Thursday, December 30, 2004
I'm off to Nashville later today to see my beloved Crimson Tide take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Music City Bowl. Roll Tide and all that.
I'll back later this weekend. A very safe and happy New Year to all who read this. God bless you and yours!
One of my Christmas presents was a hardbound copy of the Francis Schaeffer Trilogy
(thanks Mom and Dad!). The volume contains the God Who Is There
, Escape From Reason
and He Is There and He Is Not Silent
. I've yet to really get into the book, but in just skimming through I came to some pages where Schaeffer notes the films of Bergman and Fellini. (Evangelical Outpost made the same notes in this post
a while back). Now while I've seen a handful of foreign films, I'll confess that I've never seen 8 1/2
or Cries and Whispers
. But in my case, chalk it up to a long list of movies on the "to-view" list, not outright avoidance.
What really strikes me here is this: how many evangelicals today, even of the intellectual bent (Moreland, Mohler, etc.) have bothered to watch these films? I don't doubt that they know of them, but have they seen them or others like them? Schaeffer would not praise these works in their entirety, but I think it's clear that he at least realized the importance of engaging the art. Contrast that with today, where the cry is for family films, non-offensive music and nothing challenging in the way of visual art. The differences here are revealing. I think Schaeffer would find much in our Christian culture that he would like, but I doubt very seriously he would care for the way the evangelical world has, on the whole, engaged the world of art, film, music and literature.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
I managed to make it through the year and miss a number of new releases by some really great artists. To date, I have yet to hear any significant portion of the new albums by Wilco, Interpol, Iron and Wine, Tom Waits, Neko Case, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Pedro the Lion or Belle & Sebastian. I'm not sure how this happened, but nonetheless I did. I do offer this humble listing of my favorite records for the year 2004, listed in no uncertain order.
Mindy Smith - One Moment More
mewithoutYou - Catch For Us the Foxes
Carla Bruni - Quelqu'un M'a Dit
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
The Good Life - Album of the Year
Keane - Hopes and Fears
Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Kanye West - College Dropout
Tift Merritt - Tambourine
Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Bright Eyes - Lua e.p.
The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows
Norah Jones - Feels Like Home
(this record gets special mention for featuring covers of Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt)
I think all in all that's a varied group of selections. Normally I'll hear records as soon as they're released but this year I managed to avoid the hype. I don't say this as bragging. I also managed to see very little in the way of live music. Certainly the biggest act I saw was the Pixies back in October. Other notable live shows would include: Azure Ray, Lucero, Pedro the Lion, the Elected and Death Cab for Cutie.
John Miller, in this post on NRO's Corner
, suggests that Tolkien's suspicion of capitalism is of the "Catholic" variety. Now as a deep Southerner, I confess to having very few Catholic friends and acquaintances, but is Tolkien suspicious in a way that is exclusive to Catholics? Could not Protestants be suspicious in the same manner?
I know I've got a few readers out there, so I would actually like an answer, in either the comments or in an e-mail. Come on, guys...get to it.
Cheese and Crackers
has links to some tsunami footage. I'll warn you that it's eerie and quietly disturbing, sort of like the opening scenes to 28 Days Later
. Not to sound artsy or pretentious, but it reminds me very much of a record by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; the crashing waves, the gasps and the screams. What a terror. The videos, obviously, have some coarse language.
to help out anyway you can.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Susan Sontag is dead.
I do not believing in cheering the death of another, nor do I believe in praising someone corrupt and depraved enough to utter the following:
"...the truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself."
Monday, December 27, 2004
We lost a real man's man yesterday.
Reggie White was an amazing athlete and he'll be in the Hall of Fame soon. Right now he's in a place better than that; he is in the presence of God.
Say a prayer for his family and close friends, and that his legacy will reverberate throughout the sports world.
Friday, December 24, 2004
To my humble crowd of readers; my friends and family, my friends in the blogsphere and the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the
University of Alabama, a very merry Christmas. (It's a week until New Year's. We'll deal with that soon enough).
