Saturday, March 13, 2010

Once Again - An Open Invitation

Since they write at a website called "American Descent", I'd like their views on this really good summary of the real descent of America.
In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it's General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment.

In the wake of the implosion of nearly all sources of American authority, this new decade will have to be about reforming our institutions to reconstitute a more reliable and democratic form of authority.

The sad fact is, America is in decline not because of anything our current President and Congress have done or attempted to do. Rather, the past generation of conservative dominance has shredded the social and political fabric of this country, and we are left with the monumental task of reconfiguring it - in the face of the constant shriek that we are the ones who have destroyed or are destroying the country.

I look forward to their responses.

What Amiri Baraka Said

Pretty much, he can be summed up, "Democrats, get your heads out of your asses and get the job done." Rather than kill one another, get together and get the job done.

High Taxes, More And Stronger Unions Are Key To A Robust Economy

For some reason (probably a lack of any historical memory whatsoever), conservatives love and liberals hate the 1950's. A dynamic decade, far removed from the somnambulant decade of Eisenhowerian drift, the fifties were, in many ways, the staging ground for the upheavals of the following decade. The Civil Rights era began in the 1950's; the beats, rock and roll, the space age, Holden Caufield - all products of that time. One of the things that made that decade such a robust period in American history was the underlying economic stability made possible through the on-going New Deal regulations that some Republicans even then sought to roll back. Eisenhower, showing far more wisdom than any Republican since, refused. The main economic engine, however, was the progressive income tax and strong unions.

There are two things you can rely on contemporary Republican politicians to talk about whenever they talk about the 1950's - taxes and unions. Yet, if they actually knew anything at all about either subject, they would realize that the 1950's do not endorse any conservative approach to national economic policy, but rather endorse high taxes - during the 1950's, the marginal tax rate on those earning (in adjusted dollars) $3 million, was 91%.

Think about that for a moment.

At the moment, there are proposals to return the top marginal tax rate (which is different from the top rate altogether; since the advent of supply-side economics, discussion has always been on the marginal tax rate) to what it was during the Clinton Administration, roughly 31%, and this is seen as creeping socialism. Under Republican Presidents and a (very brief) Republican Congress fifty years ago, the top rate wasn't touched and we had robust economic growth.

Another log on the fire of economic growth, and social and cultural expansion, was robust unionism in the manufacturing sector. As the soldiers who fought in the Second World War came home and went to college on the GI Bill, they went to work in factories where the unions had won important victories during the Depression (with the help of the Fair Labor Standards Act). These men and women not only constituted what William Manchester has called "the best educated generation in American history"; they were also among the wealthiest. The booming suburbs, aided by policies that sought to attract white working and middle-class families away from cities, were helped by unionized workers being able to afford the homes and the commutes. Simply put, having a union wage drove the consumerist engine of the 1950's. With the turn away from a unionized manufacturing sector, and the rise of non-unionized service industries, that important social and economic engine stalled, then stopped completely.

When you read in various posts how the Republican Party has pretty much destroyed our infrastructure, these changes in our tax and labor policies are not just part of the equation, but at its very heart. Somehow we managed for decades to have high marginal tax rates on the very wealthy along with robust economic activity. We had a healthy organized labor movement and a strong manufacturing sector. Republicans insisted, however, that we needed to reduce taxes on the wealthy and stop unions in their tracks, and things would improve. Instead, the whole thing pretty much collapsed, and in a very short amount of time.

This argument, based on reality, rather than the fantasies of know-nothings and fake libertarians, needs to be made often and as explicitly as possible. We need higher taxes and stronger unions if we really want a healthy economy.

Old Arguments

I was attracted to this "defense" of the "Weinberger Doctrine" because I remember all too well something that is missing from the discussion of Reagan-era discussions of military policy - the Pentagon's proposal to sacrifice Europe to fight what it considered a winnable, limited nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union.

