Tag Archives: Secular Right

Another Week, Another Ross Douthat Column

Ross Douthat at NYT:

There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

These two understandings of America, one constitutional and one cultural, have been in tension throughout our history. And they’re in tension again this summer, in the controversy over the Islamic mosque and cultural center scheduled to go up two blocks from ground zero.

The first America, not surprisingly, views the project as the consummate expression of our nation’s high ideals. “This is America,” President Obama intoned last week, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” The construction of the mosque, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers, is as important a test of the principle of religious freedom “as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness. And beneath these concerns lurks the darker suspicion that Islam in any form may be incompatible with the American way of life.

This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (”first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

E.D. Kain at Balloon Juice:

Leaving aside the obvious fact that Muslims have actually been migrating here for many years and sprouting up second and third and seventh generations in the United States, this use of a specific instance – the Cordoba Center – to segue into a larger framework in which American Muslims writ large are not doing enough to assimilate is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. (And are no American Muslims a part of Second America? Then they must all be part of First America…unless we’re working on creating a Third America. That’s possible, too.)

He goes on:

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

I wonder what exactly qualifies as ‘too often’? What percentage of Muslim institutions fit this criteria? Furthermore, what bearing does this have on the question of the Ground Zero Mosque?

For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

Leaders like this guy, perhaps? I mean, if we’re going to just lump everyone of a particular faith together and cherry-pick the ‘leaders’ who we feel best represent them, why not pick the loudest of the bunch?

And if we can identify the group’s leaders, then we can pigeonhole the entire population’s motives. We can attribute the words of the few to the motives of the many. We can rile up “second America” against the fearful Other. And we can do it all quite nicely by calling into question the sincerity of the group’s desire to properly integrate into mainstream culture. It’s their fault, after all, that they haven’t made it all the way. Why would any real American want to build a mosque so near ground zero?

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

But this is bad history; the nativists of 19th-century America weren’t much interested in having “new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture,” rather, the nativists of mid-19th-century America wanted to keep immigrants off of American shores. In its 1856 platform, the American Party — otherwise known as the “Know-Nothing Party” — pushed for the mass expulsion of poor immigrants, and declared that “Americans must rule America, and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government employment, in preference to all others.”Likewise, nativism in the late 19th century was preoccupied with keeping foreigners out of the United States. Here is a passage from the constitution the Immigration Restriction League, formed in 1894 by a handful of Harvard graduates:

The objects of this League shall be to advocate and work for further judicious restriction or stricter regulation of immigration, to issue documents and circulars, solicit facts and information on that subject, hold public meetings, and to arouse public opinion to the necessity of a further exclusion of elements undesirable for citizenship or injurious to our national character.

This seems completely obvious, but nativists and xenophobes have never been interested in seeing immigrants join our nation and culture as Americans. Our modern-day nativists — as represented by the previously mentioned Tea Party activists — see “undesirable” immigrants as pests to be dealt with, not potential Americans:

“Instead of finding bugs in our beds, we’re finding home invaders,” said Tony Venuti, a Tucson radio host who attached a huge sign to the fence that told immigrants to head to Los Angeles, where they will be more welcome, and even offered directions for getting there.

Contra Douthat, nativists and xenophobes have never been integral to assimilating immigrants. That distinction goes to the assimilationists of American life who understood — and understand — that “American-ness” can be learned and adopted. Different assimilationists had different approaches to bringing immigrants into American life, but they were united by a common view of America as an open society.

Jonathan Bernstein:

Jamelle Bouie has a great post up this morning about assimilation and immigration, riffing off of Ross Douthat’s column.  Douthat’s claim is that the America of high-minded ideals is at odds with cultural protectionism, and while the latter is bigoted and small-minded, it also winds up having the virtue of forcing newer immigrants and minorities in general to conform to American cultural norms (including those high-minded ideals).  I think Bouie is a bit harsher than necessary to Douthat, who isn’t exactly warm towards those who he says use discrimination and persecution to get their way.  But I also think Bouie is correct: Douthat’s claim that it’s the nativists who have indirectly encouraged assimilation through intimidation may not be entirely wrong, but it’s a somewhat strained reading of history — the nativists didn’t want assimilation, they wanted (and often got) exclusion.  And Bouie is right that Douthat’s history ignores that those in Douthat’s “first” America (the one with the high-minded ideals) have almost always supported and worked to achieve assimilation.

But I think both of them are missing the main actors here: the immigrants themselves, who in almost all cases have been pretty desperate to assimilate as quickly as possible.  That was true of the great immigration waves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s true of the great immigration wave now.  Of course, each group has had various cultural bits and pieces they keep with them (bits and pieces which generally are gobbled up by the larger American culture, so that everyone eats tacos and bagels), and each group has minorities within their minority who resist assimilation, keeping the old language and practices alive (although often radically altered, sometimes without anyone realizing it) even as most of the community drifts — runs — towards America.

Matt Welch at Reason:

Such John Edwards-style reductionism inevitably sends off alarm bells, but this paragraph in particular smelled funny to me:

[B]oth understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Is this true? To find out I asked an old college newspaper buddy of mine, the immigration historian Christina Ziegler-McPherson, who is author of a recent book called Americanization in the States: Immigrant Social Welfare Policy, Citizenship, and National Identity in the United States, 1908-1929. She e-mailed me back 2,500 words; thought I’d pass along a few of them:

Douthat is full of crap in several ways:

1. […] [F]or much of the 19th century, except in the big cities like New York, immigrants and natives had little contact and less competition with one another, because the country was growing and was so physically big. […]

This is not to discount the nativism (i.e. the Know Nothing party) of the mid-1850s but that was a city phenomenon and was driven mostly by anti-Catholicism inspired by famine Irish immigration. Some people didn’t like “clannish” Germans but as long as they weren’t Catholic, no one complained as much. Nativism in the mid-19th century was basically an anti-Irish phenomenon. AND, in some ways, it wasn’t anti-immigrant, just anti-Catholic, and sought to slow down the integration of immigrants into the polity (i.e., by requiring a much longer period of residency before naturalization, and this was as much an elite anti-machine politics idea as anti-Irish or anti-immigrant).

Also, there was no real “national” culture until after the Civil War (and this developed gradually with industrialism and the spread of a mass media and eventually mass consumption) so there could be no “insistence” on immigrants assimilating. Who the heck is he talking about? […]

2. Nativism, and some aspects of the Americanization movement of the WWI period (especially the more coercive stuff) has always had the effect of making immigrants cling more tightly to their cultures, their languages, traditions. This is both basic psychology and is historically accurate and can be documented for many groups.

Any attack on religion (which frankly, is what anti-Muslim talk is, it’s not anti-ethnic, because there’s no ethnic group called “Muslim”) encourages more orthodoxy, not less, and is totally counter-preductive, because of the 1st Amendment. The American Catholic Church became the authoritarian institution that it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries in large part because of Anglo-American Protestants insisting that Protestantism and Americanism were synonymous and attacking Irish Catholics. […]

[T]he harder you push for “assimilation”…the more you get orthodoxy, extremism, alienation.

