Monday, June 30, 2014

Cruel or Kind? Sting’s Kids Won’t Inherit His Money

In a recent interview, rock icon Sting announced that his six children shouldn’t expect to inherit his fortune, which is estimated to be worth more than $300 million. On the face of it, that makes Sting seem rather, well, stingy – and for all I know, he may be. But his reasoning – that he didn’t want to leave his three sons and three daughters “trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks” – raises the question: should parents deny their offspring an inheritance for their own good?

Sting grew up as Gordon Sumner in a working class family in a seaside shipping town, and vowed early on in life that he would rise above his circumstances and become rich and successful. He obviously achieved that in spades, and doesn’t apologize for it: “I am grateful I have made money. I appreciate it because I spent much time without it... I am very well off and I am certainly not complaining. I was not given it. I earned it through hard work and it was hard work.” But “if it had all been handed to me on a plate, I’m not sure I would appreciate it or have survived.”

That’s the lesson he seems to want to pass on to the younger Sumners. “People make assumptions that [his kids] were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but they have not been given a lot.” Instead, Sting continues, “they have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate. Obviously, if they were in trouble I would help them, but I’ve never really had to do that. They have this work ethic that makes them want to succeed on their own merit.”

This seems valid and reasonable to me. However, when I raised this topic among a few friends, the majority felt that family is everything and Sting is a jerk for stiffing his kids (but then, they also felt that Sting was a jerk to begin with). One even argued that this showed bad parenting on Sting’s part.

I must disagree. I strongly suspect that the 62-year-old musician’s children, now all adults ranging in age from 18 t0 37, have never exactly wanted for anything, and I doubt seriously that he will leave them absolutely nothing in his will. I believe he simply expects them, for their sake, to make their own way in the world – and in the process, to discover who they are, where their talents and passion lie, and how hard they’re willing to work for that success. In other words, he expects them to grow up. I think that’s pretty good parenting.

Bill Gates, another man who has built up a pretty sizeable bank account, similarly said of his children that “they need to have a sense that their own work is meaningful and important. You’ve got to make sure they have a sense of their own ability and what they’re going to go and do.”

I respect Sting’s concern that guaranteeing his kids a cushy life of trust fund luxury would likely warp them irrevocably. As examples, one could point to any number of arrogant, entitled rich kids, often the children of wealthy celebs like Sting; kids who never really had to work, who never faced the financial consequences of failure or the rewards of their own success, and who thus remain locked in immaturity; children of whom it could be said, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Howard Hughes does in this entertaining scene from The Aviator, “You don’t care about money because you’ve always had it.”

“My generation all assumed we would have a better standard of living,” Sting mused in the interview. “The one that we spawned cannot assume that.” He points to the fact that his rough road to world-beating success had developed in him “a resilience and a toughness,” valuable qualities to hand down to one’s kids in a world that is less economically stable than before.

For those of us who tragically don’t stand to inherit wealth like Sting’s, the choice between riches and self-reliance isn’t really an issue. But as a general theory, the lesson still stands: it’s better to teach your children to walk on their own two feet than to carry them the rest of their lives.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/27/14)

Honoring Real Heroes

From a pop culture point of view, our perspective on heroes and bravery tends to be skewed toward the superficial. The news media fall all over themselves to celebrate the “heroism” of, for example, a superstar athlete who overcomes adversity or a Hollywood actress who comes out as gay; those names and faces are splashed across the news and they are lauded even by the President. Meanwhile, those in our own military whom we honor for sacrificing life and limb in service to others – the truest definition of heroism – remain largely unrecognized by the public. Since FrontPage is an outlet of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and our soldiers are in no small measure responsible for that freedom, it seems appropriate to bring some attention here to a few real heroes who recently made the news.

It was announced Monday that the Medal of Honor will be bestowed upon former Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, 28, for his actions July 13, 2008 in the fierce battle of Wanat in Afghanistan. As the Army Times reports, just before sunrise, a volley of rocket-propelled grenades pounded his Observation Post [OP]. For 90 minutes, Pitts and his fellow paratroopers fought off more than 200 enemy fighters. His actions were described as “decisive” by the battalion commander at the time: “He prevented the enemy from overrunning the OP and thus saved lives and prevented the loss or capture of fallen and wounded paratroopers.”

“Even though he damn near got himself killed, he managed to keep his composure and keep fighting and do what he was supposed to do,” the commander said. “His weapon would go down and he’d get another one and continue to fight. He was throwing grenades at [the enemy] and throwing rocks at them to get them to jump out from behind cover.”

With a proper hero’s humility, Pitts takes no credit himself but honored his brothers-in-arms: “Valor was everywhere,” he said. “Everybody just did what they needed to do, and a lot of it was because of the relationships we had. We were very close.” He views the medal as a memorial to the nine soldiers who gave their lives at Wanat that day: “I try to think about the guys we lost and try to do my best to honor them and the gift they gave me. I hate the word ‘hero.’ But I feel very fortunate when I look at the guys I served with. They’re my heroes. It was the honor of my lifetime to serve with them.”

From that same battalion, former Sgt. Kyle White received the Medal of Honor last month for his bravery in November, 2007. Caught in an ambush in Afghanistan, says the Army Times, White repeatedly ran a “gauntlet of enemy fire to get to the wounded and fallen.” When the shooting stopped and night fell, White, only 20 at the time, tended to a wounded comrade, called in radio reports, directed security and guided in air support until the wounded and dead were evacuated. “I do not consider myself a hero,” he said prior to his White House ceremony, echoing the words of Sgt. Pitts. “To me, the real heroes are the ones I fought with that day.”

