Slaying the beasts

I listened to Dennis Prager interview Thomas Sowell on the radio this morning. Sowell announced he was writing a book on intellectuals.  When asked how his book would differ from Paul Johnson’s earlier work Intellectuals, one of most scathing and merciless indictments of some of the most celebrated people of all time, Sowell responded:

“Mine won’t be as charitable.”

Looking forward to it already.

In a just world, Prager, Sowell, and Johnson would be lionized in universities and throughout our culture, whereas Marx and Rousseau would be held not as men who made valiant attempts at improving our civilization, but as sick individuals whose ideas caught fire with people who should have known better.

When talent is discovered

Bush and History

It’s seven days until the presidency of George W. Bush, the man who terrified us all for eight years by achieving the remarkable feat of being both an evil genius and a drooling idiot, is over. No doubt there will be many smiles across the country when that happens. And then, when Barack Obama is sworn in, we can once again be proud to be Americans.

I don’t want to burst the happiness bubble that will surround universities and Hollywood conference rooms on that day, but there is just one problem for those who think Bush was a blight on America: History may judge him differently.

The name George Bush is as synonymous with Iraq as Al Gore is with global warming. And if the situation in the Middle East continues to improve — if Iraq has an America-friendly democracy ten or fifteen or twenty years from now — Bush’s reputation will rise, just as Ronald Reagan’s reputation has risen significantly since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Granted, Iraq’s stability is a big “if,” but not impossible. Several years ago, the situation there seemed hopeless and pointless; now, it’s looking more and more like a success story.

Whereas the former Vice President’s assertion that “the debate is over” regarding global warming is looking more and more foolish.

What’s more, the measures taken by Bush have kept his country safe since 9/11. To paraphrase the T-shirts, Bush might not have been your President, but he was your protector.

It is possible, though no doubt blood-chilling, that future generations will grasp this. If so, odds are they will view Bush favorably and believe he got a massive bad rap in his time, while his nemesis, the right honorable Al Gore, will be spoken of as an American Don Quixote chasing after windmills made from carbon emissions.

ADDED: Few say, well, anything better than Mark Steyn, and the perpetual thorn in the side of the Western intelligentsia has his own take on Bush’s legacy.

How it goes down

Among Those Evil Evangelicals

On Christmas Eve, I attended my first evangelical church service. Having gone to Catholic and mainline Protestant churches over the years, I’m used to a more formal environment of worship than the one I found myself in that night. The signs of a disastrous evening (by my standards) were all there: songs played on guitar, lyrics displayed via Power Point slides, preachers dressed down in slacks and open-collar shirts.

Added to that, many in the congregation came as if dressed for a New Year’s Eve party. Behind me sat a young woman with a pierced lip and a low-cut top. Above her breasts was a tattoo of a phrase or sentence, written in some sort of Gothic font which made it difficult to read with a furtive glance, though God knows I gave it my best shot.

As the hour wore on, my snobbishness subsided and I became more and more comfortable. The occasional “Amen!” and raising of hands in prayer caught me off guard, but I realized that the people doing those things were probably among the nicest I’d ever come across. It felt good to be with the backbone of the country. It was also heartening to see so many young people at a religious service, unlike in Europe, where the churches are confused for geriatric centers.

The screenwriter Nora Ephron once said that she’d never met an evangelical Christian and never wanted to meet one. Her bigotry is sad but not uncommon. Looking back on the people I encountered that evening, if given the choice I’d rather the Nora Ephrons of our country become more like the average evangelical than the other way around.

The Myth of the Middle Ground

I was at the store the other day and as I was leaving the cashier said, “Happy holidays.” “Merry Christmas,” I said, ever the rogue. She smiled and said, “Thank you.” Mind you, this took place in Phoenix. In Berkeley, her face would have melted.

The word “Christmas” is taboo for a large segment of non-Christians, particularly atheists, who would be more comfortable with a federal holiday celebrating pagan rites than Christianity. It makes one wonder how all of the previous non-Christians fared under a majority-Christian nation. Were they seething in quiet anger when December rolled around? Did they see Santa Claus as an symbol of an oppressive theocracy? Did they feel their rights were being violated whenever they encountered a Christmas tree in a public area?

The cultural divide in this country is deep, and in some ways probably irreparable. Glenn Beck said on O’Reilly’s show last week that it’s 1860 again. While Mr. Beck can be given to overreaction, this time I don’t think he’s far off the mark. I am not an alarmist, and I can’t stand hysteria (e.g., the panic over global warming); still, it would be hard for me look at what’s happening in California and Washington state and not see that this country is on the brink of something. (God forbid that that “something” will include violence, though if it does it will likely be violence of a 1960’s scale — Weathermen-style bombings of government offices and churches and homes — not the scale of violence that happened 100 years prior to that, as Mr. Beck alluded to.)

In times of heated debate, we like to invoke the middle ground. The inconvenient truth, however, is that many times there is no middle ground. One believes either marriage is solely man-woman or it isn’t. One believes either the Ten Commandments must be displayed on government buildings or they mustn’t. One believes either the phrase “In God We Trust” should be inscribed on our money or it shouldn’t. One believes either Christmas should be a federal holiday or it shouldn’t. And until recently, one believed either there should be a cross on the Los Angeles County seal or it should be removed. (It was removed in 2004.) This lack of a middle ground is what fueled the Civil War — the enslavement of fellow humans is legal or it isn’t — and the woman’s suffrage movement — women should have the right to vote or they shouldn’t.

The absence of middle ground, coupled with the inability of a minority to accept the views of the majority, has lead to our current culture war. I hope it will resolve itself peacefully, but looking at the anger that pockets of this country hold toward the beliefs of their fellow citizens, I doubt it.

Viva-ing the Revolution

On the heels of my last post, the movie Che opened today. Haven’t seen the film, but the reviews I’ve read say it’s a positive portrayal of the man. Of course it is. How can anyone make a damning film of someone who murdered political dissidents and put homosexuals into concentration camps looks that good on a T-shirt?

I wonder how many of those Prop 8 protesters in California have worn Che’s image in their lives, or have looked upon, and continue to look upon, that image with fondness. I’m willing to bet that it’s a lot.