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3/24/2011
DURBIN’S PROPOSED HEARINGS ON ‘MUSLIM CIVIL RIGHTS’ A SHAM

Dick Durbin is about to do what Democrats do best; pander to a minority.

In this case, the minority is Muslim and Durbin sees evil walking the land where there is a threat to Muslim constitutional rights. Politico:

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who chairs a subcommittee on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will hold a hearing on March 29 on protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. The hearing is being billed as the first of its kind for Congress.

Durbin said the hearing is necessary following an increase in anti-Muslim bigorty in the United States, including “[Koran]burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination.”

Is it true? Has there been an “increase” in “anti-Muslim bigotry?”

Washington Times:

In 2009, the latest FBi statistics available, anti-Islamic hate crimes accounted for 9.3 percent of the 1,376 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded. That’s far less than the 70.1 percent that were anti-Jewish.

Let’s take that notion by Durbin of an “increase” in anti-Muslim bigotry for a spin and see if he’s right.

FBI stats from 2008 show that there were 105 incidents of hate crimes directed against Muslims, with 125 offenses cataloged involving 130 victims. For 2009, those numbers were 107 incidents, 128 offenses, and 130 victims.

No increase - repeat, no increase - in the number of victims. A less than 2% increase in the number of incidents and offenses over that period.

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of time. What were the statistics for hate crimes against Muslims in 2003?

Incidents: 149; Offenses: 155; Victims; 171

Dear Dick Durbin: Incidents and victims of Anti-Muslim bigotry has gone down considerably since 2003.

Since the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes has risen fairly steadily over that same period - from 1025 victims in 2003 to 1132 victims in 2009 - maybe you’re looking at the wrong religion to investigate, Dicky?

The question is - did he think nobody would look this up and challenge his bald faced lie? Took me 5 minutes of googling to find the reports and less than a minute to find these tables.

This is not a serious effort to investigate anything. It is an outright pander to a religious group that keeps crying wolf about how terrible it is to be a Muslim in America. I don’t dismiss or excuse those incidents by knuckledraggers who commit acts of violence against anyone based on their religion. (Whether there should be anything in the law called a “hate crime” is another story). But we should draw the line when politicians - for no good reason or, in Durbin’s case, manufactured reasons - seek to exploit our divisions for political gain.

Rep. King’s hearings fell short in this regard as well. I don’t buy into the idea that King should have delved into the reasons why right wing kooks get radicalized. That’s a no brainer simply because we’ve had 50 years of studies, polls, and surveys that tell us why Birchers are Birchers, and neo-Nazis need a frontal lobotomy. Paranoia plays a huge role in the radicalization of the far right (and far left) plus fine old American traditions of nativism, anti-popery, and racism. Why investigate what we already know?

But investigating why otherwise rational Muslims could be radicalized by the teachings of someone like Anwar al-Awlaki would have been extremely valuable - not only for law enforcement but for Muslims in particular. Unfortunately, politicians and the professional grievance mongers associated with CAIR couldn’t allow anything to distract us from their “Muslims as victims” narrative. If we ever did, several fat cat CAIR executives would be out of a job and CAIR itself would lose its raison d’etre. It’s hard to be a “civil rights” organization if you can’t claim wholesale violations of your special group’s civil rights.

Is there anti-Muslim bigotry? You’re kidding, right? Of course there is. But there is far more anti-Semitism and almost as much anti-Christian bigotry according to FBI stats. In a free society, one is free to hate as long as you don’t directly advocate to hurt someone or your beliefs don’t morph into acts of violence. Pointing and laughing at a Muslim woman wearing the hijab is impolite and boorish behavior. But is it a “hate crime?” Not as we currently define it according to the law. But if CAIR and other intolerant multi-culturalists get their way, that will change. And then, they will be no different than the knuckledraggers they seek to prosecute. They would have proven themselves to be just as intolerant as any neo-Nazi who needs a brain transplant.

Durbin is a lying politician. But the do-gooders who think they are promoting diversity and respect for others are just as guilty. It is they who threaten our freedom of expression by trying to wildly expand the legal definition of “bigotry.” In a free society, we shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells in fear of offending people.

Most of this article was originally posted at The American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 8:42 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

8/7/2010
WADING INTO THE MOSQUE CONTROVERSY
CATEGORY: Culture, Ethics, History

I have had mixed feelings about the question of whether to build a mosque and community center 2 miles from Ground Zero, which is the major reason I’ve been mostly silent about it. But the myth makers and apologists for radical Islam who feel no compunction in smearing all opponents of the mosque as bigots and haters have changed my mind.

The constant appeal directed to the media and ordinary Americans to feel guilt, to be afraid of being considered intolerant is wearing quite thin in the age of Obama. And wherever this kind of base, sneering, morally righteous nonsense rears itself up to spew its culturally divisive venom - be it from the right or left -those who value elevating dialogue and not debasing it should be heard.

I believe that the concept of religious tolerance would have to include the notion that one of the three major faiths should be allowed to build a place of worship wherever they want. And their stated goal of fostering interfaith dialogue should be accepted at face value.

This, however, would take place only in a perfect world where the universality of the Brotherhood of Man was understood, accepted, and actually practiced by adherents to all religions. In reality, this is not the case, as we well know. More troubling still are clear indications from the putative builders of this mosque that the feelings of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 have been ignored, or given short shrift, while the published comments of the Imam whose brainchild is the Cordoba initiative should raise alarm bells for those who believe that sharing some beliefs with the radical Islamists who brought the buildings down should disqualify the cleric from having anything to do with it.

I will grant - and have commented on often - the rank bigotry of many on the right who, since 9/11, have become certified experts in Islam and the Koran. I’m sure you’ve run into these scholars in your web surfing. They can quote chapter and verse from the Koran that “proves” Islam is a violent cult, or they can parrot something from someone as equally ignorant as they are about Islam, who state categorically that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim,” and that all who follow the teachings of Mohammad support the terrorists in one way or another. It is truly pathetic that these bigots lack the self awareness to see what howling fools they make of themselves, engaging as they do in this nonsensical “analysis.” And all who value reason and logic should condemn such idiocy in the strongest possible terms.

The latest meme to catch hold among this crew of deluded haters is that he reason the mosque is being built overlooking Ground Zero is that it will serve as a triumphal icon of “victory” by Islam over the west. It’s true that the terrorists would no doubt see it that way, but what connection is there between the builders of the mosque and al-Qaeda? Unless you are willing to suspend belief and insist that all Muslims see 9/11 the same way, the idea of Islamic triumphalism doesn’t cut it.

The blows we have dealt al_Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, and Indonesia this last decade has made them a near irrelevancy in international terrorism. They are scattered to the four winds, their sources of funding have nearly dried up, their ability to strike a blow has been reduced to shoe bombers and the like, and we kill most of their leaders faster than they can replace them.

Some victory. And those who would see it as such aren’t persuadable anyway so what’s the point?

But trying to lump all opponents of building the mosque in with this group of loons is typical of how many on the left play at politics these days. By highlighting the absolute worst arguments against building the mosque, from the most unbalanced elements opposing it, supporters don’t have to address the real concerns that many of us have about the efficacy of of building a house of worship within sight of Ground Zero that - rightly or wrongly - is dedicated to the faith that the perpetrators of the outrage believed they were honoring.

It isn’t that the leaders of the Cordoba Initiative share al-Qaeda’s warped view of Islam. It’s that the terrorists made it crystal clear they were acting in its name. The same basic beliefs about Allah and his prophet that animated Mohammed Atta are in the hearts of 1 billion Muslims around the world. This doesn’t mean they subscribe to Atta’s twisted interpretation of some parts of the Koran that justified, in his mind, murdering thousands of innocents.

