The Moderate Voice » GREG PIPER An Internet hub with domestic and international news, analysis, original reporting, and popular features from the left, center, indies, centrists, moderates, and right Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:21:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Children, dementia patients in Belgium’s euthanasia sights Thu, 31 Oct 2013 22:55:15 +0000 belgium (1)

Belgium continues its lonely international road in considering an “unprecedented law” to grant euthanasia for children and dementia patients:

In Belgium, the ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right of euthanasia. The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights, if it passes. A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months. …

Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric oncologist at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital, says the changes would legalize what is already happening informally. He said cases of euthanasia in children are rare and estimates about 10 to 100 cases in Belgium every year might qualify.

“Children have different ways of asking for things, but they face the same questions as adults when they’re terminally sick,” van Berlaer said. “Sometimes it’s a sister who tells us her brother doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution,” he said. “Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we’re not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways.”

Oddly, the Catholic Church is arguing that doctors can already starve someone to death and that’s considered more humane:

“It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die,” Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard testified.

Leonard said alternatives like palliative sedation make euthanasia unnecessary — and relieves doctors of the burden of having to kill patients. In palliative sedation, patients are sedated and life-sustaining support is withdrawn so they starve to death; the process can take days.

Some experts prefer what might be termed the “It gets better” approach:

Charles Fostr, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.

“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.” …

Dr. Patrick Cras, a neurologist at the University of Antwerp, said people with dementia often change their minds about wanting to die.

“They may turn into different people and may not have the same feelings about wanting to die as when they were fully competent,” he said. “I don’t see myself killing another person if he or she isn’t really aware of exactly what’s happening simply on the basis of a previous written request (to have euthanasia). I haven’t fully made up my mind but I think this is going too far.”

What most surprises me in these discussions is how little movement there’s been, both stateside and abroad, in furthering the cause of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the past two decades.

My home state of Oregon was considered at the forefront of a trend – but it seemed to have been stopped in its tracks when disability-rights groups joined the Catholic Church in blasting these proposals as undermining their own dignity and right to life, even if those lives weren’t judged high quality by the rest of society.

That can always change, though. You don’t have to like serial plagiarist Rand Paul to similarly worry that the “United States was veering dangerously close to eliminating people whom society considered to be undesirable.”

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University Hides Sexual Assaults from Campus Through Privacy Law Mon, 25 Mar 2013 23:17:42 +0000 You would expect your child’s university to notify the campus if one or more sexual assaults had been reported on campus. That’s a dangerous assumption for anyone with a child at Oklahoma State University, which just “won” the Society of Professional Journalists’ Black Hole Award. The Oklahoman reports:

OSU received the award for officials’ decision not to notify police or the public about a series of alleged sexual assaults on campus. At the time, OSU officials repeatedly said they weren’t able to do so because of restrictions under the [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act], commonly known as FERPA.

In a statement, Don Meyers, a member of the society’s freedom of information committee, called that claim “the textbook definition of egregious.”

“If a municipal police force had pulled that shenanigan, they’d be in trouble on multiple fronts,” he said. …

Former OSU student Nathan Cochran, 22, faces four counts of sexual battery in Payne County in connection with three incidents reported as occurring between Nov. 3, 2011, and Aug. 15.

Students’ debt problems, rising tuition and grim job prospects have understandably taken the lion’s share of attention to what’s happening at colleges and universities in the U.S., but there’s a lot more happening at these schools that should concern everyone.

If First Amendment and transparency issues in college interest you, I recommend following the Student Press Law Center’s Twitter feed, which shared this news. For a dramatic rendering of what’s happening in colleges, with a focus on the First Amendment and religious attitudes, check out the Kickstarter campaign for a TV show I’m developing called COPY.

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A TV Pilot About a College Newspaper Mon, 25 Mar 2013 16:15:07 +0000 The TV pilot I’m trying to make has two days left to get funded on Kickstarter. You can help make it a reality by pledging to the campaign – there are script snippets posted so you can get an idea of the plot development.

The show is called COPY, and it’s about the controversies covered – and provoked – by the student newspaper at a Christian college. I wrote the pilot script with friend and screenwriter Jeremiah Lewis. It made the semifinals of the Scriptapalooza competition last year – the top 15 scripts out of nearly 400. Here’s our video explanation of the show.

COPY is partly based on my adventures as a student reporter at Seattle Pacific University, an evangelical school that’s a rising star in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. Its longtime president Philip Eaton coined the motto “Engaging the Culture, Changing the World,” and wrote a whole book on it.

You can also get a sense of our plot development by reading the mock newspaper site we devised for The Crusader – it includes actual storylines from the show. We even recorded a rap song based on Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” to promote COPY, called “95 Theses (Benedict Ain’t One)” – another storyline in the pilot. Unfortunately, the sudden ascension of Pope Francis made that song a bit dated by the time we released it.

The Crusader site

From the Kickstarter page:

COPY is a TV show about the student media at an evangelical Christian college: An editor trying to whip his staff into shape, a blogger more TMZ than T.S. Eliot, and a university president obsessed with being “culturally relevant” – negative press be damned. How far will editor-in-chief Meshach Kilbourne and his staff go to secure the paper’s independence – and glory – against the machinations of President Constantine Ward? …

Christians and journalists, who normally hate each other, both believe the truth will set you free. They’re not so quick to admit temptation by another creed: The ends justify the means.

COPY takes a wry and comical look at the modern-day Christian university: proclaiming its “witness” to the world, while chasing conventional greatness through more programs, more prestige, more accommodation to the secular culture. But it’s also a tale of the media’s identity crisis – the aspirations and temptations of The Crusader’s editors and reporters, competing for scoops and eyeballs against competitors who don’t have a finger-wagging journalism adviser.

We like to think of COPY as “Big Love” meets “Gossip Girl,” not a preachy depiction of crusading journalists (“The Newsroom”) or a Christian caricature (“Glee”). Like the bestselling memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” COPY aims to show Christians in all their diversity and attitudes toward “the world. Our writing nods frequently to our television forebears — “Arrested Development,” “30 Rock,” and “Saved By the Bell.”

If you like the concept, please pledge promptly and tell your friends about the show. You can follow our progress on Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to ask me questions personally as well.

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“Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll” — A Critic’s Memoir of Music and the Church Fri, 19 Nov 2010 14:55:02 +0000 One of my colleagues from the college newspaper, who introduced me to several bands I still listen to, has a hilarious new memoir exploring his musical and spiritual coming of age in the ’90s and early aughts. Joel Heng Hartse, who’s reviewed music in Paste, Beliefnet and Christianity Today among others, gave a reading Thursday night for Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll at the Christian hipster coffeehouse near our alma mater in Seattle. For anyone who grew up in conservative Christianity and the Christian-rock subculture that surrounds it, or wants to understand the evangelical’s perceived dilemma between their faith and love of pop, Joel’s book is a great read.

Or I assume it is – I only bought it tonight, and what follows are my recollections of Joel’s talk. But the selections he read made me cackle uproariously and grow nostalgic for our shared experience in college.

Something like a taller, blonde version of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, Joel is a lovable nerd in the mold of The Big Bang Theory geniuses. He was temporarily (and amusingly) silenced by some spicy medical drink his wife gave him in the pre-reading mingling, forcing him to return to me for a proper hello and how’ve-you-been a few minutes later. A music lover at heart, Joel had three alumni who fronted bands in our college days perform between the selections he read: Lacey Brown, Erick Newbill (whose former band, Wes Dando, gave such a great performance on a preview weekend that it convinced Joel to attend the school), and Noah Star Weaver, frontman for both glam-rock band United State of Electronica, one of my favorites, and dream-pop Wonderful.

Joel’s encyclopedic knowledge covers the Christian and secular rock oeuvre starting with grunge, through ska and emo in the late ’90s, and to today’s eclectic indie scene, epitomized by folk-turned-electronic songwriter Sufjan Stevens (whose music I first heard through Joel). In the book, Joel “riffs on bands ranging from Weezer to Creed, from Sufjan Stevens to dc Talk, from Jeff Buckley to mewithoutYou, mixing laugh-out-loud humor with thoughtful reflection to explain how his obsession with rock & roll has shaped his faith, and how living in the shadow of God and guitars can transform all of us,” according to the writeup for the reading. You can see a brief excerpt from Joel’s recent reading in New York, describing his first encounter with music on the Internet, below.

Click here to view the embedded video.

With the air of a self-deprecating scientist analyzing a failed experiment, Joel told us – mostly a wide array of college friends, now with droopy eyes, blubber and other perturbing signs of age – about the shame (and secret, naughty pleasure) associated with pop music in evangelical circles in the ’90s. Bands like dc Talk and Audio Adrenaline had near-perfected a secular sound with a Christian message, convincing parents and pastors their kids weren’t missing anything “the world” offered. Joel said he was particularly offended at an Audio Adrenaline show when one of the band members went beyond the standard altar call and told the audience, flat out, the music was meaningless, nothing more than a trick to convert them. It was a major turning point in his view of music’s role in faith. (And a pretty good trick – try not bopping your head to AA’s catchy party pop. I served as a roadie for their show when they passed through town in high school.)

An evangelical newly enrolled in a Catholic high school, Joel explained his confusion at encountering people who added a bunch of harmful things to his pure Christian doctrine (this is the “Sects” part of the book). He also bragged about his success in “running organizations into the ground,” first with a social-justice group on campus (he protested the WTO in 1999) and later when he took over the radio station, where his inability to get along with the station’s new adviser (a phys ed professor, of all people) prevented the station from opening on time that year. “We’re f—ed,” he told another station leader. (You’ll notice hip evangelicals rarely observe their youthful prudishness on salty language as adults.)

One of the more entertaining selections has Joel, starved for musical fellowship, attempting to join a Chinese death-metal band when he and his wife moved to China after college (he’s a Ph.D. student in linguistics). Armed with passable Chinese but not the experienced bass player the band was looking for, and dismissive of metal in general, Joel described his comedic meeting with the band and its waifish frontwoman, whose guttural scream contrasted with Joel’s preference for melody. It didn’t help that he showed up for his audition in preppy attire.

The evening ended, fittingly, with the coffeehouse blaring several hit songs from dc Talk, including “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Joel’s wife Sarah (who, incidentally, was illustrator for a political campaign I managed in college) served a cake made to look like the book cover. Like the book, it was delicious.

You can buy the book from the publisher or Amazon, and “like” it on Facebook.

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Grand Old Punishers: Republicans Divide and Conquer Wed, 10 Nov 2010 00:13:20 +0000 The party of punishment pushes the Daisy Dems out… until they screw things up again.

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

Until they inevitably screw themselves by underestimating the power of a Huxtable-in-Chief, Republicans are on a roll. They sissy-slapped Lucille Bluth – er, Nancy Pelosi – out of the House majority, upped their annoyance quotient in the Senate, and sent the Democrats to the casa de loca with some new high-profile Hispanics, like incoming Sen. Marco Rubio and Govs. Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez.

You may have come to power through legal and democratic means – we’re looking at you suspiciously, Lisa Murkowski – but Party of Lincoln Who No Longer Resembles Lincoln, you’re our Imperialist of the Week.

We congratulate you for taking the advice of Sideshow Bob, promising to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule us like a king. Voters ate it up, especially the elderly, who favored Republicans by 21 points over Democrats.

Only the most cutthroat tyrants can inspire their enemies to disavow their own leaders to the extent the GOP did, with many endangered Democrats saying they’d vote against Pelosi for speaker and rename local geography after Reagan. Even President Obama panicked enough to briefly convert from Muslim to Hindu in the hopes of getting electoral help from Ganeesha, Vishnu and other gods who can’t be swayed with peanuts.

But Republicans forgot the cardinal rule of politics: Never trust women.

Freedom has taken a nosedive since dames got the vote, and running them as candidates has proven a riskier bet than Courtney Love keeping her underwear on in public. Steeped in unbridled enthusiasm for Hobbes’ state of nature and tri-corner hats, the Know-Nothings – er, Tea Party activists – rushed the Delaware and Nevada primaries, got drunk on Johnnie Walker and nominated the squawkiest candidates that showed up, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle, who hadn’t yet been recruited for the Reform Party presidential ticket. The Estrogeneral herself, Sarah Palin, gave them the crucial endorsement of blowing white smoke out of her chimney.

