Too cynical? Yeah, right

by the Night Writer

Peter Bell, Chairman of the Metropolitan Council, had a commentary on the Strib’s editorial pages today with the headline “America Needs a Little Less Cynicism”. Being kind of a cynical person myself when it comes to the appointed bureaucrats of the Met Council, I expected some hand-wringing about how the toxic discourse in the public square has poisoned the people against their well-meaning political overlords, and my initial cynicism was validated in part by one of Bell’s first statements:

Of all the political challenges we face today, perhaps the most difficult is the depth and breadth of cynicism in America. This attitude, from across the political landscape, is a contagious virus limiting our trust and confidence in institutions both big and small, public and private. In February, a New York Times/CBS survey found that just 19 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing, matching the all-time low and well below the level of trust in government in the aftermath of Watergate.

I will say, however, that the article turned out to be fairly even-handed in its hand-wringing, citing examples of how all sides are equally guilty of both earning and fomenting cynicism, even touching lightly on the fact that some of the most cynical people in the whole equation are the politicians themselves.

Left out, however, is the fact that cynicism is an American right and custom, born out of a system fundamentally designed to “speak truth to power”… and one that perhaps causes Power to toss sops, instead of truth, to the people in order to stay in place. In some countries, however, mocking your leaders will get you arrested, even killed. Here it will get you a late night television show. In some countries, the people’s only recourse is bloody revolt. Here, our leaders are swept from power with handsome pensions and lifetime sinecures in the lobbying and punditry classes (or is that too cynical of me?).

The American heritage of individualism and self-reliance has historically bred its people to look suspiciously at a government that promises something too good to be true, even as our individualism and self-reliance is continually seduced away from us. Some credit Ronald Reagan with coining the sarcastic phrase, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you,” but I’m sure I heard it when I was growing up in the 70s, and it may have been born in the 1930s when expanding Federal programs and powers started to come in to save us from ourselves, all while Will Rogers became the most famous and beloved figure in America by making political commentary a mass- (and multi)-media entertainment form.

Here’s another old joke: what is the motto of the terminally cynical?

“Yeah, right.”

And What is the motto of the terminally naive?


I suppose that too much cynicism can be corrosive and when there’s an abundance of something it tends to become devalued, but cynicism also brings accountability. And, as Will Rogers said, “Chaotic action is better than orderly inaction.” The way I read Peter Bell’s column, he’s suggesting that cynicism undermines good government; I think undermining cynicism leads to bad government. A certain distrust and feistiness toward one’s government is healthier than fatalism (though fatalism, too, is becoming more seductive).

I do heartily concur with one of the statements he made in closing, however:

The surest way to reduce cynicism in America is to rely less on major institutions to do for us what we can and should do for ourselves.

One can perhaps wonder where Greece (acclaimed as the birthplace of democracy) might be today if its people had been a bit more cynical – or empowered – the last 50 years.

Speaking of our American heritage of skepticism and satire, here’s a fun video I saw over at TechnoChitlins; it’s kind of a VH1 “I Love the (17)70s” take:

Losing face is but a fraction of what others have lost

In general I’m not a big fan of disruptive protests, seeing them as typically producing more inconvenience than enlightenment. That said, I’ve taken an untypical satisfaction in the multiple protests around the world seeking to shame China in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. While I’d personally feel more of a connection if the protesters were trying to call attention to the persistent persecution, monitoring and attempted intimidation of Christians instead of Tibetans by the Chinese government, any ridicule that can be heaped on that totalitarian regime is ultimately in the service of a good cause.

To be clear, I don’t support or endorse any violent or destructive protests, but I am amused by the daring ingenuity of the protests that have made use of international landmarks in London, Paris and San Francisco. The Chinese government’s objective of using the Games as an image booster is blowing up in — and causing it to lose — face.

When China was first awarded the Games I found it regrettable that a country with such a heinous record on human rights and of suborning it’s capitalist partners such as Google had received such a boon. Surely they would use the opportunity to present a more enlightened face to the world while continuing to betray the truth and it’s own people. If nothing else, the protests have shown Beijing that not everyone is buying it or is willing to kowtow or look politely the other way.

(On a related note, last Sunday I heard a man from the Gideons relate how the organization had been granted the privilege of bringing Bibles into the country and placing them in Beijing hotels for the Olympics — on the condition that they would subsequently be removed from the country as soon as the Olympics are over. We prayed that there won’t be a single Bible to be found when the Gideons go back because the guests and staff will have — safely — taken them all).

