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Friday, March 10, 2006

My Carnival Piece

I just want to thank Daniel Mark Harrison at "The Global Perspective" blog for writing a very nice intro to my Carnival of the Vanities submission. He liked it! He really liked it!

Shelby Steele Risks Being Called Tom (And I Do Not Mean Sowell)

Let's get it out of the way: Shelby Steele is an Uncle Tom and I am a racist for repeating his comments. Now, for a few segments from an eye-opening interview Steele gave The American Enterprise magazine:

The Welfare State:

By accepting the idea that government is somehow going to take over the responsibility that only we can take, we relinquished authority over ourselves. We became child-like, and our families began to fall to pieces. Welfare—which promised a subsistence living for the rest of your days for doing absolutely nothing—provided a perfect incentive to not get married, yet still have babies. Then the babies will be state wards, and their babies, and so forth.

Affirmative Action:

Blacks do well in sports, music, entertainment, and literature—because there’s absolutely no white intervention, paternalism, affirmative action, or anything else. We’re asked to compete without any assistance, and sure enough, we compete. We succeed. In these areas, whites never intervene, so we ask the best and we get the best. But in colleges and other places, there are a billion excuses. Whites intervene and convince themselves not to ask much of us. It’s the same old vicious cycle...

Affirmative action and all of its sundry manifestations should be completely eliminated. It stigmatizes all blacks, and it’s not voluntary. One of the real cruelties of affirmative action is that whether we want it or not, it is imposed on us, simply because of the color of our skin. You don’t get to opt out.

The Trauma of Freedom:

We’ve done worse in freedom than we did in segregation. It’s abominable that we made more advances between 1945 and 1965 than we have since, but it’s the truth. According to studies by Stanford’s Thomas Sowell and Harvard’s Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom, we made up more ground with whites in the 1950s than in other decades. This is something I’m writing about in my next book.

Something people overlook is the shock of becoming free. When an oppressor finally takes his foot off your neck—whether it’s the European powers withdrawing from their colonies, or whites in America passing civil rights legislation and starting a Great Society—the group that has created an entire culture to cope with oppression is suddenly disoriented. Becoming free can give a profound shock. We don’t have the values in place for dealing with it. We don’t have the ideas. We have the mechanisms for wearing masks, for manipulating an oppressor, for surviving under harsh circumstances; we’ve become geniuses at that. But we don’t know what to do with freedom.

Read more as Steele opines on Bill Cosby, Democratic control of the black vote (unless Rice runs), Katrina and more. Steele is an important thinker and we all should consider his views.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fairness Is A Moving target

The latest Cato Unbound had an essay by David Schmidtz entitled "When Inequality Matters". While the whole essay should be read, I liked his explanation of why redistribution never fully corrects the inequality issue. he writes:

If the question has no simple answer, part of the reason is that equality is multi-dimensional. Suppose Jane Poor earns $10,000 and pays a tax amounting to 10%, while Joe Rich earns $100,000 and pays a tax amounting to 38%. Together they pay $39,000, 95% of which is paid by Joe Rich. If we cut each rate by 1%, Jane saves $100, while Joe saves $1000, which is to say, Joe gets about 90% of the benefit. The pundits belabor this point, without ever mentioning that the way people get more than their share of a tax cut is to be paying more than their share of the tax that got cut. After the cut, Joe still pays $37,000, compared to Jane’s $900. So, does inequality matter? Which one? There remains a 7-fold gap in what they have left after paying? Is that unfair? Should Joe Rich be paying more? The 38-fold gap in what they pay is now a 41-fold gap (even though it has shrunk in dollar terms). Is that unfair? Should Joe Rich be paying less? Closing one gap widens the other.

It was timely for me. I recently attended a Bat Mitzvah. One of the people at my table stated that "the rich are getting a free ride". I wondered what that actually met. First, who are the "rich"? Then, assuming it is the people with the highest incomes in a particular year, do they not pay about 90% of the taxes paid in the US? And what is this "free ride"? I'd say the low income people who are paying no taxes are closer to getting whatever free.