There are many on the left eager to condemn Christianity for the sins of radical abortion activists, or Judaism for the actions of the Israeli government. More thoughtful opponents can separate the religion from the bad actors. But, if an evangelical Christian sect wanted to build a church across from an abortion clinic that had been bombed, I wonder what the reaction among even those who can separate the act from the faith would be? Would it not give us pause to contemplate the appropriateness of it? I’m sure it would and many arguments being made against the mosque would find an echo in arguments against building the church.

Then there is the problem with family members who lost loved ones on 9/11. There seems to be a general consensus among them that the mosque shouldn’t be built, but it is by no means a unanimous desire among families and begs the question of how much input they should have in the decision in the first place? What is sure is that the leaders of the Cordoba Initiative never asked for input from 9/11 families during any stage of the planning for the center. What kind of reckless insensibility is that? With so many victims still missing from that horrible day, most family members view Ground Zero as a cemetery, and thus, sacred ground. The idea that good hearted Muslims would be so insensitive to the feelings of grief stricken relatives is almost beyond belief. It calls into question the idea that the center is supposed to foster “interfaith dialogue.”

Indeed, the head of the Initiative, Imam Rauf, seems to have problems with consistency when it comes to this point, saying one thing to Americans in English and something entirely different to his Arabic-speaking audience:

Only two months before, on March 24, 2010, Abdul Rauf is quoted in an article in Arabic for the website Rights4All entitled “The Most Prominent Imam in New York: ‘I Do Not Believe in Religious Dialogue.’”

Yes, you read that correctly and, yes, that is an accurate translation of Abdul Rauf. And Right4All is not an obscure blog, but the website of the media department of Cairo University, the leading educational institution of the Arabic-speaking world.

In the article, the imam said the following of the “religious dialogue” and “interweaving into the mainstream society” that he so solemnly seems to advocate in the Daily News and elsewhere:

This phrase is inaccurate. Religious dialogue as customarily understood is a set of events with discussions in large hotels that result in nothing. Religions do not dialogue and dialogue is not present in the attitudes of the followers, regardless of being Muslim or Christian. The image of Muslims in the West is complex which needs to be remedied.

Substitute “large hotels” with “Islamic Center” and what do you get? Does Rauf believe in interfaith dialogue or doesn’t he? Don’t you think we should be sure before going ahead with building something that purports to have as its major impetus the idea that it will foster understanding among various faiths?

There is more evidence of Rauf’s possible two-faced attitudes toward the west and dialogue. I don’t buy the idea that he is a closet extremist but his curious statements about partially blaming the US for 9/11 are troubling:

Way back on September 30, 2001, Feisal Abdul Rauf was interviewed on 60 Minutes by host Ed Bradley. Their verbatim dialogue from this CBS News transcript concluded:

BRADLEY: Are — are — are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

BRADLEY: OK. You say that we’re an accessory?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: Yes.

BRADLEY: How?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: Because we have been an accessory to a lot of — of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it — in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.

Did the various board and commissions that vetted this proposal have access to that interview? Would it have changed any minds? I wonder.

There are good, solid arguments for building the center that don’t use as a basis the hatred and bigotry of the opposition. But with 60% of the City of New York now opposed, and the realization that in an imperfect world, the appropriateness of building the center can be legitimately questioned, I wonder if we shouldn’t follow the advice of Senator Leiberman and others who counsel a cooling off period to examine the proposal further.

It just might prove to the doubters that Rauf is indeed interested in “dialogue” and not pushing an unknown agenda that would be inappropriate for the location he has chosen to honor his god.

By: Rick Moran at 11:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

5/23/2010
WHAT WAS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT AVATAR?

If you haven’t guessed previously, I am not a fiend for pop culture. It’s not that it was any better 40 years ago either. For all the nostalgia that boomers have for the “good old days” when rock music was edgy with social commentary, and TV featured dramas and comedies that pricked the conscience of the nation, we tend to forget that about 99% of what was considered “pop culture” back then was just as awful, just as puerile, just as mindlessly boring as anything put out today.

Once I grew out of AM radio and series TV, I have never gone back. I can proudly say I have never seen a complete episode of Seinfeld, 30 Rock, or any other hit show of the past 15 years except 24 and the occasional Law and Order SVU rerun.

While this has made me an ignoramus when it comes to a lot of pop culture references, it has also allowed me to gain a perspective not vouchsafed many commenters on American culture. When I see a movie, for instance, I come to the experience free of many biases that others may harbor.

This includes my viewing fare last night. I decided to pay $6 and watch Avatar. The avalanche of criticism directed against this movie on the right had piqued my curiosity when it first came out. Unfortunately, in my case, there isn’t a decent movie theater within an hour’s travel time that features a Dolby sound system and a wide enough screen to make the trip worthwhile. As with almost all blockbusters since I moved out here two years ago, I waited until it came out on video or was shown on cable.

I watched in awe as the dazzling combination of computer generated reality and Hollywood glitz lit up my TV screen as no other film save perhaps the Lord of the Rings trilogy had done. This film was a truly majestic accomplishment by Cameron and whatever you think of his politics, you must credit him with some boffo originality in how the film was produced.

But after the film, I was forced to ask myself; why the wave of virulent criticism - especially on the right? While the movie was spectacular as a visual experience, the plot was as shopworn as anything Hollywood has ever done.

Has everybody forgotten Dances with Wolves already? Or, going further back, A Man Called Horse? There were also echoes of Little Big Man, Cheyenne Autumn, and a dozen other Hollywood productions that portrayed Indian culture and their way of life as superior to that of the western white man and how evil men deliberately tried to wipe it out.

Avatar, as far as the plot was concerned, was a pretty run of the mill oater. Gung ho military type (Costner, Harris, Widmark) find themselves living with the natives, learning their ways, coming to appreciate their race, and eventually loving some aboriginal woman. And when push came to shove, abandoning their racial loyalty to fight with the Indians.

Avatar anti-military? Anytime an American can’t root against a corporate army hellbent on destroying obviously peaceful people, something is wrong. As a modern day metaphor for Blackwater and other private armies fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t see it, although there have been plenty of questions raised about their actions.

There are a lot of old westerns that portray the railroads the same way Cameron wrote the Avatar bad guys. Why no outrage there? In many films, the railroads have their own private security guys or have hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to do their dirty work. There was nothing new in Cameron using the greed of a corporation to contrast the pure motives and superior culture of the natives. It’s as hackneyed a device as anything Hollywood produces.

I guess the biggest objection to the film was the “Green” message it tried to convey. You don’t have to be an environmental wacko to know that the rain forests are disappearing before our eyes (largely through slash and burn clearing tactics of those same natives who are supposed to be attached to the land). Nor is it doltish to understand the interconnectedness of the biosphere and how the death of one species can radically impact the entire food chain. I didn’t find those messages intrusive in the film at all, except that Cameron used the Na’vi’s environmental sensibilities to prove how superior they were to us evil white people.

Anyone who has read Rousseau recognizes “the noble savage” in Cameron’s portrayal of the Na’vi, and the re-occurring theme that the simple beliefs and quality of life lived by natives is something to be admired and envied by those of us trapped in western civilization. The true nature of living in the open forest - at the mercy of the elements, snakes, terrible bugs, horrible diseases, short life spans, astronomical infant mortality rates, and dirt, dirt, dirt - never seems to make it into these paeans to the authentic primitive.

The spiritual life of the Na’vi I found to be pretty silly - as I find all religions. How much sillier is it to believe in the Na’vi planetary female deity than it is to believe a carpenter’s son rose from the dead? To my eyes, not much at all.