Easily-winnable seats for the GOP thus became easy Democratic retentions that helped keep the Senate from flipping. Now another makeup-drenched she-beast, Rep. Michele Bachmann, is running a campaign to associate the word “Republican” with the phrase “short-lived influence” by 2012. Fortunately she’s up against a competent, principled and male Texan backed by other men, who inherently excel in their reason and accountability.

You’ve got two years to show the country you have a better agenda than the Professor, you whites, businessmen, social conservatives, Cubans and gun owners. Don’t let a bunch of erratic broads ruin it for you.

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America Gets Porked: Have We Made Bacon Our Idol? Tue, 26 Oct 2010 19:08:56 +0000 Bacon has become ubiquitous. But has it caused us to stumble? Or is it our food salvation?

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

Sizzling Toward Gomorrah
Greg Piper

In a society loving on local produce, sucking up to sustainable farming and orgasming on organics, the elevation of bacon to Food of the Millennium seems oddly out of place. It’s hard to avoid products made of or inspired by bacon these days, from bacon-flavored cupcakes at my local shop to – heavens to hop flowers – bacon beer at the brewery. Yes, you can finally enjoy HDL cholesterol in a pint glass apart from a drinking contest with Kirstie Alley.

And my good friend Jeremiah, named after the prophet who warned the Jews not to worship foreign gods, wants to clog your soul with the praises of Baal-con.

What harm can Lucifer’s love handles do, you may ask? Sure, eating bacon every morning has helped a svelte friend of mine reach a healthy body weight, and I cook vegetables in bacon fat every six hours or so. (Tell Michelle that’s how you get kids to eat the fertilized-by-Barack’s-bowels brussels sprouts from the White House garden.) Even the Jews and vegans are on board with Bacon Salt.

But chew on this: Bacon and its non-financial derivatives have become the cultural equivalent of embryonic stem cells, the Great Off-White Hope for Hipness. Sharing your love of bacon shows you are not the stick-up-the-pork-butt liberal you appear to be, a cultural shorthand for thumbing your nose at political correctness. Jumping on the bacon bandwagon is like converting to Judaism purely for the jokes – it offends me as a baconnoisseur. The Morning Star’s mutton chops, in other words, have been coopted as the peace child of America’s 50-year culture war. But the baconverts are really pushing a gospel of conquest.

As the Bacon Salt guys say, “Everything should taste like bacon.” They and their ilk want to harness the inherent power of bacon and trivialize it by slapping the flavor and maybe a few lipids on a range of disparate foods, scents and even furniture.

The baconquistadores would infect and kill off the native flavors of every other food to further their unholy mission. Future generations would know bacon only as a spirit infusing all, obliterating its unique and set-apart status. Like that “South Park” episode where they say “sh–” 162 times, Baconism ultimately robs bacon of its significance.

What good is it for bacon to gain the whole world, yet forfeit its soul?

The Gospel of Bacon
Jeremiah Lewis

Eating bacon is like watching a Mormon drink: it never gets old. Unless you’re Greg, the Baconquisitor responsible for the torture, or at least the sanctioning of torture, of bacon-loving heretics whose only crime against the Church of Greg is simply liking what bacon does for their taste buds. If only Greg were able to read the Dead Sea Salt Scrolls, he’d find that the Love of Bacon is near the Love of Neighbor and the Love of God.

Bacon is the anti-health food, the meme that feeds itself. Everyone wants to say they eat well, but the in-your-face health craze makes us fear our neighbor who may be plotting ways to convert us to their veganity. Sure, maybe it’s become overly sentimentalized, or elevated by the foodie-geek to near divine levels, but the Bacon-alia is a sign we’ve become unchained from the stiff requirements that used to reign in food-dom.

No longer confined to Martha Stewart rigors of neatness, bacon has become the Pauline equivalent of all things to all people. It serves as a diplomat between the liberal need for organic everything and conservative country-fried lard-based diets. It is the populist’s additive, a crowd-pleasing favorite because its taste is a nostalgia, recalling better times. It’s a finger in the face of government-mandated health iniatives.

It is also the Jesus meat, the slice that makes health nuts stumble and the pork that makes them fall, but it’s also the food that takes away the sins of the culinary world.

As in every religious movement, the fringe exists, and bacon’s surge has its extremists; the Dave & Justins of the world certain push a bacon-heavy agenda, and like politicians of all stripes, The Salt Guys like their pork with everything. Much like the mainstream media does to promote fear, Greg has conflated the “everything should taste like bacon” philosopy of these ideologues with mainstream bacon-ology–a dangerous assumption to make. Not everyone has tasted the bacon-flavored Kool-Aid. Celebrity chef Tim Love has spoken out against the baconization of our food culture, but even he can’t deny the allure. And despite bacon’s newfound mainstream popularity, there is a coming war. Obama’s administration along with the FDA and the Institute of Medicine is nanny-stating our salt intake from packaged foods and meals served in restaurants. The plan is to “slowly ratchet down the sodium level” so you won’t notice the change. But you can’t take the salt out of bacon any more than you can take the O out of water. Accepting this would be an abdication of the Great BaCommision; to go forth and make baconphiles of all nations.

So now hear the true gospel of bacon: 1Bacon isn’t complicated. It isn’t loud, except when it’s being cooked; bacon doesn’t boast, it is not proud; it is a food, but not self-heating. 2Bacon is not easily over-flavored, it keeps no record of how often you eat it for dinner with eggs. Bacon does not delight in the sizzle but rejoices with the taste. 3It always projects (amazing smells), always crusts (with a delicious fatty edge), is sometimes smoked, and always perseveres (bacon scent lingers for hour after delicious hour).

4Bacon never fails. Where there are partridges they will cease; where there is squab and dove’s tongue, they will be still-broiled; where there is lamb belly and goat Gruyère, it will pass away from the kitchen. 5And now these three remain: chocolate, cheese, and bacon. But the greatest of these is bacon.


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The Wait Debate: Are Waiters Worth the Tip? Tue, 12 Oct 2010 00:10:27 +0000 Waiters are a mainstay in the restaurant culture, and tipping is a social convention. But is it time to eliminate the tip?

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

Tip Discredit
Greg Piper

It’s likely the House will fall to Republicans this November, so let’s remember what happened when they snuck into bed with Bill. School uniforms, NATO bombing the snot out of the Serbs, and — get your food stamps ready — welfare reform! Yes, Babar and Eeyore decided all handouts would have backbreaking strings attached.

Fourteen years later, it’s time to reform another welfare system: waiters. (Sorry, feminists – “servers” makes them sound like cost-saving robots.)

As anyone who has visited a food truck or hip burger joint can tell you, it’s not that hard to get your own food. Get a flashing pager thing, find a Pavlov and salivate when you buzz.

Waiters mostly exist to sell patrons on more-expensive “specials,” encourage you to buy high-margin booze, and theoretically make you feel pampered – as if the missing link from your home kitchen isn’t thousands of dollars and years of training, but a collared, coiffed community-college student.

“Refill your water?” Yes, thank you! Who needs a soda fountain with a water tab? “How’s everything?” Wonderful, now that you’ve put me on the spot and, spineless American that I am, I don’t want to complain! Yes, my burger is bleeding like Edward Cullen bit its neck, but who am I to demand that you correctly scribble “medium” like an cranked-out emergency room doctor? “Can I bring you the check?” Sure, now that I’ve drilled you with eye contact for five minutes, indicating I’m ready, while you avoid my gaze like a beeper salesman on “To Catch a Predator.”

For your waiter’s efforts that preempted your light exercise during a meal, you award him 15 percent of the check – and increasingly 20 percent, calculated after the tax. Thus every meal morphs into a progressive tax system, charging you more for having the courtesy to order more expensive menu items.

This is basically a modern version of gleaning, in which landowners skip over the edges of their farmland so the homeless can pluck the wheat. But God never let the landowners steal the pants off the homeless. Federal law allows employers to pay their employees as little as $2.13 because tips bring their wages to the federal minimum – a “tip credit.” Depending on your state, your tip may also get shared among all restaurant employees, even the lazy, incompetent waiter the table next to you is too polite to bring to management’s attention.

How is this not welfare, if not indentured servitude? If the Obama administration is so concerned about employers skirting wage laws by hiring illegal immigrants, why leave out white waiters from Walla Walla?

It’s time for civil disobedience, a nationwide strike against tips. Get your friends and families excited about paying the check and nothing else next time they go out. Tell them to scribble on the receipt, “The rest of the world pays waiters a real salary. Amend the FLSA.” Even without our own high-priced lobbyist, Congress can’t order us to tip on the check. They’ll turn on the National Restaurant Association and its wage slavery if we all play John Galt.

Will this cause menu prices to spike? Only if restaurants keep in place their bloated staffs and suite of superfluous services. Waiters of the world, untie your cash-pocket aprons! Wouldn’t you rather be a food entrepreneur like Chef Spike? If we pull over the food truck on our guilt trip, bright young culinaturals could spur an era of innovation focused on quality food, not propagating penury. We’ll go out to eat more often at a wider variety of establishments if we’re paying for good food, not starched shirts with tucked-in ties, sour smiles and obliviousness to performance-based payment on par with teacher unions.

More small businesses and local markets, fewer fat kids. Are you on board, Mrs. Obama?

Keep the Tip: The Wait Is Worth It
Jeremiah Lewis

Not for nothing, but I can’t stand waiters either. First there is the neutering of the word: they’re called servers now, as if waiter is more perjorative; personally, waiter seems less injurious than the slavery implication brought on by “server.” You might as well call him “Boy,” or “Garcon!” if it’s a girl.

Then there’s the wildcard. At any given restaurant, the enjoyment of the experience is a complex equation involving the decor, table cleanliness, attentiveness, and not least, the quality of the food and the cost of the total occasion. The server is the loose spoke in an otherwise predictable machine.

Nevertheless, I’d sooner give up the ability to pee standing up than remove waiters from our restaurant experience.

Waiters rarely receive the praise of Solomon, only damnation (like Absalom), because a good waiter, like the architect’s monogram on a bronze plaque in a dimly-lit lobby of a fantastic new building, only leaves his or her name behind on the check; what we remember is the service, the helpful instruction–yet it’s not coddling–the easy performance as the dance is danced.

A good waiter will be invisible until the moment when you most need her, and then she’s there, like a genie who just wants to please.

And here we get to the meat of the meal. To remove the time-honored tip from the repertoire of our evenings out would be a crime against the angels of our better nature. Tipping appeals to our simultaneous need to be loved and our need to feel superior. Tipping a good waiter feels good, but more important is tipping a bad waiter. When we do so, we prove to ourselves that we are bigger than what capitalism tells us we are, that we see value in the person, not what a person can give us.

Moreover, tipping recognizes the inherent value of service itself, fulfilling one of the tenets of a Jesus-based faith; to reign, one must lower himself to the place of a servant. Servers are a challenge to our very notions of a risk-reward system of capitalism; we tip regardless, though we may adjust our tip arbitrarily to effect some measure of value on the service itself.

Moreover, waiters are worth more than their occasional appearance might seem. They are the conduit between the crusty Grahams of Hell’s kitchen and the Ambien-t atmosphere of a high-society dining area; without waiters, our meal experience would resemble Dawn of the Dead’s hordes, with crazed patrons ripping each other to shreds in an effort to retrieve their ticketed plate from the gleaming chrome of the service window. Waiters prevent chaos and madness, like Ayn Randian Gary Coopers roaming the feral sage. Their tip befits their general social policing.

Waiters also explain haughty food terminology, enforce drink refills and question the quality of our meal. Yes, we could do without these luxuries, but isn’t it the little things that count? Anyone can get their own refill. The richness of the dining experience insists that you should not have to. In short, waiters are the Great Equalizers, the benefactors of a social inheritance that lasts a few hours; while heirs, we are on a level plain with our betters.