It may be difficult to remember the atmosphere of relentless tension between the US and the Soviets of a generation ago. It was made worse by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent decision by the Reagan Administration to deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, against the express wishes of the people of the various countries where those missiles were put. Part of the problem complicating relations between the US and the Soviets were the interregnum between the death of Leonid Brezhnev and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev there, and President Reagan's first-term rhetorical belligerence, made plain in a now-infamous 1983 speech in Miami in which he called the Soviet Union "the focus of evil in the modern world."

In the midst of the hair-trigger between the two superpowers, it was revealed that Weinberger's Defense Department was seriously studying the possibility of fighting and "winning" a limited nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Of course, it would mean limiting that exchange to the newly-deployed medium-range nuclear missiles, making of western and Central Europe a vast, unlivable wasteland for centuries to come.

When the document outlining this particular bit of craziness was revealed, Theodore Draper took to the pages of The New York Review of Books to scold then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger not only for setting aside the post-war alliance with western Europe, and stating boldly that it might be in the US national interest to allow it to die in a nuclear oven if it meant "defeating" the Soviet Union; in so doing, Draper contended that this was an explicit rejection of the policy of deterrence that, for all its faults, had managed to limit confrontation with the Soviets to the margins, rather than full-on war. Weinberger replied, and the on-going exchange opens Draper's 1983 collection Present History: On Nuclear War, Detente, and Other Controversies. I read this book in the fall of 1984, at the same time I was taking a survey class in international relations as an undergraduate, and it shaped much of my thinking on that subject.

While there are, indeed, many good things to be said about the "Weinberger Doctrine" as it is presented at Democracy Arsenal, leaving out this particular bit of craziness misses a crucial aspect of late-Cold War Defense and Foreign Policy. At least in the early years of its existence, the Reagan Administration not only accepted the idea that nuclear war could be something "fought" and "won", it actively sought to lay out scenarios in which this would be so.

Saturday Rock Show

When Dream Theater broke the radio barrier in 1992 with "Pull Me Under" - in the last days of rock radio's importance - they offered a whole generation of musicians a way to hear the tired dinosaur of progressive rock. Using not just the classic prog repertoire of Yes and Rush, but adding Metallica's own debt to prog, heard most clearly on song's like ". . . And Justice For All", and the band's early tendency toward extending thematic and melodic material, DT managed to open up all sorts of possibilities for musicians who tired of the limitations of the either/or of classic prog rules and the weight of heavy metal.

Of course, as is always the case, really good bands inspire imitators. Some early metal-prog bands were a pretty direct ripoff of Dream Theater's approach, and one can hear it pretty clearly in Symphony X, for example (although lyrically, at least, Symphony X has charted a different course, sticking with a kind of "sword-and-sorcery" material, with highlights such as their attempt to put Homer's "The Odyssey" in a 20-minute piece of music, and their last release, a concept album based on John Milton's Paradise Lost). Another band that, in many ways, was pretty much a direct descendant of DT was York, PA's Shadow Gallery. Even the name, for crying out loud, was kind of a rip off.

I tried hard to like them. I guess what they wanted their music to sound like, and what I thought it should sound like differed enough so that I never quite got to the point where I could sit and listen with my critical ear quiet. All the same they have moments, to be sure. One of their best, from the CD Legacy, is this pretty little love song, "Colors". My one complaint is the addition of a slide guitar during the bridge, but that's an arrangement decision that I might have made differently, and doesn't really rob the piece of its basic prettiness (not the same as beauty).

Do My Eyes Deceive Me?

I have stopped reading what Atrios calls "Fred Hiatt's crayon scribble page". While the news stories at The Washington Post continue to be pretty good, the editorial and op-ed pages of this once-great journalistic institution have become a sink-hole for global warming deniers, inside-beltway conventional wisdom of the most venal, trivial sort, and former Bush Administration third-tier hacks like Michael Gerson and, now, Marc Thiessen. This isn't an issue of "now it's conservative and I'm all upset." It's more a question of intellectual honesty and integrity. George Will's columns on global warming keep getting debunked and called out as fraudulent, but he still has a job; Marc Thiessen, like Bill Kirstol at the Times, can't write an honest column, yet he still gets in print, spouting the Bush Administration line that (a) the US didn't torture, but (b) if we did, the sonsabithces deserved it, so it's OK.