I know some say embarrassing the host country is improper and rude and that the Games should transcend politics and be about the spirit of athletic competition. Others say the protesters are depriving the torch-bearers of a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Well, if you’re concerned about the athletic spirit and the ideals of fair-play, sportsmanship and a level playing field then I would suggest that China itself has already thrown these principles to the dragons, and it’s only fair to call them on it. I do feel some sympathy for those of good faith looking to honor the Games by carrying the torch who are being deprived of this opportunity, but on a lesser scale than those deprived of liberty and even their life for trying to uphold the light of freedom.

Embarrassment is too mild a price for the Chinese government to pay for its abuses; at the very least I would that they be mortified.

The black days of October

Twenty years ago this month the Twins won their first World Series and my wife and I were married. Stellar events to be sure, but in the last week has been a lot said and written about Black Monday — October 19, 1987 — the day the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 500 points (don’t blame me, I was out of the country on my honeymoon).

Then, just a few days later, another dark day — as noted by this morning’s Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1987 that the United States Senate rejected the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork on a 58-to-42 vote. Bork was one of the leaders of a judicial theory called “original intent,” which is the idea that Supreme Court justices can only base their decisions on what the framers of the constitution originally intended. If the constitution doesn’t mention a “right to privacy” then there is no such thing as a “right to privacy.” This idea was controversial, but Bork decided to enter the debate head on, and he openly discussed his constitutional philosophy with the senators. Democrats portrayed him as a radical, and when the final vote of the full Senate came on this day in 1987, Bork was rejected by 58 to 42. Republicans have since argued that Bork was the target of a smear campaign, and they began using his last name as a verb, saying that they wanted to prevent future nominees from getting “borked.” The word “bork” was recently added to Webster’s dictionary, defined as, “[Seeking] to obstruct a political appointment or selection, also to attack a political opponent viciously.” Robert Bork said, “My name became a verb, and I regard that as one form of immortality.”

Several years ago I read Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline.” As the two parts of the title suggest, I found the book an interesting juxtaposition of being both acerbicly entertaining and accessibly academic. Here’s one quote that describes the author’s life path:

In many ways, I understand the Sixties generation because at that stage of life, I reacted similarly. Suburban, middle-class life seemed stifling. Dixieland jazz was my rock and roll. All night partying was my escape, political radicalism my protest. The superintendent of schools in a heavily Republican suburb had to be brought in to prevent me from running an editorial in the high school newspaper calling for the nationalization of industry. Denunciations of bourgeois values rolled easily off my tongue. Fortunately, mine was not a large generation and very few of my high school classmates-none to be precise-felt the same way. There was no critical mass. By the time I got to the University of Chicago, where there were student radicals, I had been in the Marine Corps, an organization well known for teaching the reality principle to its recruits; and the Chicago school of free market economists educated me out of my dreams of socialism. I was fortunate; the Sixties generation was not.

Maybe not so “far and wee…” after all

Courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac, yesterday was the birthday of poet e.e. cummings, known for his unusual punctuation and his way of arranging words and spaces on a page to create a rhythm for his poems. Less well known is that he was also frozen out by the literary and academic communities for being “politically incorrect”:

It’s the birthday of poet E. E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who became interested in communism as a young man and traveled to Russia to see it firsthand. He was horrified to find the theaters and museums were full of propaganda, and the people were scared to even talk to each other in public. Everyone was miserable. Cummings went home and wrote about the experience, comparing Russia to Dante’s Inferno.

His view of communism was not popular in the literary world at the time, and magazines suddenly began refusing to publish his work. For the next two decades, he had a hard time publishing his books, and he got terrible reviews when he did. Critics thought his exotic arrangements of words on the page were silly, and they said he wrote like an adolescent. Then, in 1952, his friend Archibald MacLeish got Cummings a temporary post at Harvard, giving a series of lectures. Instead of standing behind the lectern, Cummings sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him. The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. He began traveling and giving readings at universities across the country, even though he suffered from terrible back pain, and had to wear a metal brace that he called an “iron maiden.” He loved performing and loved the applause, and the last 10 years of his life were the happiest.

E. E. Cummings said, “If a poet is anybody, he is somebody to whom things made matter very little — somebody who is obsessed by Making.”

Today our theaters and museums (and Nobel nominating committees) are full of propaganda and things such as so-called Fairness Doctrines and Hate Crimes proposals still try to make people afraid to talk to one another. And if your views aren’t acceptable to the gatekeepers at the Ivory Towers you won’t get invited or, if you do, you get food thrown on you.

It’s nice to see how far we’ve come.

