Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'

by David Mamet

John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied, "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"

My favorite example of a change of mind was Norman Mailer at The Village Voice. Norman took on the role of drama critic, weighing in on the New York premiere of Waiting for Godot, twentieth century's greatest play. Without bothering to go, Mailer called it a piece of garbage. When he did get around to seeing it, he realized his mistake. He was no longer a Voice columnist, however, so he bought a page in the paper and wrote a retraction, praising the play as the masterpiece it is. Every playwright's dream.

I once won one of Mary Ann Madden's "Competitions" in New York magazine. The task was to name or create a "10" of anything, and mine was the World's Perfect Theatrical Review. It went like this: "I never understood the theater until last night. Please forgive everything I've ever written. When you read this I'll be dead." That, of course, is the only review anybody in the theater ever wants to get. My prize, in a stunning example of irony, was a year's subscription to New York, which rag (apart from Mary Ann's "Competition") I considered an open running sore on the body of world literacy-this due to the presence in its pages of John Simon, whose stunning amalgam of superciliousness and savagery, over the years, was appreciated by that readership searching for an endorsement of proactive mediocrity.

But I digress. I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed. But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views.

The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter. The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind. As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart. These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the f*ck up. "?" she prompted.

And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been-rather charmingly, I thought-referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio." This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part. And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it?

I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama. I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances-that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired-in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests. To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches.

So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long. Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president-whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster-were little different from those of a president whom I revered. Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia.

Oh. And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"-the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the "Bad, Bad Military" of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world. Is the military always right? No. Neither is government, nor are the corporations-they are just different signposts for the particular amalgamation of our country into separate working groups, if you will. Are these groups infallible, free from the possibility of mismanagement, corruption, or crime? No, and neither are you or I.

So, taking the tragic view, the question was not "Is everything perfect?" but "How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?" Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will-but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother). On the other hand, the rich and the children of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and the individual may and probably will change status more than once within his lifetime.

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out? I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own. Take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production. The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority-that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor.

Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute-to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.

See also that most magnificent of schools, the jury system, where, again, each brings nothing into the room save his or her own prejudices, and, through the course of deliberation, comes not to a perfect solution, but a solution acceptable to the community-a solution the community can live with.

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read "conservative"), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first-that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out. And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so.

And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other-the world in which I actually functioned day to day-was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

"Aha," you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

At the same time, I was writing my play about a president, corrupt, venal, cunning, and vengeful (as I assume all of them are), and two turkeys. And I gave this fictional president a speechwriter who, in his view, is a "brain-dead liberal," much like my earlier self; and in the course of the play, they have to work it out. And they eventually do come to a human understanding of the political process.

As I believe I am trying to do, and in which I believe I may be succeeding, and I will try to summarize it in the words of William Allen White. White was for 40 years the editor of the Emporia Gazette in rural Kansas, and a prominent and powerful political commentator. He was a great friend of Theodore Roosevelt and wrote the best book I've ever read about the presidency. It's called Masks in a Pageant, and it profiles presidents from McKinley to Wilson, and I recommend it unreservedly.

White was a pretty clear-headed man, and he'd seen human nature as few can. (As Twain wrote, you want to understand men, run a country paper.) White knew that people need both to get ahead and to get along, and that they're always working at one or the other, and that government should most probably stay out of the way and let them get on with it. But, he added, there is such a thing as liberalism, and it may be reduced to these saddest of words: " . . . and yet . . . "

The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side-but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler. Happy election season.


Stupid feminist Domestic Violence Laws Recall Jim Crow Abuses

Misty Ospina was dropping off her eight-month-old child at Richard Gibson's apartment when the two fell into an argument. Suddenly Ospina, jealous over Gibson's new girlfriend, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed her ex. An hour later the 22-year-old father was pronounced dead at Rhode Island Memorial Hospital. Police have charged Ospina with first-degree murder.

It's no secret that our nation's crusade to stop domestic violence has been a magnificent flop. Researchers have been saying that for years. Three years ago professor William Wells of Southern Illinois University did a comprehensive analysis of domestic violence programs in California. "There was no statistically significant relationship between any criminal justice system response and victimization for either gender or for any racial or ethnic group," he concluded.

Even government bureaucrats see no point in whitewashing the truth. "We have no evidence to date that VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women," writes Angela Parmley, PhD, acting chief at the National Institute of Research in the Department of Justice.

