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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.)

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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.

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.

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?

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I got my college alumni magazine today – and it seemed not only to be written by sane people (who know grammar, no less) but it seemed to feature mostly hearty, happy folks with their heads on straight. The alumns who were featured had nice jobs, or at least honest ones. No full-time radical activists in the bunch.

Wow. When did this happen?

I had become accustomed to being offended with each mailing. Exasperated. The magazine had been full of hack writing, typos, shrill voices, and tributes to people who had apparently dedicated their life to making other people miserable because of some infraction of the political correctness code. This issue had a few sad cases, like an English professor who’d published a poem in an obscure publication with a suspiciously unfriendly title (the publication had the unfriendly title, the poem’s title was left out, perhaps for good reason), but mostly it was a heartwarming, lively, intelligent read – well-written, well-edited, well-presented visually.

I am in shock. It is happy shock, tinged with wariness (has the campus culture finally changed for the better, or is it merely being sugar-coated, I have to ask myself).

How about you? If you went to college, is your alma mater showing any signs of moving out of the Ist Ages? (You know what I mean. Feminist, Marxist, Socialist, etc.)

I don’t dare hope that sensible people are getting a firm foothold in American academia, after all. But I can’t help dreaming of the day.

Update: I originally had it as Ist-ages, but I’ve decided Ist Ages is better form, so have edited the post. 

Yesterday I discovered talk radio on the Internet. OK, so I knew it was there. I just hadn’t bothered to listen to it. Talk radio tends to exasperate me.

But there had been so much buzz about the Hugh Hewitt interview with Andrew Sullivan Read the rest of this entry »

There has been a moderate scandal of sorts out of Washington recently. A Republican legislator was found to have had an attraction to boys, and to have spoken inappropriately to some of the male pages (at the very least). The pages responded by leading him on, which prompted him to send them even more sick messages electronically, which were subsequently shared with the world, whereupon the disgraced lawmaker was shown the door.

So, this is pretty straightforward, no? A guy abuses his position of power, he should be out of a job. A grown-up man propositions teens, either sex, and he ought to have to answer for it. Somebody tries to recruit young people into the homosexual lifestyle, he should pay for it, since kids can’t be expected to know how to counter seduction (or even to know that they ought to, since many kids like to think that that sort of attention means that somebody sees them as grown-up).

But what’s funny about all this is that the Democrats and what passes for a professional press corps in this country have been trying, and trying, and trying to shove this into a template. They seem to hope that Republicans, upon finding that an alcoholic who is confused about sexuality got voted in on their ticket, will all get the heeby-jeebies and either stay home this election out of disgust or vote Democrat to teach Republican leaders a lesson. Or I think that’s what all the screaming comes down to. (I admit to tuning much of it out as this has gone along.)

For crying out loud.

Do they really think that Republicans get the vapors every time they’re around people with serious faults? Don’t they get it that it’s not that Foley is messed up, but that he acted on his messed up views the way he did? Foley could sit around having all the fantasies he wanted as long as he kept them to himself. It’s when he did something harmful that action was taken – appropriately so. What he thinks is between him and God. What he does to other people is the province of his neighbors and colleagues and other human beings (as well as God).

It’s so simple. Conservatives expect people to act in a civilized fashion. When they don’t, they need to face the music. Nobody being perfect, and nobody making wise decisions one hundred percent of the time, we all have to face some music of one kind or another now and then. There are matters of degree, of course. But. Occasional slips are one thing, trying to insist upon getting a free pass is another.

It’s that insisting, time after time, that their uncivilized, immoral behavior is OK because they like to think that it defines them, that makes me tear my hair out when dealing with today’s modern leftists and so-called liberals. It’s that insistence that we’re all supposed to agree with them, or at least assume that any and all of their bull-session bright ideas possess more wisdom than anything built on the foundations of Western Civilization that makes me wince.

