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Before we get started, a quick, self-serving reminder: If you'll be in Washington with nothing to do on Monday, May 11, you should come by the American Enterprise Institute where I'll be talking about manliness, Western civilization, and the indignities of fatherhoo, with my buddies Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, P. J. O'Rourke, Rob Long, James Lileks, and Tucker Carlson. (The event is free, but you need to register for it here.)
The discussion is tied to a new book I've edited called The Dadly Virtues. It features not only those guys, but also Andrew Ferguson, Christopher Caldwell, Matt Continetti, and others. In all honesty, it might be the funniest and most profound book ever written about fatherhood. Of course, I would say that. If you want a sample, Commentary has published the great Joseph Epstein's chapter, which you can read here . It's a home run. But then, the entire book is pretty much like that. There's Tucker Carlson making his kids a potato cannon and then launching Barbie dolls out of it. There's Toby Young massacring his daughter's fish mere hours after bringing them home from the pet store. There's Matt Labash with advice on giving your kids the sex talk.
You know what's not great? The world. It's time to play my favorite game: What's the most depressing thing you've seen over the last two weeks?
It might be Iran, right? We have a thuggish (can we say that about Iran?), apocalyptic theocracy on the fast track to nuclear weapons and the government of the United States isn't just going along with it—it's offering to pay the mullahs a "signing bonus." The Iranian regime is so giddy that last week it decided to spike the football (as our president might put it) and seize a ship under U.S. protection. Because they don't just want nukes—they want everyone in the region to know how useless American guarantees are.
So that's pretty bad.
But then, there's Baltimore. As the Boss explains in this week's magazine, having a major city in such disarray that an MLB game gets played before an empty stadium is profoundly un-American. The Orioles could have canceled the game or moved it somewhere else. Instead, the empty Camden Yard suggested "a city huddling in fear. Civic institutions without civic participation. Families hollowed out. A society emptied of conviction. A political order separated from its citizens. A civilization lacking defenders." So that's pretty bad, too.
On the other hand, here are the stories which appeared on the top of the front page of the Washington Post on Monday, May 4th: "Wizards keep rolling against Atlanta"; "Baltimore lifts five-day curfew"; and "Mining mogul's ties to Clintons under scrutiny". Below the fold were stories about the CIA misjudging the Arab Spring and Michelle Obama's healthy-eating campaign.
If you turned to page 2 of the paper, and looked below the fold, you found a story headlined, "Two killed outside contest for Muhammad cartoons." The gist of which is that in a suburb of Dallas an art exhibit was being staged in defense of freedom of expression, with a contest to draw the prophet Muhammad (PBUH!) as part of it. Two men rolled up outside the building in a car and started shooting at the security guard in front. Police responded and killed both gunmen. I'm not sure which is more depressing—that we have Charlie Hebdo-style violence in Texas, or that the Washington Post thinks this is a page two story. Below the fold.
So not just "pretty bad"—that's very bad. But don't worry. There's worse. We'll get to it in a minute.
"The sunlit season of college commencement has been darkened this year with news of plagiarism. The school paper at Connecticut College, the College Voice, reported last month that one of the speakers at last year's commencement, a graduating senior called Peter St. John, wowed his audience with a speech that had been lifted paragraph by paragraph from another commencement address given at Duke in 2008 by the writer Barbara Kingsolver.
"The incident raises all the usual grisly plagiarism questions, some easier to answer than others. Ask why St. John stole another person's words, and the answer is obvious: He couldn't come up with a speech on his own, so in a display of bad character, he took what wasn't his. Ask why, with all the words in the world to choose from, he stole Barbara Kingsolver's words, and the answer is … I'm stumped."
"But the fact that we are looking at such an enormous number of GOP candidates in this year's cycle tells us a few more important things. First, there is a strong sense that the hierarchical tradition of Republican presidential nominations may not apply in 2016. Jeb Bush is not intimidating anyone out of this race; the fact that this field is expanding rather than contracting underscores that point and reflects the reality that this is a wide-open contest, more so than any GOP nomination race in modern history. This will make it different from the flavor-of-the-month nature of 2011 and 2012, when at varying points, different non-Mitt Romney candidates were momentarily the front-runner—even though you knew that they weren't going to be on the stage in Tampa accepting the Republican nomination.
"Second, it is a sign that with our political process awash in money, the financial barriers for entry aren't really there anymore. With so much money sloshing around, we are likely to see some fairly marginal candidates raising money comparable to the front-runners of just a few presidential cycles ago. In 2012, super PACs kept Newt Gingrich and Santorum in the race long after the natural process would have winnowed them out.
"Third, this much interest reflects a perception that, despite the demographic challenges facing the Republican Party, this nomination is worth having—that there is a fair chance that one of these people will be the next president of the United States. Just as Bush is not scaring would-be GOP candidates from seeking the nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the seemingly inevitable Democratic choice, is hardly seen as unbeatable."
Our contestants for most depressing story of April 2015 so far include Iran, Baltimore, and the nothing-to-see-here media response to a likely jihadist shooting in suburban Texas. But I promised you there was worse out there, so let's look behind door number four:
Here we have an op-ed from Columbia University's student paper, the Spectator, about the terrible, horrible, experience some students have had reading … Ovid. Trigger warning: There was "triggering" involved. To wit:
During the week spent on Ovid's "Metamorphoses," the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
Ovid's "Metamorphoses" is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.
Read the whole thing. It's not as bad as you might imagine. It's worse.
But for our winner, we have to go to the gay marriage crusade. In this week's issue of the STANDARD, Mark Hemingway tells the story of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a little bakery from just outside of Portland, Oregon. One day, a lesbian showed up and asked for a cake for her wedding. The couple who own the shop politely declined the business, explaining that they were Christians and couldn't, in good faith, be a part of a same-sex wedding service.
You know what happened next: The gay-marriage crusaders descended on Sweet Cakes. The shop was driven out of business. So far, so bad—we've seen this movie before. But then an administrative judge in Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries levied a fine on Melissa and Aaron Klein, the former owners of Sweet Cakes, more than a year and a half after the couple had been driven out of business. The fine was for $135,000.
But wait—there's more! Some people were outraged by this draconian administrative abuse and set up a crowdfunding page to help the Kleins on the website GoFundMe.com. (In much the same way the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana were helped out when they ran afoul of the gay-marriage crusaders for having thought the wrong things.) In just a few hours $109,000 was raised for the Kleins. But the gay-marriage crusaders weren't finished. Led by the owner of a very gay-marriage friendly bakery in Portland, the crusaders petitioned GoFundMe to deactivate the Kleins' fund.
So this is the world we now live in: Two individuals who don't want to provide one discrete service based on deeply-held religious convictions—and for which there are plenty of remedies from other providers—can now have their business destroyed and be pursued and bankrupted by the state far after the fact.
But a another business—a big one, it turns out—is allowed to decline to provide services to those individuals because doing so contradicts its support of same-sex marriage. And that sort of discrimination is genuine, bona fide, A-1, okey-dokey.
If you were given to such thoughts, you might think we live in a world gone mad.
But since I don't want be all doom-and-gloom this week, I'll leave with three items to hearten you. First, I mentioned Rusty Reno's extraordinary statement of principle last week, but I gave you the wrong link. Here it is. It is absolutely worth reading in full.
And finally, if you're a man between the ages of 35 and 45, this Punch-Out dramatization of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will leave you on the floor. The humor, I'm afraid will be lost on everyone else. But for my cohort, it's gold.
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