3. Post-WWI restrictions were separate from the Americanization movement and were not designed to encourage assimilation (although a few people did realize that assimilation might happen if immigrants were cut off from rejuvenating contact with their home cultures). The 1924 and 1929 restrictions were explicitly racist (and I mean that in the 19th century biological sense, as in, we don’t want our blood being contaminated by alien blood which is different and is incompatible with ours.)…Eugenics heavily influenced the 1924 and 1929 acts and eugenicists were the statisticians who determined the specific quotas for each group. […]

The problem of course with Douthat, besides that he has no idea about what he’s talking about, is he’s so vague. When in the 19th century? Which groups? Where? What created these “persistent ethnic divisions”? Are these institutional, cultural, created by policy? Who the heck can tell?

Alex Knapp:

First off all, you’ll note that Little Italy’s and Chinatowns still exist all over the country. There are neighborhoods on the East Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Italian, and neighborhoods on the West Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Chinese. There are people living in these neighborhoods who are still hostile to outsiders, and lots of different ethnic neighborhoods share this characteristic.And it’s important to realize that these ethnic enclaves, with their insularity and hostility to integration, not only failed to “swiftly assimilate”, they failed to swiftly assimilate because of discrimination. Because of the law and because of cultural prejudice, Italians, Chinese, Irish, Slavs, Jews and other immigrants were very often not hired by their neighbors. As a consequence, Italians hired Italians, Chinese hired Chinese, Irish hired Irish, etc. Immigrant neighborhoods were often either ignored by the police or shaken down by them for protection money. In either case, in a desperate desire for order, immigrants turned to organized crime for protection from criminals or the police. While the Mafioso were brutal, greedy and ruthless, they also kept order on the streets and took care of widows, etc. (You can actually see a similar pattern in Palestine, where Hamas was voted into power as not only a reaction against Israel and the PLO, but also because while Arafat’s government was growing rich and corrupt on foreign aid payments, Hamas was building schools and medical clinics for the destitute.)

Indeed, the combination of the rise of organized crime and the hositility from “second America” more likely delayed the integration of immigrant communities. That integration really didn’t start to happen until various immigrant populations simply became numerous enough to vote their preferred candidates into office, such as the experience of the Irish in Boston.

Another example of Douthat’s willful glossing over of history comes in his discussion of the Mormon experience:

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream.

This is a great example of how to write something that’s factually true, but rhetorically false. Given his tone, you’d think that Mormon families were getting some glares and “tsks tsks” at PTA meetings. The reality, of course, is that Mormons were violently persecuted, first by their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri, and then by the U.S. Army after they moved to Utah. The Mormons weren’t “persuaded” to abandon polygamy, they were forced to after the United States Congress disincorporated the Church and seized all Mormon assets. Mormon leaders fought the Act in the Courts, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld Congress’ Act. It was only then that the Mormons capitulated to the government. And it was a long time before Mormons got over that and became more assimilated into every day American life. And even at that, there was considerable hostility among quarters in the Republican Party against Mitt Romney because of his religion.

I definitely agree that, as a culture, Americans should encourage the integration of immigrant populations into every day life. But that integration isn’t built on fear and peer pressure. It’s built on tolerance, a shared ideal of freedom, and the embrace of new cultures into the rich tapestry of American life. Integration comes from delicious foods at Indian buffets and the required learning about American government before an immigrant takes his oath of citizenship. It certainly doesn’t come from protesting Mosques or putting up No Irish Need Apply signs on the door of your business.

UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf at Andrew Sullivan’s place

Douthat responds to Friedersdorf

Razib Khan at Secular Right

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Filed under History, Immigration, Mainstream, New Media, Religion

The Oscar Grant Verdict: Trouble In O-Town

Joe Eskenazi at San Francisco Weekly:

Ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.

The jury could have convicted Mehserle of either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter — both charges that would have required the jury to believe that Mehserle intended to kill grant. That was evidently too much for the jury, which declared its belief that the former policeman didn’t intend to kill the man he shot via its involuntary manslaughter conviction. This carries a sentence of two to four years; a potential gun enhancement could bump that to five-to-14 years .

Heather MacDonald at Secular Right before the verdict was read:

It is true that death at the hands of a representative of the state–in this case, the BART police officer–has an entirely different meaning than death at the hands of a common criminal and produces a far greater sense of injustice.  That sense of injustice is compounded for blacks by the shameful history, now largely corrected, of police abuse.   Still, this one tragically-mistaken killing—BART officer Johannes Mehserle entered a scene of chaos at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on a night in which several guns had already been found along the subway line and thought, according to his testimony, that he was firing his Taser to subdue a resisting, possibly gun-wielding Oscar Grant—stands out from the tidal wave of cold-blooded murders in Oakland by the fact that Mehserle did not intend to murder an unarmed civilian.  Like many urban areas, Oakland has been seeing a retaliatory shooting pattern around vigils for shooting victims.  On June 21, for example, a 17-year-old was shot at an Oakland bus stop; just after midnight the next day, two gunmen sauntered up to a vigil for the bus stop victim and killed a 19-year-old girl and seriously wounded five other teenagers who were attending the vigil.  None of these and the hundred or so other murders a year in Oakland provoke the spectre of riots if their perpetrators are not convicted; indeed, it is often hard to find anyone to cooperate with the authorities in bringing the killers to justice.   The thousands of black-on-black killings a year nationally are treated as a matter of course; so, too, are killings of police officers.

Let’s hope that Oakland residents heed the many calls from community leaders to accept the jury’s verdict peacefully and defeat the sad, but not irrational, expectations of Bay Area law enforcement.

J. Peter Nixon at Commonweal:

I work in downtown Oakland, where many businesses were concerned that the announcement of the verdict would bring a repeat of the civil violence that accompanied the original shooting.  Shortly before the verdict was to be announced, we were asked to evacuate our office building.  I will confess I felt a great deal of ambivalence about this, but as a manager I felt responsible for the safety of our employees.  So I encouraged people to leave.

As I walked to the BART train entrance, the sidewalks were filled with office workers essentially fleeing the city.  I began to feel a sense of shame about this.  It was “white flight” on a concentrated and graphic scale.  I got in line to pass through the BART gates and even had my card out when I just stopped and got out of line.  “I can’t do this,” I thought.

I am probably the least spontaneous person you will ever meet.  The white board in my office has a “do list” ranging across three columns.  I don’t take a vacation without a carefully planned daily itinerary.  And yet there I was, making a last minute decision to remain in downtown Oakland at a time when many (white) commentators were convinced the place was about to explode in civil unrest.

I wish I could tell you it was an act of heroic virtue.  The truth is that I was seized by something outside myself, an irresistible prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I just couldn’t muster the energy to fight against it and keep my legs moving toward that gate.  So I climbed the staircase out of the rail station and walked back down the street against the human tide.  I called my wife to tell her of my decision. She, of course, understood perfectly.

