Mom and Inequality

Sunday is Mother’s Day, a yearly chance to reflect on all the bedtime stories dear old Mom told and all the other loving things she did to create America’s appalling levels of income inequality. That’s the view of one British academic, at least, and it seems the illogical conclusion of the entire egalitarian left’s line of reasoning.
The British academic is Adam Swift, a professor of politics and international studies at England’s University of Warwick, who told an Australian radio interviewer that “The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is greater than the difference between those who get private schooling and those who don’t.” The good professor doesn’t therefore condemn bedtime stories, which he acknowledges are useful in developing family bonds that he considers socially beneficial, but he adds that “I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.” He’s more adamant about banning private schooling, which he does not find useful in fostering those family bonds that he generously finds some social benefit to having, and we infer that he would also ban anything else a loving mother might do to give her child an advantage in life which does not serve some broader public utility that he can readily identify.
Something about the professor’s last name and logic reminded us of Jonathan Swift’s famous essay on “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick,” in which he jocularly advocated that the impoverished Irish of the early 1700’s sell their children as food, but apparently the more recent Swift intended his remarks in earnest rather than as satire. We’ve confirmed this from several seemingly reliable sources, including a unsettlingly sympathetic account of the interview on the “Philosopher’s Zone” of the Australian Broadcast Company’s web site, and find it all too believable that Swift should hold such outrageous views. The part about banning or stigmatizing private education is by now a common refrain on the American left, which regards even such half-assed educational reforms as charter schools  as racist, and of course they’re downright apoplectic about those loving mothers who are providing first-rate educations to their children at home, where they’re getting God only knows what sort of idiosyncratic and officially unapproved ideas in the poor little dear’s heads, of course the left is equally adamant that inheritance taxes should prevent a mother from passing along any money or other property to a child or a grandchild, and a similar worry that any one child might turn out to be better or in any other respect different from another child seems to inform a whole host of other issues.
Swift and his fellow egalitarians are obviously quite right that not all mothers are created equal and their disparate motherhoods create unequal life chances for their offspring. Our own mother was a most excellent bedtime story-reader, and made sure that a memorization of the alphabet and a recognition of its symbols and an extensive vocabulary accompanied us to our very first day of school, and sent us off to school on time each day in clean clothes with a bellyful of healthful food, and took us to symphony concerts and art museums and historical sites, and inculcated a love of reading and learning ,and gave us a few necessary swats on the head whenever we’d improperly conjugate a verb, and she shared with us a sense of right and wrong grounded in the ancient faith of our ancestors, and although it hasn’t resulted in any noticeable income equality that we can brag about, which it probably would have if we’d more diligently followed her advice, we cannot deny that it has significantly increased our life chances in other important ways. We still have the love of reading and learning about music and art and history, the faith of our ancestors grows more important to us with each passing day, we’ve written a couple of novels, and we don’t say anything about how  we seen something, as so many people do around here, so we frankly if snobbishly assess that in many ways we are a lot better off than many other mothers’ kids as a result.
We hope that Mom doesn’t feel the least bit guilty about it, though, and we want her to know that we don’t hold her at all responsible for how some of the dullards that we sat with in public school turned out.. Knowing her to be an old-fashioned Okie rather than an up-to-date British academic, however, we trust she has already come to the common sense conclusion that the problem driving all that inequality is not the mothers who read bedtime stories to their children but the ones who don’t. In some elastic senses of the term “equality” can be an admirable goal, we suppose, no matter how unrealistic it might be by any definition, but it’s a most dangerously anti-liberty concept when it means dragging down the best rather than lifting up the worst. Nor can we see how the illogical conclusion of liberal egalitarianism serves any public good.
We’re friends with a fine young sixth-grader whose mother and father are sacrificing to send him to one of those private schools, despite the lack of any apparent racism or class antagonisms on their part, and he was read bedtime stories to boot, and he’s coming along so well that we now expect him to come up with some idiosyncratic and officially unapproved idea that will someday be of great benefit even to the public-schooled dullards with the unlettered mothers. We’d like that that our own idiosyncratic and officially unapproved ideas, so carefully typed out according to the standard English that our mother would smack us for violating, might yet also provide some social benefit that a British academic can’t readily identify. We’d like to think that all the mothers who have read to their children at bedtime and provided any other advantage they could to improve a young  life’s chances have made the world a far better place.
We’d also like to wish our Mom, and all those other mothers who read bedtime stories to their children, a most happy Mother’s Day.

