Rush Limbaugh

 Posted by on 11 July 2008 at 2:20 pm  Activism, Culture
Jul 112008

The NY Times Magazine recently published an interesting profile of Rush Limbaugh. As someone interested in changing the culture for the better, I was interested to read about his history, methods, and influence. However, the most amazing bit is the reporter’s description of Limbaugh’s capacity to speak for nearly three hours extemporaneously:

Limbaugh’s program that day was, as usual, a virtuoso performance. He took a few calls, but mostly he delivered a series of monologues on political and cultural topics. Limbaugh works extemporaneously. He has no writers or script, just notes and a producer on the line from New York with occasional bits of information. That day, and every day, he produced 10,000 words of fluent, often clever political talk.

Also, Limbaugh’s influence is not just his direct influence on his listeners, as those listeners influence others by their own advocacy:

Limbaugh entertains, but he also instructs. He provides his listeners with news and views they can use, and he teaches them how to employ it. “Rush is an intellectual-force multiplier,” Rove told me. “His listeners are, themselves, communicators.”

Fascinating! I might say, “if only his ideas were better…” but the fact is that his example is a valuable lesson for those of us with better ideas.

UNwanted Movie

 Posted by on 7 July 2008 at 2:25 pm  Culture, Film, WTF
Jul 072008

We went to see the new Angelina Jolie flick, Wanted, the other night. Having watched the trailers, and noting that 75% or so of 150+ reviews were coming out positive, our expectation was of basically mindless summer action in a slick package.

We got all that: the production values were excellent, and the acting was just fine — most of all, the action sequences were extremely stylish and fantastically unrealistic, though a bit over the top on gore at times. All of this is what you would expect. It’s the “message” that is so horrid.


The movie started out pretty quirky and random, and I was fine with cutting it slack even while Tammy was alternately squirming with boredom and revulsion at gory stuff as we waited for things to unfold. Soon enough, we got to see the main protagonist — someone we are supposed like — struggle briefly with and then accept the idea of killing innocent people on nothing more than blind faith in a mysterious, unseen and unfathomable authority saying they must be killed now to prevent never-specified future harms. Yes, the movie presents the issue that clearly, and then basically endorses the cold-blooded murder of innocents on faith. Our jaws dropped.

Oh, but it gets worse. Even after the danger of such blind faith and obedience was demonstrated to be problematic in the course of the plot, a second important character who we are to sympathize with and enjoy the action of goes and deliberately acts on such faith in the face of that demonstration — and in a gigantically self-sacrificial manner! Our eyes boggled.

As if all that isn’t horrid enough to be whacked in the face with, the movie underscores it by closing with a direct challenge addressed to the audience, along the lines of “see how I took splendid control of my life — well, what have you done lately?”

We stood up and shuffled out, numb at the Columbine-level insanity of it’s message… and of so many people thinking it is just fine, if not great.

Brooks in the Woods

 Posted by on 18 June 2008 at 11:26 pm  Culture, Sports
Jun 182008

Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open again. He did it right after coming back from knee surgery, the recovery from which was still causing him pain. He did it after a must-make putt for birdie in regulation to force an 18-hole playoff. He did it by making yet another birdie putt when the score was still tied after the playoff. It was brilliant. He is awe-inspiring.

My husband and I have, from time to time, wondered aloud why we tend not to root for the underdog against Tiger Woods. We decided it was from sheer admiration – we are grateful to Tiger for creating in himself someone to admire. Of course, we appreciate anyone working hard to beat a statistical favorite, as Rocco Mediate did. Statistics don’t describe individuals, and individuals must always fight. On the other hand – watching someone as accomplished as Woods is as close as an atheist will ever come to worship. He is just inspiring. Inspiration is food for the soul.

Now, contrast this attitude with that shown by David Brooks in his recent New York Times column on Woods’s victory. The column is a blatant demonstration of sneering at and denigrating the good because it is good.

Brooks appears to start off well. The first one-and-a-half paragraphs of his column describes Woods in positive terms. But as the column progresses, terms commonly used pejoratively creep in. “Frozen.” “Stone-faced.” Then it gets a little worse, as Brooks starts to employ caricature (emphasis added below):

As an adult, [Woods] is famously self-controlled. His press conferences are a string of carefully modulated banalities.


He’s become the beau ideal for golf-loving corporate America, the personification of mental fortitude.

Now clearly, Brooks recognizes Woods’s greatness, because Brooks’s column is also filled with unambiguously positive descriptors of Woods, just a few of which are: “focused,” “embodiment of immortal excellence,” “exemplar of mental discipline,” “precosity” and “athletic prowess.” But Brooks gives with one hand, while with the other he taketh away. For example:

[Woods] achieves, they say, perfect clarity, tranquility and flow. We’re talking about somebody who is the primary spokesman for Buick, and much of the commentary about him is on the subject of his elevated spiritual capacities.

