Sunday, June 30, 2013

Is the Left Finally Wising Up?

Is the Apocalypse upon us? Are we living in the End Times? What is the world coming to when fissures begin appearing in the left’s normally unified front, and some of the most prominent leftists in the entertainment world and academia begin openly espousing positions usually associated with the right, even going so far as to condemn President Barack Obama? Is the left finally waking up to their failed policies and leaders?

Pop music icon Madonna, for example, who in past performances has campaigned for Obama and equated President George W. Bush with Hitler, let slip an eyebrow-raising comment in an interview Friday with Good Morning America’s Elizabeth Vargas while promoting her latest concert tour. That show has come under fire, if you’ll pardon the pun, for the brandishing of fake guns as props.

When Vargas asked her if she would consider changing or deleting that aspect of the concert, Madonna said absolutely not. “That would be like asking people to not have guns in action movies,” she said. “I mean the thing is, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That whole first section of the show is like an action movie, and I was playing a super vixen who wanted revenge.”

Hold on – guns don’t kill people, people kill people? That phrase is straight out of the NRA’s pro-Second Amendment playbook. Vargas then countered with recent examples in which the movie biz tried to be more sensitive to the issue of gun violence. “But I know there was [sic] several movies that delayed release because of the shootings, for example, at Sandy Hook Elementary school,” she said.

“Well that’s not going to change the situation,” Madonna replied. “This all comes from fear and ignorance, and people not really raising their children, or not paying attention to what’s going on.” It’s not clear what she’s saying here, but it sounds suspiciously like Madonna is touting individual responsibility, a notion verboten to the collectivist left.

Friday, June 28, 2013

There’s More to Life than Politics – Isn’t There?

“Man,” Aristotle declared long ago, “is a political animal.” Perhaps too political.

Sonny Bunch, managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon, has written a few times about his frustration with people so consumed by politics that they can’t separate it from the rest of their lives. “I’m not talking about people getting worked up about politicians,” he writes:

We live in divided times, so things are bound to get heated when talking about elected officials. I’m talking about people who say “I want nothing to do with [Person X] because he is a conservative/liberal/Republican/Democrat in his personal life.

We do indeed live in divided times, an era in which Americans are more polarized about politics and culture (and the intersection thereof) than at any time since the 1960s, and possibly even since the 1860s. The nonstop din of our ubiquitous social media has widened that polarization, as armies of political foot soldiers of the left and right skirmish online, pointlessly spewing 140-character vitriol at each other. There is precious little political engagement anymore, online or off, that does not consist of plain bullying. Bullying wins enemies, not converts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mad Men’s Broken Families

Last Sunday night was the season finale of AMC’s highly regarded hit series Mad Men. In case you’ve been in a coma for the last several years, Mad Men is the 1960s-set drama about the perpetually tobacco-and-scotch-marinated playboys at a New York ad agency, centering on charismatic antihero Don Draper. Sunday’s episode saw several character arcs and plot lines coming to a head, with one theme in particular dominating: the tragedy of broken families.


Don gets a late-night call from ex-wife Betty, who informs him that their young teen daughter Sally has been suspended from her new private school for using a fake ID to buy alcohol for herself and the other girls. Betty’s perfect, icy exterior cracks as she confesses that she has failed as a mother despite all her efforts to duplicate her own mother’s child-rearing disciplines. “This isn’t your fault,” Don offers. “She comes from a broken home,” Betty replies.

This hits Don hard; he hunches over silently for a long beat as he accepts that Sally’s rebellion is the inevitable consequence of his ruined marriage (not to mention the fact that she caught him in flagrante delicto with a neighbor’s wife). Don himself had a loveless childhood as an orphan raised in a whorehouse, and it shaped the course of his adulterous life. His past has haunted him so relentlessly that he breaks down during a client meeting with Hershey execs, and confesses that as a boy, their chocolate intensified his longing to be loved: “It was the only sweet thing in my life.”

Meanwhile ad man Pete has ruined his own family life as well. In his final scene he is perhaps as sympathetic as we’ve ever seen him, as he gazes wordlessly and regretfully at his sleeping daughter before leaving home for good. He sits on the edge of her bed stroking her hair, already feeling the literal and emotional distance growing between them.

