Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dr. Percy's South

I have been reading some of the comments on Jeffrey Hart's essay in the Wall Street Journal about conservatism. A line about how the shift in the base of strengh to the Sun Belt South and West has had a negative effect "with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture." has generated controversy in National Review's The Corner and other places. Matt Yglesias would seem to have a point arguing:
Can anyone seriously dispute that the vast majority of America's premiere institutions of education and high culture are located in the "blue" areas? That's not to say the South is some kind of total wasteland -- I visited the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum earlier this year and it's first-rate, albeit a bit small -- but on the whole this stuff is primarily in the Northeast and to a lesser extent on the Pacific coast. At the same time, these institutions used to be bastions of conservatism and now -- as conservatives are wont to complain -- go the other way politically.

But there is another way of looking at it. Which state has made the greater contribution to American culture in the last one hundred years -- Mississippi or Connecticut? I would imagine that most people would conclude that poor, benighted, Yaleless, Mississippi would win the contest. What is the Nutmeg state's answer to Faulkner, Eudora Welty or Marty Stuart?

Walker Percy addressed this apparant contradiction -- at least as itconcerns writers -- in his "Self Interview" pubished in Esquire and reprinted in Signposts in a Strange Land:
Well, I've heard about that, the storytelling tradition, sense of identity, tragic dimension, community, history, and so forth. But I was never quite sure what that meant. In fact, I'm not sure that the opposite is not the case. People don't read much in the South and don't take writers very seriously, which is probably as it should be. I've managed to live [in Covington, La.] for thirty years and am less well known than the Budweiser distributor. The only famous person in this town is Isiah Robertson, Linebacker for the Rams, and that is probably as it should be too. . .

I have a theory of why Faulkner became such a great writer. It was not the presence of a tradition and all that, as one generally hears, but the absence. Everybody in Oxford, Mississippi, knew who Faulkner was, not because he was a great writer, but because he was a local character, a little-bitty fellow who put on airs, wore a handkerchief up his sleeve, a ne'er-do-well . . . One of the nice things about living an obscure life in the South is that people don't come up to you, press your hand and give you soulful looks.

Ten years ago, when I was living outside of the South, I would probably have been offended by Hart's and Yglesias' assertions about my native region. These days I'm not so sure that they are wrong -- Jeff Foxworthy has made a mint spoofing Southern redneck culture -- but I still prefer to live here. I spent seven years in Port Townsend, Washington. It is a wonderful place and I miss living there sometimes, but it was the opposite of the type of community that Percy describes. It is larded with creative types -- I was once the only person at a party who didn't at least claim to be an "artist" or "poet." Some of them actually create.

Monday, December 19, 2005

You Could Look It Up In Toynbee . . .

Roger Kahn remembers Gene McCarthy's presidential announcement in 1967.

Sign of the Times . . .

The latest issues of The American Conservative and Mother Jones are out with cover articles by the sam person. In TAC Robert Dreyfuss reports on neocon plans for Syria. In MJ he profiles North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones of "Freedom Fries" fame who has now turned against the war. That latter article has high praise for Jones in the form of a quote by the cretinous Christopher Hitchens that Jones is a "moral and political cretin."

Politics, and George W. Bush, makes strange bedfellows.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

An Army of Slackers

You don't need incredibly high standards to be a right-wing media critic. Note this post endorsed by the Eisenhower in the Army of Davids. The poster, identified only by a photo of an unshaven slacker (not that there's anything wrong with that) and the cutesie name "The Only Republican in San Francisco." Our slacker/journalist reports:

If you read my site, well, you are in a very small minority but you also are aware of how little regard I had for mainstream media reports of Katrina. Among the many outrages were the reports of crimes and deaths that simply didn't happen.

The LA Times now reports that the deaths in NO were not disproportionately among the poor. The storm, and the response, did not discriminate.

Add this to the fact that black folks died in proportionally smaller numbers than whites. Quick stats are that black folks comprised 67% of the population but represented 59% of those who passed. White folks comprised 28% of the population but represented 36% of the deaths.

Everything you read about Katrina was wrong, and was, sorry, racist. An enormous amount of PR damage was done to the US, and race tensions were fanned without any factual basis. Will the MSM address this?

Note what his post doesn't say. He implies that the "MSM" reported that blacks died disproportionately when New Orleans was flooded, but he doesn't cite, or link to, any inaccurate report from a media source making that claim. In fact, he cites Los Angeles Times reporting to help his case. Note his closing question. If he had bothered to read his own post, he would see that the "MSM" is addressing it.

This "Pajamas Media"post makes a similar claim with the same failing. It links to several blog posts that say little or nothing of substance and two "MSM" stories based on actual reporting.

I have been skeptical of the media all of my adult life but I have gained new respect for them in the last few years. I am glad we have alternative sources of information both in print and on the web, but this will never replace this.

UPDATE: San Fran's lone Republican replies to my criticism of his vagueness with a vague reference to the Economist's "Shaming of America" cover. But cover relates to their Leader (Britspeak for editorial). I didn't see any wild claims, now debunked, in one Katrina related article on the web from that issue.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Free Vermont!

