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Liberty, Equality, Fries

A hamburger, like any other work of art, is judged by a purely subjective standard. Every person has his own peculiar preferences for this venerable American delicacy, but to our tastes it is best with a thick slab of ground beef and a thin slice of tomato, some onion, a bit of lettuce, perhaps a dash of relish if we’re in a fanciful mood, and most importantly with no ketchup or mayonnaise but plenty of mustard. This is our standard order on the rare occasions we find ourselves in a drive-thru line, always enunciated so clearly it cannot be mistaken over the tinny sound system we are shouting into, and we invariably arrive home to discover that even such a simple recipe is beyond the capabilities of your average fast food worker.
The incompetence, surliness, and general zit-faced stupidity of the average fast food workers are so widely acknowledged as t have become a staple stereotype of the popular culture, yet now they find themselves the celebrated heroes at the vanguard of the labor movement. A protest took place Thursday with picket signs outside a thousand of the big-name fast food joints in 50 cities demanding the right to collective bargaining and a substantial raise for the employees within, and the organizers at the Service Employees International Union are hoping it will eventually lead to an increase in the minimum wage for all workers to $15 an hour, force more raises for those just above that level of remuneration, and reverse the declining fortunes of the labor unions with thousands of grateful new members and their dues. They might just pull it off, as crazier things have happened, but we suspect the chances are about as good as getting the right items and correct change at a drive-thru window.
Fast food workers aren’t the grimy-faced miners or rosy-cheeked sweat shop seamstresses who were once the public face of the union movement, and although their lot in life is unenviable it is hardly the stuff of a Woody Guthrie folk song. They are often teenagers working part time for illicit beers, switch blade knives, rock ‘n’ roll recordings, or whatever else the young folks are spending their disposable income on these days, and in many cases they are people looking to supplement Social Security checks or other sources of income. News reports indicate that the modern economy has increased the average fast food worker’s age by several years, and that many are struggling to support family on the industry’s admittedly meager wages, but in any case they are not the most inspiring exemplars of the American work ethic. Worse yet, from a public relations point of view, fast food is shunned as a culinary evil by the same bossy bleeding-hearts that can usually be counted on to sympathize with a labor strike.
Should the fast food labor uprising win all of its demands, the victory will likely prove hollow. Many fast-food franchises will be forced to raise prices to pay for the higher wages, and the resulting decline in business will result in fewer jobs, while others will simply purchase labor-saving machinery that is suddenly cost-effective and actually knows the difference between mayonnaise and mustard. The inflation that inevitably follows a country-wide pay hike would eat up much of the increased wages of those who do get a fast food job, and those who don’t are unlikely to find work elsewhere in an economy further hampered by yet another will-intentioned law. With teen unemployment at record levels, this is a particularly inopportune time to insist on such job-killing measures.
On occasion we will encounter a fast food worker who is competent, polite, and seemingly intelligent, and we happily assume he will soon be doing something bigger and better. Denying these young people the opportunity to demonstrate these qualities to potential employers in order to over-pay their indolent co-workers seems a shame, like a hamburger with ketchup or mayonnaise.

