Category Archives: ‘Culture’


Neal Boortz and Mark Steyn are going on about how we’ve created a culture of passivity that prevented the students from acting.

In the first place, people have often been passive in these situations. I have read numerous Holocaust stories of people standing in line waiting to be machine-gunned or marching passively into gas chambers. The Killing Fields, the Gulags, Jonestown, even slavery often relied on masses of people complying with the orders of a minority who they could have overwhelmed.

If you read up on spree killers, you’ll find that the students’ behaviour was, tragically, typical.

Even in battle, passivity is common. Inexperienced soldiers often don’t fire their guns or flee against a foe they outnumber and outgun. Military engagements rarely result in a huge casualty rate — 10% is big.

Second, a lot of this is keyed to the story of students standing in line to be shot. But the reconstruction of that event (warning, that story is very very brutal) indicates this is a myth. The students mainly went for “duck and cover”, the natural instinct. They did not have the time, as the students in the other classrooms, or say the people on United 93, did to think out a rational course of action. Hindsight is 20/20. You know how you’ll often think of something you should have said to someone in an argument? This is the same phenomenon, with lots of people thinking about what they should have done in the heat of a terrifying and unexpected moment.

Finally, the bystander effect is very powerful here. When you’re behind a desk hoping not to get shot, it’s easier to think someone else will do something.

Random Thoughts

I’m with the Republicans on this one. Government doesn’t “negotiate” prices. Government sets prices. And when it does, we all suffer. Do we really want the profitability of a drug company to hinge on how well they play the political game in Washington? Do we really want what drugs we get determined by a government hack? The libertarians warned you that when we expanded Medicare, we’d lose our freedom. But no one listened.

Recently, AARP, who support this bill, has had ads with kids castigating our political figures for not planning for the future. This commerical enrages me. There is no organization in America that has done more to fuck the future of everyone under 60 than AARP. They have supported massive expansions in social spending and zero reform. Their entire philosophy is “to hell with the future, I’m getting mine!” A more accurate commercial would cut to an AARP rep smashing open the kids’ piggy banks.

Just in case you ever forget the enemy we face, the Iranian Supreme Court has decreed that it’s OK to murder an engaged couple if they walk together. This isn’t religion. This is barbarism wearing a religious mask.

Stephen Dubner reminds us how amazingly safe airline travel is. This will, nevertheless, not be on my mind the next time I board a flight and am convinced I’m going to die. Remind me never to fly in Russia.

Color me unsurprised that the things replacing the evil trans fats may not be any healthier. Remember, we got into the whole trans fat business because the Health Nazis demanded we stop using saturated fats. When are going to start ignoring these twerps?


I agree with what Ross says about the sociological study that says having more than one kid doesn’t make you any happier. As a father-to-be, I’m not having kids because I think it will make me happy. I hope it will. But I’m principally having kids because I think it’s an end in itself, that I have a duty to the future to create and form a good person to advance the human comedy one more generation. To not have kids because it might affect my life is the ultimate selfishness, no? To sacrifice the future to sustain my present?

We all do things that we must do, whether we like them or not. I work a job because I need to provide for myself and my family and I hope to contribute something with my time on this planet. That I enjoy my work is a nice side effect. I also do a lot of things I don’t like because I must. That includes mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, scooping the cat litter, etc., etc. I have always hated the Utilitarian philosophy.

I hope that having kids will bring me happiness. And I think it will. But that’s not the reason I’m doing it.

Via the Agitator, I found this philosophical phart that reminds me of the arguments I used to have with my college philosophy teacher.

That bringing a child into existence is “one of the greatest goods there is” may be a truism in Ross’s moral scheme, it somehow figures into none of the major moral philosophies in the history of moral philosophy, as far as I can tell.

Apparently, he hasn’t read the Bible. I guess religion doesn’t count as “philosophy”. But the Bible is, in fact, the source of our oldest major moral philosophy and the one that still has the most relevance in America. And it’s first commandment is to be fruitful and multiply. Try telling the Catholic Church that no major moral philosophy regards having kids as a supreme moral good.

But even putting the Bible aside . . . as I argued back in undergraduate school, if the major moral philosophies don’t see reproduction as one of the greatest goods there is, then the major moral philosophies are garbage. Any philosophy that does not have the survival and continuation of the human race as an important principle is automatically defunct. An extinct race, by definition, does not behave morally.

Ross is saying that there exists a person who is harmed by the fact that it has not been made to exist. It refutes itself.

No it doesn’t. Or maybe he’s missed the whole abortion debate.

And the spectre of “a mostly unhappy world swimming in billions upon billion of children” is the reducto ad absurdum. No one outside of the Vatican is suggesting that people should have as many babies as possible. But we are suggesting the replacing ourselves might be a good idea — and a supreme moral good.