— Bud Norman

Don’t Know Much About History

The most unsurprising news of the day was a report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that America’s schools are doing a poor job of teaching history and civics. They’ve quantified the problem with some truly appalling numbers on the students who are even considered proficient in these subjects by today’s lax standards, and we thank them for the service, but they’re not telling us anything we haven’t already noticed from our daily encounters with our fellow citizens.
Most Americans rarely talk about the issues of the day, in our experience, but when the talk does stray beyond sports and gossip and other reality shows we are routinely struck by how very impassioned the opinions are, how little information seems to be backing them up, and how quickly even the most adamantly opinionated will retreat from the basic sorts of questions that a well-educated citizen would ask before reaching even tentative conclusions. Here in Kansas you’ll a lot of grousing about the state budget these days, for instance, but we’ve yet to hear any of it from someone who can make a remotely close guess about how much is being spent or where it’s going or how it compares to other states, and they seem strangely proud of their ignorance about the economic arguments advanced by their opponents, or about economics at all. When the conversation occasionally veers into some historical perspective, we are invariably flabbergasted to find how very little people about even the recent past, and how much of what they think they know is provably wrong.
We’d like to attribute this to our unfortunate luck in our conversational encounters, but we find the same lack of information understanding throughout the broader public debate. Journalists report that a massive influx of unskilled labor won’t depress wages for unskilled laborers, as if the law of supply and demand has somehow been repealed, the president can’t reproach Christians for the Crusades, as if they hadn’t been preceded by hundreds of years of steadily enriching Islamic imperialism, academics ascribe to the conventional wisdom that the financial crisis of ’08 was caused by deregulation and the financial industry’s greed, as if regulations hadn’t required banks to make risky loans that an enlightened self-interest would have otherwise declined, and almost everyone seems willing to ascribe the most dastardly motives for anyone who disagrees with those conclusions they’ve reached without any information. It’s a sorry state of discourse in America, which likely has much to do with the sorry state of affairs.
The narcissism of the the age is probably partly responsible, as so many of the people we talk seem to have acquired such healthy self-esteem from their public schooling that they have little use for anything that happened before their blessed arrival or might happen after their tragic departure, but we mostly blame the schools. According to a woman at the National Center for Policy Analysis “the curriculum rarely engages students,” which seems obvious, but she cites a study by the University of Central Florida which found “74 percent of middle school students report that they dislike social studies class due to the emphasis on reading from the textbook, rote-memorization, and note-taking,” which is not so convincing. We wouldn’t expect a bunch of ill-educated and snot-nosed middle school students to understand that reading from textbooks and committing essential facts to memory and taking notes are all unavoidable tasks when acquiring an education, although we had hoped that people working for places with highfalutin names like the National Center for Policy Analysis and the University of Central Florida would know that, but we can hardly blame the youngsters for thinking that what’s in their textbooks and the facts they’re expected to memorize and the notes they taking down from the current generation of civics and history teachers are not worth the effort.
So far as we can glean from the tirades about social justice that we overhear in the local hipster dives and the jokes on the Daily Show and the lines on the president’s teleprompter, what history is being taught in the schools these days is a relentlessly depressing tale of oppression and exploitation and environmental rapine by some nebulous white capitalist Christian patriarchal power structure. We’re all for a warts-and-all telling of America’s and western civilization’s history, but this warts-only approach is conspicuously lacking in the sort of heroism that made us want to read on and remember the main points and take notes, and even an ill-educated and snot-nosed middle school student will intuitively understand that it does little to explain the world of opportunities that they’ll eventually inhabit, and even those inclined to believe in their eternal status as victims of cruel world they never made will note that this version of history offers them no viable solutions. The civics classes similarly dispiriting, and so lacking in the vigorous competition of our society’s great ideas that those who graduate on to college are given “trigger warnings” about the potentially upsetting notions that once fueled the great advances of America and the West and offered “safe spaces” full of stuffed dolls and puppy videos to escape from the trauma of confronting a truly diverse and complex world.
The woman at the National Center for Policy Analysis recommends getting more students involved in competitive debate, and at an earlier age, and that helpful suggestion is admirably backed by the group’s financial support for such programs, but even that once-stubborn redoubt of genuinely rigorous education has lately succumbed to all that race-class-gender nonsense. Our only advice is to get more children into private schools like the one a young friend of ours attends, where they teach hard math, and classical history with the warts as well as the parts about freedom and the rule of law and the accumulation of knowledge, and how to think through a problem by beginning with all the relevant knowable information, and plenty of reading from textbooks and memorizing key facts and taking notes and all the rest of those unavoidable tasks of acquiring an education. They’re telling an engaging story at that school, and our young friend seems to think it’s well worth the effort to learn it, and we can’t see why that sort of thing wouldn’t work at any other school.