I didn’t buy the last 20 minutes of the film. How did the killing of Stephen Lang’s character lead to the surrender of the rest of the army? They overmatched the Na’vis in firepower, and even if the animals joined the fight you can’t tell me if they had explosives that could bring down Hometree that they couldn’t kill the dinosaurs who had inexplicably joined the fight.

Not credible in the least.

I would have liked to have seen the idea that Sigourney Weaver theorized - a planet wide network where all the plants and trees were interconnected with each other and that this energy could be tapped by the Na’vi and presumably, the animals as well.

A planetary consciousness? That would be true science fiction. If that had been the case, the trees and plants would have attacked as well, which would have been more compelling than the wolf-like things and sorapods going after the bad guys.

Some of Cameron’s statements after the film was out were very stupid and indicative of someone totally ignorant of science. But if we haven’t learned by now to love movies by stupid left wing loons, then what’s the point of going to a film at all? Taxi Driver is one of the most compelling dramas ever made even though Martin Scorcese is liberal nutcase. And though I despise his politics, some of Sean Penn’s performances have been awesome (film acting doesn’t get much better than his performance in Mystic River).

There are indeed far left wing politicized films that need to be strenuously, and relentlessly criticized (the Plame-Wilson Fair Game, for example). And on one level, Avatar may cross the line between entertainment and politics - but no more so than any of the films I mentioned above.

Viewed as entertainment, I found Avatar to be thrilling, visually stunning, and worth watching again. In this case, I can stand a little preaching if the film delivers a solid 2 hours of adult entertainment.

By: Rick Moran at 9:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

3/17/2010
JACK BAUER AND LADY GAGA: WHEN CULTURE PARODIES ITSELF
CATEGORY: "24", Culture, Politics

A little change of pace from me over at PJ Media today. Two pop culture icons — one falling, the other rising — demonstrate a capacity for mocking the culture that created them.

A sample; first, on Bauer:

The sense of duty is still there, but to what? All Bauer seems to have left is a personal code of honor to which he is loyal. Gone is the clear notion that Jack was fighting for America, replaced by a much more individualistic sense of “me vs. them.” Bauer fights a private war now, for his own goals and his own reasons. It diminishes him in ways that reduces his impact on the culture. It’s like Bauer has gone from Captain America to Captain Crunch.

It isn’t so much that Bauer has become a liberal, or now reflects liberal sensibilities about the war on terror. That’s not entirely accurate. Instead, the character is now a parody of the old Jack, a notion reinforced by the writers deliberately eschewing the tactics used by the old Bauer, while steering the new Jack away from almost all controversy. The old Jack not only tortured suspects; he routinely thumbed his nose at the bureaucrats and his superiors. He seemed to have adopted the old Davy Crockett motto: “Be sure you’re right — then go ahead.”

Now, Jack Bauer defers to authority in ways he never would have in the first years of the show. He has been defanged in an effort perhaps to widen his appeal. Instead, the effect is to parody what made Bauer such a powerful image of American strength and determination to take the fight directly to the terrorists. The old Jack Bauer probably belonged in a cage. The new Bauer only needs a leash. And the difference is a reflection of how pop culture has changed the last decade. Cynicism and a general malaise have overtaken the explosive and often over-the-top exuberance that was once the hallmark of the American pop scene.

And I am goo-goo for Gaga:

Gaga disassociates her music from the images because she is using the video as a vehicle to send up iconic pop culture images and hence, pop culture itself. It is one gigantic inside joke that almost everyone is in on.

Her send-ups are not performed with any reverence or sense of homage, but with a desire to impose an ironic juxtaposition between the pop culture images she mocks and her own over-the-top personae. And in so doing, she consciously brings herself full circle from pop icon to a self-mocking caricature of a pop artist — a cardboard cutout so depthless and shallow, so deliberately provocative and outrageous, that the creative product — her music — actually aids in the parody by standing at arms length from the “art” of the delivery system. The art ignores the reality Gaga has created onscreen, imposing its own pleasant association with another world.

In the “Telephone” video, for instance, she is bailed out of the “Prison for Bitches” (following some rank lesbian and fetish images both designed to shock and evoke amusement) by formerly squeaky clean Beyonce. The two then take off in a Thelma and Louise adventure, parodying Quentin Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill films as well as Pulp Fiction by driving in a vehicle named “The Pussywagon” (Kill Bill) and stopping at a diner (Pulp Fiction) just long enough to poison the patrons by slipping a toxin into their food. They then drive off, the sound of police cars pursuing in the distance, and the imitation of the iconic raised handclasp of Thelma and Louise right before they drove over the cliff is used as a parody of solidarity between the two mega-stars.

Read the whole thing.

By: Rick Moran at 8:37 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

1/12/2010
WHY CONSERVATISM IS DISCONNECTED FROM REALITY

Another in my series of puny attempts to dissect what’s wrong with modern conservatism. Part II will appear tomorrow.

I debated whether or not to make this a piece about “some conservatives” eschewing reality for an alternate universe or if I should make it about much of modern conservatism’s disconnect from the reality of 21st century America.

In the end, I think it is more important to look at how conservatism as a philosophy has closed itself off so thoroughly from uncomfortable and inconvenient truths about America. The fringe players in the movement with their litmus tests and dreams of going bear hunting with Sarah Palin are not really the problem as I see it.

Their worldview, shaped as it is by wallowing in the echo chamber of conservative media, and warped by a naive and ultimately uninformed ideological prism through which they spout nonsensical, paranoid conspiracies, may be relevant to the political health of the right but has little to do with the breakdown of conservatism as a governing philosophy itself.

In this case, it is conservatism losing its ability to question itself in a rigorous and punishing manner, preferring to maintain a comfort zone in which certain shibboleths of the past rest easily on the mind and prevent the kind of examination of underlying assumptions that any set of philosophical principles needs to maintain touch with the real world.

One might argue that the problem is really with people who hold to those philosophical principles and their refusal to challenge their beliefs. I don’t think this is necessarily true. You can’t sneeze these days without tripping over someone on the right indulging in the kind of “Woe is us” pontificating. I should know. I do it often enough. One would think with all this angst, some truths about why conservatism is where it is today and how it got there would emerge. So far, I have been unimpressed.

There have been some valiant attempts, most notably after Sam Tannenhaus’s Death of Conservatism was published. Rejecting much of Tannenhaus’s critique (as most conservatives should), the author nevertheless wallops a couple of extra base hits while socking at least one, long home run in his analysis; that modern movement conservatism isn’t very conservative at all in that it seeks to overthrow the social order rather than conserve what is best about America while channeling change into productive venues consistent with tradition and the Constitution.

Tannenhaus refers to these right wingers as “revanchists.” Indeed, there is a strong impulse even among so called “reasonable conservatives” that FDR’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society need to be repealed or drastically curtailed. In it’s place? There things get kind of fuzzy but what emerges from many conservatives is some kind of “super federalism” where a souped up 10th Amendment would give us 50 different EPA’s or worse, where “market forces” would solve the problems of clean air and clean water.

That’s just one example, of course. And I should hasten to add that any good conservative supports a reasonable brand of federalism, not to mention a prudent regard for liberty and the taxpayer’s money that would force us to question the efficacy of hundreds if not thousands of federal programs. But, what many of the revanchists seek is not a “return” to first principles in the Constitution but rather a form of government more akin to an Articles of Confederation on steroids.

Another Tannenhaus point scored deals with the notion that movement conservatives positively hate government - government of any kind. It goes far beyond the healthy suspicion that all conservatives should possess of the positive impact government programs can have on society, and devolves into paranoia about any government program or effort to address stubborn national problems.

Here is where conservatism itself goes off the rails and feeds this paranoia, preventing conservative ideas from being brought to bear on national issues like health care, immigration, loss of industry, globalization, and adequate, sensible regulation of everything from financial institutions to the environment.