— Bud Norman

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Fifty Years After a Dream

Much has changed since Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, and the 50th anniversary observance held on Wednesday demonstrates how very much.
The original “March on Washington” drew an estimated million people to the city, with more than 100,000 of them packed into the National Mall to hear King and a distinguished roster of other speakers and performers, but despite the best efforts of the racial grievance industry only 20,000 or so showed up for a commemoration featuring the likes of the buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton and the crackpot socialist priest Rev. Michael Fleger, who bravely suggested that young black men refrain from shooting one another for a day. Such glaring disparities reflect the difference between 1963, when racism was widely accepted by American society, codified in its laws, and enforced with frequent brutality, and today.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that King’s dream of a country where men and women are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, even the most aggrieved speakers were forced to concede that things have gotten better. Indeed, even the injustices they cited with an old-fashioned fervor proved the point. In 1963 an exceptional young scholar named Medger Evers was assassinated for attempting to enroll in such an unexceptional institution as the University of Mississippi, and fifty years later the only civil rights “martyr” they could cite was Trayvon Martin, a young thug who was shot while slamming a neighborhood watch volunteer’s head against the pavement. In 1963 blacks were routinely denied the right to vote by a variety of rules enforced throughout the southern states, and fifty years later the oft-repeated complaint was that many states throughout the country now require the same sorts of photo identification that are needed to cash a check, buy a beer, or get into the Justice Department to see the black Attorney General. In 1963 a hard-working and underpaid black woman was barred entry to American many stores, and fifty years later the speakers included a billionaire television celebrity who has recently groused that a store clerk was suspiciously reluctant to show her a $38,000 handbag during her recent trip to Sweden.
Fifty years after King’s dream is arguably the best of times and the worst of times in black America, as the brightest and most industrious of race have availed themselves of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution to move into positions of power and affluent neighborhoods while leaving behind an underclass trapped in slums more brutal and dilapidated and hopeless than any of the segregated black s of the early ‘60s, but what’s left of the civil rights revolution is ill-positioned to comment on either. Any acknowledgement of the progress that has been made weakens the movement’s claim to victimhood, which is the source of its power, and any acknowledgement of the real problems that remain calls into question the most revered assumptions about the government’s role in setting things right.
President Barack Obama, a black man who has moved into the world’s most powerful position and most affluent neighborhood, cited the sobering statistics about black unemployment and family income as if he had been a hapless observer rather than the nation’s chief executive for the past five years. He didn’t mention the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites, or the former group’s much higher rate of illegitimacy, even though both are the reasons for the disparities in employment and income, but the peculiar politics of race make those topics unmentionable. Fixing the public school that has spectacularly failed black America would require confronting the teachers and embracing such radical notions as the voucher programs that Obama has dutifully opposed, decrying out-of-wedlock births would lead to charges of racial insensitivity and theocratic moralizing, either would entail a criticism of the hip-hop culture that has been such a stalwart Democratic Party constituency, and starting such a discussion might lead people to realize that government policies he has long championed are largely responsible for both problems.
The world will little note nor long remember anything that was said at Wednesday’s rally, a nostalgic celebration of a time when liberalism occupied the moral high ground and didn’t have to confront the complex problems of today, but at least King’s speech still resonates.

— Bud Norman

That Was Then, This Is Now

There’s no telling how the imminent American military action against Syria might affect the future, but even before the first cruise missile has been launched it has already altered the past.
Students of recent history will recall how the bloodthirsty cowboy crusader George W. Bush blundered into a catastrophe in Iraq by touting dubious intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction in defiance of the sage skepticism of United Nations inspectors and all of the deep thinkers on the left, then waging high-tech war against a dictatorship that posed no immediate threat to America’s national security without the approval of Congress or the UN’s Security Council or any countries of the Islamic world. Anyone familiar with conventional wisdom is also aware that the peace-loving and culturally-sensitive community organizer Barack Obama then won the presidency on promises to pursue a more placid foreign policy, won a Nobel Peace Prize for the accomplishment, and that all has been well in the world ever since.
This inspiring and seductively simple narrative now requires some revision.
Some of it was ahistorical all along, with one example being that Bush did win congressional approval for the war, and with a broad bi-partisan majority that included both of the people Obama would choose as his Secretaries of State at that, and a number of Arab countries were openly pleased to be rid of a troublesome neighbor and some even provided help, but pretty much all of the cherished history is called into question by the lead-up to the Syrian war.
There is compelling evidence of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, which is the stated reason for America’s intervention and arguably a worthy justification, but Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had also used them and there was also compelling reason to believe he had more, possibly even very the same ones that his Syrian Baathist allies are now using, but now we are told that UN weapons inspectors and other skeptics are not the all-knowing experts they once were. Approval from Congress and the UN and the Arab League and the likes of such liberals as Dennis Kucinich are apparently no longer needed to justify a war, as the Obama administration has not made so much as a token effort to acquire any of them as it prepares for war, and it turns out that sometimes even the most placid foreign policies apparently require military action.
Those with a stubborn fondness for the old history will insist that things are different this time around, and of course they have a point. They will correctly note that Obama will likely limit this action to a few a perfunctory missile-lobs and certainly will never commit ground troops vulnerable to the inevitable casualties, but that means he won’t be able to affect the aftermath and prevent the likely ascendancy of an terror-loving Islamist regime taking over, so the outcome probably won’t be noticeably better. This time the goal is to merely prevent further chemical attacks and not the messy business of regime change and installing a democratic and pro-western government, the administration’s spokesman assures us, but if the current Syrian regime is left in place it will be both strengthened and emboldened by surviving an assault by the American military. This time is for purely humanitarian reasons, and nothing so gauche as national interests, but such higher-minded reasons don’t necessarily ensure more favorable results.
The complexity of the problem and the reasonableness of the various points of views are well worth noting, which is change from the recent history. Back in the days of Bush it was so much simpler, as Obama and other liberals could easily assume that anything the president was wrong, but now we are expected to believe that anything the president does is right. Some people will go along it with, if recent history is a reliable guide, but the latest polling suggests there is already much skepticism about the wisdom of getting involved in Syria’s civil war. The public can also be wrong, and often is, but it usually waits until a few casualties make the headlines before turning against a war, so its early opposition to this effort bodes ill for the future. It might also suggest a change in the view of the past, but that remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Show-Biz Brouhaha