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
... Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Even if you're a college football junkie like me, it's always pretty easy to write off to smaller bowl games. Even when it concerns my own team, it's hard to get excited about the Independence Bowl or the Music City Bowl, the last two bowl games to invite the
University of Alabama. I still watch the game, and this year, I'm still going to the game. But the excitement isn't always there, for the obvious reason:
Who really cares about a 6-5 Alabama team playing a 6-5 Minnesota team?
Then again, last year the Music City Bowl featured a matchup between mediocre teams from Auburn and Wisconsin, and look at the year those two schools had.
Anyway, Paul Finebaum had a great column
this morning talking about Alabama's own bowl game, the GMAC Bowl down in Mobile. I'd imagine that if properly run, the bowl games traditionally viewed as smaller and less significant could be just as meaningful in their own communities.
I missed Tom Wolfe's interview on Bill O'Reilly's show because, well, O'Reilly is an obnoxious loudmouth. John Derbyshire did see it, however, and has a few thoughts
First, was it news to Tom Wolfe that college kids went to bed at unholy hours? When I was an undergraduate, it took sickness or sheer boredom to have me in bed before midnight, to say nothing of two or three a.m. I didn't even party. It was just what we did. If we did not have to be in bed, we weren't. Simple as that. Nevertheless, I believe Derbyshire is right when he suggests that more can be accomplished by rising early than by staying up late.
Therefore I resigned last night at eleven pm, without watching Sportscenter
or a Frasier
rerun. Instead, I am up at six a.m. It's not bad, I must say. I've actually gotten a few things done in preparation for my trip home for Christmas. I've had a pot of coffee using beans from Higher Ground Roasters
, a Birmingham-based company that roasts some fabulous fair-trade, organic beans. I tend to go for quiet music early in the morning, and since it's Christmas, I've been playing Best Love Christmas Carols
by the Choir of King's College. It's a great collection, perfect for early morning Advent listening. It also helps that I'm roommate-less, as I don't imagine anyone else appreciating a blaring choral arrangment of "the Sussex Carol" at six a.m.
On the topic of Christmas music, let me say this: I love it. I have loved Christmas music since I was a small kid, and I credit this love with introducing me to jazz and classical forms of music. (I should add hear that Alabama Public Radio
has offered some great holiday music during it's daytime hours lately) I'm glad that radio stations are willing to play Christmas music, too. But if I hear one more song by Kenny G or Amy Grant or Aaron Neville or the Manheim Steamroller, it's curtains for that radio station. Seriously. I'll pull my car out of the line at the bank and drive straight to the station, lock myself in an office and stage a hunger strike until ir's over or I can at least hear Rosemary Clooney.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
is talking about the decline in song in our country. I believe he's right, and I share his concern. But what can we do? Public schools don't teach music anymore. Conservatives won't support public radio, a venue that, despite its liberal news slant, perserves great Western music; classical, jazz, blues, pop standards, old country. It's obvious that an increasing number of red staters don't value such things, as they're more concerned with redneck songs about putting boots in the posterior of the Middle East. Nice sentiment, but it's horrible as art. See the most recent issue of NR, which features a story about the sorry level of conservative art. Even churches are starting to let us down, as a growing number of evangelical churches have abandoned hymns for choruses devoid of any serious musical merit.
What's a guy to do? I hope that Derbyshire and others of like mind will come to realize that while this is true in all parts of the country, it is even more so in red state America, and I say that as an Alabamian. The faux-populist conservatism espoused by any conservative that is less intellectual than National Review
or the Weekly Standard
cares nothing for art or music. We shouldn't be suprised that this a problem. Red state values have their merits, but this is not one of them.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
It's been pretty quiet around here, and for that, I apologize. In the next few days before the holidays, I'm going to try to get a handle on some of the media issues I've mentioned lately. Scroll down for some kind of idea.
I'm also going to be working on a list of my favorite records of the year, to be posted in the week between Christmas and New Year's.