For it is not necessarily people who have become hostile to government but rather conservatism as a governing philosophy that has walled itself into a corner, refusing to confront a modern America that is less white, less agrarian, more urbanized, more technical, and developing a growing tolerance for government solutions to prickly, systemic problems experienced by ordinary Americans.

That last is the killer. Since the end of World War II and the rise of modern conservatism, it is been de rigueur for the right to promote the idea that government can be cut down to size, shrunk to an ill-defined outline that bears more of a resemblance to 19th century America than a modern society with all the miseries and challenges that reality entails.

The thrust of conservative critiques of the welfare state from Hayek to Kirk to Reagan has been that government is bigger than it should be as a result of it trying to do more than is necessary for the functioning of a constitutional republic. Indeed, a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution would cause anyone to question the manufactured justifications for everything from overly zealous government interference in commerce to the legislating of cultural issues from the bench. Conservatives rightly believe that “original intent” are not dirty words and that First Principles are in many ways as valid today as they were 220 years ago.

But over the decades, conservatism lost its flexibility in delineating a coarse ideology from this philosophy. By this I mean that conservatism has eschewed thoughtfulness for conformity. I’m not sure if you can actually pinpoint a moment where ideology trumped reason, although my personal line in the sand was the 1992 Republican convention and the rise of the culture warriors.

But that may have been the denouement to a decade or more of slow rot eating away at the foundations of a carefully nurtured worldview that fought for principle while recognizing that America was changing and that conservatism as a governing philosophy must change with it. The idea of reforming government - Reagan’s grand notion of a New Federalism, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and freer people - died in the fires of a cultural backlash that has come to define modern conservatism.

This is where conservatism lost touch with reality. The moment that the war itself became more important than the principles espoused, all semblance of rationality was tossed out the window and in its stead arose a mindless, knee jerk opposition to government and, of course, the left. As the living embodiment of Big Government, liberals became an enemy and not the political opposition. Rather than fighting to apply conservative principles to the art and artifice of government, the right chose to immolate reason, and turn its back on the reality of modern American in order to destroy their enemies.

As practiced by the most influential conservatives today, this is what passes for conservative thought. Tannenhaus correctly surmised that movement conservatism has won the battle against the pragmatists and now dominates the conservative discussion. I don’t agree with what he believes this fact necessarily portends for the future - a continued decline in influence and relevance of the right. In fact, as I will show tomorrow, there is cause for some hope that younger, more intellectually muscular conservatives who are questioning everything while searching for a new conservative paradigm that would re-integrate movement conservatives into a re-energized whole, may be the beginning of a conservative revival.

Tomorrow: Reports of the death of Culture 11 have been greatly exaggerated.

By: Rick Moran at 11:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (35)

11/5/2009
‘V’ FOR VILLIFICATION: LIBERAL PARADISE, OBAMA NIGHTMARE?

Want to piss off the left? Everybody watch every single episode of the new ABC mini-series “V.” Drive the ratings through the roof. Make the show the hottest cultural happening since Seinfeld. Copy the hairstyles. Ape the fashion. Start bidding up the action dolls on Ebay.

And most especially, actually tell people you believe that this is a show about Obama and the left. It isn’t, but if you want the liberals to poop in their pants, say you think it is.

I find it not a little ironic that Jonathan Chait would see a “Tea Party Worldview” in a show that is such a hammer over the head metaphor for fascism. That’s because in the universe created for “V,” the birthers are right, the paranoid loons who believe Obama is a Muslim terrorist have a point, and there really are Haliburton built concentration camps in Utah.

Except the plot line follows fairly closely the original “V” which aired before many tea partyers were even born. This makes any overt connection to Obama problematic, although the writers manage to stick it to the president on at least one occasion when “national health care” is mentioned to describe the Visitors plans to help humanity.

Chait:

The political drama of the original was replaced by a ham-handed metaphor for President Obama. The visitors are young, charismatic, futuristic, and have a one-worldish vision of peace. They target the young by enticing them to join an idealistic (but, in reality, sinister) youth group. A few perceptive humans warn of the dangers of hopping on the bandwagon before we know what the bandwagon is really about. The alien leader, Ana, promises to use futuristic technology to heal humans. “You mean universal health care!” gapes a reporter, who, naturally, has been co-opted by the aliens. Anna soothes skeptics by declaring that accepting change can be difficult. A small band of human resistors forms. The lead character is skeptical–what proof do you have she asks, besides some scary thing “you read on the internet.” But the seemingly hysterical message from the internet is true! The charismatic new leader is masking her true identity! The death panels are real! Etc., etc.

The real irony passes so far over Chait’s head it doesn’t even muss his hair. The fact is, the “resistors” are paranoid. That’s because at first, there is no proof that the aliens are anything other than benevolent souls who only want to help. It is not until the true reptilian nature of the Visitors is revealed to one of the main characters, FBI Agent Erica Evans (played by the ravishing MILF Elizabeth Mitchell) that the “paranoid” conspiracy nuts are proved correct.

Now this might be considered something of a birther fantasy come true - except the show has been in the works since 2007, according to executive producer Scott Peters:

Others on both sides of the political spectrum may point to the visitors’ explicit promises of hope, change and universal health care as a pointed reference to pledges of the Obama administration. But [Executive Producer Scott] Peters says the show has been in the works since 2007. Reality was “never really a factor,” he says. “There’s no political message being shoved down anyone’s throat.”

Could it be that the outward, and unintentional parallels with Obamamania is discomfiting some on the left because the parallels to Hitler’s Germany - so obvious, so easily seen - hold implications for the ease with which many of them succumbed to the siren song being sung by the president? Not that Obama is a fascist in any way, but is Chait really upset because he and his fellow leftists might, under other circumstances and with another candidate less dedicated to constitutional order, have fallen into supporting a real fascist?

It would upset me if I suddenly realized my susceptibility to abandoning critical thinking and embracing an undemocratic leader. All that is missing from Obamamania for it to have become an American nightmare was a candidate willing to take the cult of personality he created and turn it into something that perverts democracy. The same can be said for some other political leaders in America (one - Huey Long - may have actually harbored such un-American notions).

But in Obama’s case, the ability to manipulate the media (not to mention the open cheerleading for the candidate during the race), more money than God, and the extra added bonus of being able to stifle criticism by playing the race card at the drop of a hat all combined to create an extraordinarily incendiary mixture that a man with more authoritarian appetites than our president might have been tempted to use to the detriment of democracy.

Thankfully, Barack Obama is not such a man. Sure, he tries to stifle dissent. What modern president hasn’t? Clinton blaming conservative talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing and Karl Rove calling war protestors “unpatriotic” are just two examples of how the presidency has evolved to control the opposition by marginalizing resisters. It didn’t work any better than Obama’s efforts to shush Fox News so perhaps we can be grateful that even with their enormous power, presidents have to put up with criticism despite their best efforts to silence it.

In the case of “V,” one wonders if the unintentional parallels to Obamania will actually force script changes down the road. That’s because ABC has decided to air only 4 episodes this month, and then send the series off to hiatus until the spring. Already, there are signs that someone is not happy with the finished product.

Naturally, when a show debuts to huge ratings and mostly great reviews, the producer’s career is golden. Not this time. Apparently the network who gave Obama an infomercial and refuses to release the “Path to 9/11? DVD decided to replace the show runner Scott Peters before the pilot even aired. In fact, ABC hosted a big visit by press people last Monday, but Peters was notably absent. Exec producer Steve Pearlman spoke with the reporters.

Peters has been demoted to exec producer, a largely honorary title and has been replaced by former “The Shield” and “Chuck” alum Scott Rosenbaum.