— Bud Norman

Free Trade and the Devil in the Details

Rarely do we find ourselves in agreement with President Barack Obama, but the finite range of political options and the law of averages and that old saw about even a stopped clock being right twice a day have led us agree with him on the need for a free trade pact with Asia. We agree with the basic idea of free trade with Asia, at least, although we’d very much like to know what devilish details might be in the pact he intends to negotiate.
The administration has been suspiciously tight-lipped about those details, to the point that even such administration-friendly media as Politico are reporting that even the most administration-friendly Democrats in Congress are complaining about it. So far as we can tell the administration’s explanation is “trust us,” which of course we don’t, especially after the gymnastic capitulations in its negotiations with Iran, not to mention every other foreign policy move the administration has made, and we are heartened to see that this time around a solid majority of the congressional Democrats are also suspicious. A solid majority of the congressional Democrats is predisposed to oppose any sort of free trade, a result of the party’s fealty to protectionist labor unions and those black-masked and brick-hurtling anti-globalist types who are somehow impeccably multi-cultural and cosmopolitan, and they have plausible arguments about a lack of pressure on China’s currency manipulation, even if it’s made slightly less plausible about all the money-printing the Fed has done to keep Obama’s economy above water, but it’s still good to hear them adding the administration’s characteristic lack of transparency and trustworthiness to their gripes.
A solid majority of the congressional Republicans seem willing to go along with it, which we hope has more to do with a sensible predisposition to support free trade than any newfound trust in the administration’s competence in negotiating such matters, so if the whole deal falls through, as it very well might, at least Obama won’t have his usual scapegoats. Some Republicans are also reluctant about approving Obama’s “fast track” authority to negotiate a deal, which we hope has more to do with their doubts about his negotiating skills than any aversion to free trade, but if there’s no deal it’s because of Obama and those darned Democrats that he couldn’t get to trust him.
A stopped clock is only right twice a day, and the law of averages dictates that the Obama administration is right far less often than that, so it’s a shame if one of our rare agreements should come to naught. A certain paranoia born of previous experience makes us wonder why Obama has settled on such a sensible policy as free trade with Asia, though, and we suspect that some sense of colonialist guilt isn’t why, even if none of the nations involved have ever been American colonies, and that it might all be some sort of multi-billion dollar reparations scam, so maybe we don’t agree with the administration after all. Perhaps a free trade act with Asia is a good idea whose time won’t yet come for another 18 months or so, or until however it long it takes to administration that can be trusted to negotiate a deal in America’s interests. As of now a solid majority of Democrats don’t seem to trust this administration, and although they’ll be predisposed to oppose free trade and distrust any Republican on the matter, but perhaps in another 18 months or so there won’t be enough of them the block a better deal.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech, Islam, Texas, and the Rules of the Debate

Free speech won a rare victory the past weekend down in the “Don’t Mess With” state of Texas, where a couple of would-be jihadists were fatally thwarted in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot up an exhibition of historical and recent visual depictions of Mohammad. Many of the media lamented this, of course, and seemed to be more upset with the Mohammad depicters than with the would-be jihadists who attempted to slaughter them.
This still strikes us a strange way of looking such things, although it is by now all too familiar. At least since Salman Rushdie earned a fatwa with a satirical novel way back in the ’80s, when the word “fatwa” still required quotation marks and some explanation, the script has been pretty much the same. The respectable voices mouth the usual platitudes about their support for free speech, along with the obligatory tsk-tsking about resorts to violence and all that nastiness, and some nostrums about facilitating conversation, then insist that certain free speech is responsible for provoking violence and all that nastiness by provoking a conversation that they’d rather not have after all. The most recent example, and a perfectly explanatory one, is Cable News Network’s Alyson Camerota interviewing Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Initiative, which organized the targeted exhibition.
Camerota generously concedes that “I haven’t heard anyone saying that it’s OK for armed gunmen to show up at an event like this,” but quickly adds that “what people are saying is that there’s always this fine line, you know, between freedom of speech and being intentionally incendiary and provocative.” Geller is up to the game, woefully repeating the “intentionally incendiary and provocative” phrase as the current low standard of acceptable speech, shrewdly noting the conspicuous lack of armed response to such incendiary provocations of Christian sensibilities as Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ” and other artworks that CNN didn’t seem to mind, and then rightly insisting on the same standards of tolerance for unpopular speech that once prevailed among the left. Then Camerato looks as if she’s playing a trump card by quoting Dutch politician Geert Wilders at the same free speech conference, where he alleged that “Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one, and I can give you a million reasons why.”
Such frankness has had Wilders barred from Great Britain and other nations, and some Democrats including the only Muslim member of Congress even tried to have him barred from speaking it in this country, and even in his own country he endured a farce of a “hate speech” trial and had his pluarility-holding political party harassed for similar heresies, and he remains a persona non gratis among the elite American media, so Camerato seemed quite confident that whatever’s left of her viewing audience would share her indignation. Geller immediately defended him, though, and not just on the left’s usual insincere grounds of defending incorrect speech. With remarkable spunk, she held out that Wilders was right.
Camerato can be seen sputtering in response to such outrageousness, and we suspect it’s because she can’t really disagree. Camerato is uncovered by a scarf or veil and dressed in something far more fashionable than a burqa, and her very female appearance on a television network also suggests she does not subscribe to the strict interpretation of Islam of those poor oppressed would-be mass murderers who were so cruelly provoked by the incendiary cartoons on display in a Dallas suburb, and surely somewhere in her addled brain is a faint realization that only the thoroughly secularized society that has resulted from the past 2000 years of Judeo-Christian civilization would afford her the opportunity to harangue a non-Muslim free speech advocate such as Geller, so she can’t quite muster a convincing defense for the idea that it’s rude to say anything critical about Islam.
Try to imagine the likes of Camerato similarly haranguing an Islamist about his insistence on the superiority of Islamic culture, or merely  tsk-tsking a would-be jihadist about his openly stated intention to kill anyone who dissents from a similar interpretation of the Koran, and even the most vivid imagination will surely fail in the attempt. Thus the parameters of the debate have been set: To assert the superiority of western civilization is Islamophobic and ethnocentric and all sorts of nastiness worse than any violence a semi-automatic rifle-bearing Islamist might inflict, assertions of Islamic superiority are to be quietly respected with all the latest multi-cultural pieties, and anyone who dissents from these rules is just asking for it. We can’t see how western civilization will fare well under these rules, which is disturbing, as we prefer even the thoroughly secularized society that has resulted from the past 2000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition, and we like the Second Amendment and the “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude that won a rare victory for free speech this past weekend, but we’re reassured that Camerato probably has some clause in her contract that will allow her to continue in her well-compensated job in the case that the would-be jihadists finally prevail.