From a purely communist perspective, tipping is the vaccination against higher food prices and luxury reduction while permitting people of all stations to enjoy the momentary feeling of wealth, taste, and a life of ease; it is our culinary penicillin against savage classism.

I don’t believe tipping encourages better service from waiters any more than Dollar Scratchers promote racial integration in low-income areas. But it is a necessary, even useful cultural tradition.

So what if it’s a teensy bit socialist.

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I Want Your Sex (After the Wedding): No to Pagan Matchmaking Wed, 06 Oct 2010 16:42:53 +0000 I love to set up couples. But if you like it, get ready to put a ring on it.

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

Hook up with the Holy Spirit first

My keen study of human interaction and subtle googly eyes has directly led to two romantic relationships, in which I take more pride than my own long-term relationship. Had I not created opportunities for non-overlapping social groups, these paramours would have never puckered up and later thanked me repeatedly for arranging them like the Indian parents of 8-year-olds.

But you know my greatest comfort in these carefully-calibrated setups? That my creations aren’t creating, or at least prophylacting. When it comes to pagans, matchmaking should get the withdrawal method.

Even rotten little punks like raccoon-mascara Jenny Humphrey on “Gossip Girl” saved themselves for years while protecting their reputations with tales of tail. It’s become a cultural trope that high school girls lie about their sexual history to avoid the “prude” tag and further the post-”Wings” career of Thomas Haden Church.

But once you start college, the other shoe drops, as well as panties and moral standards. With no Big Brother figure to keep them in line, today’s 18 to 20-somethings are going at it like they’re getting college credit (and you Sacramento State students probably are).

So why should I help them hook up?

Sure, I see the chemistry (dot com) between those who are perishing in my extended social circle – the furtive glances, the humor-independent laughter, the grabbing of a thigh at a 1955 dinner table. Knowing my record in successful nonsexual hookups, my gal has asked for my help in troubleshooting a stalled mating process that had baffled proverbial zoologists nudging the pair together.

What’s my reward if I can break this impasse? Knowing the couple is coupling twice a day, four days a week, laughing maniacally at the sanctity of marriage as they “go down” the road to perdition? I’m tired of hearing these dyads’ tawdry references to their hugfests at harvest hayrides, karaoke nights and other twilight gatherings of the damned.

The cutest couples with bling-free index fingers are only addicted to eskimo kissing! They clasp hands on restaurant tables; collapse on the couch into each others’ arms, all grins and giggles but no gazonga-groping; and talk to each other. Fornicators, in contrast, talk around each other, to other people, because they’ve lost all respect for each other. As a wise Jew once said, “you can’t have sex with someone you admire.”

So if you’re willing to abstain, I’m willing to matchmake. Unless you’re into Twilight. If he doesn’t make a move on you overnight, he’s gay.

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The Kid Ain’t All Right: Do Only Children Ruin Society? Fri, 01 Oct 2010 18:24:38 +0000 Are only children ruining society? Or are they the only way to reclaim dominance on the global PTA stage?

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

One-Child Fallacy
Greg Piper

In these times of ethnic resentment borne of the recession, it’s easy to find a reason to loathe the Chinese. They took yer jobs! But I’m above those blue-collar bubbas squawking at their congressman to raise tariffs and block miscegenating again. I slant my brow at the slant-eyes because they took my brother.

No, not his organs. You see, I’m an only child, and I hate it.

The U.S. doesn’t have a one-child policy, primarily because it would worsen the quality of our reality TV shows (Barry Obams reportedly consulted Octomom in drafting his healthcare proposal). But in their zeal to copy, coopt and put a 50 percent markup on another culture, Americans collectively slapped on Trojans after the first one slipped through and spent the childcare savings on HDTVs, hot-yoga classes and a therapy fund for Junior’s inevitable mental breakdown.

Your little Atlas is propping up the family’s neuroses all by himself, with no one to confide in and strategize with while making bed forts. You call him “thoughtful,” but I call him lonely, listless and likely to build up resentments while playing with Legos by himself, taking his stuffed animals to bed until middle school, projecting sibling-ness on friends who shouldn’t have to fulfill the role. He’ll be a brilliant writer who overdoses in a Chelsea loft with some steampunk chick wearing a top hat while the Decemberists play on the Bose. (Yes, he’s that pretentious – he owns a Bose.)

That spoiled siblingphobe Jeremiah smugly believes his life would be better without other peer Lewises. He selfishly wants the whole inheritance to himself, like the father of Israel or Kim Jong-un, not to mention a hearty college fund that lets him sail through school without student loans. Contemptible, incorrigible, insatiable – Jeremiah might as well proclaim “I am God” in a decent 1993 movie.

Sure, only children are the creative ones, the geniuses, the rulers – think how much damage Paris could do without Nikki, like Arnold without Danny in Twins. But our country has always regretted putting these “little emperors” in charge. FDR’s economic policies stretched out the Great Depression, and Alan Greenspan’s created the housing bubble. Rudy Giuliani’s downfall ruined the stellar streak of philanderers in politics, and Tipper Gore’s refusal to micromanage Al’s schedule led to An Inconvenient Truth, ManBearPig and the defilement of hotel masseuses.

Worst of all, only children turn us into welfare queens. Call me a pessimist, but my generation is four months away from laying in the gutter eating dirt, taking classes at the University of Phoenix, and suckling the Chinese teat (see, I told you they’re easy to hate). We can’t afford to pay our own bills, let alone for our convalescent parents. With several piddling incomes pooled together and each other’s emotional support, brothers and sisters can take care of their parents without groveling to Uncle Sam and his infinite credit line.

And only children? They have that bloated, bicentennial bastard on speed dial.

One Child Left Alone
Jeremiah Lewis

The Chinese and futuristic societies have it right. One child per one family, one happy little globe unencumbered by the fractious and paralyzing (re)production of children that creates tomorrow’s destroying minions. We’re better off without ‘em, I say, and I have authority.

After all, I was the third in a family of four kids.

Like blacks who can call each other n****r or Naderites can call Ralph N***r, it’s okay for me to hold that parents should be limited to one child per cervix. This policy would have its advantages. Think of the work-sponsored daycare cost reductions, or the reduced need for pediatricians, which is a good thing, given that everyone in the medical profession is now shooting for the ever more lucrative specialized medicines, like those surgeons who operate on the brain via a hole in your foot, or chiropractors. The policy would also give lesbian couples the lucky opportunity to have the status of Twofers, which only our overly happy interracial couples currently hold.

The advantages also extend to the public’s overall mental health. After the one child, you’re done, and back to doing what you do best, which is living for yourself; if you found yourself staying married just so the kid would grow up with a complete family, you can gain your freedom after eighteen years instead of the usual thirty it seems to take most Baby Boomers. And if you and your spouse still love each other, you’re free to contemplate or copulate without the fear of becoming the 60-year old father of a newborn. How awkward is that?

Parenting is its own hassle of joy, involving sleepless nights, endless colic and croup scares, airplane feeding techniques for food that is less appealing than most Erica Jong books, and when they’re older, teenage angst and rebellion. Why subject yourself to more of it than is absolutely necessary to keep the population refill rate in the black?

Siblings offer certain niceties, like serving as blame candidates for the Who Broke The Lamp campaign or splitting chores. But they also are a constant competition, someone to look up to and envy at the same time. Siblings are subject to the first-born hand-me-downs, and many times the last children born get the least parenting, due to Bluth-like exhaustion. And when it comes time to being the dutiful aunt or uncle, buying gifts isn’t multiplied by your own siblings’ addiction to sex without birth control.

Single children are generally better careerists and achievers. They’re winners, because they’ve had to be winners. Being an only child focuses the parents’ collective will, hopes, dreams, and advice into laserlike precision, and the result are children who raise the bar for their sibling’d classmates who are content to settle into the shadows of their betters.

And that is precisely what America needs at this point. Facing the eerie yellow haze of Chinese supremacy and their population control (which results in splendidly choreographed Olympic dances), America needs to make raising one child well–not eight in the glare of a reality tv light–its primary mission in this decade.

One Child Left Alone ought to be America’s official birthing policy; after all, it takes a village to raise a child. Let’s not subject the national village to any more children than is necessary.

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Race to the Bottom: Nix the Mixed Ethnicities? Thu, 30 Sep 2010 19:46:44 +0000 Are biracial people too ambiguous to be identifiable? Or are they the greatest thing to happen to the human melting pot?

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

Laughter Is the Best Melanin
Greg Piper

Washington, D.C.’s next mayor will be black, just like the outgoing mayor. Vince Gray beat incumbent Adrian Fenty, who is not gay or British despite the sound of his name, in the Democratic primary, all but ensuring his election. Yet the city pretty much divided along racial lines, with blacks supporting Gray and whites supporting Fenty.

The conventional explanation is Fenty eschewed the old-school patronage that gave blacks their place in city government, and let loose a fierce Asian tiger in the public schools, threatening the predominantly black teachers.

What perplexes me is how anybody even knew Gray was black. He looks Italian to me. Fenty could pass for an Arab intellectual except for his slurred speech and love of marathons, a favorite white activity. And President Obama reminds me most of my liberal white Russian professor who ribbed the conservative students for sitting on the “right wing” of the classroom.

This racial rigamarole is making it hard to evaluate people based on the color of their skin. Of course, Martin Luther King Jr. rightly urged us to judge people based on the content of their character. But my favorite clerical philanderer (sorry, Haggard) wasn’t talking about the fleeting judgments we need to make immediately to accurately gossip, forecast trends, and crucially, not offend these melanin mysteries.

Say I meet Vince Gray on a train in Europe, and assume he’s a spaghetti-eating, lecherous pope-hugger (not that kind of “hugging”) who may progressively disrobe and splay across me in a series of tunnels. Looking for common ground over a couple Peronis, I try to start a conversation about the best references to “niggas” in rap music, since Italians love rap. Bam! and I’ve lost any hope for a political plum in Grayskull. Ever wonder why you and your ethnic-omelette friends are always making fun of white conservative Christians? Because of that stick up their ample booty when it comes to having fun at the expense of minorities.

As people’s heritages disappear into a George Hamilton shade of tan, making us even harder to peg than Vanessa on “Gossip Girl“, our venerable humor traditions will fade like so much pigment. It’s no coincidence that our least funny president since Bill Clinton — the best walking gag since Warren Harding — is biracial. Neither white nor black, No Drama Obama can’t have fun at anyone’s expense, and resorts to lame jokes about putting your car in D instead of R to move forward. Yeah, that’s guaranteed to swing independents in November.

Think of a world without stereotypes, where everybody is so idiosyncratic that we can’t make any useful and humorous generalizations about, say, who loves fried chicken, who has no ass, who will jump into your truck in a parking lot, who you shouldn’t let dogsit when they’re hungry, and so on. The outliers, like Will Smith’s cousin Carlton Banks or Usher-in-waiting Justin Bieber, will cease to be “out,” because there won’t be any “in.”

Imagine trying to size up an overly tan female Republican blowhard — is she an ignorant white mama grizzly, or some ethnic combination more convoluted than the unintelligible promos for NBC’s “The Event”?

We aren’t the world. It’s us vs. them, and your culture is weird. That’s how I like it.

Genetic Carpool
Jeremiah Lewis

You want racial hegemony? Only if you’re in the mood for a holla-caust. Don’t trust those Blaucasions and Hisplasians and Nubinuit? Congratulations, you’re a Mulazi.

The natural extension of mistrust of racially ambiguous people is the systematic destruction of their kind. So I’m calling you out, Adolph Piper. Your worldview stinks, and I hope others smell your aryaroma of hatred and fear the same way I do.

Many bi-racial people are, without a doubt, uncommonly beautiful and therefore successful, which leads to their unusual, if overrated happiness. Show me a purebreed Swede and I’ll give you twelve hybrid hyperbeauties of mixed blood; Asians and Africans are a surefire mixture for long-legged beauties with brains, and Hawaiians can’t mix with any other race without causing major upheavals in Miss Whatever beauty pageants. Aussies seem incapable of swimming with anyone outside thir little genetic pool without producing the finest offspring since Ham first laid eyes on Japheth’s daughter. And there’s no disputing the fact that when it comes to white power, there’s no greater example than Adriana Lima. In fact, there’s a mathematical formula to describe the hybridization of races to form perfect supermodels: B*2r = SB. That’s Supreme Being (Leeloo Dallas, multi-ethnic pass) for you sporty types.