Was this a case of ABC purging a political dissident from the show to make it more politically subservient? ABC has been very pro-Obama. And while the president’s name is never mentioned once in the show, there’s little doubt what they’re getting at. Critics of the “V” aliens are shown to be viewed as wackos and fringe people, the same way the MSM likes to portray ordinary Americans who don’t drink the kOOl-aid. Journalists who question the motives of the V are treated like they’re “not real news”. Wink!

My understanding is that such a change is not uncommon in the industry once a series goes on the air. Still, one wonders if the writing will take a different turn for future episodes given the jawboning on the left about parallels to Obamanania.

Yes, there are superficial similarities with Obama, but perhaps because I loved the original mini-series so much (both parts), I was more focused on how closely this incarnation of the story reflected back to the 1983 version. From what I’ve seen so far, the biggest change is the strong female characters compared to the original. Elizabeth Mitchell plays one tough cookie. She is also a single mom raising a problem teenager. The alien leader, Anna, is cool, gorgeous, scary smart, and so self possessed that any male I know would fight for the chance to ask her out for coffee.

There’s also an interesting religious angle with a Catholic priest questioning his faith with the arrival of beings from another world who never heard of Jesus, and who appear to be the real “saviors” of man. I hope they develop this a little more because it certainly would be one of the major implications for humankind if it was ever discovered that an alien civilization existed.

The special effects are a lot less cheesy, the revelation that the “Visitors” who look gorgeous in their human costumes are actually dragons isn’t handled half as well, and there is less big hair and more pixie styles among the women. (Being a big hair lover, I found this disappointing). The way we discovered the Visitors were aliens in the original was when the female co-leader Diana was seen by newsman Marc Sanger who had snuck aboard the Mothership, devouring a hamster whole. Now that was great television.

The 1983 series had “scientists” who were the persecuted minority - stand ins for the Jews. Given references to the internet already, might bloggers be targets in the remake? I’m with Chait who doubts whether scientists will be the imagined “enemies” of the Visitors. I also doubt that the fifth columnists will all be filthy rich, having been promised fabulous wealth by the Visitors if they cooperate. The great columnist Dorothy Thompson once wrote a piece on “Who would go Nazi?” if fascism ever came to America. Most of her choices were Republicans. I wonder if the new series will try and advance that same meme?

Overall, I’d give the production a B+ for it’s faithfulness to the original (so far) and a B- for political content. The have yet to really get into the fascist parallels that made the original so compelling. That grade may change as the story is fleshed out more in the coming weeks.

But if you want to enjoy the show, I suggest not trying to see Obama criticism or tea party worldview validation in every scene. It’s not there, and it will take away from immersing yourself in what promises to be a good story with lots of action.

By: Rick Moran at 9:13 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (32)

10/21/2009
BUCHANAN AND HIS ‘WHITE MAN’S LAMENT’

Is Pat Buchanan a racist? Is Rush Limbaugh?

Am I? Are you?

I discovered after writing my Rush Limbaugh post that there is no set definition for identifying a racist - at least one not fraught with politics, and informed by partisan rancor. “It’s obvious” is not an argument either way. Nor is there much agreement on whether one can be a racist subconsciously. This “all white people are racists and don’t even know it” idea was very popular a couple of decades back. But I don’t think anyone save committed racialists think that way anymore.

But does that mean that there is not a nurtured outlook of white superiority in our society that makes some of us oblivious to our own bigotry?

In the end, it all comes down to perception, and whether one has a decidedly deterministic worldview. How one experiences race in America has an awful lot to do with how low or how high we set the bar that defines for us whether one is a race hater or not.

Attorney General Eric Holder remarked early in Obama’s term that America was “a nation of cowards” because we wouldn’t talk candidly about race. I think he is right we don’t talk candidly about race but he is wrong when he says the reason is cowardice. How can there be a discussion on race when there is no agreement on what actually constitutes racism? Oh, there are “speech codes” and “hate crime legislation” that deal with the most obvious, outward manifestations of racism that help define, in the broadest possible terms, racists.

In fact, I would argue that speech codes and hate crime definitions further muddy the waters with regard to defining racism. In my estimation, such remedies lower the bar on what defines a racist, mixing legitimate free speech issues with racial issues. If one defines racism according to racial sensitivity, simply stepping on someone’s toes verbally can be construed as “hate.” That defeats the purpose of the First Amendment, and I believe is the reason many conservatives reject the idea of speech codes altogether.

(Hate crime legislation is an entirely different matter and goes to “intent” - a tricky legal definition that I wish would be used judiciously but the potential for abuse, and inconsistent application is too great to justify its passage.)

So are all racially insensitive people racists? Does the use of stereotypes automatically make one a racist? If you reject the NAACP position on affirmative action, are you a racist?

Most mindless partisans eschew the questions and simply go for the jugular. But for those interested in exploring these questions, we have an excellent exhibit in the form of an Op-Ed by paleoconservative Pat Buchanan that, on the surface, appears to be something of a “white man’s lament” at the loss of “traditional” America:

In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. They have seen their factories shuttered in the thousands and their jobs outsourced in the millions to Mexico and China. They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates.

They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on – then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

Buchanan is not the first conservative to incorporate these concepts in their critique of the Obama administration. But Buchanan scores the trifecta of hyperbole by collating race, class, and fear of “The Other” in his lament.

And he proves himself once again to have the historical sense of a marmoset about America. What is America ever been about but change? I’ve said it many times, and it is born out by even a cursory understanding of the thrust of American history; this is a nation on the move, has been on the move, and will always be on the move as long as we are free.

We stand still for nothing, for nobody - no institution, no philosophy, no group, industry, or movement. To be static in America means that you are already on your way out. We reinvent ourselves at the drop of a hat, with impossible speed. What takes European democracies decades, we do in one or two election cycles. It is frightening. It is marvelous. It is the defining characteristic of this country and it is one of those things that makes us exceptional.

I know what Buchanan is trying to say - he’s not saying it well and he is mixing a witches brew of politics and racial identity in with his critique. What he refers to as “traditional America” is defined by his enemies as white America. But if we are to postulate that Buchanan’s “traditional Americans” are upset because we have an African American president and preferences for minorities, doesn’t that make “traditional Americans” themselves racist by definition?

Beware, a trap Mr. Serwer:

I’d love to just leave this post with snark, but I have to say one last thing. Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today’s legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that’s the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he’s right, he is losing it.

Did Mr. Serwer not just define “traditional” Americans?” I believe he did. Race, or gender, or sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether one is a “traditional American.” Some may believe that Buchanan is limiting himself to the white race, but his critique echoes in those communities where “traditional American” is broadly defined as anyone who respects and reveres the first principles upon this nation was founded; among them - self reliance, a respect for individual rights, and the investment of the nation’s sovereignty in the Constitution. One doesn’t need to be a conservative to believe in the traditional American values Buchanan believes are disappearing. And it is insulting, as Mr. Serwer points out, to limit the idea of traditional American to one race.

The question then becomes not whether Buchanan is a racist but whether he’s right. As usual, Buchanan overstates the case but hits upon something that critics ignore at their peril.

It is the pace of change that has people of many races, many backgrounds worried. If it were only tea partiers and loudmouths at town hall meetings, the sense of unease that runs the length and breadth of the land would not be so obvious - obvious enough to be reflected in poll numbers and soon, at the ballot box. It is difficult to argue that the pace of change doesn’t matter or that traditional Americans are not worried that the many changes being proposed by the president cannot be shoehorned into their vision of what America is supposed to be all about.

You can argue that African Americans as a group are less critical, or that the Hispanic community may not be as worried about the pace of change as white Americans. But to dismiss this phenomenon as a white only construct is naive. To do so identifies the critic as someone too enamored in viewing the nation’s problems through the prism of race and racism.