I tried to imagine the pro-torture, war-worshipping neocons at National Review running an article like Bill Kauffman's Free Vermont in The American Conservative, but I just couldn't:
Organizers billed the Vermont Independence Convention of Oct. 28 as "the first statewide convention on secession in the United States since North Carolina voted to secede from the Union on May 20, 1861." North Carolina, the final state to join the Confederacy, overcame its unionist scruples with some reluctance; by contrast, the 250 or so Vermonters gathered in Montpelier, that coziest of state capitals, gloried in the prospect of disunion.

Montpelier is the only McDonald's-less state capital in the land, and from its late October splendor issued a Jeffersonian firebell in the night, ringing a warning to the national capital: the United States deserve a break(up) today.

Only in Vermont, with its town-meeting tradition and tolerance of radical dissent, would the golden-domed State Capitol be given over to a convention exploring the whys and wherefores of splitting from the United States. And all for a rental fee of $35! (It would have been free if the disunionists had knocked off by 4 p.m.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tis the Season . . .

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It's Christmastime and you know what that means: celebrating the birth of Jesus, greedy children and crowded malls. Oh, and the newly traditional "War on Christmas" battles. I think I will sit out the fight this year. I am still disgusted by Orwellian Newspeak terms such as "holiday tree" used by corporate and government bureaucrats horrified at the possibility of giving offense to anyone outside of the majority culture.
However, I grow weary of using war metaphors when the country is still fighting a real war. And when Christmas becomes just another front in the Culture Wars, I want nothing to do with it.
The best response to people such as Ruth Marcus, who wrote in the Washington Post that "this is the time of year, though, when those of us who aren't Christian, or who don't celebrate Christmas, most feel our minority status" (other than to point out that no law constrains her from putting up a tree, wrapping some presents and watching A Christmas Story); came from Michael Kinsley, commenting on the ACLU's anti-creche fundamentalism in the eighties:
"On a practical level," the ACLU writes, "a child whose family does not believe in the Divinity of Christ must view the public creche as a symbolic representation of his or her status as an outsider. The child will question . . . his identification with the American culture."

I think that's right. But I also think this child had better learn early on to question his identification with the American culture, because it's a tough question that will follow him all his life no matter how successful the ACLU is in banning nativity scenes. There is a majority culture in this country. It is Christian, white, middle-class. Jews and nonbelievers (I am both) are outsiders to some extent in that culture. So are blacks, homosexuals, Orientials, and so on. This is so even though we are a society that is constantly remaking itself, and a society committed to protecting civil rights and economic opportunities for minorities. The battle for minority rights goes on, of course, but does final victory require the eradication of the majority culture? And is every manifestation of that culture an insult to those who aren't fully a part of it?

People who want to go through life with nothing to remind them of their minority status ask too much. They will not get it, and full civil equality does not require it. Furthermore, in the name of ethnic or religious or racial or sexual awareness, they would impose a vast unawareness of national life in which, for official purposes, most Americans are of no particular race or religion(or equally divided among all) . . .

Far from being a handicap, a sense of "outsideness" can be a great asset in a society that does, in the end, try to protect the rights of cultural outsiders. It energizes, promotes skepticism, gives perspective. . . I am happy to be a bit of an outsider in my own country. I am no less American for it, and may even hope to be a better one as a result.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Numerous websites that I link to have already noted the passing of Liberty magazine's founding editor, RW (Bill) Bradford. Like Brian Doherty and Jesse Walker, Bradford gave me my first job in journalism. He encouraged and was a genuine fan of my writing. I discovered his magazine in 1989 and I have been involved with it since 1993. It has never had a party line and it is open enough to have published Murray Rothbard, Michelle Malkin(!), Bill Kauffman (even praising Robert Byrd once), Peter McWilliams and Ron Paul.

Some of the comments on Jesse's post indicate that Bradford provokes strong reactions both negative and positive, which is not surprising. He was brilliant and demanding, and he was often difficult to work for. He had a hard time dealing with a staff of more than two or three people at a time. As a result, several people left on bad terms with Bill. However, those I have been in contact with recently have many postive memories, amidst those of conflict, of their time at Liberty. I know I learned a great deal and had a lot of fun while I was there. And I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

God Only Knows . . .

If I understand Roger Simon correctly (and God only knows what is going home in his head) the reporting of the American "reactionary media" of the almost daily terrorist attacks in Iraq does more to harm attitudes in that country than the terrorist attacks themselves.

P.S.: One doesn't have to wait very long for the inane comments from Simon's readers like this one from David Thomson. "There are about twenty seven million people living in Iraq. The terrorists are able to murder far less than one percent of the general population. Obviously, these thugs are slowing down the rebuilding project---but still life goes on." Wow, only one per cent. Of course, one per cent of the United States is about three million people.

Monday, December 05, 2005

In Defense of Dubya

No, he is not the worst president ever, but he still has three years.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Arc

Michael Kinsley on the arc of Conservative Washington:

On the other hand, you can now trace the traditional moral arc in the life of conservative-dominated Washington itself, which began with Ronald Reagan's inauguration and marks its 25th anniversary in January. Reagan and company arrived to tear down the government and make Washington irrelevant. Now the airport and a giant warehouse of bureaucrats are named after him. By the 20th anniversary of their arrival, when an intellectually corrupt Supreme Court ruling gave them complete control of the government at last, the conservatives had lost any stomach for tearing down the government. George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was more like an apology than an ideology. Meanwhile Tom DeLay--the real boss in Congress--openly warned K Street that unless all the choice lobbying jobs went to Republicans, lobbyists could not expect to have any influence with the Republican Congress.