But it’s not all about the looks; hybrid people carry within them the full cream of the genetic crop, a flowering perfection that combines the greatest and most powerful genes from either parent, producing the maximum potential that macroevolution can offer, like using stackable coupons at the world’s largest genetic superstore.

There’s a reason God told Adam and Eve to go forth and be fruitful; like combining strawberry and bananas together into a puree of exquisite perfection, heterozygosity–genetic diversity for you unibreeders–is the key to healthier, stronger, more attractive beings (and Robeks drinks).

Not only are the genetics superior, but multi-ethnics also carry the most potential for cultural diversity. Black Asians have a better claim on both rap music and sushi than white people do; Indo-Europeans or Anglo-Indians will likely be avid clubbers and mathematicians. Blitey might grow up to be President (spawning a backlash “birther” movement in the process, haters). I’ve made my white bed and slept in (with) it (her), but Greg’s insufferable whiteness can be tempered if his WGWAF lifestyle produces offspring down the road.

The point is, we can’t be myopic when it comes the way we breed. It is vital that humans continue to spawn perfect children who can’t fill in the bubble under Race on their SATs without a significant amount of questioning of their self-identity. At some point in the far future, a perfect and beautiful species of non-specific race will come across evidence of a culture and time when their ancestors worried about who was coming to dinner. They’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

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The influence of Christopher Hitchens on a student newspaper Fri, 02 Jul 2010 01:48:36 +0000

Writer and self-professed contrarian Christopher Hitchens has esophageal cancer, and as a result has canceled his book tour. I had been eagerly anticipating seeing him at a tour stop in Seattle, but I’m now reflecting on Hitchens’ influence in my own life and writing. Several years ago I founded a campus newspaper with friends, and we dedicated the debut issue to Hitchens. See our tribute back then at the link below.

PUNCH: An Independent Newspaper at Seattle Pacific University
October 2002

Christopher Hitchens, or “Hitch,” as he is known in D.C. and mother England, wrote his last “Minority Report” column for The Nation last week. It was his regular gig for the past twenty years. In his farewell column, Hitchens notes wryly that “it seems to me false to continue the association.”

“The association” is clearly a reference to the divided state of the ideological Left, on which he stands alone, following the post-9/11 chatter. Hitchens is virtually the only one who identifies “Islamofascism” – a term he coined soon after the attacks – as the greatest threat to the civilized world, one which the West must totally destroy to be safe and to allow freedom to bloom in the Middle East.

The Nation is America’s oldest political magazine. It is the most widely read collection of manifestos and opinion for people on the Left and the far, far Left. At the time Hitchens joined, the magazine’s publisher described it as a debating ground between liberals and radicals. Hitchens occupies that territory uniquely, the most radical of all after his comrades’ America-hating orgy, post-9/11.

“With trademark savage wit, Hitchens flattens hypocrisy inside the Beltway and around the world, laying bare the ‘permanent government’ of entrenched powers and interests.” This blurb on The Nation website is an understatement.

Hitchens’ credentials as one of the most prolific British writers in the U.S. are impeccable. He has been a visiting professor at UC-Berkeley and The New School for Social Research in New York, and contributes regularly to Atlantic Monthly and Harpers. When he’s not writing polemical books on Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, or “that evil little nun” Mother Teresa, he’s published in Vogue and Vanity Fair, or The Guardian of the U.K.

He was one of the first to accuse Clinton of war crimes for bombing a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, in order to “distract attention from his filthy lunge at a beret-wearing cupcake.” He’s done more to reveal Clinton as a perverted liar than any right-winger could have hoped for, which is part of his charm. “Self-styled contrarian” and “radical” are the names I often hear associated with Hitchens, but it’s not enough. He’s a radical radical, beholden to no one, a true inspiration in an environment where a healthy dose of dissent is needed.

Radical-turned-conservative David Horowitz once noted that the Left is like the mafia. Naming names is frowned upon because it weakens the comradeship needed to maintain power and loyalty. All fingers must be pointed outward and dissent is never tolerated within. PUNCH salutes you, Christopher, for being the independent we hope this newspaper will be to SPU.

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Health care reform and the homeless Wed, 17 Mar 2010 14:30:49 +0000 As Congress gears up for a big vote on health care reform, it’s worth considering how vagrants’ health problems could affect municipal budgets.

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

bum-carpal-tunnelAs cities face record budget shortfalls and public employee unions collectively bellow “why are you looking at me?” there’s another looming crisis on the horizon: Bums getting carpal-tunnel syndrome and suing.

Cup-shaking for change from passers-by is the first skill a novice bum learns from elder bums. And why not? Lacking the fortitude to stand up all day like a waitress or wait in a parking lot for manual-labor opportunities, bums learn to park their bums on the sidewalk, stare ahead blankly, and shake their moneymaker whenever two-legged mammals come within range. This exercise seems doomed to fail for all but the most pitiful and progressive (an overlapping category if there was one): It spares the emotional tenor of a verbal request in lieu of a beggar’s bicycle bell, warning pedestrians there’s trouble and passive aggression ahead.

Though I’ve been personally solicited by alms-seekers a handful of times in recent months, with sometimes poignant and always respectful stories about their hardships and appreciation of a few dollars (I’m a sucker for ‘em), the Cup Shake seems likely to prevail indefinitely. Before an enterprising personal-injury lawyer jumps on this and starts flooding interactive billboards with promises of municipal payouts for hand-wringers, and a reporter in search of an easy Pulitzer does a six-part series titled “A Fair Shake,” cities had better pull together their lawyers and message men (er, persons). Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

Renewable bumergy. An enterprising bureaucrat would attach small generators to these bums’ hands, to create energy that can be sold back to the local power company, with revenue put into a Bum Fund to pay for their medical expenses – not just carpal tunnel, but also sore ass and Your Mother Told You Your Face Would Freeze in That Shape Syndrome. (The latter shouldn’t be confused with the inevitable acronym for non-heterosexuality, YMT-YYF-WFTS.)

Heavier coins. This will require some help from Uncle Sam. If the U.S. Mint starts pounding out chunky currency – from quarter-pound quarters to half-pound pennies – not only will pedestrians want to get rid of their change more quickly, but bums will be forced into a Hobson’s choice: keep less change in the cup to go easy on the wrists, and reduce the sonic effectiveness of the shaking, or actually ask people in English for change. The latter was successfully used by our president.

Punitive tax on change-givers. Create a field on tax forms that asks how much change you gave to bums last year. Those who are proud of their giving of course will dish, to look good for their preachy girlfriend, Governmentia. But this field actually calculates their Bum Maintenance Tax – because this stunt can only be pulled once before The Blogs are all over it, the tax will have to be a highly punitive figure, such as 1,000 percent. Next on my agenda – the Bird Maintenance Tax for bread-tossers.

Cities can also avoid this fate by licensing my Bum Stamps patent. Interested parties can contact me at

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Mitt Romney, Cultural Imperialist Thu, 11 Mar 2010 13:00:58 +0000 In honor of Mitt Romney’s new book debuting at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, here’s a tribute to a man who’s not afraid to argue the world is not flat, culturally speaking.

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

romneyThe multiculturalism movement must be unmasked for the fraud that it is. There are superior cultures, and ours is one of them.” — Mitt Romney

There’s nothing more imperialistic than trashing other cultures, even if you’re not so ballsy as to name the runners-up, bronzes and Certificate of Participation recipients in the league of nations. That’s why past, current and probably future presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor and Olympics hostess Mitt Romney is our Imperialist of the Week.

Everyone’s favorite flip-flopping Mormon has a new book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, which says President Obama is a foreign-policy pyro, providing “kindling” for anti-American fires burning around the world. Obama should talk more about “America’s values” and shun “the self-loathing of Western intellectuals,” which is to blame for the explosion of baby mamas and implosion of John Adams’ name-recognition (pre-Paul Giamatti), Romney says.

Mitt may be the greatest denigrator of The Non-American Way since P.J. O’Rourke’s brilliantly offensive “Foreigners of the World” study for National Lampoon. And there’s nothing more American than putting other people in their place. But why stop at A(Me)rica Against the World?

Some religions are better than others too. Southern Baptists are better than (in descending order) Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian Church in America, Free Methodists, Anglicans, Practicing Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Lutherans-Missouri Synod, Sufi Muslims, African Methodist Episcopalians, American Baptists, Buddhists, Confucians, Hindus, Presbyterian Church USA, Conservative Jews, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Unitarians, Reform Jews, Animists, United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Shiites, Sunnis, Wahhabis, and Episcopalians. If you belong to a mainline, George Costanza’s “Opposite” religion is better than yours, because at least he believes what he’s peddling.

Mitt may not agree with my rankings, but he can’t argue with the premise. Some cultural mores are better than others – people who walk single file when passing, call women by their first names, use puns for mating purposes, spurn micro-enterprise, pronounce curses on snow, judge libertarians as attention-whore hedonists, elevate taco-shell bowls above Jimmy Carter, and tell kids to stop plagiarizing their parents’ taste in music.

That’s my right as an American, dammit – to tell you what’s what and possibly to draw pictures illustrating the demerits of your views. Show Mitt your appreciation by purchasing his latter-day golden plates of truth.

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Remembering Jenny Paulson Sat, 27 Feb 2010 06:05:29 +0000 One of my friends from college was shot and killed by a fellow grad who had become obsessed with her. (UPDATE: I learned later I have a personal connection to the suspect – see below.) It is proof that bad things happen to good people. I have trouble thinking of a better person than Jennifer Paulson, and I’ll tell you why.

Jenny PaulsonJenny was a friend of a guy on my dorm floor when we were freshmen at Seattle Pacific University in 1998. She came by to visit and I was immediately taken with her – she was pretty, goofy and down to earth. I cajoled my way into her life by offering to help with her laundry and she obliged. She lived in the dorm at the top of the hill, and mine was at the bottom. I ended up spending a fair bit of time up there with Jenny and her punky roommate (think Pink), two cultural opposites who meshed perfectly.

She worked in the cafeteria, hair pushed up, baggy clothes and a giant grin on her face when she saw me coming. “Gr-e-g!” she would yell in three syllables, take a break and come out to dine with me. Jenny had the most revolting tastes I had ever seen, dipping pizza in ranch dressing and enjoying the strained look on my face. She insisted it was delicious.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jenny cared for the least of these, an admonition from Jesus that many of us at a Christian university struggled to apply. She was a special-education major from Tacoma, a diverse city with gang problems, and befriended not only a wide variety of students, but also her fellow cafeteria workers who weren’t students, largely low-income, immigrants with mixed English skills, and dropouts – folks the rest of us had nothing against but no reason to talk to. Jenny stayed friends with one our age who left the job and introduced us when he came back to visit – I think she had a small crush of the I-can-save-him variety.

The man alleged to have killed Jenny as she entered her school, Jed Waits, also worked with her in the cafeteria all those years ago. I don’t recognize his face but his name is vaguely familiar. It’s easy to see why he, and everyone around Jenny, was so drawn to her. Jenny had a painfully big heart and no preconditions for friendship, which I’m sure made her more vulnerable to the advances of troubled men.

Tonight I’ve been talking to college friends who didn’t know her well but say they vividly remember her smile, and searching for any traces of contact, most likely buried in an old e-mail account. Inexplicably we weren’t even Facebook friends – it’s to my discredit that I let our friendship languish after college. Jenny’s death has led me to resolve to better keep in touch with those old friends, one with whom I’ve already scheduled a get-together for my next visit this spring.

I hope this leads you, too, to reflect on the people who have made a difference in your life, and make sure they know it, before it’s too late.