American warships are steaming toward another confrontation in the rapidly disintegrating Middle East, the economy continues to sputter along with millions of Americans out of work, further details of serious scandals undermining the public’s trust in the government are slowly seeping out, staggering amounts of national debt continue to accumulate, and yet all the talk around the nation’s water coolers and coffee machines is about the hootchy-kootchy dance some scantily-clad chanteuse performed on a cable television awards show.
We weren’t tuned in to Sunday night’s “MTV Video Music Awards” program, as we are grumpy old men who long ago cancelled our cable subscription and every other link to contemporary popular culture, but anyone who tries to keep abreast of the news couldn’t help but hear about it. Apparently some young woman named Miley Cyrus stripped to a flesh-colored bikini and writhed erotically against some young man named Robin Thicke, poking him suggestively with one of those oversized foam fingers seen at sporting events, while the two performed some song with suggestive lyrics that is apparently all the rage with the youngsters. It all sounds quite mundane by the prevailing standards of entertainment, and downright wholesome compared to the hard-core pornography that is just a few clicks away from this site on your internet machine, but for some reason it has provoked a widespread reaction. The Parents’ Television Council and the usual conservative party-poopers have predictably weighed in with their disapproval, but this time even the supposedly cutting-edge in celebrities in attendance at the show reportedly expressed shock and disgust. The famously dissolute Bill Maher went so far as to liken the performance to a strip club act, although it is not clear if the comedian and professional blasphemer meant that as a compliment or insult.
So far as we can tell much of the shock value comes from the contrast to Cyrus’ previously squeaky-clean public image. She once starred in a Disney-produced television show popular with the pre-teen set, and is the daughter of country and western performer Billy Ray Cyrus, who we remember as being briefly famous back in the ‘80s or ‘90s or one of those long-ago decades for his hilarious mullet hairdo and an annoyingly catchy line dance number called “Achy Breaky Heart.” Her duet partner reportedly has a famous father of his own, who once starred in one of those cloying sit-coms with cute kids, and the family histories made the decline of western civilization angle too hard to resist for most commentators. It’s as if Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s son had made scorching rock ‘n’ roll records with James Burton on the electric guitar, although that also happened and western civilization somehow survived.
As we much as we’d love to join in with all the tsk-tsking, being quite convinced that western civilization has been in decline pretty much ever since Ricky Nelson recorded the irresistibly rockin’ “Waitin’ In School,” the most outraged reaction we can muster is a yawn. At this point we have seen far worse than what Cyrus and Thicke had to offer, and much of it was far better. Eroticism and even lewdness have been essential components of popular entertainment since at least the days of ancient Greece and its bacchanalias, and have always played an illustrious role in America’s grittily democratic popular culture. Lest you think us prudes, our extensive collection of American vernacular music includes such favorites as an astoundingly foul-mouthed zydeco song by Boozoo Chavis called “Louisiana Women Love Uncle Bud,” a track by the great ‘50s doo-wop group The Clovers with a title too raunchy to repeat here, a classic slice of western swing by Smokey Woods and the Modern Mountaineers called “Everybody’s Truckin’” that repeatedly rhymes “truckin’” with a still-popular obscenity, and an especially saucy rendition of “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” from the ‘20s that would surely make even the immodest young Miley Cyrus blush to a shade far redder than her flesh-colored bikini. Throw in the more subtle double-entendres from any number of records made by Dinah Washington before her cross-over to respectable pop music, or the few secular records made by the great gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or the sly insinuation of the Light Crust Doughboys’ ‘30s western classic “Pussy, Pussy, Pussy,” and we’ve enjoyed a good many songs both raunchier and worthier than anything young Cyrus is likely to produce.
Those songs were sold behind the counter, though, and their illicit status was no small part of their appeal. Cyrus and Thicke are both second-generation show-biz legacies performing on the 30-year-old MTV awards shows, which is the modern equivalent of the “Ed Sullivan Show” as an imprimatur of official entertainment industry approval, and we must agree that it is a darned shame when such raunchiness is at the forefront of the popular culture rather than at its outlaw depths. The spectacle of Cyrus’ shimmying is as good an occasion as any for lamenting the decline of standards that infects our politics as well as our entertainments, but it’s also worth noting that our pop-cultural icons aren’t even very clever about in this dismal age. Perhaps the squares are getting harder to shock in our jaded era of presidential fellatio and “tweeted” underpants photographs, but Cyrus’ shenanigans just seem dull.
The great internet satirist Iowahawk is now “tweeting” rather than “blogging,” so he’s already beat us to the obvious observation that that Cyrus could have created a far greater controversy by donning a rubber mask resembling President Barack Obama and allowing a bull to chase her around an arena at the Missouri State Fair. When a rodeo clown recently did that he was banned from the fair, his accomplices were fired and forced to resign from their positions with a rodeo organization, and all future rodeo clowns at the fair were ordered to take “sensitivity training” to ensure that such outrages would never again stain the fair’s wholesome reputation. Being truly anti-establishment and transgressive these days seems to require being old-fashioned and traditional, and although that actually does involve courage and independence it’s not good for a career.

