Arts & Letters Daily - ideas, criticism, debate

Arts & Letters Daily:

I should mention that the last two stories came to me via Arts & Letters Daily. I've hat-tipped to them so often that I sometimes forget to do it, but if you don't read them regularly, you might enjoy doing so. They have a permanent place on my link bar -- the second link under "Honor & Virtue," and only the third link down overall (counting the hidden link under the Leatherneck tartan). They do good work, and Grim's Hall is often in their debt.

Postmodern Fog Has Begun to Lift

Bloom Off PostModern Rose:

Here's an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times, called "Postmodern Fog Has Begun to Lift." Those of us who have been opposed to Postmodernism all along will be glad to hear it.

Until now, however, professors of English literature have been largely impossible to move from the Postmodern bandwagon. What has caused this sudden rethinking of the notion of Objective Truth?

[T]he master strategists in the White House, though they claim to stand by traditional values, are very much in the camp of postmodernism. In the New York Times Magazine last October, for example, a "senior advisor" to President Bush told Ron Suskind that journalists and scholars belong to "what we call the reality-based community," devoted to "the judicious study of discernible reality." They have no larger vision, no sense of the openings created by American dominance. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

He might have added that there are many ways to simulate reality: staying on message, for instance, impervious to correction and endlessly reiterating it while saturating the media environment. Ideologues, whether they're politicians or intellectuals, dismiss any appeal to disinterested motives or objective conditions. They see reality itself, including the electorate, as thoroughly malleable.
If President Bush is to be credited with liberating English departments from Postmodernism, it's been a successful administration indeed.

Weekly book reviews and literary criticism from the Times Literary Supplement

Bolivian Cattleman Whips Stanford Professor

With barbed wire. And shoelaces. Truly, my friends, a brutal but well-deserved beating is administered within these pages.

Judge: Parents can't teach pagan beliefs

Another Landmark Ruling:

Or something like that:

An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to 'non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.'
You know, I'm broadly sympathetic to what is usually called "the Religious Right." For example, even though all modern jurisprudence is against displays of the Ten Commandments in an official capacity, I recognize that there is an honorable alternative view of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that is as old as the view that holds sway.

The alternative view is that it is perfectly fine for government officials to practice their faith and display their symbols, and even to perform their duties in line with their religious principles. As uncomfortable as it might make some to be judged by someone with a framed copy of the Ten Commandments behind his head, so long as it's a personal rather than a goverment-owned display, I personally have no problem with it. I see no reason the judge can't hang his own copy in the courtroom he uses, just as you might hang a cross in your office if you were a Catholic. The judge's felt principles are the same whether they're on display or not -- at least if he hangs the sign, you know up front who you're dealing with, and if you don't feel he's been fair with you, you'll have an easier time making the case on appeal because you can clearly point to a reason for your belief.

So, I'm not especially hostile to "the Religious Right" on these questions. All the same, the Establishment Clause means something. If it shouldn't mean that you can't display the signs and speak in the terms of your faith, it certainly does mean that you can't establish a state religion. If you can't establish one, I see no reason why you can establish twelve, or fifty, or whatever range it takes to make up whatever the judge considers "mainstream."

The actual religion in question is Wicca, which is interesting in two ways. In the first case, it's interesting for reasons laid out in this sympathetic article, which boil down to this: the two founding historic claims of Wicca have both been proven false. It is neither an ancient religion that survived in misty folk traditions; nor were "witches" executed in the Middile Ages and Renaissance (who did not, per the first point, practice Wicca anyway) executed to the tune of nine million persons.

This last claim some Wiccans used to suggest that they had suffered from European predation as much as, or more than, the Jews. In fact, it appears that Wiccans actually originated among upper-class Britons in the 19th century. As the article notes, it drew from "connections to Masonic ritual, Aleister Crowley, Yeats and Kipling, the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, spiritualism, and much more."

That is the first interesting thing. The judge, either out of ignorance or because it was not his purpose, did not use this angle -- admitted even by many leading Wiccans -- to attack the faith. There is no reason to think the First Amendment would let him succeed if he had singled out Wicca on these grounds, but surely it would have been a stronger position for attempting a ban on a faith.