For the sake of shalom at the special event, I did not engage the man on the subject. The above tends to explain how there can never be enough to satisfy people who seek this ephemeral fairness, justice or whatever they call it.

Losing One's Reality Check

I have written the past few columns about Hollywood. Given that I watched 3 non-kid movies in the past year, I cannot be considered a "movie-goer". However, I would see maybe one movie a month when I was "pre-kids" and have a big interest in them in a nolstagic way.

Peggy Noonan wrote a very deep column on what for many of us has become a trivial subject. She tries to explain what has happened to Hollywood, its actors and the public's blase reaction to the Oscars spectacle. She discusses that despite its 9% viewership drop-off, there were still 39 million viewers. That is a lot of people. The actors are the most beautiful looking people we have. That makes them "interesting" to watch (like a train wreck?).

The problem is they are very out of touch with America. It is not just political.

She writes:

The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives.

Think of the complete disaster that Liz Taylor has been her whole life. While a brilliant actress (just watch her in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf), her 5 marriages (or more, I lost count at that menorah salesman a few years back) may not make her the Barry Bonds of nuptials, and plenty of shoe salesmen have had more than 3 marriages (BTW should 3 be the legal maximum?), does this not point to a person lacking self-knowledge, appreciation of the meaning of vows or just plain inability to judge others as prospective spouses.

Hollywood lifestyle aside, and can we not appreciate the massive gossip industry it spawns, the actors fall into the same category as other celebrities who have lost sight of humanity. We see professional athletes and singers whose popularity is waning after each arrest or public statement about the difficulty of living on $5 million per year. When celebrities have "people" to handle all mundane activities, they cannot understand what makes their fans tick. Think of billionaire NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's empathy for commuters who try to find a parking space or those remaining cigarette smokers. Why would he have empathy for them? The same attitude to the public is seen with multi-termed politicians who lose sight of the needs of the public they claim to be serving. Academics holed away in universities are particularly out of touch.

The cocoons in which people reside do not allow them to relate to their public. And in the free market, when you lose your buyers for whatever reason, you do not quickly win them back. When you lose sight of the buyer's wants, you lose sales. Box office receipts and Oscar show Nielsens are a leading indicator of a trend.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Iran Threatens US Publicly

Iran's response to the US successful efforts in placing the Iranian nuclear build-up on the UN Security Council's agenda:

"The United States has the power to cause harm and pain," said a statement delivered by the Iranian delegation. "But the United States is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if that is the path that the U.S. wishes to choose, let the ball roll."

The statement did not elaborate on what Iran meant by "harm and pain," and Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment.

Iran likely has support from Russia and China anyway. But we have a clear published threat by a burgeoning nuclear power. Appeasers, please state your names!

Meanwhile, Israel (the likely target of such an attack) says it will not sit back and wait to be hit.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dems Will Tell Us What They Propose Before the Elections

WaPo does a "new" story on the Dem failure to come up with proposals. In an election year when Dems can take back some seats in Congress and statehouses, the voters have no idea what they are actually for. We all know they are against every proposal by the Republicans.

"By the time the election rolls around, people are going to know where Democrats stand," Reid said.

It has been 5 years since 9-11 and I am not sure if they are for killing the terrorists. I think they support the troops. I do recall Kerry and Dean talking about bringing criminal trials for Al Qaeda. Ramsey Clark is waiting in the wings. Harry, take your time and get us an idea by October.

Liberal Movie Critic Discovers Ideological Voting

Roger Ebert has this quote from Ken Turan, a movie writer at the LA Times:

"So for people who were discomfited by 'Brokeback Mountain' but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals, 'Crash' provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what 'Brokeback' had to offer. And that's exactly what they did."

Notice that "good, productive liberals" voted for Crash as a "progressive move" that did not "stain" their "liberal credentials".

