Tag Archives: Things That Still Bug Me

Funding the Arts

6 Sep

I recently had a small argument with my step-mother-in-law. Now, the woman is a saint, on numerous grounds. But she is also a reflexive Liberal. For years she sported a “FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS VOTE REPUBLICAN” bumper-sticker, and couldn’t understand why it bothered me, until I pointed out that the sentiment it expressed was that it was acceptable to interfere with somebody’s right to vote simply because you disagreed with their politics. Once I put it in those terms, that sticker came off.

I was complaining about ‘public art’ that was deliberately insulting, and she said “Well, I think that society should support the arts”, as if that clinched matters. And, with the help of a “Drop it” from my Lady, I did manage drop it. But I can’t agree with her.

I love museums and public art galleries. I always have. And, like most people who benefit from public funds, I would like to see the government continue to pay for my fun. Which isn’t the same as believing it’s right that they do so.

The NEA funds a lot of ‘edgy’ art. New art, that hasn’t had the test of time. Art that, in some cases, seems aimed at outraging some of the people who pay for it (If you have another explanation for Andres Serrano’s PISS CHRIST, I would love to hear it). Now, I have no use for people who might want to prevent others from making artistic statements, however offensive.  But there is a big difference between not censoring something, and paying for it.

It’s easy to dismiss the complaints of people you don’t like. And the intellectual Left really doesn’t like Christians who take their religion very seriously. Oh, they’ll welcome pacifist Christians when it’s time to protest a war, but the idea that Jesus Christ was a savior, and that immersing a figure of him in urine is insulting …. well, they don’t really have a lot of sympathy.

And neither would I, although I was raised Christian and respect the religion. But the NEA is tax money. It is collected from people under the threat of prison.

Throughout history, rulers have used tax money wrung from the peasantry and spent it on whatever art they damned well pleased. And if the peasantry took offense at the Art their betters bought for the palace, well, that was what the executioner’s axe was for. But we are supposed to be a republic. The idea that a social elite gets to decide how to spend tax money on non-essentials like art without giving consideration to who may be offended is, in itself, offensive.

Now, if the people who believe that society should support the arts are willing to stand by when something that offends them gets funding, that would be a matter of principle, and I would respect them. Not agree with them, but respect them. And, frankly, I strongly suspect that my step-mother-in-law falls into that category. But I also strongly suspect that a substantial number would have a hissy cat-fit if they discovered that the NEA was funding the restoration and exhibition of, say, THE BIRTH OF A NATION or TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. Both are widely regarded as legitimate works of art. Wildly offensive, true, because of what they celebrated, but art nonetheless.

So, where do you draw the line? Should we carefully not offend Islamic sensibilities with paintings of Mohammad? And how is that different from Serrano’s little in-joke? And if the answer is only that, thus far, for all the attempts of various pillocks to draw parallels, Christians don’t assassinate people for drawing pictures, and Islamics do.

The other issue is, if ‘art’ cannot exist without support from tax money, what makes its support worthwhile? We are not a poor nation. We support a great deal of art, voluntarily. And, bluntly put, I have small patience with those denizens of the Art World who disparage anything that is popular enough to survive without public monies.

Tax money supports Opera, but not Heavy Metal. Why? Tax money funds the exhibition of works by Roy Lichtenstein. Why not the originals of newspaper strips and comic books? The whole issue of spending tax money on luxury items like art is full of pits and hidden land mines.

Frankly, if the Liberal Intellectual Left wants to go to exhibits of art like PISS CHRIST, they should expect to have to pay for it out of their own pockets. They are not, by and large, poor. Certainly not by global or historical standards. Sure, if the money is not collected from the Great Unwashed they will blow it on art that THEY like (or, you know, food). And that art might be in dreadful bad taste. But, lets admit it, so is a great deal of art in prestigious museums now. And I’m not talking exclusively about recent art, either. I mean, how many renditions of THE MADONNA AND CHILD can you really look at before they start resembling Elvis on black velvet?


Obama and Bush

5 Feb

I don’t think much of President Obama. He strikes me as very much the product of the Liberal Intelligentsia, with few if any redeeming characteristics. The adoration he receives from certain portions of the Left baffles me, and the largely free pass he has gotten from the news media confirms my strong impression that few reporters and fewer editors are worth the oil it will take to fry them in hell.

