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Talkin’ ‘Bout Our G-G-Generation

According to such ancien regime media as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the latest catchphrase among the young folks is “OK, boomer.” Apparently that’s what the millennials or post-millennials or Generation Z or whatever you want to call these raw-boned and tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins are sarcastically saying whenever some old fogy dispenses his seasoned “baby boom generation” advice.
Although we’re technically “baby boomers” ourselves, we can hardly blame these young punks for their insolence. We arrived at the very end of the post-World War II “baby boom,” and were among the first of the self-proclaimed young “punks” who were just as cynical about the hippy-dippy counter-culture revolution as we were about the culture it was revolting against. The date of one’s birth somehow permanently affixes a certain worldview for the rest of one’s life, and we arrived at an unusually discombobulating moment of cataclysmic change.
We started reading the newspapers and watching the evening news and eavesdropping on adult conversations at an early age, and it was all full of a bloody war and bloody anti-war protests and civil right marches and church bombings, and women were burning bras outside the Miss America pageant and some people called homosexuals were rioting outside a New York City bar, among other daily outrages. Even for the most precocious child it was hard to make sense of, as was the decidedly different fare suddenly on offer at the local movie theater and on the FM radio dial.
There was a lot about it we liked. We wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, and still believe it could have been achieved and spared South Vietnam from communism if the Watergate scandal hadn’t emaciated the Republican party, but we shared the hippies’ desire for peace. The negroes, as they were once known, were quite right to demand their equal rights under the law and proper respect from the broader culture, no matter how contentious that has often been. The womenfolk also had some reasonable complaints, even according to our fiercely Church of Christ Mom, who insisted on a respectful code of conduct toward women. At the time we didn’t know much about homosexuals, but in retrospect we can understand why the queers in New York were rioting outside that bar. A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll music was irresistible to our youthful ears, and still sounds good after so many years of listening to the great jazz and country and popular artists of the 20th century, and a lot of those disturbing ’60s and ’70s movies still hold up well.
Even so, we want to keep our place in the old world we born into. The post World War II global order that the “greatest generation” imposed seemed to work well enough in the long run, and still strikes us as useful. So far as we can tell fairly regulated capitalism is the most productive economic scheme mankind has come up with so far, and makes more sense than what the self-described socialists of the current Democratic party are peddling. Our old-fashioned Church of Christ Mom’s notions of how a gentleman should treat a lady should should satisfy even the most feminist sensibility of the #MeToo moment. As far as we’re concerned race relations would go easier if people were only more polite to one another, and we miss the days when someone’s sexual predilections were nobody else’s business.
By happenstance we spent much of Thursday with some even older fogies than ourselves, though, and were reminded how the “Generation Gap” of our youth still persists. Our favorite aunt was in town to visit her sister and brother-in-law, along with her excellent husband and our beloved uncle, and naturally politics came up. While the wives were doing some woman thing or another our Dad and Uncle were both yearning for the good old days of President Harry Truman and expressing amazement that the Democrats were even considering nominating an admitted homosexual for president, not to mention all that high-tax socialism they were peddling, and over an excellent dinner at the folks’ retirement home both couples agreed that the damned Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump for no good reason.
Our dinner companions were among the very finest people know, each having been born in the Great Depression and raising themselves into prosperous and honorable and respectable lives, but with all due respect, having been born a few decades later we saw a lot of things differently. We’ll go along with the old-fashioned idea that marriage should ideally be between a man and a woman, no matter how that might annoy our gay and younger friends, but not the newfangled idea that marriage is between a man and three women and a a porn star and Playboy playmate, as Trump insists. We don’t want a socialist president, but only because we don’t want any president telling Harley-Davidson where to makes its motorcycles, as Trump has done. The greatest thing Truman ever did from our historical perspective was to lay the blueprint for the mostly peaceful and prosperous post-War world order, carried out so well by President Dwight Eisenhower and more or less maintained until recently.
The even older fogies and the far younger punks probably don’t share our perspective on this impeachment matter, either. Our parents and aunts and uncles were all preoccupied with making an honorable and respectable living when the Watergate scandal unfolded, but we were insolent young junior high punks with nothing better to do all summer than watching it play out on live television, and unlike our elders we weren’t at all surprised when the facts piled up so high even the most senior Republicans forced President Richard Nixon to resign. This time around the damning facts of presidential misconduct seem to be piling up just as high agains the sitting president, and even if a majority of Republicans and our most respected elders are fine with it we do not approve.
Which is not to say we want anything to do with these tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins we run into at the hipster dives and their outright socialist and open-borders and electronic music and free love poppycock. At this point in our postlapsarian and post-modern ives we put no faith in princes, only in the most time tried and true principles that have lasted over the centuries and millennia, and from our cynical seat on the sidelines between generations the old standards seem hard to maintain. Things have gone so far so good during our 60 years, though, and as lonely as we are we’ll hold out hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