The late Sgt. Alwyn Cashe was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor, in recognition for his heroic actions in Samarra, Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005, when his vehicle hit an IED. The wounded Cashe, his uniform burned away except for boots, body armor and helmet, crawled back into the wreckage again and again, pulling out all six of his comrades. All were evacuated back to the U.S. alive, although three later succumbed to their wounds – as did Cashe, from 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over more than 70 percent of his body. He didn’t receive the Medal of Honor because the full details of his actions were unclear at the time, but there is a movement underway to upgrade him to that award. “I know not a lot of us survived,” said one survivor, “but maybe none of us would have survived if not for him.”

Countless other American warriors may be less decorated but nonetheless continue to give above and beyond the call of duty. Some don’t come home alive, like Staff Sgt. David Stewart, 34, Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrandt, 19, and Lance Cpl. Adam Wolff, 25, three Marines who died last Friday in combat operations in Afghanistan. The ones who come home wounded tend to soldier on, if you’ll pardon the pun, without complaint, which makes the recent revelations of Veterans Administration neglect of wounded vets that much more shameful and unconscionable.

Occasionally our entertainment media throw a deserved spotlight on our military, such as with the outstanding movie Lone Survivor, based on Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s harrowing book of the same name, or the Super Bowl commercial from Budweiser this year which celebrated a soldier’s return home.

But more often than not we’re treated to displays in the culture like these: egomaniac rapper Kanye West has the nerve to compare his stage performances to the risks of military service; tone-deaf celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow calls internet attacks on her the “bloody, dehumanizing” equivalent of war; and earlier this year in a segment called “Heroes and Zeroes” on his titular show, MSNBC lightweight Ronan Farrow praised Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s disgusting Girls, for her heroic nudity. You can’t degrade the meaning and significance of heroism much further than that.

In a perfect world, men like the ones I noted above would be household names like – or better yet, instead of – Kanye West or Gwyneth Paltrow. Not that our heroes would ever be comfortable with such recognition, because selfless service is part and parcel of a hero’s character. The least we can do is stop applying the word “hero” casually and reserve it for those who have earned it, sometimes with their lives.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/27/14)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Gary Oldman’s Freewheeling, Profane Honesty

Outrage is the lifeblood of the internet, and nothing fuels online outrage quite like a celebrity going off-script and passionately challenging the socially approved pieties of political correctness.

Actor Gary Oldman is not a movie star who keeps playing himself over and over again. He’s an actual actor with a perfectionist’s work ethic and incredible range, having played everyone from Beethoven, Sid Vicious, and Lee Harvey Oswald to Dracula, George Smiley, and Sirius Black. Oldman is the kind of professional who gets the work done rather than whip up tabloid-worthy, offstage scandal.

Until last weekend, that is. He caused a perfect storm of internet indignation when he held nothing back in a fiery, wide-ranging interview with Playboy. In it Oldman verbally savaged everyone from Nancy Pelosi (a “f***ing useless c**t”) to the Golden Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association (“90 nobodies having a wank”). He dismissed everything from his own movies (“Most of my work I would just stomp into the ground and start over again”) to reality TV (“the museum of social decay”).

But the primary target of his ire was the hypocrisy of political correctness, the kneejerk condemnation of others for social transgressions of which we’ve all been guilty. “I just think political correctness is crap,” Oldman began when asked about Mel Gibson’s infamous, career-wounding meltdown. “I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all f***ing hypocrites. That’s what I think about it. The policeman who arrested him has never used the word ni**er or that f***ing Jew? I’m being brutally honest here. It’s the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy.”

He went on to sympathize with Alec Baldwin for hurling an anti-gay slur at an annoying paparazzo: “I don’t blame him… We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, ‘Isn’t that shocking?’”

Ironically, that’s just the response his comments engendered. As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway put it, “People lost their everliving minds.” Virtually every entertainment and pop culture website covered the interview, or at least highlighted selected portions of it that were guaranteed to evoke the most outrage. Out-of-context quotes and headlines like “Gary Oldman Sides with Homophobic Alec Baldwin and Anti-Semitic Mel Gibson!” spread like hot Nutella.

It didn’t help that Oldman let slip hints of his political conservatism, “views and opinions that most of [Hollywood] doesn’t share.” Recently I wrote an article for Acculturated in which I cautioned actors and actresses against allowing their political activism to overshadow their art, lest they alienate viewers who no longer might be able to separate the activists from their acting roles. Oldman has expressed some conservative/libertarian leanings in the past but he certainly never pushed them as far or as openly as, say, Matt Damon pushes his progressive politics. As a Hollywood conservative, Oldman noted, “you don’t come out and talk about these things, for obvious reasons.”

Sure enough, when he did, the internet lit up. Conservative websites embraced Oldman’s progressive-bashing. Progressive websites bashed Oldman’s anti-PC bashing. Jewish websites bashed Oldman’s apparent Gibson-defending. Jezebel irrelevantly bashed his age (56) and his foul language, which is rather hypocritical considering their own unabashed swearing.

Regrettably, all this internet noise overshadowed some more interesting and insightful bits from Oldman’s interview, such as his pessimist view that culturally, politically, and every other way, “we’re up sh*t creek without a paddle or a compass.” He is skeptical that we can rise above a culture ruled by narcissism, artistic mediocrity, and political correctness.