Here, Brooks notes others’ glowing praise for Woods — and then belittles the praisers for their failure to note that Woods is a highly-paid spokesman for a car company. The implication: you can’t use elevated terms to praise someone who trades the value of his good name and reputation for money. Snarky enough, but then Brooks does it again:

The ancients were familiar with physical courage and the priests with moral courage, but in this over-communicated age when mortals feel perpetually addled, Woods is the symbol of mental willpower. He is, in addition, competitive, ruthless, unsatisfied by success and honest about his own failings.

This paragraph reminds me of the way Ayn Rand defined the conjunction “but” in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. To paraphrase, Rand explained that the conjunction “but” was to be used prior to introducing information that contradicts what would ordinarily be inferred from what was previously communicated. The first sentence of Brooks’s paragraph implies that Woods is something positive, a throw-back to an era where men recognized greatness. But the second sentence is clearly meant as an insult, as a “but,” because Brooks assumes (probably correctly, for most Times readers) that the column’s readers share his appraisal of “competitive,” “ruthless” and “unsatisfied” as derogatory terms.

Perhaps, by describing Woods’s obvious excellence (usually through others’ eyes), Brooks is hoping his readers will credit him with an ability to recognize and appreciate greatness. Perhaps Brooks is hoping his readers will miss the snide swipes at the character and virtues that made Tiger Woods’s accomplishment possible, and credit Brooks with graciousness instead of metaphysical sour grapes.

Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps Brooks is counting on his readers sharing his disdain for achievement. Because the first sentence of the column’s two-sentence final paragraph begins:

You can like this model or not.

I submit that the one thing a writer is aware of is that the last words penned are the most powerful in fixing in readers’ minds the message the writer wishes to convey. The message in Brooks’s last words? Whether you admire virtue and achievement is a mere matter of taste.

My last words to Mr. Brooks: speak for yourself. To anyone considering Tiger Woods’s victory at the U.S. Open, I would ask, rather, “What’s not to like?”

Death by Superstition

 Posted by on 13 June 2008 at 2:58 pm  Culture, Epistemology
Jun 132008

As today is the supposedly unlucky Friday the 13th, it’s a fitting day for a reminder of just how deadly magical thinking can be. Via the New York Times comes a chilling example of albinos in Tanzania hunted down and slaughtered for their supposedly magical properties:

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Samuel Mluge steps outside his office and scans the sidewalk. His pale blue eyes dart back and forth, back and forth, trying to focus. The sun used to be his main enemy, but now he has others. Mr. Mluge is an albino, and in Tanzania now there is a price for his pinkish skin. “I feel like I am being hunted,” he said.

Discrimination against albinos is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but recently in Tanzania it has taken a wicked twist: at least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated in the past year, victims of what Tanzanian officials say is a growing criminal trade in albino body parts.

Many people in Tanzania — and across Africa, for that matter — believe albinos have magical powers. They stand out, often the lone white face in a black crowd, a result of a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation and strikes about 1 in 3,000 people here. Tanzanian officials say witch doctors are now marketing albino skin, bones and hair as ingredients in potions that are promised to make people rich.

As if being born with a serious genetic disorder wasn’t enough of a burden in life, these people face the prospect of a gruesome death thanks to primitive superstition — in a scientific age when men have walked on the moon. It’s almost unfathomable.

The Glamorous Obama

 Posted by on 11 June 2008 at 11:04 pm  Culture, Election
Jun 112008

(Note: While I wrote the following before Greg’s amazing post on What’s So Special About Obama, it does offer a serious answer to the questions, “What’s the big deal about Obama? Why does he have such an effect on so many people?”)

In a recent blog entry, Virginia Postrel plausibly argues that Obama’s supporters — including pundits who ought to know better — often claim that he must not really believe his own stated policies because of his glamor, not charisma. She draws the distinction as follows:

Charisma is a personal quality that inspires followers to embrace the charismatic leader’s agenda (an agenda that, in the original sense of the word charisma, is seen as divinely inspired.) Glamour, by contrast, encourages the audience to project its own yearnings onto the glamorous figure. …

When voters motivated by charisma disagree with the leader they’ve backed, they support him anyway and possibly even change their minds about the right policy course. When voters motivated by glamour disagree, they become disillusioned and angry.

That explains much of Obama’s current appeal, despite his lack of any substantial record in politics, I think. People are projecting their wishes and hopes on him, rather than endorsing any concrete policies or clear vision. If that sounds interesting to you, you might want to read Postrel’s a slightly longer article on the topic for The Atlantic.