As for tonight, I'm going to watch the amazing Peyton Manning attempt to break Dan Marino's touchdown record. I feel like it's almost sacrilege for me as an Alabama fan to cheer on a former Tennessee player, but let's assume the statue of limitations is up. I hope Peyton sets the record, and I was happy to see Ol' Eli have a good showing yesterday against the Steelers.
Right now, I'm hoping Brett Favre finds a way to beat the Jaguars. And the Saints win? And have some, however meager, playoff hopes? Maybe it will
snow at Christmas...
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Congratulations to Eric G. Mann
on his college graduation, which takes places in about an hour and a half. I guess that means I better shave and get in the shower, STAT.
Anyway, congrats to Eric and Kerri.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
points to another mess on the part of the media. My apologies for not noticing this sooner.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Doug Ray of The Tuscaloosa News
had this editorial
concerning the Paul Gattis controversy.
Regarding the Vodkapundit post by Will Collier
, I think Collier is missing the point. I cannot speak on the matter in Ann Arbor that he cites, but he clearly misunderstands the dynamic at work in Huntsville. Gattis' vote in the AP Poll - whatever one thinks of the poll - is not a matter left to the determination of the readers. It is left to Gattis alone, and he should not be answerable to them on this account. The Associated Press has judged his reporting to be fit enough that he be granted a vote. Should his work in the paper be based on lies or mischaracterizations, then he should answer not only to his editors, but to his readers. As it were, his reporting was not in question. The only thing in question was his wilingness to be a homer for Auburn. When it appeared that his refusal to tow the line would cost the Times money, his editor took the initiative. I said this before, and I hope Will Collier comes to understand - this is not about Dan Rather or Howell Raines or Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass.
I'm not alone in this assessment, lest any reader think that he or she has me pegged as a naive blogger, hiding in his pajamas behind a computer screen. For other opinions, see Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post
. Take a quick browse through the Poynter Online forums
. Try the Green Bay News-Chronicle
. Or the Arizona Daily Sun
The point that Collier seems to miss is that this is one instance where the reporter owes the readers nothing. His vote in the AP Poll is his own, to do with as he wishes. He is not, nor should he be, under any obligation to vote in such a way as to please his readers. I've no doubt that Paul Gattis recieved some very thoughtful e-mails pleading Auburn's case. And while I may be young, I've lived in Alabama long enough (it only takes a week or two) to understand that when a group of sports fans becomes agitated, be it Auburn or Alabama, the riff-raff will find a way to surface. Gattis may have been short, but he was not rude. Ultimately, the opinions of the readers do not matter. Gattis is free to vote how he wishes, regardless of prevailing opinion on the part of Auburn fans.
I shall always hope that journalists do not seek to needlessly offend their readers. Paul Gattis did not go out of his way to be offensive. He was given a forum with which to speak, and no apology should be required for his actions.
Monday, December 13, 2004
is on the Paul Gattis story.
Ok, final correction. Apparently Howell Raines did in fact get a graduate degree from the
University of Alabama. See the comments below. Thank you, Nick
On a lighter note, I've often felt that UA should empasize calling the school the
University of Alabama, in much the same way students refer to the
Ohio State University or the
University of Southern California. I was excited to hear former Alabama great Shaun Alexander use that phrase last week on Monday Night Football. Tonight I watched the start of the Titans/Chiefs game to see if Tennessee defensive lineman Antwan Odom would say things the same way. As it turns out, Antwan did not even mention the name of his alma mater. He just said two words:
I've noticed I'm getting a fair amount of traffic from people looking for information on the Paul Gattis/Melinda Gorham issue up in Huntsville. As of right now, there isn't a whole to add. Regional talk radio like Paul Finebaum
has cooled on the issue, so I think the public aspect of this issue may have died down, at least temporarily. I do think, however, that this case will have stronger reverberations in journalism. This is especially true in light of the Dan Rather controversy. This situation poses a lot of questions.
What does the media owe the public?
What can the public reasonably ask of the media?
Is the media a purely market-driven entity?
I must make this short for now, but there are questions I want to further explore. As always comments and e-mails are welcomed and encouraged. Please forward this blog on to anyone who may have an interest in this topic and the others that I am exploring.