My first destination was the Cathedral, which stands next to my office building.  My hope was that others would be naturally drawn there as a place to keep prayerful vigil while awaiting the verdict.  I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.  It was deserted except for the security guards.  I prayed for a just verdict, not even sure in my own heart what a just verdict would be in this case.  I prayed for a peaceful response, whatever the outcome.  In the Cathedral, an enormous image of Christ in judgment is depicted on the window behind the altar.  I contemplated the image, and prayed that whatever the imperfections of human justice, the city would be able to trust in the ultimate judgment of Christ.

Shortly after 4pm I flipped on my Blackberry and got the news: the verdict was involuntary manslaughter.  It was the least serious offense available to the jury, although it still represents—to my knowledge—the only case to date where a police officer has been found criminally liable in a case of this nature.

I wondered whether I should go downtown and join the demonstrators, who I knew would be deeply angry about the verdict.  The truth was that my own heart was conflicted about the justice of the verdict.  But I felt strongly that the place of a Christian that night was to be present in the midst of the city, not absent from it.  In the Psalms of the Office we pray “the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”  Did I believe these words or not?

San Francisco Chronicle:

There was outrage, there was looting and there were skirmishes between police and protesters, but that wasn’t the whole story of how Oakland reacted to the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

The trouble Thursday boiled down to a racially diverse mob of about 200 people, many bent on destruction no matter what, confronting police after the day’s predominantly peaceful demonstrations ended.

Sporadic conflicts were quelled quickly early in the evening, but by late night at least 50 people – and maybe as many as 100 – had been arrested as small groups smashed windows, looted businesses and set trash bins on fire.

The violence was contained for much of the early evening within a one-block area near City Hall by an army of police officers in riot gear, but around 10 p.m. a knot of rioters broke loose and headed north on Broadway toward 22nd Street with police in pursuit.

They smashed windows of shops including the trendy Ozumo restaurant, and one building was spray painted with the words, “Say no to work. Say yes to looting.”

A boutique called Spoiled was spared. It had a sign outside and pictures of Oscar Grant with the words, “Do not destroy. Black owned. Black owned.”

On  the verdict, Kevin Drum:

I hardly even know what to say about this. I wasn’t in court and I wasn’t on the jury, so I didn’t hear all the evidence. But for chrissake. Look at the video. Mehserle didn’t look confused and modern tasers don’t feel much like service revolvers. And it’s not as if he was acting under extreme duress. At most there was a brief and perfunctory struggle, after which Mehserle calmly raised himself up while Grant was pinned to the ground, drew his revolver, and shot him. The only thing that even remotely makes Mehserle’s story believable is that doing what he did is just flat out insane. It doesn’t make sense even if he were a stone racist and half crazy as well.

The jury can say what it wants, but it still looks to me like Mehserle decided on the spur of the moment to shoot Grant. I don’t know why, and no explanation really makes sense. But he’s a white cop and the jury apparently concluded that Grant was just black riffraff. The whole thing is just appalling.

Mark Kleiman:

Kevin Drum is upset by the verdict, which he regards as a finding of “semi-guilty.” He joins the victim’s family, the National Lawyers Guild, and a host of the usual suspects in thinking that the officer should have been convicted of second-degree murder instead. As usual, there will be an attempt to organize riots in protest, because of course burning down the stores of black shopkeepers is an excellent way to attack the white power structure.

I haven’t followed the case closely, but when I heard the story my first reaction was “involuntary manslaughter,” which is what the jury decided on. To bring in second-degree murder, the jury would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that an ill-trained very junior cop, operating at 2am on New Year’s, didn’t make the unforgiveable error of drawing his handgun thinking it was his taser. They would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that instead he decided at random to murder someone he’d never met before, in front of a big crowd of people and several other police officers.

It’s good to see the people who otherwise condemn the pointlessness of harsh retributive justice making an exception in this case. Perhaps retribution is actually a legitimate function of punishment after all? And of course the silence from the usual denouncers of the criminal-coddling criminal justice system, now that the criminal being coddled is a white cop who killed a black parolee, is deafening.

UPDATE: Via Patrick Appel at Sully’s place, Radley Balko at Reason

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

Julianne Hing at Colorlines

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Filed under Crime

BeFri 4 Never?

Hilary Stout at NYT:

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress:

Unreal. Read the article. The schools and “experts” are intrusive and unnatural. And sad.

This isn’t about what’s good for the children; it is about being better able to control adults by stripping from them any training in intimacy and interpersonal trust. Don’t let two people get together and separate themselves from the pack, or they might do something subversive, like…think differently.

This move against “best friends” is ultimately about preventing individuals from nurturing and expanding their individuality. It is about training our future adults to be unable to exist outside of the pack, the collective. The schools want you to think this is about potential bullying and the sadness of some children feeling “excluded.” But that is not what this is about.

As a kid I was the target of “the pack;” I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die “pack” with which one cannot identify, “the pack” that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance.

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute:

The absurdity of this approach is beyond measure. For one thing, it is completely at odds with real life. When kids grow up, they’re not going to be “friends with everyone.” In the real world there are people who will like you, and people who will dislike you; people who are kind, and people who are cruel; people you can trust, and people you can’t trust; people who will be there for you in good times and bad, and people who will abandon you when the going gets tough.

Childhood is when kids learn to recognize those different types of people, experience joys and disappointments of different kinds of friendships, and learn the social skills they will need to develop mature relationships later in life. As one psychologist quoted in the article puts it, “No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend.”

Denying kids the opportunity to have such experiences stunts their development. It also teaches kids to develop superficial relationships with lots of people, without learning how to develop deep bonds of meaning and consequence with anyone. Think about it: Who among us would tell their deepest, darkest secrets to “everyone”? Denying kids a “best friend” makes it harder to get through childhood—and makes it harder to be a successful adult one day as well.

Obviously, schools want to discourage cliques, ensure that no children are ostracized or bullied, and help those along who have trouble bonding with their peers. But the solution to such problems is not to discourage kids who do bond with their peers from doing so—or consciously separate them when they do.

This is but the latest misguided effort to protect children from the realities of life that only harms them in the long run. First came the trend to stop keeping score in childhood sports and give everyone a “participation trophy”—discouraging excellence and achievement, and shielding kids from the reality of winning and losing. Now comes a new fad of separating best friends—denying kids the magic of those first special friendships.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I’m perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11.

Lisa Solod Warren at Huffington Post:

I was bulled in middle school and I have written a seminal article on school bullying for Brain, Child magazine a few years ago (well before the topic became so hot) and I say: Balderdash. Bullying is a problem; it can even be a tragedy. But the fact that a couple of kids bond as best friends is not the cause of bullying: stopping best friendships is not going to be the “cure.”

