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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when otherwise decent, sensible people have argued for something as wicked as what is advocated by The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins today. Jenkins joins forces with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, among other voices calling for the demolition of housing in order to mitigate falling home prices.

Both men try to dress this up as a safety measure (the elimination of substandard housing) but their words betray the fact that they also see it as a way to reduce the housing supply. Reduced supply, of course, would serve the immediate interests of many homeowners and banks.

It will be a shameful day when this country destroys homes, in the face of homelessness, in order to prop up the bank accounts of the relatively well off. Not surprising, I'm afraid, but shameful nonetheless.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Friday, July 25, 2008

More on the Reductio ad Hitlerum

Loyal reader Nichole B. offers a recent example of the reductio ad Hitlerum:

"Obama's sudden plan to pack 80,000 followers into a Denver sports stadium for his acceptance of the Democratic nomination instantly reminded of Hitler's Nuremberg and Berlin rallies, moves the Nazis made as much to intimidate as acclaim."

But you know who else wrote breathless editorials devoid of paragraph breaks in marginalized publications?

Wait for it...

Hitler, that's who.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0) comments

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Very Special NPR

In an emotion-laden account, NPR's Terry Gross exposed the brutality of partial-birth abortion today. She interviewed photojournalist Brent Stirton, who "took a photograph that shocked the world," as NPR explains, the victims "murdered, execution-style...simply slaughtered."

Just kidding. They're up in arms about some gorillas that got killed in the Congo. Not to belittle the atrocity. I mean, they're sentient beings, and in many ways they resemble humans. The gorillas, I mean. Not those fetus thingys. (HT: Wife)

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Speak Truth in Love, and Carry a Big Ole Whooping Stick

My last two essays at World on the Web have concerned wisdom offered by Dorothy Sayers and Henri Nouwen. In each instance commenters raised the rumor that the writers were gay. It's disappointing that we continue, in the Christian community, to have this outsized, paranoid obsession with homosexuality. It's also fascinating that so many Christians will take a statement like the foregoing sentence and spin it into the belief that I am somehow departing from Christian dogma on homosexuality. I was surprised to learn that some readers, having read months ago my (unoriginal) claim that many Christians respond to homosexuals in an unchristian manner, thereby concluded that I am heretical on the topic. Find me the passage, you fussy Pharisees, where Jesus instructs you to hate homosexuals.

Warning: this will necessitate your setting down those stones and picking up your Bibles.

And speaking of disappointment, if Christian Republicans won't trouble themselves to read an economics book before opining on immigration, they might bloody well consider the Bible. If I hear one more of them trot out the obfuscation about legality, I'm going to scream. Find me one Christian using this excuse to support mass deportation of illegals — just one — who honestly supports legally opening our borders to considerably greater inflows of immigrants, and I'll eat my shoe. They claim they are up in arms because these people are coming across the border illegally, but the truth is that not a one of them supports any significant increase in legalized immigration. So this "they're breaking the law, which a Christian can't support" talking point is just a self-righteous cover-up of the unflattering truth, which is that they don't want those different-talking brown people here at all.

And aside from the neo-Nazis, World Net Daily is maybe the most shameful of the bunch, with its thoughtless fusion of pseudo-Christianity and pseudo-conservatism, replete with snake-oil banner ads, "Invasion America" headlines, and panegyrics to Tom Tancredo.

(New readers firing up their commenting pen might first consider my loving salvo at American Family Radio on this topic, along with a Thanksgiving-oriented response to many readers who disagreed.)

posted by Woodlief | link | (5) comments

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wanted: Lazy Politicians

Modern politicians talk a lot about working. We must "work together" to build a future for our children. Elect me and I'll "work tirelessly" to give you this or that good thing. Here is the lawyer Obama, newly minted expert on energy economics, arguing that we need to work with a range of favored scientific companies to develop viable alternatives to oil. And likely as not, there is your city or county official, talking about working with businesses to develop your local economy.

The thing about politicians, of course, is that most of them don't know much at all about work. Sure, they spend a lot of energy talking, and meeting people, and raising money, so that they are tired and feel as if they have been working, but most of us understand that none of that makes an engine run, or pulls food out of the ground, or generates a medicine that heals, or a suit that fits, or a book worth reading. If Obama knew the first thing about how to develop viable alternatives to oil, he would be far wealthier than he is now, just as your local politicians would be millionaires if they knew anything about venture capital.

This reality won't stop any of them from confidently investing your money in "economic development" as if they have some window into the future of American prosperity, of course, but let's not kid ourselves about what's really going on. While people who work for a living tend to understand that the future is messy and unpredictable (which is why most of us choose to work for large, stable companies rather than risk venturing out on our own), to politicians the future is a term paper problem. Economy in a funk? No problem, says Obama. I covered that at Columbia.

Your local politicos have a similar conceit, which can be summed up in the political canard that is some variant of the tiresome campaign slogan: New Solutions — as if there are such things, and as if Congressman Blowhard, who is only successful by dint of talking far more than he listens, has somehow divined what they are.

So all this talk of politicians rolling up their sleeves to work for the rest of us evokes the image of a drunken uncle insisting that he be allowed a turn at the wheel on the family vacation. You have to let him stay in the station wagon because he is your uncle, but he ought to sit in the very back, away from the children, where he can stare out the rear window and offer bold pronouncements about where you have been, and pretend that he had some part in getting you there.

The real problem, I suppose, is that too many of us have gotten into the habit of thinking that the jabbering drunk ought to be the one at the wheel, that there really is a road to a painless future up ahead somewhere, and only he can find it. Which is why I think we ought not let anyone vote until he has mastered three books: Bastiat's The Law, Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, and Seuss's I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. Which is one reason why, further, I will never be a viable candidate for public office.

posted by Woodlief | link | (3) comments

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Can't Judge Judy Handle These Cases?

I used to think that waiting several years to try hate-filled, murderous thugs bent on destroying Western civilization was evidence that we haven't the courage to confront Islamofacism, but now I see it has all been a sophisticated plan to deny the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his 70 virgins. How very clever and devious of us.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Brief Primer on the Perniciousness of Government

Yesterday my local NPR station (government-funded, I know, and thank goodness they exist) ran a brief piece on how my local energy company has been muscled into investing in windmills (those who've read Cervantes understand how fitting this is), in return for the hope that our state will eventually let them build something that actually generates power, like a coal-fired generator. The catch is that the energy company announced it will be seeking permission from the state to increase rates 15 percent, to pay for — can you see it coming? — the windmill farm.

This put me in mind of how many states require that health insurers who want to serve customers within their borders provide not just basic health coverage, but funding for things like hairpieces for cancer patients, and podiatry services. Now hairpieces for cancer patients are a good thing, and so are healthy feet, but the effect of such mandates is much the same as if your state forbids you from buying an old pickup with no AC or stereo. Yes, an old stinky truck without an AC is crummy in the summer, but it beats walking, which is what you'll be doing if you're only allowed to buy a Lexus.

We don't think about it that way, however, we simply think about how everyone ought to have everything they need, immediately. And then we drive up the price of health care, or energy, and when people can't afford it, we declare a "market failure." Then some officious Ivy Leaguer conveniently emerges with a blueprint for rational government provision of the service.

And then the next thing you know, we're France. And that, my friends, is just plain un-American.

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Ted Kennedy, Beneficiary of Markets

Turns out I'm not the only one, upon learning of Senator Kennedy's dreadful brain tumor, who found it revealing that he didn't go to Canada for treatment, despite his long advocacy of socialized medicine. Instead, he went to a special center at Duke University for surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But then that's standard procedure for the privileged Kennedy, who routinely voted against allowing poor children stuck in Washington, D.C.'s miserable government school system to benefit from vouchers, even though he and most of his clan would never dream of using said schools. I've always thought that every politician opposed to vouchers ought to be forced to send his own children to government schools, and perhaps the same standard could be applied to advocates of government-run health care, though in this case it would be a death sentence, and hence inhumane.

So thank goodness, for his sake and ours, that Senator Kennedy never got a firm grip on the throat of the U.S. health care system. Above all, we can pray that his suffering and fear will be assuaged, and that he has a return to health, and perhaps with it a dose of wisdom.

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bleeding Kansas

National Review carries today an article about shameless behavior by a number of politicians and judges in my state of Kansas. Despite its conservative reputation, the state has some of the higher taxes and spending in the region, and worse, it tolerates an abortion regime that civilized people might be forgiven for expecting to find in China, not a state where three-quarters of the citizens claim to be Christians.

You might recall that George Tiller performs partial-birth abortions in Wichita, executing healthy, nearly full-term infants by delivering them almost completely and then puncturing their skulls inside the womb. He incinerates the corpses in the same building, such that the car dealership that until recently resided next door had to frequently wash the ash off their vehicles. This is not what outrages our citizens, however, it's the gas prices that has everyone up in arms.

Rather than shaming and ostracizing this monster, our governor, a possible VP for Obama, hosted a private party for him. It's fascinating, isn't it, how we can redefine terms until what this man does every day isn't murder? Regardless of your political views on this matter, if one reads about how this works, about how a pink, wiggling baby is delivered until his neck is exposed, and how Tiller then jabs a pair of scissors into the base of his skull, one can only conclude that someone who does this is an executioner, not a doctor. But no matter, he's an outstanding fundraiser.

Given the state of the Kansas judicial system, it shouldn't be surprising that the former attorney general who investigated Tiller, as well as Planned Parenthood of Kansas, for violating the state's already lenient abortion laws, is the one being harassed by attorneys, and hamstrung by arbitrary legal rules dreamed up by an unaccountable, left-wing Supreme Court. He's rocking the boat, after all. Decent people don't talk about abortion. It's for Bible-thumping kooks. And hey, have you seen those gas prices? Talk about outrageous!

Welcome to Kansas. A great state to live in, unless you happen to be residing in the womb, and so long as you keep your mouth shut about the routine infanticide that gives new meaning to the old moniker, "Bleeding Kansas."

posted by Woodlief | link | (7) comments

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sometimes Less Is Better

I want to offer a thought about this multiple-wives business, which every married man in America has thought to himself, but perhaps not voiced. And that thought is: "More wives?!? Are these men nuts?!?

I can understand how it might work on paper. You love your wife, she is essential to your life, most good things come from her hands. So you think to yourself: Two of them would be twice the happiness. But the reality is that the benefit conveyed by an extra wife is not additive. Another wife is like an extra frontal lobotomy, or a third arm — it's just going to mess up whatever was working in the first place.

And that's in the best of situations. Think about it, men: another wife means another dozen opinions to your one, another bundle of feelings to get hurt if you don't hold your mouth exactly right when you ask for the peas to be passed your way, another unsolvable set with which to wrestle on the eve of each gift-giving occasion. It means another mother-in-law, for crying out loud.

I don't blame women for the impossibility of having more than one of them in the house. They're generally more civil, and capable, and better smelling than we men. The problem is us. In his infinite humor, the Almighty has fashioned the most complex of mysteries — woman — and given her to the likes of Barney Fife by whom to be sleuthed. He probably saw Adam trampling his garden, misnaming all the animals, and generally failing to get the ticks out of his own hair, and decided an immediate upgrade was needed. Hence: woman.

This should be plain to any married man. Trying to pull your weight, and keep up with her, and do something at least once in a while to repay her kindnesses, is a full-time job. What man in his right mind, running on the mouse wheel of marriage, thinks it's advisable to add another wheel?

For the longest time there was an awful hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that was an institution unto itself. Everyone who visited was told: You simply must eat at the R_______." So if you visited Chapel Hill, you went.