Let me make one correction on an earlier post: Howell Raines is not a graduate of the
University of Alabama.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
While I haven't always agreed with them, I really enjoy Andrew Sullivan's
award series. The new Michelle Malkin award for excessive hysteria on the part of the punditry is pretty hilarious.
Friday, December 10, 2004
My friend Garland
is talking up Wal-Mart, but I'm not very persuaded.
Fred Barnes is drinking some of that Auburn Kool-Aid
. Maybe Melinda Gorham can lure him away from the Weekly Standard
I doubt that very much. And I'm kidding. Barnes makes many fair points, though I'd hate to think that one of the best faces for modern, popular conservatism is becoming one of the "Auburn people." I still would nearly swear that I saw Barnes at church in Tuscaloosa the morning after the Iron Bowl, but I was likely just seeing things. But I hope he's speaking in superlatives when he says, referring to the Sugar Bowl where Auburn plays a resurgent Virginia Tech:
"And if Auburn wins, it will emerge with a unique distinction: the best team ever in college football that wasn't the official national champion."
Better than Joe Paterno's undefeated, uncrowned team? Maybe. Barnes also errs when he suggests that Oklahoma had a weaker schedule, beating Texas and Texas Tech. Um, Mr. Barnes, what about Oklahoma State and Dennis "Why Won't Notre Dame Return My Calls" Francioine's Texas A&M team? Well, Oklahoma did give up something near seventy points between both schools, so maybe Bob Stoops isn't interested in bringing those games up in defense of his season. When Auburn played ranked teams, the opposition scored maybe a touchdown.
I'll stop here before I convinced myself that Auburn got railroaded by the BCS, the AP and the Pulitburo-esque coaches' poll. Barnes' piece is definitely worth the read. As when George F. Will
reviewed Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer
a few weeks back, it's always great to see a Washington insider get a real glimpse of flyover country.
Even if, at least in this case, it is down at that cow college.
There's a potentially huge journalism controversy brewing down here in Alabama. It goes a little something like this:
Paul Gattis, University of Alabama football beat writer for the Huntsville Times, is one of 65 voters in the AP Poll. The AP, like the BCS, ain't so popular in Alabama, as the Auburn Tigers are stuck at third place, and locked out of evena split national championship. Naturally, a lot of Auburn fans were upset with Gattis. This makes perfect sense, of course, because you're supposed to vote for the local team. Right? Isn't that what journalistic integrity is about? Sure it is, if you're a jaded Auburn fan. (I guess I shouldn't talk - Howell Raines graduated from the
University of Alabama). At any rate, Gattis wrote a column in Monday's paper
defending his position of voting Auburn third (OU was first, then USC, then AU) and basically telling the upset Tiger fans to go buzz off. Sounds fair to me. Before any rabid Auburn fans fire off an e-mail, let me say this: If Gattis did this to Alabama, of course I might not be happy, but I understand that as a journalist and pundit, he's perfectly free to do that. He doesn't owe me a thing, so long as he gives me the truth.
Where things get interesting is on the front page of Wednesday's paper. Gattis' op-ed piece had appeared, as it should, in the Sports section. Wednesday morning's front page featured a lengthy piece by Times editor Melinda Gorham
apologizing for the lack of sensitivity in Gattis' piece. Sensitivity. That's what sports writing needs more of. Sensitivity. Because heaven knows the media just hasn't been sensitive enough to Tommy Tuberville over the last twelve months.
The issue here is bigger than Auburn or the pathetic BCS. The issue here is a sports writer was doing his job - covering Alabama football - and was rewarded with a vote in the AP Poll. His vote is his own; it is not the vote of his paper. If the homers for Auburn don't like it, that's fine, but Gattis doesn't owe them anything. He was decent enough to provide an explanation. It was simple: he thinks OU and USC are better teams. End of discussion. No doubt faced with the threat of subscription cancellations and low ad revenues, an editor threw one of her own under the bus. Gattis didn't lie. He's not Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. He stated an opinion, albeit a controversial one. He didn't come out in support of Osama bin Laden. He didn't come out in favor of clubbing baby seals or shooting puppy dogs with pellet guns. He dared to say that maybe Auburn isn't a better team than Oklahoma or Southern California. Newsflash, Ms. Gorham: That ain't an uncommon opinion.