— Bud Norman

The Hipsters are a Riot

The civil disturbance that occurred in Seattle over the past weekend has been described as a “hipster riot,” and the term seems delightfully apt. We’re kicking ourselves for not having secured the domain rights to hipsterriot.com, because it might just be the next big trend.
What happened in Seattle didn’t get nearly the attention paid to the riots in Baltimore, and some will suggest this is because the racist media prefer to publicize the violent rampages of oppressed black youths rather than admit that relatively pampered white youths are capable of the same sort of misbehavior, but our long experience of white guilt-ridden reporters suggests otherwise. Baltimore was more likely a bigger deal because the destruction was greater, with the Seattle rioters barely managing 16 arrests and three wounded police officers and a few burned-out automobiles and smashed storefronts before a rather robust show of law enforcement put an end to it, and such low-level rioting has been such a routine occurrence in Seattle since the big riot outside the World Trade Organization meeting back in ’99 that the city might as well mention it in the Chamber of Commerce brochures as proof of it’s cutting-edge hipster appeal. Still, we suspect it’s mainly because the white guilt-ridden reporters would rather make excuses for oppressed black youths with some plausible complaints about their police department run by their notoriously corrupt city than try to explain a relatively pampered bunch of white boys acting up on behalf of more government and calling themselves “anarchists.” This probably also explains the disproportionate attention paid to the two the riots by the president and other politicians, all of whom seem to have lost their knack for spotting the next big trend.
While a whopping 96 percent of Americans are bracing themselves for yet another long, hot summer of race rioting, we’re also anticipating an accompanying trend of hipster rioting. There’s a seemingly endless supply of hipsters these days, after all, even here in Wichita. We can remember a time in the late ’70s when the entire local hipster community could easily fit into The Cedar Lounge for an Embarrassment-Inevitable double-bill and barely violate the fire code, but these days there’s enough of them to sustain a dozen coffee shops spread clear from the far-east side to the far-west side as well as another dozen or so bars where there are more “alternative” bands playing than there the sorts of bands that they’re an alternative to, and judging by all the similarly unpressed and hirsute actors in the television commercials they’re apparently a major market across the country. Persuading them to riot shouldn’t be any harder than persuading them to get tattooed or grow lumberjack beards or buy all those electronic gizmos that so engross them in the local hipster establishments.
Rioting is the latest black youth craze, for one thing, and the hipsters have been following the lead of the ghettos at least since Norman Mailer was writing “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” way back in the ’50s. The hipster rioters in Seattle added the black rioters’ complaints about the police to their own catalogue of complaints, and they have plenty more of their own. The young hipsters bear a large share of the nation’s one trillion dollar student loan debt, and will eventually be asked to chip on the federal government’s $17 trillion of debt, and it’s not as if the robust 0.2 percent growth rate in the Gross Domestic Product is going to provide the kinds of lucrative jobs that will help pay for it all, and the inevitable defense cuts will only encourage the Islamic radicals who don’t seem to cotton to even the hipsters with beards, and sooner or later even the most up-to-date hipsters will find themselves offending somebody with an organized grievance group, but of course none of that will be the reasons for the rioting. Instead they’ll find some corporation doing something they don’t like, or some church holding to it’s long-held notions about sexual morality, or some job-creating free trade agreement that’s still in effect, or they’ll notice that some highly productive square is getting paid more than they are, or some other last vestige of the old capitalist economic system, and they’ll riot for some big-government solution in the name of “anarchy.” It makes no more sense than their young black counterparts burning down their own neighborhoods demanding more of the same old big government solutions that made those areas so flammable, but riots needn’t make sense.
Perhaps some sense will eventually be imposed on the hipsters, as it has been on the owner of San Francisco comic book store who proudly supported the city’s generous increase in the minimum wage until it had passed and he realized that he would need to come up with an additional $80,000 in revenue keep his business afloat. The picture of his staff that appeared in The National Review’s rather hilarious account of his travails shows a stereotypically hip group of soon-to-be-unemployed youngsters standing around their obligatorily bearded boss, and although they look to be nice enough people we can’t help but think they’ve got it coming. Their city prides itself on its progressive and tolerant and hipper-than-thou attitudes, and is one of the most racially segregated and economically exclusive and intellectually rigid and easily ridiculed places in the country as a result, and we can’t help think it has a few riots coming as well.
If the hipsters were the ruggedly individualistic non-conformists they claim to be they’d be demanding less government, a less rigid enforcement of the latest social strictures, and they’d probably stop to wonder why they’re all getting tattooed and growing lumberjack beards buying the latest electronic gizmos. They probably wouldn’t be rioting, either, and if they were they’d be able to provide some more cogent explanation for it. We recall Marlon Brando’s leather-jacketed biker thug in “The Wild Ones” being asked what he was rebelling against, and mumbling “Whattaya got?” in response, and that made more sense and strikes us as far hipper than the big-government anarchy that those Seattle hipsters are going on about.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