I have always counted myself fortunate to have a best friend as well as a couple of other women in my life with whom I am extremely close. I met my oldest best friend, Patti, when I was eight years old. Now, 46 years later, separated by hundreds of miles, we can still pick up the phone and start a conversation right in the middle. She knows my past and I know hers: all the dirty bits, the secrets, the moments we might not want to remember. She came to my father’s funeral a few months ago and I know that whatever I asked, whenever I asked it, she would be there. She knows the same of me.

She’s been there for me through a whole host of life changes. And those life changes began soon after we met in third grade. Had anyone discouraged me from clinging to her, or her to me, there would indeed have been hell to pay. And to what end? Is there any kind of scientific evidence that proves that being friends with an entire group of people without having one special person on whom one can absolutely rely is preferable? I wonder, actually, why on earth anyone would study this sort of thing in the first place. Bullying is about power. Power and insecurity. It’s something I found is often “taught” or handed down from generation to generation. Stopping kids from having one great friend whom they can trust to have their back is not going to prevent bullying. If anything, when a child doesn’t have someone he or she can trust -someone outside the family–bullying can seem even more onerous and scary than it already is. I never told my parents I was bullied. But Patti knew. And she defended me.

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The article is in The New York Times. It’s a paper which usually tries really hard to pretend toward objective distance, but I get the sense that even the author of the piece was a bit confused by the weirdness which had infected the educational establishment.

Rod Dreher:

What crackpots. The idea that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends is cruel and crazy. It’s like saying that the way to stop school gun violence is to prevent anything that even looks like a gun from being brought to school — like, say, little toy soldiers pinned to a hat. No teacher or school would object to that. Oh, wait…

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God Spelled Backwards Is Dog

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason:

Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who drew Mohammed as a dog, was recently told that a scheduled lecture on free speech, to be held at Jönköping Högskolan, would be canceled due to “security concerns.” This, of course, is a common evasion, intended to protect the brittle sensibilities of Muslim students while supposedly standing four square behind the right of free speech.

Alas, the administrators in Jönköping had a point. During a lecture in Uppsala today Vilks was attacked by a pack of feral fundamentalists, one of whom managed to headbutt the artist and break his glasses. Police intervened and waged a short battle with the religious nutters who can be heard in the video below, captured by the newspaper UNT, shouting Allahu Akbar! The AP has a quick report, explaining that “Uppsala University spokeswoman Pernilla Bjork said Vilks was showing a provocative film with sexual content to the crowd when the attacker ran up and hit him in the face with his fists.”

Nathan Hardan at NRO:

Here is stunning video footage of Tuesday’s attack on Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, during a lecture at the University of Uppsala. Listen to the students shouting “Allahu Akbar” while Vilks is beaten.

These are the desperate acts of an extremeist movement that is utterly bereft of moral courage, and awash in its own intellectual insecurity. Look at these Western-educatedstudents in their designer clothes, calling down curses on a man who represents the freedom they hate so much, and yet have benefited so much from

Ace Of Spades:

A few points. Vilks’ presentation was, in fact, provocative, as it deliberately juxtaposed pictures of Mohammad (?) and praying Muslims with gay fetish shots.

But, as everyone on the receiving end of artistic provocations for thirty years can tell you — we’re supposed to understand that ideas may incite, and in fact that is the very point of them, and that our right to not be offended doesn’t trump anyone else’s right to give offense.

That lesson was definitely not taught here, as the Violently Aggrieved won the battlefield they turned this university into only on this day, but on future days as well — the university has decided to put an end to this madness, by which they mean they won’t invite Lars Vilks back for any further lectures.

The lesson taught here is, once again, that if Muslims just get violent and criminal, they get exactly what they want.

I’m just curious – I see the police making few arrests here.

If there had been another crowd here — a fired-up anti-jihad crowd, let’s say, which intervened with the jihadists went wild, and started doing their own face-breaking — how many decades of incarceration do you think they’d currently be facing?

Should the law not be changed to reflect the actual law — that Muslims are in fact permitted to create disturbances of the peace and commit assault? Because if you trick non-Muslim citizens into thinking these things are crimes, and then they intervene, believing themselves to be stopping crimes in progress… then you’re locking them up without fair warning, aren’t you?

Eh. They’ve been warned, I guess. Everyone knows what the real law is.

Allah Pundit:

Everything about this is an utter, unmitigated disgrace — the attack on Vilks, the excruciating passivity of most of the crowd, the sheer thuggery of these shrieking, lunatic, barbarian bastards, and of course the killer moment at around 8:45 when they win. Do note, too, how the Aggrieved alternate between vicious threats and civil rights, warning the cops against brutality and reminding them that they pay taxes too. That’s a familiar pattern nine years after 9/11. They’d have torn Vilks apart with their bare hands if they could have but they’re all about proper procedure, you see.

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

The fact that so many American media and academic institutions have caved into the imagined fear of such religious fascists is shameful. If the free societies of the world can’t stand up for a person’s right to draw a fucking cartoon without becoming the victim of a multinational assassination plot, well, we lose. And if people’s faith in their god is not strong enough to allow them to laugh off and dismiss an offensive little drawing, they lose. So let’s all get along, or we all lose

Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right:

The disruption was thuggish, and the physical attack on the cartoonist was revolting, but the thing that most struck me about the video footage was the level of  hysteria displayed by some of the protestors, a hysteria made all the more disturbing by the fact that it was not the reaction to some sudden, unexpected shock (the protestors can have seen little at the lecture of a nature that they had not already expected) but was instead a manifestation of a deeper, longer-lasting rage that has long since lost any connection it may ever once have had with rationality.

Michelle Malkin

The Daily Caller:

The home of cartoonist Lars Vilks, infamous in the Muslim community for depicting the prophet Mohammad as a dog, was attacked by suspected arsonists late Friday evening, multiple sources confirm. The apparent plot to set fire to Vilks’ home — which comes just four days after a student attacked him at Uppsala University as he showed a film about Islam – was not successful.

Vilks was not at home at the time, according to the Washington Post, and alert onlookers may have helped put a stop to the home invasion:

It was the latest in a week of attacks on the 53-year-old cartoonist, who was assaulted Tuesday by a man while he lectured at a university and saw his Web site apparently attacked by hacker on Wednesday.

Police were alerted just before noon Saturday, as people passing by the artist’s house noted that several windows had been smashed. When officers arrived, they discovered plastic bottles filled with gasoline and fire damage on the surface of the building. Attackers are also suspected of having tried setting the inside of house on fire, but the flames are thought to have fizzled out.

Vilks has long said he would be ready for such an attack:

Vilks has faced numerous death threats over the controversial cartoon, but said in March he has built his own defense system, including a “homemade” safe room and a barbed-wire sculpture that could electrocute potential intruders.

He said he also has an ax “to chop down” anyone trying to climb through the windows of his home in southern Sweden.

“If something happens, I know exactly what to do,” Vilks told The Associated Press in an interview in Stockholm.