This plays to the idea that many whites are subconsciously racist - that when they lament the passing of an America with which they are familiar, what they are really saying is, “I don’t like that black man as president:”

I agree with the substance of Adam’s case against Pat Buchanan; the vision that Buchanan is putting forth of America is both racist and ahistorical, and is genuinely dismissive of the contributions of every non-white American (not to mention women, immigrants, and so forth). At the same time, I think that there’s more going on; Buchanan has always been more willing than most conservative pundits to make forthright, and in some sense honest, defenses of unpalatable elements of the right wing worldview. I recall at some point in the 1990s that Buchanan was asked why the United States was willing to sacrifice treasure for Bosnia and not Rwanda, and he gave the straightforward answer that Rwandans weren’t white enough.

In this case, I think that Buchanan is invoking a genuine sense of loss of entitlement on the part of a substantial portion of white America. This isn’t to defend or justify the white privilege that created this entitlement entailed, or to justify Pat Buchanan’s nostalgia for it. Nevertheless, I think that Buchanan is pointing to something that’s very real, or at least as real as any sociological fact. White America, as the construct exists in the mind of many Americans, is disappearing, even by some objective criteria; it’s retreating deeper into exurban communities, and it’s very, very slowly ceding political and financial power. Moreover, the idea of America is changing; Buchanan has a very definite vision of what America is, and is smart enough to understand that his vision is losing traction. In this context, it’s hardly surprising that the response is a combination of rage and raw panic. That the ideological structure that supports White America is racist and has a disturbing narrative of American history is academically relevant, but it’s also not the central point. Those who hold Buchanan’s vision (and many do, although often not in terms as explicit as Pat is willing to put forth) really do find themselves under siege, and pointing out that these beliefs are both crazy and immoral has very limited effect.

Spoken like a true determinist. Positing the notion that white Americans obsess about race, or their “entitlement” makes sense if you believe the rush to create a different kind of America doesn’t involve a radical movement away from what all races, all creeds who believe in “traditional America” see as fundamentally important to their identity. How do those black and Hispanic veterans who shed blood in our wars view the president’s foreign policy? Or do the black and Hispanic communities march in lockstep with the idea of national health insurance? Bail outs for big banks and corporations? A larger federal role in educating their children? A radical restructuring of our energy policy?

A determinist can ascribe all of this to white racism because looking at the country through the warped vision of racial conflict, everything becomes explainable as “loss” defined as privilege or status. People don’t think that way, have never thought that way, will not act in that fashion as evidenced by the fact that Communism is, for all intents and purposes, dead. This phenomenon resists a deterministic explanation. We must look to history for answers.

It has never been that white America, or traditionalists of any kind have been resistant to all change, everywhere, all the time. There have been pockets of resistance throughout our history to change (some larger than others, as was the case in southern resistance to integration). The social history of America is replete with examples of a “brake” being placed on change that turned out to be both necessary and good.

But unless you are willing to argue that “traditionalists” wish to see Jim Crow reestablished or women denied the right to vote, you must accept the fact that rapid change, while causing some dislocation, is nevertheless accepted by tradtionalists eventually. This does not mean that southern whites were correct in resisting integration, or men were spot on in their opposition to a woman’s right to vote. But in a nation that can alter its political landscape every four years, some anchors must be recognized if change that is proposed is to be folded into our national consciousness and become part of our national character.

Looking at the long view of history, I find it absolutely astonishing that in my youth, a black man couldn’t get a sandwich at a southern coffee shop and yet, I live in a time where an African American received more white votes for president than his party’s predecessor.

Is it the position of critics that this miracle was accomplished without the traditionalists? I beg to differ. I believe it was the traditionalist’s eventual acceptance of racial integration - begrudging though it might have been - that made the election of Barack Obama possible. And the fact that we have gone from Jim Crow to an African American president in less than one human lifetime only points more strongly to the idea of American exceptionalism and the idea that rapid change, when governed by applying first principles - in this case, equality for all - will eventually be accepted even by those who oppose the change in the first place.

Mr. Serwer rejects the findings of the Democracy Corps focus groups that race plays a small part in opposition to the president because it doesn’t feed his thesis that Buchanan (and Limbaugh) are explicitly lamenting a “loss” to white America as the result of the election of a black man.

I don’t doubt that there is an element of racism - clear, nauseating, and shocking - that is a significant part of Obama hate. But limiting one’s critique to a purely racial explanation belies the fact that traditionalists (sometimes incoherently) are more concerned about the president severing connections to the past than any non-acceptance that a black man can be president, or that the very fact that a black man sits in the White House gives them cause to lament their being marginalized in this “new” America.

I am not accusing Mr. Serwer of deliberately misinterpreting Buchanan’s critique. But rejecting out of hand empirical evidence that your own critique is off base smacks of partisanship, not rigorous analysis.

President Obama ran on a platform of change. He is giving his supporters exactly what they voted for. But from recent poll numbers, it is clear that even many of those who voted for Mr. Obama are feeling uneasy about what he is doing, that he is moving too quickly in some areas, without giving proper respect to the principles that America was founded upon or the “traditions” if you will that binds this nation as one. Whether they are white, black, brown, or purple matters not. And those who seek to muddy the waters by making opposition to the president’s idea of change a question of race hate are missing the boat.

By: Rick Moran at 10:38 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (44)

9/29/2009
DEFENDING POLANSKI: ‘IT’S NOT RAPE-RAPE’
CATEGORY: Culture, Ethics

Every once and a while, an issue jumps up and really shows the moral chasm that separates the right and the left.

Whether it’s Teri Schiavo or the cop killer Mumia, or AIM founder and convicted murderer of FBI agents Leonard Pelitier, there are some matters that bring out in the starkest relief imaginable, the great liberal/conservative divide on questions of simple, basic morality that seem so self-evident to conservatives but a mystery to liberals.

The Roman Polanski case highlights this difference in spades.

The reaction on the left to what should be a non-controversial case of a child rapist finally being forced to face the music for his horrific crime has been nothing short of astonishing. I suppose we should be used to this kind of moral blindness from people who invented the phrase “If it feels good - do it,” but for the life of me, it is boggling my mind that the Hollywood left - and their fellow travelers around the country - are singing the praises of this “artist” while excusing the bestial actions of a man who lured a 13 year old girl into disrobing to take pictures, drugged her, and then savagely raped her.

But weighed against his “accomplishments?” Tis a pittance, a non-event, or, as Whoopie Goldberg put it, “It wasn’t a “rape” rape.” That kind of sophistry deserves its own award from the Academy.

A couple of good links; first, from Allahpundit who is as discombobulated as I am about the reaction from liberals:

Needless to say, this reminds me of the left’s umbrage at conservatives daring to bring up Chappaquiddick after Teddy died. Yeah, he left a woman to drown and then made jokes about it afterwards; he was for universal health care, though, wasn’t he? Same with Polanski: Dare we deny the man who made “Chinatown” an occasional drugging and raping of a child? Sure, a kid gets traumatized for life, but on the other side of the scale: “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’d be sweet if the left could come up with some sort of mathematical formula by which we could tell whether an artist or liberal politician has exceeded his quotient of moral indulgence. I’m assuming “Chinatown” wasn’t so awesome that Polanski would be excused shooting a kid in the head at point-blank range, so evidently it’s “worth” less than that but more than a child-rape. Let’s figure out just how much of a liberal hero you have to be to get away with certain crimes.