I especially love the psycho-analysis at the end where he concludes that Ross must want a big family. Well, two can play at that game. I conclude this is written by one of the defensive non-breeders who gets extra miffed when someone suggets that being fruitful and multiplying might be important. And that the next generation is the only real legacy we will ever have.

Update: Looking back over my comments, I should clarify that I don’t think the inverse is true — that not having kids is a supreme moral evil. There are people who can’t have kids and that’s not their fault. There are people who shouldn’t. And there are people who find other ways of contributing to humanity (Michelangelo, for example). What I’m saying is that having chidlren is “a” supreme moral good, not “the” supreme moral good.

Whaddya Know!

From Sullivan: Apparently, the most informed voters are those who watch The Daily Show, listen to NPR, watch O’Reilly or listen to Limbaugh. I’m not surprised (well, I am about O’Reilly). The Daily Show and Rush Limbaugh are, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, smart, hip and well-informed. It’s a common misconception that Jon Stewart just makes jokes and Rush Limbaugh just rants and raves. But they both get to the heart of the issues and they both like to use the opposition’s own words to hang them.

Last in the list? Network news (why Fox has it’s own category, I leave to your imagination), local TV and morning shows. I’m surprised any of those finished that high.

I scored 91st percentile in the quiz. The only question I missed is whether Hillary has officially announced or not. I could give a rat’s ass whether her candidacy is officially or unofficially declared. Official or unofficial, she’s a disaster waiting to happen.

A few things that jump out from the demographic analysis. Men are significantly better informed than women. College graduates have a massive advantage over the less educated. The young trail the old. Poor people trail rich. Whites trails blacks. Hmm. This would seem to fly in the face of the result indicating that Republicans are only moderately better informed than Democrats.

The other interesting thing is that the lowest score was on the minimum wage, with about 20% of people knowing the facts. That must be disappointing for the Dems. They went to all that trouble demagoguing the issue so they could raise union wages. And no one noticed.

Poll Smoking

Today’s IMDB poll asks which of these animated movies in the IMDb Top 250 is your favorite?

I’m guessing whoever wrote this poll gets confused by foreign languages because the #1 rated animated movie (Miyazaki’s delightful Spirited Away) and #7 (Takahata’s beautiful and heart-rending Grave of the Fireflies) are not on it. I suspect someone saw the Disney titles and recognized Mononoke out of the corner of their eye.

And frankly, I disagree with the IMDB rankings anyway. Any top ten than includes both Toy Story movies and Shrek but not Snow White or My Neighbor Totoro has been compiled by twerps.

Best Picture of 2006?

Forget The Departed or Babel or The Prestige, which are fine films and will be on my top ten. Borat was possibly the most wildly over-rated movie since Shakespeare in Love. It was Jackass for intellectuals. I will soon see Children of Men and Flags of Our Fathers and let you know what I think. And at some point The Queen, The Lives of Others, Letters from Iwo Jima and Pan’s Labyrinth will appear in my mailbox. So sometime in the next month or two, I’ll write my usual post on what I thought were the best movies of the previous year. I hate doing it five months after the fact, but what do you want? I live for Netflix.

But I can’t imagine that any of the remaining films will surpass United 93, which I watched this week. It’s not exactly an enjoyable film. But it was easily the most powerful. I thought it would be exploitive but it’s shot documentary-style with an immediacy and an urgency that is gripping. It doesn’t judge anyone, it just tries to give as accurate a picture as possible of what happened that awful day.

And it is not too soon. We were making films about Pearl Harbor practically before the Arizona had stopped burning.

Mel Gibson could learn a thing or two from United 93. 9/11 was one of the most brutally violent events in our history. And while the film pulls no punches (the takeover of the plane and the fight at the end are brutal — as they presumably were in real life), it is not exploitive at all. It does not revel in its violence. It portrays it. There’s a difference.

Imus, The Final Chapter

While driving up from New Braunfels, I had a moment of clarity on the Imus issue and was going to write a long brilliant post on it.

Unfortunately, by the time I got up here Radley Balko had said everything I wanted to say, only better. He has the best take on the comment:

Imus isn’t a racist. He’s a misanthrope. He hates people. All people. His show made broad, possibly offensive generalizations about everyone on a near-daily basis. We now learn that the Rutgers women’s basketball team was apparently hurt and offended by the comments. But were they really? I’d hazard to guess that not a single one of them was listening to the show that morning.

The Right:

Of course, the conservative reaction to all of this is pretty stupid, too. “Look at all the rap music! They call women ‘hos’ too!”

No, you idiots. How typical. The answer to politically incorrect censorship is not…more political incorrect censorship.. Not to mention that Imus’ comment was stupid, lame humor. Hip hop is art. Sharpton and Jackson actually are going after hip hop. And their efforts to take words away from rap artists are every bit as lame (lamer, actually) than their attempt to take words away from clueless, aging disc jockeys.

