Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sweeping Away the Traditional from the Public Square

Americans may have just embarked on these most ritualistic weeks of the year stretching between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but something is clearly different this time around. It isn't that the customary rites show signs of change. Americans roasted ceremonial turkeys by the million on Thanksgiving Day to sustain themselves as they hunt and gather goods to disperse during Hanukkah or on Christmas morning. There will be fewer big-ticket items and more discounted goods given this year, but that's not the difference. Nor am I sensing resistance to red and green, nor a break in the continuous loop of "Silver Bells" and "Silent Night" that, by melodic rote, choreographs the patterns of holiday behavior.

In other words, everything promises to look and sound what you might call traditional. But the fact is, "traditional" is out. The rock-solid assumptions on which society is built have gone wobbly, while the guideposts to "traditional" behaviors are, of course, long gone. That's the lesson of the poisonously volcanic aftermath to Proposition 8, the ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which California voters approved on Election Day by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 percent.

How can "traditional" be out when what is now being labeled "traditional marriage" won at the polls? To begin with, framing husband-wife nuptials as "traditional" marriage already implies the existence of alternative forms of wedlock. Indeed, the very act of throwing open the definition of marriage to a vote reveals how dramatically notions of the traditional have already changed, transformed beyond even recognition to prior generations.

In a state that Barack Obama won, 61 percent to John McCain's 37 percent, "traditional marriage" also triumphed, clearly but not overwhelmingly, due to strong support -- exit polling indicates -- from church-going voters, senior citizens, Republicans, a slim majority of Hispanic voters, and a whopping 70 percent of black voters. Yet the question remains: despite the will of the California electorate, how has tradition fallen from favor?

Tradition as pariah is the message of the past weeks of protests, boycotts, firings, condemnation and revilement of supporters of Prop. 8, not only by same-sex marriage activists but also by leading figures in the political, media, educational and entertainment establishments. This message tells us that the public square no longer enshrines, protects or even recognizes the traditional. Indeed, this central clearing house of society, where custom, rites, communication and conduct are vetted and approved, has aggressively ejected tradition and its supporters, going so far as to stigmatize the sacred, time-tested conception of marriage as being indecent, if not anathema.

And such cultural whiplash has been weirdly accepted if not welcomed by the traditionalists, if their overwhelmingly apologetic reactions to their own political and moral ostracism are any measure. Sure, they belong to a majority backed by thousands of years of civilization, but those who dared to vote, or worse, contribute money to "restrict" marriage to one man and one woman now seek to make amends and apologize for their loudly derided beliefs. From Scott Eckern, the musical theater director in Sacramento who, having been "outed" for contributing $1,000 to support Prop. 8, resigned under pressure, to Marjorie Christoffersen, co-owner of a well-liked Los Angeles eatery, whose $100 donation in support of "traditional" marriage brought hundreds of protestors to the restaurant, the response has been one of guilty contrition.

Not coincidentally, both Eckern and Christoffersen are Mormons. The brunt of the protests and public opprobrium has been directed at Mormons, whose church strongly supported Prop. 8, with many of its followers donating generously to the campaign. Of course, other churches support "traditional" marriage, including black churches, but anti-8 activists are not boycotting businesses owned by black supporters of Prop. 8. In a shameful display of easy-mark bigotry, anti-8 activists have instead seized on the weakest link in the pro-8 chain -- Mormons -- for public flaying. Indeed, anti-8 protestors continue to plan boycotts against enterprises owned by Mormon supporters of Prop. 8, from Cinemark Theaters to A1 Self-Storage. Some anti-8 activists are pushing a boycott of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival for its ties to Utah, headquarters of the Mormon church.

The point here doesn't seem to be simply to win fair and square at the polls, which, frankly, is a darn good bet for same-sex marriage proponents come 2010. This year's large black turnout, inspired by Barack Obama and said to have put Prop. 8 over the top, is unlikely to be duplicated in an off-year election. A lower black turnout might well clear the way for a fairly speedy democratic repeal of Prop. 8. No, this current anti-8 effort seems to be about something else. Something different. Something more like cleansing the public square, ostentatiously, of tradition and its followers. I wonder whether just hanging a bunch more holiday lights will keep everyone from noticing.


The Testosterone Crisis

The sweeping Democratic electoral victory has left many conservative Americans concerned about their children's future. With the federal government, educational establishment, entertainment industry and media thoroughly in the hands of the left, disturbing questions surface concerning the kinds of values our children will begin to accept as "mainstream." Matters get worse when one considers what might become forced indoctrination in "community service" organizations as a prerequisite for college admission.

