Thursday, October 30, 2003

Acceptable Prejudice?

It seems the one of the world's oldest prejudices – anti-Semitism - is making a stunning comeback if the cover of U.S News and World Report and an article in Foreign Policy. But, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this recent trend is where it is coming from. It seems the Birkenstock crowd is ready to don brown shirts and march to the beat of a multiculti hip-hop beat while chanting their Sig Heils.

Of course, this travels under the guise of being "Anti-Israeli" but the mask occasionally slips. Certainly there are serious questions about Israeli policies that are legitimate. However, the far left's fascination for the death worship politics of the Palestinian cause have caused even the most casual observers to wonder how much the lines can blur. It is particularly interesting to see the self-described "progressives" embrace the cause Christopher Hitchens accurately describes as Islamofascism. Mark Strauss in the Foreign Policy gives a brief overview of what is happening throughout the world:

"The year 2002 [had] the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks in 12 years. Not since Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogrom against German Jews in 1938, have so many European synagogues and Jewish schools been desecrated. This new anti-Semitism is a kaleidoscope of old hatreds shattered and rearranged into random patterns at once familiar and strange. It is the medieval image of the “Christ-killing” Jew resurrected on the editorial pages of cosmopolitan European newspapers. It is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement refusing to put the Star of David on their ambulances. It is Zimbabwe and Malaysia—nations nearly bereft of Jews—warning of an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world’s finances. It is neo-Nazis donning checkered Palestinian kaffiyehs and Palestinians lining up to buy copies of Mein Kampf."

Historically, in the United States anyway, anti-Semitism was the province of rightwing cranks and social Neanderthals such as the Ku Klux Klan. However, the "Hacky Sac Intifada" as Christopher Farah calls it, rages on college campuses across the nation allowing trendy, hip white suburban students to shout out slogans reminiscent of Berlin circa 1938.

Even more perplexing is rise of anti-Semitism in the African-American community. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, a notorious bigot who has described the Jewish faith as a "gutter religion" and an admirer of Adoph Hitler was once an isolated aberration, but no more. Both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have "Jew" problems and Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), the New Jersey poet laureate, had a long history of virulent anti-Semitism before last year's controversy surrounding his poem "Somebody Blew Up America," in which he suggested that 4,000 Israelis stayed home from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 because they had advance warning of the attacks. Even here in sleepy Cincinnati, we had an incident last year where a group of knuckle-dragging cretins calling themselves "The Black Fist" paraded around Fountain Square protesting the raising of a menorah during the holidays by carrying swastikas and chanting "death to the Jews."

I can only imagine what Adoph would have thought.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Writing Gud and ohter stuff

Some years ago, my daughter brought home several of her writing assignments for me to sign. The purpose of this, I suppose, is to insure parental involvement in the child's education. And, I suppose, this is a laudable endeavor. However, I was not prepared for what I was about to find.

These writing assignments, or what was called in my day, "expository writing", were designed for fourth graders to exhibit their command of written language. My daughter who always excelled in school (and still does) also had a lively command of spoken language and preternatural understanding of irony and wit. When I started reading her class work, I was appalled. While I might have given her high marks for imagination and the ability to tell a story, I would have failed her for grammar, syntax, punctuation and spelling. If I were handing out the grades, the best she would have received is a "C". Still, on every one of these papers, written in red, was an "A", often accompanied by a "Good Work!" or "Excellent".

Now, I know I haven't any background in primary education and perhaps my standards for a fourth grade paper might be a tad high, but it seems to me that a ten year old should know after four years of schooling what the principle parts of speech are and how to diagram a sentence. It certainly was common knowledge among my peers at a similar age. Of course, we had the tender and loving guidance of the Sisters of Providence and their rulers.

Driven by curiosity as much as by concern, I made an appointment with my daughter's teacher. I wanted to know what constituted a high mark for what was clearly mediocre work.

When we met, the usual pleasantries were exchanged and she was telling me what a joy my daughter was to have in class (which made me immediately question of her mental state). I produced the documents in question and demanded to know why she was giving my daughter an "A" when she clearly deserved a "C". (She probably would have failed the assignment in my school, but I'm a bit more merciful than the good sisters.)