And had the worst meal of your life. The indigestibility of the food was rivaled only by the surliness of the help, and the cheekiness of the roaches climbing the walls. So why did anyone recommend it? I think the answer is that nobody wanted to look like a fool for having been duped into going himself. Or maybe it was a sadistic desire to see others suffer a similar fate.

But you see where I'm going with this. The first guy to add a few wives didn't have any choice, men being the vain, stubborn creatures that we are. Don't you see? He had to tell the other fellows in the compound that extra wives are awesome.

And thus it began. I imagine that there was a lot of bluster when the federal government, having done such handiwork over the last forty years keeping the nuclear family intact, descended to rearrange the deck. But I'm betting beneath it all, there were a lot of men thinking: It's about time. And probably more than a few women thinking: I hope this doesn't mean I have to keep one of these louts all to myself. I'd rather be celibate. Which is probably a better deal for your average woman, given her alternative, which is your average man. Let's just hope they don't all figure it out.

posted by Woodlief | link | (9) comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Dearth of Manhood

A new study argues that single parents cost American taxpayers $112 billion, in the form of welfare, education, prison, and other expenses. There's also a pernicious estimate of foregone tax revenue, as if it's unproductive fellow citizens that cost you and me, and not a cabal of Congressmen who spend our money like drunken New York governors at a hooker convention.

A problem with the study, notes an economics professor at Syracuse University, is that a large portion of the men in urban communities have been imprisoned, limiting their earning potential, and hence the positive economic effect of marriage. Other critics note that there is little evidence that marriage programs like those advocated by the backers of this study have any impact. We need better jobs, they argue, and better education.

It seems the hole is much deeper than either left or right is willing to fathom. Does anyone really think that the hundreds of thousands of children born in the worst urban areas without fathers in their lives are deprived of this necessity because these men can't find work? Is it the presence of a job that makes a man live up to his responsibilities? Is it a college degree?

No, it's moral backbone, and there's no program that will implant one where it is absent. And so the cycle is now in a self-fueling frenzy — boys grow up without men to guide them, and girls grow up desperate for male attention, and when they meet, a new crop of neglected children is produced.

Better jobs wouldn't hurt, nor better schools, nor perhaps even programs designed to promote responsible parenting. But this madness will end one life at a time, one man at a time, each willing to set aside his excuses and enter the daily grind that is parenting.

I'm still sorting out, in my own life, what it means to be a man. But I'm certain that you can't be one if you're not willing to care for your children. You can kill the enemy in war, score forty points a game, become CEO of your company — but none of it will make you a man. There are a great many fathers in our country, but significantly fewer men. And given an illegitimacy rate nationwide that is approaching 40 percent, and one closer to 90 percent in the inner cities, this ought to be a topic every pastor covers on a regular basis.

posted by Woodlief | link | (6) comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

Winner Take All

I've been watching with one eye the travails of Kelvin Sampson, coach of the Indiana men's basketball team. Sampson has been tripped up by the pharisaical system of NCAA rules, which pays close attention to who pays for a player's meals, but scrutinizes less closely whether the player ever receives an education. In Sampson's case, he transgressed rules about when recruits can be telephoned, and when questioned, the NCAA says he lied about it. What fascinates me is that when he was receiving the National Coach of the Year award at Oklahoma in 2002, his team's graduation rate, averaged over four years, was zero. That's right, you had a greater chance of winning the Oklahoma lottery than securing a college degree under Kelvin Sampson.

Even though its own team's graduation rate stood at a respectable 70 percent, Indiana University saw fit to lure Sampson away from Oklahoma, which had no problem with his mockery of the NCAA's widely touted moniker for players, "student athletes," so long as he was winning games.

Despite luring kids to a school they had no hope to graduate from, when they might have received scholarships as well as degrees from smaller schools, Sampson was awarded one of the NCAA's highest honors for a men's basketball coach. But now that he has made too many calls on consecutive second Tuesdays, he's going to be suspended without pay.

Why not fired? Isn't Indiana University's motto, after all, "Light and Truth?"

Yes, but Sampson's team is, you see, 22-4 this season. So they'll slap him on the wrist, and hope it's good enough penance to satisfy the NCAA. At the very worst, they'll fire him later, but only after the NCAA tournament. No need to get crazy with this whole "consequences" thing, after all. It's not like their motto is "Light, Truth, and Consequences." And as the famous Roman once asked, "What is truth, anyway?" That's the enlightened approach to things in today's modern universities.

I still insist that if the NCAA were serious about its "student-athlete" notion, it would require the team with a lower graduation rate to spot the differential to its opponent in games. This would mean that if Davidson met Memphis in the NCAA tournament, it would start the game with a lead of 67 points. And perhaps alongside the won-loss record posted under a coach's face when he's on television, networks could also start posting his graduation rate.

Maybe then more schools would ask not only, How many points can he score? but also, Is this the best place for him to receive an education? If they're really student-athletes, after all, it seems we ought to be asking the latter.

As for Kelvin Sampson, I wouldn't worry about his job future; there's always a Cincinnati or a UNLV — or an Indiana University, if they can get away with it — willing to place a higher imperative on winning than on integrity. Sampson should have no problem finding employment. Too bad we can't say the same for the kids who have been unfortunate enough to play for him.

Looks like Indiana gave Sampson cash to go away, and several of their players are having a hissy fit. Pat Forde has it right:

"Here's my suggestion: Any player who doesn't make the trip to Northwestern is cut. Kelvin Sampson should not be made a martyr for breaking NCAA rules. College players aren't in charge of personnel decisions. Period.

If need be, grab six walk-ons who would donate an organ to play for the Hoosiers and suit them up. Indiana basketball is bigger than the players who walked out."

posted by Woodlief | link | (7) comments

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Public Service Announcement

Though not yet an industrial or vacation magnet, we have great hopes for the fine state of Kansas. Newcomers may find themselves perplexed by the local norms and practices of highway driving. Periodically out of the goodness of our own hearts, as well as various court orders and private settlements, the management of this website is obliged to offer a public service announcement. Herewith a guide to highway driving in Kansas:

Kansans drive in the left lane. The right lane is too close to the gravelly shoulder, and remember the fate of those seeds sprinkled on rocky soil? To the left, good Christian, to the left! The full range of speeds are welcome in the saintly left lane, which is to say, anything from five miles over the posted speed limit to twenty miles below. What's that, you say you want to drive six miles over the limit, or perhaps seven?

Dear friend, you are not in New Jersey any more. This is not a NASCAR track, it is the stately highway system of the great state of Kansas, and you would do well to respect our laws. Now pipe down that speed talk and take your place in the long glorious line of gleaming vehicles puttering nobly along the left-hand side.

Just as the humble Disciples harvested grain on the Sabbath, there will be times that you need to avail yourself of the right lane. You will need to exit the highway. But there may be other eager travelers, just like you, wishing to gain access to the highway. People in less civilized communities might consider this a moment of friction, when a car attempting to enter the highway finds another car zipping along in the right lane, square in its path. They might demand that the entering car "yield" to the oncoming traffic.

Not in the fair state of Kansas, friend. What right, after all, does the car in the right lane have to continue at such a great rate of speed, when his poor neighbor needs to avail himself of the road as well? The wide, level plains of Kansas reflect our great democracy of citizens, in that none should be considered greater than another. Therefore, good Christian temporarily in the right lane, it is incumbent upon you to slow down, that your poorer neighbor on the entrance ramp might partake of our glorious highway, and as rapidly as possible bring himself to the speed, no greater or less, of his neighbors.

That's right, highway traveler, we are asking you to brake. Place your right foot on the flat pedal and brake to your heart's content. Brake, that all might share in the great forward progress of mankind!

What's that, you say? The people behind you, all traveling at sixty miles an hour, and perhaps not expecting an abrupt stop to traffic in the middle of a highway? Why, that's what brake lights are for. Even the oldest models have two of them, one for each eye in your rear neighbor's head. Don't trouble yourself about him, because he has brakes of his own, as does the driver behind him. Do your duty and stop for the driver who wants to enter the highway, and all the drivers behind you will be happy to stop as well.

For good measure, the saintly drivers in the left lane may well apply their brakes, too. Many a time I have seen it, a great cloud of witnesses, their brake lights lit like candles in heaven, all welcoming a new entrant to the highway. There is not a friendlier highway etiquette in the entire United States.

Though we all try to do our duty, there are those scofflaws who will choose, by virtue of their unregenerate natures, to pass you on the right. Your duty, good Christian, is to accelerate accordingly. Anything less is undemocratic. Keep with them pace for pace, no matter how fast they go, no matter how red-faced they become, until you draw even with a calm-minded true Kansan in the right lane, and then decrease your speed. This is the Kansas way, it is the fair way, it is the right (which is to say left) way.

On behalf of all Kansas highway drivers, I want to give you, newcomer to our state, a warm and hearty welcome, and kindheartedly admonish you with our unofficial state motto: "What's your hurry?"

From our family to yours, happy travels, and may you arrive no sooner than anyone else.

posted by Woodlief | link | (10) comments

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Go check out this clip of a Canadian publisher lambasting an investigator from the Human Rights Commission, sent to determine whether he has committed a thought crime. Courtesy of Megan McArdle from, of course, The Atlantic.

Tim Sandefur offers some closing comments from the same hearing. And here's a link to the publisher's website. I suspect he now needs to worry about being a marked man, and not just by the Canadian government.

posted by Woodlief | link | (6) comments

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Boycott Yahoo

The CEO of Yahoo got a much-deserved tongue-lashing by Congressional Democrats yesterday, for his company's complicity in the jailing of Chinese dissidents. It's at once fascinating and sickening to see a phalanx of corporate hacks and their attorneys, mumbling coached statements about their obligation to obey the law in a totalitarian state, and their ignorance about what would be done with information they provided, and their sorrow — without admitting guilt, mind you — about what may or may not be happening. "I want to personally apologize for what they are going through," said CEO Yang, which has the ring of personal responsibility, but neatly leaves out any words that actually suggest culpability. It's the classic Washington, D.C. apology, the kind of thing that none of us accept from our children, but which gets modeled for them nonetheless by our nation's corporate and political leadership.

It's a tough bind, to be sure, looking at a juicy multi-billion dollar Chinese market, and being told that your bite at the apple only comes by helping the ruling regime catch and imprison citizens brave enough to speak out against it. I've never had the chance to walk away from that kind of money, so I can't be sure my legs would work so well either. Fortunately, however, the moral standard is higher than my example, and certainly higher than Yahoo's example, and while Congressman Tom Lantos probably has his flaws as well, I couldn't help but cheer when he called Yahoo's executives "moral pygmies."

That captures it so nicely, the smallness necessary to sell human beings, which is what Yahoo did, and then to feign ignorance, and only now, with the heat fully on, to halfway admit something like responsibility, all while refusing any sort of financial relief to the wives of the men they helped imprison. And Yahoo, it seems, is only the tip of the iceberg of corporate complicity in Chinese imprisonment and torture, as Peter Navarro notes in today's Los Angeles Times. While the host of technology companies that Navarro indicts, as well as their technophile apologists, like to argue that doing business in China actually strengthens the infrastructure necessary for eventual freedom, Navarro says the opposite is true:

"The collaborative tools that U.S. corporations provide to spy on, and silence, the Chinese people are far more likely to help prop up a totalitarian regime than topple it."