Is Gorham unable to distinguish between the Jayson Blair scandal and the fact that some readers are in a fit because the paper doesn't back their own agenda? Give me a break. Gorham could have let this blow over or she could have simply stood behind her reporter with some quiet resolve. Instead the state gets a lame duck apology for a lack of sensitivity and a mean-spirited column. Yeah, it's mean-spirited to tell a rabid group of fans that a man is standing by his opinion. Puh-lease. Gorham has just turned her paper into a joke, more concerned with an attitude of civility than the truth. Paul Gattis isn't Dan Rather or Howell Raines. He didn't smear anyone or put forth a false story. He simply justified his vote, and now his own editor has come within an inch of wrecking his career, all because he refused to vote the local line and put the hometown boys in first place. He's being railroaded for having just an ounce or two of integrity.
It's a crying shame.
Stay tuned here and at Paul Finebaum's site
and radio show for more information.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Oh for heaven's sake...
Are we supposed to take this rubbish seriously? It's as if minorities are shouting "yes, please please please marginalize me! Degrade me! Insult me!"
Technology really is an amazing thing. I should be asleep right now or, considering that it is roughly 6:30 a.m., I should be hitting the snooze button. Instead, I'm wide awake. I woke up twenty minutes ago to a low synthetic wail coming from outside. I took me a minute to come out of my daze and place the sound, but soon the old familiar ring of a tornado siren made its way into my consciousness.
So unti 7:15 a.m., my area - Tuscaloosa County - is under a tornado warning. Luckily there are no reports of damage along the storms path thus far. I say technology is amazing because I can turn to my local weather (see this website
and the corresponding blog
) and see a map of the storm's projected path. Yes, it cuts through Tuscaloosa county. No, it is not moving in my direction. Literally, the communities mentioned in the weather report are at least half an hour to my north.
This is a great thing, however, and we should be thankful for this sort of technology. Of course nature is an unpredictable thing and storms can move as they will, but I find it astounding that the weatherfolk can generally project a storm's path. Years ago I would have woken up to the tornado siren and hoped my weather radio had good details, lest I sit around until the tornado warning expired. With the new techonology my mind is pretty much at ease. Of course I say a prayer for those in the path of this storm, but I've no doubt that they are, like me, thankful that we can have solid information. We now know - for better or worse - how to respond to severe weather and take seriously the threat of a tornado or particularly vicious thunderstorm.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
I haven't written too much about music lately. Let me say that one of my favorite music sites is the music wing of Looking Closer
, which is also home to great movie and book reviews. Of course I am a sucker for the pretentious folks at Pitchfork Media
, as well, but both sites have their perks.
I had intended to offer a proper review of the new U2 record a few weeks ago, but it's terribly hard for me to listen to anything but Christmas music during the month of December. I was practically raised on Christmas music as a child, and I credit my parents for this exposure, which introduced me to a wide range of music, notably jazz and classical. The Christmas albums we wore out the most as kids were definitely An Old-Fashioned Christmas
and Christmas Portrait
by the Carpenters. The two records have been combined into one double-disc package
that is quite superb. My parents were also bigs fan of the Canadian Brass, whose Christmas albums were very good. My dad first exposed me to the Chieftains. I remain a huge fan of the Bells of Dublin
, a fine Christmas album that celebrates both the revelry and the reverance of the Advent season, and includes collaborative work with a wide range of artists. Of course there were the other usual suspects; Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, the Rat Pack, Rosemarry Clooney, and Nat King Cole - just to name a few.
I still listen to the music of my childhood, but I have added to the collection. My personal favorites in recent years have been Vince Garauldi's maginifcent soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas
, Low's sparse and haunting Christmas e.p.