Today, though, something caught my eye, and I have to admit I'm impressed. Howell Raines, former executive editor of The New York Times, has a piece entitled "Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?"
Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals. This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform."

Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.

Sometimes you get struck by something you read, and this is one of those times. Now, in part or perhaps even as a whole, this article is directed more toward journalists (which one could guess, I suppose, from the title) than the general, non-journalistic audience. Even as Raines tosses comity and politeness out the window, the non-journalist gets the impression that some taboo has finally been shattered; the complaint against FOXNews that has heretofore been part of the narrative of the liberal internet has crossed - finally, and with the full force of a former editor of the NYT - to the mainstream in a huge way. Furthermore, he does not mice words, talk around his subject, or attempt an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach that might mitigate some critical takes on FOXNews.
Why has our profession, through its general silence -- or only spasmodic protest -- helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt? The standard answer is economics, as represented by the collapse of print newspapers and of audience share at CBS, NBC and ABC. Some prominent print journalists are now cheering Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp. (which owns the Fox network) for his alleged commitment to print, as evidenced by his willingness to lose money on the New York Post and gamble the overall profitability of his company on the survival of the Wall Street Journal. This is like congratulating museums for preserving antique masterpieces while ignoring their predatory methods of collecting.

Why can't American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team? His importation of the loose rules of British tabloid journalism, including blatant political alliances, started our slide to quasi-news. His British papers famously promoted Margaret Thatcher's political career, with the expectation that she would open the nation's airwaves to Murdoch's cable channels. Ed Koch once told me he could not have been elected mayor of New York without the boosterism of the New York Post.


Under the pretense of correcting a Democratic bias in news reporting, Fox has accomplished something that seemed impossible before Ailes imported to the news studio the tricks he learned in Richard Nixon's campaign think tank: He and his video ferrets have intimidated center-right and center-left journalists into suppressing conclusions -- whether on health-care reform or other issues -- they once would have stated as demonstrably proven by their reporting. I try not to believe that this kid-gloves handling amounts to self-censorship, but it's hard to ignore the evidence. News Corp., with 64,000 employees worldwide, receives the tender treatment accorded a future employer.

What is most interesting about the arrival of FOXNews and Roger Ailes is the similarity, in many respects, to situations in Italy and, now, Chile, where the rise of media moguls portended big political changes. It can be no accident that American conservative politicians have at least one eye trained on Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and Chile's new President (inaugurated this week quite literally during a major aftershock from the horrible earthquake of a couple weeks back), Sebastian Pinera (my keyboard, alas, does not have a tilde for the "n" in his last name). While Murdoch cannot run for office, and Ailes has always enjoyed the kingmaker role (he came to prominence during the Nixon Administration), his promotion of various right-wing political candidates has that same air about it as Berlusconi's and Pinera's channel's promoting their owner's political ambitions.

I think a kind of Rubicon in discussions of journalism, public discourse, and the relationship between journalism and politics in this country has been crossed. A major figure has said what many on the internet have been saying for years - FOXNews doesn't "do" journalism, and even its news department is nothing more than a promotional vehicle for the Republican Party and its talking points. This is a good sign.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yes, I See God At Work In Haiti

It's taken me a while to calm myself down enough to type a response to Feodor's rather haughty, belittling dismissal - without any reference to anything I actually said - during the course of a discussion at ER's blog (that site is on hiatus during Lent, and out of deference, I am not linking; I plan on highlighting the points that (a) pissed me off so much; and (b) making clear what my argument actually said, rather than Feodor's misreading of it). When I say calm down, I mean that quite literally; when I read the actual exchange, not just the first time, but many more afterward, I was not only enraged by his rather casual dismissal of the feelings of many in my family toward an untimely, accidental death; he also seemed to insist that my argument was facile. It really is the former that made me see red, but the latter also got to me, too.