There’s been a lot in the news lately, what with riots raging in Baltimore and Iranian warships seizing vessels ostensibly under the protection of the United States Navy in the Strait of Hormuz and whatever the latest Hillary Clinton scandal might be, but we’re still surprised how little attention is being paid to the ongoing lousiness of the American economy.
All the latest numbers were just awful, with an anemic 0.2 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product last quarter being the most glaringly awful, and yet only obsessive sorts such as ourselves who pay attention to these things would have noticed. The Washington Post had a refreshingly frank assessment of the numbers, as well as a piece about how the weather might be responsible, and all the business pages had some mention of it buried underneath the headlines about the riots and Bruce Jenner’s sex-change plans, but it didn’t get the kind of coverage that provokes water-cooler conversations at your average American place of work. We’re old enough to remember a time when a 0.2 percent quarterly growth rate in the GDP would have had the news anchors breaking into prime-time programming to advise their listeners to hide the children in the cellar, and the tsk-tsking from the respectable press would have been deafening, so the current insouciance seems quite striking.
Most of that hubbub occurred during the occasional economic lulls of Republican administrations, and we suppose the past seven years of more consistently sluggish growth have so inured the public to such data during a Democratic administration that it’s no longer newsworthy, but the economy still seems the sort of thing that people should be talking about. The White House is saying it’s a mere blip due to the unusually cold weather that prevailed in some parts of the country last winter, and as the great Iowahawk points out it is also claiming that last year was the warmest on record, and the dreadful export numbers can be blamed on the global economy, which we’re now proud to say we have little effect on, and there’s always the argument that Republican majorities in Congress aren’t coughing up enough “investment,” although the trillions of debt that have been accumulated in the past seven years don’t seem to have yielded much return, so perhaps the press has its reasons for downplaying the bad news.
Sometime between now and the next presidential election people are bound to notice the persist lousiness of the American economy, however, and we can easily imagine what reasons the press might have for ignoring it even then. There’s no case to be made that the Democratic prescription of high taxes to pay for more spending to enforce more regulations has resulted in the economic growth needed to pay for the billions of dollars of failed social programs that have already been spent in Baltimore or the billions more need for naval power in the Strait of Hormuz or the slightly less exorbitant cost of Hillary Clinton’s lifestyle of the rich and famous, and there’s probably an Obamacare angle on that Bruce Jenner sex-change thing, and at this point the Republicans’ tired but true plan of letting free markets be free and spending the increased revenues on imposing some order on the rest of the world might starting sounding plausible. As far as the respectable press will be concerned, better to focus on income inequality and the stubborn reluctance of some religious types to enthusiastically embrace sex-change operations.
The income inequality schtick might not work so well coming from a candidate who’s been racking up six-figure speaking fees and seven-figure book deals and building up a billion-plus campaign fund from all sorts of one-percenters here and abroad, and the whole party of transgendered libertinism schtick might yet be a few years aways from electoral fruition, so that’s all the more reason to maintain the current complacency about the lousiness of the economy. Sometime between now and the next presidential election it’s bound to come up at the water cooler of your average American workplace, though, and it will be fun to see the obligatory coverage.

— Bud Norman

A Coming Issue

The Supreme Court has been hearing oral arguments in the case of Obergefell v Hodges, better known as the “gay marriage” case, and one exchange between the government’s lawyers and two of the Justices is worth note.
Chief Justice John Roberts started it by asking if a religious school that had married housing would be required to accommodate same-sex couples, and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli answered that it would be a matter left to the states, and when pressed by Roberts about federal law Verilli said, “There is no federal law now generally banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that’s where those issues are going to have to be worked out.” Justice Samuel Alito later noted that Bob Jones University had lost its tax-exempt status as a result of its rules against inter-racial dating by students, and wondered if institutions with traditional notions of homosexuality would be similarly affected, to which Verrilli replied, “You know, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is going to be an issue.”
Sometimes the big stories sneak up on a country, but in this case we have been duly forewarned by a remarkably candid Solicitor General. Whether or not any institution of freely associated Americans can continue to hew to a traditional ideal of sexual morality without penalty is going to be an issue. Most churches hew to a traditional ideal of sexual morality, as do most synagogues, and even the more moderate mosques are downright strict about it, which will raise all sorts of interesting multi-cultural issues for the sorts of people who concern themselves with such things, and many of the unchurched and apolitical are also reluctant to embrace the newly fashionable attitudes, so we expect it’s going to be quite an issue. There’s already a broader of issue about religious freedom, which includes another case awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision about Obamacare’s requirement that nuns purchase contraceptive coverage as part of their health care plans, and the debate about whether businesses should be compelled to participate in same-sex marriages, and elite opinion’s general disdain for Judeo-Christian western civilization, and a Solicitor General has made clear that there’s more coming.