These concerns were on my mind during a recent outing with my young children to a local playground. While I watched my kids try to scale walls, climb ropes, and navigate through other challenging structures various male voices I had obviously missed on previous visits to the park suddenly resonated. "Try it on your own" or "you don't need any help with this one" the gaggle of fathers would say as their sons and daughters sized up various obstacles. And while many of the moms cringed on the benches the young ones tripped, fell, clawed, and cried at times but they usually ended up victorious.

The ancient Chinese thinkers would have called my local park a microcosm of nature -- a dynamic reciprocity between the forces of feminine yin and masculine yang. It is as natural for the moms to be overly concerned about the bumps and bruises as it is for the fathers to be encouraging independence and self-reliance. Yin and yang represent two complementary energies in nature, the balance of which determines the health and harmony of a marriage, a family, a village, and even a nation. These same Chinese philosophers warned however that unhealthy families, like unhealthy nations, are usually the victims of an overabundance of either the feminine yin or the masculine yang.

Chinese emperors for example attempted to head off this underlying and menacing threat of imbalance by castrating their ministers. Why? Too much yang testosterone in the palace would lead to dangerous factions and competition. More eunuchs around the court meant the palace would be a better reflection of the harmony in nature. Imperial concubines would also be sheltered from potential male rivals of the potentate, but this was entirely incidental to the theory.)

While an excess of yang energy was considered explosive and dangerous, what happens in a country like contemporary America when there seems to be a dangerous oversupply of feminine yin?

In his book The Suicide of Reason Lee Harris argues that our present state of liberal democracy has led to "eliminating the alpha males from our midst, and at a dizzyingly accelerating rate." Instead of supporting and valuing testosterone's virtues we're "drugging our alpha boys with Ritalin." In addition, one could view Barack Obama's election as the triumph of yin over yang. Obama's policies promise to cast the father out of America's parks and replace him with the more "caring" and yin oriented federal government. For Lee Harris however the feminization of American men comes at an extremely high price:
"The end of testosterone in the West alone will not culminate in the end of history, but it may well culminate in the end of the West."
It was in ancient Greece for example when the West began to associate the masculine yang voice with freedom and self-reliance. Why? Because when Athenian citizens perused the known world they noticed something rather curious: in no country other than Greece did citizens enjoy freedom or the virtues of democratic government. Famous Greeks like the fifth century B.C. physician Hippocrates attempted to explain this fascinating anomaly. What Hippocrates and other Greek observers all tended to conclude was that the rest of the world's subjects must be "effeminate" or else, like the Greeks, they would have demanded -- like real men -- to be left alone by their leaders.

In his essay On Airs, Waters, and Places for example Hippocrates notes that those who endure life under a despot are "cowardly, as I have stated before, for their souls are enslaved." Greeks however are "independent, and enjoy the fruits of their own labors," and in addition they "encounter dangers on their own account, bear the prizes of their own valor, and in like manner endure the punishment of their own cowardice." The good doctor concludes with a rather chilling observation: "A man's disposition will be changed by his institutions." In short, what Hippocrates argues is that the more "maternalistic" the government, the less the citizenry will value freedom.

We can now start to understand part of Obama's appeal. Alpha males in this nation have been browbeaten in every profession, most notably in education. Indeed, the largest percentage ever of young, educated Americans in a presidential contest threw its support behind Barack Obama. In addition, whereas John Kerry received 51% of the female vote in 2004, Barack Obama garnered close to 60%. When black Americans overwhelmingly supported Obama to the tune of 90%, how much of this support was a product of race and how much was simply a product of a culture in which 70% of children are raised without fathers?

Both political parties now believe that they can garner votes by playing the yin, or compassion card. We've seen this with the Bush Administration and its heavily statist "compassionate conservatism." On the other hand, Democrats in congress thought that extending loans to unqualified borrowers was an act of compassion. An excess of yin is now causing many of our states, like California, to go broke. Despite these examples an "uncaring" America was the chief rallying cry of Barack and Michelle Obama during the recent election.

In his classic work Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville entitled one of his chapters "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have To Fear." Near the end of the chapter there is a rather sobering observation:
"It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people."
Will Americans become so subservient under an Obama administration that a future yang style candidate like Ronald Reagan becomes impossible? A healthy nation, like a healthy family, should have a proper balance of yin and yang. Ideally, the relationship should be a balance between yang's independence, competition, and merit, and yin's more gentle, cooperative, and egalitarian energy. We're at a critical moment in our history however when the forces of yin in American threaten to bury, not complement, yang. Despite what the radical feminists might tell you, alpha male energy is natural and necessary for many things, including national survival.

There's an eight year old boy in my neighborhood who still rides his bike with training wheels. There's no father at home. Is America looking at training wheels writ large? We know that most contemporary, estrogen-heavy Europeans would like to rid America of its testosterone. They may just get their wish.