I was then met with a look of utter disbelief. I'm sure it is unusual indeed to have a parent come in and demand their child's grade be lowered. But, my intention was to find out what the criteria was for literacy among the adults whom I had placed my child's intellectual development. Even a jaded soul such as I was not prepared for what I was about to hear.

"Oh, we don't put much emphasis on that stuff," was the explanation. In the spirit of the therapeutic times in which we live, she went on to explain, "We want the children to express themselves."

Yes, absolutely, by all means they should express themselves! Never mind their writing resembles that of an illiterate rustic or street urchin. This is after all, the age of self-esteem. Pride in one's work notwithstanding, we just need to feel good about ourselves.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Thoughtcrime at the Big U.

In a manner reminiscent of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe rather than that of institutions ostensibly dedicated to the concept free thought, political activists on campuses across the United States are increasingly resorting to tactics that resemble brown-shirted thugs rather than students in pursuit of free and open inquiry. Apparently, stealing newspapers with whom you do not agree with and destroying the copies is all the rage among the multiculti set. I find it interesting, to say the very least, that people who demand (and I put special emphasis on demand) that tolerance be practiced, seem to show so little of it.

The following paragraphs are from an article written by Sara Russo about one such incident on Brown University's campus:

"An organized coalition of fifteen ethnic and political student groups at Brown University stole 4,000 copies of the Brown Daily Herald. The theft was retribution for the paper's decision to print David Horowitz's anti-reparations ad three days earlier and its subsequent refusal to submit to outraged students' demands that payment for the ad be turned over to the campus' Third World Center for minority students and that the paper give protestors a full page to print a rebuttal...

The coalition of student groups that stole the papers issued a press release the day after the theft stating that they will perpetuate their campaign of action against the Herald until the paper meets their conditions. The coalition also added two new demands to their previous list: that the Daily Herald excise the word "Brown" from its title and that it cease dispensing copies on campus."

My favorite part comes when a flier issued by this "coalition" states:

"'The coalition has never opposed free speech,' the flier added."

I suppose it all depends on whose free speech that is being exercised. It apparently does not apply to the editorial staff of the Brown Daily Herald as far as the self-styled coalition is concerned. It is rare indeed to find such a splendid example of doublethink. It is all the more disturbing because it occurred at what is considered to be one of our finest universities.

At Roger Williams University censorship is alive and thriving. But this time, it is the administration that is getting in on the act. In a memo ominously entitled "Free Expression, Civility and Mutual Respect," written in reaction to an editorial in The Hawk's Right Eye, a conservative student newspaper.
The paper criticized the school's decision to force incoming freshmen to attend a "diversity" talk delivered by Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. It also criticized the talk itself, which advocated for hate crime legislation and which accused organized religion of being a bastion of intolerance.

In what has to be a masterpiece in Orwellian duplicity, Roy J. Nirschel, the president of Roger Williams, wrote:

"While we affirm the right of campus organizations to hold different points of view and to disagree, the university will not condone publications that create a hostile environment for our students and community.

Roger Williams continues to believe in respect for diversity of opinion and a civil exchange of views as well as respect for individuals regardless of their beliefs, backgrounds, or orientation. As an institution whose namesake preached, for his time, inclusiveness and respect for human dignity, we are a university too busy for hate."

Well, while the university was too busy to hate, they also must have been too busy to understand the First Amendment and subsequently shut the paper down.

Having worked in journalism a good portion of my adult life, I have been associated at various times with views that run contrary to my own. Advertisements and editorials that I have found unappealing, even repugnant have found their way into print alongside of my work. Still, I have never once advocated stealing, burning or otherwise suppressing those views. That is, after all, the very essence of a "free" press – to protect the rights of others, no matter how much you may disagree with it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Et tu, Eminem?

Has our desire to be entertained become so great that we now expect our court rulings to be handed down in the insipid doggerel so endearing to the hip-hop crowd?

