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Monday, April 19, 2010
Born To Be Dumb

Penn Jillette thinks owning a Hummer is stupid. But he understands that one of the keys to freedom is the freedom to be stupid. Which is why he penned his Homage to Hummer in Saturday's WSJ:

Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do--different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.

But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we're putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I'm not just sad, I'm also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don't need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don't need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don't need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest.

When it comes to religious matters, Penn is a prominent Triple Aer (aggressive, atheist arsehole) so he might not appreciate me weighing with an "Amen brother," but that's the response that he's getting anyway. He's right that the freedom to be stupid is a core American value. We all do things that others think are stupid; watch reality television, collect commemorative plates, ride recumbent bicycles, eat at White Castle while sober, but the beauty of America is that we all get to partake in our own particular style of stupid. When the government starts deciding that more and more things are too stupid for our own good, we move down a dangerous path of losing part of our core freedoms.

As Penn mentions, driving a Hummer may indeed be stupid. But so is not working out or eating too many donuts or skydiving or living in a 20,000 square foot house. The question is who should decide what's stupid or not. I'm a strong proponent of individual liberty and the individual stupidity that inevitably comes along with it.


Friday, April 16, 2010
Nowhere To Hide

Eric Felton has a piece in today's WSJ on how difficult it's becoming to avoid video screens in public:

If you have traipsed through a hotel lobby lately; tramped on a health-club treadmill; guzzled a beer at a bar; or nervously anticipated your turn in the dentist's chair, you likely found your eyes wandering to a video screen. The business of "captive TV," as it is called, is booming. According to Nielsen, the television audience-measurement people, we collectively viewed a quarter-billion video advertisements in the last four months of 2009. Whatever the exact number, we don't need Nielsen to tell us that it is getting harder and harder to find a public space free from the tireless and tiresome electronic beckonings of "location-based video."

The business has grown by boasting several advantages for advertisers. A crowd of people with nowhere to go and nothing to do will look at the screens--plus the ads--grateful for anything to "help pass the time," as one of the services says in its promotional material. Doctors' offices, airports and the DMV get to turn the inconvenience of their clients into a revenue stream. The place-based systems also promise to deliver narrowly defined audiences that can be given tailored pitches. How better to market to drinkers than with ads in bars? Then there are the screens in bathrooms, which provide ads that one media company crows are, "perfectly gender segmented." Perhaps most attractive to marketers in the age of digital video recorders: The passive public viewers don't have access to a remote control. There's no fast-forwarding through the advertisements.

Unless you have tremendous discipline and willpower, there's no ignoring them either. The many companies specializing in television for public places brag that their "content is optimized to be visual." TV screens are insistent to begin with, but the ones placed in public spaces are trebly so, pulsing and flashing and glaring and flickering and otherwise creating the inescapable casino aesthetic that has invaded every corner of the public square.

I have to admit that these screens tend to draw my attention like a moth to a flame (so much for discipline and willpower). Especially if I'm in a bar or restaurant and there's a sporting event (almost any kind of sporting event) on the ubiquitous televisions. I know that's it's rude to allow your gaze to be distracted in such a manner when you're in the company of others, but I usually find myself succumbing to the temptation at some point. Hmmm...that tractor pull over there looks interesting...

But even worse than the multiple screens that never seem to be turned off--even when nothing is on--at restaurants and bars are the airport televisions. You truly are a captive audience when you're at the gate waiting for your plane to depart and the manner in which these audio/visual screens assault your senses violate several sections of the Geneva Accords. They're almost universally loud. So loud that there's really no place in the seating areas at most airports that you can escape the blare. I often like to read (and occasionally write) when playing such a waiting game, but the booming noise makes that all but impossible unless you elect to throw on the 'phones and listen to your own music. Even worse, these televisions are almost always tuned to CNN. I've lost count of how many times I've seen Wolf Blitzer's mug peering down as I tried to figure out where best to sit or heard Jack Cafferty's annoying ranting as I'm trying to collect my thoughts. I'd rather be bombarded with a steady stream of commercials--even infomercials--than be force-fed CNN's stale gruel.

UPDATE: My better half e-mails to add:

Granted we choose to do a lot of this as well, we are programming ourselves and the next generation to NEED tv. MP3 players can't be just music anymore, you have to download tv shows, movies, as well. Let's try to make it MORE convenient to watch the mindnumbing show you missed because you had to talk to real live people that were over at your house, you can watch it anytime you please....And let's not forget that automobiles needs screens as well. And phones....


Monday, February 08, 2010
Ad It Up

This year's Super Bowl ads were a decidedly mixed bag. A few were actually inspired. Some were simply awful. And the rest (the majority) were mundane and mediocre.

It's easy to make too much of these ads and overstate their importance or what they say about the state of our society. However, there was a thread that ran through a number of them that I found disturbing.

That was the apparent willingness of those depicted to surrender things such as honor, respect, and freedom in exchange for material possessions. This was clearly the message in the Dodge Charger commercial where a group of men as much admitted that they had pretty much completely given up control of their lives to their wives for the "right" to drive the car they wanted to. My wife has my pair in her purse, but as long as she throws me this one bone, I'll happily submit.

The angle in the Bridgestone ad was different, but it had a similar message. Rather than resist the dystopic thugs who wanted to take his tires, the "hero" of this story chooses to throw his wife to the wolves in order to keep his material goods. I'm sure the creators thought this was funny which in itself says a lot about what people think of the meaning of manhood these days.

The Audi "Green Police" ad has generated a lot of discussion about whether it's actually a not-so-subtle send up of the extremes of the environmental movement. Even if it is, we again see a situation where the person at the center of the ad--whom viewers are expected to personally identify with--is choosing the path of least resistance in order to maintain their own personal comfort. Rather than resisting the degradations and violations of liberty wrought by the Green Police, the Audi driver has found a way to reach an accommodation with them. As long as it's my neighbors and not me being hauled off to reeducation camps and I can still drive my cool car, I'm okay with things.

Again, perhaps I'm getting all worked up about nothing. Maybe these ads are just ads and there no relationship between their content and our cultural values. But when you see a similar message appear over and over during what has likely become America's premier shared cultural event, it causes me to worry what that message might imply about the character of our country.

UPDATE: Cap'n Ed has a post on the Audi ad at Hot Air and one commenter (darclon) suggests a better version:

This ad would have been awesome if an '67 stingray roared to life and broke through a green police barricade while the driver chomped on a cheeseburger and gave the cops the finger

That's exactly what I thought when I watched it last night. Then, maybe instead of "Dream Police," the ad could feature Rush's Red Barchetta. That version also would have been a fulfillment of what Daniel Henniger wrote about last May:

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged--fat, fast and gas-powered--racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps--enacted by Congress in the second Obama term--looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

National Green Corps? Let's stick with the Green Police. That's much easier for our Commander in Chief to pronounce correctly.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Mourning That What Never Was

"The coolest place that never existed."

That's how JB described this picture and I have to say he's spot on.

Nattily-attired, well-groomed gents drinking whiskey and watching hockey (and only hockey) in a classy mid-century bar. It really don't get much cooler than that.

The picture is from a post called Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow!, which features a series of 1940s magazine ads from Seagram's seeking to show what the future would hold through the visionary eyes of men willing to wait for their whiskey to properly age. Alas, such a scene as shown above did not come to pass (unless at a undisclosed location in Canada). Who can argue that our world is not poorer without it?

SISYPHUS ADDS: The prognostication here is decidedly mixed. Kudos for predicting future sports bars and flat screen TVs, but thumbs down for failing to anticipate that future hockey goalies will wear masks.


Monday, December 21, 2009
Later On, We'll Conspire

In yesterday's WSJ, David Aaronovitch wrote on the critical elements that nearly all conspiracy theories share (sub req):

It doesn't always feel like that. Many of us, of course, are not believers but simply find ourselves confronted at a dinner party by the man who just knows the "real story," and has arrived armed with his killer facts and certainty. You on the other hand, have nothing but your instinct for nonsense. So, for everyone who has been, or will be, in that woeful position, I offer this short guide to how conspiracy theories work, the better to rebut them.

Even where conspiracy theories are not momentous, and may sometimes be physically (if not intellectually) harmless--such as with the gorgeous slew of nonsenses that prefaced "The Da Vinci Code," involving Templars, secret priories, hidden treasures and the bloodline of Christ--they share certain features that make them work.