Unending media bias against Israel

By Barry Rubin

I realized something important when reading a relatively marginal feature story from the Associated Press. It shows us that Palestinians don't really exist as a society but only as a set of victims. By definition, all-or to be fair, almost all, of their problems are said to come from Israel. Yet since the continuation of the conflict and their difficult situation comes first and foremost from within Palestinian politics and society, this kind of interpretation makes it impossible to understand why there is no peace, no Palestinian state, and no end of violence.

In Karen Laub, "Amid poverty, a Renaissance villa in the West Bank," November 26, 2008, provides a great opportunity to talk about the problems within Palestinian society. The story is about a "Palestinian tycoon [who] has created a tranquil paradise on a Holy Land mountaintop, with a replica of a famous Renaissance villa, sculpted gardens and a wrought-iron pavilion that once belonged to a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte."

We are immediately told, however, that this is to be compared, not to the impoverishment of his own society but rather to guess-who: "But even one of the West Bank's richest men cannot entirely shut out Israel's military occupation, army bases and Israeli settlements occupy hills surrounding the 100-acre estate."

Note that the mere existence of Israeli installations nearby is the "terrible" thing that allegedly cancels out this individual's Garden of Eden. Not that there is any direct effect, but the message is that all Palestinians are a subject people, no matter how rich they are. He may never meet an Israeli, he may live in a situation where he can accumulate wealth and act as a lord, he may live under Palestinian Authority rule but-we are told-this is deceptive. Because nothing matters but Israel's presence, even if it is barely in sight. I have learned not to take even the most basic claims of AP for granted so I do not assume that there are "army bases" or settlements in the area.

Only afterward however are we informed that maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with this conspicuous display of wealth in the Palestinian context: "And some say such a display of wealth, the honey-colored Palladian mansion is visible for miles, is jarring at a time of continued economic hardship. At the foot of the mountain in Nablus, unemployment runs at 16 percent and the mayor says 40 percent of the 180,000 residents live in poverty." Jarring? How about asking the most basic questions, the kind that would be asked in covering any other society on earth?

The person in question is Munib Masri. The Masris are a large clan closely associated with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). We are given the bare facts-he was close to Arafat, he formed a development company. But the points are made with the greatest possible delicacy: "Critics say some of the profits were made possible by a lucrative telecommunications monopoly the company held for several years." We are not told from whence this monopoly came-from the PA. The word corruption is never mentioned. Such a lack of curiosity about the sources of his wealth does not accord with journalistic practices in covering other stories. Indeed, the story of the telecommunications monopoly is one of the best-known stories of corruption among Palestinians. How PA and Fatah factions competed over the loot, how Arafat intervened directly into the issue. But for AP it is a story untold. The story should be as follows:

--The Palestinian upper economic and political class cares nothing for its own people.

--In its fourteen-year rule of the West Bank, the PA has focused on looting it rather than on raising living standards and providing good government.

--Billions of dollars in international aid donations have disappeared, probably paying for a large portion of Masri's mansion.

--The PA's failures are blamed on Israel both by the PA itself, Western governments, and the international media.

--Palestinian suffering is not primarily due to Israel but to their own leaders.

--A lot of Israel's success has been due to Jews around the world making both investments and donations. Palestinians have not been forthcoming in supporting their own "state," a point well-known in Palestinian circles. (An exception here, of course, is in backing Hamas's terrorist campaign in recent years.)

--Anyone who keeps their eyes open will see other huge, albeit less impressive than this one, mansions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Even other members of Masri's own family have been criticized for their ostentation. While this estate may be the most extreme case, it is hardly an exception in that regard.

--Wealthy Palestinians do not give charity to help their poorer cousins. The PA doesn't even have a comprehensive tax system. Thus, the international community is left to support the Palestinians, and their oversized security apparatus.

--Violence sponsored by the PA was responsible for destroying the chance for their people to work in Israel, hitherto a major aid to their economy; the destruction of infrastructure; and the hesitation of investors, who are also put off by the PA's corruption and incompetence.

--Intransigence and the failure to reach a compromise solution stem from the Palestinian leadership, including Masri's buddy, Arafat.

Meanwhile, despite the hints in this article about a stifling Israeli occupation, Masri has no difficulty in proposing huge projects costing more than a half billion dollars. I suspect that these projects will never materialize but will be scams for ripping off foreign aid money. "Masri remains optimistic, even though independence appears no closer than when he first returned to the West Bank."

Hm, I wonder why they haven't achieved it yet. I sure won't learn it from AP coverage. And to switch to the broader picture, consider another Karin Laub effort, "Abbas ads make appeal to Israelis," November 21, 2008. The subtitle is, "The Palestinian's ads detail withdrawal terms first offered in a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative." Well, if the ads detail the terms, Laub certainly doesn't.

