Category Archives: Culture

WHAT DO MEN WANT?

Sigmund Freud, pop psychologists, and even Mel Gibson have pondered: What do women want? This post explores a different but equally important question: What do men want?

Conventional wisdom holds that men want sex — and plenty of it. Also wealth. And fame. And power. And then more sex, please.

Of course, men want those things. But there is something else they want even more. Something less physical, less palpable, but prized all the more for its ethereal value. Every man wants to see reflected upon his beloved’s face a look of pure adoration. Men want to see what we may call the “Ilsa Face.”

This is the face that Ingrid Bergman, as Ilsa Lund, casts upon Paul Heinreid, as Victor Laszlo, in Casablanca.

To discover the Ilsa Face, one must turn to the 40-second La Marseillaise” scene. Here is a link to it.  Readers may wish to take the time to watch before we move on to explore what men want.

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IN PRAISE OF MISINFORMATION

The latest justification for censorship is the need to suppress “misinformation.” The enemies of misinformation see themselves, not as censors, but as public guardians engaged in a campaign of self-defense.

Critics of Joe Rogan have justified their efforts to pressure Spotify to drop his popular podcast by accusing him of endangering the public health by hosting guests skeptical of the Covid vaccines.

In his defense, Rogan posted a 10-minute video on Instagram, in which he addressed the subject of misinformation generally. Rogan gave three examples of contentions which were once deemed “misinformation,” but which are now either accepted as true or at least considered plausible: 1) even if you are vaccinated, you can still catch and spread Covid; 2) cloth masks don’t work; and 3) Covid came from a lab leak.

Rogan, a former stand-up comedian and ultimate fighting commentator, does not fit the classical profile of an intellectual. And one might quarrel with his descriptions of these contentions (for example, while experts have long advocated the use of masks, there has never been widespread advocacy of cloth masks in particular).

But Rogan’s basic point is valid and perceptive: yesterday’s “misinformation” may become tomorrow’s accepted truth. Indeed, Rogan may have understated his case.

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WHEN TEDDY ROOSEVELT HAD WINSTON CHURCHILL TO DINNER

The lives of Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill overlapped, but they met in person only once — at a dinner in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, New York on December 10, 1900. The 42-year old Roosevelt was about to relocate to Washington DC to assume his duties as Vice President. The 26-year old Churchill, who was visiting America to shore up his finances by a lecture tour, was about to take his seat in Parliament.  

What happened at their dinner is unknown. But to the extent historians have noticed the dinner (which isn’t a large extent[i]), they have accepted the view, first attributed to Roosevelt’s daughter Alice, that the two men did not get along because they were so much alike.[ii] As Robert Pilpel, in his Churchill in America 1895 – 1961, put it: “It was a case of likes repelling.”[iii]

But was it?

We will never know for certain because the witnesses are not available for deposition. But based on the evidence, the “likes repelling” theory is unpersuasive. Something else, something deeper, was afoot.

Let’s review the record, starting with Winston Churchill’s reaction to the dinner.

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ABORTION DISTORTIONS

Truth in advertising is a legal requirement in the United States. But truth in advocacy often gets a pass. The polemics surrounding the abortion issue makes that manifest.

Abortion is in the news again, thanks to the live coverage of the Supreme Court oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson, a case testing the constitutionality of a Mississippi statute banning most abortions after 15 weeks.

Few issues arouse as much passion as abortion. It’s not hard to see why. Depending on one’s perspective, abortion is about a woman’s right to control her own body, free of governmental interference. Or it is about an unborn child’s right to survive and to avoid physical extermination. As the late constitutional law professor John Hart Ely noted in his often-cited 1973 Yale Law Journal article on Roe v. Wade, “the moral dilemma abortion poses is so difficult as to be heartbreaking.”

This essay does not attempt to evaluate the merits of either side of that moral dilemma. Rather, it examines how each side uses language to legitimize its positions and denigrate those of its opponent. Some might excuse such textual manipulation as zealous advocacy. But it borders on dishonesty, and makes this inherently contentious issue even more inflammatory.

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TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY OF SELF-DOUBT

Last week, Jim Lee, publisher of DC comics, announced that Superman’s motto would “evolve” from “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” to “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.” The announcement followed Superman’s earlier renunciation of his American citizenship.

Some have welcomed these changes as “a pointed statement that the Man of Steel is a hero for everyone.” As Wired blogger Scott Thill put it: “The genius of Superman is that he belongs to everyone, for the dual purposes of peace and protection. He’s above ephemeral geopolitics and nationalist concerns, a universal agent unlike any other found in pop culture.”

But of course it’s possible to be “a hero for everyone,” while at the same time serving as a champion for the American Way. The Statue of Liberty – that “mighty woman” — is a heroine for everyone, lifting her lamp to welcome the huddled masses and wretched refuse from the world’s many teeming shores. But at the same time, she is quintessentially American – perhaps even more American than Superman. Certainly, she is more venerable.

The sad and uncomfortable truth is that removing “the American Way” from Superman’s slogan has nothing to do with extending his appeal beyond our shores to the world at large. That global appeal already exists and has for generations. “The American Way” has been deleted, not because the phrase was limiting Superman, but because it was embarrassing Superman’s owners.