— Bud Norman

No Good Options

War drums are once again beating in the Middle East, this time with Syria as the potential battleground, and as usual it’s all a horrible mess with no happy outcomes seeming likely.
There’s always a chance the Obama administration will opt for a sternly worded speech or a scolding resolution by the United Nations or some similar dithering, which would be more in keeping with both its instincts and its campaign rhetoric, but at this point it appears likely they will soon begin air strikes against the dictator Bashir Assad’s forces as they fight various rebel groups in a bloody civil war. American and British warships are already heading to region, and the big media outlets that administration officials use to signal their intentions are quoting anonymous “senior officials” of the White House as saying they are pretty darned certain that Assad is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that killed recently killed hundreds of people. Such an attack crosses the “red line” which Obama famously declared would change his “calculus,” and although Assad has crossed the line several since then it would seem that Obama has at long last grown weary of the disrespect.
It is uncertain what can be gained by air strikes other than some proof that Obama will eventually get around to making good on his ill-advised threats. Anything American forces strike at can be quickly replaced by the Russians, who have remained Assad’s steadfast allies despite Obama’s best efforts to charm and appease them into submission, or the Iranians, who are making their characteristic threats of holy war as they continue to pursue the nuclear weapons that Obama has declared they will not be allowed to have. American military action could provoke Assad to use his chemical weapons with sufficient ruthlessness to win the war, rouse reluctant Syrians to the nationalist cause, and alienate potential allies reluctant to be seen as working with another crusader war against an Islamic country. Should Assad survive an American military intervention, his power and prestige, as well as Russia’s and Iran’s, will be greatly increased.
Should the American military effort succeed in forcing Assad out of power, there is no reason to believe that whoever takes over will be any friendlier to America. At this point the most effective rebel forces are severely Islamist, and in many cases associated with such avowed enemies of America as al-Qaeda, and of course none of them have any experience or expertise in running a country. Air strikes proved effective in removing the nasty Gadaffi dictatorship from Libya, but the aftermath of that success in Benghazi and elsewhere has not been beneficial to anyone. An occupying force in the aftermath of the air strikes might allow America to dictate a more positive outcome, but America no longer has any stomach for such adventures and it is impossible to imagine any line a foreign power might cross that would prompt Obama to take such an action.
Some smart people have reluctantly concluded that a prolonged and bloody stalemate would best serve American interests, with Russia and Iran and al-Qaeda and an increasingly troublesome Turkey all too busy slaughtering one another to pursue any mischief against the United States, but even if the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president were willing to accept the human costs of this strategy no American action would guarantee this result. Neither would American inaction, and in either case the Muslim would almost certainly revert to its habit of blaming America for the carnage. There was some hope back in ’08 that Obama would be able to solve these problems with some of his silver-tongued oratory and his Arabic nomenclature, but not even Obama seems to believe that now.
Even in the media most friendly to the administration there seems to be a growing consensus that better options were available back when the conflict started, but the Secretary of State back then was hailing Assad as a “reformer” and the president was still offering an “open hand” to Iran and seeking to “reset” relations with Russia instead of backing the moderate forces that were once in the game. This is purely speculative, if quite convincing, and offers little help in choosing the least worst of the options that are now available. All that hindsight can now reveal is that the choice is in the hands of people who don’t inspire confidence.