But while abuse prevention programs are simply ineffective in middle-class families, these nanny-state efforts have been a colossal failure in African-American communities.

Domestic violence is caused when a couple can't resolve its differences in an amicable manner, so they resort to physical aggression. And recent research by Daniel Whitaker from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reveals it's often the lady who strikes the first blow.

The problem is domestic abuse programs invest heavily in get-tough law enforcement measures, while ignoring the offender's mental health and drug addiction needs. Take Misty Ospina who had a well-known proclivity to violence. Richard Gibson's mother had warned him months before to leave Ospina or else "You could end up hurt or dead." So why didn't someone dispatch her to a domestic violence counseling program?

The reason is these programs are little more than thought reform classes informed by radical feminist ideology. Browbeating Ospina to give up her patriarchal need for power likely would not have helped her overcome that jealous rage. And no surprise, studies show counseling programs based on the Duluth approach don't work. "Recent evaluations using more rigorous designs have found little or no reduction in battering," reveals Peggy Grauwiler, a social worker at New York University

But while counseling programs based on gender ideology have been merely ineffective, intrusive law enforcement programs are downright destructive. Last year Harvard University economist Radha Iyengar released a milestone study on mandatory arrest laws for partner violence. She found that after these laws were enacted, partner homicide rates shot up by more than a half. Why? Because in most cases victims want the police to simply defuse the conflict, not incarcerate the aggressor. So victims stop calling for help, Iyengar believes. The conflict escalates, and someone yanks a knife from the drawer.

According to FBI statistics, some 300,000 African-Americans, mostly men, are arrested each year for partner aggression. In low-income communities, that's not just a statistic, it's a prescription for financial ruin as families suddenly find themselves without a breadwinner. "Throw the guy in jail, let the prosecutor sort things out," seems to be the prevailing attitude, even when the woman is the primary aggressor.

The problem has gotten so out-of-hand that Aya Gruber, writing in the Iowa Law Review, revealed a modern-day incarnation of harsh Jim Crow policies: "Day after day, prosecutors proceeded with cases against the wishes of victims, resulting in the mass incarceration of young black men."

The long-term effects of arrest policies that set aside constitutional considerations of probable cause are devastating. Last year the Institute for American Values reported that young Blacks may be "losing hope that a good marriage is attainable." As a result, fatherless African-American children are vulnerable to delinquency, teen pregnancy, and economic dependency.

At a February 8 vigil, Pawtucket mayor James Doyle joined family members and community activists who gathered to mourn the death of Richard Gibson, a man who had once dreamed of getting his G.E.D. and becoming a rapper. Sister Eulanda LaFrance lamented, "Now I'm a victim of domestic violence. Now I have two little girls without a mommy or a daddy."

Women like Misty Ospina can be helped. And tragedies like Richard Gibson are avoidable. But first we'll have to get the ideology-bound domestic violence industry to mend its ways.


Watch what you read at work

Post below lifted from Betsy Newmark. See the original for links

David Bernstein and Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy relate an incident involving a janitorial employee at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who, on his break at work, was reading a book by Todd Tucker called Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. Judging from comments and reviews, it's a well-told and interesting book detailing the story of an incident in 1924 in Indiana when the Notre Dame football team got involved in a violent confrontation with the KKK.

Well, this employee, Keith Sampson, was told by a couple of his co-workers that they were offended by his choice of reading material. When he tried to explain to them that this was a book highly critical of the Klan and told of the fight of the Notre Dame football team against the Klan and their anti-Catholicism, the complaining employees didn't care. They then reported him to the campus Affirmative Action office which, after an investigation sent this letter to Mr. Sampson.
The Affirmative Action Office has completed its investigation of Ms. Nakea Vincent's allegation that you racially harassed her by repeatedly reading the book, Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan by Todd Tucker in the presence of Black employees. In conducting this investigation, we interviewed you, Nakea Vincent, and other employees with information relevant to the mailer.

Upon review of this matter, we conclude that your conduct constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence. You contend that you weren't aware of the offensive nature of the topic and were reading the book about the KKK to better understand discrimination. However you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers. Furthermore, employing the legal "reasonable person standard," a majority of adults are aware of and understand how repugnant the KKK is to African Americans, their reactions to the Klan, and the reasonableness of the request that you not read the book in their presence.