UPDATE: Another friend recognized the suspect’s name. We’re pretty sure he served as the illustrator for an alternative paper we started at SPU. He went by the moniker “Kinlan” in our staff box, but I never met him or learned his full name – he sent in his illustrations and asked for anonymity. Waits was a graphic novelist and his style appears very similar to Kinlan’s. Recalling his self-illustration, I recognize the suspect’s face now. I also learned he was roommates with another mutual friend of Jenny’s. We are learning just how close all our connections were on a small campus. The only good thing is it’s bringing us back together.

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Libertarians: Stop trying so hard Sun, 24 Jan 2010 14:00:08 +0000 Every time I meet libertarians, they seem hellbent on making themselves look like horrible human beings. Not for their pro-limited government views, which seem refreshing in a time when The Government Is Taking Over Everything and still retaining the Bush administration’s national-security rationales (best of both worlds!).

Cross-posted at Cultural Imperialist

The problem is libertarians don’t want you to think they’re Squares. Everything is fucking ridiculous or shitbrained – try making it through a libertarian sentence without casual swearing of the fourth-grader-fitting-in variety. They love alcohol, tobacco and drugs – I mean, who doesn’t? But they have no perspective on how to enjoy oneself imbibing, smoking or ingesting of other forms. Everything has to be over the top, to show you’re not a Prude.

A Washington Post profile of Reason magazine’s re-location to D.C., and the anything-goes parties it brought along, has always stuck in my mind: “Once a month, culture comes in the form of magazine release parties at assorted Dupont dives and wafts of conversation like ‘This can’t be good for my liver’ and ‘Jeremy has passed out in his own vomit.’” Yes, we get it – you obey No God But Yourself, or Adam Smith’s invisible hand, or that cute coed dressed as an NC-17 anime character at your Burning Man Lite party. Anything with the whiff of traditional morality, Christian charity or personal humility – such as frowning on Randian spouse-swapping – is simply poor taste.

Of course, I’m simplifying and in some sense inveighing against a particular cultural anarchy espoused by the young, hip libertarians in urban settings. If you were around farmland for any period during the 2008 campaign, you saw the Ron Paul for President signs flowering like fields of Afghan poppies, and surely freedom farmers share little in common with leather-clad, swarthy magazine editors in D.C.

But these are the folks who give libertarianism its national face, to the extent anyone could pick it out of a police lineup. They would do well to remember Ben Folds’ proverb: “There’s always someone cooler than you.”

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There is more to life than Scott Brown and congressional calculus Wed, 20 Jan 2010 05:35:06 +0000 The New York Times had a particularly annoying non-news bit of editorializing in their night-of writeup about Scott Brown’s upset victory (in the grand scheme, not the consistent polling). It said the Massachusetts Senate race “has riveted the attention of the nation” because of its implications for health care legislation and the Senate’s balance of power. BS.

Of course, if you talk to congressional staffers like I do, they know the ins and outs of the race. At my church small group tonight in the shadow of the Capitol, everyone was talking about the early ballot results before we started and checking their BlackBerrys as soon as we wrapped. But two other politically-savvy friends had no idea about this race until my roommate brought it up, and when I asked another inside-the-Beltway friend just now about Brown’s victory, he said, “How important is this? I mean, it’s just a congressman, right?”

Admittedly these are just personal anecdotes. But there’s a troubling tendency in the punditry and the press to inflate the importance of whatever is consuming their attention at the moment and analyze it in the crassest terms. Turnout was unusually high for a special election, but still just above 50 percent at the most-engaged communities. What could be more important than replacing the irreplaceable Ted Kennedy and setting this country on its health-care path for generations to come, our thought leaders ask?

A lot, I would think. Tucking your kids into bed instead of cheering or jeering at the local bar over the incoming election results. Having coffee with a friend who broke up with his girlfriend after she finally moved to the same town as him. Leaving your job, with a two-foot-high stack of papers on your desk and a big client who’s wavering, for a couple weeks to improve the efficiency of Haiti relief efforts. Living a life that’s not dictated by, and lost to, the Hill’s unrelenting and bruising schedule.

Politics is important in its own way, an intoxicating mix of medicine and candy that our punditry and press get drunk on. But Scott Brown’s election, and the forthcoming recalibration of the Democrats’ national strategy, are just another flounder in a sea of headlines that froths and rages day after day, year after year. There are more important things for each of us to dwell on.

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A tongue-in-cheek debate about microenterprise Mon, 18 Jan 2010 14:00:08 +0000 How can you oppose lending $50 to a Third World entrepreneur to get a small business off the ground? Well, let me tell you how. Microenterprise is one of the more serious subjects given shallow treatment on my new site, Cultural Imperialist, co-written with Los Angeles screenwriter Jeremiah Lewis. It’s our guide to intelligent discourse on the can-miss topics of the day, like libertarians’ all-consuming need to look cool, merits of the “bed head” look, and relative impressiveness of finishing certain activities in 3 minutes.

I’ll be posting articles here from time to time, with the expectation that you get tired of reading about Coakley vs. Brown, Haiti vs. Robertson, and whatever other breathless political story everyone is pretending to care about so they sound “informed.” It’s okay to have intensely inane views on matters of no practical import. They shouldn’t be in our politics – why not give them an outlet in our culture?

Cross posted at Cultural Imperialist

One Flu Over the Macroeconomist’s Nest
Jeremiah Lewis

Microenterprise. The word itself seems engendered from the start to anticipate meager results. In the world of information overload, bullish political bluster, hawkish military spending, universal health care bills, and the apparently infinite resources of Richard Branson, microenterprise seems like the lesser heard and seen brother of Mark Hamill. (If Hamill had a brother, and they were both employed as voice actors for a rejuvenation of the hit animated Batman series, Mark would reprise his role as Joker, while his brother, let’s call him Skip, would probably play an insurance claims adjuster in some Gotham suburb and would never have a speaking line or even have a character to call his own. That’s microenterprise to the unwashed masses.)

The concept, as laid out by corporate backers, is to extend microloans to villages, groups of people within villages, or even individuals who possess business acumen beyond the usual warlord ambitions. These microloans range from anywhere from $50 to the more expendable $10k, and are used to kickstart an enterprise–digging a well, leasing a building, installing solar panels to provide electricity–with the aim of promoting a thriving, self-sustaining economy from which others can see the fruit of success and covet it for themselves, and perhaps achieve similar results for their own burgeoning endeavors.

Vice the macroenterprise edition of this game, which involves, well corporations. Corporations claim their outsourcing and offshoring builds up local governments, fuels economic growth, encourages local participation and involvement, and of course, promotes the time-honored ideal of Helping Oneself by getting a job that pays steady, competitive wages.

How’s that working out for you, Sierra Leone? Cameroon? Like a virus, macroenterprise has infected the mindset of Miltonian fau-xperts who believe no state is too big, no corporate body too invasive, and no economy too immune from its attempts to reproduce. That’s just cuckoo.

Granted, India and China seem to have made the model work for them, though you have to ignore the awfully huge numbers connected to poverty, exploitation, and greed to make the math kosher. It helps to illuminate the difference between the macro and micro models.

Macro gets all the press, because it’s big, because by its nature it is fueled by visible results. Microenterprises work precisely because they are small, but more importantly, are focused on the most natural and vital part of the process-the human worker. Instead of the faceless, cramped, often disease-cloaked and danger-filled labs corporations call their “shining beacons” overseas, microenterprises focus on the few to promote good in the larger sphere. By connecting a few well-positioned but financially handicapped people dedicated to a vision and supplying a small sum of cash (which almost always translates as a large sum of money wherever they happen to be located), microenterprise financiers trust to the instinct of the entrepreneur to build their business up in ways that will work in congress with the local customs and lifestyle, instead of a behemoth’s incursion into those traditions.

Now I’m not talking about patronizing our African or South American “fellow human travelers” with a few measly bucks to salve our colonial guilt or Western spiritual emptiness. There are cynics who believe microenterprise is the equivalent to a date and a one-night stand, likening a microloan to purposely punching holes in the economic condom. I liken them more to helpful inoculations against the improper buildup of foreign corporate structures.

Vaccinations don’t prevent you from getting the disease. But they provide you with the tools to build immunity from the inside out. Microenterprise may be the only flu shot developing nations need to survive.

Teach a Man to Fish? What Kind of Job Is That?
Greg Piper

Chances are you’ve learned about “microenterprise” in the past couple years. It’s hard not to like – lend a little money to an up-and-coming business owner so they can buy equipment or materials, and make stuff their village can use. Or more likely, that Ten Thousand Villages can sell to Westerners who would rather have a “goldfish paperweight” than the perfectly good Ikea entertainment center they just put on the curb. The best part is our money completely avoids Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Equitorial Guinea’s Obiang or whatever tinpot dictator the U.S. is otherwise showering with “anti-terrorism” funds and not auditing.

But there’s a lingering question: Who ever sewed their way to a bigger house? (Give up, lonely women with cats.)

So you, Third World mother, couldn’t feed your kids, your husband is a dissociative fugue-itive, and those promiscuous bonobos kept stealing your chickens. A microenterprise organization micro-loaned you $50 and you set up a banana stand, hearing a common Western saying that “there’s always money in the banana stand.” With your profits you bought a cow, an indoor coop and a new husband, like any good businesswoman. Or say Liberal Guilt International gave you startup capital to make papyrus holiday cards that show Jesus and an anthropomorphized lamb doing each other’s hair/wool. Effeminate Church Market, ka-ching!

The highest aim of microenterprise, in other words, is a kick-ass farmers market, and the white man’s burden is giving the world’s poor a cool place to hang out on weekends.

There’s nothing cool about a call center in India, or reduced U.S. tariffs on sugar from Haitian farmers. Better a chai wallah on the streets of Bangalore than an air-conditioned warehouse, right? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have more macroenterprise. Even if the collateral damage is giving mustache enthusiast Thomas Friedman an opportunity for another book, tentatively titled “The World Is Big,” we should seek – and vote for politicians who promise to pursue – transformational change in the world economy through open markets, the real path to prosperity for developing countries.

Let’s get rid of this deeply patronizing Western habit of tossing a few bucks at those we consider precious and keeping them micro-influential. Of course opening markets will create inequality (hissing) because some people are going to build businesses and make money. But they’ll also employ a lot of other people who can make a better living than their parents did toiling over the land or the loom, with its inherent risks.

You can still buy soap made of lemur musk from Madagascar (and not licensed by DreamWorks) at the church information table. Small businesses are the lifeblood of America and that’s a good trend to export. But let’s own up to slipping estrogen in others’ economies to make our junk look bigger.

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What’s The Perfect Beer For Racial Reconciliation At The White House? (UPDATED) Fri, 24 Jul 2009 23:21:21 +0000 obama-beer

President Obama said he invited Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley to the White House for a beer, presumably to have a laugh about this racial and/or class flare-up about wrongful arrest and hissyfittedness in Cambridge. The more important question than whether this will result in some racial breakthrough, for beer connoisseurs at least, is: What Kind of Beer Will They Drink?

(UPDATE: Gates has said yes — he’d be willing to have a beer with Crowley as Obama suggested.)

It’s not a trivial question. The wrong beer can ruin any delicate social situation, and this one is fraught with pitfalls. Befitting his academic pedigree, Prof. Gates presumably enjoys high-end brew, perhaps something along the lines of a barrel-aged imperial stout (not because it’s black, mind you) or a Belgian quadruple – an evening of cerebral sipping, mulling over the complexity of each quaff. Sgt. Crowley, assuming he has a blue-collar background, could probably go for a PBR or a Samuel Adams Boston Lager – a beer to kick back with in the company of fellow officers after a long day on the beat. The president – whose reconciliation skills are believed to rival those of Jesus – has a tough nut to crack: What will bring God (Gates) and Man (Crowley) together?

The White House surely can get any beer it wants with a snap of Rahm Emanuel’s fingers (when they aren’t in flip-off position). Nearby options include Capital City Brewing, whose Prohibition Porter offers a good balance of refinement with an English tradition of working-class popularity (the style is named after transportation porters). Two neighborhoods north of the White House is the Brickskeller, whose stimulus-bill-length beer list and expert staff could find the perfect beer for a Bruce Willis-Samuel L. Jackson moment. The restaurant’s list includes the Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkle, representing the German altbier style that is itself a “pale ale that has some of the lean, dryness of a lager, with the fruity notes of an ale.”