Wall Street analysts, meanwhile, are wagering that with yesterday's blistering hearings, the worst of this "episode," as such profound moral lapses are labeled in our nation's financial and political capitals, is behind Yahoo. I hope not. While some members of Congress are sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for U.S. technology companies to assist in the abuses that Yahoo and others willingly abet, we can be almost certain the final form will do more harm than good, so subject as such laws are to partisan manipulation and pocket-lining. At a more personal level, we can all do a few things on our own, however. For one, if you are using Yahoo for your email provider, stop. There are plenty of other free email providers. For another, set up a filter in your email to block anyone with a Yahoo address from emailing you, along with an auto-response that explains why they are being blocked. Annoying, yes, but imagine the network effects if a thousand people took the time to do this, influencing others to do so, who influenced others, and so on. It's not inconceivable that a "tipping point" could be reached, at which the majority of Yahoo users switch providers because their emails are getting blocked. I'll bet that would wipe the smiles off some faces mighty quick.

posted by Woodlief | link | (8) comments

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pen v. Sword

I recently read Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village. It's probably better to say that I scanned it, or perhaps that I read through it, because only the most narrow of partisans would restrain himself from speed-reading to the end of sentences like this:

At a time when democracy depends so much on our finding common ground, and when so many adults are unsure about how to bridge societal divides, there seems to be one idea on which most people agree: we need to find ways to offer our children a vision of affirmative living that can be applied in their daily actions and interactions

I know many of you have your reasons for voting against Hillary, and now I have mine.

Still, if nothing else we should applaud the woman for enduring sentence after sentence like this, because I assume she was conscious and sober when she wrote it. I'm not sure if anyone else deserves that praise, however, because if the lack of acknowledgements are to be believed, she wrote the entire thing without any research assistance or ghost writing whatsoever.

I didn't pay the book much mind when it first came out, other than to roll my eyes at the way it was predictably savaged by conservatives, and lauded by liberals, and subsequently ignored — to everyone's benefit, I can now assure you. It's interesting, to me at least, to consider it now, after seeing this woman's evolution from cookie-maker to Iron Lady to investment genius to aggrieved wife to distinguished Senator from New York. I'm struck, for example, at her enthusiasm for a myriad of small programs for every social ailment: reading programs for at-risk kids, nutritional initiatives from the USDA, programs to match parents with daycare providers — there is no problem so small that Hillary Clinton cannot solve it for you. It's always striking to me how people who have spent their entire lives observing firsthand how poorly bureaucracies perform can have so much faith in their ability to intervene at the micro-level to ensure that everyone is safe and well-read and happy.

Then there is the iron in her tone when she labels those who disagree with her "extremists." It's a peculiar logic that goes: Homeschooler = Rush Limbaugh = Timothy McVeigh. Anyone who thinks the Daily Kos was the first vehicle to popularize the Left's mindless, hateful response to mindless Right-wing hatefulness isn't giving Hillary Clinton her due.

The quote that stuck with me, however, was this rumination:

The networks of relationships we form and depend on are our modern-day villages, but they reach well beyond city limits. Many of them necessarily involve the whole nation. They are the basis for our "civil society," a term social scientists use to describe the way we work together for common purposes.

I don't think there is a more succinct way to get the truth absolutely backwards. We mostly pursue different purposes, self-interested humans that we are, and it is rules and laws and culture that channel our pursuits into actions that either do not harm or in fact assist others in the pursuit of their individual aims. Were we a society of ants serving a queen, Hillary's curious notion of civil society might be more apt, but we are not. Not yet, anyway.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I was reminded why I've largely forsaken politics for good prose. But I certainly hope it's true, all this business about the pen being mightier than the sword.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Room with a View

Alert reader Lori sent me this telling picture from a home listing. Apparently HBO is more entertaining than God.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Exclusive Inclusion

The University of California at Berkeley is looking to hire its first Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, and I think it's about darn time. I'm heartened to know that with this renewed focus on recruiting students and faculty from underrepresented groups, Berkeley's agents will soon be scouring Iowa for devout homeschooled virgin boys. Young men returning from service in Iraq, likewise, may find a warmer reception than they would have received in years past. And no doubt many young parents, as well as retired executives, will soon be submitting their applications to the more equitable and inclusive Cal-Berkeley. Observant pro-war Jews, aspiring Christian filmmakers, chaste young pro-life activists — all are welcome under Berkeley's big tent, right?

I mean, surely this isn't a guise to continue the insular practice of recruiting from a narrow slice of the American political, geographic, religious, and social strata, is it? Is there a possibility that, for all the rhetoric, this represents a continuation of Berkeley's Orwellian effort to produce a student body in lock-step agreement with the warmed-over intellectual tripe that has dominated its social science and liberal arts departments for the past half-century?

Say it ain't so.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bootleggers, Baptists, and Cheap Tortillas

Anyone who believes Wal-Mart is the scourge of modern civilization would do well to read yesterday's front-page Wall Street Journal article about its operations in Mexico, which are opposed by anti-globalization (pro-poverty) groups like the Orwellian-named Global Exchange, but which have proven to be a spectacular boon to the poor people who shop and work there. It put me in mind of Bruce Yandle's term, "bootleggers and Baptists", which he coined for the odd coalitions that emerge to protect the status quo. Dry counties satisfy the moral sensibilities of some religious folk, and fatten the bank accounts of bootleggers, and so the two effectively unite in an unholy coalition.

Take the recent effort to require pornographic Internet sites to adopt a ".xxx" suffix, for example. Primary opposition came from the porn purveyors, on the one hand, and Christian groups on the other. More publicized was the cynical coalition forged by the likes of former Christian Right wunderkind Ralph Reed, who moralized about the evils of gambling while pocketing laundered cash from Indian tribes who want to preserve their gambling monopolies.

Wal-Mart faces a similar battle in Mexico, where socialists unite with shop owners and local monopolists in a thuggish front to prevent poor Mexicans from paying less for their food. Fortunately, many Mexicans are proving to have more sense than some intellectuals north of the border, as the WSJ makes clear:

"When Wal-Mart was building a store in Juchitan in 2005, local shopkeepers and leftist groups tried to rouse popular sentiment against the American invader. The efforts failed, and by the end of opening day sales were so strong 'the place looked like it had been looted,' says Max Jimenez, the store's 31-year-old manager."

Unfortunately, some groups that claim to work for democracy don't trust people to decide for themselves, any more than Global Exchange believes in, well, global exchange. Hopefully for the poor of Mexico, however, democracy will out, because as the deputy mayor of Juchitan explains, "The ones who have benefited the most are the poorest. I hope another one comes."

Me too. I hope they get Wal-Marts and Targets and Walgreens, despite the best efforts of self-styled global activists who haven't an inkling of what it must be like to go without diapers or medicine, or to pay the local boss twice the going rate for corn meal.

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Friday, March 2, 2007

Transcending the Positive Paradigm

Among the legions of meaningless, buzzwordy corporate communications, CareerBuilder's corporate culture statement has got to be one of the silliest:

"The values and vision of CareerBuilder.com are infused into the every day working environment. Our surroundings transcend that of a traditional corporate framework and offer a rare oasis that fosters both individual and team achievement.

"The CareerBuilder.com atmosphere is supercharged with zeal, and an enthusiasm for success and attainable goals. Our corporate culture is carefully tempered with the professionalism, positivism and camaraderie that one would expect from an industry leader. Our rapid growth is the result of a dynamic workforce, coupled with careful and calculated planning.

"The expeditious pace with which we accomplish our goals presents our team members with the exciting opportunity to learn new skills, create innovations and build upon our swift progress, which has become the benchmark of our success!"

Values, achievement, growth, dynamic, innovations, benchmark. . . can you think of a buzzword that didn't make the CareerBuilder cut?

There's also a subtle allusion to America's original hippie movement, as well as an outright appropriation of pernicious scientism, in the guise of, well, cheerfulness. Pretty ambitious for a corporate vision statement, wouldn't you say?

It also reveals a trend I've noticed in more and more of these things, which is a penchant for neo-Hegelian dialectics ("individual and team achievement"; dynamic "coupled with careful and calculated planning"). At least Hegel, for all his insanity, felt compelled to synthesize his opposites to achieve some higher-level notion; CareerBuilder just slings them together, as if all oxymorons are by their very nature statements of transcendent wisdom.

Nothing, however, beats the last sentence, which is like a fireworks crescendo of meaningless peppiness. "The benchmark of our success"? What does that mean? Perhaps in transcending "the traditional corporate framework," CareerBuilder has also transcended traditional written English.

If you look at a lot of these (and I have had the misfortune of doing so), you start to marvel at the amount of brainpower that goes into crafting statements that mean absolutely nothing to anyone. Honestly, who reads the average corporate vision statement and believes that it even describes aspirations, let alone reality? And yet fleets of professionals churn them out, and companies put them on plaques and memos and websites, and the rest of us engage in far too little mockery and eye-rolling. That, at least, can end here.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

On the Spread of Stupid

The recent revelation that high school seniors are less competent now than a decade ago probably won't be met with the outrage it deserves, in light of considerable increases in per pupil spending during that period. Public schools are like congressmen, in the sense that most of us agree they are a lousy bunch, but tend to be pretty pleased with our own.

I recently crushed the dreams of about 400 high school students. I was asked to give them career advice, and so I told them to stop believing that they can achieve anything they want simply by wanting it. "I Believe I Can Fly" may be an uplifting song, but it's a stupid life philosophy. You can't fly. If you study about ten times harder, and have an ounce of common sense, and work really long hours, then perhaps you can build yourself a plane, and then you can fly. Otherwise, get used to walking.

It was not altogether well-received. I think they are used to being told that they will achieve their dreams, as if dream-achievement is some kind of massive entitlement program, and one is enrolled in it simply by aching for things.

I asked these students how many have a MySpace account. Most of the hands flew up. "Facebook?" I asked. More hands. I got the same response when I asked who had an Xbox, or a Playstation, or a Wii (don't ask).

This came to mind when I saw the latest news about NAEP scores, revealing that while high-school students are getting better grades and taking more advanced-placement courses, they are decidedly less proficient at the fundamentals of math and reading. On a hunch, I checked into statistics on teen Internet use. The Pew Charitable Trust's research is the most comprehensive I could find, and their data only go back to 2000, but the results are striking. Eighty-seven percent of teens report regular Internet use. While Al Gore (along with public school IT administrators) may tell himself these kids are downloading Frost poems and physics problems, I suspect otherwise.

Eighty-one percent, however, report that they regularly play games online. And most prefer instant messaging to "old-fashioned" emails, which is unsurprising. One can be partially literate and still text-message, after all. Email probably feels too much like composition.

It's not the technology that I'm suggesting might deserve blame, mind you, but the stupid things that our ignorant children, under our incompetent tutelage, choose to do with it. Consider that the average teen in the Pew study reported spending about 18 hours a week in some form of social activity with other teens, either in person or online. Another Pew study found, for example, that the majority of American teens are active on one or more social networking sites. Add to this the reality that nearly half of U.S. high-school seniors work 20 or more hours per week during the school year (very likely with other unskilled people), and the picture becomes clearer: a large portion of high-school seniors spend nearly 40 hours a week interacting primarily with other ignorant individuals. It's almost as if we've made the study of stupidity a full-time job for them.

Then, to remedy this, we stick our kids for six hours a day in front of teachers who largely lack a coherent pedagogy, and many of whom can't meet the very standards we expect them to help our children achieve. And we wonder why children don't have the basic skills to write — or even comprehend — an essay. Clearly, the government isn't spending enough on education, right?

But don't believe the data if you're not inclined, just listen to teenagers talk. I don't mean your own teens, who I am sure are brilliant, but other people's teenagers. Go to the mall and just listen. People knock homeschoolers for not exposing their children to "socialization," but maybe it's a good thing. Being socialized into a society of idiots is not exactly great preparation for life success.

We have allowed our children to spawn their own personalized societies, worshipping as we do at the altar of individuality and personal space (the very name of the most popular social networking site reflects it: MySpace). To be sure, teenage years are a tribal time, when the overriding desire is to belong. They are called to their species like bees to honey. But this is precisely why we have to channel this impulse; given his druthers, the average teenager would like nothing more than to spend every scrap of time with other teenagers. But that's not a model for learning, or for maturation; it's Lord of the Flies.