But it was his assault on the latter that struck a nerve, and regardless of how one may interpret some of Gary Oldman’s freewheeling comments or his politics, his passionate honesty may have sparked a necessary conversation. In crucial ways we are up sh*t creek without a compass – a moral compass. And perhaps throwing off the chains of political correctness is the first step toward a more honest cultural self-examination.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/26/14)

What The Redskins Controversy is Really About

Last week the controversy over the NFL Washington Redskins’ name, deemed offensive by the professionally aggrieved, reached a new peak when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled six federal trademark registrations owned by the team.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who had previously blustered impotently that he wouldn’t accept an invitation to attend a Redskins home game until the team changed its name (a threat which no doubt sent waves of panic through the Redskins organization), gloated that the ruling proved “the handwriting is on the wall.” “It’s only a matter of time,” he tweeted, “until [Redskins owner] Daniel Snyder is forced to do the right thing and change the name.”

Forced to do the right thing. And there you have the totalitarian pr0gressive mindset in a nutshell: if people don’t do the “right thing” – by which the left means, of course, conform to their social justice agenda – then they must be coerced by any means necessary.

The 2-1 decision by the Board does not mean that the team must stop using the name, but Robert Tracinski at The Federalist notes that the cancellation sets a “terrifying” precedent: “This ruling happened precisely because the campaign against the Redskins has failed in the court of public opinion... So the left resorted to one of its favorite fallbacks. If the people can’t be persuaded, use the bureaucracy”:

In this case, executive officials declared that a private company doesn’t deserve the protection of the law: if the ruling survives an appeal in the courts, the federal government will stop prosecuting violations of the team’s intellectual property rights, potentially costing it millions of dollars…

[B]ureaucrats in Washington are now empowered to make subjective decrees about what is offensive and what will be tolerated, based on pressure from a small clique of Washington insiders. Anyone who runs afoul of these decrees, anyone branded as regressive and politically incorrect, is declared outside the protection of the federal government.

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata, who call the Redskins name a “hateful slur,” hope that the patent ruling will “imperil the ability of the team’s billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans.”

This is a ridiculous claim, since Snyder is profiting not from dehumanizing Native Americans but from the American love of football. But what Halbritter and Pata are trying to do in their statement is smear Snyder as a “billionaire” which, in these times of anti-wealth bigotry, is as despised a label as “racist.” Among the Occupy movement left, it is code for “rapacious one-percenter who didn’t build that,” as multi-millionaire Elizabeth Warren might put it.

Barack Obama, who has a habit of injecting his personal opinion on topics that should be far beneath presidential concern, naturally spoke out in favor of jettisoning the team’s name, which offends “a sizable group of people,” he said, who have “real legitimate concerns.”
Not that sizeable. Ten years ago a poll of American Indians found that 90% of Indians polled in 48 states found the name inoffensive. In a January 2014 poll, a broad majority of adults (83%) responded that the Washington Redskins should not change their nickname. Among football fans, that majority was even higher: 87%.

The Redskins have been in existence since 1933 (although not always in Washington, D.C.). Ever since then probably no one has used the word “redskins” to refer to anything other than that team. Indeed, David Plotz at the radical Slate admitted that the word has a “relatively innocent” history, that Native Americans themselves used the word as a descriptor and not an insult. He also conceded that the team name was chosen to honor Native American bravery. Another writer at Slate traced the word’s history and found it largely benign.

“But time passes,” Plotz wrote. “Americans think differently about race and the language of race than we did 80 years ago.” And so Slate proudly announced that they simply would not use the word anymore (Mother Jones and The New Republic followed suit). “Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok,” wrote Plotz. True, changing the way we talk is not PC “run amok.” It is the very intent of political correctness to manipulate language and thought to conform to the progressive agenda.

Let’s be real. The rancorous debate over the Redskins name has nothing to do with assuaging the hurt feelings of Obama’s “sizeable group of people.” It is about the expansion of government control. Progressives like Harry Reid don’t truly care about Native American sensibilities any more than they care about health care for the uninsured. Both issues - all issues for progressives – are about acquiring and expanding power.

In short, the contemporary obsession with “being offended” is never truly about “being offended.” Claiming offense is a strategy of identity politics whereby a minority faction plays the victim card to further a broader agenda. “The issue is never the issue,” as Saul Alinsky used to state. “The issue is always the revolution.”

The Daily Caller, for example, listed twelve trademarks that the United States Patent and Trademark Office apparently finds less worthy of addressing than “Redskins.” Those trademarks include, among others, such brands as Uppity Negro, Dago Swag, Kraut Krap, and Figgas Over Niggas. The hypocrisy is blatant and almost hilarious. But the Washington Redskins make a more useful and visible political target.

If President Obama and his cohorts are eagerly searching to punish organizations with offensive names, perhaps they could turn their selective attention to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/23/14)

The Case for Israel and Academic Freedom

This Tuesday evening in Los Angeles, Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors is hosting Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson as he presents “The Case for Israel and Academic Freedom.” At the forefront of the fight against the American Studies Association (ASA) academic boycott of Israel, Jacobson will argue that the boycott is anti-educational, anti-peace, and based on misconceptions and omissions about the history and legality of the conflict.

Prof. Jacobson is the founder and publisher of two popular websites, Legal Insurrection and College Insurrection, which have covered the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement for years. He has been cited in major publications such as The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Forbes, National Review, Commentary, and elsewhere. Through Legal Insurrection, Jacobson was instrumental in obtaining rejections of the academic boycott by over 250 University Presidents, and has filed a challenge to the ASA’s tax exempt status.

I asked him a few questions in advance of Tuesday’s event.

Mark Tapson:    First, tell us briefly about Legal Insurrection and College Insurrection, and their purpose.

William Jacobson:            Legal Insurrection went live on October 12, 2008, less than a month before the presidential election. There was no long-term plan to start it.  Rather, it reflected my growing frustration with what I saw as blatant media bias in favor of Obama, and a general mania surrounding the Obama campaign. Since then, we have covered a wide range of political and legal issues, concentrating on those areas in which the two overlap. We have earned a name for ourselves by grabbing onto issues and candidates and doing the type of in-depth research and exhaustive follow-up that are hard to find these days.

