

7:15 P.M. Pledge of allegiance to U.N.

7:30 P.M. Ted Kennedy proposes a toast

7:30 till 8:00 P.M. Non-religious prayer and worship -- Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton.

8:00 P.M. Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.  . . . . etc.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dubya's Last Election

The uniter, not divider---better late than never, eh?

This is not a stupid man, no matter what you read in the papers. Tuesday was his last election, and he did no better at avoiding the sixth-year jinx than FDR or Ronald Reagan did, and the judgment of history says they were pretty OK presidents.

Dubya couldn't make the case to an American people that (quite properly) hates war that we're actually in a war, because things are pretty normal here stateside, and the war is an abstraction. Not the war that Bush and his neo-cons chose to fight against Saddam, which has been over for some time now, but the bigger one of 9-11, Madrid, London's 7-7, the first World Trade Center attack, of the Khobar Towers, the USS Cole and many more incidents, the war that is not of our own choosing.

That war continues in Iraq today, not because we toppled Saddam, who needed toppling, but because it's where mideast meets west and it's the most convenient battleground for both sides.

And so, after losing his last election, Dubya is officially anointed a lame duck. To his credit (and I confess to admiring the man), he chose within 12 hours to move forward with the remaining two years of his presidency instead of digging in his heels and playing out the string.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was fired today simply and sufficiently because the Democrats hate him. For Bush to perform his sacred duty to defend our country and the western world against the Islamicist tide, he needs the new Democrat congressional majority to help him win this war in Iraq, which at this point has little to do with the war against Saddam except geography.

Yes, Bush and the Bushies seriously miscalculated what Richard Perle calls the "depravity" that Iraq's Sunnis and Shias have sunk into: either side blowing up each other's women and children with suicide bombers is something that even those who opposed toppling Saddam (or opposed war in general) can't claim to have voiced as an objection.

After all, that Muslims and Arabs aren't capable of democracy or even peaceful co-existence would have been quite an anti-multiculti, if not racist, thing to say.

But now that the Democratic Party is in a position of responsibility and not just jeering and spitballing from the balcony, even non-officeholding Democrat Howard Dean admits that chaos would follow a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

It's become clear that political disunity and loss of will in the United States has been the greatest hope for insurgents al-Qaeda and otherwise in Iraq. Dubya, albeit not the way he wanted it, has, by virtue of his own screw-ups and his party's as well, united America to "stay the course" not because we like it, but because there is no alternative.

Funny how life and politics work out somehow. As long as this was Bush's War with Republican control of congress, victory over there was impossible, since the partisan political credit could not be shared. But together, both our major parties and all us Americans, we can outfight and outnegotiate these bastards, the enemies of all humanity, for the Iraqi people's sake, our own, and the world's. Bring it on.

Race is the thing?

Chi Sun-Times columnists Mark Brown and Mary Mitchell see mainly race in the Cook County board presidency race.

The political divide between Chicago residents and Cook County suburbanites -- and between blacks and whites -- was on stark display

said the one.

[T]he outcry over the way Todd Stroger [aiming to succeed his stroke-disabled father] ended up on the ballot resulted in a [black] backlash and cranked up loyal Democratic ward bosses,

said the other, even if nobody knows better than blacks "how poorly county government is working."

Mitchell is saying blacks also know better than anyone else how to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

[T]hese are the people who can tell you in great detail what improvements are needed at Cook County Jail because a disproportionate number of African Americans have relatives locked up there.

A lot of African Americans can also point out the failures at John H. Stroger and Provident Hospitals because many black families have depended on these hospitals for medical care over the years.

And, unfortunately, the faces of the youth detained at the Juvenile Detention Center are also overwhelmingly African American.

It didn't matter, says Mitchell, because inheritance works for others, mostly white, and they bowed to "the tit-for-tat factor." That's dumb, but Mitchell doesn't say so, letting it go at presumably informed analysis.

The most she allows herself, and we should appreciate her restraint, is to hope Todd Stroger "comes into his own" as board president.

As for Brown, it's not new that blacks and whites vote differently, "but there had been signs in recent years that [a city/suburban, black/white split] was starting to fade as Democrats increased their numbers in the suburban areas."

Not this time, when corruption was the dividing issue. It bothers him to see the vote "break down along racial lines" for any reason, however. Why? Because "no matter who wins, [this election] has disrupted the alliance that I think has produced the best results for Chicago and Cook County residents, that being the collaboration of progressive white Democrats and African Americans, often in conjunction with independents and Republicans."