Although our legal system leaves much to be desired and on occasion fails us miserably, there was always an effort to try and maintain some sense of decorum when judgment was passed. This is apparently now passé with a recent court case involving America's favorite misogynistic mayhem meister, Eminem, or Marshall Mathers III as he is known to his mother.

It seems Mr. Mathers' gutter rhymes landed him in court in regards to a charge of defamation of a Mr. Deangelo Bailey who, according to the song (and I use that term loosely indeed) entitled "Brain Damage", used to give Mathers a daily thrashing. While I might be inclined, as was the judge, to side in favor of Eminem's right to free speech, I think Mr. Bailey might be deserving of some sort of commendation. (For beating the little creep, that is.)

Macomb County Circuit Judge Deborah Servitto's in two forms: as a 14-page brief for the lawyers and as a rap rhyme for the fans of the defendant. Servitto wrote that she penned the rap so that her decision could be read in "a universally understandable format."

The idea for the rap ruling was Servitto's, said Annette Lupo, the judge's secretary. Two aides at the court's law library helped write the lyrics and Servitto signed off on them, Lupo said. The ruling - that is the rap - was a hit with the court. Judges, clerks, bailiffs, attorneys and Hollywood wanted to see the song. The judge received calls from cable channels MTV and CNN and the TV program "Celebrity Justice."

Perhaps I'm being a bit wistful when I want my judges to serious, reflective and just in their treatment of proceedings in both the civil and criminal realm. While I might give Judge Servitto and her staff's humorous musings an "A" for light verse, I am not so sure she has done the beleaguered justice system any favors by pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Excerpts from Macomb County Circuit Judge Deborah Servitto's rap in Deangelo Bailey v. Marshall Mathers III (Eminem's birth name):

Mr. Bailey complains that his rep is trash

So he's seeking compensation in the form of cash.

Bailey thinks he's entitled to some monetary gain

Because Eminem used his name in vain.

Eminem says Bailey used to throw him around

Beat him up in the john, shoved his face in the ground.

Eminem contends that his rap is protected

By the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Eminem maintains that the story is true

And that Bailey beat him black and blue.

In the alternative he states that the story is phony

And a reasonable person would think it's baloney.

The court must always balance the rights

Of a defendant and one placed in a false light.

If the plaintiff presents no question of fact

To dismiss is the only acceptable act.

If the language used is anything but pleasin'

It must be highly objectionable to a person of reason.

Even if objectionable and causing offense

Self-help is the first line of defense.

Yet when Bailey actually spoke to the press

what do you think he didn't address?

Those false-light charges that so disturbed

Prompted from Bailey not a single word.

So highly objectionable, it could not be

-- Bailey was happy to hear his name on a CD.

Bailey also admitted he was a bully in youth

Which makes what Marshall said substantial truth.

This doctrine is a defense well known

And renders Bailey's case substantially blown.

The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact

They're an exaggeration of a childish act.

Any reasonable person could clearly see

That the lyrics could only be hyperbole.

It is therefore this court's ultimate position

That Eminem is entitled to summary disposition.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


There are several splendid links on Butterflies and Wheels concerning the state of academic writing. One of these articles "Language Crimes" written by Arts and Letters Daily editor Denis Dutton would be absolutely hysterical if it weren't true. Dutton sponsors an annual "Bad Writing Contest" where he gives us the rules:

"The rules were simple: Entries should be a sentence or two from an actual published scholarly book or journal article. No translations into English allowed, and the entries had to be non-ironic: We could hardly admit parodies in a field where unintentional self-parody was so rampant."

Reading through some of the results are as Dutton says, "like swimming through cold porridge."

Here are a couple of my favorites:

“It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness — rather than the will to power — of its fall into conceptuality.”

- A Defense of Poetry

"This book was instigated by the Harvard Core Curriculum Report in 1978 and was intended to respond to what I took to be an ominous educational reform initiative that, without naming it, would delegitimate the decisive, if spontaneous, disclosure of the complicity of liberal American institutions of higher learning with the state’s brutal conduct of the war in Vietnam and the consequent call for opening the university to meet the demands by hitherto marginalized constituencies of American society for enfranchisement.”