Contrarily, I rather liked President Bush. He got the hottest of all hot potatoes dropped in his lap, and handled it reasonably well. Most of the Left’s criticism of him struck me as purely partisan, and some of it was frankly deranged. The notion, which got far more attention than it deserved, that he had ordered the World Trade Center blown up as a pretext for going to war depended on an ostentatious ignorance of physics, chemistry, demolitions, and half a dozen other disciplines. Comparisons between Bush and a certain Austrian Corporal were, and still are, ridiculous, as evidenced by the simple fact that the people who made such comparisons did not vanish. As a cynical Frenchman once observed “If you accuse somebody of being a Nazi, and you are not dead one minute later, you have been refuted.”
In reaction to the most effective and brutal attack on U. S. soil since Pearl Harbor, Bush made limited war by limited means for limited ends. He overthrew two notably nasty foreign governments, disrupted much of the Al Qaeda network, and did so for far fewer American deaths than one large Civil War battle. In spite of hysterical charges that he would, or had, he didn’t round up political enemies. He used the vast authority granted him by the Patriot Act sparingly. He put up with a high degree of vilification by his political opponents without making any move to censor them. And when his second term was over, he retired amid the jeers and raspberries of the Left.
By contrast, Obama has done pretty much everything the Left accused Bush of doing, and then some. He seems intent to involve us in every middle eastern piss-up going, while simultaneously failing to actually accomplish anything to our benefit. After boasting that he would preside over the most transparent Administration in history, he has run one of the most opaque. After accusing Bush of being beholden to Big Business, he has shoveled more cash for less result into the coffers of favored businesses than any two other presidents in my lifetime.
I think that the judgment of History is going to be that the Liberal Left, in a fit of unconscious irony, elected a man who was more or less exactly what they accused Bush of being.

The Oil Question

24 Jan

The political arguments over oil drilling go on interminably. They almost amount to a Kabuki Theatre set-piece, they are so predictable. Environmental damage vs dependence of foreign oil; there really isn’t a lot of variation. And what annoys me the most is what nobody seems ready to come out and say.

Our civilization runs on oil. That would be true even if tomorrow we woke up and all our cars had been replaced with magical vehicles that ran on happy thoughts. Oil fuels ships, planes, trains. Oil is the basis of the vast majority of our lubricants, and almost all of our plastics, and many of our fabrics. Nobody who thinks we could live comfortably without plastic is giving the matter any real thought.
Just as importantly; absent an incredible technological breakthrough, our cars are going to run on oil for the foreseeable future. Even supposing that a satisfactory all-electric car could be put into production, the electricity to take up the huge expenditure of energy represented by the driving public simply does not exist. And given the ritual opposition of large segments of the population to the construction of new power plants anywhere, for any reason, it isn’t going to exist soon.
So, anywhere there is oil to be drilled for it will be drilled for, sooner or later. No oil reserves are likely to be left alone forever for environmental reasons. The issue, if anybody had the guts to confront it, is not whether to drill for oil, but when. Is there, on the horizon, technology that will make it measurably safer to drill under certain conditions? Then maybe a delay is justified. But to pretend that we are never going to drill for oil in a certain spot, is a delusion.
Oil is not an unnatural toxin that destroys everything it touches. Before man had any use for it, it simply seeped to the surface in many places, and the environment dealt with it. Yes, a man made spill is many hundreds of thousands of gallons more than the environment normally deal with, but multiple studies have shown that ‘damaged’ beaches left alone recover faster than beaches cleaned with detergent and good intentions.
And then there is the issue of ‘foreign oil’. Depending on sources outside of our control has already caused a great deal of grief. But there are, I think, arguments for continuing to do so. If we use the oil in the middle east before we go after our own oil, then when we have used it up, we can allow the formerly oil-rich Arab states to return to the 16th century, where they apparently prefer to live, and ignore them thereafter. Naturally there would be problems with this strategy, but I find it strange that nobody even talks about it.
Like most hotly argued political/economic issues the pursuit of oil is not disputed in terms of demonstrable facts. This is true of both sides, although I have a personal prejudice that makes me feel that the anti-drilling side is the further divorced from reality. What is wanted is any breath of reason, because if we wait to actually examine the facts until gasoline is $10 a gallon, the decisions will necessarily be hasty and any real environmental or diplomatic concerns are likely to get short shrift.
A time is coming, soon, when it will be absolutely necessary to start drilling for oil and building new electric generators, just to keep warmth and transportation within the reach of the poor. When that time arrives, environmentalists who insist on trotting out the old “no new drilling, no new power plants, no new power lines” mantra are going to get kicked to the side. And at the moment that would be the vast majority of environmentalists. That can’t be good. Concern for the environment should inform our decisions. But it should be realistic concern. We are not, as a people, going to give up personal transportation, or all start riding bicycles.  Maybe an argument can be made that we should, but not an argument that is going to get listened to. We need to have this conversation, on a basis of actual problems and reasonable limits. And we need to have it soon.