The best results? Not for residents and users of county jail, hospitals, and juvenile detention center, per Mitchell. He worries that this racial divide will interfere with defeating Richard Daley for mayor. But rather than enabling Daley, it demonstrates Daley power.

In any case, he entertains nothing like Mitchell's fond hope for young Stroger, expressing his own fervent hope that "nobody actually expects [him] to bring real reform to county government." In this he also parts company with his own paper's deeply mysterious editorial board.

Election 2006---First Take

We're a 50-50, two-party nation. 51-49 in this election here, 49-51 over there.

I think this is a good thing, a vindication of the two-party system, and a rebuttal that there isn't a dime's difference between the parties.

Each party must build an internal consensus and then put it on the table. Pat Buchanan isn't a Republican anymore, and neither is Joe Lieberman a Democrat. (Each is too far to the right. On the other hand, nebulous lefty Ned Lamont has just been deposited on the ashheap of history.)

This narrow loss isn't death for the GOP; indeed, this very interesting article from the Smithsonian magazine recounts the GOP midterm sweep in 1946, an augenblick after the Roosevelt/Truman administration's triumph over the Axis. ("An unpopular president. A war-weary people. In the midterm elections of 60 years ago, voters took aim at incumbents...")

Just a few years later, the 1946 Republican victory was rolled back and became a mere aberration of memory as the Democrats dominated congress for the next two or three decades.

And so, to my fellow Republicans, my sympathies, even though we all knew we had this reverse justly coming. To our Democrat friends, cheers, congratualations, and enjoy it while it lasts---and please do try not to make the rest of us entirely miserable while you do so.

After all, it's only 731 days until the next major election...

Late Add: The House of Representives has gone Democrat quite comfortably. But the House is the toy store of US politics. The Senate appears poised 49-49 between the two parties, with Bernie Sanders (Communist-VT) a reliable vote with the Democrats, for lack of any other ally.

Since as president of the senate Vice-President Cheney breaks all 50-50 ties, Joe Lieberman (Independent-CT), too much to the right for the Democrats but left of the GOP, becomes the swing vote, if you do the math.

That's as close to 50-50 as is politically possible.

And failing Lieberman voting with the GOP on at least the key issues of national defense (which I doubt), we can only hope that President Bush can find out where they keep the veto pen, if it hasn't rusted from disuse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

U.S. Media's Election Coverage—Biased, Sure, But Why?

It's Election Day, as you've probably heard, incessantly. The race for control of the U.S. House and Senate, between two political parties representing different sets of powerful, elite fatcats, is a close one, and hence the press coverage has been intense and hysterical.

Given that the story is the potential displacement of the Somewhat Left party (the Republicans) by the Rabidly Left party (the Democrats), Republican partisans have identified an excessive glee among the press, who are widely and accurately documented to be composed almost entirely of leftists, in documenting every misstep and failure of Republican politicians and candidates, and giving Derms a free ride even when they make entirely outrageous statements.

There have indeed been plenty of both—Republican idiocies and Democratic demogoguery—to go around, but it appears reasonable to observe that the preponderance of coverage has criticized the Republicans more strongly than it has done to the Democrats.

That, however, does not necessarily indicate a manifestation of widespread liberal bias among the press, argues Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. Kurtz says what the press really want not is not a leftist government but an interesting one:

After six years of almost uninterrupted GOP control of Washington, divided government would produce what reporters like best: conflict. A spate of investigations and subpoenas of the Bush White House, led by such new committee chairmen as John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank and Charlie Rangel, would liven things up for the capital's chroniclers. Even the mundane prospect of the Democrats being able to bring their preferred legislation to the floor -- though most bills might never make it past the president's veto pen -- would give journalists a new script. Divided government may or may not be good for the country, but it's great for the Fourth Estate.

In retrospect, the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994 was a godsend for journalism. The rise of Newt Gingrich, the government shutdowns, the Whitewater investigations, the Monica investigations, the overwhelmingly party-line vote to impeach Bill Clinton, all fueled thousands of stories about scandal and showdowns that boosted ratings and book sales.

One-party rule is, let's face it, rather predictable, especially with a Republican Congress that has basically gotten out of the oversight business during the Bush presidency. . . .

There surely may be some instances of liberal bias. Maybe the press made too much of Sen. George Allen's "macaca" moment, or wallowed too long in the finger-pointing fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal. At the same time, the press can't very well ignore the rising death toll in Iraq, which is also being cast as bad news for President Bush and his party.
I think that Kurtz is correct to observe that the press are indeed gleeful about the possibility of having new stories to write if the Democrats should take one or both Houses of Congress.