I thought they were voting on the best movies.

Even Ebert woke up to this political voting:

Yes, and more than one critic described "Crash" as "the worst film of the year," which is as extreme as saying John Kerry was a coward in Vietnam. It means you'll say anything to help your campaign.

Roger, it is going on all around you (even in Chicago). Keep your eyes open. You'll see it again.

Hollywood's Oscar Show Gets 60 Valuable Seconds From Me

In an era when Hollywood came very close to honoring as best picture "Brokeback Mountain", a pro-gay movie that did not have great box-office numbers (BTW, a movie I did not see*), it appears that the nominees fit a certain political ideology. Did that ideology overcome aesthetic elements in those nominations? This is my sense.

As well, I watched slightly over 1 minute of the Academy Awards show. By the time I got down to my TV set, I witnessed one John Stewart joke, lame but inoffensive, and then had to switch the set when he said the next presenters were Keannu Reeves and Sandy Bullock. I cannot listen to Reeves---he may be very nice and I have enjoyed some of his action movies---but I preferred whatever was on the history channel or ESPN. During a commercial I went back and saw some rap group screaming about something. I could not understand what they were saying and gave up. Anyway, the time-out was over in the Gonzaga game so I switched off the awards show.

I am not sure if the speeches were of the expected anti-Bush, "Republicans are creeps and Joe McCarthy is what is wrong with America today" type that all of these progressive thinkers normally spout. I have not read of anything particularly offensive in reviews. I understand the actors preened about, portraying their superiority and greater sophistication over the yahoos in the Middle States.

Dennis Prager provides a fictional Oscars acceptance speech that we are likely to never hear from this crowd of sophomoric thespians. First, he thanks the USA for providing us all (and actors in particular) unprecedented freedom. He thanks the troops for personally shedding the blood to keep us safe.

Then the fictional actor says:

I also want to apologize to these troops for my profession not having made even one motion picture about any of the heroic American fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq. This country is fighting a war, Hollywood. You may think this war is unwise, waged under mistaken, or even false, pretenses. And as an actor in Hollywood, you are overwhelmingly likely to hate this commander in chief. But even the men and women of Hollywood must recognize that America is fighting the worst people of our time, people who hurt every group Hollywood claims to care about -- minorities, women, gays -- people who engage in the sins Hollywood most professes to oppose -- intolerance and violence -- far more than anyone else on the planet.

In another era, when what many have labeled "the greatest generation" fought the German Nazis and the Japanese fascists, Hollywood made movie after movie depicting that great war and our great warriors. And Hollywood showed freedom's enemies as the cruel and vicious people they were. We have not produced one film yet depicting this war in positive terms or one depicting this generation's enemies of freedom as the cruel and vicious people they are.

In Hollywood, they consider each other brave for giving speeches with which they almost unanimously agree. There are no legal repercussions for their comments but they see America's disgust with them as McCarthyism. No, Hollywood. In America we are not forced to attend movies we choose not to see. Americans have chosen to reduce their movie-going because the subjects of these films are obviously antagonistic to their views. Why should you spend $20 to hear a harangue about why you are bigoted and intolerant? Since we know that is how Hollywood feels, why should we waste our after-tax money?

* My excuse for seeing none of the nominated movies is not homophobia. It is that I spend hundreds every year on children's movies. The only adult movies I saw were Finding Neverland (loved it), The Aristocrats (some foul language but funny) and the best movie in many years The 40-year Old Virgin. Actually, now just I drop the wife and kids off at the theatre and go to the book-store for a few hours to read.

My nominees for best movie are The Pacifier, Herbie Fully-Loaded, Narnia and Cheaper By the Dozen 2.

Best Picture: Narnia
Best Actor: Vin Diesel
Best Actress: Lindsay Lohan
Best Supporting Actor: Eugene Levy
Best Supporting Actress: The Girl Car

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