Vilks also owns a guard dog named Mohammad.

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New Atheists: The New Coke Of Intellectual Combatants?

David Bentley Hart in First Things:

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.

[…]

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds
of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.

What I did take away from the experience was a fairly good sense of the real scope and ambition of the New Atheist project. I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.

The only points at which the New Atheists seem to invite any serious intellectual engagement are those at which they try to demonstrate that all the traditional metaphysical arguments for the reality of God fail. At least, this should be their most powerful line of critique, and no doubt would be if any of them could demonstrate a respectable understanding of those traditional metaphysical arguments, as well as an ability to refute them. Curiously enough, however, not even the trained philosophers among them seem able to do this. And this is, as far as I can tell, as much a result of indolence as of philosophical ineptitude. The insouciance with which, for instance, Daniel Dennett tends to approach such matters is so torpid as to verge on the reptilian. He scarcely bothers even to get the traditional “theistic” arguments right, and the few ripostes he ventures are often the ones most easily discredited.

As a rule, the New Atheists’ concept of God is simply that of some very immense and powerful being among other beings, who serves as the first cause of all other things only in the sense that he is prior to and larger than all other causes. That is, the New Atheists are concerned with the sort of God believed in by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Deists. Dawkins, for instance, even cites with approval the old village atheist’s cavil that omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible because a God who infallibly foresaw the future would be impotent to change it—as though Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and so forth understood God simply as some temporal being of interminable duration who knows things as we do, as external objects of cognition, mediated to him under the conditions of space and time.

Thus, the New Atheists’ favorite argument turns out to be just a version of the old argument from infinite regress: If you try to explain the existence of the universe by asserting God created it, you have solved nothing because then you are obliged to say where God came from, and so on ad infinitum, one turtle after another, all the way down. This is a line of attack with a long pedigree, admittedly. John Stuart Mill learned it at his father’s knee. Bertrand Russell thought it more than sufficient to put paid to the whole God issue once and for all. Dennett thinks it as unanswerable today as when Hume first advanced it—although, as a professed admirer of Hume, he might have noticed that Hume quite explicitly treats it as a formidable objection only to the God of Deism, not to the God of “traditional metaphysics.” In truth, though, there could hardly be a weaker argument. To use a feeble analogy, it is rather like asserting that it is inadequate to say that light is the cause of illumination because one is then obliged to say what it is that illuminates the light, and so on ad infinitum.

Ross Douthat:

Given the durability and predictability of the arguments involved, and the amount of ink spilled on them over the years (and centuries, and millennia), it’s hard to come up with something interesting to say on the question of Christianity versus the “new” atheists. But the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has now managed the trick twice: Once in his slim book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies,” which came out last year, and now in a fine essay for the latest First Things. Here’s his concluding reflection — but do read the whole thing:

If I were to choose from among the New Atheists a single figure who to my mind epitomizes the spiritual chasm that separates Nietzsche’s unbelief from theirs, I think it would be the philosopher and essayist A.C. Grayling … Couched at one juncture among [his] various arguments (all of which are pretty poor), there is something resembling a cogent point. Among the defenses of Christianity an apologist might adduce, says Grayling, would be a purely aesthetic cultural argument: But for Christianity, there would be no Renaissance art—no Annunciations or Madonnas—and would we not all be much the poorer if that were so? But, in fact, no, counters Grayling; we might rather profit from a far greater number of canvasses devoted to the lovely mythical themes of classical antiquity, and only a macabre sensibility could fail to see that “an Aphrodite emerging from the Paphian foam is an infinitely more life-enhancing image than a Deposition from the Cross.” Here Grayling almost achieves a Nietzschean moment of moral clarity.

Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase “life-enhancing,” I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man’s shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.

Here, displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility in Grayling’s casual juxtaposition of the sea-born goddess and the crucified God (who is a crucified man), one catches a glimpse of the enigma of the Christian event, which Nietzsche understood and Grayling does not: the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity, the long revolution that overturned the hierarchies of heaven and earth alike. One does not have to believe any of it, of course—the Christian story, its moral claims, its metaphysical systems, and so forth. But anyone who chooses to lament that event should also be willing, first, to see this image of the God-man, broken at the foot of the cross, for what it is, in the full mystery of its historical contingency, spiritual pathos, and moral novelty: that tender agony of the soul that finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms. Only if one has succeeded in doing this can it be of any significance if one still, then, elects to turn away.

Rod Dreher:

You really should read the whole thing, especially Hart’s conclusion. Essentially he respects Nietzsche’s atheism a very great deal, though obviously he opposes it, because Hart sees that Nietzsche understands precisely what repudiating Christianity means.

Kevin Drum:

So: do the New Atheists recycle old arguments? Of course they do. But that’s not because they’re illiterate, it’s because those arguments have never been convincingly answered. All the recondite language in the world doesn’t change that, either, because the paradoxes are inherent in the ideas themselves. In the end, the English language probably just isn’t up to the task of answering them, no matter how hard you try to twist it. To say that God is is best understood as an absolute plenitude of actuality doesn’t really advance the ball so much as it merely tries to hide it.

Later in the essay, perhaps recognizing that he’s exhausted the semantic possibilities here, Hart redirects his focus to the cultural impact of Christianity, suggesting that the New Atheists haven’t truly grappled with what a world without religion would be like. And perhaps they haven’t. But interior passions and social mores work both ways. Did Isaac Newton feel a deeper aesthetic connection with the infinite when he was inventing calculus or when he was absorbed in Christian mysticism? Who can say? Not me, surely, and not Hart either. Likewise, the question of whether Christianity has, on balance, been a force for moral good is only slightly more tractable. Does keeping the servants from stealing the silver really outweigh the depredations of the Crusades and the Inquisition?

But no matter how beguiling those questions are, surely the metaphysical one always comes first. To say merely that Christianity is comforting or practical — assuming you believe that — is hardly enough. You need to show that it’s true. And if you want to assert that something is true, the onus is on you to demonstrate it, not on the New Atheists to demonstrate conclusively that it isn’t. After all, in the end the only difference between Hart and Dawkins is that Hart believes in 1% of the world’s religions and Dawkins believes in 0% of them. It’s Dawkins’ job only to question that remaining 1%. It’s Hart’s job to answer him.

Andrew Sullivan:

Look: human nature being what it is, most religious people will be a dreadful example of the best version of faith you can find. Drum permits what Hitch’s book was: a grand guignol of anti-clerical, fish-barrel-shooting. It’s easy; it’s way fun; mockery of inarticulate believers has made my friend, Bill Maher, lotsa money. But it’s largely missing the real intellectual task by fighting a straw man, rather than a real and living and intelligent faith. Part of that is the fault of believers. We’ve done a lousy job of delineating a living faith for modernity.

