Monday, June 16, 2008

The Tragedy of America's Disappearing Fathers

And while the divorce and child-support laws are as unbalanced as they are, fathers will keep disappearing. An American male who marries is taking a huge risk with his future. Few men will not have noticed the many media reports of piranha-like women being rewarded by the courts at huge expense to the man. Why risk it? Until the feminist-inspired anti-man laws are repealed, more and more women are going to find that men "won't commit"

Walter Dean Myers, a best-selling author of books for teenagers, sometimes visits juvenile detention centers in his home state of New Jersey to hold writing workshops and listen for stories about the lives of young Americans. One day, in a juvenile facility near his home in Jersey City, a 15-year-old black boy pulled him aside for a whispered question: Why did he write in "Somewhere in the Darkness" about a boy not meeting his father because the father was in jail? Mr. Myers, a 70-year-old black man, did not answer. He waited. And sure enough, the boy, eyes down, mumbled that he had yet to meet his own father, who was in jail.

As we celebrate Father's Day tomorrow, we should reflect upon a sad fact: It is now common to meet young people in our big city schools, foster-care homes and juvenile centers who do not know their dads. Most of those children have come face-to-face with their father at some point; but most have little regular contact with the man, or have any faith that he loves or cares about them.

When fatherless young people are encouraged to write about their lives, they tell heartbreaking stories about feeling like "throwaway people." In the privacy of the written page, their hard, emotional shells crack open to reveal the uncertainty that comes from not knowing if their father has any interest in them. The stories are like letters to unknown dads - some filled with imaginary scenes about what it might be like to have a dad who comes home and puts his arm around you or plays with you.

They feel like they've been thrown away, Mr. Myers says, because "they don't have a father to push them, discipline them, and they give up trying to succeed . . . they don't see themselves as wanted." A regular theme of their stories is that they feel safer in a foster care home or juvenile detention center than on the outside, because they have no father to hold together the family. There is no one at home.

The extent of the problem is clear. The nation's out-of-wedlock birth rate is 38%. Among white children, 28% are now born to a single mother; among Hispanic children it is 50% and reaches a chilling, disorienting peak of 71% for black children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly a quarter of America's white children (22%) do not have any male in their homes; nearly a third (31%) of Hispanic children and over half of black children (56%) are fatherless.

This represents a dramatic shift in American life. In the early 1960s, only 2.3% of white children and 24% of black children were born to a single mom. Having a dad, in short, is now a privilege, a ticket to middle-class status on par with getting into a good college.

The odds increase for a child's success with the psychological and financial stability rooted in having two parents. Having two parents means there is a greater likelihood that someone will read to a child as a preschooler, support him through school, and prevent him from dropping out, as well as teaching him how to compete, win and lose and get up to try again, in academics, athletics and the arts. Maybe most important of all is that having a dad at home is almost a certain ticket out of poverty; because about 40% of single-mother families are in poverty. "If you are concerned about reducing child poverty then you have to focus on missing fathers," says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Gaithersburg, Md. This organization works to encourage more men to be involved fathers.

The odds are higher that a child without a dad will have more contact with the drug culture, the police and jail. Even in kindergarten, children living with single parents are more likely to trail children with two parents when it comes to health, cognitive skills and their emotional maturity. They are in the back of the bus before the bus - their life - even gets going.

A study of black families 10 years ago, when the out-of-wedlock birthrate was not as high as today, found that single moms reported only 20% of the "baby's daddy" spent time with the child or took a "lot" of interest in the baby. That is quite a contrast to the married black mothers who told researchers that 88% of married black men, or men living with the mother, regularly spent time with the child and took responsibility for the child's well-being.

In his fictional books, Walter Dean Myers has found that the key to reaching young readers is to connect with their "internal life of insecurities and doubts." These doubts and insecurities involve answers to painful questions such as, "do you feel loved, do you ever feel lonely?" These are feelings that are hard to share with a teacher, a coach or even a friend.

More so today than in the past, reaching the heart of insecurity among young people means writing about the hurt of life without a dad. It also means writing about being young and black or brown in the midst of the flood of negative images in rap videos without a positive male role model. These young people see so many others just like them standing on street corners, unconnected to family life and failing at school and work and threatening violence - and in so many cases just like them, without an adult male to guide them.

When these children see Barack Obama, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, they tell Walter Dean Myers that those black people must be "special; they are not like me, they don't have the background that I have."