, Bright Eyes' A Christmas Album
and the just purchased Best Loved Christmas Carols
by the Choir of King's College Cambridge, which is a fantastic collection of carols. And for those of you who are into illegally downloading music (not that I condone such a thing), I should recommend Diana Krall's three song Christmas e.p., as it is only available as a very pricy import. Belle and Sebastian's 2002 Christmas sessions recorded at the BBC with the late John Peel are not limited to Christmas songs, but they are very good, and worth seeking out in cyberspace.
One of my favorite aspects of Christmas is both the quiet, awe-struck reverence that we find when we face the arrival of the Christ-child. I also enjoy the revelry we share at the season when we gather with friends and family. I like to hear music that reflects both sentiments, each unique and special in their own way.
My only other Christmas tradition outside of the usual Christmas movies is to re-read David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice
. Not for the easily-offended or humorless, but nonetheless drop-dead funny.
I say all that to say I shall explore my favorite records of the last year sometime in the coming weeks, most likely after Christmas. 2004 was full of fantastic music, and while I did not hear every record that was lauded by the critics, I heard plenty. I aim to explore those albums in this space sometime very soon.
Variety says the new Ocean's 12 looks like a winner
. I should hope so. The remake of the original left me with rather high hopes.
I finally saw the infamous UCC ad on Nickelodeon last night while watching a rerun of The Cosby Show
. Yeah, I was bored. Speaking of boring, what an absured, slanderous piece of propaganda. The ad exploits every overwrought stereotype that exists concerning conservative evangelicals. The leaders of the denomination know no shame. Of course, conservatives should look to themselves and always be sure that there are no grounds for such criticisms, but this advertisement is far and beyond the pale. It is vile and misleading. But can I also say that in this day and age such advertisements seem rather trite? I'm surprised it took them this long to come up with something so witty.
Al Mohler had more to say last week.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I'm watching the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas
on ABC. I realize that, on the whole, pop culture is rubbish and the mainstream media is full of liberal slant, but let us give credit where credit is due. This is a fine Christmas program, with the real meaning of the season at its core. And yes, the soundtrack is superb, but Linus' speech to Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas... just perfect.
And all the kids singing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Monday, December 06, 2004
Great post this afternoon about teen culture over at the American Scene
. The post is here
Check out this quote:
Grunge was a celebration of misfits and melancholy, which isn't always the best thing in the world. But it's a helluva lot better than the celebration of superficiality and empowerment-through-promiscuity that we get nowadays. (Though with Britney Spears-Federline's career on the wane and the FCC on the warpath, maybe we're seeing the end of an era. One can hope.)
Amazing. This guy just offered vindication to the lifestyles, if not the hairstyles, of millions of my peers. Myself included. I salute you, sir.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Much has been made in the last week of the horrific Groningen Protocols. I confess to have not focused enough attention on this point personally, but I shall point you in the direction of some who have had a deal of valuable thought to contribute. As always, Hugh Hewitt
has served as a clearing house for links on the matter. I would also suggest the work of Mark D. Roberts
(who has a great series on the Christmas holidays going: more on that later), DaddyPundit
and John Mark Reynolds
I hope that you will read these sites and follow up on the serious crisis facing people of faith and good conscience in Holland. But to return to a discussion of the economy, Wal-Mart has made the news recently, facing a sluggish start
to the holiday season. In this post by John Mark Reynolds
, Reynolds talk of his mother. The overall message of the post is on the humility of Mary in the telling of the Christmas story, but he makes this remark about his own mother:
My mother is one of those rare natural aristocrats. We had very little money to spend on clothes when we were growing up...She had, Dad would tell us, "class." This way of carrying oneself shows no matter what a person is wearing.
This idea of "natural aristocracy" that Reynolds speaks of sheds, at least in my mind, some light on the Wal-Mart vs. Target debate. Many people hold to this ideal, regardless of their economic status. They enjoy having "nice" things, whether or not it is something they can attain on an everyday basis. Perhaps these people do not have the money to consistently live the high life, but they appreciate nice or unique things: a quiet restaurant, ethnic food, good coffee, jazz or perhaps a movie based on something more profound than big explosions and fart jokes. David Brooks has certainly explored this phenomenon (see Bobos in Paradise
) and while this is not a perfect lifestyle, I think these people can get more right than they get wrong.
