There is a lively sport, wherein people sit around and decide how someone else should have spent his money. I’ve seen it kick in at both ends of the spectrum: when the spender was poor and being unpractical, and when the spender was rich and flinging gobs of money at something that the backseat spenders considered frivolous. For that matter, I’ve seen it done amongst asset-equals. But the broadest participation seems, to me, to involve people looking with exasperated or sneering disapproval at those who have a great deal more money than themselves.

It’s a delightful sport in some respects, and I’ll admit to having indulged in it myself from time to time, especially when I was younger, more idealistic, and leaned more toward the postmodern Left. But perhaps that is beside the point, since participants seem to range from rich to poor, from Left to Right, and from atheist to priest.

I’ll not say it doesn’t have its upsides, this second-guessing.  Some uses of money are immoral, certainly, and it seems to me that we ought to speak out against spending that causes actual harm. (I’m sure you can come up with a few examples. I’ll save mine for another day, to prevent too much of a detour just here.)

But I’d like to suggest that, for the sake of civility, sanity, and integrity, in most cases we’d be further ahead to spend all that energy and intellect contemplating what we’d do if we had that much money instead of acting like we’re little dictators who have been defied when someone else doesn’t have the same priorities we do.

This is not to mention that so often (nearly always, I’d say), when we’re backseat driving in the spending lane we’re making our sweeping judgements with just scraps of information to build on. (Oh, goodness. How’s that for mixing metaphors!? And slaughtering grammar? Is there some sort of award for Worst Sentence of the Day?…)

In other words, (to come back on topic) you can’t know, really, what another person must take into consideration, or chooses to take into consideration, at any rate. Or, maybe you can, but I sure can’t. News has a way of being both superficial and selective, just like gossip. (Another discussion for another day, I see…) And then there’s that little matter of not being able to see into someone else’s heart.

This brings me to the post that prompted this post. Over here (via here) I came across statements about the horse Barbaro, and the gist seems to be that it was inexcusable, even shameful, to have spent so much money on a horse when that money could have gone to providing medical care to poor people instead.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. I knew some people would feel that way. But the vehemence of these people set me back a little, and it also made me a bit angry. It’s not your money. It wasn’t your horse. It’s not your heart. Your soul wasn’t at stake, nor your reputation, nor…

Oops. Vehemence for vehemence probably isn’t a great idea?

But my starting point is that the owners of Barbaro weren’t faced with a trade-off between helping poor people and fighting for their horse’s life. If they’d had to choose between helping a person and trying to save a badly injured horse, and they’d chosen the horse, then I’d agree with the teeth-gnashers. By all means, let us not confuse beasts with humans, even a grand and noble and intelligent and big-hearted, personable beast like a remarkable horse. I am an animal lover, and I’ve had pets and I’ve had horses, and I’d have gone to great lengths to protect them, but kick me out of the human race if ever I forget the sanctity of human life or become blind to the suffering of the poor or despairing amongst us.

But that wasn’t the issue here. These folks were thrown in an instant into a nightmare, and in the middle of it they refused to bow to the prevailing attitude in their industry, which expects a horse to be put down as soon as it loses its utility and/or its profitability. Good for Barbaro’s owners. Choosing on the side of life, even animal life, especially when it’s a personal sacrifice to do so, I think is a good, a noble, an inspiring stance. And, oh, what a sacrifice they made, without complaint, for the sake of an animal that was entirely at their mercy.

I think it’s unfair, and also unsupportable, to say that they only did it so they could use him later to make money. Being able to recoup their investment was always a long shot. This was a matter of principle, or love, or refusal to quit, or some combination thereof. From a money standpoint, it made no sense at all.

Ah, and that’s the other thing. Why do so many backseat spenders act like spending money somehow destroys it?

No, no, wait a minute. Think about it. To complain that money spent at a vet center cannot help the poor is to assume that the money somehow gets trapped in the vet hospital, instead of swirling out again into the world. Money changes hands. Sometimes the person who got paid hoards it away, sometimes he flies with it, sometimes (most of the time, most likely) he just uses it to keep a roof over his head and food on the table or keep the business he’s in afloat, to provide jobs and services another day.