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On Indifference and Outrage

Those high-brow fellows over at Commentary magazine recently published a fine essay on the art world’s self-inflected irrelevance, and we recommend it to all our culture vulture readers who still take an interest in such things. We’ve already fulminated a few times on these pages about pretty much the same unhappy point, though, and what most struck us was an opening anecdote that nicely illustrates an even bigger problem with what people are now indifferent to and what still offends them.
The author, who seems such a reasonable thinker that we are pleasantly surprised to note he is somehow the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, recalls showing one of his classes the grainy black-and-white film documentation of a 1971 performance art piece by the late Chris Burden, which involved having a friend shoot him in the arm with .22-calibre rifle at close range. We can still recall how the alleged artwork provoked a wide range of reactions even at such a late date in modernity as 1971, but the 21st Century students who watched were mostly interested in the legal ramifications and tried hard to it put into the context that savvy art students now understand their professors expect, but were otherwise indifferent. The professor seems somewhat surprised at such a dispassionate reaction to the spectacle of a man being shot in the arm at close range by .22-calibre rifle, but we are not. As the professor notes in the rest of his essay, even by the time Burns got around to it this sort of shock-the-squares stuff had already been going in the art world since approximately the end of World War I, and that Burns had to top it by having himself famously crucified atop a Volkswagen Beetle, and that subsequent attempts at giving offense have required ever more over-the-top outrages, so by now indifference to such efforts is both the sophisticated and sensible reaction.
What strikes us as odd, and went unmentioned by the professor, is that these same 21st Century students are the ones who require “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and protection from “micro-aggressions” and outright censorship of Ovid or Mark Twain or The Bible or that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any other vestige of pre-World War I Western Civilization that might call into question the comforting consensus of academic opinion. Such strangely differing standards of what should be met with indifference and what should be met with offense are by no means confined to the academy, or to those corners of the world only culture vultures still take an interest in, but also define the broader public’s approach to politics.
Thus The New York Times is outraged by the four traffic tickets that Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio has received over the past 20 years, but seemingly indifferent to the four brave Americans who were killed in an American consulate in Libya that failed to receive requested security from Democratic presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her ill-fated war against Libya. Thus the civil rights establishment is aroused to hash-tagging “black lives matter” and rioting in the streets when a black man is killed by police in even the most justifiable circumstances, yet indifferent to the vastly greater number of black men killed by other black men, and further indifferent when that horrible number inevitably increases after the hash-tagging and rioting inevitably hamper law enforcement efforts in poor black neighborhoods. Thus it is that polite opinion holds the insane profligacy of the Greek government is not only to be tolerated but forever to be subsidized, while a corporation that prefers not to pay its minimum wage employees any more than they produce is considered outrageously greedy. Thus it is that the mass executions of homosexuals in the Islamic world is met with sincere attempts to understand context and generally with indifference, while some Baptist confectioner’s reluctance to bake a gay wedding cake is met with widespread outrage.
A couple of years after Burden’s performance art piece provoked widespread outrage the public was so shocked by executive lawlessness that President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, with the second article of impeachment being that he had dared raise the possibility of using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his political opponents, but these days the president flouts immigration law with powers that even he had previously stated he does not constitutionally possess, and the stories about how the IRS actually did harass his political enemies and then engage in a Nixonian but up-to-date cover-up continue to trickle out, yet it is met with indifference. Perhaps it’s the same process of the public becoming inured to indifference by endless repetition, but that can’t explain why there’s still plenty of outrage left for far less inconsequential matters.
We continue to read about those high-brow culture vulture issues even in this age of art’s irrelevance, and to follow all those silly academic quarrels going on within the “safe spaces” from “micro-aggressions,” even as we recognize that by now they are of far less importance than the first four dead Americans from a failed foreign policy and the overlooked black lives that are taken while the police are under indictment and the eventual global consequences of the profligacy of the Greeks and just about everyone and the horrible fate of homosexuals in the Islamic world and the injustice being done to traditionalist confectioners in the name of homosexual rights, because we think they also matter. A society that can no longer recognize the difference between art and some nihilistic nutcase inviting a friend to shoot him in the arm, or prefers the comforting consensus of contemporary academic opinion to the challenging truths of of Ovid and Mark Twain and The Bible and that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any of the rest of pre-World War I western civilization, is unlikely to choose wisely about what should be met with indifference and what should be met with outrage.