The social impulse is a good thing, but as families disintegrate, and churches become less community than fleeting social club, we seem to offer our children little in this regard. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that they cling to each other like shivering animals. In this respect and many others, these national tests that we are so enamored of administering to our children are really more telling about our own performance.

I read somewhere that we know a boy is becoming a man when he seeks the company of men over boys. If that's a true standard, then we are lodging our boys in perpetual childhood (girls as well), extending past high school and into college. If you live near a university, take a walk on campus during lunch on a school day. Ask yourself whether you see young men and women in training, or boys and girls on extended vacation. In fact, something nobody seems to have mentioned yet, given the jarring news that high schoolers are doing poorer even as they take more college prep courses, is that maybe this is preparing them for college, given the sorry state to which so many universities have sunk.

But perhaps picking a fight with higher education, in the same post where I pick on high schoolers and their teachers and their parents and the rest of us who let news like this roll off our backs without changing our behavior one bit, is, well, just one fight too many.

Which is what I excel at, you know.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

There's No "I" in "Team," But There Is In "Hubris"

One of the wickedly enjoyable things Henry Mintzberg does in his Managers Not MBAs is mock the way Harvard Business School case studies and business press accounts portray the chief executive as Superman. This CEO "built a new division from scratch," while that CEO "developed and advanced profitable new strategies" — single-handedly, one would think. It put me in mind of a study I saw years ago, showing that when publicly traded companies have good years, their annual reports are filled with claims of how their deliberate actions led to the better results, while in bad years they blame market conditions and other external factors.

Mintzberg observes that the descriptions of CEOs — often encouraged by the CEOs themselves — follows a similar pattern. This came to mind when I was going through some old files yesterday, and ran across this quote by Novartis's chief, Daniel Vasella, after his company re-acquired (at a hefty premium) rights to a drug they had abandoned, only to see it developed by a small start-up:

"The fact that we are where we are is the best proof that they were wrong."

The "we," of course, is Novartis. "They," meanwhile, refers to other people at Novartis (not Vasella, mind you). It's those other people, you see, who frittered the opportunity away.

A slip of the tongue? Maybe so. With Mintzberg's book still on my mind, however, I dug up Vasella's approved biography and learned that he "strengthened Novartis's research capacity" and "implemented strong pioneering initiatives." Elsewhere I discovered that he "co-authored" a book about his courageous efforts to develop and produce a breakthrough cancer treatment.

Busy guy. Yet with all this hands-on strengthening and implementing and developing, it's someone else's fault when Novartis lets a profitable new drug slip away.

Something I always liked about UNC basketball coach Dean Smith is that when his team won, he deflected all the credit to his players. When the team lost, however, he always used the word "we." Useful advice for a manager at any level — maybe even for a superstar CEO.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

On Waiting and Whining

Recently I came across this quote from Voltaire: "Anything too stupid to be said is sung." It puts me in mind of the insipid John Mayer song, "Waiting on the World to Change," which has been nominated (naturally) for a Grammy. The song begins:

"me and all my friends
we're all misunderstood
they say we stand for nothing and
there's no way we ever could
now we see everything that's going wrong
with the world and those who lead it
we just feel like we don't have the means
to rise above and beat it"

So the essence of the song is that Mayer and his pals will sit on their overindulged fannies and wait for the world to change, in between stanzas asserting their superior moral sense and keen twenty-something ability to see through the obfuscation into how things really are.

One widely cited reviewer claims that none of Mayer's contemporaries "has come up with anything resembling a worthwhile anti-war anthem that is as good and speaks for their generation as much," which seems tantamount to calling Joe Biden the most honorable member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — an occasion more for weeping than praise.

Aside from being a hack writer, John Mayer is a big flaming wuss. This is his idea of a protest anthem? "Ooh, nobody will listen to us, so we're going to sit here and whine about it." It's a pathetic comparison to songs like "Four Dead in Ohio" (Gotta get down to it/Soldiers are cutting us down...How can you run when you know?), "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," and "We Shall Overcome." Heck, even The Clash's "The Call Up" (It's up to you not to heed the call up/ I don't wanna die!) has more gravitas.

I suppose we should be thankful that people with bad ideas feel compelled to wallow in their impotence. The only thing more nauseating, after all, than the thought of millions of whelps grooving along to this claptrap would be to watch Mayer lead them in a protest march, cell phones and chai lattes tightly gripped in angry little fists of pique, a sea of fashionistas indignantly stamping their feet and agitating for some vague change that hopefully includes low-cost student loans and free music downloads.

So yes, John boy, keep waiting for the world to change. Play your self-indulgent ditties and leave the changing of things to the real men and women. It makes one long for the days when instrumentals were popular, and musicians were viewed more like servants than prophets.

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Friday, January 5, 2007

Lying as Business Strategy

Those of you who take The Wall Street Journal probably caught Wednesday's story about the efforts of Abbott Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, to sell more of a very lucrative AIDS drug. The challenge for Abbott was that one of their lower-margin drugs was widely used in conjunction with a competitor's drug, in lieu of a more expensive Abbott uber-drug. The Journal obtained documents revealing some of the strategies Abbott considered for reducing use of its lower-margin drug.

I'll say up front that I'm not someone who thinks drug companies make too much money -- quite the contrary, it's precisely in critical fields like medicine that we want to see large profits, so that more brains and resources are attracted to them. So I have no problem with a company trying to make a buck, or a billion bucks.

According to memos obtained by the Journal, however, Abbott executives considered ideas like taking the lower-margin drug off the market and telling people that they had to do so in order to ship it to poor countries in Africa. Another alternative was to convert the pill form to a syrup that they described as tasting "like someone else's vomit."

Caught out by the press, Abbott did the usual corporate spin, claiming that the executives were "just brainstorming."

Apparently, lying is a plausible enough option at Abbott Laboratories that its executives feel comfortable considering it as a possible action item. That's what Abbott admits, in effect.

I'm not sure how one cuts out such a cancer once it has permeated an organization's culture. And if anyone doubts that Abbott's culture is threatened by a lack of integrity, consider the coda to this tale: after settling on a strategy of raising the price of its lower-margin drug by 400%, Abbott tried to counter outcries by posting on its website misleading data about the drug's cost compared to alternatives. The FDA later ordered it to take the misleading information down.

To be fair, one never knows, when reading a newspaper account, whether all the relevant facts are being presented. What seems clear, however, is that Abbott executives considered telling a disgusting lie about helping poor people in Africa, and that they see no problem contemplating such a lie.

People like this are a far greater enemy to markets and liberty than anyone in the hapless Democratic party, because they reinforce stereotypes of corporate executives as unprincipled brigands. They should be ashamed of themselves. Unfortunately, that's probably unlikely.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Silence is Golden

Imagine that you wanted to foster among the public and the press the impression that Christians are ignorant, mean-spirited buffoons. How might you go about it, were you a clever person? Rather than attack Christians directly, you might instead find yourself a puffed-up, theologically ignorant preacher, and give him a nationally televised cable program focused on current events. Maybe you'd even have him run for president a few times, so everyone could enjoy his ill-considered ruminations, delivered in the smarmy, self-righteous tones of a Hollywood actor doing an over-the-top impression of a Christian. You might invent, in other words, Pat Robertson.

Now the right reverend Robertson delivers us his 2007 prediction, straight, he says, from the lips of the Almighty: a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that will yield "mass killing." Scary indeed. The problem is, Robertson often gets it wrong. In 2006 he predicted that storms and "possibly" a tsunami would batter the U.S. coasts. In 2005 he prophesied Social Security reform. (I am not making this up.) "I have a relatively good track record," Robertson says, but "sometimes I miss."

This is a fascinating admission, for those of us who bother to read the Bible, because it turns out that the good Lord anticipated the likes of Robertson. To wit, Deuteronomy 18:21-22: "You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."

Unfortunately for Pat, the Bible also calls for false prophets to be put to death. Robertson, you might recall, is a bit harsh toward those he perceives to be outside God's favor. He famously claimed that Ariel Sharon's stroke was a punishment from God, that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment (raising the question: are Hugh Hefner's live-in girlfriends evidence of God's blessing?), and that tinpot dictator Hugo Chavez ought to be assassinated.

I wonder how he might respond to the news of his own Old Testament-mandated execution for being a false prophet. Fortunately, true Christian teaching asks us to extend grace and mercy even toward those who deny it to others.

Still, it would be nice if he would pay a little more attention to the book of Job: "Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel." If only.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

About Your Princess

Word to the wise, formulated during my morning jog: it's probably not a good idea to give your daughter a vanity plate, or any type of gear for that matter, that says: "Princess."

Because she just may start to believe it.

Do you want your daughter to be the princess of your heart? Absolutely. Do you want her to be the princess of the home, or neighborhood, or school? Absolutely not.

My experience with teenaged girls is that the ones raised to believe they are princesses behave much more like Cinderella's sisters than like Cinderella. And we all know how that story ends.

Funny how we tend to identify with the hero or heroine of a fairy tale, when we usually have much more in common with one of the secondary characters. I'm sure there's a lesson about life in that, or at the very least, a lesson about how to read a fairy tale.

I'm just as guilty as the next, though when I watch "Tombstone" I identify much more with Doc Holliday than Wyatt Earp. Perhaps it's a sense of doom, or the daily growing consciousness of my sins, or simply the fact that were I a cowboy, I'd like to be the kind who could put six holes in you before you could draw.

Still, it's a fantasy nonetheless, because never do I imagine myself in the role of one of the bad guys, or even worse, one of the impotent townsfolk. But most of us are exactly that, no?

How staggering the gap between our self-perceptions and our realities. How lovely that we are loved regardless.

So, back to the princesses, or more specifically, to their fathers. Men, turn off the television, put down the golf clubs, and use your heads. The kinds of boys who will come sniffing around your narcissistic little Barbie are not the sort who usually grow into men. And yet there one of them will be one day, sitting in your living room every Thanksgiving and Christmas, trying in vain to do the impossible task of keeping your little princess happy.

Notes to self:

1) Explain to my boys the difference between a princess and a lady.
2) Pray my grown knights remember that the damsels worth rescuing aren't already sitting on a throne made by daddy.
3) Work more evil princess characters into my homemade bedtime stories.

There. And all that from a single license plate. I should get out less.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Alien's Thanksgiving

Since today is the day we sons and daughters of unwanted immigrants offer thanks that the Almighty did not see fit to give those who got here before us gunpowder and military organization, it seems a fitting time to reply to the numerous responses to my post a couple of weeks ago, about the opposition of this nation's largest self-styled Christian radio network to illegal and -- I'll argue below -- legal immigration.

Several of you had very thoughtful replies, and I'll do my best to treat them thoughtfully. Reading your comments several times, I've noticed a few themes, the predominant of which is this:

There's a difference between illegal and legal immigration. It's the former we're concerned about, because it's not fair to legal immigrants, it taxes our health care system and schools and law enforcement, it threatens our wages and standard of living, and it's dangerous and difficult for the illegals themselves to get here and then survive. What's more, the Bible tells us to obey the law.

Here's a quick test for everyone who hangs his hat on that last sentence: what do you say we eliminate all immigration limits except for people suspected of criminal intent? The wily debater will want to obfuscate on that last bit, so let's stipulate that we have a special machine that allows us to determine with 100% validity whether someone intends to sell drugs to schoolchildren or detonate a bomb.

So, who's in favor of letting them all in, once our good Christian consciences are assuaged that this is no longer a matter of the law being broken?