These include an appeal to precedent, self-heroization, contempt for the benighted masses, a claim to be only asking "disturbing questions," invariably exaggerating the status and expertise of supporters, the use of apparently scholarly ways of laying out arguments (or "death by footnote"), the appropriation of imagined Secret Service jargon, circularity in logic, hydra-headedness in growing new arguments as soon as old ones are chopped off, and, finally, the exciting suggestion of persecution. These characteristics help them to convince intelligent people of deeply unintelligent things.

All of us who have been in the position that Aaronovitch describe appreciate his insights on what really lies behind conspiracy theories. His forthcoming book from which the WSJ piece was adapted-"Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History"--will no doubt contain even more useful information to help augment our instincts for nonsense.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009
The Company of Men

Here's a selection of reader response to my Man Up post.

From Bill:

Most of the ten or so good friends I made in college now live in the metro area. When we get together for beers/bar/etc., they always call it "boys night out." (Shorthand: "BNO") This has been going on for like ten years and I still cringe every time I hear it or read it. Thanks for your much-needed post!

From Mike:

I organized the men in my neighborhood as a spin on the popular suburban women's excuse to gather, gossip and drink wine. Theirs is Bunco (which is telling as they pretend to actually gather for the purpose of playing games), ours is Drunko. We don't pretend anything nor is our gathering a response for ensuring we''get our fair time' out without the spouse. Simply put, we gather on someone's patio, deck, in their garage or basement when its cold, stand in a circle and drink beer. Period. If the host is generous, we get a bag of chips and if they're really generous, we get dip. We even have a mascot.

Another term to stay away from is manscaping. Equally lame as Man Cave.

Finally, a question from Henry:

Hmmmm...pondering your denunciation of ManCave as a term. I've always called the "den" in my house the Man Room. Thereby designating its rightful place as an escape for males only: my son and I. Computer, Nintendo, guitar, boombox,baseball pics, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, WWII photos, and a "Liberty or Death" flag. Does that qualify for coolness? Or is that categorized as

Hmmm....Kind of a borderline call. Since you use the term "room" I suppose it passes muster as being acceptable. By they way, your e-mail has been forwarded to the DHS and you are now likely on some kind of extremist watch list. You really need to be careful about keeping flags around that espouse such radical ideas.


Monday, August 31, 2009
Man Up

Men of America. It has come to my attention that in the pursuit of the goal of being manly, some of you have taken a detour off the proper path. For in your attempts to demonstrate your supposed manliness, you are in fact emulating some of the same activities that women often engage in. Yes, the irony is indeed quite rich.

Now, there is nothing wrong with women doing these things. They are naturally inclined to such activities as we are naturally inclined to not understand their appeal. Remember, women are different from us and that's why we love them so.

So I call on you immediately cease and desist with any and all of the following:

- Using the expression "guys night out."

- Organizing, attending, or having anything in any way to do with anything called a "Guy Expo."

- Using the term "ManCave" under any circumstance. You have a basement. You have a garage. Maybe you even have a den. You however do not have a "ManCave."

- Organizing, attending, or having anything to do with anything called a "ManCave Party."

The idea of what it means to be a man has already been wussified and dangerously watered down in our increasingly feminized society. We as men don't need to do more to tarnish the masculine brand by engaging in such demeaning actions. Leave the overly planned socialization and group shopping to the gals. Your support in this matter is most appreciated.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Ties That Bind and Build

There is a growing divide in America that threatens to strain the fabric of our society and make a mockery of the notion that we are a country that has broken the bounds of pre-determined and permanent class structures. It's a divide between the rich and the poor. Between the haves and the have nots. Between the educated and uneducated. Between those whose future appears boundless and hopeful and between those whose prospects are limited and bleak.

Liberals will tell you that the causes of such a divide are tax cuts for the rich, not "investing" enough in education, and the lingering impacts of racial and gender discrimination. However, in reality it increasingly appears that a significant--perhaps the most significant--contributor to this divide is marriage, in particular whether people choose to have children within its bounds or not.

Kay S. Hymowitz came out with a seminal book on the matter a few years ago called Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age. Her well-researched work was an eye-opening look at how attitudes toward marriage and having children influence decisions that have profound economic and societal impacts.

Now, Duncan Currie has more damning data on the consequences of out of wedlock births in the August 24th, 2009 edition of National Review (sub req):

How bad is it? In 2007, nearly 40 percent of all births in the United States were outside marriage, compared with 34 percent in 2002 and 18.4 percent in 1980. That's according to the latest National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data, which were released earlier this year. "All measures of childbearing by unmarried women rose to historic levels in 2007," the NCHS reports. Nonmarital births represented 27.8 percent of non-Hispanic white births, 51.3 percent of Hispanic births, and a staggering 71.6 percent of non-Hispanic black births. Though we can take small comfort from the long-term decline in nonmarital births among teenagers, the nonmarital birthrate among older teens (ages 18-19) has recently ticked upward. Meanwhile, birthrates among unmarried women in their 20s and early 30s have been soaring. Teenagers accounted for 50 percent of all nonmarital births in 1970 but only 23 percent in 2007. By comparison, women in their 20s accounted for 42 percent of all nonmarital births in 1970 and 60 percent in 2007.

It's interesting to consider this trend in relation to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Wasn't the availability of abortion supposed to help women avoid being "punished with a baby"? It's almost as if the unlimited abortion license has created worse conditions for women in America vis a vis marriage and child rearing. Imagine that.

In contemporary America, nonmarital births are inextricably tied to broader socioeconomic divisions. "In 2007," write Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill in their new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, "the least educated women were six times as likely as the most educated women to have a baby outside marriage." American Enterprise Institute social scientist Charles Murray has been crunching the numbers to illustrate how nonmarital childbearing among whites varies by income group. His preliminary findings indicate that the proportion of nonmarital births among the white underclass is likely "in the region of 70 percent," while among the white working class it "may be above 40 percent." Among middle-class whites, the ratio "is approaching 20 percent." As for the highest earners, the white overclass, "their ratio is probably about 4 or 5 percent, tops."

You could get into a whole "chicken or egg" debate about which factor is the cause and which is the effect. What is clear is that income/nonmarital childbirth correlation is increasing and over the decades creating a growing cycle of inequality.

Such disparities are fueling a sharp divergence in family environments and exacerbating inequality. University of Chicago economist James Heckman puts it bluntly: "American society is polarizing." The children of more-educated women are growing up in much better family environments than the children of less-educated women, with "the quality of parenting" being "the important scarce resource" in disadvantaged households. Heckman reckons that "about 50 percent of the variance in inequality in lifetime earnings is determined by age 18." Furthermore, "most of the gaps at age 18 that help to explain gaps in adult outcomes are present at age five." This suggests that the family resources and attention devoted to a child during his or her earliest years are crucial--which, in turn, means that children from stable two-parent marriages "appear to be at a major advantage compared to children from other unions."

This helps to explain the phenomena that I believe is common to many middle and upper-middle class families: while their children and the children of many of their friends and relatives appear to learning more at a younger age than they ever did, the overall educational standing of American children continues to decline. If my four-year old knows which country and continent the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in, then why can't a third of young Americans find the Pacific Ocean on a map?

Unfortunately, as sociologist Paul Amato of Penn State and economist Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania have noted, the share of American children living with married parents dropped from 85.2 percent in 1970 to 67.8 percent in 2000. Absent this change, Amato and Maynard calculate that the child-poverty rate in 2000 would have been 26 percent lower (11.6 percent, as opposed to 15.6 percent). In his 2008 Father's Day remarks at Chicago's Apostolic Church of God, Barack Obama observed that "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison."

Some might point to President Obama as proof that children raised by single parents can succeed and reach the highest pinnacles of power in America. But the reality is that President Obama is an outlier. His remarkable achievements are not the norm for children from his familial background and I give him credit for recognizing that. I only wish that he were more fervent in his efforts to promote marriage and fatherhood, especially considering his unique position to influence the groups that are suffering the most from their absence.

All of this is worth remembering whenever you hear a politician lament the uneven distribution of America's economic pie. In the mid-1990s, Urban Institute economist Robert Lerman published an exhaustive analysis of how changes in family structure between 1971 and 1989 had affected income inequality and child poverty. "On the basis of projections of simulated marriages and marriage-induced earnings effects," he estimated that the decline in marriage rates over that period "accounted for nearly half the increase in income inequality and more than the entire rise in child poverty rates." The impact on African-American kids was especially harsh. As Lerman explained, the portion of black children living below the poverty line grew from 40.5 percent in 1971 to 43.3 percent in 1989; but if black marriage patterns had stayed constant from 1971 onward and spurred the customary growth in family incomes, the black child-poverty rate in 1989 would have been only 29.1 percent. In other words, "one-third of poor black children would have escaped poverty."