— Bud Norman

All the universities are back in session, which is mainly of interest because it signals that college football will soon resume, unless the liability lawyers get an injunction, but it also means the beginning of the presidential speech season. President Barack Obama has long preferred to address college audiences, which still regard him as a sort of rock star, and now he apparently wants to repay the affection by seizing control of the higher education system.
Speaking before a typically adoring crowd of empty-headed students at the University of Buffalo on Thursday, President Barack Obama outlined a proposal that he promises would lower costs, raise standards, and generally work the same wonders for college that Obamacare has brought to the health care system. The plan would have the federal government rate every college and university in the country according to such criteria as tuition, the number of low-income students enrolled, graduation rates, and average student debt load, then dole out federal aid accordingly. Although the typically adoring crowd of empty-headed students seemed to love the idea, their faculty and administrators were probably less pleased.
University faculty and administrators are ordinarily as enamored as their chargers of anything Obama has to say, but this plan is such a plainly bad idea that even the average intellectual won’t buy it. There are already a number of organizations that assess colleges and universities according to much the same criteria that Obama would use, most notably the U.S. News & World Report rankings that provoke howls of outrage from school administrators every year, and all of them are presumably less susceptible to political pressure, more experienced and expert in the pursuit, and nonetheless widely disputed. Any attempt to rate all the colleges in America will be pointlessly subjective, as the right school for one student will be the wrong school for another, and in any case that one student should be better able than the government to make the correct choice. If a student needs information to help decide, it can be easily found even by the average recent high school graduate.
Meting out the almighty federal dollars according to such rankings is an even worse idea. A certain percentage of low-income students are college material and would benefit from continuing their educations beyond high school, but even the government cannot state with any certainty what that number would be, and any attempt to impose an arbitrary quota will inevitably result in luring some students who would be better served by a technical education at a for-profit school, and perhaps at the cost of excluding some middle-income student who made better use of the seat. Other colleges might calculate that they can better improve their ranking by excluding lower-income students, even if they are among the ones who would have done well in school and benefited from the experience, in order to improve the average student debt load numbers. Some schools will try to improve graduation rates by taking fewer chances on students that might succeed, while many others will simply make it much easier for even the most dim-witted but federally-subsidized students to graduate.
Whatever incentives the plan might offer to induce colleges to lower their tuitions will certainly be overwhelmed by the money that would keep flowing in, which is the reason for the ridiculous rise in the cost of a college education in the first place. The cost of college has outraced the overall inflation for the past four decades, even as the value of most diplomas has declined. A degree in engineering or science or something that attests to a similarly marketable skill might still pay for itself over the years of a long career, but degrees in history and English and the like which once told an employer that the bearer had some minimal smarts no longer offer that assurance, and those who major in gender studies or conflict-resolution or such faddish disciplines will soon find that all the gender studying and conflict-resolving jobs have been shipped overseas so that some corporate fat cat can get a tax break. If the oil companies or Big Pharma had hiked their prices at the same rate while offering such diminished products they would be dragged before Senate subcommittees like Michael Corleone and burned in effigy at whatever’s left of the Occupy encampments, but university professors and administrators somehow remain a favored segment of the liberal coalition and should thus be offered federal money to offset whatever losses their price-cutting measures entail.
There’s also the nagging worry that colleges will feel coerced by those federal funds to offer a curriculum in keeping with the current administration’s ideological predilections. Anyone who would dismiss this concern as far-fetched should read up on the recent activities of the Internal Revenue Service, Justice Department, or National Security Agency, or even go back to the early days when the National Endowment for the Arts was rewarding artists according to their enthusiasm for the administration’s agenda, and it’s hard to think of any government in history that hasn’t coveted control of its universities. Most professors and university administrators are quite happy to go along with most of the Obama agenda no matter the financial rewards, of course, but there’s always the off-chance that another Republican might someday be elected president and in any case they have the natural human aversion to regulation. Professors and university administrators are quite fond of regulating everybody else, but subjecting them to the same treatment is rank anti-intellectualism.
Early reports indicate that House Republicans aren’t likely to let any of this happen, and it will be great to fun to watch all the academics siding with them for a change. They’ll no doubt be embarrassed by the company they’re forced to keep, and eager to be back on the other side, but they’ll do it for the sake of dear old ivy-covered U and their phony-baloney jobs.