— Bud Norman

Ballad of a Switchblade Knife

Last Christmas we received the cherished gift of a switchblade knife. If a switchblade knife seems inappropriate to the spirit of the holiday you should know that it’s a family heirloom, handed down to us by our beloved pop along with an apocryphal story about how he wrested it from some trouble-making punk in an Oklahoma honky-tonk, and that it’s a strangely beautiful object even without the lore. A bone-handled and double-edged 50’s-era Ethan from Italy, where they know a thing or two about cutting people, it’s the same sort of knife that inspired Link Wray and his Ray Men’s “Switchblade” and was used in the murder in “Twelve Angry Men” and the fight scene in “Rebel Without a Cause” and the “cool, man, cool” dance numbers in “West Side Story.”
We also notice that our Christmas gift is probably not much different from the knife that seems to have started the chain of events that has resulted in the riots currently raging in Baltimore.
The rioting is ostensibly an expression of anger about the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries after being arrested by Baltimore police, which followed Gray fleeing from and being chased down and tackled by officers, and although it’s still frustratingly unclear from the news why the police approached Gray or why he chose to flee, or what happened while Gray was in custody, the official reports indicate that a switchblade knife was found on the suspect and no other reasons have yet been offered or any other charges alleged for his fatal encounter with law enforcement. All sorts of knives are strictly regulated in Maryland, a state that also prides itself on strict regulation of gun ownership, so it is at least plausible that all the burned-out businesses and cancelled ball games and violent assaults and other ugliness that have lately been visited upon Baltimore all began with a switchblade knife.
Such a breakdown of the civilized order of society raises all sorts of important questions, of course, and the conservative viewpoint will immediately wonder about the Democratic Party’s monopolistic control of both Maryland and Baltimore, the apparent gleefulness of the supposedly angry protestors as they avail themselves of the free stuff that rioting provides, the post-patriarchal subcultures that foster such seething anger and destructiveness, and the nihilistic disregard for consequences of the rioters’ apologists. Still, from the same conservative viewpoint one should see that at least some small part of the problem is too many laws, a complaint that conservatives regularly voice on other occasions that don’t involve possibly shady young black men dying while in police custody. Conservatives will quite rightly decry the draconian gun laws that impede the rights of Marylanders of all colors to defend themselves in the case of a breakdown of the civilized order, and we hope some questions about that will be put to former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley at some point in his expected presidential campaign, but that also obliges a conservative to wonder why even a possibly shady 25-year-old black man can’t carry a switchblade knife on the dangerous and Democrat-controlled streets of Baltimore.
Before there was Freddie Green there was Eric Garner, a black man who died after a headlock under a pile of New York City Police officers while being arrested for the crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes to passersby. There wasn’t as much as rioting as there has been in Baltimore, although two NYPD officers were gunned down in retaliation, the usual conservative critiques and liberal apologies were bandied about as required, and the absurd taxes that both New York state and city impose on tobacco to create such a petty black market remain in place. A grand jury declined to press charges against any of the officers involved, which struck even such white middle-aged middle-Americans as us as slightly odd, but we can’t claim to have heard all the evidence that was offered and are sympathetic to the argument that even the laws against government-created crimes need to enforced, but we can’t shake a conservative suspicion that too many well-intended laws might have had something do with it. One of the leading academic apologists for the criminal underclass argues that many young black men are precluded from gainful employment and law-abiding lives by the proliferating rules they are required to obey, and although the estimable Heather McDonald does her usual fine job of demolishing the thesis over at City Journal, and as much as we hate to credit a leading academic for anything, we think there might be something to it.
We’re white and middle aged and boringly dressed here in the middle of America, not at all the sorts that the cops are likely to profile, but we’re certain that if some rogue prosecutor in Wisconsin wants to punish us for our admittedly unfashionable political opinions he’ll probably find some obscure legal cause to do so. He won’t be able to get us for that family heirloom switchblade knife, as our state has repealed its ’50s-era ban on the things, which was widely decried by all the high-minded liberals around here, who are the same people who like to think themselves too smart to be swept up in the sorts of conservative hysterias about juvenile delinquency that popped up back in the ’50s, and it looks as if we won’t be patronizing the black markets for beer and cigarettes, as the religiously conservative but staunchly anti-government legislature here has apparently declined to back the governor’s “sin tax” proposals, but somewhere in the thousands of pages of regulations that are enacted each year the authorities could surely find something. If there’s a black market out there for those Thomas Edison light bulbs that we loved so much we’ll probably wind up purchasing a few, and we can’t promise that a sales tax will be properly paid, and we’d like to think that if we were a nun we’d be refusing to pay for the required contraceptive coverage on our government-approved health care plan, and these days there’s no telling what federal rule we might run afoul of next.
Our beloved pop was raised a country boy, and even after three college degrees and many years as a top executive in a Fortune 500 company and travel around the world he remains one to this day, and he long ago inculcated in us the habit of carrying around a Swiss Army knife, even if we never were so careful as he was about keeping the blades well-honed on a spit-speckled whet stone, and it served us well over the years when we needed tweezers to extract a thorn or tiny scissors for some tiny string or a corkscrew for a bottle of wine or an attached tiny screwdriver for repairing our spectacles, but even those small satisfactions have been surrendered to the modern age. Even such an innocuous tweezing and bottle-opening and string-cutting and spectacle-repairing instrument always got us dirty looks from the security guards at the government buildings we are too often required to to enter, there was a frightening freak-out about it one time when the local newspaper assigned us to cover an appearance by the Vice President of the United States here in town, and even white and middle-aged and boringly dressed sorts such as ourselves would just as soon tell any police officer who pulls us over for a failed tail light that we have no knives or other weapons, so we have long since lost this practical link to our prairie heritage. That leading academic apologist for the criminal underclass probably won’t find this so heart-wrenching as her tales of the crack-dealing victims of her new book, and it probably won’t force the Maryland legislature and the Baltimore City Council and the rest of the Democratic Party to reconsider their penchant for devising ever new rules and regulations that might bring a possibly shady young black man or seemingly respectable old white man into a potentially unpleasant contact with the police, even if such a reliably liberal publication as The Village Voice is finding more sympathetic black men harmed much worse for knives put to more useful purposes than ours, but we hope that our fellow conservatives will be more intellectually consistent in their opposition than The Village Voice and rest of liberalism to the over-regulation of an ever-expanding state.
At this point we haven’t the slightest idea what happened to Freddie Gray, or to what extent he was responsible for his demise, and we make no apologies for the rioters who claim to be looting on his behalf, and neither do we blame any boringly dressed white middle-aged conservatives in the middle of America or any other Republicans for what happens in such blood-red states as Maryland, but we’d hate to think that all the harm that has resulted from the riots started with a switchblade knife.