When conservatives talk about defending and preserving the institution of marriage, it isn't because we want to perpetuate the dominant patriarchy and keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. It's because it's been conclusively proven over the centuries that marriage works. For societies and for individuals.

The difficulty is that policy options for promoting marriage and decreasing out of wedlock births are limited. To really change the attitudes towards marriage, you need to change the culture. After forty-plus years of withering assaults against marriage, it shouldn't come as a surprise that large segments of our society have little apparent regard for it. The damage that has been done will not be easily corrected and it will take years--maybe even generations--to change that. Until then, we can expect the divide to only grow wider.


Monday, August 24, 2009
Ballin' Alone

Whenever possible, I like to take our two eldest childrens to nearby parks. We're fortunate enough to have three such facilities within relatively easy walking distance and I try to hit them each with some regularity.

During weekdays there always seems to be a basketball game going on at one particular park. These are not random pick up games with people who just happen to show up. Rather, these are groups of friends who have made arrangements to meet at the park at a certain time for purposes of playing ball.

Over the course of the summer, I've noticed most of the time the players seem to be divided into certain groups. One day it will be all black guys playing. Another time, all white. Another Indian and another Vietnamese. The groups don't all show up regularly nor do they seem to have particular day of the week when they decide to play.

But when they do, the groups are pretty consistently of the same demographic composition when it comes to age and race. Which probably isn't surprising as they are no doubt friends off the court as well as on.

Those who are of "diversity is our strength" persuasion might look upon this situation with concern. Shouldn't we all be playing together as part of one big community?

However, while I find it interesting to observe the separate (but hardly equal) groups playing ball, I don't take it as a sign that something is wrong with our society. The fact that individuals of similar cultural backgrounds would freely choose to associate with one other should not surprise anyone. The health of the society is determined by whether its member can freely associate with those of different backgrounds, not whether they actually choose to do so or not.

Besides, as Robert Putnam has noted, it seems that birds of a feather are more comfortable and happy flocking together. No need for government diversity camps on this side of the pond. Yet.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009
She'll Take Care Of It

Richard Sith has a provocative piece in the current issue of First Things in which he argues that contrary to claims that the availability of abortion "empowers" or "liberates" women, it actually worsens their position by shifting the responsibility to decide whether a child comes into this world squarely on their shoulders and letting men off the hook. Her Choice, Her Problem: How Abortion Empowers Men (sub req):

But once continuing a pregnancy to birth is the result neither of passion nor of luck but only of her deliberate choice, sympathy weakens. After all, the pregnant woman can avoid all her problems by choosing abortion. So if she decides to take those difficulties on, she must think she can handle them.

Birth itself may be followed by blame rather than support. Since only the mother has the right to decide whether to let the child be born, the father may easily conclude that she bears sole responsibility for caring for the child. The baby is her fault.

It may also seem unfair to him that she could escape motherhood (by being legally allowed to prevent birth), while he is denied any way to escape fatherhood (by still being legally required to pay child support). If consenting to sex does not entail consenting to act as a mother, why should it entail consenting to act as a father? Paternity support in this context appears unjust, and he may resist compliance with his legal duties.

Prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, it was commonly understood that a man should offer a woman marriage in case of pregnancy, and many did so. But with the legalization of abortion, men started to feel that they were not responsible for the birth of children and consequently not under any obligation to marry. In gaining the option of abortion, many women have lost the option of marriage. Liberal abortion laws have thus considerably increased the number of families headed by a single mother, resulting in what some economists call the "feminization of poverty."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Heal Thyself

In addition to scientists and engineers, another profession where individuals tend to believe their particular expertise in a field automatically translates into more widespread knowledge is medicine. Further evidence of this was provided by a letter to the editor in yesterday's WSJ:

Global warming, global food shortages and global diseases are all compounded because of the world-wide refusal to confront our single largest problem: uncontrolled overpopulation.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow we need to admit, confront and start to solve this problem or all else will be futile.

Arthur A. Fleisher II, M.D.
Northridge, Calif.

Paging Dr. Malthus and Dr. Erlich. Please report to the lobby for discharge as your theories have been thoroughly disproved.

It's surprising that anyone is still peddling the nonsense that overpopulation is the gravest threat to mankind.

UPDATE: Anyone except President Obama's "science czar" Dr. John Holdren:

It's not surprising. Holdren spent the '70s boogying down to the vibes of an imaginary population catastrophe and global cooling. He also participated in the famous wager between scientist Paul Ehrlich, the now-discredited "Population Bomb" theorist (and co-author of "Ecoscience), and economist Julian Simon, who believed human ingenuity would overcome demand.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Solitary Man

Bob from Inver Grove Heights e-mails with thoughts on the iPod's impact on socialization:

I share your bewilderment over the ubiquity of iPods, even in supposedly "social" situations. Have you ever seen this New Yorker cartoon? It pretty much says it all on the subject. As a guitar player myself, it struck me as funny, then...not so funny. A little too believable, I guess.

And Tim from Colorado e-mails with his plans for tough love:

C'mon man, get wid it. Kids cannot go anywhere without their music, hence the ear buds, but if they have ear buds in when they get a cell phone call they have to pause their MP3, take out their ear bud and answer the phone. But with text messaging, they can continue to listen to their music and still communicate. I wouldn't be surprised if they text the kid they're sitting next to.

On the subject of music, our 14 year-old daughter cannot wait for us to get out of the driveway before she asks to have the radio on. I have Sirius, and I enjoy the wide variety of programming it offers, but I don't listen to it every minute I'm in the truck. Many times I get in my truck and travel with just the ambient road noise. It is pure torture for my daughter to go more than a half-block without the radio on.

I have the distinct pleasure of reminding myself that this 14 year-old will be driving in a year, and going solo in two years. If and when my wife and I decide to provide a car for our kids to use, I'm going to look for one with just an AM radio and no provision for a CD player, MP3 player, or other similar distraction. I may even disable the AM radio tuner so that it is stuck tuned to the station with Prager, Hannity, and Hewitt.

I'm thinking of temporarily sabotaging the Sirius unit for our annual family vacation to Michigan. I realize I'm tampering with my own sanity, but sometimes a parent has to make a sacrifice to teach an important lesson. As an option, I could chose to listen to Sirius talk radio for the 22-hour trip (each way). What would you recommend: liberal talk radio to show my kids the folly of the Left, or conservative talk radio to shine as a beacon? Decisions, decisions.

I would opt for the latter. Twenty-two straight hours of listening to liberal talk radio qualifies as child abuse in most jurisdictions.


Monday, July 06, 2009
Wanna Be Buds

A couple of things that I simply just don't understand about the "young people" today.

#1 The incessant texting. Yes, I appreciate why a text message is appropriate and appealing in some situations. Why I've even texted messages and pictures myself on occasion. And I also know that in some countries sending text messages on a cell is a much cheaper alternative to voice communications. But I still wonder what the hell American kids are doing constantly sending ungodly numbers of text messages. Who are you texting? What are you texting about? Why don't you just call the person and save yourself a lot of time and effort?

#2 The incessant use of MP3 players. Lately, I've noticed various sized groups of youngsters hanging out together with each member of said group sporting the distinctive cord running from the ear to MP3 player (or cell) in pocket or hand look. Why? This isn't a road trip where you want to get away from your family. These are you friends, people you're freely chosen to associate with, people you likely share common interests with, and people who I assume you would want to be in active communication with. What is with this desire to have your own little personal soundtrack playing at ALL times in ALL circumstances? How can you have a shared experience when you're all listening to different music?

Again, I appreciate the convenience of MP3 players. I understand why you want to use them while working out, commuting, or travelling (by the way, if the passenger seated next to you on the plane takes out an iPod and headphones, it means he DOESN'T want to talk). But when you're hanging with your friends don't you want to be there in the moment together with your friends? Sigh. Kids these days...


Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Restless Dreams of Youth

The ageless battle to defame or defend the suburbs is once again joined. Matthew Archibold looks at the latest 'burb bashing flick from director Sam Mendes and finds himself more soothed than suffocated by suburban living:

I think I'm the bizarro Sam Mendes. I've embraced everything he fears.

The question sometimes comes up in conversation with old friends. What was the best time of your life? And I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit it but right now is the best time of my life. Truly. And I'm a short chubby bearded dad living in the suburbs. I mow my lawn. I pay bills. I talk to my wife about what she did that day. I change diapers. Lots of them. Sometimes we go get ice cream. I do all those things that angsty pubescents jeer at.

I've lived in the suburbs coming up on ten years. And I've yet to feel my soul sucked. I don't really do angst. I think I used to. But I think I've forgotten where I put my existential angst. I'm happy. And even more importantly, I'm content. I'm focused.