- The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism.

English professors wrote both of these headache-inducing nightmares, who believe it or not, are ostensibly in charge of teaching students to write clearly.

God help us all.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Orwell, Toads and the Inevitability of Spring

Although he is best known for his "novels" Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell wrote dozens of excellent essays in his short career. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say he is one of the finest essayists in English along with Hazlitt, Arnold and Swift.

The best known of these are "Politics and the English Language," "A Hanging," "The Prevention of Literature," and "Shooting an Elephant".

One of my personal favorites is a less well-known piece entitled "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad." It is interesting because it reveals Orwell as a nature lover. It was written within a year of the end of the Second World War and much of the dreariness and privation of a wartime economy still held true. It is this war torn landscape that provides the backdrop for the nightmare world of Oceania. Hardly a time or place for a pastoral reflection. Still, Orwell argues convincingly as to why we should take time out to appreciate nature.

"I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets."

Yet, the recent scars of war are never very far away:

"As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as `a miracle', and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life."

And the political is always the primary concern for Orwell. In another essay explaining his motives for writing he tells us:

"And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally."

In a world where even the personal is political (much more so now than in his day) it would probably do us all well to remember that there are some things that government, corporations and the masters of Madison avenue cannot control.

"At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."

Friday, October 17, 2003

A Tale Told By An Idiot

While I've never been too keen on expanding what appears to me an already bloated military budget, here's one expenditure I can wholeheartedly endorse – bringing Shakespeare to military bases. The British newspaper, The Guardian reported that the National Endowment for the Arts is going to bring two traveling productions bases in Alabama and Alaska.

Shakespeare performed is generally well received, as opposed to reading it in the classroom. The more cynical among you would say that is because it allowed you out of class (or in the case of soldiers, duty) for a couple of hours, but they are considerably more accessible when you see them on stage. And most of them are quite good. Even Hollywood acknowledges good plots when they see them. Over two hundred movies have been made based on Shakespeare's works.

The choice of plays is interesting as well; Othello and Macbeth, since both plays have strong military themes and their protagonists are soldiers. Felicia Knight, a spokesperson for the NEA says the choice of plays is purely coincidental (not ironic, I might add.)

Still, as admirable as this endeavor is, it might have unforeseen consequences for Bush, Rumsfeld, and company. After all, encouraging reflection on the part of soldiers in time of war is always a dicey business. There is a scene in act V where Macbeth is standing on the castle walls, under siege by Macduff. A cry is heard from within the castle, and he learns that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. Now resigned to the barren futility of life, he gives one of the most famous of Shakespearean speeches:

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

This talk of "The way to dusty death" cannot help but bring up uncomfortable images of a particularly dusty corner of the world. And as for "it is a tale told by an idiot," I wonder how anxious Bush or Rumsfeld is to field that question?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

How to Tell if You've Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

I have been reading Harry Stein for over twenty years and have always enjoyed his work. Although he has gone to the "other" side - that is, become a Republican, he hasn't lost his sense of humor. These are from his latest book.

How to Tell if You've Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

- "You hear someone talking about morality and you no longer instantly assume he must be a sexually repressed religious nut."

- "Watching network news, you notice that the person opposing affirmative action is identified as a 'conservative spokesman,' while the one supporting it is just a 'Harvard professor.'"

- "Black history month seems to last from February to July."

- "At your kids' back-to-school night, you are shocked to discover that only dead white male on your 10th grader's reading list is Oscar Wilde."

- “And by the end of the night you realize the only teacher who shares your values teaches phys ed.”

- "Try as you might, you just can't get yourself to believe screwing around on your mate qualifies as an addiction."

- “You’re actually relieved that your daughter plays with dolls and your son plays with guns.”

- “You sit all the way through Dead Man Walking and at the end still want the guy to be executed.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Isn’t It Ironic?

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn’t it ironic…don’tcha think?