UPDATE: Damon Linker at TNR

Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Sullivan responds to Drum

Drum responds to Sullivan

Sullivan responds to Drum

UPDATE #3: Kevin Drum

Joe Carter at First Things

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #4: Razib Khan at Secular Right on Carter

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She Works Hard For The Money, So Hard For The Money

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine:

Palin knew there were ways to solve her money problems, and then some. Planning quickly got under way for a book. And just weeks after the campaign ended, reality-show producer Mark Burnett called Palin personally and pitched her on starring in her own show. Then, in May 2009, she signed a $7 million book deal with HarperCollins. Two former Palin-campaign aides—Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin—were hired to plan a book tour with all the trappings of a national political campaign. But there was a hitch: With Alaska’s strict ethics rules, Palin worried that her day job would get in the way. In March, she petitioned the Alaska attorney general’s office, which responded with a lengthy list of conditions. “There was no way she could go on a book tour while being governor” is how one member of her Alaska staff put it.

On Friday morning, July 3, Palin called her cameraman to her house in Wasilla and asked him to be on hand to record a prepared speech. Around noon, in front of a throng of national reporters, she announced that she was stepping down as governor. To many, it seemed a mysterious move, defying the logic of a potential presidential candidate, and possibly reflecting some hidden scandal—but in fact the choice may have been as easy as balancing a checkbook.

Less than a year later, Sarah Palin is a singular national industry. She didn’t invent her new role out of whole cloth. Other politicians have cashed out, used the revolving door, doing well in business after doing good in public service. Entertainment figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and even Ronald Reagan have worked the opposite angle, leveraging their celebrity to make their way in politics. And family dramas have been a staple of politics from the Kennedys—or the Tudors—on down. But no one else has rolled politics and entertainment into the same scintillating, infuriating, spectacularly lucrative package the way Palin has or marketed herself over multiple platforms with the sophistication and sheer ambitiousness that Palin has shown, all while maintaining a viable presence as a prospective presidential candidate in 2012.

The numbers are staggering. Over the past year, Palin has amassed a $12 million fortune and shows no sign of slowing down. Her memoir has so far sold more than 2.2 million copies, and Palin is planning a second book with HarperCollins. This January, she signed a three-year contributor deal with Fox News worth $1 million a year, according to people familiar with the deal. In March, Palin and Burnett sold her cable show to TLC for a reported $1 million per episode, of which Palin is said to take in about $250,000 for each of the eight installments.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

But what’s more intriguing than that raw number is the underlying dynamic here: the mutual business relationship between Palin and the East Coast elites whom she rails against with populist invective and who scorn her as dumber than a moose. Money can soften any edge.

David Weigel:

Gabriel Sherman’s sprawling New York magazine cover story on “Palin, Inc.” is actually a fast and breezy read. It being an article about Sarah Palin, there’s no policy to slow it down. We get a brief explanation of how bitter Palin was serving as governor of Alaska while journalist Kaylene Johnson got rich (“I can’t believe that woman is making so much money off my name,” said Palin), especially after Palin realized that her gubernatorial duties would complicate her national book tour. So she quit, and we’re off.

Read it all, but take note of these points.

– According to Sherman, Palin writes her own Facebook posts. That shouldn’t be news, but Palin hired a ghostwriter to finish “Going Rogue”– and some of her early posts, festooned with footnotes, don’t sound like her. According to Sherman, said ghostwriter considered suing over an article by Max Blumenthal that made hay of her collaboration with conservative reporter Robert Stacy McCain.

– Discovery Communications bought Palin’s TV show as the “centerpiece of a strategy that TLC executives see as positioning the network as the anti-Bravo, whose shows like Top Chef, the Real Housewives franchise, and America’s Next Top Model are programmed to a liberal urban audience.” Bodes poorly for boycotters.

Robert Stacy McCain:

A friend wonders why I said nothing about this part of Sherman’s story:

The only real blip concerned her ghostwriter, Lynn Vincent, a writer for the Evangelical World magazine, whom Palin chose from a short list of candidates presented to her by HarperCollins. After news of Vincent’s selection leaked, critics seized on a January 2009 pro-life piece she had written for World titled “Black Genocide” — as well as her association with the co-writer of her 2006 book Donkey Cons, former Washington Times writer Robert Stacy McCain (no relation), who had a history of racially charged statements and associations — to claim that Vincent was racist. Vincent, who had collaborated on a New York Times best seller about racial reconciliation, told me that she was deeply hurt by the racism allegation and considered suing the Daily Beast for a piece by writer Max Blumenthal headlined “Palin’s Noxious Ghostwriter.” But when the media shifted its focus to Palin’s next adventure, Vincent dropped the lawsuit idea.

The problem with suing for libel (and as a journalist, I thank God for this) is that under the Sullivan precedent, it’s almost impossible for a “public figure” to win a libel suit. Like politicians and entertainers, an author is more or less automatically a public figure, thus requiring proof of actual malice. And as opposed to, say, a false accusation of criminal behavior, the charge of “racism” is damnably hard to disprove, which is why it is slung around so frequently in political discourse.

So there was no percentage in Lynn suing the Daily Beast, besides which going to court over what was clearly a third-hand guilt-by-association smear wouldn’t help Palin — and helping Palin was what Lynn was hired to do, after all.

And shame on those people who keep spreading malicious rumors that Max Blumenthal was arrested in a raid on a so-called “ladyboy” brothel in Phuket!

Josh Green at The Atlantic:

The article is chock full of Palin porn: her speaking fee ($100,000 a pop, plus diva treatment); her preferred mode of travel (Lear jet); her next headache (Levi Johnston is “writing” a book about her); and, my favorite detail, her three-level, 6000-square-foot, no doubt tastefully decorated new home that was already under construction when Gabe paid a visit. Among other things, the article makes clear that the desire for money, not an imminent scandal, led Palin to quit her governorship.

This all has significant political implications that tend to be downplayed or ignored when discussing Sarah Palin. Toward the end of the piece, Gabe goes right to the heart of the matter:

Why Palin would want to trade the presidency [of right-wing America]–and the salary–for a candidacy that faces possibly insurmountable political hurdles is a question to ponder.
Why indeed? Palin’s prospects in the Republican Party are a good deal dimmer than her star wattage suggests. She’s tallied middling performances in early straw polls and shows no inclination to embark on the grassroots work required of a presidential candidate. More to the point, this article makes clear that, were there any doubt, her preoccupying concern is “building her brand”–less in a political sense than a financial one. Palin may yet make a bid for the White House. But all evidence suggests that when the time comes to choose between earning money and running for president, Palin will choose money.

And she’s hardly alone. The other surprise figure to emerge from the 2008 race, with almost as bright a political future as Palin, was Mike Huckabee. But he, too, is earning serious coin on the book, TV, and lecture circuit, and signaling that he won’t run again. The candidate running the hardest for the White House, Mitt Romney, is also the only one who has secured a fortune. There seems to be developing an inverse correlation between the difficulty of running for president and the easy life that awaits those who fall just short. It’s never been harder to grab the brass ring; and it’s never been easier to quit trying.