Who’s to say that the people who have it now won’t spend it wisely, or that some of them won’t go out and help the poor with it? It’s not a sure thing, surely. But that money is out of the bank now. Redistributed, if you will… In the short term, it’s provided jobs, and promoted research, some of which will probably improve human medicine down the road, and it’s helped pay overhead that has to be paid one way or another. I wouldn’t be willing to bet how much or how little good will result of the type the ‘oh-my-God-they-wasted-money-on-a-horse’ people want, but to act like all that money somehow got sucked into the horse, and the horse is some sort of black hole which never will let it out again, well…

All of which is rather beside the point. It wasn’t your money. It wasn’t your responsibility.

By all means, if you disagree with how the money was spent, sit down with your most responsible and thoughtful, most discerning, grown-up friends and hash out how and why you think you would have done it differently if you’d been in their shoes; and after you have your priorities nicely lined up sit down with your kid and tell him why and how you hope/expect him to do better if ever he finds himself in a similar situation. Use it as a teaching moment. Bad examples are good teachers, after all.

But, please, if you could take it easy on trashing the people who fought to save Barbaro I’d appreciate it. Because, you see, through all this I’ve seen quite a few kids – and adults – find inspiration. I have no doubt, none, that lots of parents have pointed to Barbaro’s owners and said, see, that’s what selflessness looks like, and selflessness is a good thing. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that the horse himself, by refusing to lay down and die, transmitted the ideas of perseverance and grit into some heads that hadn’t met those concepts before in a way they could understand it, much less admire it. For crying out loud, we were treated to heart. In a world gone mad with finding the easy way out and in a popular culture that celebrates people who say me-first!, where on any given day you could walk down the street and find people who think even marriages are only ‘binding’ as long as they don’t actually require any commitment, bother or unhappiness; in such a world when a situation comes along that showcases sacrifice, hope, faith, and loyalty we have to have religious people publicly denouncing it because they can, from a safe distance, think of something they’ve decided might have been better?

Let’s say I’m disappointed. Because I am. Have you never heard of the saying The perfect is the enemy of the good? It fits here. Sure, it would be nice to help poor people, too. No, that’s not putting it right. Sure, we are obliged to help poor people. As children of God we are expected and enabled to spread mercy and hope and feed the starving and share material comfort as well as spread messages and offer moral support. But there’s nothing to say we can’t help one horse and people. It’s hardly an either/or situation.

Maybe that’s why I’m upset, really. I believe, strongly, that most people come to God through seeing God in someone else. Not through sermons, not even through examples, per se, but through actually seeing holiness or approximate holiness (if I can put it that way). And I suspect, strongly, that there are a few people who see selflessness and selfishness, loyalty, courage, and duty in a new light, thanks to the people who didn’t give up on Barbaro when lesser people might have. Is that such a bad thing?

Is standing beside a fallen friend – even a four-legged one – instead of walking away such a bad example?

What strikes me as funny/sad about all this is that those posts were by Catholic bloggers.

Why is that funny/sad? you might ask. (Besides the fact that you might expect that they, if anyone, should appreciate people who chose to bear their own heavy and heartbreaking crosses without complaint.)

I’ll tell you. As it happens, the number one complaint I’ve heard from people who don’t like the Catholic Church is… drum roll, please… How it spends its money.

No, really. I’ve heard other rants, of course, some founded and some not, some theological and most worldy, but if you take all the years of my life rolled together the number one sneer I’ve heard is that Catholics waste money by pouring it into buildings, and art, and vestments, trappings and ceremony, instead of spending it directly on the poor.

Some days, you just can’t win for losing.

P.S. Note to self: It would probably be a good idea to take the time to read the comments on someone else’s post before you write a response to the post. It could save you some trouble, or at least help you hone your message. (Or feel less out on a limb, at any rate.)

Is it just me, or is there a bit more normalcy this year than last as far as Christmas goes? It seems so, at any rate. Ad agencies seem to have moved past their jitters for the most part: somewhere in the text or narration there is usually a Merry Christmas included, and I’ve seen several TV ads that feature crosses in the jewelry sales, right along with everything else. The school concerts around here were called Christmas concerts, and nobody seems to have had a heart attack over it. It seems even headline writers at some news agencies have picked up on it, after a fashion. For instance, I saw a headline a few days ago that called the signing of some sports star to some team “an early Christmas present” for the fans. Imagine that. A Christmas present instead of a holiday present. Right there in print. From a news agency. It’s pathetic, I know, that we’ve been reduced to noticing such things and hoping they augur something, some lessening of hostility, some reduction of a virulent fever or the falling away of mass madness. But there it is.