- Alanis Morrisette

When Ms. Morrisette released this little ditty, did she ask herself if any part of the song was indeed ironic? Like the stanza above, the entire song lists a series of unfortunate twists of fate, coincidences, and mishaps, but no occasions of irony. It has been suggested that perhaps she intended to make an ironic statement by deliberately not using an example of irony, but that would imply a subtlety that is markedly absent from the rest of her work.

No, it is far more probable that Ms. Morrisette was using the contemporary catchall phrase denoting something bad or hip or cool. There are those who argue that cynicism and irony are interchangeable synonyms – but they are not. Certainly, irony insinuates a coloring of cynicism by its skeptical (and often mocking) nature. However, they are not the same thing.

After all, irony is about intention. The nihilism of these lyrics, and a disturbing amount of popular culture along with it, would simply not qualify. When one thinks about real irony it was nearly always used with moral force. Two of the best examples of ironic statement – Jonathan Swift’s "A Modest Proposal" and Voltaire’s “Candide” – argued forcibly against the stupidity, cruelty, and hypocrisy of their age.

Only the dimmest reader would honestly think Swift actually was endorsing the fattening of Irish babies to be sold for food “that they not be a burden on their parents”. He was, of course, addressing the British landlords’ oppressive and exploitive rule over their Irish tenants. After giving us various recipes for their presentation at fine tables, Swift quickly abandons any pretense of concealment of his outrage when he states; “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, to have the best title to the children."

“Candide” becomes all the more hilarious and pointed when one discovers that “candide” means “illuminated”, for there are few characters in all of literature as gormless as Voltaire’s protagonist. As we follow the hapless Candide from one misadventure to the next, Voltaire exposes the moral bankruptcy of what is considered “civilized” behavior – especially when it bumps up against other cultures. What mystifies me is that the advocates of multiculturalism do not wholeheartedly embrace this book; that is, until you consider the unfortunate fact that a "dead white European male" wrote it. Then again, the multiculti crowd is not much interested in subtlety nor have I found them to be the sharpest tools in the shed.

It is through the dimwitted Candide that Voltaire expresses a greater truth;"... those who say everything is well are uttering mere stupidities; they should say everything is for the best. " And that is the point, both Swift and Voltaire understood that irony is dissembling; stating one thing and meaning quite another.

So, why care about the meaning of one word? Certainly many words have changed their meaning over time. George Orwell, another writer who understood the power of irony as a rhetorical weapon (think of "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."), argues in his brilliant essay "Politics and the English Language" that "It [language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Irony is one of our defenses against this and therefore should be vigorously defended.

So, what do you do? Perhaps the next time someone says to you, "isn't it ironic?" when it is in fact not, you should answer; "No, it isn't. It may be coincidental, hypocritical, stupid, or just plain bad luck, but it sure as hell is not ironic."

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Main Entry: scha·den·freu·de
Pronunciation: 'shä-d&n-"froi-d&
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy
Date: 1895
: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

While waiting in the grocery checkout line this evening, I had an opportunity to peruse the tabloids vainly placed there in hope that my impulsive inner child will get the better of me. Splashed across the two-inch block headlines was the fall of America’s favorite rabid right-winger, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh, a man well known for his atavistic views towards the addicted, now a self admitted addict himself. Although I have experienced Schadenfreude in the past, this time it seemed particularly delicious. I am not sure if I was more delighted in Limbaugh's misfortune (which is what Schadenfreude means) or the fact that I can now use this hideous German word that seems to be so fashionable these days.

Watching a self-appointed moral paragon crash to earth with the rest of us mere mortals is an American spectator sport. A sizable portion of our literature is obsessed with it; i.e. "The Scarlet Letter" and "Elmer Gantry". Who didn't snigger (even secretly) at learning Bill ("The Book of Virtues") Bennett had dropped eight mill in Las Vegas? Wasn't there a cackle heard 'round the world when Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart both received their comeuppances? Hubris has only one end, you know, "pride goeth before the fall."