Ward Churchill, Academic Freedom, and other silliness.

19 Jan
In the weeks following the attacks of 9/11/2001, a Faculty member of the University of Colorado at Bolder, one Ward Churchill wrote an essay comparing the 9/11 dead, in their capacity as financial workers, to Adolph Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Holocaust. This naturally offended a great many people, which was almost certainly what Churchill intended. As the ‘controversy’ continued to simmer, various people (for various reasons) began to examine Professor Churchill’s academic conduct. It was found that he had transgressed more or less seriously on a number of occasions, and he was terminated from his position as chair of the Ethnic Studies department. He has, not unnaturally, sued. The courts have gone in several directions on the matter, and there is no reason to expect that a final decision will be reached soon.
Now, the Political Left takes the position that Churchill is being persecuted for exercising his freedom of speech. The Political Right is, conversely, strongly of the opinion that Churchill may have attracted attention by his ill-chosen remarks, but was terminated because he is an academic disgrace.
Both sides are off the mark.
The thing that most people don’t understand about academics like Churchill, is that it is their job to be controversial. That is what they are hired for. Their job descriptions almost certainly say something else, but they were chosen because they could be relied upon to regularly cause some sort of stir, get their University’s name in the news, and please a class of Liberal Intellectual whose opinions have a lot to do with a University’s reputation among Those Who Matter. Professor Peter Singer serves Princeton in this capacity, with his often contrarian pronouncements on Biomedical Ethics. Anyone who follows the more outrageous utterances out of Academia will no doubt be able recall a few more names.
The Right made a certain amount of fuss over Churchill’s credentials; there is some question as to the authenticity of his claimed Indian heritage, and also some issues about his degrees. What they entirely failed to realize is that, for the kind of position Churchill held, paper qualifications pale beside a reputation for outrageousness. It is not unlikely that the committee that hired him in the first place knew that some of his resume was bushwa, and may have felt that was more a point in his favor than not.  As for his alleged academic misconduct, that would not have mattered if he hadn’t tap-danced on a cultural land-mine. Professors of outrageousness are not held to the same standards as ordinary scholars, so long as they keep stirring up the animals and amusing their fellow Intellectuals.
Colleges and Universities have always been handy places for elite groups with some patronage pull to stash people with The Right Ideas, going all the way back to the Middle Ages. In a weird way this is part of what we call ‘academic freedom’; the Groves of Academia have been resistant to the overall cultural tides, frequently because special interests have been using them as safe havens for minority points of view. But by the same token there has seldom been true academic freedom, just a difference between the academic culture and the main culture.
What happened with and to Ward Churchill is interesting. Normally, no amount of outside outrage would have moved the University to fire a pet agitator. Sure, the ‘little Eichmanns” statement was vicious, tacky, and so forth, but that’s what the University was paying Churchill to be. But the degree of public anger was high enough that simply ignoring the problem didn’t make it go away. And people outside the hallowed circle of  Western Intellectualism began digging into Churchill’s past, and turning up embarrassing skeletons.  But there are plenty of Trendy Intellectual fixtures on assorted campuses who are notorious for passing off political opinion as serious research, sloppy research, or worse. Only this time the University was really feeling the heat. And so Churchill got canned for behavior that is, frankly, what he was hired for.
If the Intellectual Left is paying any attention to this, they must be getting the leaping fantods. Whole “ethnic studies” departments could be decimated if this became a trend. No more submitting Rap CDs as ‘publication’. No more repeating fondly held Liberal myths as documented fact. The status quo could get VERY seasick.