— Bud Norman

A Murder in Oklahoma

A young man was senselessly shot and killed Tuesday in small town Oklahoma, and yet another racial controversy has followed.
The usual admonitions about the questionable reliability of early press reports and the presumption of innocence are hereby made, but the known facts of the case are sufficient to provoke an emotional debate. Christopher Lane, a handsome and by all accounts likeable 22-year-old who was attending Oklahoma’s East Central University on a baseball scholarship, was shot in the back while jogging in a well-to-do neighborhood of his girlfriend’s hometown of Duncan. A short time later three teenagers were arrested for the crime, and police say that one confessed they had committed the murder with the explanation that it was done “for fun” to relieve the boredom of their last days of summer vacation.
As horrific as the crime and its shocking motive might be, the story would probably have never been heard of outside south-central Oklahoma if not for the fact that Lane is from Melbourne, Australia, and the papers there regard such a murder as big news. The angle there is America’s murderous culture, of course, and the Australian media seem as eager as their American counterparts to exploit any story that will advance the cause of draconian gun control. America’s difficult race relations are apparently of less interest to the Australian media, but neither are they bound by the rules of racial etiquette that prevail in American newsrooms and the reports all included photographs revealing that Lane is white and two of his three alleged killers are black.
The race of the victim and his alleged killers might or might not have anything to do with the murder, but most American media are disinclined to report on any crime involving white victims and black perpetrators. Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report seems to relish such stories, however, and trumpeted his links to the Australian news reports with a banner headline. The Drudge Report has more readers than all the famous American newspapers put together, and is therefore hated by the mainstream American media with a especially intense passion, so its interest in Lane’s death has forced it into the national conversation. Such reliably liberal commentators as MSNBC’s Piers Morgan have quickly seized on the murderous culture and draconian gun control angle, while others have hewed to the usual rules and either left out the racial identifications or ignored the story altogether, but the more daringly conservative outlets have addressed the racial aspects of the story with a startling frankness.
This reaction was quite predictable in the wake of months of relentless coverage of the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting Tryon Martin in far away in Florida, which was widely portrayed in the media and by prominent politicians as a typical case of a racist white man gunning down an unarmed black teenager in murderous America with its insanely permissive gun laws. That trial ended with an acquittal after evidence clearly demonstrated Zimmerman, who is mostly Hispanic and a former Bema supporter, was being severely beaten by Martin, who turned out to be something less than the angelic child in the years-old photographs that routinely accompanied the stories, and since then press critics have been waiting for the chance to see how the press might cover a story with less promising racial implications. They might have expected that they would see the story of an law-abiding man being killed at random by people flouting the guns laws as further proof that more laws are needed for the law-abiding to abide by, just as they had seen the case of a law-abiding man protecting himself from a potentially deadly assault as proof that more guns laws are needed for the law-abiding to abide by, but Lane’s death still provides an irresistible opportunity to expose the hypocrisy.
Those critics have a point, given that black-on-white violence is eight times more common than white-on-black violence yet receives far less attention from the media, and in the case of Lane’s tragic death there are early indications that race might have played a deadly role. The first thing a reporter in the modern age does when reporting on a crime is to check the social media postings of the suspects, and in this case they reveal two young men steeped in the violent ghetto sub-culture with an unabashed hatred of white people. Both of the suspects had posted pictures of themselves in gang paraphernalia and flashing gang signs as well as various firearms, and one “tweeted” a claim that “90% of white people are nasty” and a boast that he had “knocced out 5 woods since Zimmerrman court!” For those unfamiliar with the latest slang, “knocced” is a spelling of “knocked” that employs a popular signature of the Crips street gang, and “woods” is an abbreviation of “peckerwoods,” a racial slur against white people. The reference to “Zimmerman court” should be self-explanatory.
Some good might come of this if the story forces a frank acknowledgement of the violent sub-culture that has affected far too many young black men and women, and mitigates some of the hysteria that shows up in the “tweets” of accused murderers in the wake of the relentless hyping of the Zimmerman trial. If the story reminds America that the last notable murder of an Australian occurred during the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, when the eminently respectable Rev. Al Sharpton whipped the mob into such a frenzy that Yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed by a man who would later be acquitted by a sympathetic jury, all the better. It will be of little comfort, however, to those who knew and loved Christopher Lane. Whatever the facts of his tragic death, we can only hope that there will be some measure of justice to comfort his loved ones.