I recounted the death of my cousin, Denise Shreck, in 1996, after having fallen in a river. It was an example I was citing after he expressed his outrage at God for the earthquake in Haiti, and what he perceived to be Divine absence in the stark evidence of massive human suffering there. I argued that, on the contrary, God was indeed present in the lives and services of all those who were actually in Haiti to relieve that suffering. Rather than consider the point, Feodor merely dismissed the whole idea. I kept getting the feeling that Feodor was enraged that, after all the historical suffering the people of Haiti had been forced to endure, an earthquake seemed to add insult to injury, and by so doing, demonstrated that God may perhaps have perished after all.

The point I had been making - and it seemed pretty clear to me, but I suppose it might not have been - was a longer version of that infamous bumper sticker, "Shit Happens". Earthquakes hit poor countries without the resources to assist their own people in recovery. They also hit rich countries, like Chile, and render those places not much better than impoverished ones, as communication, local services, fear, political turmoil, all engulf them.

I cited the example of my cousin as another of those "shit happens" moments in life. It is easy enough to stand around and rage at God because the world is designed in such a way that earthquakes strike places that have few resources available to cope. It is easy enough to rage at God for the loss of young woman whose life offered so much promise. Standing around and raging at God doesn't help anyone; it might satisfy an individual's sense that one has a better grasp of things than others who might offer the possibility of the divine presence even in the midst of the sufferings there.

I guess I was wrong when I said once that Feodor was a whole lot smarter than I am. I figured the point was clear enough. Instead, he took my example and tossed it aside; he insisted that the sufferings my family endured in the wake of Denise's untimely death were just not comparable to the sufferings of Haiti. Yet, in so doing, he not only missed my main point, he refused to acknowledge part of the point that I thought should be clear as day - bad stuff happens in this world, and we humans suffer in the midst of it. 'Twas ever thus; should we lose our faith in a good, loving, just God because of an earthquake, the senseless loss of a child, the seemingly infinite capacity of human beings to wreak havoc on one another? Any why Haiti? Shoot, consider the Roman mass crucifixions during the slave revolt a century before Christ was born. Crosses lined the highways for miles as men and women suffered slow, painful deaths as an object lesson for all to see. Should we so desire, we can point to any number of incidents, large and small, that seem to indicate pretty clearly that, even if God exists, taking care of creation seems be down on the list of things to do.

My point, however, is really quite simple. One can lose faith - it has happened before, and will no doubt happen again - but so what? That is as meaningless as endorsing faith, really, and is safe enough from the confines of a place and time far removed from the midst of all these tragedies. Denigrating the work of those who have gone to help in the name of the God of love and justice and compassion actually is worse than meaningless, precisely because it stems from a sense of moral and intellectual superiority that pretends to "know" more about the way the world works than those who give their time and talents and even lives to serve others. Sitting in the safe confines of northern Illinois, or Brooklyn, or wherever, and telling people they just don't get it, that God's silence is clear in the suffering the folks in Haiti are continuing to endure, doesn't really cut it for me. It's a form of intellectual and moral cowardice, to be honest.

Furthermore, human suffering and mourning in the face of loss is not a contest. My family's grief over our loss was not less than the sufferings of those who lost whole families in Haiti (or Chile, or the Holocaust, or Kampuchea). Human loss is human loss; if you want to be angry at God because we live on a planet where the crust isn't firm and occasionally shakes violently, well fine. We can all go back to Lisbon in the 18th Century if we want. Do you want to blame God because we human beings seem to enjoy inflicting death and suffering on our fellows? Well and good, but please don't demand special pleading for this or that case, because human history is bloody enough with examples. We Americans are no more or less callous or ignorant than the average citizen of any other Empire to the effects our hegemony has on the less-fortunate among other nation-states. We are fortunate, however, that we are free enough to allow those citizens moved by compassion to go to those places where suffering seems particularly acute and work to alleviate the pain caused by living in a world that just doesn't meet the standards of some who think God hit the snooze button once too often the day the earth decided to shake in Haiti.