Or they could stroll to the Wine Specialist around the corner from my office and pick up a few $10, 12-oz bottles of 18-percent World Wide Stout from Delaware-based nutjob brewery Dogfish Head – the alcohol is hidden under a thick raisiny aroma that’s irresistible. Believe me, after a couple bottles each, all will be forgiven and the good professor and constable will both be arrested for public urination on the Treasury Building next door.

Leave your beer suggestions in the comments, and let’s see if we can’t crowdsource a diplomatic coup.

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Independents Flee Obama on Gun Control, Abortion in New Pew Poll Sat, 02 May 2009 07:06:02 +0000 The Pew Research Center has a very interesting new survey on attitudes toward gun control and abortion after President Barack Obama took office. Within the space of a year, views that were once firmly in the majority for both gun control and broadly-legal abortion are now nearly neck-and-neck – and it’s not just the choir getting preachier:

The balance of opinion among independents has changed substantially over the past year. In April 2008, a majority of independents (56%) said it was more important to control gun ownership; currently, independents are divided, with 48% saying it is more important to protect gun rights and 45% saying it is more important to control gun ownership. …

There has been notable decline in the proportion of independents saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases; majorities of independents favored legal abortion in August and the two October surveys, but just 44% do so today. In addition, the proportion of moderate and liberal Republicans saying abortion should be legal declined between August and late October (from 67% to 57%). In the current survey, just 43% of moderate and liberal Republicans say abortion should legal in most or all cases.

I think what this shows is what I’ve called the grace period that independents are giving Obama. They understand that he’s in the most unenviable position of any incoming president in 50 years, and as a result continue to give Obama high poll numbers. Even as the government creeps toward nationalizing industries, it’s seen as the lesser of two evils. But Obama seems to have actually increased polarization on a set of issues about which he’s said virtually nothing since taking office. Perhaps he should talk more about them. Call it the Reverse Biden.

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Miss California: Champion of Federalism on Gay Marriage? Mon, 27 Apr 2009 14:00:14 +0000 A week after Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean started a national conversation about whether it’s wrong to say something plainly, with no shades of nuance – “I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” the verbal version of the Prop 8 vote tally and our president’s personal belief – Prejean’s preamble is still drawing harangues over its accuracy. She said:

I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.

The leader of one gay rights group replied, “Contrary to Miss California’s claim, people can’t choose, gay and lesbian couples don’t have a choice except in a handful of states.”

But wasn’t that Prejean’s point? Given the context of her remarks, and I haven’t heard her clarify exactly what she meant by “Americans,” it seems plausible that Prejean was simply giving a thumbs-up to the democratic process that has produced one gay-marriage victory, by the Vermont Legislature. Arguably, she was even referring to the state courts that enacted gay marriage.

Remember that marriage policy until 1996 was wholly a matter for the states. Even after the Defense of Marriage Act passed, it left untouched state law, simply codifying that the federal government wouldn’t be used as a pawn in a battle over gay marriage in the states. It basically put Congress on record against any future Supreme Court majority that may think about creating another permanent social-policy schism:

“The concern about creating another Roe v. Wade looms large,” said Nathaniel Persily, who teaches law and political science at Columbia. “At least five members of this court, if not more, would probably be reluctant to weigh in on this controversy, especially given the progress that is being made in state legislatures, state courts and public opinion.”

Prejean seems to recognize the same “progress,” although she would probably use a different term. There’s a certain air of inevitability in her words, a recognition that she can’t change the tide, and a crutch in citing her family for her not-especially-controversial views. It may be decades before a majority of states recognize a legal category titled “gay marriage,” but it’s pretty safe to say several are moving toward ever-expanding legal rights for gay couples, including civil unions – which is gay marriage in all but name. (And I have no illusions about the centrality of “name” in this debate.) To my knowledge, these incremental moves state by state have drawn little backlash.

An opponent of gay marriage could use the analogy of putting a frog in room-temperature water and slowly heating the pot until it boils the frog alive. This is why I suspect a lot of Christian conservatives (a rather poor catchall that fails to note several meaningful distinctions) are thrilled when a state court enacts gay marriage – the frog jumps the hell out of the water, evolves a thumb and turns off the stove. The way I read this, Prejean is being assailed for saying states should decide what their marriage laws are. That would put her on the center-left of the Christian conservative spectrum, something I think is lost on her backers.

I would love to ask Prejean what she thinks about the lagging push to enact a federal ban on gay marriage. If she’s in favor, we could at least fault her for her false sincerity.

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Obama-Backed Freedom of Choice Act Draws a Clever Pro-Life Response: “What the FOCA?!” Wed, 28 Jan 2009 05:30:52 +0000 As President Obama’s liberal base gets impatient with his moderate moves, he may be tempted to drop a nuclear policy bomb sure to draw gratitude from activists: actively push Congress to send him the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), as he promised to sign in a widely-shared Planned Parenthood speech. The bill is basically an abortion time-warp, returning the country back to the early days after Roe when states hadn’t yet tried to apply abortion restrictions. FOCA would write Roe into statutory law and basically gut the Supreme Court’s 1992 Casey decision – named after the pro-life Democratic governor of Pennsylvania – that gave a little wiggle room for states to apply abortion restrictions. (Statheads may remember that the abortion rate in the U.S. peaked in the late 1980s, and started a long, gradual decline in the 1990s for reasons that remain disputed.)

Though FOCA has united pro-lifers in a way they haven’t been since the partial-birth abortion ban vetoes by President Clinton, the message – epitomized by sites like Fight FOCA – has been forceful but not really memorable. All that changed when I saw a Facebook group started by Illinois Students for Life called “What the FOCA?!” which is kicking off its “WTF?! Project” with a “Day of Action” today. The allusion is obvious – “WTF,” that ubiquitous shorthand expletive found on t-shirts, IM conversations and undoubtedly shaved in some kid’s hair. It may be the most irreverent slogan to ever come out of the pro-life movement – if the movement, permeated by religion (as I’ve previously written), can embrace this bit of youthful impudence:

Isn’t ‘What The FOCA?!’ Offensive?

Yes, it references a phrase that is offensive. However, unrestricted abortion is much, much more offensive. Using this phrase points to that fact. In addition, “WTF” is common to the language of the culture. If we say… “Stop the Freedom of Choice Act!” that is meaningful to those of us who know about FOCA, but it is meaningless to those who do not. If we say…”What the FOCA?!” it piques the interest of the culture and conveys the ridiculousness of the Freedom of Choice Act all in just three words. Then, you can start to elaborate through dialogue.

The Facebook “Day of Action” listing even has an amusing photo of a baby making a face that conveys “WTF” with the letters superimposed. Two things jumped out at me at the negligible references to religion. There’s an interview about FOCA with a lawyer from the Thomas More Society, a Catholic legal group, and a link the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is heavily involved in federal and state lobbying efforts on abortion. That’s it. No crosses, no deities, no pictures of Mary holding the baby Jesus. The site and Facebook group could just as easily be mistaken for a protest against the World Bank.

And yet, chances are this wise-ass grassroots online effort won’t be mimicked soon by the better-organized pro-life institutions, which may well take their cue from the Apostle Paul that irreverent initialisms aren’t noble, just, pure, lovely or virtuous. Even if they work.

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March for Life Co-opts Obama’s Rhetoric, but Religiosity Still Dominates Fri, 23 Jan 2009 06:41:22 +0000 The two most tired phrases of 2008 got a makeover at the March for Life in Washington Thursday, where pro-lifers used the new president’s rhetoric to argue for an overhaul of the federal stranglehold on abortion policy for the past 36 years. It surely didn’t compare to the million-plus at the inauguration Tuesday, but the crowd was fairly packed as evidenced by my failed attempts to break through to the north side of the Mall as marchers started for the Supreme Court.

The basics seemed the same from last year, my first in attendance. Judging by their wardrobes, the protesters were largely lower-middle to firmly-middle class, with plenty of teenagers and baby strollers in tow. There’s still nearly two hours of speeches by politicians and priests before the trudging up the Hill actually starts, so there’s a lot of late-arriving groups and federal workers from around the Mall dropping by. The most noticeable omission was the presidential campaigns – Ron Paul’s had the audacity of hope last year to carry a sign showing him holding a (presumably newborn) baby wrapped in an American flag. I was hoping it would reappear just for a laugh.

Youth snark was on display more so than past marches. I saw several hand-painted T-shirts with phrases like “A Person Is a Person,” “As a Former Fetus I Oppose Abortion,” and “Friend Me if You’re Pro-Life,” the first reference to social networking that I remember. There were green-and-black pro-life stickers reminiscent of poison-control warnings and MoveOn-style demands on signs such as “Personhood Now” and “Justice for All.” A handful of young monks walked by me, looking way too trendy even in their brown robes, as if they walked off the pages of Donald Miller’s hipster Christian tome Blue Like Jazz.

But the biggest change: The words “Change” and “Yes We Can” found their way onto a lot of signs, plus a heady dose of civil-rights rhetoric that has always been part of the pro-life movement but buried under the layers of family values and religiosity. A black pastor gave one of the final speeches, the most rousing and soulful, stirring up a mostly white crowd and reminding our new president that abortion rates in the black community are unconscionably high. If there’s a stagnant status quo that has persisted across four decades, it’s surely the federal antagonism toward any restriction on abortion, where many state laws have never taken effect, held up in court from the moment they passed.

What remains, though, may be the movement’s biggest anchor weighing it down from broader acceptance.
I’m talking about religion, which pervades every speech and probably half the signs that I saw. Catholics are the overwhelming bloc at the marches and against abortion in general, and they’re not shy about asking the Lord, Jesus, and “our lady of Guadalupe” (in the final prayer from the stage before the march itself) to end abortion by convincing their opponents to submit to the Vatican. My friend who works for a religious liberty group, and presumably can identify different denominations with a quick glance, estimated that 70 percent of the crowd was Catholic. (Dozens of signs identified dioceses or parishes.) Conservative evangelicals are about the same in their vocal association of life with Christianity, just without the institutional support.

The moral (not necessarily intellectual) support for the abolition of slavery was largely found in churches, but that was in a time where society largely accepted the Gospels as binding on their lives, if not carried out well. I saw glimmers of hope at the March for Life that a new generation – buoyed by our first black president – may drop the trappings of religion in their appeals for the right to life as fundamental to every other civil right. But it doesn’t look like the religious institutions want to tone down the religiosity with the aim of opening the pro-life tent to those not carrying a cross.

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Bush Hecklers Leave a Stain on Obama Inauguration Wed, 21 Jan 2009 03:26:47 +0000 It’s not a stretch to say that ex-President Bush has carried himself with the utmost dignity in his final two months in office – going beyond what previous outgoing administrations have done for the new guy. From expediting security checks for now-President Obama’s nominees to giving him national security briefings in Chicago, the Bush team gave the new administration everything it needed to hit the ground running. So far, no reports of the letter “H” missing from the White House keyboards either. You’d think Number 43 could get some respect on his way out of office.

Not on the National Mall, from what I saw and heard from others.

I walked across the Memorial Bridge to the Mall from Arlington to see the inauguration, and was running late. Listening to the NPR broadcast from the Mall, I heard loud boos following the introduction of Bush and some Republican leaders as they approached the platform. Loud enough to be very apparent on my headphones, and for the New York Times live-blogger to notice, though I can’t say how widespread it was.

Getting to the other side of the bridge, I noticed a giant inflatable statue, but didn’t bother to look more closely, as Obama was a few minutes into his speech and I didn’t want to miss it. The rest of the ceremony was fine, mostly memorable from my perch at the Reflecting Pool for the brisk commerce that was still going in merchandise bearing Obama’s visage (and especially his family’s). As I headed back to the bridge, I noticed a crowd forming around that inflatable statue. It was George W. Bush in a Saddam Hussein-in-the-town-square pose, and a group of yucksters “tore” it down and threw stuff at the statue (no shoes, oddly enough). Talk about an apt comparison, huh? It wasn’t lighthearted – it was just mean-spirited. Apparently there was another inflatable Bush statue dressed in a flight suit up the road that other sore winners had their way with. Heckling also followed the ex-president as his helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base took off, the Times reported. (You can see photos of the inflatable Bush and mostly crowd shots in my Flickr set.)