— Bud Norman

A Rare Day Off

Tuesday was a day off from politics and economics and culture and all those dreary topics, as it was our birthday. Even the cute Obama puppy story couldn’t keep us from our recreation, so we have no profound pronouncements today.
Please check with us again tomorrow, as we will be back on the job and a full year older.

— Bud Norman

Back to School

All the fresh-faced youngsters in these parts are already back in class, judging by the emptiness of the parks and the flashing yellow lights that are once again slowing us to a 20-mile-per-hour crawl through the school zones, and we can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for the little bastards. Way back in our school days the glorious Huck Finn freedom of summer vacation lingered into the early days of September, and the thought of being stuck behind a cramped desk while the days are still long and hot and full of possibilities seems tantamount to child abuse.
A friend of ours shrugs off such complaints about the extended school year, saying that there’s more for the kids to know these days. He has a point, perhaps, but there has always been more to know than could be fit into any amount of schooling, and we’re not at all sure the kids will be learning any more of it in a classroom than they could on their own. Our summer vacations always proved more educational than our time in school. We were fortunate enough to have parents who provided plenty of books, museum visits, and permission to stay up all night for the invaluable history lessons on the late, late movies, but any kid with a yearning to learn won’t stop when the class bells rings and will likely begin to learn with even great enthusiasm after it does. When you take into account the desultory sorts of schools we attended, and what we can make of the schools the kids are trudging off to nowadays, those extra days of summer vacation seem all the more valuable.
All of the teachers we know assure us that the schools are much better now than when we were stuck there, and to back it up they cite all the same test scores and statistics that the school board and teachers’ union lobbyists use to justify their budgets, but we have our doubts. Our friends over at the wichitaliberty.org web sit delight in debunking the inflationary methodologies behind those encouraging numbers, and their conclusions are almost always corroborated by our occasional conversations with young folks, most of whom we regret to say are every bit as stupid as they look. It’s not so much what they don’t know, which is voluminous enough to fill a lifetime of year-round schooling, and includes the basic facts of 20th Century history and a rudimentary understanding of economics, but rather the blissfulness of their ignorance that is so appalling. There’s almost a sense of pride in not being the sort of bookwormish dork who would know who Winston Churchill is or have read about the consequences of Marxism, and after so many of the self-esteem fad they’re fully assured of their right to an opinion no matter how uninformed it might be. They know all about how global warming is killing the poor polar bears and the venal racism of the founding fathers and the oppressiveness of western civilization, and they know that governments exist to take stuff from people who have it and give it to people who don’t, but they don’t know enough to question whether any of that is true.
We know some smart kids, too, most of them home-schooled or privately educated, and in some cases they’re smarter than the smart kids we knew in our youth and have since become successful in life, but for the most part they don’t seem to question much. The smart kids of today got an early start of highly regimented education, and by first grade were checking their day planners and telling a classmate that they’d love to do the sandbox thing but are booked up with violin lessons and French lessons and Pilates, and while the results are often impressive this lifestyle does not encourage a necessary degree of rebelliousness in a child. Our classmates of the ‘60s and ‘70s were rebellious far beyond that necessary degree, and took a healthy skepticism of authority into a sickly cynicism, but it seems that educators have now gone too far in rectifying that.
This combination of ignorance, unquestioning obedience, and unearned self-esteem is perfectly suited for the modern age, when politics make improbable promises and imposes ever-expanding restrictions and assures the people who fall for it that they are the ones we have been waiting for. All the virtues required for a different sort of politics — freedom, self-reliance, and suffering the bumps and bruises of a mean old world and realizing one’s small role in it — seem absent from modern education. Those lessons are best learned during summer vacation, though, and even though our own school days have long since passed we still hate to see it end.

