Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It's the little differences, right Vincent

You know when you are talking to a friend and he (or she) makes so much sense and youa re so glad that you ahve a friend with a clear head on his (or her) shoulders, who gets it (whatever it is), you know? Then one day you overhear said friend explaining what you and he (or she) talked about to someone, who let's say mildly disagrees. And your friend is just railing away completely oblivious that whatever brilliant and salient points he (or she) might have had a chance to make have been lost, because our came condescension. Yeah, I see you nodding there.

That's what Crunchy Cons mean to me. I have mildly followed the debate in the blog at NRO. I have nodded along to some points and then feel whacked over the head with a two-by-four when someone uncorks a wild statement like:

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
So I’ll put the question to Jim and any other “conservative” very directly: Are you willing to state that “with a few exceptions, anyone who would place an infant in daycare is a negligent parent and a negligent citizen”?
Can anyone envision a truly conservative philosophy which could honestly say “in no way whatsoever am I trying to tell you how to live your life”? I don’t mean that rhetorically, I’d like to know.

Now don't get me wrong, there points they are making I agree with. But the methodology I found annoying. And don't get me started on the whole idea that I would suggest that moving far away from one’s kin is virtually never a true economic necessity and almost always rooted in selfish desire. Just don't go there.

Being inclined toward the libertarian perspective, I don't want to replace an all encroaching government with a neighbor who thinks he has found the universal truth and that I need this universal truth in my life or I will be totally unfulfilled. It is better if I discover that truth through my own investigation than in an instance where I am told I am selfish or not quite human if I disagree.

Maybe they are being blunt and honest. And good for them. Maybe they are right. Maybe they have figured out this cold fusion mumbo jumbo. Maybe Sartre should have talked to them. Maybe they know where Godot is and why I have spent so much time waiting for him. But don't tell me you're right. Show me that you're right.

Live it and embrace it and let your light shine as an example. Then when I ask you, hey, you are so serene. Or you have so much peace and calmness. Or you seem so happy, what's the secret? That's an invitation to share.

Hat tips on almost all of these quotes to Jim Geraghty over at TKS (the blog formerly known as the Kerry Spot).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Un-Special Olympics


Your not-so humble correspondent is about to wax nostalgic for a time gone by. You know, one of those, when I was a kid, things were different, and as always that statement in of itself is true. We didn't have cellphones, home wireless networks, microwave popcorn. How'd we live without that?!

But I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the old days at the Winter Olympics. Americans have never been great at the Winter Olympics. But they often seemed to want to win. Not to sure about these Olympians.

Meet Bode Miller. Bode Miller was the favorite to win five medals. That's a lot of hype. But Bode Miller does things his way. Observe:
"The same people who recognize I came out with no medals should recognize I could have won three."

"(For) me, it's been an awesome two weeks," Miller said. "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."

"It does matter that it's the Olympics. I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."

Bode Miller is an example of what happens when you elevate competition above results. No athlete I know or have known would ever say he would rather not win if he is the best. I hope Bode enjoyed rocking Turin. Most of us are happy to no longer have to listen to his insufferable self-righteous excrement anymore.

Linda Robertson writes in the Miami Herald:
Miller was unapologetic. He lived by his motto.

"At least I don't have to go down to Torino for the medal ceremony," he said after blowing the combined.

He was true to himself. So why is he getting ripped for it?

Bode Miller is getting ripped because the last time I checked Americans hated losing. Losing? Screw that. We don't do that in America. And that's why a lot of Americans are tuning out the Olympics.

We want to believe in miracles. We proudly support our Olympians, but when we get told that winning isn't anything, we scratch our heads. Huh? Don't you mean, it's the only thing, Mr. Skier dude?

When the USOC realizes that what we love about the OLympics is not competing it's winning, maybe they'll go back to producing the best athletes, the finest facilities and building a global juggernaut. This isn't meant to be ugly Americanism, but shoot, the Olympics are supposed to be about chanting USA, USA, USA, while watching us whip everyone in sight and tally as many medals as you can.

Oh I forgot, that isn't sporting or good for competition.

See you in Beijing. Well probably not.

Pornified Pop-Culture?

We have some bloggers we just can't wait to read what they have to say. Even the reluctant ones (JVL where are you you?)

Our original blog fave is Jim Geraghty of NRO and the excellent ontap blog. We're "the guy with the tab bigger than his waist" in the discussions over there. Sorta like Norm.

Jim has been watching the crunchy con debate going on over at National Review. And he submits this for our approval:

This is a more detailed exploration of a view that, as another NOR contributor once put it, “Pop culture is filth.”

I’m not there, frankly. And I don’t find these kinds of blanket denunciations terribly compelling. So let me offer a differing cultural critique: Our popular entertainment is not too ‘pornified,’ but it is too dumb.

I'm not down with some blanket denunciations of pop culture, either. However, the trend line is towards dumber (I'm with you there, Jim) and hypersexualized content over thoughtful and intelligent programming. I don't begrudge the entertainment industry their right to produce whatever content they want. And I am not like some conservatives who think that there exists some madcap conspiracy to destroy all decency on television. There isn't. What exists in pop culture is a lack of imagination and guts to try a different course. And thoughtful programming is difficult to get into, because it demands more of you than dumb programming. Here's out imaginary screen writer's pitch:

So yeah let's make a show about bikini clad girls getting whacked and here we go, let's have David Caruso solve the mystery. That sounds great, doesn't it? And let's tie it into our hit show, that way it won't look like Silk Stalkings v 2.0. That sounds terrific!