Very well. So what this really turns on for most of us is the economic cost and the concomitant danger to our culture and very lives of allowing boatloads of very different, very poor people to lodge on our shores. These are reasonable concerns, but let me suggest to you that the Almighty God and Creator is not concerned with your standard of living. To think otherwise is the height of narcissism, when you consider the poverty and oppression under which his people have lived throughout history. Do you think any of them mattered less to him, or that the crux of history was the day your white forefathers declared themselves outside the control of the governing authorities in England and set us down a path to 401-K's and flat-screen televisions?

To be sure, every good blessing is from above, but don't be deceived into thinking that your full larder and wallet are God's ends.

I have children, and I love being fat and happy, and I want them to be safe. Every parent wants this. But understand that when you argue against immigration because of the costs and dangers it entails, you are no longer arguing from Christian precepts, you are arguing from self-interest. I'm as self-interested as they come, heck, I was actually rooting for Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, but I don't tell myself this has anything to do with my understanding of God.

My issue with AFR on this matter is precisely that -- they bill themselves as a radio network bringing news and analysis from a Christian perspective, focusing on the issues Christians care about as Christians, the implication being that these are issues that emerge as important when we apply Christian precepts to our thinking. Now, if they'll change their slogan to "the radio network for middle-class American Christians who want to see the nation's GDP keep growing," at least we'll have some truth in advertising. But this leads to a second objection voiced by several of you:

Economics and politics do matter to God. The Bible itself addresses politics and economics. Do you honestly think he doesn't care whether people violate his laws, or whether we do anything about it? Would you have us believe that he doesn't care whether we protest abortion, for example?

In one sense, economics and politics describe our wranglings with man and nature over the distribution of resources and power. It is the struggling, the tempests in teapots, to which I addressed myself. Do you think it is on your walks around the abortion clinic that God pins his hopes for salvation of innocents? Is it on the capital gains tax that he depends for the weary and heavy-laden to be lifted?

Christ did not even view slavery as relevant to his purpose. Why do you believe he wrings his hands now over whether California will let two men get married? He already knows what will happen, being the Omega as well as the Alpha, and he knows how long he will tolerate every abomination, including the abominations that lie at the core of every man's heart, mine as well as your own. In that sense -- the only sense that will concern us once we've turned first to dust and then to glory or horror -- we see that economics and politics do not matter.

This is important to confront, because it gets at the roots of what often is our real concern. It is not affronts to God that offend us nearly so much as affronts to our sensibilities and net worth. Why do Christians get animated over homosexuality? Is it solely because God has called it an abomination? Then where are our efforts to stamp out gossip (rampant in our very churches!), disrespect to parents, and the lying that is almost sport among our political and business classes? We single out some sins because they offend us first. Rather than seeking to be on the side of God, we bring him to our side, as if he were the created thing.

Likewise, how many Christians block the entrances to abortion clinics, where innocent blood is shed? How many Christians instead give money to the Republican party, a collection of self-interested climbers morally and functionally almost indistinguishable from their opponents, the Republican party which, by the way, avoids doing anything meaningful about abortion?

Whose interests, really, are we protecting when most of us engage in politics?

Had you met Christ on the dusty roads of Palestine, or when you meet him now -- not as we confine him in liturgies and Wal-Mart bestsellers, but in the dark nights of our souls -- we are overjoyed and humbled and terrified to learn that our standing, our power, our very sustenance, is secondary to knowing and obeying. Ask John the Baptist. Ask the Samaritan woman at the well. She with the dry throat, simply seeking a bucket of cool water, and here is this uncomely stranger, from a tribe that disdains her own, and he tells her this water is nearly nothing, that it is the spring of living water she should seek. She came seeking a brief respite to thirst, and he told her there is a far deeper thirst, unquenchable except through the word, the door, the truth. Look this Christ in the eye and tell him about the importance of economics and politics. Survey his bleeding brow and explain how politicians -- men you and I have voted for -- have employed his name, and what, by their actions, they have deemed the most important things.

Now all this is not to say that Christians aren't called to politics, which would make no more sense than to declare that Christians can't be called to music, or teaching, or farming, or being juggling hot-dog stand vendors in downtown Des Moines. Just understand that there is no general call to politics, nor to the accumulation of personal wealth, nor to safety. We are enjoined to obey the governing authorities, not applaud them, not support them, not join them and work on their campaigns. Likewise, we are called to support our families, not give them all the delights available to men.

None of what I've said means you can't do these things, but I am suggesting that you examine your heart first. Are you investing your emotions and energy in politics to preserve your standard of living, or because you feel the sweet grace and pleasure of God poured out on you when you do it? The latter is calling, the former is dressing God up in a tweed suit and giving him campaign flyers.

And that is an abomination.

Now that I've preached far more than I intended, we come to a final objection, my favorite. In its simplest form it is this:

Do you live this way? Do you give to everyone in need, until you have no more to give? Do you let strangers into your home?

Dear friends and strangers, if I am your standard, you are doomed. I am weak and cowardly and sinful to the core. If you can only hear truth from one who is perfect, then look to the Gospels, to the letters in red, trusting that what you hold in your hands is God-breathed, and see for yourself the answers to your questions.

Find the passages where he has enjoined you to turn away aliens when admitting them would damage your finances. Commit to memory his sermons about the necessity of tempering mercy with economic practicality. While you're there, tell he who fed the multitudes that there isn't enough bread to go around. Explain to him that loving one's fellow man must stop where suffering increases. Seek him out atop Calvary and lay out the facts of this world, ask him to be reasonable, to show restraint.

On this day we give thanks, and I have found my prayer: Thank you, brother Christ, that you showed no restraint when we were the aliens, that you were not reasonable when we were far off, that suffering did not deter you when we had no hope and were without God in the world. Thank you that we live in such a place of prosperity and peace that we can actually believe that preserving this blink in the eye of history takes precedence over your calling. And please forgive us when we confuse gifts with entitlements, means with ends, and come to view our comfortable lives as your purpose.

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Saturday, November 5, 2005


While driving to work yesterday morning I hit a rarely-used button on my radio, one set to a mainstream Christian station where one in ten songs is not, for my tastes, awful. Every once in a while I try them out, and every once in a while they aren't playing a dreadful song.

The news was on; they are part of the American Family Radio network, which itself is part of the American Family Association. They offer "today's news from a Christian perspective," which can be translated as: "news a white middle-to-upper-income American Christian probably wants to hear, delivered by a Republican."

The news item was about a crack-down on illegal immigration. The reporter stressed words like illegal and sneak (as in, "people who sneak into the country"). A clip from a national anti-immigration figure was provided. The point was clear: finally, someone is doing something about those darned immigrants.

Good Christians, apparently, are glad that someone is stopping these grubby people from coming to our shores; it's a news item Christians care about. It's more likely the case that many wealthy white financial supporters of AFR are pleased with such a news item, and well, we've got to pay the bills to keep bringing you the modern music version of Air Supply meets Muzak.

Now, there are economic and policy arguments worth considering on both sides of the immigration issue. But here's the dangerous pressing matter, the thing that if you plan to sit your behind in a church pew today or tomorrow you really just cannot avoid: economics and politics don't matter to God.

Christians have a fundamental calling, and that is to find our lost brothers and sisters. We will not conquer this world for Jesus, and frankly, he doesn't need our help. We will not stop gay marriage and institute a God-approved (the Republican version, of course) tax rate. We will not keep people from philandering, gambling, masturbating, and wearing clothes that fit too tight, and if you think Christ wants you to fix these problems, then you are dreadfully, soul-shakingly mistaken.

"Tend my lambs." Not "stop people from being naughty." No "get the government off the back of the small businessman." Not a hint of "protect gun rights and the death penalty."

And certainly not "keep out the immigrants."

To the contrary, we received the Great Commission, and don't tell me that was just for the Disciples, because to believe that is to be hopelessly misguided about your place on this earth. We are to be a light to the hopeless and lost, be it in our own families, neighborhoods, churches (yes, there are plenty of hopeless and lost people there), and businesses, or overseas, amidst the unwashed, non-Republican masses.

Most of us don't do overseas missions work. Nor do we support such work, except for the few dimes from our paltry (on average) financial support for churches that makes its way to actual evangelism. But here we have this wonderful blessing of living in a country so prosperous that millions of people, many of them with no understanding of Christ, desperately want to come to us, and what is the response of the largest Christian radio network in America?

Keep 'em out.

posted by Woodlief | link | (22) comments

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Sixteen Things That Deserve a Good Slap

1) Asserting that Wyatt Earp is a better movie than Tombstone.
2) Allowing your twelve year-old daughter to wear a tight, belly-exposing t-shirt that says “Built to Grind.”
3) French politicians.
4) German politicians.
5) Most politicians.
6) Equating George W. Bush with Adolph Hitler.
7) Anyone in the midst of a college education financed by his parents who has anything but warm things to say about said parents.
8) Childless people with vocal opinions about childrearing.
9) Lifelong Christians with no grace for sinners.
10) Not holding open the door for the person behind you.
11) Waiting until the last possible minute to merge.
12) Not letting people merge before the last possible minute.
13) Mistaking energy and boredom for Attention Deficit Disorder.
14) Citing Michael Moore as an authority on anything other than fried foods and self-promotion.
15) Advocating gun control from the safety of a gated community protected by private security.
16) Ordering a Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke.

I'm sure there are others, no?

posted by Woodlief | link | (26) comments

Friday, April 23, 2004

Single, and Staying That Way

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an article entitled "Singular Mistreatment," about the trials and tribulations of unmarried faculty in academe. It's such a hard life, you know, making an average of $66,000 for nine months of work. The article is filled with the usual complaints of single people: we pick up the slack for the married people, why can't I have health care for my cats since we give health care to children, etc.

One of the people interviewed is Benita Blessing, a history professor at Ohio University. She complains about the number of baby showers and engagement parties for people in her department:

"I received a very prestigious fellowship from the National Academy of Education, and I got a couple of words of congratulations in the hallway. But no one bothered to throw me a party."

I'm thinking when Benita finally does tie the knot (no parties, please!), her suitor may do well to look up the term "high maintenance."

posted by Woodlief | link | (6) comments

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Regulating the Proles

Some who make their money by practicing medicine (and let's get the incentives clear at the beginning, shall we?) believe the use of ultrasound devices by people with insufficient medical degrees should be stopped. The specter of giddy expectant parents ogling a four-dimensional image of their bundle of joy in utero under the smiling guidance of a mere technician is more than the blue-bloods can bear. This is medical technology, after all. Would we want these proletarians doing their own brain surgery?

In steps the FDA, making noise about regulating the practice. The danger, as a National Public Radio reporter explains, is that an ultrasound "releases energy into the body, and heats tissue."

Next on the physician/FDA cartel watch-list: hot cocoa, wool pullovers, and the sun.

Underlying this debate is the fact that ultrasounds are an enormously effective abortion deterrent. Pro-life advocates across the U.S. have established clinics next door to abortion shops, where mothers considering abortion are offered counseling, adoption and welfare services, housing, and frequently, ultrasounds. Very rarely will a mother, once she has seen for herself that the "cluster of tissue" notion is a lie, choose to abort.

Pro-abortion groups are hoping that the medical profession and FDA win this battle, because it will drastically drive up the cost of offering ultrasounds. There is at least a hint of collusion, as is evidenced by the intonations of Lawrence Platt, former head of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. He warns against the "misuse of technology" and the dangers of employing it to "sway one's decision and impact someone's rights." I don't think he's referring to the rights of the unborn child.

The practice is also dangerous, Platt continues, because sometimes an ultrasound will reveal abnormalities in the child, and this can be traumatic for the parents. It's best, he says, that such a revelation take place with a physician at one's side.