— Bud Norman

A Fine Mess

The world was so much simpler just five years ago. Back in that heady era of hope and change all the smart people assured us that any unpleasantness anywhere in the world — but especially with those nice folks in the Islamic world — was surely the fault of George W. Bush and the mean old western civilization that he had somehow come to lead, and all could be put right simply by smarter and more soft-spoken and culturally sensitive diplomacy. The mere presence in the White House of Barack Hussein Obama, by virtue of his dark hue, exotic nomenclature, Islamic education, and soaring oratory, was all that was needed to usher in a new age of global cooperation.
Things are now more complicated, judging by a cursory glance at the latest headlines. In the very same Cairo where President Obama gave a much-ballyhooed speech that was supposed to solve everything there is a sort of civil war underway, with forces of the military regime killing hundreds of backers of the recently deposed democratically-elected government that took power after Obama helped bring down a longtime dictator. It all sounds very much like a simple case of authoritarian forces crushing the legitimate aspirations of the freedom-yearning people, just the sort of clear-cut good-versus-evil scenario that Obama was elected to rectify, but the democratically-elected government was run by a fanatical Islamist group with no intention of allowing anything like a real democracy to exist and even while out of power is on a murderous rampage against the country’s Christian minority and anyone else that opposes its unrestrained power. The American response has been similarly muddled, with Obama condemning only the Egyptian government’s actions but refusing to call it a military coup and continuing to offer it substantial aid, and the result has been that both sides now regard America as the bad guy.
Further complicating the situation is the continued deterioration of the entire region. An all-out civil war continues to rage in Syria despite the American president’s insistence that country’s odious dictator must step down and despite American aid to the equally odious Islamist nutcases who are fighting him. A slightly different variety of Islamist nutcases in Iran continue their steady progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon they have vowed to use against Israel, which is shrewdly bolstering its missile defenses even as it releases terrorists to play along with the latest American goose chase after an elusive peace accord with the Palestinians, who have no unified government to negotiate with and are quite uninterested in peace in any case. Yet another collection of Islamist nutcases are biding their time until a promised American withdrawal from Afghanistan to re-assume power in that troublesome country, while still more Islamist nutcases are causing so much mischief in Iraq that its government is asking America to reconsider its arbitrary withdrawal of troops from that nation. Emboldened by the various American retreats and strangely resistant to American efforts to “reset” relations, Russia has further roiled the region with its meddling on behalf of Syria and Iran and its newfound friendship with a meddlesome Saudi Arabia. Oh, and we’re pulling people out of embassies across the region for fear of terrorism, too.
We offer no easy solutions to this mess, nor do we ascribe the greatest measure of blame to any party except for the Islamist nutcases who are intent on imposing a totalitarian theocracy on the region and eventually the world, but that is our point. The naïve idealism of five years has been exposed as a dangerous lie, and the administration’s unwillingness to repudiate it is making a sensible response impossible. At this point only bad guys and bad options are available, and the least worst of these should be chosen without regard to any five-year-old fantasies about soft power and America’s supposed sins. Letting the Egyptian military rout the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood while maintaining peace with Israel and protecting the country’s Christians might well prove in America’s interests, no matter how brutal the methods, and the administration’s absurd fiction that those Islamist nutcases represent democracy should not trump such considerations. There is an understandable temptation to simply stand back on the let the entire Islamic world descend into the murderous madness that it seems to relish, with the secular west satisfied to let the region’s dwindling numbers of Christians and Jews suffer whatever fate that entails, but even if America’s conscience were to be untroubled by the slaughter the economic consequences would be harder to ignore. America could mitigate the economic calamity of the Middle East’s oil production shutting down by more fully exploiting its own energy resources, but the administration’s naïve idealism about carbon footprints and big oil wouldn’t allow that.
Still, we are assured that peace is at hand because “that’s what our democracy demands,” so all that unseemly and provocative defense spending can thus be used to fund Obamacare and other programs that will transform American into utopia. The same western left that condemns its own civilization for its racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance hails as democracy the rise of an Islamist movement that condones slavery, subjects its women to genital mutilation, and executes homosexuals by the most brutal methods, and openly declares its murderous intent against infidels. Let the Islamists have the Middle East and they will leave us alone, we are told, just as the British and French were told that the Nazis would be satisfied with the Sudetanland. In a simpler world, it would all be true.

— Bud Norman