So often his characters are running around and saying they're looking to "feel" something. I think I'm content because I don't consider my feelings all that important. And because of that I feel things more intensely than I did ever before in my life. A child's utterances can have me laughing all day. I feel the pain of a parent who sees his child hurt. I feel tired just about all the time but it's the tired that comes from doing something you love. It's not the weary kind of tired that Mendes' characters seem to feel.

And finally, there's one thing I don't ever remember hearing from Mendes' characters: God.

God, thankfully, is at the center of my life. And that puts me in proper perspective. Now if, like Mendes' character seem to often do, I found myself at the center of my own universe I'd be pretty depressed too.

Paul Zummo's post at First Thoughts provided the link to Archibold's piece and provided further thoughts on the matter:

That said, I can understand some of the antipathy towards certain aspects of suburban life. I'm not a big fan of the new developments where the houses all look the same and your options for eating out are all at the strip mall a mile away. But that's a personal preference. Like Matt, I do not understand the sniveling, jeering attitude taken against the suburbs--an attitude that is not exclusive to teenagers and hipsters in their twenties.

Most of this antipathy is overwrought and based on an ungenerous evaluation of people's reasons for choosing to live outside the city. Some do it because of economic concerns. Others might just want a little more space. Whatever the reason, I don't think we're all a bunch of lily-white, anti-social people afraid to deal with unlike people.

UPDATE-- Tim from Colorado e-mails with more on stifling in suburbia:

I have to say that Matthew Archibold's experience in the suburbs is very much like my own. Growing up, my home town in Michigan was a suburb of a larger, blue collar, city. My home town was a great place to grow up; the larger city, not so much. Growing up, I never thought badly of my suburban life experience.

We moved to Parker, CO from Denver 13 years ago. We did so for many reasons; one, we could get a house that was twice as big for the same money; and two, Parker seemed to be a town that enjoyed being called that little horse-town southeast of Denver.

My kids love our suburban neighborhood. We have a neighborhood rec center. Our neighborhood has a lot of open green space where the kids can play. Our neighborhood backs up to an open space with a bike path and creek that wind throughout the open space. Our rec center staff organizes family parties throughout the summer at the rec center pool. Our town has a youth sports organization that organizes youth baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, and roller hockey leagues. The town rec center organizes adult sports leagues.

Thanks to you, I now find out from high-power thinkers that my life in suburbia is just a hollow empty shell of what it could be if I only had chosen to stay in an urban center. In thirteen years that thought had never crossed my mind. I am a regular soul-less zombie out here. What a fool I must be to not see that living with my family in a small apartment with no green spaces to play, stacked on top of thousands of other people but not knowing more than three people in the building, relying on public transportation to not come and go as I please, and making sure my family is not on the city streets after dark, is far more preferable to life in suburbia. I guess I am a bad citizen; I should raise my kids in an urban center so that they can see for themselves that their only choice is to live in an urban area hope the city leaders can somehow provide my kids a childhood.

If there's anybody living in an urban center reading this, please, do not come for me; save yourself and stay where you are.


Sunday, June 07, 2009
Civilized Rituals

In last Thursday's WSJ, Jonathan Last reviewed the book "Make Room For Daddy" by Judith Walzer Leavitt. The book is a look at how the role of father's in the actual birth of their children has changed over the years. The piece also included a great nugget showing how much delivery rooms have as well:

As birthing increasingly moved to hospitals in the 1940s, fathers became more involved, at first confined to the waiting room, sometimes dubbed the "Stork Club" or, more quaintly, the "Husband Room." These were the days of chain smoking or ducking out to a bar while the women and doctors did whatever it was they were doing. Ms. Leavitt reports that one hospital sent fathers home and later dispatched a telegram announcing that the blessed event had occurred.

In the 1950s, fathers were pulled into the process thanks to a book by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read. His "Childbirth Without Fear" advocated natural birthing -- this was before the targeted anesthesia of epidurals, when many women were simply knocked out for the duration. Dr. Dick-Read also argued that husbands should be with their wives up to the moment of delivery, supporting and comforting them. The book was a sensation. Men began migrating to labor rooms, where they rubbed their wives' backs and witnessed the preliminary motions in the great feminine trial.

The natural child-birth counterculture was helped along, oddly enough, by the development of caudal anesthesia, a revolutionary drug that permitted women to manage pain while remaining awake during birth. Ms. Leavitt quotes one woman who was amazed at how the new drugs changed the labor-room experience, allowing certain civilized rituals to be observed: "When I'd drained [the coffee], my husband lighted a cigarette and passed it over to me. I took it gratefully." Shortly after, she was wheeled into the delivery room, leaving behind the cigarette-provider.


Thursday, May 14, 2009
Enjoying Freedom, Not Fighting For It

If you haven't yet, I strongly encourage you to read Mark Steyn's "Live Free Or Die" piece from the latest issue of Hillsdale College's Imprimis:

That's Stage Two of societal enervation--when the state as guarantor of all your basic needs becomes increasingly comfortable with regulating your behavior. Free peoples who were once willing to give their lives for liberty can be persuaded very quickly to relinquish their liberties for a quiet life. When President Bush talked about promoting democracy in the Middle East, there was a phrase he liked to use: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Really? It's unclear whether that's really the case in Gaza and the Pakistani tribal lands. But it's absolutely certain that it's not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, New Orleans and Buffalo. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government "security," large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time--the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and a ton of other stuff. It's ridiculous for grown men and women to say: I want to be able to choose from hundreds of cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies from Netflix, millions of songs to play on my iPod--but I want the government to choose for me when it comes to my health care. A nation that demands the government take care of all the grown-up stuff is a nation turning into the world's wrinkliest adolescent, free only to choose its record collection.

Steyn goes on to note that even that adolescent version of freedom is at risk in Stages Three and Four.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Stand Up For Your Rights

Article in yesterday's WSJ on Why Fans in the U.S. Prefer to Sit and European Fans Stand at Professional Sporting Events (sub req):

It goes back to "the middle ages, when the nobility sat and the common plebs stood," says Rod Sheard, senior principle of the leading sports architecture firm Populous and designer of the Emirates. "All of America is nobility. Everyone thinks they're king in America."

Populous? Whew. How'd you like to work for a place with a ridiculous name like that?

Although I have fond memories of being in the SRO (standing room only) section for North Star playoff games at Met Center, all in all I prefer the US custom of being seated for sporting events. However, I do get annoyed by the folks who think you should be seated for the entire game. If it's the bottom of the ninth and our closer is out there trying to save a one-run lead, you better believe I'm standing. Or if we're down one with our goalie pulled trying to tie it up with a minute left, I am most definitely not staying in my seat. If you don't like having your view blocked, then get up, stand up like the real fans are.


Saturday, May 02, 2009
Hits & Misc

* Larry e-mails to note the Egyptian reaction to swine flu and sees an opportunity:

Occurred to me that if we had just called this "Al-Qaeda Flu" or "Bin Laden Flu," we might have gotten the Egyptians to take care of a couple problems for us. It's all about the moniker.

Good thing to keep in mind for the next pandemic.

* Nathan e-mails with a health care concern:

I haven't followed this too closely, but this seems downright frightening. The stimulus bill has a hidden provision creating a panel to study health care rationing. Can we be far from a world where the federal government decides who lives and who dies?

The reality that government run health care proponents don't like to talk about it is that at the end of the day, the only way such a system can control costs and remain viable is through some sort of rationing of care. People should understand that this is the inevitable result of turning their health care over to the government.

* Evan e-mails with a video on the real intent of President Obama's health care plan.

* has a video in which they try to discover if people know how big a trillion dollars really is:

In order to do so, we took a poll of 1,001 Americans asking ?How many times larger is a trillion than a million?? We also took our Econ4U team out in front of the White House to capture some live responses.

The video is amusing yet also depressing in that most people (79%!) can't grasp how much money we're actually going to be spending here.

* Shea e-mails with the latest on how fast food is becoming the new tobacco in the eyes of the Nanny Statists:

I don't know if you've seen former FDA Chief David Kessler making the rounds with his new book, trying to equate fattening food to tobacco and claiming that we're all being brainwashed into addictive overeating. Of course, if the Liberals can convince people of this insanity, then they get to impose new taxes on food they deem "bad." But I appreciated that Jacob Sullum at Reason has his number.

It's not my fault I'm fat, it's those devious food companies. The Age of Obama dawns as the age of personal responsibility fades ever further from view.