— Bud Norman

This Time in Baltimore

Monday’s baseball contest between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rioting, a rare occurrence in the history of the national pastime but what you might expect in post-racial America.
After more than seven years of hope and change the riots all follow a drearily familiar pattern. A young black man dies as a result of an encounter with the police, a mob gathers to demand its version of justice before any facts are known, people who should know better egg them on, and and it all ends badly for the poor black people who are left behind in the rubble. Only the location and details of the death seem to change. This time around it’s in Baltimore, where the rioting has spread right up against the fancy new Camden Yards ballpark, and the young black man died as a result of a spinal while in police custody, but none of that seems to matter.
The latest round of rioting started last summer in the previously unknown St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where the tale of a gentle black youth kneeling with his hands up pleading “don’t shoot” turned out to be a clear-cut case of an officer defending himself against a potentially deadly assault by a criminal but caused weeks of arson and mayhem, then moved to New York, where the death of a man non-violently resisting arrest for the very petty crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes as the result of a headlock and a pile of policeman was less clear-cut and resulted in the assassination of two police officers. There was next a shooting of a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, that was filmed by one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras and seems to warrant a murder charge against a police officer, but charges were quickly filed in that case and the victim’s family noisily insisted that all rabble-rousers leave their alone, and little trouble has resulted. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the death in Baltimore, but once again the people inclined to arson and looting and violent assaults on people who had nothing to with any of it and just to want to watch a ballgame won’t await the answers.
The apologists for such behavior will explain that the rioters don’t trust the legal system to provide justice, and are therefore somehow justified in their destruction of the property and violent assaults on the bodies of people who had nothing to do with the alleged crime, even if their notions of justice don’t jibe with the facts as they will eventually be proved, but times have changed since those same justifications for charred black neighborhoods were trotted out by the Kerner Commission back in ’60s. Baltimore’s mostly black police force reports to a black police chief who reports to a black mayor, who in turn is held accountable in regularly scheduled elections by a mostly black population, and should that fail there’s always recourse to a federal Justice Department run by a black Attorney General who reports to a black President of the United States, who now apparently believes he is unaccountable to anyone. While the riots held a ballpark full of fans captive over the weekend the president was about 40 miles of interstate away regaling the White House Correspondents Dinner audience with a comedy routine about his attitude toward governance rhymes with “bucket,” and using some Comedy Central comic as an “anger translator” to convey his righteously black indignation with his critics, and all that apologia about the inherently racist nature of America seemed wildly out of date.
Even if you believe that Republicans and other sorts of nefarious white people still run the country along traditionally racist lines, they have clearly had little influence on Baltimore over the past many decades. Baltimore is a Democrat city in a Democrat state, just 40 miles of interstate away from the Democratic White House, and if the Democrats’ divide-and-conquer strategy of electoral politics didn’t cause the riots in Baltimore there’s no denying that it didn’t prevent them.