I don't raise this to damn Wicca, but only to point out something about the judge's tactics. He would have had documentary evidence that some variants still persist in attempting to falsify history, though he would have had to have admitted that other variants are working hard to correct the record and set the faith on a new course. Still, that is an angle that would have had a much stronger chance to survive appeal.

That is not what he chose to do. What he chose to do was not to attack Wicca due to any alleged deficiency within Wicca, but to attack all small faiths. This is not, therefore, an attack on a single faith -- it is an attempt to establish what is an acceptable "range" of religion.

The proof of this lies in the second interesting fact: the various traditions calling themselves Wicca are, collectively, the largest neo-pagan faith in the United States.

As a consequence, a declaration that Wicca is "non-mainstream" serves to delegitimize a host of other, smaller faiths as well. If a faith is allowed to be banned by the state merely because it is rarely practiced, a lot of faiths don't measure up. This chart puts Wiccans with "Pagan/Druid"s as well, but it does tend to show what else would be tossed "out of the mainstream" and thus forbidden to troubled children: Native American faiths, Sikhism, Taoists, Deism, and other faiths as well.

Apparently, the good judge took it upon himself to do this, having been asked by neither parent -- both are Wiccans. His reasoning is that it might be 'confusing' for their children, who are being educated in a Catholic school, to be exposed to Wicca as well. Yet, surely the parents have the right to have their children educated where they wish -- can they not choose to send, or not to send, their children to this school? And if they can choose that, why then should the school and not they get to choose the faith in which their children are primarily rasied?

Would he dare tell a Shinto family from Japan the same thing? A Navajo family?

It is astonishing that this ruling could have been issued in any court. I assume it will not long survive.

Hat tip: Sovay.

Grim's Hall

The Boy Scouts & the Gentleman

Commenter Ron Fox wrote an extensive piece on the Boy Scouts on one of the posts below. I thought it deserved a place on the full page:

As I've commented before, I've been a Scout leader the last 12 years. I've had a lot of experience observing boys and their behavior, and observing their mothers and their interaction with their mothers. Boys are loud, impulsive, physical, and difficult to control, especially if you are not 6' 2" and over 250 pounds with a voice that carries though a brick wall. The Scouting program deals with this by 1) making sure the boys have plenty of physical activity, 2) having them learn mostly by doing, not by listening or watching, 3) using other boys that the Scouts themselves elected as leaders, and 4) tolerating a certain level of disorder and mistakes.

There are a significant number of mothers who don't like this. Fathers tend to mostly go along with the "boys will be boys" philosophy, but the mothers want boys to be nice and quiet, pay attention, and not take physical risks. Just like they were when they were kids. I have had a lot of mothers question my philosophy. When we take the kids rock climbing, which I describe to the parents as "We're going to take your kids, tie them to ropes, and hang them 70 feet in the air over rocks", the mothers often don't even want to hear us describe it, never mind consider joining us. Just as well, since many of them are far too heavy and out of shape to be able to climb up to the top of the cliffs (although our Committee Chair is a notable exception). And we actually have had parents hold their kids out of our trips because it sounded too dangerous to them - we just had one kid who had to stay home from our rafting trip because Mom somehow divined that the currents in the river (that are 6 hours away by car and that I'll bet she's never seen in her life) would be too strong. Nevermind that the whole rest of the Troop went, and that we've been going up there for 3 years; we obviously don't know what we're talking about. Kids like that will quit the program out of shame.

Now, there are numerous mothers who, willingly or not, recognize that their sons have to be boys in order to become men. But there's a lot who don't. They are smothering their kids. They start literally screaming at me when I let the kids play dodgeball and one gets smacked by a ball thrown by a boy a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than he is. They don't realize that when the kid realizes that he didn't die, he becomes a little braver. They hold him close instead of shoving him out the door, and then wonder why he calls home crying homesick from summer camp his 4th year at camp, when he's 14 or 15.

And should their son insist on being a boy, they drug it out of him, often because the school finds boys harder to control than girls and use drugs to turn the boys into girls. The concept that perhaps they should adapt their teaching methods to fit the pupils, instead of vice versa, seems to escape them.
That captures a great deal of what is wrong with modern education. I would like to see a method of education that teaches boys in just that fashion: and one that returns to the classical notion of education. It should focus on reading the great works in their original languages, which means learning a fair amount of Greek, Latin, and French as well as Early Modern English. It should involve a heavy does of physical education, including boxing, riflemanship, ropework, and other practical skills according to the boys' interest.