An inconvenient truthiness

Even knowledge has to be in the fashion, and where it is not,
it is wise to affect ignorance.

— Baltasar Gracian

“Truthiness” is the recent colloquialism that describes things that are thought to be facts merely because they “feel” right. The word is new, but the phenomenon isn’t, as reflected by the Mark Twain quote at the top of this page all this week: “We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.” I knew I was going to throw that quote up there as soon as I saw the Super Bowl commercial on Sunday claiming that 50,000 (or whatever) people die of second-hand smoke this year, and wondering if I was “alright with that.” It actually made me wonder how many billions of dollars was going to be burned due to second-hand statistics this year in the name of politically-correct junk science.

Actually, it is in the name of an ever-more-grasping (and brazen) attempt to choke off individual freedoms and liberty, supposedly for our own good, whether the issue is city-wide, state-wide or nation-wide smoking bans, or the latest global warming power-play. The strategy is all-too-familiar; get yourself some “science”, declare it reflects a consensus and then shout-down any opposition in an effort to intimidate or marginalize scientists with differing views and evidence and in the hopes of the public can be beaten into such a stupor that it can’t think or reason for itself. The effort is so obvious it is almost comical except that it the stakes are getting far too high.

The scientific method of observation, hypotheses, prediction, correction and ultimately verification by repetition to determine facts is being readily replaced by obfuscation, hypocrisy, perversion and political correction ultimately verified by repeating the lie over and over again. For centuries we’ve been told that religious fanatics are those who cling to their dubious “facts” in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary, yet the anti-smokers and the global-warmers often do the same thing today and will go after those who differ with them with a fervor and vitriol that Galileo would recognize. Whether it’s out of religious fervor, a desire for political power or something as prosaic as profit, there is no shortage of those who apparently picked up their scientific knowledge while staying at a Holiday Inn Express. They’re even going so far in some places in Europe to outlaw anyone who dissents from the global-warming consensus (which will come in handy when they try to squelch the reporting on how poorly Europe is doing in meeting its own Kyoto-mandated objectives).

Facts, as they say, are stubborn things, and they aren’t illegal yet. There is, in fact, some significant evidence mitigating or even opposing the new flavors of scientific consensus, whether it’s the effects of second hand smoke or the causes for changes in the environment (and whenever one side accuses the other of having an agenda, it’s useful to look at which group is trying to examine the facts and which is exercising personal attacks). By all means, check out the American Lung Association on second-hand smoke, but then look at Dave Hitt’s site, The Facts to see how the ALA’s studies hold up (Dave, too, has an agenda, it’s listed here).

There’s also — at least for now — a wealth of information on global warming that differs from the “consensus”; including a recent, peer-reviewed report that suggests global cooling“>global cooling is on the way. This week Bogus Gold linked a handy reference for Refuting the Climate Goebbels that features a series of articles in The National Post (Canada) describing a series of “Global Warming Deniers” — extremely credible scientists, climatologists, statisticians, and more — who are braving the group-think to focus on the facts. I’ve read through the first couple in the series and I think it’s worth linking all ten here for easy reference. — The Deniers Series
Statistics Needed — Part 1
Warming is real, and has benefits — Part II
The hurricane expert who stood up to UN junk science — Part III
Polar scientists on thin ice — Part IV
The original denier: into the cold — Part V
The sun moves climate change — Part VI
Will the sun cool us? — Part VII
The limits of predictability — Part VIII
Look to Mars for the truth on global warming — Part IX
Limited role for CO2 — Part X

Stop, children, what’s that sound…everyone look what’s going down

Fairness Doctrine? What a bunch of pikers. Those who are serious about bringing back the so-called Fairness Doctrine are either flat-out ignorant or disingenous about their real motives (place your bets). To find out what they really mean, simply look to Venezuela where the darling of the American left, Hugo Chávez, has already nationalized the energy and telecommunications companies, declared — following his (un-Constitutional) third inauguration — that the country “requires a deep reform of our national Constitution” in order to become a socialistic republic and is now threatening to shut down the last vestiges of a free press.

Yet the predictable celebrity “psycho-phants” like Cindy Sheehan, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Princeton professor Cornel West knock the paté out of each other’s hands as they jostle to have their picture taken with this man of the people. Presumably they do so because political dissidents, artists and academics such as themselves have historically fared so very well under totalitarian “socialist” regimes. No, wait, that’s not the reason: they love Chávez because he taunts and insults George Bush — and they hate George Bush, too, reportedly because he’s a meanie who is ravaging our Constitution and destroying free speech.