Nonetheless, it appears to me that this cannot be the press's ultimate motivation for skewing coverage to favor the Democrats. If the past six years have been anything, they have certainly been interesting. There has been plenty to write about. Yes, with the Democrats out of power there has been no great flood of horrendously asinine congressional investigations into allegations of perfidy in the executive branch, but the press have taken care of that themselves, after all.

Whereas the big congressional scandal hearing was a ridiculous investigation of the Major League Baseball steroid situation, nothing came of the allegations about the Bush administration illegally identifying a CIA agent to the public. That is a good thing, actually, because the allegations were entirely false. The revelation was in fact done by an opponent of the Bush administration. Congressional hearings headed by the President's enemies would not have changed that fact, but they would surely have destroyed the people falsely accused, as they almost did anyway thanks to the press's outrageously biased and out-of-control coverage of that entirely trivial matter.

The press have thoroughly taken on the adversary party role during the past four years, and they have done their level best to try and to convict the Republican Party of incompetence and malfeasance. (The Republicans, for their part, have done all they could to provide plenty of indications of each.)

The press haven't simply been searching for a more interesting story. They have indeed been trying to influence events and move the country further to the left. That is their right and prerogative in a society with a free press, but it is important that we not pretend that things are other than as they are.

The media's treatment of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress has been justified by the mistakes and misjudgments of each, but the press's treatment of the party currently in power and the runup to today's elections has indeed been motivated by a desire that the Democrats would win in order to institute a leftist government of the sort that the press overwhelmingly favor personally.

From Karnick on Culture.

Election Eve Report: Final Add

It's very late out here on the West Coast. Even later for you East Coasters, so late that you're now reading this tomorrow, and me, I haven't got even up yet.

As I write this, CNN is re-re-running their weeklong anti-GOP hit piece series, Broken Government. I predicted CNN would have a surprise for Election Eve, but not even I could predict they'd be so lame to just go with re-re-runs.

This Day in History, 2006: By the time the revolution was televised, everybody had gone to bed.


Monday, November 06, 2006

My wine, Jackie C., S-word, Blago's bishop

* On reading Sun-Times about Mike Ditka Wine:

Soon TBA: Jim Bowman Wine. Piquant and zesty, sure to rouse the laziest taste bud, and good for you too. Chockful of vineyard and crushing-floor vitamins. Grapes beaten down by bare-footed Venetians stomping to tune of "Figaro." Soon, at your nearest drug store or cheap-wine location.

* On reading Chi Fed of Labor endorsement ad (from people who HATE Wal-Mart) filling page 7, not linkable:

Union candidates don't wear glasses: Todd Stroger, heir to his stroke-disabled father’s Democrat fiefdom, namely the Cook County board presidency, is pictured unusually lens-free. Only two Republicans make an appearance, of 37 county candidates. Only Stroger has a pic, being the union candidate held most important by biggies with ad purse strings. The two Republicans are W. suburban Elmwood Park president Peter Silvestri for county board, and Jill C. Marisie running uncontested (so why the endorsement?) for judge. The latter is the late mobster Jackie (the Lackey) Cerone's granddaughter, for what that's worth. Her father, Jack P. Cerone, of NW suburban Des Plaines,

earned a reputation as a labor lawyer, fighting for union workers in numerous contract fights with Chicago city officials -- from the 1980s when he fought for Laborer garbage collectors and seasonal street cleaners to the late 1990s when he salvaged victory for the Decorators Union in a trade show row.

Thus the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, in a 10/22 story about his taking over a Pittsburgh brewery. He's a solid union man, to be sure.

* On reading about ex-Socialist now Green Party Ill. goober-natorial candidate Richard Whitney excoriated and warned against by Republican opponent Judy Barr T.:

He says he wouldn't shoot self in foot by volunteering his Socialist past but wouldn't deny it either. Has plausible defense: As young man with care for "working man," he fell for socialism, later rejected it. Which is a recommendation, if anything. His are "mainstream" ideas, he protests.

But what's not socialism-inspired about them?

1. Mandated wages -- as gross an interference in property ownership as the supposed mainstream will reveal

2. Higher income tax -- the more you earn, the more you pay

3. Universal tax-paid health care -- same-old same-old for all and consequent health care dilution.

Each is government-induced wealth distribution that undercuts overall prosperity.

* On reading about "Bishop" Arthur Brazier (consecrated by what other bishop, reporting to what presiding bishop or pope or even district conference?), distinguished pastor of black mega-congregation Apostolic Church of God on S. Side, telling members to ignore reports of corruption and vote for Gov. Blago anyway:

How would you Episcopals or Catholics or Methodists (or members of Congregation B'nai whatever) like that? Not very much, I ween.