It should involve mathematics heavily, and history taught in three cycles from childhood through the end of high school: a short first cycle to give children a "root" of where they are in the world; a second, long cycle, from third grade until the end of eight grade, that starts with the founding of civilization and goes through American history, but with time for frequent looks back over the years at how civilization carried forward traditions and ideas from the earlier periods, or lost and recovered them. Then a fourth cycle in high school, which begins again with Ancient History and Ancient Greece for the first year; Ancient Rome and the Medieval period for the second year; the Renaissance and the Early Modern Period in the third year; and the fourth year, modern history and American history. The third cycle would be more in-depth and scholarly than the previous two.

A classical education of that sort would be the best preparation I can imagine for the modern world. That it was also the best possible preparation for all previous worlds is not an accident.

Yet Another

Another Voice in the Chorus:

Southern Appeal cites a report by the Manhattan Institute that says more or less the same thing as these recent "class" articles, starting with Red State, Blue Collar, which I wrote while visiting at BlackFive's place. That was followed by Class War and The New Class, which were less 'considered essays' than regular old blog posts. Still, the three read together are all on a theme.

The Manhattan Institute sings a variation:

Steven Malanga shows how coalitions of public employee unions, workers at government-funded social service organizations, and recipients of government benefits have seized control of the politics of the big cities that make up the heart of Blue America. In New York City, this coalition has helped roll back some of the reforms of the Giuliani years. In California cities and towns, it is thwarting the expansion of private businesses. In nearly 100 municipalities, it has imposed higher costs on tens of thousands of firms by passing "living-wage" laws. Whereas the New Left of the 1960s believed—idealistically, if somewhat naively—that government could solve the biggest problems of our times, this New New Left is much more narrowly and cynically focused on expanding government programs to increase its own power, pay, and perks. And, as Malanga shows, the New New Left is emerging as the most powerful element of the national Democratic Party coalition.
Genuine progressives -- the old sort of Progressive -- will soon realize that the point of these programs is no longer 'helping the poor,' but controlling the poor along with the rest of society, while arrogating more wealth and power to their own "class."


Blogger Troubles:

You've probably noticed (I hope!) that the page is down occasionally. I gather this is a Blogger problem, and I hope they shall resolve it directly.

Winds of Change.NET: Darth Vader, NASCAR, and the New Class

The New Class:

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change linked to the article on class, below. He wonders if it doesn't demonstrate illustrate the theory of the "New Class" envisioned by Communists, but likewise present in the socialist West.

Mr. Derbyshire, whose notes from the school bus stop were quoted in the piece below, wrote in 2000 about the New Class. He was entirely hostile, but his piece is nevertheless insightful. One of their traits, he stated, was that:

They hate masculinity. The great masculine enthusiasms -- hunting, sexual conquest, mathematics, adventure, history, poetry, war -- are not popular with the New Class.... There is a strong tendency in our culture, encouraged by New Class educators and psychologists, to regard masculine traits as undesirable.
That is a common theme here, and elsewhere, but Mr. Derbyshire put it to virtual paper some years before we did. Psychology as a discipline (not really the appropriate word, but "science" is even less so), when applied not to individuals with problems but to "social problems," does seem to serve just this function: to enforce New Class values, while undermining traditional ones.

(Psychologist, by the way, is 77th percentile in the 'high status' scale of the Times' article. Since it requires a college degree (91st percentile for education even if it's just a Bachelor's), any practicing psychologist will average out as a member of the Top Fifth.)

Recognizing that is the first step to purging that pseudoscience from the unearned position it has come to occupy in our society. Both Derbyshire and du Toit complain, rightly, of the abuse young boys take at the hands of members of the 'helping professions,' who redefine their natural and healthy energy as a problem for society. As adults, men who have that energy are routinely painted with a black mark on these grounds. Because an increasing number of Americans have grown up in institutions that have enforced those values on them since childhood, it almost seems natural. Of course we should punish aggression, in all forms -- protective as well as predatory! Naturally, both the person who started the fight and the man who fought back are guilty.