On the other hand, like any bullies I think the folks who go into temper tantrums at the mention of the phrase “Merry Christmas” or city decorations that showcase angels or Santa Claus instead of merely snowflakes or snowmen – like any bullies I think they like to make people angry. They feed off the reactions they get. And so this year I’m not giving them the satisfaction, if I can help it. I am going about my business as if they don’t exist. If we bump into each other and they take a swing at me, that’s different. I will defend myself – although perhaps not in the angry way they might like to see. (I don’t subscribe to the silly notion that religious people are supposed to wander around saying, “Peace, Dude, Yeah, right, whatever floats your boat, don’t mind me, I’m busy being nice and can’t be bothered with, like, you know, standing up for anything or actually having principles, because, you know, like, can’t we all just get along?” Neither do I let my enemies choose where and when and how I fight back. Heh.)

But sans being mugged I will proceed to wish one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year without blinking, without undue emphasis, without a chip on my shoulder, and as if I assume that everyone on the planet is capable of accepting greetings of good cheer in whatever terminology.

I believe that everyone is capable of that, by the way. I think the grinches choose to be that way. I think they can choose to stop being grinches, too.

I grew up in a community that had many Buddhists and I can’t remember any of them making spectacles of themselves when somebody wished them a Merry Christmas. I seem to remember some of them wishing me Merry Christmas right back, in fact.

Perhaps that was because Christmas was no more religiously significant to me than it was for them so we were being mutually secular about it, but I don’t think so. I think they were just nice people and friendly neighbors, who knew how to celebrate Christmas in their own way without being distressed by those of us not walking the same path.

When I was a child, my family went whole hog on Christmas. We put up stockings. We bought and wrapped gifts. Lots of gifts. We decorated the house. We had a feast. We put up a tree. We decorated that tree to beat the band, every year trying to do better than the year before. We’d put a star or an angel on top of the tree. We had little angels we hung on the tree, and Santas, too. Some years there was a small creche on the fireplace hearth. And every year, if I seemed interested in what the angels or the creche meant, my mother gave me one of her infamous lectures on how people used to believe in stuff like that but we knew better these days. These ornaments were just for fun, like the flying reindeer ornaments we also had. They were just traditional, and tradition was good as long as you knew it was only tradition. Angels and Santa and Jesus and Mary and Joseph and The Three Wise Men were just representations of fairy tales that had been found to be just stories, stories that some people still bought into, but only if they were taught the old superstitions by unscrupulous church leaders who used the fairy tales to hold onto power and make people follow them around like sheep.

Uh, huh. You read that right. My mother used Christmas as a teaching moment for her atheism, which she thought was going to free mankind to finally achieve its full potential. (I beg to differ these days.) But I never saw her attack Christmas as a holiday, or make a stink in public, or tell anybody else how to celebrate the day. She’d bundle me up and let me go caroling house to house with friends who were doing it as a church group, and wish us all a good time. To her, of course, it was only singing and spending time with friends. The songs didn’t mean anything. And when I got back from my lovely time, if there was any sign that any of that ‘awful mind-numbing religion’ had tried to rub off on me, she’d give me the full treatment on how it was so sad that some people were that credulous and actually wasted their time believing in that stuff. Another teaching moment, neatly utilized.

Christmas in our house was a way of showing how nice and generous people could be without religion. It was “proof” that nobody needed a God.

While I think she was right about individuals being able to “be nice” without religious observation, Mother fought a losing battle on the religion-as-superstition front. Somewhere along the way I figured out that the religion she hated wasn’t what religion really was, and that ended that. I mean, when what you’ve been taught is to bow to reality, and you find God is real…

Well, at any rate, I do think some people have either grown tired of the Christmas battles or have decided such battles are counterproductive. And thank goodness. I was tired of all the noise and mindless lashing out. I am glad to see it subsiding. My heartfelt thanks to anyone out there who has decided to be neighborly instead of confrontational this holiday season.