Meeting up later with friends who were much closer to the West Lawn, I learned of some drunken heckling, this time of George H.W. Bush and Barbara, calling her a “racist grandmother” and yelling “Go back to Houston!” Not the respect that an ex-First Family deserves.

Why does this bother me so much? Protesters have always dogged leaders. You could say this heckling was rather mild, although I’m sure that the 25,000 cops in town and Secret Service roaming through the crowd tamped down expectations of what people could get away with.

Here’s the thing. It’s hard to think of a recent president leaving office more unpopular than Bush did. Two wars, financial crisis, and some of the more interesting debates about the breadth of executive power we may see for a while. Yet this is a man who had no blueprint for what to do after September 11, which like it or not, is still the foremost thought in the mind of any official tasked with protecting this country. You can argue with what Bush did, whether Iraq was a good move or at least will turn out to be a relatively successful country in a region brooding with oil money and disaffected young men. But clearly he was operating out of his convictions about what a leader should be doing, and those decisions in some way clinched him a second term. His oft-quoted examples were Churchill and Truman, leaders during extremely difficult and controversial times of war who left office with a “Kick Me” sign on their backs. Surely this is a man who risked everything to do what he thought was right, to protect the American people – to take his oath of office seriously, and as a side effect took some bad advice from people with their own agenda. I’ve long thought Bush’s biggest problem was his excessive loyalty to officials who should have been shuffling along. But let’s not forget the context in which he governed.

The treatment of the outgoing 43 by the incoming 44′s biggest fans has made me almost nostalgic for the painfully earnest media coverage of the past few weeks, highlighting the “historic” nature of the inauguration to no end, perhaps because pundits and anchors have nothing original to say (shocking). The endless paeans to our non-ideological president led to believe that maybe, just maybe, Obama’s candidacy had summoned the “better angels of our nature” for a wide swath of America. From what I saw and heard today, I guess that was premature.

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Canoodling with Clinton, Obama Courts the Cosi Commuters Fri, 12 Sep 2008 00:47:24 +0000 Barack Obama tried to patch things up with the predominant Democratic dynasty today, lunching with Bill Clinton near his Harlem office before going to his joint appearance with John McCain at ground zero. If the food was any guide of Obama’s future as a candidate and president, the mushy middle is where he’s headed.

The lunch menu, according to the campaign, was a choice of sandwiches and flatbread pizza from Cosi, plus salad. Beverages were not specified.

For those unfamiliar with the chain, Cosi is about as safe and bland as you get for a lunch spot in metropolitan centers. The sandwiches have exotic-sounding names but very little flavor, and the flatbread is so flimsy as to be useless in holding together the sandwich. I dare you to watch someone at Cosi try to eat a sandwich without it falling apart. It’s like watching a gazelle get run down by a lioness – you feel sorry for the poor creature as it falls from grace. The pizza comes from a giant hearth but it’s nothing special either. Salads come in a novel, acorn-shaped lidded plastic container that employees shake up to mix around everything, and may be the best thing about the chain. But they’ll run you $10 for some lettuce, kalamata olives and feta. You won’t be disappointed if you’re a lover of bland venti lattes as well.

Why do I think this is relevant to the Obama campaign? It’s Harlem, for one thing. There are certainly more exciting, culturally-rich dining establishments there, and Bill Clinton must surely know where they are. Obama is in a position of strength, given his post-convention popularity and the reaction to the Clintons’ snippiness over the past few months. You would think his choice for lunch would rule. But maybe that really was Obama’s choice – because the press was there.

Cosi is emblematic of middle-class bourgeois life: decorative, comfortable and utterly meaningless. It’s the destination for people with no strong feelings about food but a strong aversion to risk in eating. Those are exactly the people Obama is trying to win over now – not so much the country people who cling to guns and religion, who are naturally colorful and memorable, who cook with lard, and who aren’t going to vote for him anyway. It’s the folks in the suburbs who commute into the south Dupont Circle area near my office and just want something familiar for half an hour in the middle of the day. It doesn’t have to be exciting, or memorable, or worthy of foodblogging. It doesn’t have to inspire.

Maybe Barack and Bill just wanted a simple lunch with no surprises. But I think it’s a thinly-veiled message to the mushy voters of America who still haven’t made up their minds. The Cosi Commuters are ripe for the taking. And to fit in, Obama must let his sandwich of hope fall apart.

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McCain-Palin butchers – supporters need to rebuke them Thu, 11 Sep 2008 05:10:31 +0000 The latest McCain-Palin ad, on TV and their e-mail list to supporters, implies that blamed the Obama campaign for “completely false or misleading” rumors about Sarah Palin. Curious to see what this report was, I visited FactCheck, associated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and saw they didn’t appreciate the campaign’s creative interpretation of their report:

There is no evidence that the Obama campaign is behind any of the wild accusations that we critiqued. There is no more basis for attributing these viral attacks to the Obama campaign than there is for blaming the McCain campaign for chain e-mail attacks falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim, or a “racist,” or that he is proposing to tax water. The anti-Palin messages, like the anti-Obama messages, have every appearance of being home-grown.

I’m not swooning for Obama, I have to make clear. I’m pretty sure his presidency would resemble others where Democrats controlled everything – most recently 1993-95 and 1977-81, which no one is looking forward to revisiting. Divided governments seem to get quite a bit done, including bringing down the Soviet Union, welfare reform, and more recently, the electronic surveillance compromise that Obama got so much crap for eventually supporting. But there’s no excuse for the Republican ticket to butcher this report by FactCheck, which politely calls the ad “less than honest.” The campaign can say they think Obama operatives are pushing the rumors, and with any luck, find some evidence of that, without twisting someone else’s report.

With his numbers rising, and his Obama-esque running mate throwing off the Obama camp, it’s unlikely that the McCain campaign will relent on aggressive ads. Indeed, I’m scratching my head to remember a single presidential race where negative ads weren’t a huge boon to the winner. If men were angels, no hit piece would be necessary.

I suppose that means that only strong supporters of the Republican ticket – especially Palin’s mom-throngs – can tell the campaign when it has crossed an ethical line, and not have the message be interpreted as Obamania by the media. Especially as two people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ – never mind the eventual destination of their handlers – McCain and Palin should be held to a high standard by fellow believers. I’m going to write to the campaign now and tell them where I think they’ve lapsed, and how I think they can make it right, so that my enthusiasm doesn’t wane. I hope I’m not alone.

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Sarah Palin as Reese Witherspoon – and that’s a good thing Thu, 04 Sep 2008 05:41:43 +0000 John McCain just found his new attack dog, and I think we’ll all want to get bitten.

When McCain first announced Sarah Palin, I thought she was a terrible choice, imagining some grizzled old Alaskan woman who would serve as a poor Hillary substitute. A week later, I’m pretty close to convinced that Palin is a huge asset to McCain, precisely because she is his Obama, just as Joe Biden is Obama’s McCain. The tickets are even, and Democrats are furious that Republicans have someone just as telegenic and spunky as their man.

Palin is gorgeous, as evidenced by all the elderly delegates wearing buttons with some variation of “Hottest VP” on them. She looks like the grown-up version of a friend of mine in Washington, another state beauty queen, who also made the 50 Most Beautiful People in Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill. Yet when Palin savages Obama as an unaccomplished community organizer, it’s like watching Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” take down her smug, self-satisfied ex-boyfriend in law school. How can you be mad at a woman who says the only difference between hockey moms like herself and pit bulls is “lipstick”? Democrats can mouth the typical platitudes used by both parties that she’s a partisan hack, setting a negative tone when Americans just want effective governance and bipartisan cooperation. But Palin is as entertaining as Obama is inspiring, and I think Americans enjoy both. Bipartisanship is great when you’re stuck, not when you’re trying to get acolytes. Palin is Ted Nugent, not the Jonas Brothers, and guess which rock star we’ll still remember in 5 years?

Leslie Stahl from “60 Minutes” once recounted that Ronald Reagan’s media maven Michael Deaver thanked CBS for a critical report about Reagan, and she had asked why. Because of the shots of Reagan in his cowboy-style clothing on a ranch. “People don’t pay attention to the words,” he reportedly said. If you’re on the fence between Obama and McCain and don’t have any strong policy preferences between them, Palin’s adorable jabs may be enough to push you over. As my friend and LA blogger Jeremiah Lewis said of Joe Biden’s strength on the Obama ticket, “gravitas = boring old man.”

She’s certainly not going to convince most Hillary supporters or Obamaniacs, but Palin gives the base a full-body orgasm with her sexy-librarian-crossed-with-Ted-Nugent persona and makes CNN’s female hosts swoon despite her supposedly “shrill” delivery. If the Obama campaign tries to label her as just another hack, a homespun Alaskan retort from behind those sexy glasses will surely follow.

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Should 9/11 families tell Rudy Giuliani how to campaign? Sat, 08 Sep 2007 17:00:15 +0000 Families of victims of the 9/11 attacks aren’t thrilled with Rudy Giuliani’s heavy emphasis of his service on that fateful day in his campaigning, which will include a trip to Ground Zero. This was news last week but it’s getting renewed attention here in Washington, because the Pentagon 9/11 memorial is coming along and some families visiting the site think he’s crossing the line. Giuliani is politicizing a shared national tragedy, and he should stop immediately, they said on the news tonight.

But do they have the moral right to tell Giuliani how to campaign? I would say no.

As a wag said on the segment I watched, Giuliani’s campaign would quickly fold without 9/11. He showed tremendous leadership that day and became America’s mayor, whatever his multitude of sins before that. I’m no Giuliani fan aside from his cleaning up of New York against jeering from the enlightened masses, which was quite an accomplishment, but I would have been fine with him retiring from the spotlight.

Obviously he disagrees, and he has every right to hark back to his role in the months after 9/11. We elect presidents not only for their views but for their performance under pressure. He thinks he has the experience under pressure – objectively I’d say the tortured McCain has the greater claim there – and voters should be able to decide on that. It’s not like he’s carrying around a charred piece of the World Trade Center and donning a firefighter hat.

There’s a lot of pressure these days to take the politics out of politics. It was evident in the hubbub over the normally yawnable firing of U.S. attorneys, political appointees who are as shamelessly political as any official I’ve ever encountered (as I wrote here), and much earlier, in the campaign finance reform debate, where reform-minded politicians infantilized the voters and told them they couldn’t make decisions for themselves unless protected from “special interests.” (What else is a congressman but a special interest?)

Discomfort with Giuliani hyping his response to 9/11 ultimately boils down to distrust in the voters to make an intelligent decision, I think. 9/11 families say they don’t want their horror to result in Giuliani’s benefit, but Giuliani doesn’t have a straight shot to the White House (or even the GOP nomination) simply because he runs on a platform of actions taken six years ago. If the voters think he’s a one-dimensional, backward-looking candidate – and I’d give that good odds – they’ll let him know, if not in public opinion polls sooner, than the primaries or general election later.

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The activist press: A professional dilemma Wed, 13 Jun 2007 04:46:53 +0000 Tonight was the Society of Professional Journalists’ Washington DC chapter awards ceremony, the “Datelines” (my “Journys” suggestion received no laughs), a well-meaning but overlong paean to a few journalists’ lifetime of service and an exercise in category domination by a hand-and-a-half-ful of D.C. outlets that cared to submit their work. We were our usual selves – long-winded, obliviously chatty while others spoke, and with the exception of the well-paid, ravenous in finishing the meal. But when the awards were finished, the shindig got political – and reminded me what happens when journalists take their self-appointed role of arbiters of democracy too seriously.