So, yes, I affirm that God is at work in Haiti. God is at work in the midst of the many sufferings of sub-Saharan Africa. God is present in the stinking slums of Mumbai and Calcutta. God is there in the faces and voices and hands of people who are attempting, sometimes with success, sometimes without, some kind of help. Raging at God for senseless death and suffering, whether it is caused by an earthquake, a misstep on a slippery slope above a river, Complicating factors, including a history of oppression and Imperial exploitation do not mitigate the reality that, well, bad stuff happens.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Partial Rerun With Feeling

Jennifer Bernstein and Rachel Rosenfelt are two young women who run the most amazing website, called The New Inquiry. I have been reading and commenting and interacting with them frequently over the past few weeks because they are really on to something - the intersection of culture, society, and politics, which dovetail with my own quite nicely. They had a "Conservative Thought Salon" recently that covered the gamut of social, cultural, and political concerns.

Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled "Women, Women's Sexuality, and the Right". Part of that post addresses my own view in regard to the general topic of "sex and gender" addressed at the Conservative Thought Salon.
A generation later, however, we have yet to grasp the almost elemental fear and hatred of women among many on the right. I do not mean hatred of individual persons who happen to be women; I am talking about the fear engendered by free, powerful, sexually and (relatively) economically liberated women upon men. As long as women fulfill roles defined for them, there is nothing to fear. Once women start to press the limits of "acceptable" behavior, however, one can almost hear the howls of rage.

There is nothing more terrifying for some men than a woman who does not need a man to define or complete her. There is nothing more frightening to some men than the image of a woman undressed. Those who protest the most very often are the ones who, in their heart of hearts, tremble at the thought that there are women whose lives, including their sexuality, are not in need of any man.

Of course, this doesn't deal with the wholly separate issue of queer folk. My guess, however, is that these same men who harbor so much fear toward an independent, strong woman also fear gays and lesbians precisely because they undermine our traditional ideas of gender. The inability to accept difference as human choice, but to see it as error - especially moral error - is a sign, to me, of limited imagination. Moreso, it is a far greater moral failing than the alleged viciousness of gays or strong women. Refusing to grant full humanity, including full human moral agency, to others whose life-choices are different from one's own is only slightly better than writing them out of the human species entirely. To insist that other's lives bespeak a certain moral stuntedness, they are less than fully human, is a kind of dehumanization.

The marvelous panorama of choices available to people should be a source of joy and celebration rather than censure, mockery, and violence. It is too bad there are those who harbor such fear in their hearts they cannot see others without putting labels on them.

Horrible People

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru are awful human beings.
Victor Davis Hanson notes that one reason for American exceptionalism may be that we did not inherit from England “a large underclass of only quasi-free people attached to barons as serfs.” Sadly, a worse institution took root here, but never became part of the national psyche.(italics added)

I'm not sure what else to say. Our entire history has been deformed by slavery and race. To claim anything else is not just ignorance. It is morally reprehensible.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Some Thoughts From An Invitation

From The New Inquiry's Conservative Thought Salon:
Kirkian conservatism founds its logic of a higher order on religious conviction. God provides the benchmarks of extrinsic, absolute value. What currency does conservatism have in an increasingly secular age? Can we determine extrinsic value without God?

Taking this in reverse order, for my part the last question is really quite meaningless. Nothing has "extrinsic value". I don't even know what that phrase means, to be honest. What is the "value" of a flower? Of a mosquito? Of a human being? How do we determine what the word "value" means in each of these questions? Does even granting the existence of God somehow both define and ground "value" in a way that not so granting does not?

Furthermore, if we grant the premise, what about the market? How do we constrain the market - the other deity of conservatives - in the face of counterclaims to "value" that cannot be measured in dollars and cents? Or, does the market work in some way heretofore unknown to eliminate itself from consideration in these matters? Based on the evidence, this is demonstrably untrue. Changing the definition of value from some intangible quality a thing possesses apart from our desire to measure its worth, and the market's determination of a fair trade value for any particular item, it seems to me we have reached a kind of incompatibility in conservative thought.