Kate Harding writing in Salon:

Roman Polanski raped a child. No one, not even him, disputes that. Regardless of whatever legal misconduct might have gone on during his trial, the man admitted to unlawful sex with a minor. But the Polanski apologism we’re seeing now has been heating up since “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” the 2008 documentary about Polanski’s fight to get the conviction dismissed. Writing in Salon, Bill Wyman criticized the documentary’s whitewashing of Polanksi’s crimes last February, after Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that if the director wanted to challenge the conviction, he’d need to turn himself in to U.S. authorities and let the justice system sort it out. “Fugitives don’t get to dictate the terms of their case … Polanski deserves to have any potential legal folderol investigated, of course. But the fact that Espinoza had to state the obvious is testimony to the ways in which the documentary, and much of the media coverage the director has received in recent months, are bizarrely skewed.”The reporting on Polanski’s arrest has been every bit as “bizarrely skewed,” if not more so. Roman Polanski may be a great director, an old man, a husband, a father, a friend to many powerful people, and even the target of some questionable legal shenanigans. He may very well be no threat to society at this point. He may even be a good person on balance, whatever that means. But none of that changes the basic, undisputed fact: Roman Polanski raped a child. And rushing past that point to focus on the reasons why we should forgive him, pity him, respect him, admire him, support him, whatever, is absolutely twisted.

In addition to Goldberg’s dismissal of Polanski’s brutality with the cryptic defense that it really wasn’t “rape-rape,” there’s this from the Daily Mail.

In a statement, Mr Mitterand, a nephew of former President Francois Mitterand, said he learned of the arrest ‘with astonishment’ and that he regretted ‘in the strongest way that a new ordeal has been inflicted on someone who has already gone through so much’.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the arrest was a ‘bit sinister’…

The Zurich Film Festival jury accused Switzerland of ‘philistine collusion’.

‘The case is three decades old and is all but dead but for minor technicalities. We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork,’ said jury president Debra Winger.

Other members of the film industry, including Italian actress Monica Bellucci, French actress Fanny Ardant, president of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob and Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai issued a petition demanding his immediate release.

I will never watch “Officer and a Gentleman” again and not look at Winger as lower than a slug.

I don’t understand it. The idea of defending Polanski in any way, shape, or form is so far beyond the realm of any conscious thought I might imagine that it enters the world of dreams - a place where the physical laws of gravity and reality simply don’t apply and strange, surreal images float in front of your mind’s eye causing you to wake up with a start. It is then that you heave a sigh of relief because it was only a dream and such things couldn’t happen in the waking world.

Not so with those on the left who are defending Polanski. There is a hole in their soul where conscience and empathy are usually found. There is no way to patch that hole, to fill it with a moral framework that would cause these lefties to react as any normal, rational, human being would react when faced with the choice of condemning a child rapist or excusing him.

As an historical aside, a similar state of mind infected America when John Brown went to the gallows in 1859 to die for his crimes. Here, northerners condemned his actions but sympathized with his cause. That reaction drew the same kind of astonishment from southerners that we feel today at the reaction on the left to Polanski’s arrest. In fact, it hurried the day when civil war became probable as the south felt that northerners didn’t care if slaves murdered their masters in their beds as long as it was done in the just cause of getting rid of the institution. They didn’t understand the north’s moral confusion and many felt that a great chasm had opened up between the two sides.

Obviously, Polanski is no John Brown. But I wanted to highlight the fact that such radical differences in moral outlook are really quite rare in American history until recently, since we all spring from pretty much the same general background and ancestry steeped in western traditions that are based on Christian principles of personal responsibility and right and wrong. It used to be extremely rare that Americans, as a group, didn’t generally agree on the Big Questions that define the moral parameters in society, while having a common framework to discuss these questions even if there are what used to be usually relatively minor disagreements over purpose and motivation.

But since this New Morality swept America in the 1960’s - a morality that posits the idea that we are moral creatures responsible only to ourselves and our instincts - such moral flights of fancy have become somewhat more common on the left these days but are still relatively rare.

Apparently, sometimes the hard wiring that is responsible for giving us a moral conscience breaks down and we get inexplicable breaks in our moral continuity like this. To me, this is as good an explanation as any for why there has been this cognitive dissonance on the part of some on the left when it comes to the Roman Polanski case.

By: Rick Moran at 6:40 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (26)

9/21/2009
SHOULD NEWSPAPERS GO NON-PROFIT?

There is little doubt that the nation’s newspapers are in deep trouble. And not just a few rags here and there. The entire industry is in the process of going extinct with the exception of a few papers funded by individuals with very, very deep pockets and can absorb the millions in losses incurred by running a modern, metropolitan daily newspaper.

Why this is so, is a trickier question and not conducive to simple, one sentence answers. You can say the internet is killing the daily newspaper and that would be true, but not the whole story.

You can say blogs are killing newspapers and you would be indulging in wishful thinking. They have certainly affected newspapers but most bloggers need newspapers more than newspapers need blogs.

You can say political bias is killing newspapers and you would be picking nits. Bias in reporting only makes the political class angry. No one else really notices or cares.

You can say that the standard business model for the daily paper does not reflect the reality of the marketplace and you would be correct - except most papers have already tried to adapt to the internet age and are finding it very tough going.

The number one reason newspapers are dying is because they cannot compete in a rapidly changing information marketplace. The print editions are not as immediate as television. The web editions are hard to navigate and difficult to find the information for which you are looking. Advertising revenue for both is dropping as marketing whizzes use social networking sites and techniques to drive conversation about products and services that were once full page ads. The huge falloff in revenue from classified ads moving to websites like Craig’s List has also contributed to the decline.

People’s reading habits are changing. Audio books and Kindle are revolutionizing the way we read and web sites like Memeorandum make it a simple matter to pick out information that the reader feels is necessary to know or in which he is interested. Newspapers are becoming superfluous - an unwanted appendage that doesn’t fill any need except that of tradition and continuity.

Blogs and message boards do a better job of informing about sports, style, even business. Ditto for what used to be called “opinion journalism” and is now simply ranting, for the most part. Such opinion columnists don’t marshal arguments, illuminate options, and recommend a course of action. They have - with very few exceptions - become creative writers, trying to outdo blogs in their use of colorful invective and snarky sarcasm.

If Rupert Murdoch gets his way and readers are forced to pay for the privilege of accessing on-line newspaper content, it will only hasten their demise. The New York Times “firewall” experiment proves that. Not enough people are willing to pay to read opinion - even if they are usually in agreement with the columnist. They can get pretty much the same thing for free on blogs. And sometimes, the writing and thinking is superior to that which is found at newspapers, online or otherwise.

That leaves paying for “news” stories. This presupposes that no one will step in and offer for free what these newspapers want to charge money for. The Army of Davids who would eagerly dive into the void and “report” on various news stories using what they discover on local blogs, YouTube, or even Twitter would doom to failure any attempt for newspapers to alter their revenue plans to include charging for online access - even if it’s only a “nominal” fee.

I love newspapers - both online and dead tree. But they belong to another age, much like the elegance of a horse drawn carriage or the friendliness of a Mom and Pop grocery store. What exactly is it that newspapers do that would justify their continued existence?

“Investigative” reporting? Most newspapers don’t do that anymore - too expensive. And even if a paper has an investigative reporting department, is that reason enough to pay for the privilege of access when these stories make up such a small percentage of news reported during the course of a year?

“In-depth” analysis of issues? Anyone who is interested in an issue or a story can find a dozen websites ranging from think tanks to university professors who would do an equally good job of giving context, history, and analysis to any issue.

There are niche areas where newspapers could thrive. I can see an ESPN or IDB, or Wall Street Journal remaining viable as long as their price for access was reasonable and commensurate with the value of the content. Ditto for websites that report on fashion, or movies, or any other department found in daily newspapers. I wouldn’t doubt it if there weren’t already websites that contain obituaries. Many would pay for access there too.

But why pay to read about New York sports teams in the New York Times? If you’re from New York, you could get equally good coverage and analysis on any of a dozen blogs. Sports talk radio would give the sports fan access to the same news with the bonus of it being free.