In his own life, Mr. Myers often looked down on the man in his house: his stepfather, who worked as a janitor and was illiterate. He felt this man had little to teach him. Then his own son complained one day that he, Myers, "sounded just like granddad" when he told the boy to pick up after himself, to work harder and show respect to people. "I didn't know it at the time," says Mr. Myers of his stepfather, "but just having him around meant I was picking up his discipline, his pride, his work ethic. . ." He adds: "Until I heard it from my son I never understood it."


Israeli Prof. on Arab TV: Jerusalem Was Ours When Arabs Worshipped Idols

Bar Ilan University political scientist Dr. Mordechai Kedar told a Moslem show host on the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television network, "Jews were in Jerusalem while your ancestors were drinking wine and bowing to idols." In a heated debate with the narrator, he added, "We don't need your permission to build" in the capital of Israel, Jerusalem.

The encounter occurred earlier this week, when Jews around the world celebrated Jerusalem Unification Day. Dr. Kedar has frequently appeared on the widely viewed Qatar-based network but this time encountered a sharp attack from the show's host, Jimal Rian.

"Building in Jerusalem is another nail in the coffin in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority," narrator Jimal Rian asserted. Dr. Kedar answered in fluent Arabic, "This was our capital 3,000 years ago, and we were here when your forefathers were drinking wine, burying girls alive and worshipping pre-Muslim idols. This is our city and it will be our city forever."

His reference to Muslims drinking wine, which is forbidden in Islam, infuriated the host. Rian wagged his finger in the air and said excitedly, "If you want to talk about history, you cannot erase Jerusalem from the Koran, and don't attack the Muslim religion if we want to continue talking."

Dr. Kedar replied, "Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran. Jerusalem is a Jewish city." The Al Jazeera host responded by quoting a verse from the Koran in which he thought Jerusalem was mentioned by name, but stopped in the middle upon realizing that it only refers to "the farthest place." Dr. Kedar: "Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran even once. You can't rewrite the Koran on air on Al Jazeera."

Rian changed the subject to "settlements" and asked Dr. Kedar why Israel is building 1,000 new apartments and deciding to build thousands more while there are rumors that "Jerusalem will include all of the West Bank [Judea and Samaria].

The Bar Ilan researcher replied. "My friend, Israel is not counting the number of apartments that Qatar is building on the Qatar Peninsula so why are you doing so in Jerusalem? Jerusalem is our city forever and is not an issue for you, for Al Jazeera or for anyone else. Period. Jerusalem belongs only to Jews.

Replying to Rian's question if Dr. Behar's assessment is the basis for talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA), he declared, "My friend, I invite you to Jerusalem so you can see with your own eyes that it has become a flourishing city after it was in ruins under Arab rule until 1967. We rebuilt the city and opened it to Christians, Moslems and Jews equally, unlike under Muslim rule" that prohibited other religions.

The political scientist told Al Jazeera viewers, "The West bank does not belong to any nation because it was not under a nation's jurisdiction, unlike the Sinai Peninsula." No one can say it is occupied," he argued. "From what country did we take it? Until 1967, Jordan occupied it. Therefore, we can do what we want."

He explained that Al Jazeera takes a jihadic and anti-Israel stance in order to detract viewers' attention from the wealth of the oil-rich Arab kingdoms, including Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. "The amount of poison that they disseminate about us from our home is too dangerous, and something had to be done," he recently told the Jewish Forward, referring to the Israeli government's unannounced partial boycott of the network. He labeled Al Jazeera "the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood," the radical terrorist party that is gaining popularity in Egypt.

Al Jazeera television claims 100 million viewers and has Israel-based studios in Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah.


Barack Obama and the politicisation of lifestyle

The most striking thing about the 2008 race for the White House is the `blue' elite's unrestrained disdain for its `bitter' moral inferiors

Now that Barack Obama has become the Democratic nominee in the presidential election, what has been the key lesson of the primary race? For me, one of the most interesting things is the extent to which lifestyle has been politicised in contemporary America. To date, the most memorable moment of the presidential campaign was `Bittergate'. This is the name given to the controversy caused by Obama's speech at a fundraising event in San Francisco on 6 April. Obama was talking about his difficulty in winning over white working-class voters in the Pennsylvania primary, when he said: `[It's] not surprising they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.'

His casual and knowing putdown of small-town folk sent a very clear message about the cultural fault-line that divides America today. He is blue (Democrat and liberal), they are red (Republican and traditionalist); he is enlightened, they are bitter.