Nevertheless I’m sure Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and the Dixie Chicks felt a distinct chill come over them when this article by the Chairman of Radio Caracas Television (who’s livelihood and possibly his life are being jeopardized) appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ subscription required for full article).

Remote Control
January 24, 2007; Page A12

CARACAS — The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has verbally announced his decision to shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) — our TV station, the oldest in Venezuela as well as the one with the largest audience.

So continues a long series of attacks against journalists, employees, management and shareholders of many independent media companies. The aim of all this is to limit the citizens’ right to seek information and entertainment in the media of their choice, to impede public access to those media where they might express or encounter criticism of the government or their proposals for reform, to stifle the pluralism of opinion in news and talk programs, and to cut off the free flow of information and debate in Venezuela. Instead, the Chávez government seeks to install a system that it has described, without apparent irony, as the “communicational and informative hegemony of the state.”

On June 14, 2006, President Chávez — dressed in military fatigues — gave a speech on the occasion of the delivery of a batch of Kalashnikov AK-103s to an army battalion. He brandished a weapon, then pointed it at a cameraman and said: “With this rifle, which has a range of 1,000 meters, I could take out that wee red light on your camera.” Moments later, he declared: “We have to review the licenses of the TV companies.”

In the weeks that followed the incident, various government officials repeated the same threat and started to monitor the editorial positions of the media. “There have been qualitative changes in programming, in news selection, and in the editorial line” of some media, an official observed; “[but] there are other cases in which we have not seen this change, this rectification . . .” He reminded us all that the government “has the ability not to renew a [media] license.”

On Nov. 3, 2006, a month before the Venezuelan presidential elections, President Chávez repeated his threat: “I’m reminding certain media, above all in television, that they mustn’t be surprised if I say, ‘There are no more licenses for certain TV channels.’ . . . I’m the head of state.”

On Dec. 28, 2006, President Chávez, again in military uniform, declared that the broadcasting license for RCTV would not be renewed: “The order has already been drafted, so they should start shutting down their studios.”

Apparently President Chávez is the only one who knows what is best and can be trusted to watch over what happens to the people’s resources, whether it’s oil revenues, electric power … or what they hear or see.

On Jan. 13, in his annual address to the National Assembly, he changed his tune again and said: “The transmission signal belongs to the Venezuelan people and will be nationalized for all Venezuelans.” He added: “RCTV has only a few days left . . . they can scream, stomp their feet, do whatever they want, but the license is finished. They can say whatever they want, I don’t care, it’s over.”

President Chávez has violated the presumption of innocence and has denied us due process…The actions against RCTV of President Chávez and his subordinates are in violation of the Venezuelan constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. They are a clear example of abuse of power, and violate the right to work of all those in the media industry, not to mention a violation of the freedom of thought and expression of millions of citizens who seek information and ideas of their own free choice.

We are faced, in effect, with an aggressive campaign to extinguish all thought that differs from that which is officially dubbed “revolutionary.”

I added the bold-face emphasis above about the airwaves “belonging to the people” because it is also a central theme for those advocating a return to government control of what is “appropriate” political commentary and discussion of issues. Admittedly, the marketplace can be an ugly monster depending on your perspective, spawning Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, though in terms of ideas it has been harsher on the lefties who through incompetence, intellectual barrenness and their own corruption have failed spectacularly in attracting a paying audience.

When the market has brought forth something I’ve found to be offensive, the typical response has been “you don’t have to watch/listen to it.” I find that an emminently “fair” solution that leaves the power in my hands. No matter how ugly things might be without the “Unfairness” Doctrine, it is nowhere near as ugly or scary as putting the government in charge of deciding what I can or cannot listen to (I know, that’s kind of a “liberal” position).

The idea that the government can create a marketplace of ideas is as flawed and demonstrably untrue as the belief that the government can produce wealth.

Another 9/11 conspiracy?

There appears to be a booming market in 9/11 conspiracy theories, especially among academics nestled into their home-made Skinner boxes, toggling their BDS* gratification buttons. Meanwhile a much more brazen attack on free-speech is carried out by Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Byron Dorgan and Dick Durbin (leaders of the Party-Not-In-Power) who not only threatened the broadcasting license of Disney (parent company of ABC) if it didn’t cancel or alter its broadcast of “The Road to 9-11”, but were even willing to put it in writing. ABC, btw, has complied. I’m waiting for Tim “There’s a Chill Wind Blowing Through Our Nation” Robbins to jump up and say, “See! I told you so!” (HT: Hugh Hewitt)