* Finally, my wife relates a flu-related conversation she overheard today at Target:

About two checkouts down, I heard a cashier talking to a woman and the subject somehow got to the Swine flu (the woman had a baby). She said basically that she wasn't too concerned about it yet. The cashier said that there was a woman in this week that stocked up on food/supplies in case we were told not to leave the house because of the flu.

I was thinking "freak," but that doesn't surprise me because there are always the handful that overreact. But what did strike me as odd was what the cashier said next. "Obama even said that it should be business as usual." Maybe that's not the exact quote but basically that's what he said Obama said. And that struck me as odd for some reason and then it clicked. I don't think I would have heard the same thing if Bush or McCain was president...."McCain even said that it should be business as usual." McCain didn't/doesn't have the mystique of God-like qualities and the ability to save us all if he became president...

No, McCain was definitely not the all-knowing, all-seeing One. As chilling as it is to see how readily people seem take their daily marching cues from President Obama, I suppose it could be even worse. They could be listening to Vice President Biden for advice.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Three nuggets from the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The first from Caitlin Flanagan in a piece on Columbine called The High Cost of Coddling:

In my teaching days, no single document shaped my thinking as much as Flannery O'Connor's 1963 essay called "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade." It concerned neither guns nor violence, neither cliques nor experimental approaches to the treatment of adolescent depression. It was about . . . books. In defending the teaching of the great works of the Western canon rather than those of the modern day (which kids far preferred), she said something wise, the sort of thing an adult might say. She said that the whims and preferences of children should always, always be sublimated to the sense and judgment of their elders.

"And what if the student finds this is not to his taste?" O'Connor asked. "Well that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."

Next up is Meghan Cox Gurdon who notes that the efforts to scare kids green have now crept into children's literature:

As any parent can tell you, children like routine. They're not put off by predictability in stories. They're accustomed to princesses being pretty, dragons being fearsome, and, it seems, alas, their fictional businessmen being corpulent and amoral. So it's probably pointless to object to the eco-endlessness on the grounds of artistic feebleness.

Yet there is something culturally impoverished about insisting that children join in the adult preoccupation with reducing, reusing and recycling. Can they not have a precious decade or so to soar in imaginative literature before we drag them back down to earth?

Finally, Eric Felten celebrates A Welcome Sign of Vodka's Decline:

But the popularity of vodka among foodies was always perplexing. Vodka's neutrality and uniformity would seem to be at odds with the slow-food crowd's embrace of robust flavors reflecting specific locales. Back in 2005, among the best bartenders, the revolt against vodka had begun, even if it was still too underground to be seen in Food & Wine's cocktail compilation. But now, at long last, as a revolutionary theorist might put it, the contradictions inherent in the vodka paradigm have become apparent. It's as though there were finally the realization that making cocktails with vodka is like making paella with instant rice -- it can be done, of course, but it doesn't exactly burnish one's culinary bona fides.

How far has vodka fallen in the world of serious drinks-making? Out of about 200 recipes found in the original Food & Wine cocktail book, nearly 60 used vodka, making it the dominant spirit of the day. "Cocktails '09," by contrast, has only 10 recipes that call for vodka. And even those are mostly rather apologetic about it, with vodka used in a tertiary role.

A role that is should always be relegated to.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009
An Existential Loss of Hope

Much has already been written about the cultural, spiritual, and demographic decline of Europe. In the March issue of FIRST THINGS, Jean Bethke Elshtain gives voice to the concerns in a piece called While Europe Slept (sub req):

Democracies often have a difficult task in figuring out how to deal with internal threats, with those within the body politic who would destroy it if they could: Witness Weimar dealing, or not dealing, with Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Europeans today are altogether too complacent, too convinced that economic rights and expressivist self-sovereignty can carry us through. But no one can miss the signs of cultural slackness and exhaustion all around in today's Europe. Demographic collapse is one sign of an existential loss of hope and a turning of the self inward on the self, refusing to extend the self to a child and thus abandoning the task of civic formation on this most fundamental and private level.

Europe suffers from many self-inflicted wounds--the wounds of indifference, the wounds of self-absorption. Will Europe be able to deal with all the daunting challenges she faces, including destabilization, economic stagnation, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and all the rest? Only if she remembers who she is, with something precious and valuable to offer, which means accepting her religious heritage and its normative constraints on what people are permitted to do and how they may do it. Only if Europe can sustain principles and commitments that are historically derived from presuppositions of divinely sanctioned human dignity. I speak here not of faith but of sustaining cultural memory, including that which resolutely rejected the view that we are all forced to choose between faith and reason, which would rule Europe's historical dialectic irrelevant.

Will Europe awake from this slumber in time to regain its cultural confidence, faith, and hope for the future? I'm afraid I'm not confident.

I'm also afraid about the prospects of the nihilism and relativism that is corroding Europe coming to our shores. One of the reasons that America is not yet facing the same bleak future as Europe is the secular acceptance of America's religious heritage and cultural memory. You don't have to believe in God to believe in America. But as our secular culture becomes more self-absorbed, more indifferent, more adverse to the ideal of divinely sanctioned human dignity (in other words more Europeanized), we may be well headed down the same path of civilizational decline.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009
You Don't Need A Weather Man...

Today's blinding flash of the obvious comes courtesy of a NYTimes' story on the record number of US births in 2007. In a section of the article on the recent rise in teenage pregnancy (after years of decline), the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy informs us that:

Teenage abortion rates have been falling for years and are not believed to be a major factor in the birth trends. "The decline resulted from less sex and more contraception," Ms. Brown said. "So the new trend must involve some combination of more sex and less contraception."

Really? You think?


Thursday, March 12, 2009
Living The Artful Life

There was a wonderful interview in yesterday's WSJ with Art Linkletter (sub req). What a life this guy has had. Successful radio and TV star. Friends with Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, and Cary Grant. Been married to his wife for seventy-three years. And at age ninety-six, he's still going strong. A few favorite bits:

One of Mr. Linkletter's closest friends was Walt Disney, "my greatest mentor." He did the opening show for Disneyland. Another close friend was Cary Grant. Mr. Linkletter has been married to his wife, Lois, for 73 years, but he says the one woman he always pined for was Sophia Loren. Grant did have an affair with the actress, and Mr. Linkletter says he jealously asked: "'Cary, was she worth it?' And he said, 'Art, you'd better believe it!'"


Mr. Linkletter has also written and lectured on how to live a long life and make your dreams come true. "As early as possible in your life, find what you love to do and then do it. You will find you will do that better than almost anyone else." Also, have a positive attitude about life and "always try to find something to smile and laugh about every day." Is that possible even at age 96? I ask. "I always say if you can't find something to laugh about when you get old, just look at yourself in the mirror."

He has an interesting perspective on Social Security:

Mr. Linkletter does turn serious when talking about the mismanaged policies out of Washington. About Barack Obama, he says: "He's intelligent, a born performer and ambitious, like I was, but that spending bill [the stimulus] is the most terrible mistake in our history. I never thought I would see so much debt."

His passion is Social Security reform. "I'm a conservative, and I actually voted for FDR. At first Social Security was a terrific idea. Give people some financial security in their old age," he says. But the taxes grew and grew over his lifetime -- to 15% from 2% of each paycheck. "And as the time went on, this huge fund became an ATM machine for Congress. And now all they have left are IOUs. Nobody owns anything." He says: "I was one of the first people to ever pay Social Security, at age 22 starting in 1935. But now the program has become a rip-off, just like the guy [Bernard Madoff] who did the Ponzi scheme. We need to stop the congressional raid on the trust fund and turn this tax money back over to individuals so they can own it and control it."

Fixing Social Security would seem like a hopeless crusade for a 96-year-old, but he pledges "I'm not going to die until it happens." He's heading up a new group, called Team Grandparent, that is trying to organize senior citizens to challenge the AARP orthodoxy.

How can you not love that approach?

And that's a path Art Linkletter wants the nation to avoid at all costs. "We've become a rich country because of freedom. Freedom. The ability to speak and worship and do business and run your own affairs and have a limited government which promoted enterprise, in the early days, instead of trying to run everything -- like now."

Yet he retains the optimistic outlook that I suspect has been the secret of his success. "So much progress in my lifetime. TVs, radios, computers, heart transplants, and so on. And this is just the beginning. . . . I think that my life has been lived during the greatest time in the history of mankind. But the next fifty years are going top even be better."

If Americans can emulate just a portion of the spunk, hard work, and positive attitude that Art Linkletter has demonstrated throughout his life, I have no doubt that his prediction will come to fruition.