During your meeting with Marguerite Watkins, Assistant Affirmative Action Officer you were instructed to stop reading the book in the immediate presence of your coworkers and when reading the book to sit apart from the immediate proximity of these co-workers. Please be advised, any future substantiated conduct of a similar nature could result in serious disciplinary action.

Racial harassment is very serious and can result in serious consequences for all involved. Please be advised that racial harassment and retaliation against any individual for having participated in the investigation of a complaint of this nature is a violation of University policy and will not be tolerated.

This concludes this matter with the Affirmative Action Office. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
As Volokh writes, "If this were a parody, people would have faulted it for being so excessive as to be unbelievable - but it appears to be quite real." Later, perhaps sensing that they had gone too far, they sent him another letter climbing down from the first.
This letter will replace my prior letter to you dated November 25, 2007.

I wish to clarify that my prior letter was not meant to imply that it is impermissible for you or to limit your ability to read scholarly books or other such literature during break limes. There is no University policy that prohibits reading such materials on break time. As was previously stated, you are permitted to read such materials during appropriate times.

I also wish to clarify that my prior letter to you was meant only to address conduct on your part that raised concern on the part of your co-workers. It was the perception of your co-workers that you were engaging in conduct for the purpose of creating a hostile atmosphere of antagonism. Your perception was that you were reading a scholarly work during break time, and should be permitted to do so whether or not the subject matter is of concern to your coworkers.

I am unable to draw any final conclusion concerning what was intended by the conduct. Of course, if the conduct was intended to cause disruption to the work environment, such behavior would be subject to action by the University. However, because I cannot draw any final conclusion in this instance, no such adverse disciplinary action has been or will be taken in connection with the circumstances at hand.
Think about this pusillanimous Affirmative Action Office that gave in to the complaints of employees because they considered the mere sight of someone reading a book about the Klan in Indiana in the 1920s to be harassment. Instead of informing these employees that the university wasn't in the business of investigating what employees read on their break and that it was perhaps a good thing to have an employee of an Indiana institution reading more about the state's dismal history as the center of Klan activity in the 1920s, they gave in to that investigatory impulse that wants to ban any action if any person feels the least bit offended. It's mighty sad that the employees in this Affirmative Action Office don't have either the authority or the common sense to explain to the complainants why reading a book about a historical event involving the KKK doesn't involve racial harassment.

What choice of reading material will be investigated next: books on the Holocaust, slavery, religious wars, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, imperialism, Indian wars, the Underground Railroad, Josef Stalin, Castro...? The list is endless. If the criteria is that any group whose ancestors might have suffered at the hands of an oppressor can protest anyone else reading a book about the battles against the oppressing group, then we might as well throw in the towel now. Forget ever reading a book of history ever again, because chances are, somewhere in that book would be someone doing something wrong to some other group.

Have we really reached the point where the most easily offended, no matter how ignorant their protest, will be the ones to determine the rest of our behavior? Remember several years ago when an official in the Washington, D.C. Office of Public Advocate had to resign because black co-workers objected to his use of the word "niggardly" even though there is no etymological connection to the offensive racial slur that sounds similar. As Tony Snow, then a columnist wrote at the time.
If this episode doesn't capture the sublime weirdness of our age, nothing does. David Howard got fired because some people in public employ were morons who a) didn't know the meaning of "niggardly," b) didn't know how to use a dictionary to discover the word's meaning and c) actually demanded that he apologize for their ignorance.
There are a lot of ignorant people out there. There are a lot of people who embrace feeling like victims. Put those two together and defer to their supposed sensitivities and we are losing any intelligent perspective on what civility truly means in this country. The ignorant and easily offended should not determine what civility means.

Freedom Means Responsibility

By GEORGE MCGOVERN (Excellent sense from an old peacenik!)

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that "'one-size-fits all' rules for business ignore the reality of the market place." Today I'm watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse. Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.

With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.

There's no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market. The real question for policy makers is how to protect those worthy borrowers who are struggling, without throwing out a system that works fine for the majority of its users (all of whom have freely chosen to use it). If the tub is more baby than bathwater, we should think twice about dumping everything out.

Health-care paternalism creates another problem that's rarely mentioned: Many people can't afford the gold-plated health plans that are the only options available in their states. Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It's as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as "payday lending." With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee -- usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn't perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who's familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next. Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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