In actual practice, Kirk's views on religion are little different from the sociological, functional approach. Not really all that interested in the subtleties and nuances of theological argument, conservatives view religion as a necessary social and cultural glue, without which value becomes, like currency exchanges, free-floating. Yet, so viewed, religion can be easily substituted, as it has been in the US, for the rule of law as determining a minimal social and cultural standard for behavior and accepted norms and practices. Once religion becomes reduced to a social necessity in this way, we aren't that far from Eisenhower's nonsensical idea that it doesn't really matter what we believe, as long as we believe in something.

Yet, if conservatives are correct, that ideas have consequences, it seems that theological and confessional disagreements and arguments are vital to understanding the role of religion in society. In northern Ireland, in the Middle East and across the Levant, in India, in Sudan, the remnants of Somalia, even in secularized western Europe, religious disputes turn on what people believe, which informs how they live their lives. In these instances, religious belief is as fraught with peril as it is with promise. It is a force for social disintegration as much as it is for tribalistic integration. Kirk, I believe, is mistaken in the view that social cohesion comes from acceptance of religious belief; the world is far too full of religious conflict to make such a sanguine view of religious practice acceptable.

We are, by far, the most religiously observant industrialized country on the planet. Part of our strength, socially and culturally, has been the acceptance - not always given freely and very often honored in the breach - of a variety of religious practice. Kirk's views would include a kind of renewed intolerance for differences of religious opinion; if it becomes a force for social disintegration, disagreement becomes a threat to social well-being, and therefore needs to be addressed by the society at large. This is as un-American an idea I can imagine.

Finally, I would reference Dietrich Bonhoeffer's now-famous quote, that the challenge for our time continues to be how to speak of God in a religionless world come of age. The combating forces of sectarianism and secularism, part and parcel of western history for over two hundred years, have yet to reach a final conclusion, but it seems to me the question of the social role of religion, approached in a purely functional way, rests upon far too narrow and shallow a foundation to be of any help whatsoever.

Moral Decay?

A right-wing commenter recently said, in regards to the presence of pornography, that it is both evidence and cause of moral decay in our country.

I am always fascinated by the claim that the United States has experienced some kind of moral decline. Usually traced to the upheavals of the 1960's, it seems motivated, at least in part, by the social and cultural changes that fraught decade brought to the country. I am just asking, and have invited Jennifer Bernstein and Rachel Rosenfult from The New Inquiry to weigh in, what, exactly does this mean? I really don't see it, have never understood the point, and see no evidence of such a decline.

Just curious.

Is The Numinous Like Reese Witherspoon Only Chunkier?*

Ross Douthat tries his hand critiquing American religion. The results are making my eyes leak blood like a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Conservative believers fixate on the culture wars, religious liberals preach social justice, and neither leaves room for what should be a central focus of religion — the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.

The "pursuit of the unnamable"? What the hell is that? Apparently, Douthat, who otherwise would be praising the market as the savior of all humanity, thinks the embourgeoisment of American religious life is a bad thing, yet if more people were real mystics it would be a better country. This column is marvelously inept, so stupidly contradictory, and blissfully ignorant of the true terrors involved in a real mystical experience that I really don't know what else to say.

Why is everyone an expert on religion and religious experiences?

*Douthat once wrote a piece in which he confessed to a liaison with a young woman who resembled, in his words, "a chunky Reese Witherspoon". The moment didn't last, so much the better for her; talk about dodging a bullet.

What The Heck

Yet another earthquake - in Turkey. Is the planet trying to tell us something? Are we, on the other hand, just a bit more sensitive to this news right now? All I know for sure is it does seem an odd cluster, doesn't it?