As an example, our coverage of Elizabeth Warren drove many of the issues with which she struggled in her 2012 Senate campaign and was so extensive that we preserved the research in a separate website,

College Insurrection was started in August 2012, as we found ourselves focusing more and more on the problems non-liberal students faced on campuses. Unlike Legal Insurrection, which focuses on creating original content, College Insurrection is more of an aggregator, pulling stories from college newspapers and other media.

MT:     What is your objection to the American Studies Association boycott and to academic boycotts in general?

WJ:    Systematic academic boycotts are anti-educational and destructive far beyond the individuals or entities boycotted. The ASA boycott, if it were to be adopted universally as its backers propose, would affect not just the academic freedom of Israelis, but also of all those who want to engage in the free exchange of ideas. Joint research would be cut off, as would student and faculty research exchanges. That takes the choice away from individuals, including students. By what right to faculty have the right to take educational opportunities away from students? It's the height of faculty arrogance.

Moreover, where does it stop? The purported justifications for the academic boycott apply to dozens of countries, including the United States. Our universities are built on what once were Native American lands, we had slavery and segregation, "institutional racism" allegedly still exists at our universities, and our universities widely participate in Department of Defense related research. So why aren't these American academic boycotters of Israel also boycotting their own universities? It's beyond hypocrisy, it's a singling out of the only Jewish nation in the world for treatment based on standards applied to no one else. Substitute "black" for "Jewish" and you'd call it racism; so it is, as former Harvard President Lawrence Sommers said, anti-Semitic in fact, if not in intent.

MT:     The Cornell Daily Sun mentioned recently that you compared the boycott to your “personal experiences studying abroad in Moscow under Soviet rule and said the lack of an academic boycott against the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin could have contributed to its eventual downfall.” Can you elaborate on that?

WJ:    The Daily Sun did not accurately paraphrase that part of my lecture. I discussed my experiences as an exchange student in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and how despite the horrors of the Soviet system under Stalin and others, we still wanted academic interaction. My point was that we felt, in the early 1980s, that our presence in Moscow and interaction with Soviets was important regardless of what the Soviet system represented, and no one was suggesting an academic boycott. These academic interactions in the 1980s may have contributed to the eventual downfall of the Soviet system as the more free flow of information enlightened Soviet citizens to ideas of liberty.

MT:     What do you say to the ASA and to BDS activists who insist that Israel is an apartheid state?

WJ:    They are either ignorant, or deliberate propagandists. Apartheid was a unique system of racial domination by a minority over a majority based on racial classification, above and beyond the types of discrimination that exist in every country. Much as the Holocaust was unique in that it systematized and industrialized genocide, so too Apartheid was unique which is why it is considered under international law to be a Crime Against Humanity.

The Rome Convention on the Crime of Apartheid is very specific that it requires systematized domination through acts which themselves are crimes, of one "racial group" over another. That is not what is happening in Israel. Israel is a majority ruled nation, not minority ruled. Israeli Jews are themselves mutli-racial, with approximately half being refugees from or the descendants of refugees from Arab lands. Israel also has gone to great effort to rescue non-white Jewish populations.  

The divisions in Israel are religious or ethnic, not racial, which is common throughout the world. No one claims that majority Islamic domination in the Middle East and elsewhere is "Apartheid," so why is that label applied to the only Jewish state? If religious domination constituted Apartheid, then every country which has adopted in whole or in part Islamic law would be an Apartheid state. But that's not the way anyone uses the term, except as to Israel.  

I could go on and on, but the short answer is that the term "Apartheid" has been so broadened by enemies of Israel that the terminology as applied to Israel has become a weapon divorced from legal and historical reality. That even John Kerry and some Israeli politicians use the term inaccurately is a testament to the success of the decades-long propaganda campaign against Israel.

MT:     The New York Times seemed to suggest months ago that the ASA is a rather insignificant organization and that the backlash against its boycott has been almost overkill. Do you think the Times was underestimating the boycott? Do you think the BDS movement in general is faltering or gaining ground?

WJ:    We should take BDS seriously because it is a malignant ideology which seeks to dehumanize Israeli Jews. The best evidence of where BDS leads was the publication on multiple social media platforms of a Nazi-era anti-Semitic cartoon by Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine. It didn't start at Vassar with Nazi-inspired demonization of Jews, but that's where it inevitably led. So we should fight the BDS movement early, before it spreads like it has in Europe, where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic violence go hand in hand.

That said, we don't need to panic. In the United States support for Israel is at historic highs, and there is no meaningful political movement espousing anti-Israeli platforms. Let's keep it that way.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/17/14)

Ethnic Studies = Social Justice

As Latinos overtake non-Hispanic whites as California’s largest ethnic group, a bill is now before the California state Senate which would require the Education Department to form a task force to study the implementation of a standardized ethnic studies curriculum in high schools across the state.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who has a bachelor’s degree in Chicano Studies from UC Berkeley, bill AB 1750 seeks to succeed where similar efforts to establish mandatory ethnic studies classes elsewhere have proven controversial – and failed.

Arizona, for example, passed a law in 2010 to shut down a Mexican-American studies curriculum that included books which Attorney General Tom Horne described as shockingly racist (even New Mexico state Rep. Nora Espinoza – herself Latina – called them “hate books”). Under a law forbidding classes “that advocate the overthrow of the United States, promote racial resentment, or emphasize students’ ethnicity rather than their individuality,” seven books were removed from high school classrooms to reside in the library (not banned, as opponents insist on describing it). Among them were titles such as Critical Race Theory, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Marxist activist Paulo Freire, and Message to Aztlan (Aztlan is a symbol for Latino activists who believe they have a legal right to the land the United States acquired from the Mexican-American War).