During my travels in America, I often encounter people who unthinkingly and moralistically condemn their fellow citizens' values, emotions or faith. Indeed, the politicisation of people's personal values, even their lifestyle, strikes me as one of the most distinctive features of public life in contemporary America. Some seem to take their lifestyles so seriously that they do not simply disagree with people who have a different outlook to them - rather they heap contempt and loathing on those `other' individuals' manners, habits and values.

I am always struck by the hectoring language used by otherwise educated and sensitive, sophisticated people when they are denouncing `ordinary folk'. Frequently, those who are associated with the so-called religious right are described as `simpletons' and `idiots'. What is most striking is the passion and force with which certain individuals are attacked if they take a different position on, say, the right to abortion or the right to bear arms. These passionate denunciations suggest that some people, most notably those in the liberal elite, feel that their very identity - as expressed through their lifestyles - is being called into question by those who dare to disagree on the environment, abortion, immigration or any other issue. Sadly, all too often debates about issues and values can become very personal indeed in America.

The language used by Obama to describe the smalltown folk of the Rust Belt implied that these people inhabit a different moral universe to the one inhabited by the individuals he was addressing in San Francisco. In his words, when `they' get `bitter', they `cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them'. From this standpoint, insecurity, religion, guns and xenophobia all come to be associated with `the other', defining the way of life of what we in Europe refer to as the `little people'. Significant sections of America's cultural elite have bought into this caricatured representation of their smalltown citizens. They have adopted a sneering sense of moral superiority towards the outdated and dysfunctional attitudes of the `little people'.

Obama's statement on 6 April, and the various reactions to it, is testimony to the intense polarisation of public life in the US. And as the outcome of the Pennsylvania primary indicated (Hillary won with 51 per cent over Obama's 41 per cent), a significant section of the electorate regards such statements as personally insulting.

Historically, some big differences and clashes of interest have divided American society. Many of these old divisions, such as between North and South, black and white, Protestant and Catholic, have either diminished in importance, or they have become entangled with the contemporary polarisation between red and blue states. Consequently, the deep division between North and South that once shaped the contours of American political life has lost its salience. Today, reports indicate that there are growing value gaps amongst African-Americans. A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that both blacks and whites believe that in recent years `values held by blacks and whites have converged'.

The differences that matter now are cultural - but it's not culture with a capital C. Instead, what distinguishes liberal/cosmopolitan blue values from the more traditional red values are different orientations towards lifestyle. This is not simply a new version of the politics of identity that were promoted by the upwardly mobile baby-boomers in the 1970s. No, the emergence of the blue-and-red divide is underpinned by an inexorable tendency to politicise lifestyle. The labels `bitter', `frustrated' and `antipathetic' speak to personal attitudes and emotions.

In the 2000 presidential election won by George W Bush, the significance of red-and-blue divisions amongst the electorate became clear. And in the eight years since then, polarised attitudes towards cultural values have become more and more consolidated. Outwardly, categories such as ethnicity, race and gender still seem to dominate political discourse. Some commentators claim that class or economic status can explain the differences between the more prosperous blue states and poorer red states, such as those in the Mid-West. However, class and economics cannot account for the super-emotional attacks on people who are seen as the bitter moral inferiors of the blue elite. Increasingly, the American electorate has become more and more fragmented along lifestyle lines.

People who live in the `blue pockets' of generally red states have a very different life and outlook to their neighbours. An academic colleague of mine who lives in a college town in Wisconsin told me that `they' - it is always `they' - even eat differently to us. Likewise, Adolph Reed Jr of New School University in New York told of a colleague who, after the 2004 election that was won by Bush, complained that there are millions of people out there who are `just not like us'. This act of moral distancing - creating a gap between `us' and `them' - is one of the most disturbing aspects of the politicisation of lifestyle.

Contempt for `them' is usually expressed in code, through nods and winks. Terms like `NASCAR dads', `Rednecks', `Valley Girls' or `Soccer Moms' are used to refer to `them'. However, more recently the condemnation of other people's lifestyles has become unrestrained. This was most clear during and after the 2004 presidential election, when numerous media commentators took it upon themselves to question the mental capacity of their fellow citizens - the `red' ones.

A columnist for The Village Voice wrote of the `monumental apathy and programmed ignorance of at least half the American public'. A leading liberal writer argued that Americans were voting in a `fog of fear', and thus they could not be trusted to think about `real politics' in a serious manner. Apparently, thanks to President Bush's `unremitting fearmongering', `millions of voters are reacting not with their linear and logical left brain, but with their lizard brain and their more emotional right brain. It's not about left wing vs right wing; it's about left brain vs right brain.'