Music For You Monday

One of my favorite exchanges from the old television series WKRP in Cincinnati occurs between DJs Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap. After a heated exchange between Venus and news reader Les Nessman, Johnny tries to cool Venus off by asking, "Hey, Venus, let's go look at some Carly Simon album covers."

After Carole King's Tapestry LP in 1971, there was an explosion of female singer-songwriters, or (like in Simon's case), just singers. Arriving with the second wave of feminism, there reception was ambivalent (as Johnny Fever's line indicates). King had been part of the stable of songwriters at the Brill Building in the early-1960's, writing many hits with her partner Jerry Goffin. Finally getting a chance to record her songs herself, Tapestry showed a more mature song-writer, a woman whose words and music reflected a coming of age.

Cyndi Lauper, like Carly Simon, was destined to have her image overwhelm he abilities. Working with her long-time personal and music partner, the founder of the band The Hooters, she wrote and released She's So Unusual in 1984, and became a sensation in the midst of an era obsessed with visual imagery at the expense of anything else. While "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" managed to make a mark in the brief era when music videos actually meant something, her songwriting was never better than in "Time After Time".

I'm not a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan. The Canadian singer-songwriter spent far too much time trying on personae, trying to "fit", in an age when image seemed so important. Yet, some of her songs really capture me. "Possession" is a fascinating piece; the lyrics are actually quotes from letters she received, and she wrote the song because she was fascinated by the way some, certainly unbalanced, people responded to her. There is something quite scary about this song, which might be why I like it so much . . .

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Definition Of A Hate Crime

Since all the wingers seem to think the hate-crimes law is aimed at Christian preachers, I just thought I'd point out how the law really works. From this story:
After interviewing the suspects, investigators concluded the victim was targeted because the assailants thought he was gay.

Whether or not the victim actually was gay is not at issue; the suspects believed him to be; indeed, it seems they were specifically targeting gays. That one sentence is the definition of a hate crime. The sole motive for the crime is bigotry toward supposed members of a specific group of individuals (gays, blacks, latinos, women). It isn't about speech, and it isn't about making up a motive where none exists. This is a textbook case of a hate crime.

When Studies Contradict

A recent study by researchers at the University of Montreal seems to indicate that all the deleterious effects so many have claimed pornography has on interpersonal relationships just aren't present. A report in the Calgary Sun is pretty clear that (a) consumption of pornography is prevalent among men (they report they couldn't find any men in their twenties who had not viewed pornographic material, at least a little); (b) those who consume pornography are able to maintain the distinction between the fantastic world on the paper or screen and the real people with whom they are involved, are more likely to support women's equal rights, and understand, in general, that pornographic images have no relationship to their real lives.

The Washington Post asked a researcher who wrote a book claiming all sorts of deleterious effects to write an Outlook piece. She uses the space to insinuate the research at Montreal isn't as thorough as her own, and thus the conclusions aren't as reliable as hers.

Yet, all she has to offer are anecdotes from people who approach her with their own horror stories. She admits "This is hardly solid lab research." But then continues directly:
But it is one of many signs of pornography's hidden impact.

"Hidden impact". How horrible! Except, there is research that shows there is no such "hidden impact". While it might be the case there are those who are impacted negatively by pornography, it might well be their relationships had other issues. The Montreal study manages, at least, to offer some perspective on those persons and couples whose lives are not negatively impacted by pornography.

Clearly, this is an area where research needs to be constructed that satisfies more than merely ideological concerns, and focuses attention on the range of responses. While the stories Ms. Paul relates of the bad effects of porn are certainly sad, the question remains open (and she cannot admit it, with her talk of "hidden impacts"): are these "effects" statistically significant, correlated in some manner to watching pornography? Relating sad tales of couples on the rocks, and blaming porn, is not, as she admits, "solid research". Yet, that is all she has to offer - anonymous emails, stories offered with changed names.

Since there hasn't been a refereed study of the effects of pornography that shows any serious deleterious social or interpersonal effects in any statistically significant way, the Montreal study is hardly an outlier. It seems to me Ms. Paul's claims are far more questionable.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More