On the other hand, if you do run across atheists and other non-Christians who don’t have the courage of their convictions and therefore go nuclear to find themselves sharing the planet with people who like to spread some joy at Christmas, may I suggest a niceness offensive first (for instance, invite them to join in the fun instead of standing on the outside looking in, if they feel like outsiders looking in), and then an email to the Alliance Defense Fund if that doesn’t work? ADF provides free legal help to people who find their religious freedoms being trampled.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the law is actually on the side of Christmas celebrations, even in schools and other public buildings. The ACLU doesn’t win many actual skirmishes on this front, except by intimidation. Once they get into court, in other words, they usually get trounced, or so I understand. There are some rules and boundaries to observances on public property and with captive audiences of young folks rounded up for educational purposes (as well there should be), but they’re pretty easy to follow. You can find out about them from ADF or other places that have people who specialize in religious freedom laws, and they are also covered in John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas. Gibson’s book, in addition to covering outrageous illegal moves by people intent on pushing Christianity into the closet, has some good notes on bad mistakes made by people trying to fight back. Unless you’d like to make the same mistakes out of ignorance, I’d suggest reading the book. (Not that I can remember all the lessons I picked up reading it! Time to reread it, I guess.)

On a related note, could we try to remember, during all the hustle and bustle and battles over what’s right, that retail businesses are private enterprises? The people who run them are free to celebrate or not celebrate however they want. If you want to thank them for Christmas displays, or snort at Happy Holidays displays, feel free. But please. Could we be civilized about it? For one thing, not everyone who is saying Happy Holidays is trashing Christmas. Happy Holidays used to be a standard greeting that included Christmas as well as other holidays, and I suspect for many people that’s still the way they mean it. Season’s Greetings – same thing. That’s fair enough, in my book. For another thing, it is their store. You are under their roof. They do have rights. I mean, would you walk into somebody else’s house and tell them how to decorate, talk, or think? Store owners and managers and clerks no more ought to be expected to leave their minds and hearts at home than anybody else.

Engage them in conversation? Sure.

Abuse their hospitality, when they’re sitting ducks because of the job they have? I wish you wouldn’t. It’s bad form and bad manners, if nothing else.

We have a friend who is losing 65 pounds – so that she can enlist in the Army. She has taken up jogging and calisthenics, fitting them into a busy day in which she works full-time plus, in addition to raising kids. She is successful at her job, in which she helps run an insurance business. She doesn’t need to join the Army for financial reasons. She just thinks it’s the right move, now that her kids are nearly grown. She was in the Army pre-kids. She has some idea of what she’s getting into, if she can talk the recruiter into signing her up. She let herself get matronly when she was concentrating on motherhood, but once she decided to get back in the military she sat herself down, made a list of what she needed to do, and is doing it. She is matter of fact about all this. She wants to serve, and will do what it takes. She would likely wind up as a filing clerk. She doesn’t care, as long as she’s serving. She might end up in a war zone. These days, there is a good chance of that, of course. She doesn’t care about that, either. Her kids are grown. Army offices get good protection, too, she says. But if they get attacked? She shrugs. Whatever comes, she’ll deal with it. It’s worth it to her. It’s what she thinks she ought to do. She mentions the pension plan and perks, but this is cover. She could do as well or better financially out of the Army. But she wants in, and that is that.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s anybody in Old Media who understands people like this.

I do, to some extent. I look around and most of the people I know are intent on being useful. On making something of themselves. They want to make a difference. They like the idea of helping total strangers, even at some risk to themselves. They want to be able to look in the mirror without avoiding the eyes looking out at them.

The Old Media template of Americans fighting for wealth makes no sense at all to me. The Old Media declarations about “occupation” in Iraq are just as odd. I understand the concept of helping an oppressed people break loose from a tyrant and then hanging around as back-up until they get their feet under them, and then going home again. What I don’t understand is how you can call that an occupation.

You might as well call paramedics responding to a car wreck occupiers, for all the sense that makes.

I look at media coverage and shake my head. I wish they understood.