What’s So Special About Obama

 Posted by on 11 June 2008 at 7:41 am  Culture, Election, WTF
Jun 112008

What’s the big deal about Obama? Why does he have such an effect on so many people?

Finally, someone has shown the courage to lay it all out for us! Writing in his column for the San Fransisco Chronicle, Mark Morfurd reveals that “Barack Obama isn’t really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway.”

Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this why he is so often compared to Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose stirring vibrations still resonate throughout our short history. …

Those attuned to energies beyond the literal meanings of things, these people say JFK wasn’t assassinated for any typical reason you can name. It’s because he was just this kind of high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side. And it killed him.

Now, Obama. The next step. Another try.

Good grief.

What Will Fill The Vacuum?

 Posted by on 4 June 2008 at 11:20 pm  Culture
Jun 042008

Berkeley, California has long been the symbol of the crazy leftist wing of American culture. Yet even in that city, there are signs that the culture is beginning to shift, as illustrated by this recent story from the May 22, 2008 issue of The Economist.

The article first explains that the football stadium at the University of California Berkeley badly needs some critical earthquake safety renovations, and this will require cutting down a nearby grove of oak trees on university property. In response, a group of local eco-activists have staged a sit-in to prevent the school from cutting down the trees. According to the article:

…[F]or 16 months tree-sitters have been living in the branches. Varying between a dozen and a handful, the group includes anarchists, activists and travellers. None is a student.

…Intricate pulley-systems and rope-bridges connect the trees into an arboreal village. A group called “the grandmothers” comes every Sunday with buckets of cooked food that are hoisted up. Other buckets, of excrement, are lowered at intervals.

The university is seeking a court ruling to allow them to forcibly evict these trespassers from the trees. But the more interesting point has been the reaction of the UC Berkeley students:

A generation ago, they would have been turning the town upside down. Today, they study. Berkeley’s largest ethnic group is Asian-American. The ageing hippies in the city council find them shockingly conservative. When the campus police chief wrote an open letter explaining policies to deal with tree-sitters, 400 students wrote back, 90% in favour of removing them faster.

This is a good example of the “cultural vacuum” that Yaron Brook, director of the Ayn Rand Institue, has described in this interview from the September 28, 2007 issue of Forbes:

Today’s left doesn’t have anything positive to offer to young people. When they were socialists, there was at least something they were fighting for, and they believed in a right and a wrong. Today’s leftist agenda is negative and nihilistic–focused on stopping industrialization, capitalism and even Western civilization. But young people want positive values. That’s why religion is so strong today, because many view it as the only thing that promises a brighter future.

I believe that Dr. Brook is absolutely correct. Although the leftists’ ideas are still dangerous, more and more young people are turned off by their views and looking for something different. The real question is what will fill that ideological vacuum? Will it be a system based on faith and unreason, such as religion? Or will it be a secular alternative based on reason? Dr. Brook notes that:

Ayn Rand is the only voice that offers a secular absolutist morality with a positive vision and agenda, for individuals and for society as a whole.

This may explain the rising interest in Objectivism by active-minded individuals who want a rational alternative to both the loonie left and the religious right. More importantly, if a rational secular philosophy like Objectivism doesn’t fill that vacuum, something bad will…

Murse or No Murse, That Is THE Question

 Posted by on 31 May 2008 at 12:33 am  Culture
May 312008

If you wish to inform yourself about the most important cultural issue of our time, then you’d better scurry over to Flibbertigibbet to discuss whether a man with a murse lacks the necessary masculine gravitas.

Personally, I’m with Flibby.

Coffee Capitalism

 Posted by on 27 May 2008 at 11:50 am  Business, Culture
May 272008

As everyone knows, the market for coffee products in the Seattle area is fiercely competitive. The quest for customers have led one entrepreneur to develop the “sexy espresso stand“:

Espresso drive-through stands with bikini- and lingerie-sporting baristas are popping up from Monroe to Edmonds. In the past year, at least six of these java joints employing provocatively dressed young women have opened in the county. A few owners of these roadside stands say business is so brisk, they’re hiring more employees and have plans to open new locations.

…Sometimes wearing little more than pasties and bikini bottoms, the scantily clad baristas at Wheeler’s stands have scores of well-tipping customers.

This adds new meaning to the term “fair trade coffee”… (Via Neatorama.)

This Pretty Much Sums Up Wikipedia

 Posted by on 18 May 2008 at 1:31 am  Culture, Funny
May 182008

The t-shirt can be purchased here. (Image via Gizmodo.)

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