Andrew Sullivan on Green:

The political parties are weaker than they once were. The elites cannot control grass-roots Internet-driven phenomena. Look at Obama. He seems a natural president now, but Washington dismissed his chances – as they are now dismissing Palin’s – right up to the Iowa caucuses. And because Palin is such a terrifying – truly terrifying – prospect for the US and the world, I think such complacency, rooted in cynicism about Palin’s mercenary nature, is far too reckless.

Look: what we have seen this past year is the collapse of the RNC as it once was and the emergence of a highly lucrative media-ideological-industrial complex. This complex has no interest in traditional journalistic vetting, skepticism, scrutiny of those in power, or asking the tough questions. It has no interest in governing a country. It has an interest in promoting personalities and ideologies and false images of a past America that both flatter and engage its audience. For most in this business, this is about money. Roger Ailes, who runs a news business, has been frank about what his fundamental criterion is for broadcasting: ratings not truth. Obviously all media has an eye on the bottom line – but in most news organizations, there is also an ethical editorial concern to get things right. I see no such inclination in Fox News or the hugely popular talkshow demagogues (Limbaugh, Levin, Beck et al.), which now effectively control the GOP. And when huge media organizations have no interest in any facts that cannot be deployed for a specific message, they are a political party in themselves.

Add Palin to the mix and you have a whole new machine in American politics – one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order. Beltway types roll their eyes. But she’s not Obama, they say. She doesn’t know anything, polarizes too many people, has lied constantly and still may have dozens of skeletons in her unvetted closets.

To which the answer must be: where the fuck have you been this past year?

It doesn’t matter whether she’s uneducated, unprincipled, unaware and unscrupulous. The more she’s proven incapable of the presidency, the more her supporters believe she is destined for it. It’s a brilliant little gig she’s devised. She may be ignorant, but she is not stupid. She has the smarts of all accomplished pathological liars and phonies. And this time, she will not even bother to go on any television outlets other than Fox News. She will be the first presidential nominee never to have had a press conference. She will give statements by Facebook. She will speak directly to the cocoon that is, at least, twenty percent of Americans. The press, already a rank failure in exposing her fraudulence, will be so starstruck by the chance to make money that we will never have a Couric-style interview again. it will be Oprah all the time. Because Palin lives in an imaginary world, the entire media world will be required to echo it or be shut out.

Green responds to Sullivan:

Well, I think Andrew is profoundly wrong and borderline nuts on this subject–and if he’s right, and Palin launches a bid for the White House, his nightmare of a Palin presidency is unlikely to be realized. It’s not impossible. Just unlikely. The point of my original post, riffing off this New York magazine piece on Palin’s newfound wealth, was that Palin seems more interested in money than politics. The conventional wisdom in Washington–which Andrew has backward–is that Palin will probably run, though this is less a matter of conviction than a vague sense that she craves the spotlight and won’t pass it up. My mildly contrarian suggestion was that avarice might lead her instead to become a Glenn Beck-like political-entertainment figure, which would furnish her with a platform, a lifestyle, and a way of avoiding the hard work of running for president (a lot tougher than serving a half term as governor).

My point was limited to Palin’s own motivations and desires. But Andrew’s rant doesn’t address that–I don’t think his worldview allows for the possibility that she might not run. He concerns himself instead with lots of black-helicopter sounding stuff about cynical elites and the “media-ideological-industrial complex” and basically stops just short of accusing Palin of fluoridating the water. But after all that, what Andrew has described is not a force powerful enough to elect a president. He’s described (pretty accurately, I might add) elite Washington’s view of the Fox News viewership and then imbued it with a lot more importance than it merits. “Add Palin to the mix,” he writes, “and you have a whole new machine in American politics–one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order.”

No, you don’t. As Andrew himself points out, the established order of the GOP has already been upended–you wouldn’t have a goofball like Michael Steele as your party chairman if the grownups were still in charge!

DiA at The Economist:

Mr Green is right; she is building a brand. But just so she can be a television hostess? How long would that brand shine if she rebuffed those who will (with very real passion) beg her to run? Yes, she’s uniquely successful at infuriating or terrifying liberals—but that’s because they think that she might still just become president. How does that 2013 contract look when she’s refused to enter the fight? This is hunch-blogging at its most speculative, I confess, but I think she’s in. So over to you. I don’t see someone who’s preparing for a book-writing and lecture-circuit career. What do you see in the estimable Sarah Palin?

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The profile reduces my probability that Palin will make a serious run (as opposed to a pro forma one) for the highest office in 2012.* It also leaves me impressed by how quickly and efficiently she’s leveraged her celebrity and gone from moderately upper middle class** in income (and in serious debt due to legal bills after the 2008 campaign) to wealthy. Some Republicans are apparently worried about her becoming the “face of the party,” something that crops up now and then in the media, but it doesn’t seem like they really have to worry that much unless the party has no real substance and is rooted only in style and the need to get elected. As for Sarah Palin, whatever you think of her politics or personality, she’s offering a concrete product distributed through the private sector. The article mentions that her book was a major reason that Random House generated a profit last year! Whatever criticisms one might lodge, she’s not getting rich by being a rent-seeker, as so many of our public and private sector elites have become. In fact the article points to a whole industry of liberal critique which has emerged around her, so she’s not even capturing all the wealth that she’s responsible for (spillover effects).

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“You Know, I’ve Learned Something Today”

David Itzkoff at NYT:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet. Revolution Muslim, a group based in New York, wrote on its Web site that the “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” for an episode shown last week in which a character said to be the Prophet Muhammad was seen wearing a bear costume. Mr. Van Gogh was slain in Amsterdam in 2004 after making a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.

The new episode of “South Park” on Wednesday night tried to revisit this character, but with the name and depiction of the character blocked out. It was unclear how much of the bleeping was Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker’s decision. In a message posted on their Web site, SouthParkStudios.com, they wrote that they could not immediately stream the new episode on the site because:

After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show.

On Thursday morning, a spokesman for Comedy Central confirmed that the network had added more bleeps to the episode than were in the cut delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not giving permission for the episode to run on the studio’s Web site.

Andrew Sullivan:

I know I’m a broken record, but the two-part 200th episode was about as close to genius – and hardcore fan-pandering – as you can get. Hennifer Lopez, Mr Hat, Mephesto and Stan Tenorman: what more could you ask for? Well: you could ask for a reprise of South Park’s pioneering decision not to pander to idiotic Islamist threats by treating the figure of Mohammed the way they treat every other religious icon. And that’s what Matt and Trey delivered.

They had done it before with no problem. In 2001, they’d already run an episode with the Super Best Friends, Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammed, and Seaman – pronounced SeamAAAn – portraying Muhammed with no fuss or complaints. Then after 9/11, when all media should have been even more insistent on not caving to Jihadist thugs, Comedy Central forbade a reprise in a subsequent episode. Viacom looked really stupid, but that’s hardly unusual.