The sad case of the Kim family from California, which got stuck in snow and stranded while trying to take a shortcut in the Oregon Coast Range on their Thanksgiving vacation, has prompted a lot of people to trot out the saying “There but for the Grace of God go I.” This is fine as far as it goes, since we know what they’re saying is that they can see themselves getting into the same situation, and are – for the most part – showing that they emphasize with the family. (In the Kim’s case, James Kim tried to walk out to get help and died in the attempt. His wife and their two young daughters were rescued when spotted by air search crews. And, indeed, they had stumbled into just the sort of situation anybody who likes to travel off of main highways has stumbled into at one time or another.)

Empathy is good. But may I say that the phrase is horrid? As used that way?

I’m speaking both as a former atheist and as a woman who tries to be godly these days. As an atheist, that phrase held me back. Think about it. Atheists hold that God doesn’t exist, but they’re also prone to thinking that if He is out there he’s not worth worshipping for one reason or another. They also contend that religious people are superstitious fools. To say ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ when somebody else suffers a tragedy plays into that. Nicely. Completely. It paints a picture of people who are sunk in superstition or a God who rolls dice and capriciously hands out sorrows. It sorts people into us versus them. It certainly doesn’t paint a healthy picture of what Grace is or what it does. Does it?

I don’t mean to undercut the amazing power and realness of God and of His Grace. But that’s just it. I think this phrase reduces the concept of Grace to something mean and narrow. It reduces the concept of God to something mean and narrow. It reduces religion to something it isn’t. Religion isn’t a neat-o vending machine that lets you have nice things and good luck in return for going through a few rituals. Perish the thought.

Religion is turning toward God, who can make you whole. Whole isn’t the same as lucky. And, if I may say so, I think it’s not right to say “There but for the Grace of God go I” when what we mean is “There but for dumb luck go I.”

What he says. I’m asking the same thing.

But here’s another angle. Sony has obviously figured out that it can get just all sorts of free publicity by announcing release dates and then sending out fewer PlayStations than will be wanted.

OK, so the psychology experiment has worked. And worked. Just like with the release of Harry Potter books, people will line up at midnight even in horrible weather, if that is what it takes to get their hands on one of the first ones available.

But enough is enough.

Whereas the Harry Potter folks try to meet demand, Sony never even comes close, does it? Has it ever? (I honestly don’t know. The sense I get from the news coverage is that it’s legendarily difficult to get your hands on a new gamebox or whatever they’re called. And as the folklore professor is fond of saying, what is true doesn’t effect people nearly as much as what they think is true.)

And so there are fistfights and worse (there were shootings this year), and so I have a dumb question.

How do the execs in charge of this type of promotion look themselves in the mirror?

Do they think this is cute? A sign of success?

I see that some of the news stories note that Sony had “production problems” this year, which accounts for some of the shortfall.

So, maybe it’s time to stop with the highly publicized release dates and sell this stuff like a normal product? Or something?

I have limited sympathy for people who let themselves get all worked up over a toy. But since it’s been proven again and again that certain types of promotions lead to frenzied behavior, maybe it’s time to throw disapproving glances in the direction of Sony and maybe the stores that let themselves get suckered into going along with the scheme. (Yeah, I know, disapproving glances are so effective so much of the time. But I don’t want more legislation. Suggestions?)

This madness reminds me more than a little of the fatalities at that rock concert in Cincinnati back in 1979. That was also the result of getting people all worked up because they thought they might miss out on something, yes?

And, yes, people have a responsibility to not get pulled into odd behavior like this. They should take the time to look at what’s going on around them and move away if the situation is getting ugly. But people do get caught up in crazes. There are reasons they’re called crazes.


I’ve seen quite a bit of discussion on the new film, Borat. (See here, for example.)

But my favorite piece so far is Brenda Yablon’s Borat: Good Satire or Cheap Laughs? 

An excerpt:

Satire is a powerful comedic tool that exposes the bigots by holding up their behavior to ridicule. The Anti Defamation League, while being concerned about “the character’s boastful expressions of anti-Semitism and stereotyping of others,” nonetheless is hopeful that people will understand Baron Cohen’s comedic technique, which is “to use humor to unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.” Admittedly, Borat at times achieves this end.

But truly good satire, of the Charlie Chaplin variety, goes even further. It makes people reevaluate how they view the world and even commit to changing their beliefs and actions. This, Borat by no means achieves.