Yet there is a flipside to this outlook, and I think it is the crux of the debate between Wal-Mart and Target. There is a large group of Americans, typically within the middle class, who feel that those "nice" things I just mentioned are for the rich, the spoiled, the bratty. To appreciate such things would be a betrayal of their own middle class values. These are the people who enjoy chain restaurants, not because the food is necessarily good (and it can be), but because they would not set foot inside a locally-owned eatery with hip decor because "did you see the cars in the parking lot? Those people wouldn't want me there. They're all stuck up and I don't want everyone staring at me. That's where rich people eat
." This is to say nothing of the menu or prices at the eatery, but I do not think I am going out on a limb to suggest that this attitude is common, particularly in flyover country.
I think both Wal-Mart and Target know this, and are seeking to exploit it. Target realizes that even rich people need toilet paper, and people who buy their clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue and their cooking utensils at Williams-Sonoma will prefer to shop in a store that is clean and offers Starbucks coffee. They also realize that there are millions of middle-class bobos, to borrow David Brooks' phrase, that appreciate a store where one can acquire, as I did earier today, Tazo Green Tea
, Naked Fruit Juice
and the everyday products like deodorant, apples and larger than healthy bag of Holiday M&Ms. And despite the allegations of the Wal-Mart crowd I have just described - I'm working on a name for them (and a book, if any publisher is interested) - many of us make such shopping decisions for less than superficial reasons.
Wal-Mart knows, however, that many of its traditional customers will stay with it for the same reason that O'Charley's will not lose customers to the local eatery I just described. So long as Wal-Mart doesn't look
like a store where rich people shop, the eat-the-rich middle class will flock to its doors. The risk that Wal-Mart runs, however, is that demographics seem to suggest that regardless of economic status, American tastes are demonstrating that cleanliness and aesthetics are not property of the upper class.
I think this reveals a cultural divide in America that cannot simply be written off as a war between red states vs. blue states. I understand this quite well. I love country music and its history, but I regard Sean Hannity's pals Sara Evans and Daryl Worley to be absolutely atrocious. The left-wing Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris are creating far superior music. I find Gwyneth Paltrow's politics to be abhorrent, but her movies are superb. I tire of NPR's leftism, but I love jazz and country blues and classical music. I enjoy This American Life
and Fresh Air
. I've picked up a few records lately. How many Bush voters have bought the Carla Bruni
release? I'm not trying to hype my own credentials; I am merely acknowledging something of a contradiction, at least based upon the talk you hear from a conservative like Sean Hannity or a liberal like Ted Rall. Not all conservatives like Daryl Worley, and it's not just liberals who have good taste in music.
Perhaps it is an argument of theory and speculation, but I believe that these sociological matters will eventually reverberate in the political world. Right now pundits are studying the war of values between red states and blue states, but far more remains to be said about the battle between red state tastes and blue state tastes and the manner in which this might affect the economy and the voting booth.
Let's consider a closing example. It is said that John Kerry lost votes in rural areas because he appeared too aristocratic or uppity, as a country voter might say. The Democrats are now regarded as out of touch, yet many of George W. Bush's suburban voters have tastes that are increasinly bourgeois. The President's lack of culture, as some liberals charge, has not cost him a single vote. John Kerry, apparently, had too much of it, and it did cost him votes. What is this saying about the political and social landscape in which we live? I think I shall continue to pursue this idea.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Sometimes I wonder how clueless Andrew Sullivan really has become. Check out this post
, as Sullivan is simply aghast to learn that the anti-gay red states (his thinking, not mine) have higher divorce rates. Two quick thoughts, and I'm blown away that Sullivan can't make the connection. First, the folks getting divorced aren't always the same people who are in church every Sunday and consistently vote the James Dobson line. I'm sure there's some overlap, but there's enough of a distinction that it's worth noting. Second, and this should be obvious: red states are more rural. They are, to some degree, poorer and a certain portion of the population is less educated. Divorce is higher among these demographics. Plain and simple. That says nothing about the political sophistication or the religious devotion of the red states. I won't go into a complete breakdown of divorce rates by state, but there are some basic demographic facts that are not easily overcome. A scholar of Sullivan's caliber should understand this, but I guess it's easier to write off flyover country as a land of anti-gay bigots.