My organization attended because we knew we had won something and wanted to find out firsthand. Helen Thomas was in attendance, the only hack that anyone outside the hack community would recognize. The reception bar wasn’t open but the waiters at dinner poured wine freely, thus aiding the oblivious chattery on and off the dais. Plenty of amusing anecdotes but no jarring rhetoric to awake any of the yawning throngs by 9 p.m.

Until the thinly-veiled pitch for SPJ membership began.

The SPJ president described herself as the “heavy” and proceeded to browbeat the hacks into making a difference for their institution. She highlighted the secret hold that a senator had placed on a bill to update the federal Freedom of Information Act, strongly backed by media advocacy groups. It’s an issue I’ve covered irregularly that has ignited quite the firestorm among the reliably united grassroots activists on the right and left, folks on this site’s blogroll. They helped unmask the senators behind holds on bills several times before, and apparently did the same this time.

But how many media outlets covered the hold – placed on Memorial Day weekend – on an otherwise smooth-sailing bill? Just one, she said. The piece was written by a gal I know vaguely whose particular beat is government secrecy. That’s unacceptable, the president said, even if most of us are headed on vacation. The Society membership sprang into action to pressure the secret senator to step forward, she said, but the D.C. chapter in particular needs to be large and vibrant to counteract senatorial shenanigans in the future. The scolding riled me up, a call to “get off your lazy ass,” as I put it. A coworker corrected me: “More like ‘get behind my ass.’”

This presents a problem. Journalists are already distrusted by a majority of a diverse public, who think they’re biased, lazy, driven by money or some combination. They have views and generally vote, but they’re supposed to be able to take in multiple views and not just represent them fairly, but see it from the point of view of their subjects – even while digging for the facts and using their judgment on what and how much gets inches or airtime. I’ve been uneasy with coworkers who have vocally complained about the views of some person or entity they’re covering at that very moment – “can we keep it out of the office?” I think and occasionally vocalize. You can’t be distracted by your loathing for someone on deadline and expect to be fair.

Similarly I expect that media advocacy groups are going to take a position and get active on some issues, especially when it comes to their newsgathering ability. But rank-and-file journalists aren’t somehow exempt from the excesses and foibles that accompany any other group seeking to influence government policy, and unlike most, they’re in the business of giving the public a fair account of the people they’re agitating for or against. This is a tricky tightrope to walk especially if you rely on people in the government regularly for information, as I presume the bulk of the SPJ Washington chapter does. How am I supposed to get fair treatment from the senator’s office if I am myself unmasked as an activist against the senator? How can my readers trust my professionalism?

There are plenty of people concerned about government openness, and with the Internet they have a worldwide platform to informally collaborate and ferret out what isn’t made public. I use them almost daily to guide my reporting, and I’m far from alone among the rank-and-file reporters. If there’s a compelling reason for us who practice, as oppose to lobby, to shape the policy surrounding our craft, I don’t see it. So let’s not presume that the only thing standing between tyranny and liberty is the collective backbone of the media practitioners – or that our supposed monopoly on truth-ferreting excuses us from our professionalism.

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John McCain and his new campaign manager: Racy, not racist Fri, 08 Dec 2006 14:01:04 +0000 So John McCain picked a campaign manager (in)famous for creating an ad with an imagined encounter between soon-to-be-ex-congressman Harold Ford, who is black, and a white Playboy bunny. It’s been tarred by not only a lot of liberal bloggers as a racist ad, but for some reason I can’t divine, the the original Moderate Voice himself:
This hire will not be hailed by:

Those who want to see an end to ads (that raise the issue of race, sexism or religion used even in the typical plausible-deniability mode used in campaigns. The ads go up, eventually they’re pulled down. The consequences linger. There are voters who will vote against politicians who use those ads or embrace those that feel anything goes in politics to claw the way to a victory.

Those independent and moderate voters always felt John McCain was a cut above the rest. This move indicates he hired a very adept and effective political infighter. And this seems to be a cut above AMONG the rest.

First things first. Let’s remember the attention span of the average voter: naught. There’s nothing wrong with this: Politicians’ goal during election season is to get their names out there, which has the side effect of annoying the hell out of voters. It’s the foremost consideration in a voter’s mind: Who is that guy? So if your name recognition is low, you’re screwed. It’s rare they’ll vote for a name they don’t know, unless they’re firmly in the “anyone but” camp.

The second goal: Tar your opponent with a memorable ad. Harold Ford indeed went to a Playboy party, albeit not at the Playboy mansion (as he carefully said when questioned) and apparently with no bunnies prancing in their fur. Now I’m sure a few Republican congressmen here and there have gone to Playboy parties, at the mansion and with otherwise unleashed bunnies. But c’mon – this is Tennessee, a middle state that is nonetheless firmly buckled into the Bible Belt. Can you remember the last time you saw an African-American Playboy bunny? They indeed exist but if you watch Access Hollywood or VH1, they’re not often standing there with Hef on the red carpet.

Politicians lingering with women not wearing their rings is indeed a unique American liability that has often perplexed open-minded, responsibility-free Europeans. So Harold Ford met some bunnies off the mansion grounds. So what? Well, for some reason the anti-Fordies believed this insinuation – that Ford is a ladies’ man, and even worse, a California ladies’ man – would resonate with Tennessee voters.

Let me be clear: I like Ford. He’s a moderate, and seems wholly uninterested in the Vietnam-baiting of his elderly Democratic peers. If he’d been taken on by Tennessee liberals a la Ned Lamont, I’d have cheered and blogged loudly for him. But apparently he was vulnerable to Republican onslaught. He gave them the perfect setup – “Hollywood Harold” (which I think would have been more effective than “Fancy Ford”) cavorting around with slutty LA girls, no matter how tangential his connection to Playboy bunnies is. I never saw any racism in that ad until liberals started bitching about it. It looked like a typical “my opponent has loose morals” ad, and in this case, the accusation was particularly tenuous.

If there’s a Southern strategy, I’m not seeing it. And it doesn’t speak well of liberals and good-government types to make such a tenuous connection to racism.

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Mormons and offense: My two cents Sun, 26 Nov 2006 23:18:28 +0000 Shaun’s post on the coming media circus surrounding Mitt Romney’s likely run for president as the first serious Mormon (properly speaking, “LDS”) candidate is generating some upset comments from the LDS faithful who appear to not like the posting of people in the temple underwear. The most extensive response is by LDSer Guy Murray, calling the underwear shot “denigrating.” Others are pointing to Joe’s comment policy as grounds for removal. I weighed in at Guy’s blog but I’ll give my two cents here as TMV’s shadow blogger, known better for fluffy apolitical junk than this.

First, my street cred with LDS believers – they comprised probably a quarter of my high school, and I was friends with a few. I attended their seminary across the street from the school once, and besides the reading in King James English, wasn’t weirded out. As an evangelical in the late 1990s, I believed, as I’d say they did, we had a fair amount of common ground in feeling mocked in pop culture. If they were mocked by the religious or pagans in the rest of the school, it wasn’t overt. Just normal kids who used their free periods to go across the street.

I should also note my near-absolutism on free speech matters. On my own blog, I’ve rebuffed a few people that didn’t like something posted by a commenter, including characterization as a “bitch.” My guess is Joe doesn’t mind me noting there was a lot of debate among the cobloggers at the time before Joe instituted an explicit comment policy. Slurs against Jews by a handful of persistent commenters were popping up irregularly, and Joe among others thought it crossed the line and needed to be excised. I disagreed – more speech curing bad speech, sunlight as disinfectant and such – but that’s just me. Guy and other critics are certainly correct that the underwear shots can be considered “offensive,” a broad term that causes no end of legal headaches and corporate PC seminars and memos to employees.

But I’d remind those that consider the shot offensive that it indeed illustrates (literally) what is coming in 2008 – if Romney keeps hinting he’ll run, a slew of stories for the next 2 years about the LDS church, its history, controversies and role in America and abroad, including its rather secretive leadership structure. (Methodists and Episcopalians like the Bushes are only interesting these days when talking about gay bishops.) How do you grab the attention of my attention-deficit generation? Comedy – look at the Daily Show and YouTube. I’d never even heard of special temple underwear, so that pic indeed piqued my interest in a subject that I’d normally skip past. I happen to like Romney, already the subject of an extensive Weekly Standard profile last year.

Yes, a bit crude – but the underwear shot gets attention, and is something that a lot of folks like myself never even heard of. Let’s also consider the difficulty of describing temple underwear without something visual. If “South Park” can make fun of Latinos selling “Native American” tampons made from their hair to a gullible, progressive audience, and secular and faithful alike can pillory the Christian merchandising trend of the past decade, I don’t see how LDS temple underwear is off limits. LDSers could take a page from certain Middle Easterners that self-identify as Muslims (the efforts I make to be PC!) and start killing people that highlight temple underwear, but they’re too civilized for that. I happen to agree with the commenter in Shaun’s post that implied this was a side issue as long as people were dying over offense.

That said, I found Shaun’s three responses to Ann Althouse’s criticism to be in poor taste, especially patronizing a serious, intelligent blogger as “Annie Pooh.” A public apology from Shaun, many of whose readers at TMV probably didn’t see his responses at Althouse’s blog, wouldn’t be inapt.

Shadow blogger out.

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FILM REVIEW: “Bobby”: Dropping Acid While Writing Might Have Improved Sat, 25 Nov 2006 17:00:46 +0000
If you’re pondering whether a movie monikered after the charismatic primary contender for the 1968 Democratic nomination – but that features him for a total of maybe 20 minutes – can be any good, I have an answer – and it ain’t pretty.

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Is “Christian” marketing the kiss of death for “Christian” bands? Mon, 24 Jul 2006 14:01:06 +0000 A band from my college days is making waves for suing its label over the way it was marketed, and it implicates the nature of “contemporary Christian music” (CCM) itself. Mute Math grew out of Earthsuit, a hard-to-define alt-rock group with reggae, rapcore and electronica elements that mixed together unbelievably well. Of course, as a band full of Christian guys that spoke of their faith (albeit ambiguously) on their debut, they got picked up by EMI’s Sparrow label for Christian music. I found their CD in a hole-in-the-wall Christian coffeeshop where my friend worked, bought the album and saw them in concert in Seattle. Reforming as Mute Math a few years after disbanding, they tried to go mainstream with Warner, but marketing got handed off to its Christian Word label, which of course hit them with the “Christian” moniker, leading to the lawsuit. Music producer and author Mark Joseph uses this as a jumping-off point to take aim at the idea of CCM itself:

That “system” had been created by people like Billy Ray Hearn of Sparrow Records and Mike Macintosh of Calvary Chapel who had said of the mainstream, respectively, “I never wanted to be a part of that world, and I got out of it,” and “We had just come out of Egypt and we didn’t want to go back.” They in turn passed on a business model to a succeeding generation for whom its central organizing premise—escapism—was no longer operative. …

Think of it this way: Would a plumber advertise himself as a “Christian plumber” if he wanted to serve both believers and non-believers? Perhaps, but then, many non-Christians with clogged toilets might not hire him because of that designation. But if he simply presents himself as a “plumber”—still intending to do a great job and prepared to discuss his faith with any interested clients—he’s likely to get more business, earn a better living, and interact with more non-believers. …

CCM labels need to understand that strong statements of faith, when combined with attractive and interesting music, are not automatic disqualifiers for consideration among non-Christian Americans— provided that the marketing and labeling doesn’t frighten them away before being heard. When that happens, they’ll have an opportunity to change the way they do business.

The real stumbling block here could be clergy – the pastors who promote this music to their youth groups and render it sufficiently pious for skeptical parents to buy for their kids. If a band doesn’t play up their faith, and the label honors that in the marketing, will pastors take that as “I’m ashamed of my faith” and cast them with that old chestnut “secular”? They did it to Amy Grant, although she didn’t help things with her very public divorce.

But I think we’re in a more tolerant and – dare I say – subversive time in the church, led by a new generation that doesn’t see the lyrical content of music in rigid terms. If it’s honest expression and it isn’t candy-coated, the object of the message shouldn’t be a turnoff for most potential listeners. We’re all cynics at sixteen now – just tell us you’re flawed and ugly, and you’ll get our allowance money! (Via my alum music critic Joel Hartse.)

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