As long as newspapers were the gatekeepers for information and commanded the attention of the masses, they could charge advertisers enough money to make a profit. But with such diluted information streams coming from all points, and advertisers finding alternatives that are cheaper and actually promise to promote their products better, newspapers have become entities in search of a mission. They are casting about desperately, trying to manufacture reasons to remain relevant. And no one - not readers or advertisers - is buying it.

Nothing I’ve written so far is news to anyone who follows the newspaper industry. Nor is the idea that somehow, the government must step in and “help” newspapers survive. Direct subsidies would be ridiculous. The government should not be in the business of subsidizing opinion. The slippery slope there is so obvious a 3 year old could see it.

But what about indirect subsidies in the form of tax breaks for newspapers that reorganize themselves into non profit organizations? The Hill reports:

The president said he is “happy to look at” bills before Congress that would give struggling news organizations tax breaks if they were to restructure as nonprofit businesses.

“I haven’t seen detailed proposals yet, but I’ll be happy to look at them,” Obama told the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade in an interview.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced S. 673, the so-called “Newspaper Revitalization Act,” that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin’s Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had played down the possibility of government assistance for news organizations, which have been hit by an economic downturn and dwindling ad revenue.

In early May, Gibbs said that while he hadn’t asked the president specifically about bailout options for newspapers, “I don’t know what, in all honesty, government can do about it.”

Obama said that good journalism is “critical to the health of our democracy,” but expressed concern toward growing tends in reporting — especially on political blogs, from which a groundswell of support for his campaign emerged during the presidential election.

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said.

The president obviously doesn’t spend 10 hours a day on the internet like the rest of us. If he did, he would have known that there are many websites and blogs that already offer mostly unbiased analysis and fact based opinion. The idea that these qualities are solely the province of old school journalists found in the newsrooms of America is absurd.

Sadly, many on both the right and the left read only those blogs and websites that reflect their partisan tilt (this is less true on the left but there is still a very significant percentage of liberals who will read only liberal blogs.) It is not that the kind of information the president is talking about isn’t already available, it is that the number of people interested in non-partisan or less partisan reading is relatively small.

And perhaps the president would like to tell us how newspapers have promoted “mutual understanding?” Newspapers have historically promoted their own biased viewpoints, from Hearst to Ochs. Until relatively recently, newspapers were basically organs for one party or the other. Some still are.

If newspapers believe they can investigate corruption, fairly analyze politics and culture, and offer fact based opinion pieces that seek to inform rather than inflame, then by all means give them the tax breaks.

But you and I know that won’t happen. In fact, it is the profit motive that restrains newspapers from being too overtly biased in their reporting. Currently, newspapers must attract as many people as possible regardless of their political biases or party affiliation. If they were to go non-profit, what would be the incentive to be fair? There would be some, of course, who would respect the idea that they were in the business of informing their readers in as neutral a way possible of the issues and politics that are newsworthy. But such nobility would be even rarer than it is today. Without the incentive to make money, newspapers would de-evolve and revert to their past practice of being openly partisan or ideological. Remove the profit motive and you remove the one thing that governs content.

In the last 5 years, I may have read half a dozen dead tree newspapers. My reading habits have changed and the time spent perusing a newspaper could be better spent googling what I want to know. That’s the bottom line and I see no way that newspapers - online or traditional paper editions - will ever to be able to overcome the problem that the meteor has already struck Chicxulub and there is nothing they can do to save themselves from catastrophe.

By: Rick Moran at 9:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

7/27/2009
HELP! IS THERE A WHITE DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

Nothing says crazy quite like the idea that someone is better off receiving services from a person who shares the same skin pigmentation.

Obviously, a black accountant is better off having black clients while a white lawyer is better suited to handle cases brought by other whites, this idiotic thinking goes. It is racial preferences run amuck and has taken what is actually a sound idea and extended it to radically ridiculous lengths to serve the interests of racialists, hate mongers, and pea brained politicians who see political advantage in trying to curry favor with “victims of white oppression” or in playing up racial differences.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Obama administration would want to see that “underrepresented” minorities in the health care field would become part of what Linda Chavez calls a “racial spoils system” that will give educational preference to minorities in health care fields because everyone knows that people will be healthier and get better treatment if their doctors share their racial and ethnic background.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine released a study entitled “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care” that sparked a flurry of accusations that minority patients, especially African-Americans, receive bad health care because their doctors were biased.

The study said that “some evidence suggests that bias, prejudice and stereotyping on the part of health-care providers may contribute to differences in care.” But as Dr. Sally Satel, a highly respected physician and author, observed at the time, the “evidence” in the study was thin. ” ‘Some,’ ’suggests’ and ‘may,’ ” she wrote, “are all the kinds of words authors use when the data are flimsy and reputations are at stake.”

There is no question that African-Americans, on average, die younger and have poorer health than whites. What is less clear is why that is the case. Socio-economic class and behavior both play an important role. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black males between the ages of 15-24, for example. Obesity, drug and alcohol use, and other behavioral factors play an important role in determining overall health. But will insisting on preferences for African-American students applying to medical-school admission improve health care for blacks? Not likely.

There is not one scintilla of evidence that black doctors treating black patients will make black people healthier. But when have facts ever stopped the racialists from seeking preferences based not on ability or aptitude, but rather the color of one’s skin? You either have what it takes to be a doctor or you don’t. The same is true for nurses, and anyone’s hands I am forced to entrust with my mortal coil.

I don’t care if my doctor is black, brown, green, or six shades of chartreuse. I don’t care whether the physician is from Delhi, India, Peshawar, Pakistan, Colombo, Sri Lanka, or Dixon, Illinois. When I’m in an emergency room after being involved in a car wreck, I just want to be assured that the attending physician knows my shin bone from my elbow bone, is fully qualified as a result of a medical meritocracy, and isn’t the recipient of preferential medical school policies that promote based on the accident of birth that gave one person more melanin than someone else.

I support affirmative action as it was originally intended. But the idea that all things being equal in educational or employment opportunities, preference should be given if at all possible to those who have been the historic targets of discrimination has fallen by the wayside in favor of out and out quotas by schools and large corporations who fear being sued for discrimination more than they value fairness and merit based policies. And this cockamamie idea that preferential consideration should be given applicants not due to ability but due to skin tone or whether one’s loins are cloven, not cleft, is a rank injustice against all Americans.

A society that recognizes historic differences in equal opportunity but seeks to overcome disadvantages for some by disadvantaging others is not the kind of society envisioned by the Founders nor those who fought so hard to make the Constitution’s words about equality be a source of inspiration and not hypocrisy. Martin Luther King and most of the mainstream civil rights activists at the time believed in an Affirmative Action that recognized merit first, race second. Today’s race baiters and hate mongers have that notion switched around entirely and instead, use Affirmative Action as a club to make a mockery of merit altogether.

The notion that a white doctor can treat me better than a black doctor, and vice versa, is so nonsensical as to be beyond belief. I either have the flu or I don’t. The same goes for just about everything else connected with medical care. Medicine is a science that makes judgments as a result of empirical facts based on testing and experience. The idea that a white doctor would miss a virus, or a bug, or some other condition, or prescribe the wrong medicine, or cause any harm by omission or commission because he/she is not the same color as the patient is idiotic on its face.

Should medical schools actively seek out qualified minority candidates? Abslutely yes. But not everyone has what it takes to be a doctor, and admitting unqualified candidates based on race while other, qualified candidates are refused will not improve the health care system, will not improve the life expectancy of blacks, but will result in fewer doctors.

And in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, “That’s a helluva price to pay for being stylish.”

By: Rick Moran at 9:28 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (15)