Right, because you can't throw a stick at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association without hitting a compassionate doctor. Of course I don't really believe this is the case, but don't let my skepticism stop you from testing the hypothesis yourself.

posted by Woodlief | link | (11) comments

Monday, March 24, 2003

The World According to Betty

I receive at seemingly random intervals an email from Writer's Market. The latest informs that a new online magazine called Betty is seeking submissions. The email references its own Market Watch publication, which quotes someone from Betty, who explains that the new zine's target audience is "the real woman...not the homemaker, but the educated, independent, serious woman and girl."

The real woman. Not the woman who sacrifices a career because she believes she can do more good in the world by raising and teaching her children herself. So what if she has wrestled for years with the challenges, for example, of raising her children in adherence to her faith? That doesn't compare with hustling to get appointed Executive Mid-Manager in MegaCorporation ABC, after all. Get real, mom. You are merely managing the moral, physical, and intellectual development of human beings; it's not like you are putting together PowerPoint slides comparing the costs of competing stationary vendors.

Not that the homemaker could do something like that, because she is, implies Betty, uneducated. Educated women, you see, don't stay home. How do we know? Because the sweethearts at Betty, along with their pseudo-intellectual ilk who infest the coastal cities, look around themselves and see educated women working. None of these smart women would dream of staying home with the kids. Ipso facto, educated women don't stoop to such an enterprise.

It is remarkable that the same people who can sit through an anthropology class and nod with reverence at the pagan bloodletting practices of Central African animists can evince such intolerance at the life choices of their fellow citizens. Surely it has occurred to them that there are homemakers who are educated and serious, whose lives are real?

No, it probably has not, because they don't know any beyond perhaps their mothers, and if I had a dime for every feminist I've met who holds her own mother in contempt I would be able to afford a big advertisement in Betty that says: "Stretch marks: the sign of a REAL woman."

So we are reduced to argument from personal experience. The problem with using anecdotes to make sweeping claims is that they are easily refuted by contradictory anecdotes. For example, in my personal network the wisest women all happen to be mothers who stay (or stayed) home with their children. They are also the most serious; they are staking out a life that is at odds with popular culture and the received wisdom of the Ivory Tower. Does this prove that educated, serious, real women always choose the life of mother and homemaker? Of course not, any more than the absence of real homemakers from the parochial Betty network is evidence that such don't exist. I'd be happy to introduce the Betty chicks to some real women who work in the home, if they could stand to leave the gripping reality of their decorated offices and cappuccino machines long enough to venture out into the vast stretches of imaginary America that don't mimic Murphy Brown.

I'm sure there are some activities more serious than training up one's own flesh and blood. Condoleeza Rice's job comes to mind. And Mother Theresa. Say, do any of the sweetie-pies at Betty work in national security fields, or devote their time and health to the poor?

I'm betting not so much. No, I suspect the Betty lovey-doves are ninety-percent single, childless freelance writers who sporadically emit educated, serious scribblings about the importance of remaining educated and serious by avoiding childbirth and childrearing. To do otherwise would not be to keep it real.

I could write more, but soon I must return home to my wife with two degrees who has been flitting about the house all day, reveling in the unserious fantasy-land that is raising two little boys. It's good I make enough money for her to stay at home. Otherwise she might have to enter the cruel, difficult, real world of memos, corporate expense accounts, and pantyhose. I'm so glad I can shelter the little lamb.

posted by Woodlief | link | (9) comments

Thursday, January 23, 2003

So Germany's Chancellor has announced that he will use "all my power" to disarm Iraq without going to war.

Perhaps ending the flow of arms, technology, and terrorist support from his own country would be a nice start.

The French, meanwhile, have threatened to block any U.N. Security Council resolution on the use of armed force against Iraq. Shouldn't the country that built the Maginot Line be forbidden from offering military advice? Don't they have some version of the kid's table at Thanksgiving, where all the French delegates can sit when the U.N. talks serious business?

posted by Woodlief | link | (11) comments

Friday, December 20, 2002

United States: Empire of Darkness

I try to avoid hearing what actors have to say about politics. Stupid (e.g., Ed Asner) or evil (e.g., Vanessa Redgrave) views ruin my ability to enjoy an actor's work. By chance I turned on Charlie Rose last night. He was interviewing Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo in the films, and Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn.

Oh, how I wish I had gone to bed early. Viggo had made himself a little t-shirt for the interview. It said, "No more blood for oil."

This, I am sad to say, was the best part of his appearance, at least the part that I saw before turning off the television in disgust. Viggo is upset that some people are comparing the U.S., in its war on terror, to the forces of good in the movie. According to him, it is actually the reverse: the U.S. is Sarumon, its rapacious (his word) government unleashing forces of destruction on innocent civilians huddled at Helm's Deep.

In short, Viggo is a bloody idiot.

More wisdom from Viggo: the upcoming war against Iraq is a diversion, to distract people from the "fact" that the U.S. has been bombing civilians in Afghanistan for a year, and has killed more innocents than were killed in the Trade Center attacks. It is also a vendetta spawned by Bush's father.

In case you are tuning in late, the point is that Viggo is a bloody idiot.

The entertaining element in this interview, which was supposed to be about the movie, was imagining the reactions of the movie's marketers. Let's put it this way: I'm betting the pucker factor was pretty high. Depending on what kind of press this gets, two days into the opening of the second movie in the trilogy, the pucker factor could go higher.

"You were supposed to talk about the movie, pretty boy, not your paranoid personal politics. Who are you, freaking Ed Begley, Jr. all of a sudden?" I'm sure right now the marketers are meeting with the PR flaks, to figure out how best to position themselves if this hits the fan. And let's hope that it does.

Not, mind you, because Viggo's insipid views matter. What should be most insulting to American fans of the wonderful movies is that Viggo felt he should speak out in order to set us all straight on what the movie does and does not mean. Deep-thinking Viggo, who by his own admission didn't even open the first Tolkien book until he was on his way to filming. He learned some lines and play-acted some fight scenes, so now he's an expert on the symbolism of good and evil, and their interconnections with global politics.

This isn't surprising, to be sure, Hollywood is chock full of stupid people with ridiculous, trendy little views. The worst part of this spectacle, however, was that Viggo trotted out the "I'm just trying to be an independent voice" line. "Nobody questions U.S. policy, or asks why we need to kill all of these innocent civilians," he exclaimed.

So here's what will happen next. If this gets much press, Viggo will say that oppressive conservatives are trying to silence him and others who agree with him. This is a tactic of the self-pitying, irrational Left. Sling out ridiculous accusations, exclaim that you are really just trying to inject truth into the debate, and then run hiding at the first sign of critique.

Viggo couldn't even withstand the gentlest of questioning from Rose ("What would you have done differently after 9/11," Rose asked. "Well, I wouldn't have killed all those innocent people in Afghanistan," was the evasive answer). There's no way he can maintain his assertions in the face of a detailed rebuttal. Not that people like him ever have any intention of doing so. Instead, they equate rebuttal with efforts to crush their rare flower of an opinion.

The second movie, by the way, is well worth seeing, especially the battle scenes. You might find yourself rooting a little for the Orcs, however. Imagine what an insufferable little kingdom this Aragorn would build for himself. Tolkien's work is art, and it is beautiful in its portrayal of the eternal battles in and around man. It is a pity Viggo Mortensen isn't more worthy of the tale.

Oh, it just keeps getting better. this thread is just one of many on the Charlie Rose website. A sample from one of Viggo Mortensen's fans:

"Viggo Mortensen demonstrated admirable courage in wearing his homade (sic) "no more blood for oil tee shirt on Charlie�s show. I thought he handled himself very well under the inquisition that Charlie presented regarding the meaning it represented."

And another fan:

"I also applaud to Viggo for his T-shirt and Charlie for letting him discuss it. This kind of intelligent discussion is so lacking in main stream TV these days. It might have been a digression from the discussion of the movie, but I loved the spontaneity and that Charlies allowed the digression.

Now if Charlie would bring Noam Chomsky for an hour discussion."

Noam Chomsky. Oh. Dear. God.

I'm thinking of a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, when Aragorn and Gimli leap into a crowd of orcs and send bodies flying left and right. This close-minded little cabal on the Rose website suggests a similar opportunity...

Comments are closed. Now all of you just . . . go away. Scoot. Be gone. Enjoy yourselves on someone else's website.

posted by Woodlief | link | (62) comments

Friday, October 11, 2002

Good Intentions

Jimmy Carter has finally got himself a Nobel Peace Prize. His record includes involvement in the Egypt-Israel peace agreement (although Sadat may disagree about the peacefulness of the outcome), the outstanding Habitat for Humanity, and several health-related endeavors in the Third World. His record also includes averting U.S. action against North Korea in 1994 by getting them to accept money, food, and increased nuclear capacity in return for pretending not to develop nuclear and chemical weapons.

Appeasement of murderers in return for false promises has been his modus operandi for years in fact, culminating in a shameful -- if not treasonous -- effort to unmake the first President Bush's Gulf War Coalition even as American forces entered harm's way. This sort of behavior led some to speculate that his peace-at-all-costs approach had as its end a Nobel Prize rather than true peace, which is to say, peace that lasts longer than the echoes of his shoes linger in a tyrant's marble corridors.

This speculation is a bit mean-spirited; my own belief is that Carter really has possessed good intentions all along. He is a Christian, though one who seems to think the nature of men has changed since the Bible was compiled, and whose forgiveness never seemed to go beyond tyrants and Democrats (his long-standing grudge against members of the Reagan Administration for reversing his entire foreign and military policy regime is well-known).

But he means well. When combined with ignorance of economics and boundless optimism about the powers of bureaucracy, this makes for a sorry U.S. President -- as Carter well proved. But in ample supply, and when combined with tireless effort, it can earn one a Nobel Peace Prize. There have certainly been less deserving recipients.

posted by Woodlief | link | (9) comments

Friday, August 30, 2002

A Little Smack for the Holiday

Labor Day. A day we don't work. A fitting way to celebrate the holiday, if you think about it. Check out AFL-CIO president John Sweeney's bio, for example -- the guy hasn't worked a day in his life. What exactly does one do as a "research assistant with the Ladies Garment Workers," anyway? And how bad does your resume have to be to warrant this sad confession?

That's right, I'm bringing out the smack. A few people have had it coming, and today I'm bringing it. Like Rosie O'Donnell. Is it just me, or does Rosie's latest hairdo make her look like Bob's Big Boy?.

And the whole coming out of the closet thing. There's this myth that admitting one's homosexuality can harm one's entertainment career. I call it the Ellen DeGeneres fallacy. Ellen is a martyr for the cause of bad comedy writing, not homosexuality. So now Rosie has stepped out of that oversized glass closet she was in. This is supposed to be brave. Maybe so. What's really brave is that haircut she's sporting.

And what's with this "women's wisdom" kick the entertainment world has been on for the last few years? "Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "American Quilt," "The View," you see the pattern. Every summer, another chick bonding flick. Every fall, another talk show featuring some snarky new gal. We're all extremely wise beyond our years, we're bold, we're beautiful, we have active sex lives. Yay us.

Well, the whole thing is starting to tick me off. If Anna Quindlen, Barbara Walters, and the gals from "The Sopranos" are the best brains womankind has to offer, then we'd better rethink the Nineteenth Amendment. Fortunately, they aren't. It's just that the truly wise and interesting women are all too busy to sit around sipping coffee at 10 a.m. and discussing orgasms in front of a television audience.

I've also got a thing to say to the guy at the Dillon's on Rock Road last Saturday, the one who made the female grocery clerk push his cart out to his car, while he strolled along behind her, hands empty. The perfectly healthy though a bit pudgy guy. The guy who didn't tip the lady when she was done putting his bags in his trunk. That guy.