The Humanities and the Counterculture

In his commencement address recently at Brandeis University, New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier posed a critical two-part question to graduates about to embark in a brave new world. “Has there ever been a moment in American life,” he asked, “when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were needed more?”
Good question. As for its first part, humanities departments and liberal arts colleges across America face a serious challenge in an unforgiving job market. Among recent English major graduates, the unemployment rate is 9.8%; for philosophy, history, and religious studies majors, 9.5. By contrast, recent chemistry graduates face a mere 5.8% unemployment rate, and elementary education graduates are at 5%. In 2010, just 7% of college graduates nationally majored in the humanities, down from 14% in 1966.
A report released recently stated that Harvard humanities majors have fallen from 36% in 1954 to 20% in 2012, accelerating in the last decade. The report’s conclusion is that Harvard’s humanities division is attracting fewer undergraduates because it is training them to be academics rather than preparing them to succeed in “the real world.” Shannon Lytle, a sophomore at Harvard, considered majoring in history but selected computer science instead. “People say you should do what you love,” he said. “But... I don't want to be doing what I love and be homeless.”
In his hilarious faux commencement address, “A Message for the Class of 2013,” The Simpsons writer Rob LaZebnick poked fun at humanities students who end up with unmarketable skills: “You’ve spent four years percolating in a warm stew of beer, gender studies and online pornography—which led to the subject of your senior thesis, ‘Jacobean Dramatic Tropes in Modern “Massage Surprise” Videos.’” But now, “You're headed into the most challenging labor market of the last 80 years.”
But are the humanities really so useless? Answering part two of his own question, Wieseltier offered at Brandeis a rousing defense of the humanities:
We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work...
The machines to which we have become enslaved… represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: they are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep.

Crucified Again

Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals. We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us. – Maher Al-Gohary, Muslim apostate

One of the most disturbing consequences of the “Arab Spring,” the tragic misnomer given by the giddy news media to a violent surge of Islamic fundamentalists against despised Western “puppets” such as Libya’s Qaddafi and Egypt’s Mubarak, is an undisguised genocide against Christian communities in those regions. Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, the new book by the Freedom Center’s Shillman Fellow Raymond Ibrahim, exposes that genocide not so much as a new war but as the renewal of a very old one.

Ibrahim is, as FrontPage readers well know, a Middle East and Islam specialist best-known for The Al Qaeda Reader. He has appeared in media venues from MSNBC to Reuters to Al Jazeera to Fox News, lectured at universities and before government agencies, and even testified before Congress on the plight of Egypt’s Christian Copts.

 “Christians are being persecuted in Muslim countries today,” Ibrahim writes,

for the same reasons as in past centuries. And the patterns of persecution – the same motivations, the same actions, and the same horrific results – recur in countries as different as Kenya and Denmark. Those patterns emerge from themes in the Koran, in Islamic theology, in Sharia law, and in Islamic culture.

Those patterns lead Ibrahim to the inexorable conclusion which he hammers home throughout the book: “One thing alone accounts for such identical patterns in such otherwise diverse nations: Islam itself – whether the strict application of its Sharia, or the supremacist culture born of it.” Indeed, Ibrahim notes that of the top 50 countries documented for Christian persecution today, 42 are either Muslim-majority nations or have sizeable Muslim populations, and no other factors – economic, political, or ethnic – account for that overwhelming predominance.

After documenting some examples of recent Christian persecution in disparate regions, Ibrahim ties them together thusly:

Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines have very little in common. These countries do not share the same language, race, or culture. What, then, do they have in common that explains this similar pattern of church attacks during Christian holy days? The answer is Islam.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jonah Lehrer’s Journey to Redemption

Writer Jonah Lehrer, who resigned in disgrace last year from The New Yorker after he was caught plagiarizing from himself and others as well as fabricating quotes, is back.

By the age of 31, the pop-science author was a rising star when the tangled web he wove began to unravel. He initially denied responsibility, but eventually released a statement of apology: “I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”

Now The New York Times reports that Lehrer has sold a work to Simon & Schuster called A Book About Love. “Jonah Lehrer is an unusually talented writer,” said his publisher’s Jonathan Karp. “We believe in second chances.”

Several years ago James Frey’s memoir of drug and alcohol addiction, A Million Little Pieces, got a bestselling boost as an Oprah’s Book Club selection before his fabrications came to light; the scandal culminated in an appearance on Oprah’s TV show, where she hammered him and his publisher for abusing her trust and that of the readers she sent his way.

Stephen Glass was a wunderkind at The New Republic in the late 90s before his articles were exposed as largely invented (his tale was brought to the big screen in the excellent film Shattered Glass). Another rising star, Jayson Blair at The New York Times, caused a stir when it was discovered he liberally plagiarized and fabricated stories and quotes for the paper. Journalist Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story for The Washington Post in 1980 was revealed to be fictionalized.

To my knowledge, none of these writers – with the possible exception of Glass, who tried his hand at a failed “biographical novel” – has attempted to work out a public redemption through their writing. Frey, for example, seems to have gone on to run a sort of young adult fiction sweatshop and to partner with actor Mark Wahlberg on a stalled project about the porn world for HBO, and Cooke and her boyfriend even scored big – $1+ million – from the sale of her tale to Hollywood (though nothing came of the script).

No one until Lehrer, whose new book will use “his journalistic misconduct as a case study of the mysterious and redeeming power of love.” “The lies are over now,” he had promised in his formal apology. But are they? Was he merely using “contrition as a career move,” as Andrew Sullivan once said of Stephen Glass? Slate has a blistering critique of Lehrer’s book proposal that acknowledges the author’s verbal skill but slams its “parade of cheap epiphanies” and strongly suggests he plagiarized portions; is Lehrer no wiser or more honest after all?

Et Tu, Spartacus?