Another excerpt:

The President of Iran is calling for the elimination of the State of Israel. Attacks against Jews are rising at an alarming pace. Israel advocates and a handful of activists are trying to bring this issue to the forefront of the world’s attention, but have little to show for their efforts. Now is the time for creative ways to get this message across, and satire is one of the best methods. Unfortunately, in 2006 all we got was Borat, when what we truly need is Charlie Chaplin.

OK. Satire is useful. Or can be. But only when it’s good enough to make the impression it’s supposed to, and isn’t hidden behind filth. What is the idea of hiding behind filth anyway?

I keep hoping that more filmmakers will outgrown their potty-humor stage. Do any of these folks ever stop to wonder whether they’re making films that can be appreciated by people a few generations from now? Do they care? Is aiming for excellence just not done in their circles? (Too hoity-toity or something?)

Or do they really think that the purpose of art is to offend? (As some of them claim.)

The more I think about it, by the way, the more I’m sure that attitude’s a cop out, plain and simple. But if they believe that, and are surrounded by people who believe that, we’re in for more poop and less wit for a while yet, I’m afraid.

I don’t write it all off as hopeless. After all, I’m living proof that a person can change his/her mind about a number of things as he/she grows up, gets out more, and meets more people and survives more circumstances. It happens.

I’ve met people – and know of even more – who would just as soon erase some of what they said or did in their teens and twenties. Haven’t you?

And I’m noticing more folks who suddenly realize that they’d like to erase some of what they said and did in their thirties and forties. Aren’t you?

I think a lot of theories and policies from the sixties onward have combined to cripple a lot of young folks in the maturity department. And I think we’re paying for it big time.

But there are those folks I mentioned above who do manage to break free of their misguided youth, even if that misguided youth has extended indecently into their middle age. 

And I see a significant number of younger folks who are looking at some of the worst of what we handed them as their inheritance and who are saying “no thanks!” Don’t you?

I even see younger non-conservatives starting to laugh at old ‘liberals’: mocking their Marxism and its offspring, their toxic brand of feminism, their insecurities and insistence that everybody conform, their refusal to commit to one other person of the opposite sex ’til death do us part but their obsession with – you might almost say marriage to – cloudy causes. I don’t see enough of this to suit me, but I do see it. (I put ‘liberals’ in single quotes, because I don’t think many folks on the contemporary Left deserve the label. A classic liberal is worth admiring, in my book, but there seem to be precious few of them about – and mostly they don’t call themselves liberal. Perhaps we could discuss that another day.)

Another good trend is that there are folks rising to the challenge of presenting people with well-made, well-thought-out options. For instance, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe movie gave Hollywood-think a good rattling, I think. Or like to think. (I have my problems with LWW, but I do like how it broke loose, and how it didn’t turn C.S. Lewis’s story upside down or inside out.) 

So, I see some encouraging signs.

But, hey, in the meantime, boo hiss on the grossness of what some folks are presenting as humor in films and over the airwaves.

Please. We can do better. It’s embarrassing when we look bad when compared to our ancestors.

Sure, some old entertainment was crass. Even Shakespeare threw bones to the intellectual midgets watching his plays from the pit.

I guess that’s part of what irks me. I’m so tired of producers and writers who seem to assume it’s enough to play to the pit. That it’s somehow more “authentic” to slosh in the gutter without ever noticing the people who have enough self-respect to jump over sludge when they want to cross the street.

Hey, pssst. Beauty is real, too. And worth celebrating. Worth using, too, where it can lift people up. Honor is real. Discretion has value. Real value. Humans have animal nature, but they. have. more. than. that.

Much, much, much more than that.

I liked some of the election results, and didn’t like some of the election results, but that’s what I expect. Don’t you? It’s hardly worth gnashing teeth over. I figure elections are like New Year’s Eve, and the day after is like New Year’s Day – a good time to decide what resolutions to make, which to put on the shelf, and what course to try next.

Anyway, an acquaintance of ours told us that her father is so distraught that his candidate didn’t win that he hasn’t been able to get out of bed since the results were announced. I think he’s in his 80s, but I’m not sure. He’s old enough, anyway, to know better.

But, then, he’s something of a good old boy, and they’re not generally used to losing.