— Bud Norman

Earning Respect for a Religion

Has the President of the United States sent an emissary to your house of worship to commend it for its good works? Our humble little low church on the near westside hasn’t yet been so honored, despite its many commendable efforts on behalf on the poor and unfortunate, so we’re feeling a bit slighted. The Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City recently got a high-ranking visit and official effusive thanks, after all, and none of our congregation have beheaded anyone.
The mosque wasn’t being thanked for the beheading, we are assured, but rather for its past support of the rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of a devastating tornado last year in the nearby town of Moore. We don’t mean to diminish the mosque’s good works, and will freely acknowledge Islam’s longstanding reputation for charity, but there’s no shaking a suspicion that the official effusive thanks from our government has more to do with the more recent beheading committed by one of the mosque’s newest converts against a former co-worker in that very same nearby town. Islam also suffers a longstanding reputation for such brutality, especially lately, and by now it’s an obligatory rite to respond to every Islamist outrage with official pronouncements that Islam is a religion of peace and has contributed greatly to world civilization and most Muslims aren’t going to chop your head off and the rest of the familiar boilerplate. The practice began shortly after Islamist terrorists slammed airliners full of terrified passengers into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, when even good old President George W. Bush felt compelled to immediately rush to the nearest mosque and pose for a religiously tolerant photo-op, and after nearly six years of the current administration it has become an act of prostration.
The murderer had been fired from the food distribution plant where he committed his horrific crime, so polite opinion can conclude that it was just another one of those instances of “workplace violence” that happen so often in our capitalist society, like the time that poor fellow shot up the Fort Hood Army Base while shouting “allahu akbar,” but this requires an extraordinary politeness. In this case the murderer had been fired for making his female co-workers uncomfortable with talk of stoning them to death for their wanton western ways, had a Facebook page full of rants about jihad and sharia, and chose an unusual method of murder that had recently been recommended by the Islamic State terror gang currently running amok in the Middle East. Such an obvious Islamic angle to the crime requires an extra amount of distraction, so the murderer’s mosque is not only to be absolved of any suspicion but praised for its past largesse.
The obvious and understandable rationale for such obfuscation is to prevent a violent nativist purge of that vast majority of Muslims who probably won’t chop your head off, but by now that is no longer convincing. Similar outrages by people espousing Islam have been frequent for the peat several decades, but the people attacked for the religion are mostly Jews, and the torchlights and pitchforks never seem to materialize. There are reports that the mosque has received threatening messages, and we don’t doubt it, as Oklahoma City is full of people and we can’t vouch for the friendliness and tolerance of all of them, but our long experience of the city tells us that it’s not likely to embark on any ethnic or religious cleansing. Oklahoma City is a city of peace, has contributed greatly to world civilization, and the vast majority of its citizens will not chop your head off or otherwise molest you, but somehow our government never gets around to making such official pronouncements on its behalf and instead makes high-ranking visits to mosques to imply they’re all a bunch of Islamophobic rednecks ready at a moments ‘s head off to another crusade with shotguns on the racks of their pickup trucks. We’d like to think this notion isn’t all wrong, but it’s wrong enough that the government can please spare us another round of the usual cliches.
As annoying as they are to us, we can only imagine that the next nutcase plotting to chop someone’s head off finds such apologia a siren call. The multi-cultural theory behind all this praise for Islam holds that Muslims crave only respect, and that once it has been properly supplied they will take their rightful place in the glorious tapestry that is the global community, but by now the more criminally inclined among the faith have surely noticed that it is skyjackings and bombings and beheadings that prompt the official pronouncements of respects from the infidels. When an Islamist terror gang killed an ambassador and four other Americans at our country’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president blamed it on an obscure internet video and the country’s lamentable constitutional practice of allowing such free speech, and told the General Assembly of the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and those who believe that anyone who harbors doubt about the Prophet of Islam are slandering him were no doubt encouraged.
Thinking back to the culture wars of past decades, when crucifixes were being dunked in urine and pictures of the Virgin Mary were being covered in elephant dung on the taxpayers’ dime, and polite opinion regarded it as the height of religious fanaticism to object to such free expression, we find it hard to imagine President Barack Obama or any of his acolytes scolding that the future must not belong those who slander the Christian faith. Nor can we imagine the administration taking a stand on behalf of the rights of Jews to defend themselves against Islamist terror or to rent an apartment in Jerusalem, and for that matter we can’t even see it siding with the homosexuals or women who are routinely targeted for the most horrible abuse in an enlightened Europe that already routinely turns a blind eye to such offenses.
In the absence of anything more governmental or official, let us give our thanks to Oklahoma City and its well-above-average number of churches, and we’ll assume there are at least two synagogues down there and offer them our thanks as well. We trust that you’ve also chipped in generously on a variety of worthy community causes, that none of your congregants have chopped anybody’s head office, and we believe that it’s important what we celebrate in our culture.