I’m not saying that Western Civilization has always been right, or that there isn’t room for improvement. I’m just pretty sure that much of what the “progressives” are proposing are steps backward. (Do you ever wonder if they look at every civilization that self-destructed and said, Oooh, let’s try that. Being post-modern and therefore enlightened, we can do it with more flair? The main problem with that theory, I think, is that so many ‘progressives’ I know think history is dead and buried and ought to stay that way – except for when it ought to be rewritten to try to get the conservatives to sign on to something.)

It’s maddening. What we could really use in this country are more reporters and fewer template-fillers, I think, especially when so may of the the templates seem to be jerry-built out of academic ideas that are based on other academic ideas and don’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to life on the ground, at least not life on the ground around here. 

There was a hostage situation at a school in Bailey, Colorado, yesterday. The media went a little nuts about it, I thought. I do wish they’d apply a little more restraint while incidents like this are still underway.

Anyway, one of the things that struck me happened at the press conference after the SWAT team had charged in and rescued all but one of the girls. Word was out that the hostage taker had died. A reporter asked if the man had shot himself or had been shot by police. The sheriff, who looked like a very decent guy, tried to dodge the question at first, but then mentioned, somewhat under his breath compared to the way he’d been talking, that the guy might’ve taken the coward’s way out. The sheriff caught himself quickly, adding that the matter was still under investigation, trying to smooth over something he wasn’t sure he should have said.

It’s stuck with me, though. I think, sometimes, that we should be more open these days – like we used to be – about curling a lip at cowardice. I think a lot of our current cultural messes, in fact, can be laid to cowardice, or at least to a ready acceptance of it.

It’s not put forth as the coward’s way out, of course. It’s advertised as putting yourself first. Of being true to your feelings. Whoopee. A rose by any other name…

Abortion? How many abortions are the result of a woman just not sure how to face the future, and being told that abortion will solve her problems? Is it not the coward’s way out? Shouldn’t it be recognized as that? I know that a whole lot of women feel later that they were cowards, taking that route. Shouldn’t women who are considering abortion be made aware that it might be hard to live with later? That they might find it hard to live with themselves later? That cowardly acts are shaky foundations on which to build a life? Shouldn’t they be encouraged to be brave, and resourceful, and resilient, instead of selfish and scared of their ability to measure up? Women, on the whole, are very resilient. So why do we allow feminists and so-called self-esteem experts to train us to be cowards? Heck, let’s not beat around the bush – to reward and praise us for being cowards?

Divorce? How many divorces are merely ignobly running off instead of facing problems and trying to solve them? I’m not saying that every marriage can be saved, or ought to be. My religious view is that marriage is a covenant and should be treated as such, but I know that people who don’t have faith don’t have the same sense of commitment to carry them through. Or the same approach to finding a husband or wife, which leaves them less likely to find someone willing to work things out. So many people see marriage primarily as a type of contract – that’s a mistake, to be sure, but if that’s what you’ve signed on for that’s what you’ve signed on for. But, still. So many divorces that I’ve seen seem to be nothing more or less than “it stopped being fun and/or financially rewarding” or “he doesn’t understand me anymore” or “she got fat” or something equally shallow. How many divorces are desertions in times of trouble, when the family really needs an “I’ll help” instead of an “I don’t need the bother”? Aren’t folks who bail out when they should be grabbing a bucket and bailing water to keep the family afloat cowards? (Not to mention spoiled brats?)

Well, I need to work on this a bit more. It just seems to me that a lot of what passes for self-esteem training in schools is nothing more than training kids to be cowards instead of compadres who can be counted on. Or that so much of what feminism promotes is nothing more or less than cowardly behavior all dressed up as something else. And don’t get me started on ‘assisted suicide’ or ‘mercy killing’ or ‘living wills’.

Well, as I said, I need to work on this theory a little more, test it some, see where it holds up and where it doesn’t. It just seems to me that cowardice has gotten a bit too mainstream for our own good, that we might be embarrassing our ancestors, so to speak.