One more thing. I have a friend who teaches middle school in Detroit, and at the start of the school year a few years ago, he was reading through the roster to get to know his students. He got to a student whose name was spelled "T-a-m-k-i-a." So, he pronounced it as spelled. An irate girl in the back of the class corrected him:

"It's Tamika!" As you savor this little scene, imagine the head bobbing from side to side on perfectly rigid shoulders, just to get the full effect.

So my friend said, "I'm sorry, your name was spelled T-a-m-k-i-a on the roster. I'll change it."

"That is how you spell it, but it's Tamika!"

"But T-a-m-k-i-a spells 'Tamkia,' not 'Tamika'."

"It's TaMIKA!"

Sure enough, the next day the girl's overly large mother came to school to give somebody what for. This involved walking down the hall testifying, as it were, with her daughter and a handful of other children in tow, like a sad little carnival troupe. The troupe stopped in the principal's office so she could set him straight, and then continued to my friend's classroom, enlarged by one subdued principal, where mama lectured my friend as well. Nobody tells her baby how to spell her name, who does he think he is, etc.

This time, he wisely kept his mouth shut.

Since Tamkia has no doubt gone on to a successful college career, I'm quite certain she reads Sand in the Gears, as do all educated people. So Tamkia, this is for you:

It's Tamkia.

posted by Woodlief | link | (21) comments

Monday, July 29, 2002

Teeming With Teams

I think the word "team" is being misused. The dictionary tells me that a team is simply "a number of persons associated in work or activity." That's not the definition people have in mind when they talk about teams, though. People mean something more like this: a group of interdependent individuals striving to achieve common goals. By "interdependent" I mean simply that no individual, no matter how hard or long he works, will achieve the goals on his own. At the same time, removing him leaves the group unable to achieve its goals.

Most sports teams meet this definition, as do rescue teams, search-and-destroy teams, fire teams, and kick return teams. This is not to exclude business: there are merger and acquisition teams, strategy teams, and product development teams, to name just a few.

But the word "team" has proliferated beyond its proper boundaries, and businessmen are primarily to blame. They use it in places where only its common definition can apply ("persons associated"), but they intend for it to carry the more rigorous definition, as a means of glorifying someone's accomplishments (at the expense of real accomplishments), or of connoting commitment and esprit de corps when these are absent.

Here's a typical misuse: "I want to thank Jake and his team for successfully transitioning our color copy trays from Flamingo Pink to Pale Salmon."

Listen, Jake doesn't have a team. Jake works with three other community college students to keep our copiers going. We employee four of them so the work gets done faster, not because each plays some integral role in a well-oiled machine. In fact, the closest thing to a team that Jake has ever led is two chaotic-good elves and a neutral half-dwarf in his high school Dungeons and Dragons tournament.

This is just one type of misuse of the word "team" in a business setting. Another is to congratulate someone for his team's effort (usually his name is Rick or Chad or something else appropriately button-down crypto-fascist frat-boy) when in reality his employees did all the work, and were largely productive precisely because he wasn't involved. Thus are the ideas of team and leadership further sullied.

In many cases a businessman intends the word "team" to be a form of code, a signal that at one time he was the starting tight end for the Weehauken Red Raiders 2-A championship football team. He's also the guy who, in times of business downturn, talks about the need to "get back to blocking and tackling," so we can "make some first downs," instead of "always trying for the hail mary." He and the other high school football heroes hold close quarters in the hallway, swapping football metaphors and watching Jake with beady eyes, pondering how much it will help the bottom line to cut his "team" in half. There's always casualties in war, you know, and football is war, and business is football. Or something like that.

War, of course, is the other great fount of moronic business metaphors, from the obvious, as in "we're going to make a full frontal assault on their share of the novelty yo-yo market"; to the more subtle, like "sales force," which evokes an image of waves of guys named Dirk wading up the beaches of Normandy in their pleated slacks and Bill Blass golf shirts, armed with lattes and dainty mobile phones, to sell SUV's and water filtration systems to the Huns.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for teamwork (and invading France, for that matter). But some work groups simply aren't teams. Calling five accountants in the trading group a team, even though they rarely communicate and have little interdependence, merely cheapens the word.

I know, I know, in the great scheme of things we are all interconnected, one big hypernetworked goo pot of multicultural interdisciplinary cross-trained teammates, synergizing ourselves into some kind of post-Hegelian wet dream. But in the great scheme of things people who talk that way tend to be the targets of atomic wedgies, and get crammed upside down into their gym lockers. In short, they tend not to be good teammates.

All I'm asking, in this new age of corporate transparency, is that we apply a little of our newfound honesty to what we call ourselves. Not every work group is a team, any more than every secretary is an administrative assistant, or every businessman an entrepreneur. Some people just work together, some just fetch coffee, and some just spend down the assets built by others. There's no point in confusing things with bad labeling.

Who's with me? Remember folks, there's no I in T-E-A-M.

posted by Woodlief | link | (11) comments

Friday, July 19, 2002

Grrl Power

National Public Radio reported this morning on a summer camp for young girls who want to explore their musical talent free from the sexism that permeates the music industry. The camp was started by a thirty year-old college student with music industry experience who wanted to do something for her musically inclined fellow woman. The camp accepts girls ranging in age from 8 to 18, and provides an environment where they can write lyrics and music, perform, and receive instruction on everything from guitar muting techniques (use the palm of your strumming hand) to sexism in the music industry (it's everywhere).

Being neither a woman nor a professional musician, I can't comment with authority on the sexism charge. One might point to the considerable number of women musicians who are doing quite well, but people with gender antennae more finely tuned retort that most top female earners prove a sexist reality, which is that women are pressured to fit the socially acceptable profiles of sweetheart or sexpot. The goal of the music camp is to overcome this reality by removing budding female musicians from the pressures to conform.

Unfortunately, NPR left me with the impression that the camp also frees the girls from the pressure to produce good music. A quote from one of the expert lecturers, a guitarist for a successful chick band whose name escapes me: "It's not that hard. You really only need three chords." Later in the report, one of the campers explains: "Anyone can be a rock star." I think she may be right.

While the reporter interviewed other campers about their experiences, I could hear in the background various camp bands performing. One featured a young woman squealing "Girls rock! Girls rock! Grrrrrllllssss!" Another affected a quasi-Jewel sound, only the guitarist used two chords (one less than the expert's recommendation; an appropriate thumb in the eye of repressive authority), while the singer unleashed her voice on the scale like an untended fire hose on full blast.

I suppose the point of the camp is not to refine talent so much as it is to remove social expectations. Of course it fails even at this; it simply creates a new set of social expectations -- that girls will not feel compelled to sing in a soft voice (too much like Britney Spears, notes one camper), or write lyrics that make sense, or critique one another's work, or choose to learn guitar methods from anyone without a vagina.

I'm all for fighting the pressure the entertainment industry puts on women to behave like whores (though this is substantially a demand-side problem, it seems). In attempting to cast off all constraints, however, I wonder how much good the camp organizers do their charges. It's one thing to help a girl see that Britney Spears demeans herself by flashing a bit of thong to sell albums. It's another to convince this girl that she is belittled by singing in a voice that pleases the ear, or that real empowerment lies with casting off the tight constraints enforced by scales, rhythm, and lyrical subtlety in favor of unconstrained noise-making. Obeying the former leads to the creation of art; succumbing to the latter leads to momentary satiation, which can only be sustained with increasingly bizarre departures from social stricture. The former builds within the girl a repertoire of talent that contributes vastly to her self-esteem, the latter sets her on a path to seek approval by debasing herself in the name of challenging conformity.

But then, I'm only a man, no doubt blinded by the vast male hegemony that at once binds and empowers me. Or something like that. But it seems to me that Etta James, Rosemary Clooney, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few legends, and Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, and Jennifer Knapp, to name a few young stars, have all been successful precisely because they have gone against the grain in their musical subfields, providing different voices and music that is suffused not just with some vague attitude (what today one calls "grrl power"), but with independence supported always by superior talent.

So my hypothesis is as follows: there appears to be ample room for real talent to emerge and thrive in the American music scene, even in an age where Cher can be a multi-millionaire. Perhaps the problem is not that women are pressured into voicing sticky sweet lyrics or flashing their cleavage; perhaps the problem is that women with relatively little talent are able to excel in the entertainment industry by doing so, because a vast market of ignorant consumers awaits.

In other words, the women in music who feel most pressured to be the next superstar sexpot are precisely the ones who have a lesser foundation of talent. Women with superior talent have great opportunity, in a world of increasing disposable income, to carve out a profitable niche for their voice, without doing a Britney Spears bump-and-grind.

Which brings me to this ironic conclusion: by trumpeting non-conformity and tribal identity over discipline and ruthless pursuit of an artistic ideal, people like this camp's organizers may, despite their intentions, actually contribute to the very social phenomenon they despise. They heighten the passion of girls to be performers, but they fill them with the delusion that what is needed to succeed is not talent ("you only need three chords;" "anybody can be a rock star"), but attitude. Far better -- if the goal is to foster female musical talent that doesn't fit the sickening mold -- to subject these girls to rigorous training and critique, provided by the best available talent, regardless of vaginal status.

But then again, I'm just a man.

posted by Woodlief | link | (15) comments

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Sticking it to Wal-Mart

Remember my prediction that Wal-Mart's pre-eminence on the Fortune 500 list would invite lawsuits from parasites seeking a cut of the action? It looks like NOW is getting in on the pillaging.

What's interesting is the chutzpah these girls display in their self-righteous pronouncement. You can guess the grievances: not enough women in management, disparities in pay, hosiery is overpriced, not enough loving lesbian parents depicted in the advertisements, etc. But check out this justification, from NOW president Kim Gandy:

"Wal-Mart is number one on the Fortune 500 list. It's also the number one most sued retailer in the United States. It doesn't take a genius to see the problem with this picture."

In short, we're suing because they have a lot of money, and get sued a lot. Who said NOW isn't honest?

posted by Woodlief | link | (2) comments

Friday, June 7, 2002

What's in a Name?

Bell Hooks. Bell Hooks. That's capital B, capital H. What's that, Bell? You want to be called "bell hooks," sans capitals? Too bad. I'm a capitalist, this is English, and you are Bell by God Hooks. So get over yourself. Edward E. Cummings you ain't. Old E.E. did enough damage of his own, sparking a trend that has culminated decades later in pathetically insecure people who indicate first person in their emails with "i" instead of "I."

Somehow Bell has cowed everyone into going along with what has been rightly labeled a pretentious affectation. Even the archconservative Frontpage Magazine affords her the lower case in its coverage of her ridiculous commencement speech to Southwestern University graduates, albeit denoted with "sic." It's time somebody nipped this in the bud.

Everyone, meet Bell Hooks. Bell, say hello to everyone. What's that? Feeling oppressed by my patriarchal capitalist assignation? Pretty girlish of you, don't you think? Stop being so emotional.

And while I'm picking on names, I'd like the following people to come to the front of the class: Cher, Sting, Madonna, Sade, Seal, Prince (don't even try that "Artist formerly known as" bit with me, you midget weasel), and Bono. Now, all of you bend over for the good swift kick in the sequined stretch pants you each deserve. Perhaps nobody told you, but there is a two-name minimum in this country. Three is fine, four if someone in your family wore a grey uniform and shot Yankees back in the 1860's. You can go by your first name when you've slain Goliath, or parted the Red Sea, or gotten yourself resurrected. And no, Cher, your career doesn't count. Even our non-biblical one-name heroes go by a last name: Washington, Lincoln, McArthur, Flutie.

And what's with these wannabe one-name stars? You've seen them; they crop up occasionally in teen-market movies and pop music bands, with names like "Chayenne" and "Simone." Now, I know I'm not the target demographic, but it seems that anybody who introduces himself with just a first name is begging to be given a last name, most likely containing the suffix "-hole." You want to know who goes by a first name only? My neighbor's dog.