Last week legendary actor Kirk Douglas posted a short plea for – something, it’s unclear exactly what – at the Huffington Post, a vague call for the elimination of guns in America, because, as he put it solemnly, “America’s Cowboy Days Are Over.”

In case you’ve been in a coma for the last century, Douglas, now at the almost Biblical age of 96, is the steely-eyed, cleft-chinned international superstar of such films as Paths of Glory, Lust for Life, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Seven Days in May, and perhaps most memorably, Spartacus. The talented, ridiculously handsome actor has played everything from tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh to a Viking warrior, military officers, cowboys, and, well, Spartacus.

In his HuffPost piece, Douglas says that “under the flooring of my dressing room is a safe. In it are two guns that I used to shoot the bad guys in movies and a silver plated revolver with my name engraved on it which was given to me by some crazy fan.” He writes that “I often played the good cowboy on screen, riding in to save the day. Now, everybody thinks he is a cowboy too. That frightens me. We have become a cowboy country with too many guns.”

How many is too many, Mr. Douglas, and who gets to decide that figure? The Hollywood left generally marches in unthinking lockstep to the progressive call to get rid of guns altogether in America – a simplistic, utopian fantasy that does not and cannot possibly address the complicated reality that millions of guns are already in circulation in this country. The left pontificates about “getting them off the streets” and seems to believe that this is best accomplished through the bureaucratic hassling and demonization of law-abiding gun owners, if not by actually forcing them to turn in their guns to the government – you know, for the sake of the children. Of course, despite a brainless video plea from a gaggle of Hollywood actors to “demand a plan,” the left doesn’t seem to have a plan for disarming criminals, gangs, and the violent mentally ill, who came by their firearm possession illegally.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Totalitarianism at the Heart of Obama's Scandals

The Obama administration’s legs are wobbling under the weight of so many scandals lately that whole chunks of the edifice – the IRS, the NSA, the DOJ – are threatening to implode, particularly without support from the normally adoring media. Even the New York Times – the New York Times! – is no longer willing to bolster an administration whose totalitarian urges have been exposed to the light.

Let’s begin with the Internal Revenue Service’s thuggish targeting of conservative groups. From April 2010 to April 2012, the IRS placed on hold the processing of applications for tax-exempt status received from organizations with such presumably conservative indicators as “Tea Party,” “patriots,” or “9/12” in their names, approving only four while green-lighting applications from several dozen organizations whose names included the likely left-leaning terms “progressive,” “progress,” “liberal,” or “equality.” It demanded from some conservative organizations unwieldy amounts of documentation and private information, such as what books their members were reading or what they had posted on social networking sites. The Coalition for Life of Iowa was actually asked to detail the content of their prayers at meetings. The Cincinnati office of the IRS leaked confidential donor information from some conservative applications to an investigative reporting organization. Even some conservative individuals are now alleging that they were personally targeted by the IRS for political reasons. Mark Steyn correctly labeled this abuse “a scale of depravity hitherto unknown to the tax authorities of the United States.

Then Obama’s sycophantic press itself discovered to their dismay that Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department secretly collected telephone records for April and May of 2012 from as many as twenty of the Associated Press wire service’s reporters and editors, in relation to an apparent leak to the AP about an al Qaeda plot in Yemen. For the first time, Obama’s fanboys among the media found themselves on the wrong end of his political bullying, and they didn’t like how it feels.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Randall Blythe’s Mission

In the heat of a 2010 heavy metal concert in Prague, 19-year-old fan Daniel Nosek rushed the band and was shoved backward off the stage. He fell on his head and died. A jury found that D. Randall Blythe, singer for the American band Lamb of God, had pushed him, although the concert promoters and security were held criminally liable. Blythe was acquitted this past March, and on his blog recently he unloaded his emotional reaction to the experience in a post titled “Be Carefully.”

The trial had a profound effect on Blythe, now 42, largely because of a gift of grace from the victim’s family. “The family of Daniel Nosek never… wished me ill, either publicly or privately,” Blythe wrote in gratitude, and “they didn’t want anything from me in that courtroom except for me to understand how this had affected them... It was one of the most amazing displays of strength and dignity I have ever witnessed.” For that, Blythe said, “I am eternally grateful to them… I know what it feels like to hold my dead child in my arms [Blythe’s only daughter died within hours of being born]. The emotions one goes through are absolutely indescribable.”

When the verdict was read and Blythe was exonerated, he was overwhelmed and paralyzed with relief, disbelief, sadness. “A fan of my band was dead, and a family had been shattered... I did not know what to do or where to go.” At their request, Blythe met privately with the mother and uncle:

I cannot tell you what it is like to look into the eyes of a mother whose son is dead as a result of attending a concert by your group, his favorite band. I cannot tell you what it is like to hold her tiny hands as she weeps for her dead boy; to hold those hands in your large hands, the same hands accused of killing her son. I cannot tell you in any words what it’s like to feel that grief for her lost only child pouring off of her small frame in a massive dark wave of sorrow, to see that pain again in another, so visceral that your body shakes with the awful power and totality of it.