So, let me tell you about the election his champion lost. The post was county judge, which is a misleading name for what amounts, more or less, to county mayor. It’s a nonpartisan post, officially. Candidates don’t run by party. Their affiliation, if any, isn’t even listed on the ballot. We had two candidates, a Quiet Man and a Brash Man.

Quiet Man is painfully shy, but walked around meeting people on the sidewalk and handing out brochures explaining what he thought needed to be a priority in county business and outlining what he wanted to do. He didn’t like to take questions at debates, but preferred to take questions in writing and reply in writing. That way, he said, he had a chance to study the subject if he needed to, and his reply would be on record, where everybody could see the whole answer insteading of relying on what somebody else said they thought he said.

Brash Man ridiculed Quiet Man for not shooting from the hip, apparently on the grounds that hunches tell a lot about a man. Brash Man also refused to put anything in writing.

Quiet Man offered, if he won, to let the losing side have a place at the table with him.

Brash Man sneered. He made it plain that if anybody thought he’d give ground once elected they were crazy.

A friend of mine, early in the campaign, noticed one of his employees, a clerk at his retail establishment, having a horrible time dealing with a visitor. The visitor was livid about a sign out front of the store expressing support for Quiet Man. Livid. He announced, “I’m responsible for the welfare of this county, and I’m here to see the right people get elected.” No kidding. That’s what he proclaimed.

My friend was a bit taken aback (wouldn’t you be, if a madman walked into your store?), but tried to lighten things up by teasing his employee. “Hey, I thought you Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t do politics?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him,” the clerk said. “I keep telling him I don’t care who wins. He won’t listen.”

The Livid Visitor got more livid. He told my friend to fire her. He said that people who don’t vote don’t have a right to a job.

Let me repeat that. He tried to have her fired for not being political enough. That’s a new one on me. Very, very fringy, yes? Very, very bad, yes?

Now, I don’t understand people who think you can’t be godly if you vote. In fact, I think they’re kind of letting the side down. But this is America, land of ‘it’s no good going around telling people they’ve got to pretend to please God your way and ignore their own ideas on the matter.’ People have a right to opt out of pretty much whatever they think displeases the Almighty.

And they certainly have a right to a job if they can earn it.


The Livid Visitor never would identify himself or say whether he worked for Brash Man’s campaign or was freelancing. He drove off in a huff, cursing and endangering other drivers. Shortly afterward, people who identified themselves as being with the Brash Man’s campaign started calling. And calling. They really wanted a sign up, preferably one that played off the slogan on the Quiet Man sign. One-upsmanship plays well in their circle, I guess.

They managed to talk another clerk (who didn’t know about the previous fuss and wasn’t clear on store policy about signs, but who wanted to be polite) into taking money to put up a sign for their guy, but my friend the manager sent their money back with a polite refusal and that seemed to end that. Not everybody on Brash Man’s side is a thug, apparently. Thank goodness.

Quiet Man concentrated on efforts to make the county more livable, and able to attract more business.

Brash Man has a history of trying to outlaw the United Nations and do away with speed limits on rural highways, that sort of thing: great quixotic quests with much fanfare but little chance of doing more than getting folks in the paper.

Quiet Man won, by a healthy but not overwhelming margin. The first thing he did (according to the grapevine) was offer Brash Man a chance to sit at the council table, next to him. I thought that went too far, myself. If I go in front of the county court with an idea or request, I don’t want to have to face Brash Man’s sneer and ridicule. (Did I mention he likes to ridicule people? Or that he’s much bigger than me? And has rough and rowdy friends?)

Brash Man, though, decided to sneer at the offer instead of people who might come to any future meetings. He has announced that he thinks he’ll move. The county’s gotten too conservative to suit him, he says. A sunnier clime would suit him, he says. He adds he might keep a summer home around here so he can go hunting, but basically he’s tired of trying to live somewhere where he’s surrounded by idiots.

We thought about getting up a collection to help cover moving expenses. But most of the people we know are frugal either by necessity or by choice, and it would be asking a bit much to ask them to spend their hard-earned money subsidizing a Brash Man. Besides, we’re afraid that if people were too open about being happy to see him go he might get contrary and stay. Just to show us who’s boss, you know.

Heh. I love it that the bullies sometimes have to step aside. It would suit my idealism streak a bit better if we didn’t need secret ballots to get the job done, but, well, thank goodness for secret ballots.