— Bud Norman

That Awful Speech

A few of the more irrationally enthused pundits have been comparing to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address to Abraham Lincoln’s. They must assume, probably with good reason, that the past many years of high school history classes have not required anyone to read Lincoln’s speech.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address is not just a masterpiece of political oratory but also of English prose, a speech of such simple eloquence and profound wisdom that it inspired a nation in its darkest hour. The Obama effort, on the other hand, was an overwrought and overlong bunch of hooey.
Lincoln forthrightly addressed only the issues that were of overriding importance at the time of his address, but Obama made just passing mention of the issues that most concern the Americans of today. With more Americans out of work than on the day he was first sworn in, and the sluggish economic pace slowing, Obama assured the nation’s unemployed that “Economic recovery has begun.” There was some lofty blather about investing in new technologies, but it seemed to be mostly about the “green energy” program that has already blown billions of dollars with little effect. He offered sympathy and scapegoats rather than solutions by noting that “we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do well and a growing many barely make it,” but if he believes that people have concluded the growing many are barely making it because the shrinking few are doing well he should have corrected that dangerous misunderstanding.
The nation’s debt has grown by 60 percent since Obama’s first inaugural address, and the second inaugural address made no mention of this problem. All that investing Obama wants the government to do will likely be quite expensive, and he also used his speech to engage in some characteristic demagogy against anyone who might suggest changes to the money-guzzling entitlement programs, so the omission seemed conspicuous.
Like Lincoln, Obama spoke of war, but where Lincoln spoke of “the progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends,” Obama simply declared that “a decade of war is now ending.” The speech did not make clear if the war is also ending for America’s numerous declared enemies, who seem to be as deadly as ever lately, or if America will simply be ceasing its efforts, and we would have liked to have had the point clarified. Obama attempted to reassure us neo-con warmongers that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the world,” which should provide plenty of action for our shrinking military, and that America will “support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East,” but he did not explain how military aid to the Muslim Brotherhood will further this noble cause.
Most of what Obama did get around to in the speech was primarily of interest to his most doctrinaire admirers. He gave a shout-out to his homosexual voters, promised the ladies that he’d deal with their mythical wage discrimination problem, expressed outrage about all the illegal immigrant engineers that are apparently being “expelled” from the country, and did the usual fretting about the poor folk. Although Obama didn’t dare get so sternly theological as Lincoln did in his second inaugural address, he did make mention of God when going on about climate change. Lincoln was duly humble about evoking God’s name, noting that “The Almighty has His own purposes” and recognizing that he was right only to the extent “as God gives us to see the right,” but Obama was quite confident that God wouldn’t mind being used for the higher purpose of promoting a cap-and-trade boondoggle.
The speech was all wrapped up in red-white-and-blue bunting, complete with approving references to the founding fathers. There was even a line about how Americans “have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all of society’s ills can be solved through government alone,” although it was unclear if this was meant as a compliment or complaint. A recurring theme of the speech was that the Founding Fathers began a journey that will only be completed once the Obama agenda has been fully enacted and “all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hill of Appalachia to the quite lanes of Newtown know they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.” We took that to be a call for stricter gun controls, but we figure it will be a long journey indeed if it only ends when everyone is safe from harm and we hope that we’ll still be allowed to arm ourselves until journey’s end.
There was plenty of the usual highfalutin rhetoric, and although we only read the transcript we assume it was delivered with the usual sonorous baritone and upraised chin, but unless Obama gets all the educational reforms he hoped for it is unlikely that schoolchildren will find anything so rote-worthy as “With malice towards none, with charity toward all.” Obama struck a slightly similar note when he insisted America cannot “treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” but it rang rather hollow after winning his spot on the inaugural stand by slurring his opponent as a tax-cheating, woman-killing, dog-torturing, contraception-snatching square. All in all, we expect that the world will little note nor long remember what Obama said on Inauguration Day.

— Bud Norman