The Left:

Drudge also reported the other day that many activist groups were protesting Imus to the FTC, as well, a’la Brent Bozell. Note to my lefty friends: When you’re imitating Brent Bozell, you’re doing something wrong.

And what I think is the most important point, so much that I made a big deal out of it in my first post on the subject:

I guess my point is that it’d be nice if all the energy spent the last two weeks expressing self-righteous outrage over a mistaken comment from a harmless old fool were instead spent on, say, the racial sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system, or the fact that a substantially higher percentage of black men are in prison in America than were imprisoned in South Africa during apartheid.

Read it.


He hasn’t written much lately, apart from broadsides at the Bush Administration, but the world has lost an important voice in Kurt Vonnegut. I’m looking at his slice of books on his shelf, Siren of Titan, Player Piano, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, Timequake and Bluebeard, with several more on my wish list. All of them great, even though I am probably on the opposite side of the political fence from Vonnegut.

Maybe I’ll pull one down for the observing run.

Imus Part II

Was listening to Rush today and he was very dimissive of the Boortz concern that the Imus fiasco is the beginning of a campaign to get rid of talk radio. As he said, they’ve been after him for 18.5 years.

Both Sully and, I can’t believe I’m typing this, Snoop have a good response to the Right’s “what about rap?” meme. There is a difference between a black man dissing black people and a white man dissing black people. It may not be fair, but that’s the way it is. It’s one thing to bash your own group, it’s quite another to bash somebody else’s.


I’m going to have to tread carefully here. I shouldn’t stick my foot in the racial waters surrounding Don Imus. But I think there are three points to make:

First, what Imus said was out of line and disgusting. He should be punished. And don’t come at me with free speech. You have a right to say what you want . . . and the responsibility to take the consequences. He has no Constitutional right to have a job. And I’m afraid I have to disagree with the first half of Boortz’s comments. I don’t think this is a liberal conspiracy to “get” right-wing talk show hosts. We heard that when Trent Lott was forced to step down, that this was just the beginning of getting Republican after Republican. It was garbage then and it’s garbage now. There was no equivalent outcry when Rush Limbaugh “jokingly” suggested that the media was being hard on Rex Grossman because he was white. People just ignored him. Boortz has been making inflammatory comments for years, including his famous “Boo Got Shot” routine. No one’s calling for his head.

Second, and it pains me to say this, but the Right has a point. Where is the concordant outrage over violent and misogynistic rap lyrics? This has a far greater potential for doing harm in the black community than some idiot on a radio show that no one listens to. And Boortz has one point — is there any equivalent outrage over the Duke Lacrosse incident, which was highly racially charged? Are any of these same agitators backing off of their comments about how Duke, men’s sports, North Carolina and the entire nation were a bunch of racist crackers who were reponsible for this? It does seem that Mike Nifong will be held accountable for his action, however.

Finally — here’s my most controversial statement — don’t Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have something better to do with their time? While they are preening for the cameras over Imus’ words, black kids are dropping out of school, getting involved with drugs and crime, having kids out of wedlock and getting murdered. These are difficult but solvable problems.

OK, they’re politicans. Fine. How about advocating for letting non-violent drug offenders out of prison, then? How about doing something about the highway robbery that is our Social Security system? Why not advocate for fundamental education reform like school choice?

I’m reminded of 1991 when the Braves were in the World Series. There was some controversy over their logo and the Tomahawk Chop. I asked a genuine Native American, rather than a white agitator, what he thought. His response was something along the lines of, “When we’ve solved the problems of health, education, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment and poverty, then we can worry about offensive chants.”

Again, don’t they have something better to do? Imus’ words do not reflect some deep-seated racism in the industry or the country. He’s just a twerp on the radio. He’s now suspended and been pilloried. They’ve made their point. Move on to more pressing problems.


Read about this outrage in which United – who recently cancelled my frequent flier miles when I was just a few hundred shy of a free ticket, not that I’m bitter – abandoned 110 people in Wyoming. You haven’t heard much about this. Not nearly as much as you’ve heard about, oh, JetBlue.

There’s also been a lot of publicity recently about JetBlue having an industry-low on time rate. But as baseball expert Nate Silver notes, that has more to do with JetBlue’s routes, not their performance.

Now might the assault on JetBlue — and the relative kid gloves used on United — have something to do with United being unionized while JetBlue isn’t?

Naaaaaah. It’s not like they did that do Airtran. Oh, wait.

Bias aside, the airlines still need to clean up their act. As Silver notes in the linked article, they’ve improved. They put realistic arrival times on schedules and you no longer need to go Abu Ghraib on them to find out why your plane is late. And — this can not be overemphasized for someone who flies in white-knuckle fear — their safety record is outstanding. But there are still times when they don’t get it.