And he's got more talent.

UPDATE: Scutum Sobieski explains that Sade is actually the name of the group, not just the singer. Apparently it was important to him that you know this, as he was willing to admit that he actually has this information close at hand.

posted by Woodlief | link | (21) comments

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Don't Make Us Come Back Over There

It appears that getting bitch-slapped in two world wars has not taught the Germans any manners. During a visit by President Bush to the German legislature, Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse ambushed him in introductory remarks that chastised Bush both for not signing the Kyoto Accords on global warming, and for refusing U.S. submission to the International Criminal Court. This was followed by a petulant little protest on the chamber floor by the obligatory coven of unreconstructed communists.

Bush, to his credit, did not point out that any nation with a penchant for Nazism, Gunter Glass, and David Hasselhoff had best keep its schnitzel-bloated yap shut.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Tuesday, April 9, 2002


National Public Radio ran a report this morning about a set of campus protests scheduled to occur today at thirty U.S. universities. The target of the protests (insofar as these things have a target, beyond massaging the overinflated egos of their participants) is Israel's recent actions in Palestinian territory. The journalist interviewed one organizer at the University of Michigan, who described how his movement has "scared the pro-Israel groups," who in the past have been able to dominate campus debate because they are "rich with resources."

Right, the Jews own all the media. Haven't we heard this somewhere before?

The journalist went on to explain that pro-Palestinian students have been energized by the "recent violence in Israel." The "recent" violence. Let's translate. The pro-Palestinians who now spout platitudes about stopping the violence had nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to say over the past few months as their ideological comrades were strapping shrapnel-laden bombs to the chests of idiot youngsters and sending them into restaurants and shopping malls. Now that this barbaric behavior has inspired its deserved response, and only now, well, its time to take to the quad, sip some herbal tea while holding a "Zionism = racism" sign, and chant mindless rhyming slogans while skipping the political science class which likely as not inspired much of this wrongheadedness in the first place.

I guess there's some sweet irony in that last part. Many large universities seem intent on adding insult to injury by not only failing to produce students grounded in classics and scientific skills, but by indoctrinating them with all sorts of nonsense, all while charging escalating tuition. I hope the parents of prospective students are paying close attention.

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Monday, March 25, 2002

Accent Snobs

Ever hear some variation of the following when listening to the news?

(Reporter with American accent) "This is Harry Smith, reporting from (switch to thick Spanish accent) Venezuela.

Now, we both know Harry ain't Mexican. So what's up with the Ricardo Montalban channeling?

I've heard foreign journalists report on events in the U.S., and I've never heard one say: "Zees is Henri Chavel, raporting from (switch to John Wayne accent) Mobeel, Aluh-bama." So if they don't go out of the way to pronounce our locations like rednecks, why do our reporters fall all over themselves to roll out "R's" and extrude accent egu's? My friend LP insists that this is the result of an accent arms race begun by Jerry Rivers after he remembered that his birth name was Geraldo Rivera. Maybe so.

Either way, I am vindicated in my annoyance, by no less an authority than Fowler's Modern English Usage, which has this to say about the pronunciation of French words (with direct extension to words of other languages):

Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth -- greater, indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners. That is the guiding principle alike in the using and in the pronouncing of [foreign] words in English writing and talk. To pronounce [foreign words] as if you were one of the select few to whom [the foreign language] is second nature when [the listener] is not of those few . . . is inconsiderate and rude.

H.W. Fowler, laying the posthumous literary slap down.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

First Amendment Fetish

I>The New York Times reports on today's Philadelphia court hearing on whether a federal law requiring public libraries to filter internet content accessed through their computers is constitutional. Here are some of the objections put forward by the coalition against the law, which includes the ACLU and the American Library Association:

1. The law "pre-empts community control over libraries and the judgment of local librarians."
2. The filtering software sometimes lets "objectionable material through" while blocking "constitutionally protected sites."

It's remarkable, isn't it, that the ACLU, an organization that trumpets the "right" of Nazis to march through primarily Jewish communities, should suddenly get the community control gospel. The very existence of the ACLU is predicated on pre-empting community control in order to advance selective post-modern readings of the Bill of Rights. But nobody every accused the ACLU of intellectual honesty. (For a refresher on this, recall the Southern California ACLU's sudden amnesia on double jeopardy when its beneficiaries would have been police officers rather than rape suspects.)

As for the judgment of local librarians, do you really want people who stock Robert Ludlum novels to be the arbiters of quality? I recall a conversation I got involved in that included the director of a public library in a small Michigan town. He was bragging about the controversy he had inspired by stocking the shelves with Madonna's newly released Sex. I tried to engage him in a discussion about the merits of choosing that book over classics that were absent from his shelves, including Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, Gibbon's The Rise and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire, and virtually all of Tom Wolfe's books. He couldn't get off the fact that he had been interviewed on the local news channel.

Regarding the objection that the software blocks "constitutionally protected sites," it's hard to imagine more convoluted reasoning. Somehow the right to speak freely has become the right to have someone else pay for my viewing interests. One can certainly make a case for public financing of internet access (a bad case, mind you), but this would rightly be a matter of public debate, which is precisely what the left doesn't want. By noting ominously that the filtering software can block "constitutionally protected sites," they want to shift the debate out of the public arena, where they are likely to lose, and into the judicial arena. I'm all for free speech; I just don't want to pick up the tab, especially when the leech on my wallet has nursed some ACLU-inspired fantasy that I am morally obligated to pay for his porn.

This entire episode really is about a fetish -- the obsession of the left with interpreting the First Amendment in increasingly wide circles until it overruns every other right, including my right not to have my pocket picked every time some pedophile loses his high-speed cable access. I'm reminded of the old saw: if liberals interpreted the Second Amendment the way they interpret the First, we'd all be required by law to carry machine guns.

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Thursday, March 21, 2002

Hip Hop Wisdom

Students at a handful of U.S. universities have established chapters of something called the "Hip Hop Congress". The Congressional Hipsters proclaim on their website: "We are a new generation of people rising in the world. We are strong people with powerful ideas. The Hip Hop Congress gives you a place to do something with your ideas." (Note: If you visit their website, be sure to check out the "Prophets and Revolutionaries" section, where you can read all about Nostradamus and Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid.")

Just for kicks, let's look at some of the "powerful ideas" floating around the Hip Hop Congress:

"Across our nation and our world there are various levels of inequality. The reason that these inequalities continue to exist is because not enough people stand up against it."

So that's why the Third World is impoverished. It's not because totalitarian dictators wage wars that devastate agriculture and markets. No, the problem is that not enough of us have exclaimed: "BOO POVERTY!"

"We believe that you will find that people everywhere want the same thing, to be treated with love, to be treated with respect, and to be given the courtesy to choose for themselves."

That's right, those Palestinian suicide bombers really just want some love, their props, and the universal franchise.

"Through our passage we will find aspects of life that neglect these simple desires. It is our responsibility to change these aspects. The Hip Hop Congress will be a vehicle for instituting that change."

Translation: my college career is ending, and the parents are expecting me to get a job. The Hip Hop Congress will be a vehicle for me to avoid the consequences of my useless Sociology degree indefinitely.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Monday, March 18, 2002

Le Ouch

Great quote from the March 11th National Review in reference to the recent tepid reactions of many French elites to anti-semitism in their own ranks: "From Dreyfus to the Holocaust and beyond, how to account for the willing blindness of France's chattering classes to one of the most obvious of history's lessons? Did they not pay attention during the 20th century, or were they just too busy surrendering?"

Not as biting as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," but scathing nonetheless.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Reuters "News"

We all know how to indicate that something isn't quite legitimate by putting quotation marks around it, as I've done in the title to this piece. Now check out yesterday's headline from Reuters News on the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, which forbids abortionists from murdering a child who survives an abortion (yes, Virginia, this happens, and the standard practice is to either kill the child or let him lie exposed until he dies):

--- Bill Passed Giving Rights to Infants "Born Alive" ---

In other words, according to Reuters, children born prematurely or through an attempted abortion who emerge breathing and grasping with their fingers are only "alive" according to some legal fiction. It might be closer to the truth to say that the "journalist" who wrote this piece, Julie Rovner, is "objective" only according to Reuters' increasingly questionable "standards."

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Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Superman's Super Bad Reasoning

Paralyzed former actor Christopher Reeve testified before Congress yesterday in favor of stem cell research. He believes that this may one day help him and others like him. A quote from his testimony: "Our government is supposed to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people."

Today Charles Colson calls attention to a letter in The Washington Times that reveals the bankruptcy of Reeve's reasoning. The writer observes in a kind and roundabout way what I'll state more directly: if we lived in Reeve's world, we would unplug his respirator. It is only because we live in a culture that values individual life that people like him are cared for, rather than cast aside.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Doomsday Nonsense

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists maintains a "Doomsday Clock" to reflect their uninformed assessment of how close the world is to nuclear war. They started this gimmick in 1947, and over time it became one more tool with which the anti-anti-communist left bludgeoned Ronald Reagan. Yesterday the BAS announced that it was adjusting the clock from nine to seven minutes til midnight (with midnight representing nuclear holocaust, radiation cancer, the defunding of PBS, etc.).

I remember seeing a BAS spokesman on CNN in November; he explained that the clock "measures" (a direct quote -- I wrote it down at the time, I was so incredulous) how close we are to nuclear holocaust. The only thing this clock "measures," of course, is whether a Republican president is conducting foreign policy in a manner that upsets the left-wing BAS Board of Directors.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Friday, February 22, 2002

Bad Driving

A question from a loyal reader:

Should car dealers sell cars or price them based on a driver's history of drinking and driving?

Curious Carpooler

Dear Curious,

That's an interesting question. There is little room for should in the marketplace, of course, because should implies a commonly held belief or ethos, and the market exists precisely because people with differing subjective values see gains from swapping things. Yet I wonder if such a car dealer would be rewarded enough by non-drunk customers to make up for the loss of business from drunks. The latter, of course, would appear to go through more cars on average than your typical teetotaler.

Your question, by the way, reminds me of something I've long thought would be a good idea: a law (at the local level -- I may not be a good libertarian, but I am a federalist) that limits the weight of the vehicle one is allowed to drive based on one's age, IQ, and driving record. There is nothing more chilling to a driver than to spy in one's rear view mirror a mouth-breathing teenage boy attempting to control his two-ton suburban on oversized wheels. Under my rules, if he's as stupid as he looks, he's limited to a Daihatsu. One traffic ticket and he's busted down to a Schwinn.

On a related note, I recently had a conversation with a woman whose son is just now able to drive unsupervised. She's not sure what she'll get him to drive, but she assured me that it will be "really big, so he'll be safe." Her worry, you see, is that being young and impetuous, junior may have an accident. So she wants to wrap him in a ton of steel before unleashing him on the same streets my wife and children traverse. I called her an ignorant twit, and said I'd rather she bury her idiot child's remains in a bucket than increase the risk to my family because she hasn't raised him to be a safe driver.

Actually I just nodded and went "hmm," but I think she got my point.

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Thursday, February 14, 2002

Lawyers Versus America

The American Bar Association has announced that al Qaeda terrorists should be afforded the same rights as America citizens. In other words, the people who want to cut your throat and drape a burkha over the Statue of Liberty (I'm talking about the terrorists here, not the lawyers), according to the ABA, deserve the protections of the Constitution they want to burn. The Wall Street Journal, by the way, smacks the ABA around pretty good for this one.

Lawyers. Can't live with 'em, can't legally shoot them all and dump their bodies in a landfill.

Not without a Constitutional amendment, anyway. And those are hard to get.

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