Then again, stories like this
don't do much to dispell Sullivan's worries. I can understand why some parents might be concerned about more progressive children's literature, but university libraries? Please, Mr. Allen. I'm an adult and a paying student at my university. I'd prefer that the state university system treat me as such. Ridiculous ideas such as these do nothing to help the social conservative movement.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Andrew Sullivan is wondering if there are any atheists working for National Review or the Weekly Standard. I thought surely Andrew Stuttaford would have something to say on the matter. Indeed he did. See here
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
It's Christmastime again and the weather is finally starting to chill in Alabama. I'm broken out the Christmas music, as well. Perhaps I'll detail my own loves in that area, but for now I'll clue in to the brilliance that is Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack
to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Simply fantastic.
I took up the issue of conservative evangelical leadership yesterday, but David Brooks beat me to the point in Sunday's New York Times (link forthcoming). Brooks brought up the work of John Stott as being influential on evangelicals. This is indeed true, but the confusion over Brooks' piece exposes the central problem within the political circles of the conservative evangelical movement. For starters, Mark D. Roberts
details his own encounter with Stott many years ago. Later this morning, however, Andrew Sullivan was questiong
Stott's real influence. Things get more interesting when Sullivan posts a letter from a reader educated in a conservative evangelical environment
who notes the vast influence of Stott's work.
All of this talk exposes the real dichotomy within the movement. The Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons tend to get all of the airtime, while men like John Stott (whose work, I must admit, I have not read) and Al Mohler simply do not gather as much attention. The problem here should be obvious; Falwell has become something of a caricature in the mind of the public, while Stott, Mohler, J.P. Moreland and countless others can go toe to toe with any left-leaning intellectual. The word "intellectual" also creates a problem, because Falwell, Robertson and even James Dobson simply are not intellectual powerhouses. Sullivan's reader notes that while he read the work C.S. Lewis, John Piper, R.C. Sproul (dude must be Reformed) and others in college, he never read anything by Robertson. That's because Robertson has never written anything worth reading.
The problem, then, is two-fold. On the one hand, the media is more than happy to allow Jerry Falwell to argue with Al Sharpton or for James Dobson to argue with Ali Wentworth's husband on that Sunday morning show he was given. On the other, when was the last time a serious intellectual conservative evangelical openly criticized Robertson? I fully believe that Falwell and Dobson mean well, but calling Pat Leahy a "God's people-hater" doesn't strike me as a brilliant tactical move. We can give the blogosphere all the credit in the world for bringing down Trent Lott and Dan Rather, but disgruntled Christian bloggers won't amount to much. Not yet anyway, when your average evangelical voter doesn't find anything wrong with Falwell's methods. Deep down, I suspect that men like Richard Land, who appeared on that fateful episode of Meet the Press
with Falwell, don't care for their colleagues approach. If leaders like Land and Mohler desire that conservative evangelicals remain an effective part of the American political landscape, it's time to respectfully deal with the old, ineffective leadership. Young Christian voters may respond to George W. Bush or even Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. I believe they would respond to a young, fresh evangelical voice. For better or worse, that voice does not belong to Pat Robertson. It does not belong to Jerry Falwell or even James Dobson.
I think Sullivan's reader is on the right track in demonstrating the influence of Stott among Christian intellectuals. While I have not read his work myself, I am willing to believe the reader. Yet the truth is that the grassroots Christian voter is more in tune with Falwell than Stott, with Roberston than Land. This is why change must come at the grassroots if it is to come at all. The influence of the Moral Majority has been squandered; it's time for new voices to be heard.