Tony Diaz, who co-founded the pro-ethnic studies movement Librotraficante to subvert the Arizonan law, says that anti-ethnic studies efforts are discriminatory and, curiously, “an attempt to turn colleges and high schools into finishing schools for corporations.” Diaz didn’t expound on why preparing students to succeed in the corporate workforce is bad or what it has to do with ethnic studies.

A movement to require Mexican-American courses in Texas recently fizzled out as well. Some Latino activists there say the public school curriculum reflects “institutionalized racism,” by which they mean that they resent being denied the opportunity to inflame students with their own anti-capitalist, racial supremacism.

Rodolfo Acuña, professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State University Northridge and author of the aforementioned Occupied America, claims to have worked on at least a dozen attempts himself to extend ethnic studies to public schools, but they never garnered legislative support. However, he said he doesn’t anticipate much opposition to the Californian bill. Assemblyman Alejo is optimistic too:

California is moving in a different direction, one that recognizes and values the history of the people who make up our state. This will put California on the cutting edge — while other states are trying to abolish ethnic studies, we can standardize and incorporate it into high school curriculum…

We’re trying to incorporate the histories and knowledge of different communities that make up our state — not limited to communities of color. Ethnic studies should be seen not just as Latino — but Irish, Jewish, Filipino — there is no limitation.

About California’s diverse student population, Alejo says, “We recognize those unique values and history, language and literatures – all of that should be included in California’s high school curriculum.”

Supporters say such a curriculum is necessary to help the burgeoning Latino student population feel better about themselves by delving into their own cultural heritage. Opponents say that such classes politicize students and breed ethnic resentment. Devon Peña, former director of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, smears opposition as McCarthyism: “It’s just a witch hunt of a different color. Now, instead of going after the reds, they’re going after the browns.”

What, really, is ethnic studies all about? Ask proponents and among the responses you will find a common thread: social justice. Santa Monica High School teacher Kitaro Webb, for example, says that ethnic studies is about “civic engagement, responsibility and fighting for what you believe in.” “From its origins in the late 1960s, Ethnic Studies scholars have been committed to issues of social justice,” reads the mission statement of the University of Oregon’s Ethnic Studies Department, which analyzes “inequalities as they relate to whiteness and white privilege.” The UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Department’s mission statement reads, in part: “Inquiries into the nature of racial, ethnic, and gender inequality are informed by a commitment to social change and social justice.” [emphases added] Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, an Ethnic Studies professor at San Francisco State and a “community-engaged-motherscholar-of-color”, says that “What ethnic studies is really about is creating opportunity for young people to learn about themselves and the world around them and make the world a better place.” By making the world a better place, she means social justice, of course – the progressive euphemism for racial payback and wealth redistribution.

“It is unethical and unprofessional for teachers to use their power over students to get the students to be activists in support of the teachers’ political causes,” says Arizona Attorney General Horne. Absolutely right, but enlisting youth in the cause of social justice is the very raison d’etre of multiculturalist educators.

“For multiculturalists there is no unifying American culture” as James S. Robbins puts it in Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity. “They define people within groups and cultures that are present in the United States but are not to be thought of primarily, if at all, as American.” Multiculturalism is the politics of victimhood, and its proponents must “rewrite history to serve as a platform for their endless grievances.”

I’m no community-engaged-motherscholar-of-color, and forgive my unfashionable belief in American exceptionalism and my politically incorrect yearning to see my country lead the free world into the future. Allow me to put forth a crazy concept: instead of aggravating racial division and radicalizing ethnic students to despise their adopted country and white people, I recommend we expel subversives disguised as educators and concentrate our educational efforts at the high school level on the following common-sense points:

·         1) ground students in critical thinking skills and the crucial basics of math, science, and English communication expertise;

·         2) rather than explore what Alejo calls “the unique values and history, language and literatures” of a multitude of ethnicities, celebrate the history and values of the greatest country in the history of the world, the United States, and encourage our melting-pot unity as non-hyphenated Americans;

·         3) instill in students the conviction that individual achievement through competition and hard work will lead to personal and national economic success, while wallowing in the collective grievances of identity politics will lead only to poverty and racial division.

Education is more than teaching about the world around us, as Prof. Tintiangco-Cubales put it. It’s certainly not about mobilizing political activists and promoting ethnic rage and economic envy. Education is about empowering young people of all ethnicities with the competitive intellectual tools to fulfill their individual potential and to make their own productive way in the world. That will make the world a better place.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/12/14)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Should Actors Be Openly Political?

In a recent interview with Playboy, actor/director Ben Affleck discussed his political support for Democrats such as Al Gore, Elizabeth Warren, and Barack Obama. “People now know me as a Democrat, and that will always be the case to some extent.” For an actor, that’s courting a problem.

The interviewer pursued that point by asking Affleck if he thinks that audience awareness of his politics “polarizes” viewers. “It does,” replied Affleck,

and you can bifurcate your audience. When I watch a guy [onscreen] I know is a big Republican, part of me thinks, I probably wouldn’t like this person if I met him, or we would have different opinions. That shit fogs the mind when you should be paying attention and be swept into the illusion.

Exactly right. Actors on either side of the political fence who overly politicize themselves risk alienating at least half their audience. This is America, so actors, like other citizens, certainly have the right to their political opinions and the right to express them publicly. But unlike “ordinary” people, and unlike even other artists such as musicians or writers, an actor’s job is to lose himself or herself in a role sufficiently to enable the audience to suspend its disbelief.