It was certainly hubris that brought Limbaugh to his current sorry state. Many of the statements he made in his bellicose pit bull style are going to haunt him. Al Franken has already resurrected a statement from 1995 that bears particular relevance for Rush; "Too many whites are getting away with drug use. The answer is to ... find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them, and send them up the river.” Ouch!

His insensitivity was legend. He once suggested staging a “Homeless Olympics” with events like “the 10-meter shopping-cart relay, the Dumpster dig and the hop, skip and trip.” I can't help wondering how well the 250-pound, loud-mouthed disc jockey might fare after the high-profile criminal investigation that is sure to follow up on the allegations that he obtained his "pain medication" through illegal means?

Still, I don't find myself to be particularly eager to jump on the Schadenfreude bandwagon (sounds like a ride at Oktoberfest). Maybe it’s the karma thing. Perhaps it is best that we all sigh good riddance to Rush and hope no one ever exposes our less than perfect moments.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Where Is The Outrage?

In a particularly trenchant piece entitled "Bill, Arnold and Double Standards" on the sexual indiscretions of Governor Schwarzenegger, conservative columnist Steve Chapman had this to say:

"Maybe the defenders of virtue exhausted themselves so thoroughly attacking Clinton that they have no energy left to find fault with Schwarzenegger. In any event, I have yet to hear a peep of disgust from the major moralists of the right."

Yes, the silence has been deafening. While I found the tawdry affairs of the Clinton White House to be reprehensible, the allegations against Schwarzenegger are perhaps more disturbing. In fact, they may be criminal. While Clinton showed the moral standards of an alley cat, Ahnuld's actions seem to amount to assault. Which the last time I checked, was a felony offense. Yet, not a word has been heard from Bill Bennett or any other moral guardians of the right.

Although I rarely find myself in agreement with Mr. Chapman, I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I admire his willingness to break ranks with his comrades on the right and speak out against this hypocrisy.

Like most Midwesterners (you know, the great "flyover" region between the much exulted coasts), I secretly harbor the suspicion that the only good thing to come out of California is an empty bus. The recent events in that state have done little to allay our suspicions.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Fashionable Dictionary

The art of lexicography is a never-ending search for the most accurate definition of language and its principle component – words. The Butterflies and Wheels Fashionable Dictionary has done their part to update our woefully outdated dictionaries to be more in tune with our current post-modern, politically correct sensibilities. I've included a few samples below:


Nice, warm, cooperative way of evaluating ideas, much better than argument.

Exploded concept. Foolish, Platonic notion that we can get our facts straight.

The opposite of the Goddess. "But one pernicious effect of literacy has gone largely unnoticed: writing subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook. Writing of any kind, but especially its alphabetic form, diminishes feminine values and with them, women's power in the culture." [Leonard Shlain, The Goddess and the Alphabet]

A wonderful thing. Because it's the opposite of everything. You have the regular, normal, boring thing, like medicine, or scholarship, or education, and then you have the alternative kind, which does whatever the opposite is. Normal medicine relies on testing, so dear alternative medicine relies on guesswork and hunches and an inner voice. So much more spiritual.

Unpleasant, testosterone-driven method of supporting one's assertions, to be avoided in favour of acceptance.

A famous thief. Stole all his ideas from the library at Alexandria, built after his death, which just goes to show how sneaky he was.

All-purpose adjective meaning: lazy, unhealthy, indoor, cowardly ("armchair general"), bookish, abstract, arbitrary, invented, and different from what I think, as in "armchair philosopher," "armchair anthropologist," etc.

1. Essential technique, replacing the need for argument and evidence.
2. To be greeted with acceptance, rather than argument.

Something to be examined when it is our opponent's and taken for granted when it is our own.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Letter to a Young Poet

Dear M – ,

As I have explained before, I usually do not respond to comments. But, your concerns seemed heartfelt and you addressed one of the more misunderstood points of my argument – teenage poetry. I merely said that MOST of it is bad. I’ve learned, or rather, I am learning in my advancing years to shy away from absolutes. However, I do allow for the possibility that some teenagers can write good poetry – not often – but it does happen. After all we do have Rimbaud, if you like that sort of thing.