Television can, and has, turned out good sci-fi — but these days too often settles for something much less. Ask Doug Payton. He’s trying to find intelligent, grown-up sci-fi he can watch with his kids. The search is proving a bit frustrating.

I’d also love to have some family-friendly imaginative fare. And I don’t mean fluff. I mean like, for instance, what Rod Serling turned out in The Twilight Zone. Yes, he was at least something of a genius and absolutely an original and we won’t see his like again, but he aimed high, not only with technique and acting talent but with ideas. No gutter stuff for him. He didn’t bother with junk.

Is it really too much to ask that television producers not set out to produce junk? That they not try to make their ‘heroes’ sleazy? Fallible, sure. Quirky, why not? Sleazy? Boo.

I know the talent is out there. I hate seeing so much of it misused to promote unhealthy stuff. I’d love to see it used to tackle society’s problems, not help create them.

Silly me, right?

Here’s hoping the Democrats at the national level are easier to dance with when they’re leading.

And here’s hoping the Republicans dance as well as they can, with some class.

All right, I was going to try to ignore John Kerry’s ‘study hard or you’ll get stuck in Iraq’ gaffe, but this response from some guys in uniform is too rich to not share. [Correction: that would be guys and gals. My apologies, ladies.]

If by chance you don’t know what the flap is about, the first two items here provide a good overview: the gaffe itself in print, a link to a video of the incident, and a copy of the quite bizarre press release that was issued at Kerry’s still-operational campaign website following the incident. I didn’t post on this earlier because I thought the press release was too John Kerry, if you know what I mean. I assumed the site had been hacked by someone good at parody, perhaps as a tasteless and harmful Halloween prank. Apparently not.

Wonders never cease.

Kerry has since issued what he calls an apology. I think it translates in part to ‘I’m sorry people couldn’t read my mind and if anybody didn’t know what I meant that’s not my fault.’ But I’m not sure. He’s calling his bungle a botched joke. A joke? He wants us to believe his original intent was to tell a joke? I have my doubts – and it certainly would have been a mean-spirited joke, I think – but I think I’ll walk away now and let the dust finish settling. If Kerry decides to run for national office again, though, I reserve the right to repost that press release, especially if he touts his supposed diplomatic skills and gift of nuance.

No, wait. Bookworm has an angle on all of this that most of us seemed to miss. (You may envision me smacking my forehead and berating myself for missing the obvious.) Why is that so many people on today’s Left, including John Kerry, seem to equate academic achievement with wide-ranging intelligence (ed note: except in their political opponents), but don’t recognize that military experience can be an education? Or that it can build backbone, which can turn a life around? Just asking. (For the record, I graduated college with honors. But I’ve learned lots of more useful stuff since then. College had its merits, but largely in what I learned from dealing with people and situations and ideas that were new to me – much of which I could have done just as easily outside of school, yes?)

I wonder if part of the explanation might be that so much of what passes for Leftist thought these days is incubated, hatched and fed almost entirely at college campuses, with a huge assist from ‘true believer’ college grads who go on to careers in media, journalism, and entertainment? Without the folks holed up in academia earnestly making Utopian pronouncements with a straight face and telling their students it’s up to them to change the world, postmodernism and its related worldviews might die on the vine, or at least wither substantially, at a guess. Just a guess. Maybe?

I’d like to add something else to this train of thought, if I may. If Kerry meant to imply that people join the military because they can’t hack the sorts of supposedly wonderful jobs theoretically reserved for college graduates, isn’t he forgetting the people who join the military to give themselves a way to pay for college? Silly man.

Kerry says he meant to insult the President instead of the troops. Noting in passing that this is low-rent behavior in and of itself, I can’t get that to make sense. President Bush was granted a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard. Not exactly something to sneeze at, I wouldn’t think, and more or less a career path Sen. Kerry was otherwise advising in his speech.

Why am I bothering with this? Eek. I was discussing the whole kerfuffle with a friend yesterday and I think we decided that we were trying to make sense of something that was nonsense. Silly us.

Sigh. Now I’m walking away.

Update: Background on that troop photo: GIs drop smart bomb on Kerry. (Via Bookworm Room)