Monday, February 02, 2009
Two Just Won't Do

At the First Things blog, Stephen M. Barr helps a "Green Guru" with mathematics:

A headline in the Sunday Times yesterday reads "Two Children Should be Limit, Says Green Guru." The guru in question is Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the British government's Sustainable Development Commission. According to the Times article, Porritt says that couples who have more than two children are being "irresponsible" by creating an unbearable burden on the environment.

I guess elementary math is not part of the training of green gurus. The idea of two children per couple is obviously premised on the notion that each generation should produce only enough children to replace itself. But even if one accepts that premise, the mathematics is wrong, for several reasons.

First, as is well known, demographers say that for a constant population, the fertility rate averaged over all women should be 2.1 children per woman, not 2.0, since not all children survive to adulthood. Second, and much more important, there are many people who are unable to have children for one reason or another. About 15% of couples suffer from fertility problems; many people are unable to find a mate; and many who do find a mate marry too late to have children. Altogether about 19% of women in the United States in the 40-44 age bracket are still childless, which means that they will probably remain childless. This implies that in order to have a constant population, those women who are able and willing to have any children should have on average 2.6 children, not 2.0. If we also take into account the fact that many women who are able and willing to have a child are unable to have more than one, one finds that those women who are able and willing to have more than one child must actually average almost 3 children just to keep the population stable. Instead of the canonical "family of four" that has been held up for so long as the ideal, it should be the "family of five," or four and three-quarters, perhaps.

To put it another way, if no one had more than two children, as the green guru would want it, the fertility rate could probably not be gotten above 1.4. In twenty generations the world population would plunge to less than 2 million. Given the enormous division of labor and degree of specialization required by an advanced economy, such an economy could not be sustained, and the human race would reduced to a primitive economic level. Without advanced technology, infant mortality and mortality in general would shoot up. The Porritt two-child maximum would go by the wayside, since women would have to bear many children just so that enough would survive to keep the human race in existence. Yes, the world would be very green indeed.

While it's possible that Porritt is mathematically challenged as Barr assumes, it's also possible that he's one of the many green gurus who actually harbor a desire for this regression to a more primitive future. It's not something they usually openly talk about--it's much easier to get people to open their wallets by campaigning to save polar bears and whales--but there is a school of thought among environmentalists and leftists (sorry for the redundancy) that views society's economic and technological regress as ecological progress. Explaining that population limitation today will lead to a barren world in the future is not likely to change their mind about its desirability.


Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Shirt That Made The Men

A sad passing was noted in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Elvis wasn't the only one wearing the wild-style shirts that signified everything from Hawaiian ethnicity to surfer cool to casual Friday. Frank Sinatra wore one in "From Here to Eternity," and Tom Selleck wore one in "Magnum PI." More recently, Hawaiian native President Barack Obama has been photographed in aloha shirts, and so has the Rev. Rick Warren, who gave the inaugural invocation.

As the dean of Hawaiian couture, Mr. Shaheen, who died Dec. 22 at age 86, not only dressed Hollywood stars and surfers in his aloha shirts (an island industry term for what the rest of the world calls Hawaiian shirts), he also was famed for his women's wear, sold at department-store boutiques nationwide.

Like much of Hawaiian culture, Mr. Shaheen was an import to the islands. Of Lebanese heritage, he grew up in New Jersey, where his family owned textile mills. He was a decorated fighter pilot in the European theater during World War II, and after the war followed his family to Hawaii, where they had relocated.

In 1948, he started manufacturing rayon Hawaiian shirts in a Quonset hut left over from the war, with four seamstresses taught by his mother. As the business expanded from shirts to dresses, Mr. Shaheen hired native and Japanese designers to create lush textile prints based on patterns from Hawaii, other islands and Japan. He often included a brochure with each garment describing where the fabric design came from.

"He wanted his designers to bring in ethnic images from around the world, because he saw Hawaii as a melting pot," says Linda B. Arthur, author of "The Art of the Aloha Shirt."

No word on what Mr. Shaheen will be wearing as he's laid to rest, but it's not hard to guess. Hawaiian shirt lovers everywhere (like Sisyphus) will no doubt be honoring his memory by donning their favorite version of the classic. The obit also notes that some credit the spread of the Hawaiian shirt to the mainland as the reason for casual Fridays in the workplace. R.I.P.


Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Pretense of Reading

Last month, I took issue with the notion that reading is always an unalloyed good:

There's an assumption that reading is always good and anyone who reads is smarter and therefore better than those who don't. The truth is that it's not that you read, but what you read. I run across a lot of people who like to talk about how much they read. But when you ask them they read, it's usually Stephen King, John Grisham, Grafton, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, or the latest dysfunctional family offering from the Oprah book club. Nothing wrong with the products those folks turn out. There definitely is a place for them. However, if that's all you read, you're hardly lifting yourself up to a higher intellectual plane.

In yesterday's Denver Post, David Harsanyi uses a release from the National Endowment for the Arts on the increase in "literary reading" in America to make a similar argument:

Reading, in and of itself, holds no extraordinary significance--or, rather, no more than watching a smart television show (and there seem to be many of them around these days) or surfing the Internet. In fact, one could argue that by picking up a heartbreaking work of staggering garbage like the "Da Vinci Code," you can effectively knock 20 points off of your IQ.

We understand that all books are not created equal. There are, in fact, books that peddle completely nonsensical and sometimes dangerous ideas. Take, if you will, one of the best-selling books of all time, "Little Red Book" by Mao, or anything ever written by Michael Moore or Patrick Buchanan.

That's not to say that there aren't countless top-notch historical tomes, literary masterpieces and engaging biographies on the market right now. It's merely to say that "we" don't bother to read them very often.

"Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice," by Maureen McCormick--to not-so-indiscriminately pick a book--debuted at the No. 4 position on The New York Times Best Seller List last year and I still see stacks of it at my local library.

Having been raised on the common-sense wisdom and idealistic energy of "The Brady Bunch," Marcia's uplifting story of surviving in a callous, post-Brady era was quite the read. But, inarguably, I could have gleaned more educational information scanning the back of my cereal box.

One of my pet peeves with the strident anti-television folks is that they often operate under the assumption that anything you read is automatically better (and better for you intellectually) than anything you could watch on TV. As Harsanyi notes, this is utter balderdash. It's not "that" you read, it's "what" you read. Likewise, it's not "that" you watch TV, it's "what" you watch that matters.


Monday, December 29, 2008
Sockin' The Suburbs

A few months back, I noted how excited I was to learn that with the release of "Revolutionary Road" Hollywood would finally be breaking a long held taboo and bravely critique the suffocating, stifling lives of suburban conformity. And in the Fifties no less, an era that has been heretofore immune from the cynical, post-modern withering gaze of the movie-making community. Bravo Sam Mendes for your pioneering effort in taking us behind the comfortable facade of suburban bliss and exposing the secret hell of lives of quiet desperation.

In one of the best pieces I've ever read on the subject, Lee Siegel asks Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs? in Saturday's WSJ. He could have expanded the list of those who rage against the suburbs to include artists, writers, musicians, poets, thespians, urban intellectuals, almost everyone on the Left (getting redundant here), and anyone else who considers tragedy hip. The entire piece is excellent and well worth reading (best of all it's available to all on the Journal's site). Here are a couple of paragraphs with particular punch:

Still, the film's hostility toward the suburbs pales when compared with its source. Yates's novel, cherished by literary intellectuals and Paris Review interns to this day, expresses American suburban-phobia with crude explicitness. Describing the Wheelers' new neighborhood, Yates writes: "The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy.... [The neighborhood] was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves.... A man running down these streets in desperate grief was indecently out of place."

No literary critic that I know of has ever challenged Yates's puerile social perceptions. The reflexive reverence for "Revolutionary Road" is a testament to the degree to which antisuburban sentiment is one of the most unexamined attitudes in American culture. For what might a neighborhood that had been designed to accommodate a tragedy possibly look like? For a man running down the street in desperate grief to fit right into the landscape, he would have to be hurtling through a place where vampiric towers blocked out the sun and corpses hung from the lampposts.

Yates's rage against the suburbs had all the subtlety of adolescent rage against authority (this indiscriminate anger might account for the novel's fatal deficiency: Frank and April's total lack of talent or substance makes their ultimately thwarted attempt to leave the suburbs for Paris less the stuff of tragedy than irritating farce). Yet "Revolutionary Road" -- the name fatuously meant to imply that America's revolutionary promise withers and dies in the suburbs -- caught the reflexive attitudes of many readers. Postwar writers and intellectuals overlooked the book's flagrant shortcomings, lit up from within by their shared opposition to a single place. X might be a Stalinist, and Y a fellow traveler and Z a closet Republican, but they could all agree on one thing -- they'd rather perish in a nuclear holocaust than move to Westchester!