Flicka Flick

Critics tend to look down on movies like Flicka, the new film based on the oldtime bestselling novel My Friend Flicka, which has been filmed a couple of times previously, about an adolescent girl who adopts a wild horse against her parents' wishes.

Flicka fails to undermine bourgeois values, show the family to be an outmoded and socially destructive phonomenon, attack free enterprise as an invitation to greed and exploitation, and demonstrate the superiority of personal autonomy and pleasure-seeking over selfish, socially destructive notions such as duty, honor, and decency.

Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw in Flicka

But that is what makes the movie most interesting and gives it a certain amount of moral complexity.

Flicka vividly depicts how individuals' desires can conflict with others' needs, but it comes down strongly on the side of duty, honor, self-sacrifice, and other such traditional notions. Alison Lohman plays Katy McLaughlin, a sixteen-year-old Wyoming girl whose family operates a horse ranch that is on the verge of bankruptcy. She finds a wild mustang horse which she wishes to tame and train, but her father objects.

Naturally, Katy decides to defy him in secret, surreptitiously working to make the exceedingly wild horse trust her. Meanwhile, her father and mother struggle to keep the ranch from financial ruin.

The family conflicts in the film are highly plausible and presented with great realism and persuasiveness. Even though we never believe that the family will be torn apart (this is, after all, a film geared toward children), we do see and understand how easily that can happen but for the strong values and leadership of both parents, played superbly in the film by Maria Bello and Tim McGraw. Flicka never skims over the frustrations of family life, which makes its treatment of the conflicts, and their ultimate resolution, that much more affecting.

The theme of freedom is strong in the film, and it is explicitly connected to contemporary political concerns in a nonpartisan, general way, which works very well. One can see an influence of the great Hollywood director Howard Hawks behind the film, with its strong female characters, thematic conflicts between the individual and the group, love for the American West, assertion of the value of individualism and political and social freedom within a conservative context, and the evident sheer joy in hard work and personal accomplishments.

As those familiar with the book or the previous film versions will be well aware, several other difficulties and conflicts arise, and all ultimately works out as it should. In that way, too, Flicka resembles a Hawks film. Ultimately, it does have a couple of sappy moments—when, for example, unhappy events tend to happen during rainstorms—but overall it's an interesting, morally engaging film that merits more credit than most critics are likely to give it. Let's hope audiences make up for it.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Deep Meaning of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat

Naturally it's tempting for critics to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan as a satire against political correctness, as Peter Suderman has gamely attempted to do on National Review Online. When something gives us pleasure, we really want to believe that it is good. But that's simply not the way things work, and it is certainly not the way Borat works. Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian who wrote and stars in the film based on his HBO TV show, makes no attempt to tie the film's vulgar humor to American "political correctness" codes or any other political meaning.

On the contrary, the film is simply a string of jokes based on the grotesqely ignorant central character's lack of decorum regarding bodily functions, presumably as a result of his being brought up in a primitive, poverty-stricken country in southwest Asia.

What the movie really delivers is lots of jokes about sex, defecation, sex, religion, sex, mental deficiencies, sex, cruelty to all creatures less powerful than oneself, sex, ethnic prejudice, sex, and sex. Borat simply is not political, and there is in fact nothing useful that we can learn from it, despite critics' attempts to shoehorn some meaning into it.

On the contrary, Cohen's jokes about rape, for example, are funny and politically incorrect, but they manifest a lack of decorum, they don't stand back from it and make a point about manners and morals. What point, after all, could those particular jokes make? That some people don't take rape seriously enough? That is not a point worth making, and I don't believe for a moment that Cohen is attempting to do so. He's just being funny.

Still shot from Borat movie

And the film is very funny indeed. It's just a string of dirty jokes, and most of them work pretty well, if the audience with whom I saw the film is any indication.

Yes, we do see, in absentia, the value of manners, decorum, and the flush toilet, etc., but that's not really a lesson for most people, nor does it have anything to do with political correctness codes. It's just funny.

There is an interesting moment late in the film, an extended reference to the film comedy team Laurel and Hardy. I think that the comparison is apt. Although Borat bases its humor on subject matter that would not have been acceptable during the era when the great comedy pair made their movies (and is probably not exactly acceptable even today), it is clear that its makers had the exact same goal as the people behind the Laurel and Hardy movies: to make people laugh, and nothing more.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's good to have a nice laugh once in a while. We shouldn't have to make excuses for that. And that's good, because there is no excuse for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And I doubt that Cohen wants anybody making excuses for him. So I won't.

From Karnick on Culture.