As for the encouragement, I am of two minds. Yes, I think poetry should be taught, the mechanics as well as its interpretation and criticism. Familiarity of its forms and language to my way of thinking is a mark of an educated person. We most certainly need more intelligent and appreciative poetry readers and perhaps a few less poets.

The thing I find most objectionable is the uninformed boosting of marginal or non-existent talent. It may seem harsh or downright Darwinian to permit these budding young poets to languish in obscurity, but it is really for the best. So, should we give them, as you described, "the tiniest" bits of helpful encouragement? I think not. Admittedly, it is hard to watch all those baby sea turtles be gobbled up by gulls and hungry crabs. But, M – , the herd is very large and needs to be culled.

Writing of any kind is hard, and of questionable social value. Wouldn’t it be better for most of these young people to put away their notebooks filled with lines such as "I hate myself, my blood will stain the tiled floors," and direct their energies to becoming accountants, ironworkers, or nurses? Experience has taught me that they would be happier; and if not happier, certainly healthier (and very probably, wealthier!).

In my arrogant youth, I once lamented to my father (a very pragmatic workingman) the injustice of the universe concerning my cousin’s recent acquisition of a journeyman plumber's card. My argument (petulant whine would be closer to the mark) bewailed the fact that my cousin made four times as much as I did and I had a university degree! His response was terse, one might even say poetic:

“I’m sure as hell not calling you if my friggin’ pipes break.”

The moral, I suppose, is that when you are standing up to your ankles in water, the imagery of Yeats and the mysticism of Blake provide cold comfort. Or does it? That, I suppose, is the question you must ask yourself each and every day.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Spending Money on Rover a Sin?

Taking time out from their busy schedule trying to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the Jesuits (Society of Jesus,) have raised an issue that is sure to raise the hackles of pet lovers.

The Jesuit published magazine Civilta Cattolica, whose contents are approved by the Vatican, denounced the spending of "good money" on outlandish pet foods, referring to the practice as "mad" and "morally condemnatory". The article also condemned those who "dress their pets in designer coats." I'm sure my cat would be in agreement on the final point, concluding that hell wouldn't be hot enough for anyone trying to make him wear a coat.

They went on to state that animals have no souls or rights; "Animals don't have rights, because these belong to Man." Perhaps realizing they had now thrown the gauntlet down to feminists as well as pet lovers, the article further explained; by the word "Man" it is meant a "person, an intelligent and free being, which is conscious and responsible, and blessed with a spiritual soul."

With these rhetorical skills, there is little wonder as to why they are celibate. In fairness, they did recommend that the "money be far better spent on far nobler causes, such as feeding children in the Third World." This did not mean that Man could "maltreat animals or make them suffer. He instead must look after them, since he is not their owner, but the custodian and administrator of creation."

I think I am going to have a nameplate made:

Barney F. McClelland
Custodian and Administrator of Creation

It would certainly give me that air of importance to my desk I've been seeking. But, I digress…

Apparently, the boys aren't too keen on their timing either. The release of the article was October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Friday, October 03, 2003

A Not So Modest Proposal – Abolish Compulsory Education

With alarming frequency we are bombarded with news that American school children score well below those of other industrial nations, some estimates state that nearly 70% of African-American males between 16-24 are functionally illiterate, and municipalities around the country are scavenging to make ends meet – and more often than not, failing miserably. How many more tear-stained featured articles in the Sunday lifestyle section do we need to read (those of us that still can) about some do-gooder elementary school teacher reaching into her own pocket to buy school supplies?

Frankly, I don't think the little buggers really want to be educated. Nor do their parents. Why take time out from video games and watching Maury Povich conduct paternity tests for his teenage guests to worry about something as mundane as reading a book or learning the multiplication tables? So, why not give them their wish?

The political Right and their religious allies have never been particularly enamored of universal education. It is just too risky. Besides, public education in their eyes has grown increasingly anti-family, anti-God, and unpatriotic in the past few decades. After all, these are the people who don't want pictures of dinosaurs in textbooks for fear that it might imply that old bugaboo "evolution". They really needn't worry; Johnny couldn't spell "evolution" on a bet, much less understand what it means.