American antisuburban sentiment is often comically absurd. In his 1955 poem "Howl," Allen Ginsberg elevated suburb-phobia to the level of myth. He excoriates the "invisible suburbs" -- i.e. they are so spiritually dead that they are hidden from a living eye -- as one of the pernicious manifestations of Moloch, the destructive god of soulless materialism. Sylvia Plath added some spine-tingling details. In her 1963 autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar," Plath's heroine steps off a train and has this infernal experience: "The motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station wagons and dogs and babies. A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death." The pleasures of a station wagon's aroma are open to question, but summer calm, the smell of wet grass, the scent of dogs (if they're clean) and babies (clean or dirty) -- are, it could be argued, some of the least horrifying experiences in life.

To normal well-adjusted people they are in fact some of the most pleasurable. Which explains a lot about the real reasons for hating the suburbs.


Thursday, December 11, 2008
Check Her Out

One of life's enduring mysteries crossed my mind today as I did my part to stimulate the economy by buying socks and shoe laces (they make great stocking stuffers) over the lunch hour:

If women are so good at shopping, why are they so bad at checking out?

Seriously ladies, most of you like to shop and have years and years of shopping experience under your belt. So why is it that when you reach the transactional point of the shopping experience, many of you act as if it's a brand new process?

I stewed in quiet desperation while in line today as every woman in front of me had some issue or another while checking out. There was a problem with a return. There was a problem finding the coupon. Finally, there was a situation where a woman was trying to use a 15% coupon along with another coupon that entitled her to an additional discount if she spent more than $50.

I knew that trouble was brewing when she commented to the clerk that she wasn't sure if had $50 worth of goods because it was "too hard" to keep track. She had four maybe five items. I know that Barbie thinks that "math is hard", but c'mon we're trying to have a society here.

Damned if her total wasn't forty-seven dollars and some odd cents. Which meant more confusion, more indecision, and more silent exasperation on my part (just do something!) until the cashier figured out a way that she could get rung up twice and still get the desired discounts.

If you have a choice this holiday season between a checkout line with six men and one with three women, take the longer queue. It's guaranteed to go faster.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008
JB Fires Up His Rhetorical Bong

Adding to the Elder's piece on drugs legalisation (as the Brits put it) I always chuckle when I hear that we aren't "winning" the War On Drugs.

What would winning look like? I'd like to hear how winning could be defined since all we hear is that we are losing.

It reminds me of the left's take on the Ho Chi Minh Trail: we can't stop them, so why try?

Without interdictive bombing on the trail, South Vietnam would have fallen years earlier. Yet, the bombing has gone down in history as a failure.

It seems that with drugs--like the trail--without evidence of 100% eradication the entire policy has somehow failed. If 50 trucks head down the trail and we took out 25, I consider that a success.

So the answer is not to cease bombing, it's to increase it and to bomb places that have been havens before. Insert Cambodia metaphor here.


In Closer Accord With His Manner of Life

Stephan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal newspaper, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art and politics had no special interest to him, he firmly held those views on all subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them--or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they impercetively changed of themselves within him.

Stephan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hats or coats, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society--owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity--to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but its being in closer accord with his manner of life...And so liberalism had become a habit of Stephan Aakadyevitch's, and he liked his newspaper, as he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in his brain.

--Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


Monday, December 08, 2008
Making It Legal Still Doesn't Make It Right

One of the arguments made by those who favor legalization of drugs and prostitution is that doing so would eliminate the criminal element that tends to run said activities when they are banned. Last Saturday, Mitch and Ed spent the second hour of their NARN Headliner show making this very argument.

The problem with such an approach however is that if you look at places where it has been tried, the results are often not what had been predicted.

Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes:

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the so-called "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals" said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

Coffee Shops, Bordellos to Close in Amsterdam Crackdown:

Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000. The consumption and possession of less than five grams of cannabis were decriminalized in 1976, although its cultivation remains illegal.

While liberal-minded Dutch have tolerated this contradictory system of cannabis being grown and dealt illegally to legal vendors, the planned Amsterdam closures -- and a spate of other measures taken by smaller town councils around the Netherlands to close all cannabis coffee shops -- mark a growing concern that the system is breeding crime.

"Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this," Amsterdam deputy mayor Lodewijk Asscher told news agency Reuters on Saturday, Dec. 6.

The "soft" approach to drug enforcement--including giving heroin users a place to shoot up--also hasn't exactly been a roaring success in Vancouver either:

Simply put, Robertson doesn't get it. The Downtown Eastside requires a cultural revolution, not more government enabling. The seven years since Owen ushered in his Four Pillars strategy have been a disaster. By all accounts, things get worse every day. The open drug market thrives. Chinatown is under siege. Homelessness has doubled, a trend owed not only to a lack of housing but to the Downtown Eastside's courtship of drug users.

Which leads back to Insite. Most Insite users typically shoot up elsewhere at some point during the day. And Insite accounts for less than five per cent of all injections in the neighbourhood. Still, proponents claim Insite reduces overdoses, needle sharing and public injections. But they don't consider the cultural consequences.

Why do people come to the Downtown Eastside? Because that's where the drugs are. Insite removes yet another impediment for drug abuse and surrenders the moral ground to drug dealers. Insite perpetuates a culture of drugs and excess--the two staples of addiction. And as with B.C.'s reckless methadone maintenance program, Insite offers no mandatory treatment. For every heroin addict Insite "helps," countless others are spawned in the dreary environment Insite helps create.

Having had some personal experience with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, I can say that the neighborhood's squalor, indigence, and decay is hardly a convincing argument for more lax drug laws. Fear, anxiety, and hopelessness hung heavy in the air as we walked the streets and it was among the most depressing and foreboding environments I've ever experienced. And we were there in the middle of the day.

The War in Drugs may not be winnable and some of its policies probably should be reexamined. But before we start down the road toward legalization, we would do well to consider what the results have been when it's been tried elsewhere. Legalizing drugs or prostitution often doesn't eliminate crime as much as encourage it.

As the writer on Vancouver notes, once the government loses the moral ground by implicit endorsement of drug use through legalization, it's very difficult to get the genie back in the bottle. Look what's happened with the expansion of gambling with government involvement in lotteries. Is our society better off because of it? I would argue no.

Despite what the sophistic arguments against "legislating morality" say, the reality is that our laws do exactly that. There are legitimate societal concerns with legalizing drugs, prostitution, and gambling and government should weigh them carefully before choosing the all too easy path towards liberalization.


Sunday, September 07, 2008
Culturally Separated At Birth?

The borough of Brooklyn, New York and...

...the country of Japan?

Did Mr. Theroux find suspicion of strangers in any country on his latest journey? What about Japan? "Hmm . . . let me think," he responds, playing with his chin. "Japan doesn't have suspicion of strangers. They just have an utter lack of interest. They have a settled sense of themselves as an advanced culture, a sense that other people aren't doing things right. They think their food is best, their way of living is best. They lack space, but in all other ways they feel they've got it figured out."

Other similarities between the insular and arrogant cultures include a fondness for baseball, a love of eating contests, an inability for men to color coordinate, and an active organized crime community.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Hey, We Got Beer Too

Bob takes a pause from gloating about the Red Wings to e-mail to hep us to map showing How West Virginians See America. Kinda makes you glad you're not from Ohio, doesn't it?

This assumes of course that West Virginians know how to read a map. Or read at all for that matter.

UPDATE-- Chris from A Sour Apple Tree drops an e-mail:

Thanks for the link to my map on how West Virginians see America.

I'll grant you the part about readin' "words," but I can assure you that WVians, by and large, are quite skilled at cartography. There is all sorts of stuff up in them hills that we could draw a map to if we wanted.

Better to keep your still sites in your head lest one o' them dam-blasted revenuers get a hold o' it.


Saturday, April 19, 2008
Watch Your Language

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."

- George Orwell

My wife came across this seemingly innocent yet revealing abuse of language in a recent St. Louis Park City newsletter blurb on new fire stations:

Our departmental needs and equipment have outgrown the stations. When built more than 40 years ago, the city responded to fewer than 500 calls annually. In 2007, we responded to 4,300 calls. Our department now also includes gender diversity for which our stations are not equipped.

As my wife asked, "How much gender diversity is there anyway? There's only two, right? Why couldn't they just say they now have female firefighters too?"

Given a choice between clear, concise language and meaningless PC puffery, the modern bureaucrat is always going to go with the latter.


Monday, April 14, 2008
Why Am I Doing This Again?