This is the real face of our problem, as Mr. Katzman has rightly recalled. It comes down to class, but not "class" as the Times meant it. It comes down to whether you're one of them. If not, perhaps you're just a Hun.

NY1: Politics

Not The Only One:

Apparently my recent bout of nastiness is not unique. I see where Tokyo's governor, Shintaro Ishihara, recently held a press conference. He began by saying, "I have hay fever and am in a bad mood, so don't ask me stupid questions."

Well, maybe. But he sure seems to be having a good time while he is tweaking China's nose.

Cowboys and Indians - New York Times

At Least It's Not Vietnam:

Suddenly, comparisons between Iraq and British India seem to be the fashion.

Niall Ferguson: "Cowboys & Indians."

Chris Hanson, "The Scoop Heard Round the World."

Wretchard, "The High Hand."

Nicholas Fearn reviews "The Butcher of Amritsar"

Michael Hirsh, "A Troubled Hunt"

Wretchard excepted -- he has made occasional British India comparisons, but only as part of a wider commitment to exploring many historic models from military science -- this new wave seems in need of an explanation. My guess: the Vietnam analogy was finally fully explored in the 2004 elections, and decisively rejected by the voters. Journalists, who are broadly anti-war, now need a new model of to draw upon. It's taken this long to discover the next good model, and to educate themselves about it enough to write of it.

UPDATE: I've decided to expunge the last four paragraphs of the original post, on the grounds that it was nasty and unfair. :) Must be my allergies are getting to me. My apologies.

Southern Appeal

On Pat Tillman:

Readers need no introduction to Pat Tillman, though Southern Appeal provides one today. William at SA is wondering "why the Army withheld [information about Tillman's death by friendly fire] from Tillman's family and the American public."

It didn't occur to me at the time, but as I was reading the post and the comments, I remembered something from earlier. There's an executive order that touches on this matter:

"In no case shall information be classified in order to ... conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error [or to] prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency...."
The first time I encountered it was in Secrecy News, which brought a formal challenge against the military for classifying the Abu Ghraib report.

As I said at SA, no one is a bigger supporter of the military than I am. However, government secrecy is a danger to the Republic.

It's a necessary danger, but we have to have clear and enforcable rules -- and robust declassification, when the time comes that the information can be released -- if we are to remain a nation where the citizens are in charge.

All of you know how strongly I feel that we must remain that kind of a nation. The road away from citizen government is very smooth and wide. There are many reasons to travel it, and there are many people who will encourage you every step of the way. Yet we know where such roads lead.

If we are to remain a government of the people, we cannot yield over to goverment by experts. We cannot let it be said that only those trusted by the government enough to have clearances have a right to information about the government. We must insist that we have a right to all the information, even if it cannot be released immediately. Delay, yes, for the good of the Republic: but in time, we must insist, all things, all of them, must be told and reported to us. In the meantime, we must insist that our representatives be informed, and we must insist that they hold the government -- even the military -- to its laws on these matters. Just as we cannot accept a government of judges, we cannot accept a government of bureaucrats and functionaries, nor even of officers.

That is the only way to preserve the Republic for the long term. Here is a matter on which you might write your representative, and suggest that they demand an answer. Was the law followed? It shows less honor to Pat to have tried to keep the truth of his death from his family, than to have built some shining tale around it.

'Sunday Money' and 'Full Throttle': Nascar Nation - New York Times

Class War:

You probably saw the link at InstaPundit to the "NASCAR fans are a bunch of Huns" article at the New York Times. (Junior Johnson really is an American hero.) I went over to read the thing, and noticed another article on the sidebar -- on how evangelicals are either low class or Nuevo Riche. Both categories are, naturally, traditional objects of scorn for the Old Money or Traditional Aristocrats, in which latter role the Times places itself and its presumed readers.

Want proof of that assertion? Try their helpful online quiz, to determine what class you are. Go ahead.

OK, you've tried it out. Notice anything odd about it?

Well, what exactly is the "Occupation" field telling us? It doesn't tell us how much you make -- that's a separate field (income). It doesn't tell us how much you have already, as that is another separate field (wealth). The fourth field, education level, is likewise removed from Occupation.