My problem is not the skimpy clothes or the racy plotlines. I think they are an accurate reflection of our culture. I think that television has no responsibility to foment positive change. It would be nice if they wanted to do that, but positive change in self is an individual's responsibility and positive change in society is society's responsibility, not an institution within that society. But I look at the decadence of programming and I wonder, when, or more appropriately if, we are going to change.

What makes the effects hard to see is take a generation or so for them to take hold. Let's look an example. If Sherman and Mr. Peabody would be so kind as to take us on a spin in the way back machine to the sixties, in addition to getting a contact high, we would do wise to find a copy of the Moynihan report. Fortunately, the Internet is its own way back machine of sorts and we can find the report.

Chapter 2 of the oft-cited Moynihan report gave us these gems:
  • "The Breakdown of the Negro Family Has Led to a Startling Increase in Welfare Dependency."
  • "It has been estimated that only a minority of Negro children reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of their parents."
  • Nearly One-Quarter of Negro Births are now Illegitimate.

The conclusion was that the disintegration of the black family unit would have severe consequences for black people in America. That dire projection has been partially shown in the violence and poverty in the black community. Without a centered family unit, who teaches kids morality or responsibility? Traditionally that has been dad's job, because dad is better at doling out the tough love necessary to teach responsibility, accountability and morality. But dad had been replaced by a welfare check. He was not there to show his kids that he was accountable for getting mom pregnant. He wasn't there to show that he took responsibility for the kids well-being. He wasn't there to love them as only a father can. And as a result, those necessary lessons were nto taught.

So let's go back to TV and popular culture. Popular culture is by definition the aspects of our culture that are popular. Television programming is not so much a training or indoctrinating element of society as it is a mirror that reflects our current societal mores. Can television programming glorifying a lifestyle of irresponsibility undo proper parental shaping? Of course not. Anyone who says that is demagoguing. But what we see in our dumbed down hypersexualized wasteland of channels is a reflection of a society that is int he words of Judge Robert Bork Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

Look at legitimacy rates now.

The number of births to unmarried women has been increasing for the past 60 years, although the rate of increase slowed during the 1990's. In 1940, there were 89,500 out-of-wedlock births. In 1990, there were 1.17 million. This represents an average increase of 5 percent per year. Between 1990 and 1999, the number rose to 1.30 million, an increase of just slightly over 1 percent per year.[10] Since 1994, the percent of all births to unmarried women has been approximately 33 percent.[11] In 1998, four out of ten women giving birth to their first child were not married and almost two-thirds of women under age 25 giving birth for the first time were not married.[12]

Gradually we are seeing the rates of illegitimacy and single parent homes becoming more common throughout American culture. What effect will that have on our culture? And will we divert our attention from the satisfaction of our own needs long enough to notice or care?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tied one on

An interesting discussion proceeds in the corner at NRO. Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz are discussing ties. Click here and here and here to follow along. This is in reference to Rod Dreher's book which they are promoting so much at NRO that I will refrain from mentioning it more.

Jonah sez:

People wore ties and dressed properly at public events not just in our parents' generation but for several generations. I remember when I was a kid people still got dressed-up to go on airplanes. And if you look at pictures of old baseball games, everyone was wearing a tie.

And the point he makes is that a common societal expectation of attire is a leveling feature and one that promotes a sense of community.

John responds:
Jonah, it's true that people used to dress up to go on airplanes. But so what? Why on earth should people have dressed up to go on airplanes? The formality of previous generations was a social norm and therefore a convention. I suppose it had meaning in the sense that it was a way for people to look as much like adults as possible and that our casual-attired ways are an indication of the perpetual pursuit of youth. But the last thing you can say of the Crunchy Cons -- of whom I must say I am most emphatically not one -- is that they are acting like children. They're trying to live a more serious life. Rod's goal isn't to live a more sober life. It's to live a more sacramental life, to infuse the everyday with holiness.

"So what?" Ahh a marvelous rejoinder. As in "We are different, so what?" Something is lost in that difference. Do you take a person in a shirt and tie seriously? I do. When I was younger, Saturn did away with car salesmen wearing more formal attire and replaced them with polo shirts and khakis. Maybe salesmen were more comfortable selling cars. Okay. That's fine. But what are you saying? That you don't take your work seriously enough to dress up. What about the churches that don't want the congregation showing up wearing their Sunday best? Are they saying that it is okay to dress up for work, but the God they worship doesn't deserve your best? I think it's bigger and more problematic. It is part of a gradual dumbing down of societal expectations.

I believe that your outward appearance is not indicative of who you are inside. You cannot judge a book by its cover. But at what point does the cover diminish from the message inside the book. Here's a good example for your consideration. If you are a serious Christian singer, does a trashy and revealing image diminish your credibility in that genre? You bet it does. In the same way, you need to represent yourself seriously, if you want to be taken seriously.

Jonah seems to agree:
You could -- and I would -- make the case that dressing appropriately is part of good manners. You wouldn't go to a funeral in shorts and a tank top, for example. Of course, it's not just clothes....Customs, manners, social conventions: this is the sinew and bone of civilization.

Customs and social conventions are the things that make it impossible to imagine doing things outside of those conventions. Invariably ostracism follows violating one of those conventions. But in our land lacking judgments and a moral authority that is constant and not relative, violating social convention carries little or no consequence. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Immoral societal conventions need to be changed, like racism, sexism and so forth. But genteel societal conventions, governing politeness, appearance and decorum they should be nurtured and not discared do to be outmoded or old fashioned.