Watching the Masters yesterday (man it's gorgeous in HD!) I heard over and over how this Immelman fellow had made a lot of sacrifices (one bit of BS I have to call out the announcers for: they claim he had a special gift for golf...since AGE FIVE? Come on!) to get to this point where he won a major. There was talk of the sacrifices the kids had to endure (what choice did they have?) being without a father, the sacrifices the parents and wife had to make, etc.

It just got me wondering what The Point is anyway. Is great achievement supposed to be the goal of our lives? Why? I know, as someone who has not achieved these great things it's easy for me to say, but there's a fundamiddle assumption here that the announcers were voicing that It Was All Worth It.

So you move half-way around the world, deprive your children of their father for long stretches of time, leave your friends, family...because YOU have a dream.

So perhaps this is a very non-conservative point--achieving excellence isn't what it's all about?

Maybe the goal should be achieving as much excellence as you can while still being focused on your family. Something's gotta give though and it's usually the kids when the parent's dreams are on the line.

File under: just sayin'.


Friday, March 28, 2008
Nebraska Neck Warmer

Here's your chance to vote for the best mullet and help a dude win a bitchin' Camaro.


Thursday, March 27, 2008
"You Dick!"

Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson (born May 16, 1969) is a multi-named television pundit, a former bow-tie wearer, and a dick. His insufferability was inflicted on America--or at least that tiny fraction of America that watches MSNBC--for three hours every weekday on the eponymous show Tucker, which aired at 4pm, 6pm and 2am ET, until it was canceled on March 10, 2008.

See all the hilarious entries at


Friday, March 14, 2008
Age Appropriate

My wife sent me this link today under the heading "Imagine saying that this is a picture of my fifty-year old mom." There's no doubt that Madonna still has it goin' on, but at some point don't you have to quit pretending that you're twenty-one? There's nothing wrong with being sexy at fifty. It just would be nice if she'd throw a little more sophistication into the mix.


Thursday, March 06, 2008
Can't Sleep, Clown'll Eat me

Henry e-mails with relief:

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The food tastes better. The beer is crisper. Santa Claus has brought gifts. The Easter Bunny is merrily hopping along the bunny trail. America is a bright shining light.

The media remains hysteric.The University is still the most morally confused place in America. All because Dennis Prager is back on the radio. Calmly slaying the entire secular world with a mighty Heavenly sword. Ahhhh...

Not only is Dennis Prager back on the air after his recent cruise, he's coming back to the Twin Cities on March 24th:

What keeps Dennis Prager up at night? Come find out on Monday March 24th at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park. General admission is just $20 but you can save $5 if you pre-register today. Special V.I.P. dinner packages are available on a limited basis too. Lecture begins at 7:00 PM (General Admission doors open at 6:30 PM). V.I.P. Dinner begins at 6:00 PM (separate ticket required).

Rumor has it that in keeping with the evening's theme, Dennis will be addressing the crowd in his pajamas and that cookies and warm milk will be served afterward. Don't wait to reserve your tickets. If you snooze, you will lose.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I've Heard Of These Crackpots

Stephen M. Barr writes on when you should trust the experts at the First Things Blog:

In the final analysis, it is the experts who must police things. Generally, in the natural sciences this works. The kooks are kept out and largely ignored. Of course the kooks bitterly complain that "the establishment" is out to get them, as it was out to get all the other great rebel-geniuses they imagine scientific history to be full of. The problem in so many other fields is that not a few of the experts give every appearance of being kooks themselves. Architectural experts destroy beautiful old Catholic churches. Liturgical experts give us liturgies that are painful and embarrassing ordeals. Literary theorists write impenetrable prose. Psychologists give us twinky defenses. The question arises: When is one to trust the experts and when is one to trust one's own instincts? It may be the central problem of our times.

My own guiding principle is to trust the experts (generally speaking) on anything purely technical, but to rely more on my own judgment as far as human realities go. I trust the architect on what will keep the building up but not on what is beautiful. I trust the pediatrician, but not the child psychologist. When we had our first child, my wife read a number of books on how to raise one's kids. I never wanted to hear what they had to say, much to her annoyance. She noted that they had degrees in the subject and I didn't. My own feeling was that if it took a degree to raise a child properly, the human race would have died out 100,000 years ago. I'd rather trust my parents' advice and example and my own instincts in such matters than some egghead of dubious sanity.

But physics is a technical field, and so, if you want to know whether a theory of physics makes any sense, it is a pretty safe bet to trust the professional physics community. Trust me on that. I am an expert.

One of the other problems in relying on "expert" opinion, is that is many cases--raising children an obvious one--you can easily find as many different opinions as experts. Which one should you trust? I'm with Barr in following the experts on technical matters, but sticking with common sense, experience, and tradition in the "softer" areas of life.


Friday, February 08, 2008
Just Settle Already

At the Atlantic Monthly, Lisa Gottlieb advices younger women to go ahead and marry him:

What I didn't realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you're looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you'll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn't fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn't necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you're married, it's not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it's about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn't a passion-fest; it's more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

I don't mean to say that settling is ideal. I'm simply saying that it might have gotten an undeservedly bad rap. As the only single woman in my son's mommy-and-me group, I used to listen each week to a litany of unrelenting complaints about people's husbands and feel pretty good about my decision to hold out for the right guy, only to realize that these women wouldn't trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband. They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn't about cosmic connection--it's about how having a teammate, even if he's not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

(Via Ross Douthat)


Monday, February 04, 2008
Ohh, damn. I forgot to buy plant food again

J Peterman (yes, the real Peterman) has started his own blog site with posts in chronological order called Peterman's Eye. Check it out for the latest musings of the man behind the catalog.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Roger Kimball on Lewis Lapham in the February 11th edition of National Review (sub req):

His mastery of the non sequitur and command of the startling half-truth and tendentious declaration have long been admired by connoisseurs of logical deficit and rhetorical incontinence.

Remarkable critique both for its brevity and thoroughness.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Wheel of Misfortune

You have to applaud the consistency of the E! Network, extending their trademark sensitivity and tact to even celebrity medical updates. Headline yesterday:

Alex Trebek Jeopardized By Heart Attack

If the E! headline writers can't release their natural punning instincts on game show hosts with grave medical conditions, who can they do it to?

With that in mind, keep you eyes out for the following headlines on E! in the years to come (unless of course any of these people already happen to be dead).

Pat Sajak's Vital Signs Land on Bankrupt

Dick Clark's Heart Doesn't Have a Good Beat and You Can't Dance to It

Bob Barker's Pulse Comes on Down!

Richard Dawson: Can We See Cirrhosis!?

Wink Martindale: Tic Tac Dead!

Jack Barry: Joker!, Joker! Oooooh Things that Give You Cancer

UPDATE: Sisyphus sends in a few more:

Regis Philbin Gives Final Answer

Gene Rayburn Is As Dead As a Blank

No Deal For Howie Mandel


Saturday, December 01, 2007
The Axles Of Evel

Growing up with Evel Knievel as one of my heroes (I once owned this lunchbox) is why I watch NASCAR races today in anticipation of seeing a crash or two. Watch this video of Mr. Knievel's work to see what I mean.

Thanks for the memories, Evel.


Friday, October 12, 2007
More Holiday News

Not only is it Eid Al Fitr, according to my culturally sensitive wall calendar, it is also Day of The Race. But don't be looking for a bunch of Ukrainians and Nigerians with numbers on their chests running down your Main Street, USA . (That was a different race, last weekend in St. Paul.) Apparently this "race" has nothing to do with running. Instead it has something to do with ethnicity. Or, more precisely, the end result of what happened when the Spaniards met the indigenous in Latin America.

Although Spain imposed its government and religion, the people intermarried and many native traditions have survived. Our nation today is a mixture of the Spanish and the indigenous. We call that new race and that new culture --which came into existence partly because Christopher Columbus landed in America 507 years ago-- mestizo, and that is what we celebrate on October 12th, Día de la Raza.

Interesting. Although I think the term "THE race" is a tad exclusionary. What about everybody else? Don't we count? Maybe that explains why I don't get a three day weekend for this holiday either.

In any regard, congratulations on your ethnic identity, mi amigos!

Except in Venezuela. For you, way to resist indigenously.

Looking ahead on the old calendar on the wall, I see at the end of October, we get the darkest, most frightening and morbid of all holidays. Yes, United Nations Day (October 24). Where, by tradition, family and friends get together, exchange gifts, have a lavish feast, then write up a resolution condemning Israel.

From all of us at Fraters Libertas, we wish you an yours the happiest of United Nations Day seasons.


We are the wind beneath the right wing.

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