In the movie theater, one part of our mind is aware, of course, that we are watching movie star Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, but to lose ourselves in the movie magic we need to be able to shut down that part of our mind and believe that Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. Actors like Damon who develop a very public, polarizing, political persona risk overshadowing the characters they are paid to bring to life onscreen; once that happens, it takes audiences out of the story or even prevents them from watching in the first place. Once Damon’s or, say, George Clooney’s politics get in the way, the illusion is broken. Such actors do a disservice to their art, to their audiences, and to the movie projects they are involved in.

When I raised this point in private conversation with a conservative actor friend, he asked if I were suggesting that actors – particularly conservatives, a distinct minority in Hollywood who often face serious repercussions for being politically outspoken (see Dash, Stacey) – should keep their heads down politically. But that isn’t my argument. I don’t encourage any actor to suppress his or her political beliefs, especially not for fear of discrimination. Actors lend their celebrity power to causes and politicians all the time and should feel free to do so. I’m merely pointing out that there is an artistic cost to becoming more activist than actor.

Damon and Sean Penn, for example, are so outspoken politically that I believe their careers are suffering as a result. Damon hasn’t had a hit since The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, Penn not since Mystic River in 2003. That hasn’t stopped either of them from continuing to get work or garnering award nominations, but outside of the echo chamber of Hollywood where their views are largely celebrated, their political aggressiveness has driven many theatergoers to say, for example, “I’m never going to see another Sean Penn movie.” That’s the disservice I mentioned above.

Again, I am not advocating for or against actors putting politics ahead of art. That’s their choice, and I’m sure actors like Penn and Damon consider their activism more important and thus they’re willing to take the hit. Nevertheless, that choice has adverse consequences for their work and legacy as artists.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/10/14)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Miss USA’s Self-Defense Empowerment

For some reason, feminists who hold beauty pageants in contempt were watching the Miss USA Pageant the other night when Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez, a 4th-degree black belt in taekwondo, responded to a question about sexual assaults on campus. She had the temerity to recommend that women learn to defend themselves, and the resulting outrage reveals just how badly modern feminism is serving today’s young women.

The 24-year-old Miss Sanchez was asked why a “horrific epidemic” of campus sexual assaults has been “swept under the rug for so long” and what colleges can do to combat it. The question seemed designed to steer her toward discussing the “rape culture” in which feminists believe we live, but Miss Sanchez didn’t take the bait. Instead, she replied that perhaps colleges themselves have suppressed this reputation-damaging information, and that one thing women can do is be prepared to fight back: “I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself, and that’s something that we should start to implement for a lot of women.”

This message of self-empowerment for women elicited a roar of approval from the audience, but didn’t sit well with feminists at home. They took to Twitter to express their horror and disappointment at what they considered, incredibly, to be “victim-shaming.” Here are some tweeted gems of self-delusion collected at

I’m sorry, but women shouldn’t need to take self defense classes to protect themselves from rape #MissUSA

Miss Nevada, who just reinforced victim-blaming rape culture to millions of viewers, is crowned #MissUSA 2014

Miss Nevada was asked about rape at colleges and answered that women need to learn to defend themselves… OR MEN COULD JUST NOT RAPE.

Not happy w/ Miss Nevada’s answer that to stop rape we should teach women to defend themselves...Why don’t we teach men to not rape?

Miss Nevada described how individuals need to protect themselves from rape, instead of teaching others not to rape. Stop the victim blaming.

Sick of hearing “women need to learn selfdefense from sexual violence” We need a culture we don’t have to defend ourselves from

Women shouldn’t need to learn to protect themselves against rape #missnevada educate and respect yourself as a woman #rapeculture

Really Miss Nevada? We should combat rape with self defense? Rape culture wins again

Hey Miss Nevada- how about instead of woman learning to protect themselves, men learn to not rape women?

Miss Nevada: How is it a woman’s responsibility to learn to protect herself from rape? #MissUSA2014 #getaburkatoo

Where is the logic in such inane comments? Miss Sanchez trained in taekwondo for 12 years but doesn’t respect herself as a woman? Acquiring a 4th degree black belt is equivalent to wearing a burqa? Refusing to be a victim is the same as blaming the victim? Men should just be taught not to rape? The sheer brainwashed density of Miss Sanchez’s young critics – mostly female – is alarming confirmation that modern feminism is not about empowering women but about ensuring their victim status and attacking men instead.

What is rape culture? It is the feminist theory that sexual assault becomes normalized when a culture condones the objectification and trivialization of women. You almost cannot read anything about today’s strained standoff between the sexes without encountering the accusation that America has a rape culture and that all men are literal or latent rapists who need to be deprogrammed out of their acculturated misogyny.

Americans don’t have a rape culture. We have a culture that considers rape a heinous violent crime. We have a culture so unforgiving of rape that even false accusations of it ruin men’s lives. We don’t “teach” men to rape, and in any case the vast majority of American males would never even consider such a depraved act, unlike what misandrists insist.

According to 2013 Bureau of Justice statistics, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations in this country declined 58% from 1995 to 2010. To cite this is certainly not to trivialize the terrible violation that is rape; nor is it to suggest that anything more than zero sexual assaults is acceptable. It is only to emphasize that not only are we not enmeshed in a rape culture, but things seem to be improving significantly.

However, there are violent deviants who will and do rape, and the world will never rid itself of that minority of evil men. That’s just the way the world is and always has been. For feminists to say that women shouldn’t have to live in a world where the threat of assault exists is like saying that we shouldn’t have to live in a world where murder and theft exist. The reality is that we do live in such a world, so you had better be prepared to do more than just soil yourself to ward off attackers, as some unhelpful feminists suggest. To believe that we can simply teach that rape is unconscionable – which we already do – and that the crime will then disappear is a childish and dangerous utopian fantasy.