At times, the liberal-left's denunciation of the `religious right' reads like a critique of the electorate's mental capacity. One Democratic Party activist claims that the American public has become a sort of `Fast Food Electorate', and it is as if `Americans suffer collectively from a plague of Attention Deficit Disorder'. Reading such statements, it is difficult to disentangle political attitudes from an existential angst about who we are. In the blue-vs-red divide in America today - or should that be the human-vs-lizard divide? - everything from what you think to how you speak to what you eat can become politicised.

Of course, once an individual's identity and political outlook become entwined, then debate becomes highly charged - and highly personal. Arguments come to represent a statement about the self. When public issues are taken so personally, political dialogue becomes deeply confusing. It is always difficult to respond in a cool and detached manner to what we perceive to be an insult. When people endow their lifestyles with moral meaning, even relatively minor differences with others can acquire monumental significance. Often, people use statements such as `they are not like us' to affirm their own identity. Criticising other people's consumption of junk food or adherence to religious values is a way of making a statement about the self; those who advocate different kinds of behaviour and different values come to be seen as a threat to one's own identity.

So it is not political polarisation but disputes about different `ways of life' that fuel the blue/red divide. Some even believe that the identities of the blues and the reds are frozen and unchangeable. A report titled The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters, produced by a group of researchers at the University of Maryland, argued that Bush supporters live in a make-believe world while their opponents inhabit the real world (1). Increasingly, people's political attitudes are reduced to the level of personality. An individual's upbringing, psychology and character are discussed as key factors in forming their political worldview. Politics becomes psychologised.

Such vulgar psychologising is best captured in the writings of George Lakoff of the University of California, Berkeley. Lakoff imagines he is being insightful when he writes about the differences between red and blue voters; in fact he is recycling a caricatured version of Theodor Adorno's Authoritarian Personality. Lakoff divides the US electorate into two groups - those who are looking for a strict father figure, and those who would prefer a nurturing, parent-oriented family set-up. According to Lakoff, conservatives want a dominant father figure; it is their `strict authoritarian values' that `motivate them to enter the voting booth' (2). By contrast, liberals are imbued with the `nurturant parent worldview' and are inspired by the values of `empathy and responsibility' (3). Lakoff interprets people's voting behaviour as a personality issue rather than a matter of political choice. Apparently, it is not ideas but styles of parenting that determine voting behaviour.

This sort of pop psychology suggests that people's personality and emotions are immutable facts of life which determine how we vote. Authoritarian, strict-father types vote conservative, and nurturing, empathic individuals veer to the left. Lakoff and others reject the notion that people make reasoned calculations or vote according to their self-interests (otherwise, why would they have re-elected Bush?). Instead, `they vote their identity' and `they vote their values'. In other words, `they vote on the basis of who they are, what values they have, and who and what they admire' (4).

Of course, identity does play an important role in public life. But people's identity is far from fixed; certainly the simplistic association of parenting style with political affiliation overlooks the fluid, unpredictable manner in which people engage with public issues. If identity has become an important factor in voting behaviour today, then it has less to do with people's `father figures' than with the politicisation of lifestyles. At a time when there is very little to separate the presidential candidates, politicians have sought to politicise people's personal lives. Today, most of the wedge issues that divide the American electorate - guns, same-sex marriage, abortion, school prayer - directly impinge on individuals' identities. When issues become personal, debate becomes polarised. This process looks likely to entrench the sense of social fragmentation rather than alleviate it.

In the US election campaign, the kind of `moral distancing' undertaken by Obama and others reveals an unwillingness to engage in genuine public debate with `other' people. Also, the elevation of identity suggests that it is impossible to influence or change people's views through a rigorous and open conversation, since everything is already psychologically frozen. The idea of the `politics of choice' has given way to the `politics of identity'. Voters are treated as if their lifestyles and values are as much part of their individuality as the colour of their skin or hair. This tendency to naturalise identity is encouraged by the political elites, who appeal to people's narrow identities in order to consolidate their support base.

During the election campaign, elite attitudes towards `them' have, if anything, hardened. Far from being apologetic about Bittergate, many of Obama's supporters raised the ante when the controversy kicked off. `These people don't turn to God and guns and mistrust of foreigners because of a downturn in the economy', argued TV host Jon Stewart; rather `those are the very foundations those towns are built on'. In short, all is fixed in these red states; prejudice and backwardness is built into the very foundations.

Obama's victory in the Democratic nomination process reveals that much has changed in America. The old-fashioned politics of race is far less important than it was in the past - but it is being replaced by a new, individuated, culture-based divide between different sections of American society.