The 12-paragraph story never gets around to telling us what's in the offer and why Israel has a problem with it. The only reference to that point says, "An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem would bring them recognition by the Arab world." Of course, Israel has already withdrawn from all of Gaza, but at any rate it would have been easy for Laub to mention that the terms are for Israel to leave all of the West Bank and all of east Jerusalem, not one centimeter less. She merely had to insert the word "all." The point is that the way it is worded makes the offer seem more attractive than it is.

But that's not the worst part. Laub doesn't mention that the plan also demands that all-there's that word again-Palestinians who ever lived in any part of what is now Israel and all their descendents must be allowed to return to Israel. That's a few million people. To distort points of fact about the terms is scandalous and shameful. A couple of decades ago, AP would have issued a correction. But that's not the way things are done nowadays, is it?

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is only paraphrased as saying "its positions on key issues such as final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are not acceptable." There's no explanation as to why it is, presumably lest Israel's rejection be understood as a rational response.

And as always there is no mention of Palestinian refusal to meet Israel's needs. As always, we aren't even told about such things, which Abbas's adds don't mention: end of incitement to terrorism, a declared end to the conflict, no foreign troops on Palestinian soil. One might think that an ad campaign by the PA would say something about Palestinian positions.

The article concludes, "Many Israelis are also skeptical about a peace deal, in part because the embattled Abbas no longer speaks for all Palestinians."

Thank goodness that while it is impermissible to criticize the PA or Fatah, at least the media can talk about Hamas. We are then given a decent description of it as an "Islamic extremist group" which staged a "violent 2007 takeover, two years after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territory," and its firing of "thousands of rockets and mortars on Israeli border towns since the pullout." The article then notes, "Israelis fear a West Bank withdrawal could bring more attacks."

Of course, that's in the last paragraph. But two more reasons for Israeli skepticism should also be added: the failure of the PA to keep its past promises and its demands that Israel give everything without offering anything itself. Can we coin a phrase here? Much of the coverage can be called "anti-news" because it is deceptive nature. Perhaps there should be little labels affixed, like those on cigarette packs: Warning! Reading this article can be hazardous to your intellectual health.

Article above received by email direct from Prof. Rubin

What England Means to Me

By The Rt Hon Lord Tebbit, Conservative politician and former Member of Parliament for Chingford.

We are who we are by our parents' genes, by our inheritance of history and culture and our own experience of life. That inheritance of history may reach back to a time before one's family came to this island - in the case of my father's line, in the 16th century. So, to be English today is to be an inheritor of the most powerful language in the world - literature, art, science and technology, even sport, which have done so much to shape the world, and a philosophy or culture of government which has permeated not just the Anglosphere but great countries such as India.

We English are not an introspective people. We rarely think about England (except in the field of sport) unless something malfunctions. As for Britishness, that wider concept is a way of sharing with others living in this kingdom their history and culture and our own. It provides a banner around which we can all rally for mutual aid and strength.

Since the English have influenced and been influenced by almost every other nation we know that how others see us is as much about what they are as what we are. From time to time, if it seems to affect our interests we become anxious about that, especially if we are seen as weak, a soft touch or an unreliable friend, but being mostly content within our collective English skin we are neither extrovert nor introspective and leave others to make of us what they will.

Tolerant as we are, we do not require outsiders who come to live there to put on an English identity - but we do ask that they respect not just us but our English house - its fabric and its customs. Should they not like it we would not wish to detain them there - but if they and their children wish to join our tribe we see no reason to discriminate either against them or in their favour.

Quietly, as we look back at what the English family has done, what it has given to the wider world, we take pride - not arrogant nor puffed up pride, but honest pride in our history. That pride is patriotism and without it societies disintegrate into no more than crowds jostling for shoulders in one place.

For the English the modern cry for devolution sounds like a struggle to put back the clock and chop up the United Kingdom which has been of mutual benefit to all us British islanders. If that is what the others want so be it, but they should not think that they can have both their independence bun and their halfpenny too.

However, the concept of England is changing. The false doctrines of multiculturalism and the authoritarians preaching the doctrine of the big state ruling a citizenry denied the strengths of family and of religion and of history, has ruptured the English consensus. A growing underclass, the like of which England had not seen for centuries, rootless, feckless, ill educated and violent, has begun to infest England's great cities. The ballast of the respectable working and middle class families is shifting.

They may look for a while at outsiders from the Continent of Europe to resolve our difficulties - as the Romans and Normans did in their time - and the political classes of Brussels are eager to do today. Or they may look to an English hero - a twenty first century King Alfred - to define as he did what it meant to be English. His victory at Edington was the birth of England and the English which led through to the Magna Carta, the Tudors, the Empire, the Reform Acts and the 20th century wars to the flowering of an English culture whose power and reach has been rivaled only by that of China at its greatest. The English must soon choose. To succumb like Italy after Rome - or to rediscover what Alfred found in Wessex a thousand years ago.



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, OBAMA WATCH (2), 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 readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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