I have two very young daughters. If the feminist solution to empowering them is to disempower them, to keep them unprepared to resist assault, and to suggest they be patient until utopia arrives rather than confront reality head-on, then I won’t be raising feminists. I’ll be raising strong, confident young women like Nia Sanchez with the dignity and skills to refuse to be victims.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 6/10/14)

The Abortion Movie We Don’t Need

Last weekend was the opening, at least in L.A. and New York, of Obvious Child starring comic actress and voiceover artist Jenny Slate. The film is being touted as “the most winning abortion-themed rom-com of all time,” implying that it tops director Judd Apatow’s hugely successful Knocked Up. It has also been called “the abortion movie we all need,” because – and this doesn’t quite qualify as a spoiler, since it is merely the subject of the film – it puts a positive spin on a young woman’s choice to abort her unplanned pregnancy.

Obvious Child was conceived, if you’ll pardon my very pointed pun, as a 20-minute short which made the film festival circuit back in 2009, and it has since grown into a full feature. I have not yet seen it, so this is not a review, only a commentary on the movie’s theme.

Right after Christmas, Krystie Lee Yandoli at Bustle wrote “Why Obvious Child is the Abortion Movie We All Need” and called it “an exciting development for anyone who pays attention to how abortion is represented in major motion pictures... Movies like Juno and Knocked Up perpetuate the idea that single women who unexpectedly get pregnant universally opt to complete their pregnancies against all other practical odds.” In reality too, she continues,

abortion stories receive an especially stereotyped treatment: women don’t get them, and if they do they’re often portrayed as horrific and regrettable experiences. Hollywood fails to depict the wide range of possibilities that come along with the actuality of abortion. Not everyone is devastatingly sad or talked out of going through with it.

True, not everyone is devastatingly sad about aborting a baby – a fact that is itself devastatingly sad. Not that I wish guilt and depression on anyone, but the reality that Yandoli avoids mentioning, that pro-abortion advocates always avoid (just try to find the word “baby” in any pro-choice article), is that abortion isn’t simply about ridding yourself of an inconvenient clump of “goo,” as comedienne Sarah Silverman refers to an unborn baby; abortion is about ending your child’s life. For pro-life advocates, whether or not you feel good about or comfortable with that choice isn’t the issue and never has been. The issue is your responsibility to the budding life you have conceived, unplanned or not.

But women like Yandoli want more entertainment which glosses over that reality. “That’s why films like Obvious Child are so important,” she writes. “We need more pop culture narratives that normalize the idea that women… end up being okay after having an abortion.” Actually, we need more pop culture narratives that normalize the reality that abortion isn’t just about you – it’s about the right to life of your unborn child who doesn’t get a choice.

An example of the abortion movie we all really need is Bella, released in 2007, a critically-mixed film but an audience favorite that received the Golden Tomato award from the Rotten Tomatoes film review site for the most favorable user-rating of the year, a mind-blowing 96.5%. The pro-adoption Bella tells the story of Nina, a New York City waitress, and her co-worker José, a cook. She is pregnant and alone and seriously considering abortion; he is suffering over his responsibility for the death of a little girl in a car accident. Together they face a choice to heal their emotional emptiness.

Another example of an abortion movie we all need is Gosnell, the made-for-TV movie that is still in pre-production, which surpassed the highest-ever goal of crowdfunding dollars for an entertainment project at Indiegogo – $2.1 million, to be exact. The independent project will take on a subject that the mass media have not sufficiently examined and that mainstream Hollywood would almost certainly never address – the gruesome murders committed by abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell in the Philadelphia clinic he ran. Too dark? Yes, and that’s why we need it. Compared to the life-affirming warmth of Bella, Gosnell will shine a fearless light on the ghastly indifference to human life that is at the heart of the abortion process.

We don’t need entertainment that normalizes indifference to the inconvenient truth about abortion. We need entertainment that normalizes our culture’s values about the sanctity of human life.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/9/14

Monday, June 9, 2014

What Superheroes Teach Us About Good and Evil

When little Braden Denton, just five years old, lost his battle with a brain tumor recently, his heartbreaking story and unconventional funeral – with pallbearers dressed as superheroes – stirred a bit of media and internet interest. It’s a terrible loss when a child full of life is taken so young, but perhaps there is an inspiring lesson to be gleaned from Braden’s story.

Like countless other kids, Braden idolized superheroes. “He was a huge Spiderman fan,” said his mother, but he eventually had to move on to other super idols as well “because he had all the [Spiderman] toys. So really, he liked every superhero.” They paid their respects at his funeral when the pallbearers came in full costume as Thor, Batman, the Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman, and Superman – not exactly the usual decorum for such an occasion, but a fitting tribute to a boy whose joy and inspiration in his short time on earth came from his fascination with these fictional heroes.

Braden’s young uncle Corey – “Thor” for the funeral – said, “It was hard, but I did it for him. We went to the Superman movie and he was dressed up as Superman. I watched all the [Iron Man movies] with him.”

Children come into the world basically as little animals that need to be civilized. They have to be taught manners, given moral instruction, and presented with inspiring examples of virtuous behavior like courage and service to others. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t have a lot to offer young people in terms of heroic paragons. We no longer share with our children the myths of ancient heroes. Our TV entertainment is littered with morally conflicted anti-heroes in fare that is too adult for kids anyway. The role models we celebrate now are pop culture figures such as professional athletes or American Idol winners rather than, say, soldiers or firefighters who literally put their lives on the line for others.