Risk has its rewards

An encouragingly intelligent essay from a minister in Australia's centre-Left Federal government: Craig Emerson

When previously in government, Labor was the party of competition and compassion. In this political philosophy, the role of policymakers is to allow the market to create prosperity and, out of that prosperity, to expand opportunity, not the welfare state. This is the philosophy of like-minded people I call market democrats: the modern champions of traditional Labor values of prosperity, fairness and compassion.

Some say competitive markets bring out the worst in people: greed and avarice. Oddly, they don't say the same about the Olympic Games, football, cricket, netball, music and dance competitions, all based on our most competitive instincts. As Bob Hawke was teaching me the intricacies of betting on horseracing, when I was a fresh recruit to his staff in 1986, he said: "Son, in any race, back the horse called Self-Interest because you know it will be trying."

Self-interest is not synonymous with selfishness. Athletes, singers, artists, dancers, authors and scientists are self-interested but not necessarily selfish. Some may be arrogant and rude, some selfish, others humble and altruistic, but all are self-interested. Without self-interest, economic and social progress is impossible.

The Hawke government began opening up the economy, dismantling the regulatory shackles that had been progressively applied through decades of mainly conservative governments. I came to understand that those Liberal-National governments were not champions of free enterprise but of private enterprise (although they quite liked the ideas of socialising private losses by bailing out insolvent businesses). The conservatives were keen regulators, protecting their private business supporters from competition.

My moral questions were answered through the competitive yet compassionate philosophy of the Hawke and Keating governments, a philosophy that sat easily with Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. There was, I concluded, no inherent conflict between markets and morality. Labor values of prosperity, fairness and compassion fit well with supporting an open, competitive economy that rewards effort, risk-taking and entrepreneurship, and where opportunity, not welfare, is available to all.

Competitive markets reward effort, risk-taking and entrepreneurship, and they encourage innovation essential to the growth of a market economy. The forces of competition create pressure on businesses to be efficient and apply new ideas in producing goods and services valued by consumers.

Yet markets are chaotic and wasteful. Predicting prices produced by markets is hazardous. Markets force businesses to close, wasting infrastructure and obliging employees to seek work elsewhere. But far more wasteful and chaotic are central planning and governments pretending to be good at running businesses in so-called mixed economies.

Of course, it is unfair if the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. But why should governments try to prevent the rich from getting richer if the poor also get richer as a consequence of the wealth-creation process? Albania, Bangladesh and Ethiopia have more equal income distributions than Australia, but most would agree that Australia's society is fairer. Many Australians earning below-average incomes choose to forgo higher pay in favour of spending more time with their families or just relaxing. By doing so, they are making measured income inequality worse but, through free choice, they are making their own lives better.

In a flourishing democracy, government serves the people. Yet at every twist and turn governments come up with new taxes and new regulations that subjugate the people to the state. By intervening, taxing heavily and regulating, governments have sought to restrict individual freedoms, stifle initiative and inhibit self-reliance. In a market democracy, governments should serve the people instead of seeking to subjugate them to the will of government through high taxes and heavy regulation.

By allowing markets to reward hard work, risk-taking and entrepreneurship without unnecessary interference, market democrats advance freedom and self-fulfilment. If governments are to bring out the best in people, they should not erect disincentives to creating prosperity and good social behaviour such as honesty.

Governments must not imprison the disadvantaged by subjugating them to the state, robbing them of self-esteem and condemning them to a life of dependency; governments must liberate them by providing opportunity for all in a truly fair society. Let us not make the disadvantaged the experiments of social engineers yearning for a different social order but lacking the stomach to practise it in their own lives. It is this social experimentation of romanticising traditional life in the harsh outback that has caused Australia's most vulnerable - indigenous people - to be trapped in misery.

Good on Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson for exposing the immorality of those asserting moral superiority but whose pomposity perpetuates the disadvantage of our indigenous brother and sisters. And good on Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin for having the courage to set her own course.

Market democrats oppose the relentless expansion of the welfare state, where higher taxes are used to obtain revenue for recycling - often to the same people - in return for political support. This was the hallmark of the previous government and, judging by the objections of the Opposition Leader, the shadow treasurer and the Opposition spokesman for families to means-testing the baby bonus and family payments for stay-at-home mothers, remains a defining feature of the Coalition.

The modern welfare state extends beyond recycling tax revenue; it is a state of ever-expanding government regulation. This regulatory welfare reinforces the culture of dependency by discouraging people from taking responsibility for their own actions and their own lives. Regulatory welfare is inimical to a market democracy, since it discourages individual initiative and business risk-taking.



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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