They were not alone in their discomfit.

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MAKING RBG PC AGAIN

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously quipped: “We are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final.”

The ACLU decided that a statement by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on women’s rights wasn’t sufficiently enlightened.  So they deemed it not truly final, and proceeded to change it to make it more infallible.

In her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, the future Justice stated: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity.… When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

In 2021, on the anniversary of her death, the ACLU tweeted this modified version, attributing it to her:

All references to women and to female pronouns had been erased, replaced with gender neutral terminology.

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IN THE HEIGHTS — OF INANITY

Four years ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda portrayed Salman Rushdie, opposite F.Murray Abraham as Ayatollah Khomeini, in the hilarious Curb Your Enthusiasm “Fatwa!” episode.

Sometimes life imitates art. The real Rushdie apologized in a futile effort to evade a death sentence. Last month, the real Miranda apologized to evade a cancellation decree.

Salman Rushdie’s trouble arose from the publication of The Satanic Verses. Miranda’s arose from the broadcast of In the Heights, the movie version of the stage musical of the same name.

In the Heights follows a group of residents of Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, as they pursue their individual dreams. The story is uplifting, even patriotic. The central character, Usnavi, dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to revive his late father’s bodega. But ultimately he chooses to remain in Washington Heights and remodel his local bodega there. His decision is based on the realization that his true home is America.

The highly successful stage musical established Miranda’s reputation, winning Tony Awards in 2008 for Best Musical, Original Score, Choreography, and Orchestrations. But the world changed between 2008 and 2021. When the movie version was released, Miranda was immediately condemned for “colorism;” namely, favoring light-skinned Hispanics over darker-skinned ones for the leading roles.

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THE SHAMING EPIDEMIC

An epidemic has swept over the country, spread by the cancel culture. It is called “shaming.”

Shaming comes in many forms. Some are acceptable, even wholesome. For example, long before they were prosecuted in court, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were shamed in the public arena for their deeply immoral, as well as criminal, conduct.  

Other forms of shaming are troubling, such as shaming for obnoxious statements made years earlier, when the speaker was young and immature.

Mimi Groves was 15 years old when she sent out a private snapchat video of herself celebrating her driver learner’s permit. The video contained a racial slur which, as she explained later, “was in all the songs we listened to, and I’m not using that as an excuse.” When the video surfaced, the University of Tennessee rescinded her admission.

Alexi McCammond was 17 years old when she tweeted messages with anti-Asian and homophobic content. She later apologized, and deleted the tweets. But screen images of her tweets remained. When she was named editor of Teen Vogue, at the age of 27, those ten-year old images resurfaced, and McCammond was forced to resign.

Shaming for youthful indiscretions is relatively rare. It runs counter to widely accepted beliefs in forgiveness and redemption. It also exposes the stone-throwers to the peril of being outed as glass house inhabitants. Christine Davitt, the Teen Vogue senior social media manager who led the shaming campaign against Alex McCammond for her 2011 tweets, now faces demands for her own ouster after her own tweets containing anti-black racial slurs, dating back to 2009 and 2010, surfaced.

But the most widespread and pernicious variant of shaming involves punishment for insufficient wokeness.

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WER IST STEINER? THE GENERAL WHO LET HITLER DOWN

Thanks to the movie Downfall, if Americans were asked to name the most famous German general of World War II, the winner would probably be Waffen SS General Felix Steiner.

Steiner has no lines, and does not even appear in the film. But he is the catalyst of one of its most dramatic scenes. In it, Hitler confers with his generals in his bunker as the Red Army surrounds Berlin. Despite the danger, Hitler believes that salvation is at hand. Once Steiner attacks, he will cut off the Russian salient, ending the encirclement and saving the Reich. Hitler’s staff exchange nervous glances before one haltingly informs the Fuhrer that Steiner has not and will not attack. A 4-minute rant follows, as Hitler rages against the Army and the SS. His fury gradually cools down to melancholic resignation as he sees that the end is inevitable.

The scene has spawned a thousand parodies, elevating Steiner to a level of fame few if any other German commanders can match.

But who was this Steiner who so infuriated the Fuhrer?

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THE ACADEMY FLUNKS OUT

The dominant trend in modern American culture is identity politics: the obsession over one’s skin color, genitalia, or sexual orientation, and the belief that those immutable characteristics somehow determine one’s values and attitudes. 

One might expect Hollywood to defy that trend. After all, the entertainment industry encourages individual creativity and personal liberation. We know this to be true because every year, when Hollywood’s luminaries gather for the Oscar presentations, they tell us so.

In fact, Hollywood has always been more cowardly and conformist than confrontational. It will produce a Mulan but it will never again produce a Manchurian Candidate – at least not as long as the Chinese Communist Party controls the hugely lucrative Chinese market.

The latest affirmation of Hollywood’s conformity is the adoption by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of so-called “Inclusion Standards.” The Standards are lengthy and incredibly convoluted. But it pays to take the time to examine them because their very complexity reveals much about the politically correct bean-counting mindset impelling their creation.        

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