That leaves superheroes and their villains as the clearest, albeit fictional, exemplars of the eternal conflict between Good and Evil. Children (and not only boys anymore) find tales of superheroes compelling not merely because of the cool costumes or the awesome powers, but because, as this report states, “through [superhero] play they can feel brave, fearless, in control of their world, outside of ordinary, and just plain good.” Some are concerned that an obsession with superheroes may lead to actual violence down the line, but researchers have found the opposite to be true. It actually benefits children in many ways, including boosting their self-confidence. Jeff Greenberg, a social psychology professor at the University of Arizona, points out that “By identifying with the culture’s heroes and superheroes, children can begin to feel like they are aligning with what is good and can develop their own agency, power, and value in the world.”

A Florida woman named Cynthia Falardeau, for example, says of her son, “Sometimes Wyatt says that he gets bullied and superheroes give him the confidence to stand up, and tell the teacher.” Wyatt himself explains that superheroes “have super powers, strength, and they are brave. They always do the right things. They battle against evil. Superheroes give you strength!”

As children at play we were like Wyatt or Braden – lionhearted. But as we get older and life seems to become more morally tangled, we become jaded and the edge of our idealism and courage often grows dull.

Ms. Falardeau says of her son’s superhero fantasies, “I think he is learning that everyone is capable of being extraordinary.” I suspect Braden Denton, proud to dress up as Superman in the movie theater, learned the same thing. Perhaps his brief life can be a reminder to all of us to live as if we had never lost that childhood fearlessness, that moral clarity, and that sense of our own extraordinary power.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/7/14)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Is the Movie Western Dead?

Last weekend, multi-hyphenate Seth MacFarlane’s much-anticipated and heavily-promoted new comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West opened to an audience ghost town, earning only $17 million from over 3500 theaters (compare that to Maleficent’s $70 million). It aimed to be the new Blazing Saddles but now seems more like the new The Lone Ranger, another recent big-budget western that bit the dust hard. Has the sun finally set for good on the Hollywood western?

Westerns used to be a staple, perhaps the staple, of movie fare, as far back as the silent movie era. They largely fell off the map until 1939’s Stagecoach starring John Wayne, then took off again. Hollywood pumped out classic after classic like Shane, Rio Bravo, High Noon, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, until the ‘70s ushered in a whole new breed of filmmaker. Clint Eastwood’s outstanding Unforgiven in 1992 sparked hope that the genre could be resurrected (tough guy Eastwood, of course, previously starred in many other gritty westerns like High Plains Drifter and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), but the western only sputtered to life occasionally after that. Kevin Costner’s Open Range in 2003 and the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe come to mind as memorable but uneven examples. Neither was a big money-maker.

Hollywood now produces few westerns. Why? A major reason is that they don’t do well overseas where Hollywood now makes at least 65% of its revenue. Foreign audiences just don’t connect with our Wild West experience. It doesn’t help that, in a cinematic landscape dominated by CGI-bloated superhero films and fantasy epics, character-driven westerns don’t command much attention abroad or at home. Failed big-budget attempts to spice up the genre with a hybrid like Cowboys and Aliens or TV series adaptations like The Lone Ranger and Will Smith’s Wild Wild West haven’t turned the tide.

It has reached the point where filmmakers don’t want to be associated with the genre even if they have made a western. Actor-director Tommy Lee Jones, for example, debuted his new film The Homesman at the Cannes Film Festival recently and bristled at the suggestion that it is a western, even though it’s set during the mid-19th century American westward expansion and involves a tense confrontation with a threatening Pawnee raiding party. Perhaps Jones is afraid that having it lumped into the western genre is limiting or may even be the film’s kiss of death.

What is the principal reason for the disappearing western? At the risk of oversimplifying the history of a complex and influential genre, the classic western as a morality tale celebrating the rugged, independent, heroic, pioneer spirit, with white-hatted loners facing off against black-hatted gangs, is simply passé, and has been for decades.

Broadly speaking, Hollywood over that period of time moved away from straightforward good-versus-evil conflicts toward what they like to think is moral complexity (but is too often merely moral equivalence), with anti-hero protagonists. It has also embraced, if not actually driven, a politically correct reinterpretation of the history of the American West, to the point where, as in multiple Oscar winner Dances with Wolves, the Indians now wear the figurative white hats and cowboys the black hats, or at best gray. In last year’s flop The Lone Ranger, to name a more recent example, the Native Americans are depicted as wiser and more morally upright than the rapacious white man. They mock the buffoonish Lone Ranger, the movie’s ostensible hero.

In a press conference following The Homesman’s screening, Tommy Lee Jones seemed to be bucking that trend when he defended his movie against criticism that it presents Native Americans as the bad guys. He said, “I am not ashamed of the fact that they are considered by our characters to be potentially homicidal. We are not bending the truth at all or stereotyping anybody. That’s the last thing we wanted to do.” Good for him. It’s PC revisionism to pretend that 19th century Native Americans were all noble, peaceful environmentalists or to romanticize their way of life as superior to the vastly advanced European settlers.

But then Jones declared that “I won't try to hide the fact that a consideration of American imperialism on the west side of the Mississippi river is the film’s underlying theme.” So much for bucking the trend.

Though hardly a traditional take on westerns, is MacFarlane’s bomb A Million Ways to Die in the West the genre’s last gasp? In the tragic film Lonely Are the Brave from 1962, Kirk Douglas plays a fiercely independent cowboy who loses a heroic battle against the inexorable advance of modernity. It would be a tragedy as well if the classic Hollywood western and its archetypal American hero met the same fate.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/4/14)