— Bud Norman

What’s On All The Magazine Covers at the Check-Out Line

We have to admire Bruce Jenner’s courage. We don’t mean his publicly declared intention to undergo a sex change, which these days doesn’t entail any risk except fawning press coverage and a lucrative reality show deal, but rather his willingness to publicly state that he is a Republican and Christian, which does invite public public scorn and ridicule and economic consequences.
Jenner’s surgical transformation is big news, judging by all the celebrity magazine and gossip tabloids that adorn the checkout lines at our local supermarket, although we’re not sure why. Older readers with good memories for sports trivia will recall Jenner as the boyishly handsome and seemingly wholesome fellow who once won the Olympic decathlon and wound up on the Wheaties box, but that was way back when we were in high school, and we assumed he had long since faded into the obscurity that eventually awaits all but the most storied athletes of the professional ranks. Apparently he was living next door to some people called the Kardashians, whose lives are apparently broadcast on a television program that is apparently popular for some reason, and that and a 39-year-old Olympic medal are apparently enough to make his sexual identity issues a matter of national importance.
Once upon a less strange time we would have been quite content to regard it as a private matter what Jenner does with his impressively athletic body, but these days there are no private matters and some public opinion must be rendered about everything, so we find ourselves almost forced to give some consideration to such unsettling issues as that surgical genital mutilation Jenner intends to undergo, and to publicly admit our resulting uneasiness. We realize that bien pensant opinion expects us to celebrate Jenner’s choices, along with whatever other choices less celebrated individuals might make regarding their sexuality, but some hidebound Burkean aspect of our temperament can’t quite muster the requisite enthusiasm. At this point the sample of people who have undergone sex-change surgery is still smaller than any properly apolitical social scientist would draw any conclusions from, and it no doubt includes some who found that having their genitals surgically altered did not alleviate whatever happiness them to do such a thing, and almost certainly includes some who find themselves regretting the procedure, just as people often regret such far less drastic body mutilations as rhinoplasty and breast enhancements and tattoos, and we’ve not yet seen any convincing argument that surgically altering one’s genitals into an approximation of the opposite sex is ever a good idea. Social attitudes have previously been so negative toward the procedure that only the most determinedly “transgendered” have endured the stigma, so we expect there are some out there who are determinedly pleased with the decision, but one wonders what the numbers will be once those social strictures have been removed.
Nor do we believe that a sex-change operation actually changes a person from one sex to another, any more than having a prosthetic fin implanted on one’s back will make him a dolphin, but of course this runs up against considerable fashionable opinion from the cultural left about the liberating diversity of sexual identities, which are now seemingly more plentiful than the cable television channels on a premium package. All these expansive notions of human sexuality are new to us, so we can’t claim any definitive knowledge to disprove them, but they’re also relatively new to the rest of humankind, and we are unconvinced that anyone can definitively prove them. The old-fashioned dichotomy of male and female sexes is based on an easily observable biological fact, and has been recognized as such by every major religion of every successful society for the past many millennia of civilization, and informed their views on matters ranging from marriage to public accommodations to parental responsibility to the propagation of both the society and the species. All of which makes it unacceptable to the cultural left, of course, which hopes to replace such archaic biological facts with a brave new world of bacchanalian delights in exponentially increasing variations of sexual identity along with a rigid list of new regulations for every other aspect of your life. As imperfect as the past many millennia of human civilization have been, we have little confidence that this brave new world will fare any better. The cultural left might yet succeed in ridding humankind of religion, even if they’re likely to some more violent resistance in the Islamized portions the planets, which will create all sorts of multi-cultural dilemmas, but eventually biology will prevail.
Which makes it all the more imperative for the cultural left to assail the two sexes and the rest of that religious hoodoo, and all the more remarkable that Jenner would admit to an interviewer that he is not only a Christian and Republican but a Christian Republican. Bien pensant opinion regards Christianity and the GOP not only as the enemy of such such oppressed transferred souls as Jenner but anyone having fun outside a procreative marriage as evil, according to the cultural left, but worse is standing in the way of that rigid list of new regulations of every other aspect of your life. Lest one think we’re prone to straight white Christian male paranoia, we note that Catholic nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance, Christian businessmen are being denied the right to sell chicken sandwiches or work at the computer companies they helped found because of their religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage, and the woman widely presumed to the be the next President of the United States has declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed” to accommodate her views on abortion. The cultural left is more upset with Jenner for being a Republican than any Republicans are about him wanting to transition from a good-looking guy to a rather ugly woman, and the Republicans are certainly less likely to boycott the sponsors of any reality show that results from the whole affair, and eventually one has to ask which side is more intolerant.
Jenner can do as he pleases, as far as our hidebound Burkean selves are concerned, and we’re certainly not going to show up at the operating room in a suicide belt, and we wish him well and hope he’ll keep voting Republican, even if it does little good in California. We also hope that his Christian faith serves him long after his surgically-altered body has come to pass, but we would have preferred that he’d kept it a private matter. A certain public queasiness about this sort of thing is not inappropriate.

— Bud Norman

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,116 other followers