Then the last two weeks. In the first part of the 200th episode, South Park went to hilarious lengths to have Muhammed but cloaked in various disguises – a U-Haul van, a bear mascot, Santa Claus. But any actual depiction,as in 2001, was covered with a block of black with the word “censored” on it. In some ways, this act of censorship wasn’t too big a deal. It actually helped illuminate the unique intolerance of Sunni Islam among world religions today. SP has long had Jesus and Satan, they have ridiculed Mormonism, eviscerated Scientology, mocked Catholicism and showed the Buddha actually doing lines of coke. None of the adherents of these other faiths have threatened to kill Matt and Trey, but, of course, some Sunni Islamists did so.

Ann Althouse:

Did Revolution Muslim truly threaten Stone and Parker or was it merely warning them? That is, were they indicating that they would commit and act of violence or were they only opining based on their prediction of what others, more extreme than they, would do? Revolution Muslim says it’s just a warning:

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, a member of Revolution Muslim, repeated the group’s assertion that the post was a prediction rather than a threat. He said that the post on the group’s blog “was intended in a principle that’s deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, which is called commanding the good and forbidding the evil,” tying the group’s complaints about “South Park” to larger frustrations about U.S. support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.They have freedom of speech too, so the question is whether it’s a true threat.

ADDED: I have no end of respect for Stone and Parker. What brilliant artists! What political heroes!

Instapundit:

Obviously, Christians — and Sarah Palin fans, and lovers of My Mother The Car — should take heed of this incentive system our modern media is creating. Don’t want things you treasure satirized? Just issue a “prediction” and — voila! Meanwhile, note how entirely real radical Muslim threats and violence are treated as just part of the weather — something you have to adapt to — while nonexistent Tea Party violence is an existential threat to the Republic.

But here’s a warning of my own: Those who have no backbone will do the bidding of those who do.

Allah Pundit:

One mystery lingers: In the final scene, in vintage SP fashion, a bunch of characters gave mini-soliloquies about the moral of the story. The twist this time is that they were all bleeped out — roughly 30 seconds’ worth of airtime, filled with nothing but bleeps. I thought for sure that that had to be a joke — the moral of the story was how absurd censorship can be, and that was a perfect way to show it — but now I’m not so sure. Says the AP, “Comedy Central also censored 35 seconds’ worth of a conversation toward the end of the show between the characters Stan, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. The network wouldn’t say Thursday whether this contained any reference to the warning [from jihadists].”

New York Times:

The “South Park” creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have issued a statement in response to Comedy Central’s decision to alter an episode after a Muslim group’s warning:

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

Aziz Poonawalla:

Most other blogs and news sites are not providing a link to RevolutionMuslim.com – which appears to have been hacked, possibly by angry fans of the show – but I think it’s important to let these idiots know that they are being critiqued. And my critique of them is much the same as my critique of Anwar al-Awlaki: they are cowards, who seek to gain publicity for themselves. In a lot of ways, they have much in common with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, except that the latter are at least funny on occassion.

The Prophet SAW has been depicted by non-muslims with respect many times in the past – including a marble frieze of the Prophet as one of history’s great lawgivers, on the South Wall inside the Supreme Court building in Washington DC (photo at right). Muslims themselves, particularly in Iraq and Iran, are fond of depictions of the Prophet, with many public paintings and billboards of him and Ali ibn Talib AS. These are expressions of respect or love, and are not in any way an insult or an undue reverence.

In fact, it is precisely the over-reaction of extremist muslims who wave around threats of violence that leads to more depictions and insults to the Prophet, not less. The right way to inculcate respect for the Prophet among non-muslims is not to act like a barbarian but to simply express ourselves and explain our beliefs – and then excercise our own right, to walk away. It is by their own actions, supposedly in “defense” of the Prophet, that these extremists actually cause greater offense to the Prophet’s legacy than any mere cartoon. After all, the Prophet SAW is judged by non-muslims solely by the behavior of those who profess to follow him.

I don’t watch South Park, and likely never will. But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet SAW, which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam – quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind. To understand this, compare and contrast the images of the Prophet as a super hero or a bear, versus a dark figure with a bomb in his turban. The real insult to the Prophet is in refusing to make a distinction at all.

Related: The muslim women lawyer organization KARAMAH visited the Supreme Court to investigate the frieze of the Prophet SAW and have a very nice report on their findings.

UPDATE: A conversation with a reader about muslim sensibilities, assimilation, and tolerance.

UPDATE 2 – it wasn’t Mohammed after all in the bear suit, but actually Santa, according to people who’ve actually seen the episode. This revelation makes me realize that the South Park creators Matt and Trey are, quite simply, brilliant demigods. Well played, sirs. Well played. Of course, that didn’t stop Comedy Central from censoring the episode anyway…

manas at Ijtema:

Fox news seemed to revel at the episode. God forbid, if one of the writers get killed, they get a double bonus. South Park is something they don’t like. Islam too.

It is true that most Muslims believe that the Prophet (SAW) should not be drawn, but drawing him will cause more annoyance than offense or anger. The reason Muslims were offended and angered by the Danish cartoon is not because it drew the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), but rather because it portrayed him as a terrorist.

When the Muslims conquered Mecca, they forgave the persecuting Quraish. They destroyed all the idols that were there in the Kaaba, which was built (or rebuilt) by Abraham (AwS). However, there was a picture of prophet Jesus (AwS) and his mother Mary (may Allah be pleased with her), which the prophet carefully put away.

Muslims love and respect all the other prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus (AwS). Whenever they are ridiculed, we are hurt too. The difference is, as Jesus (AwS) is “shared” between us and the Christians, so we do not feel we (Muslims)  are being picked on.

The episode of South Park in my opinion was not trying to offend. It was trying to engage/incorporate the Muslim faith into the dialogue the way they know how. That’s the problem. Americans do not understand other cultures, not even European ones, and do not attempt to understand them. They expect them to ‘know what we are talkin’ about.

It just does not work that way. You can’t converse in Bengali with a Chinese.

Personally, I did find the show a bit offensive. One, because it showed the Prophet (SAW) clad in a stupid teddy bear costume. Two, it made innumerate references relating Muhammad (SAW), Muslims and violence. (Three) nor is Muhammad (SAW) immune from criticism. Even Muslims believe that he was a fallible human. We just believe that overall he was an excellent person- an example for all humanity to learn from. We are open to sincere criticism, but we do not like him ridiculed.

So, in short, I am a somewhat offended by, and a bit dissatisfied with the show, but in no way angry with it. I urge my fellow Muslims to engage the larger society- including the media, and use this opportunity to create some positive atmosphere. I urge the media to talk to representative Muslim organizations, and emphasize that they are such, before talking about fringe groups.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat in NYT

Doug J.

E.D. Kain at The League

Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald on Douthat

Daniel Larison on Douthat and Greenwald

UPDATE #3: David Schaengold at The League

Peter Worthington at FrumForum

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