Something else that caught my attention earlier this week, however, is the decision by certain CBS affiliates not to rebroadcast the “9/11” documentary because they’re supposedly afraid the coarse language will cause them to be fined by the FCC. This is the award-winning documentary by the two French brothers who were making a film about the experiences of a rookie New York City firefighter and in the process ended up in the front lines of the action that horrible day. As such, the film captured the blunt and passionate responses and language of the firefighters on the scene, as well as the sounds of bodies hitting the roof of the plaza outside the lobby of Tower One where the firefighters had set up a command post. CBS has already broadcast this at least twice (that I’m aware of) in the past without controversy. Those broadcasts were before the 2004 Janet Jackson Super Bowl scandal, which led the FCC to increase fines for broadcasters that allow offensive content to go out over the air.

Several dozen CBS affiliates have decided to either replace the documentary or delay its broadcast until after 10 p.m., when the Federal Communications Commission loosens restrictions — even though the film has already aired twice with little controversy.

“This is example No. 1” of the chilling effect over concerns about profanity, said Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS Corp.

Hey — there’s that “chilling” word again! Apparently Mr. Franks wouldn’t dream of bleeping out or aurally pixillating the bad words. I’m very familiar with this documentary having watched its original broadcast and taping the replay a year later. I recently viewed it again when I showed it to the group of young men in my “Fundamentals in Film” class. This close to the fall elections I think CBS – the network of Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and “fake but accurate” standards — is really more concerned about stirring the passions of the public than with offending its morals. I also think the network can’t resist the opportunity to gig the FCC and the current administration over the heavy-handed federal sanctions.

I think the language CBS is most concerned about is the part at the end when young Tony, the rookie firefighter, tells the camera, “I’d much rather save lives than take lives, but after this, if my country wants to send me to fight then I’ll go.”

* Bush Derangement Syndrome

I must protest (though you probably won’t hear about it)

Oppressed by your corrupt, immoral, lying government? Angered by intolerance, prejudice and hostile legislators? Then take it to the streets where your passion and cause can be covered by the media for all the world to see!

As long as it’s the right (or left) passion and cause, of course.

In the days where people riot in France to protest work rules for jobs they can’t get in the first place and illegal aliens in the U.S. rally to be treated like the citizens they aren’t, others are left to suffer and protest in relative silence. As MacStansbury points out:

While you were at the rally for illegals, here’s some other things you missed out on, some other stuff you could be protesting:

There was a pro-freedom of expression rally in London. In a country with a constantly growing Islamic population, this was a demonstration of a disparate group of people who were united in the idea that a cartoon is no reason to set a city on fire.

Speaking of cities on fire, “Protesters confront police at Belarus rally.” A line stolen from Gateway Pundit: I believe they are talking about these protesters here. Publius Pundit has the full story of the people resisting a hardline government, and being attacked, physically, for it.

Speaking of getting the full story, see that picture over there? Freedom Folks was the first to point out the Minutemen who were attacked at an Indiana protest. I can understand how you would miss this one, since it was a mutual fight. Right?

Not according to the pictures. More rant-y goodness from our in-house ranter.

While the big money coverage was in LA, somehow everybody glossed over another rally of 25,000 Christian youth in San Francisco. Maybe you missed it because, in the words of Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), “they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco.”

And, finally, you probably never head about Guillermo Fariñas Hernandez. No, you haven’t heard about him. It’s too painful to hear. He is a man, starving himself for freedom.

Where he protesting the Evil Capitalist Bush Adminstration™, he’d be on the cover of every magazine, every newscast. But he isn’t calling for the troops out of Iraq. No, he is voluntarily starving himself for freedom…in Cuba.

If Mark Leno were a conservative politician in a major city in a red state and his “they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco” statement had been about illegal aliens instead of about a Christian group (Ron Luce’s “Battle Cry for a Generation”) the story would lead the news for days and probably lead to further protests.
Or not. Perhaps Leno, if he was a conservative, would merely be dismissed as a harmless, lone flake? (And wouldn’t it be fun to hear a group take up a chant such as, “We’re Loud. We’re Obnoxious! We’re in your Face!”) Oh, but wait a minute, Leno is an official in San Francisco, the same city where the city’s Board of Supervisors offered an official resolution condeming the Christian rally, describing it as an “act of provocation,” intended to “negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city.”

Where is the outrage? Where are the two-minute TV news segments from the sober-faced blow-dry-flies on “The New Intolerance”? Instead, you heard nearly nothing outside of a pretty even-handed article in the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s an illuminating read, with photos that portray an interesting contrast between the “Battle Cry” protesters and counter-protesters.