What the Occupation field is for is to tell you how socially acceptable your job is. It tells you whether what you do is "High Prestige," or "Low Prestige." A surgeon, they say, is of the highest prestige -- and, since prestige is crossed with class, it tells you that a surgeon is presumably worthy of being in the Top Fifth.

Own your own business as, say, an exterminator? The best you can do is "Upper Middle Class" even if you set all the other indicators to full. Assuming you don't have a Doctorate, but rather a High School degree or thereabouts, and you're down in the regular Middle Class, even if you're rich as rich can be. If you're not fithy rich, you are hereby instructed that your lower prestige job relegates you to the status of Nobody Important.

So, where does a Senator fit in?

How about a State Department official? FBI Agent? ATF? Congressman? Federal Judge? [UPDATE: Per Daniel and Eric, judges are apparently included, though oddly as lower-status than lawyers; see comments] Town Mayor?

It seems to me that the Times misses the real story about 'Class in America.' The real story was captured nicely by John Derbyshire's recounting of a conversation at the school bus stop:

Another factor is the rising awareness & resentment among people working in the private sector of the widening gap between themselves and public employees. Here in Long Island, one teacher in 12 makes over $100,000 a year (according to last Sunday's NY Times Long Island section). That's with wellnigh guaranteed employment, masses of fully-paid vacation, and a gold-plated benefits package.... This, while private-sector workers are struggling to stay afloat in a fast-changing economy.
That's the real story. The socialist sector of our economy -- the public sector -- is quickly becoming a problem. The private sector is shrinking to the point that our economy is more socialist than not. The public sector workers enjoy all those benefits, and can simply vote themselves more.

It seems to me that there are two overarching classes in America: those who work in the Private sector, and those who work in the Public sector. What the Times is talking about is -- mostly, as some sorts of police and firefighters, social workers, and teachers are included -- the internal hierarchy of only one of those classes, which is why the article fails to give you anything akin to the real picture. The data leave out a massive sector of the economy, one that may be the real locus of wealth and power in our nation today.

UPDATE: See comments for a discussion of the proper place for considering the military, which is not included in this model; and also for gov't contractors.

Riding Sun: Newsweek: America is dead

The End of Newsweek:

"The Day America Died" they call this week's cover story in the Japanese edition. The cover? An American flag in a trash can.

For some of us, there's more of Truth in that flag than in the "holy" Koran. Will we riot, and call for the murder of journalists, as so many Muslims around the world allowed themselves to do toward America at Hizb-ut Tahrir-led rallies?

No; but now Newsweek is joining calls for the death of America too, or rather, asserting it as if after the fact. The "international" edition, less abusive because it is in English, is still highly aggressive.

But the American edition? They don't mention it at all. Cover story this week is on the Oscars.

It would be well to spread this as widely as possible. Newsweek can say what it wants, but it shouldn't get away with saying one thing to America's face, and another behind its back.

This behavior is beneath contempt, cowardly and craven. Zell Miller correctly stated that we would have a better country if journalists could still be challenged to duels, but this behavior is so low as to place the editors of Newsweek beneath challenging. They would, indeed, be beneath notice -- if their behavior were not undermining America's cause, endangering the lives of our soldiers, and the nascent cause of freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the myriad places where reform has but recently begun.

Shame on the scoundrels. What a perfectly worthless bunch of cowards.

Yahoo! Mail -

Support for the Troops:

I've had a couple of emails today from people trying to help out. They wanted me to pass some information along, so here goes.

SFC Christopher Grisham writes to mention a "soldier support" concert being held this Memorial Day weekend. It's a fundraiser for Adopt A Platoon. There is a story about it here.

Soldiers' Angels is a group mentioned frequently on MilBlogs because of their extraordinary work to support the troops, and particularly the injured. They are trying to put together a welcome for Sgt Brian Currier, returning home after encountering a VBIED. They're planning to "greet this hero at the airport in style," but the email doesn't say when or which airport. If you might want to come out, though, email Patti and ask for details.

Armarillo Spoof By Royal Guard

I Guess the Scots Still Get a Whisky Ration:

That, at least is the only lesson I can draw from this video, shot by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Iraq. "Ya'll are out of uniform" seems so inadequate as a response.

Hat tip: Daniel.