Of course, the political Left is no better. In their quest to create a multicultural utopia they have undermined any standards that might allow children to acquire critical and analytical skills. After all, those standards are nothing more that elitist constructs. Read Shakespeare? Why that's sooooo Eurocentric! Of course, they can criticize one thing and one thing only; those pesky dead white European males. Sensitivity is the order of the day – "thinking" is right out.

We are at a critical point in our history. So why are we continuing to throw millions of dollars down the educational rat hole? Probably some misguided sense of nostalgia. Well, boys and girls, nostalgia don't pay the bills.

Every situation presents an opportunity if we look hard enough. The Bush administration just might be the answer to our dilemma.

The current wars and economy are driving the deficit to record levels. Why not rid the nation of that boat anchor no one really wants anyway – education. And while were at it, lets repeal all those anachronistic child labor laws. Hey, since the kids are going to find themselves with time on their hands, they may as well start contributing to the household.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Suicide as Entertainment

Unless you've been locked in the closet as part of some sort of weird B/D ritual, you have probably heard about the Florida band "Hell on Earth" and their plans to have a terminally ill individual commit suicide on stage during their performance. Talk about a marketing strategy that can't fail. If you think not, well, I am writing about it aren't I? And you are reading it. Although I am no stranger to the concept of shameless self-promotion, even I have my limits.

The leader of "Hell on Earth," Billy Tourtelot claims, "This is about standing up for what you believe in and I am a strong supporter of physician-assisted suicide." According to their website they are going to perform at as yet disclosed location in St. Petersburg, Florida this coming Saturday. It goes without saying; the City Council was somewhat less than receptive to this form of entertainment and has passed an ordinance outlawing public suicides. Interesting, I would have thought it already illegal.

While the debate on physician-assisted suicides is intriguing to me, I am not sure this is the proper venue. Hell, I know it is not the proper venue. In no way, whatsoever, can I see an intelligent debate that this important, but delicate, issue arising from these actions. In fact, it can only set it back.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Ignorance of History

When I sit down to write As I Please, I often wonder what on earth am I going to write about today? Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of stupid things people say in writing. My latest example comes from right here on BN in a blog entitled "Race Wars" by Esteban:

"Indeed, white males, past or present, in the U.S. have not undergone the legalized unfair treatment, abuse and brutality forced upon imported Africans (slavery), Native-Americans (Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears), Asian-Americans (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and 1884; Japanese Interment), Mexican-Americans (Bracero Program and Operation Wetback), and women."

Of course, all the examples he has cited are true save one. In Esteban's world there are just "white males" and they are all uniformly evil and only interested in suppressing someone. This is both inaccurate and untrue.

The very first anti-immigration legislation, The Alien and Sedition Act of 1794, was passed against Irish refugees. The very first person prosecuted under the law was an Irish-born former indentured servant by the name of Matthew Lyon. During the 19th century hundreds of anti-Irish laws were passed both on the state and federal level. These "white Negroes," as the Irish were often described, gave rise to nativist political parties, the most notorious being the "Know-Nothings".

In 1854, four years after its founding, the Know Nothing party had over one million members and it had elected eight governors, more than 100 congressmen, and the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia as well as thousands of lesser officials throughout the United States. The rise of the Know Nothing party astounded many Americans and led Abraham Lincoln to observe, "Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that all men are created equal. We now practically read it all men are created equal except Negroes. When the Know Nothings get control, it will read all men are created equal, except Negroes, and Irish and Catholics."

The last time I checked, the Irish are "white", in fact, it could be argued they may be the fairest complexioned people on the planet. Their "whiteness" did not save them from "legalized unfair treatment, abuse and brutality". In answer to the argument that whites never suffered as slaves; in 1649, Oliver Cromwell sold over 160, 000 Irish men, women and children as slaves in the West Indies. Besides, the essential difference between "indentured servitude" and slavery is in large part academic.

If people are going to use history to right past abuses, they need to read all of the history – not just that which supports their cause.