The Nexus of Shlock

For some time now I've had this theory about the general decline of American Culture that I've termed "The Mediocritization of America" or, alternately, "The NASCARization of America."  I still don't understand the thrill of watching cars drive in circles.  Of course then I don't understand "American Idol," either.

I saw this little tidbit in the paper this evening (hard copy, delivered to my doorstep, Luddite that I am):  "In Harlequin-Nascar Romance, Hearts Race."  Dreadful writing meets mind-numbing sport and breeds proof that we're on some truly terrifying Crisco-covered slope (or should that be 10-40 drenched?).  The New York Times includes this sample:

"It was not clear whether any of these participants experienced the same life-changing emotions felt by Kendall Clarke, the mousy-seeming heroine of the first novel in the new series, perhaps not coincidentally called Speed Dating. Clad only in a demi-bra, high-cut panties and a slip, she finds herself sitting in a sports car next to the fictional Nascar driver Dylan Hargreave on the night when she is supposed to receive the Sharpened Pencil Award given to Actuary of the Year. 'She’d never done anything this wild in her life,' she thinks. 'Oh, it felt good.'"

The motivation is, of course, commercial. "Mark Dyer, vice president of licensing for Nascar, said: 'Look at our stats. Forty percent of our fans are women, and among younger fans it’s trending toward 50-50.” He added that according to Nascar surveys 72 percent of female fans enjoy reading and are more likely than nonfans to purchase books.'"

NASCAR fans are more likely than non-fans to buy books? Does that mean I should be a fan? I always preferred drag racing.

Someone explain this to me.

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    confused confused

RIP Ann Richards

She admitted to not being perfect, but she was a powerful influence on many women in politics and others for personal reasons.  If you've never seen her keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention, see it here.

Study labeling NPR as "liberal" flawed

Here's a surprise: the report that Ken Tomlinson is using to prove bias at NPR is based on flawed research.

Tomlinson paid Kenneth Mann of the National Journalism Center $14,000 to produce the report. The National Journalism Center's alumni include Ann Coulter and is associated with the Young America's Foundation, the self-described "principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement."

Mann tried hard to quantify his results--after all, numbers don't lie, right? And numbers are convincing, right? So, if he claimed that "liberal" guests on the Diane Rehm show outnumbered conservatives 22 to 5, that would seem to be a pretty clear bias, right? One small problem with the tally: ALL critics of the Bush administration were labeled as "liberals," regardless of their affiliations. Two examples: Bob Barr and Chuck Hegel.

All of the details are in a Washington Post article, "CPB Liberal Bias Study Flawed, Critics Say."

Missing the story (again)

Blog Precursor: Letters to the Editor

It's sad when the most eye-opening and informative thing that I read in this morning's Plain Dealer was a letter to the editor.

The letter in questions was from the Rev. Dr. John Lentz of Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights. He wrote to express his opposition to and inform readers about the Ohio Restoration Project.

In brief, the plan, associated closely with Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (he's also a candidate for governor), is to recruit 2,000 "patriot pastors" (read: SPECIFICALLY Christian) who will recruit "100 Intecessors," 200 "Minutemen Volunteers," and register 300 new voters (read details here). You do the math.

Here is a plan to openly and publicly erase the line between church and state, violating every election law that prohibits direct church involvement in the electoral process and it is receiving NO mainstream press coverage from the "liberal media." This gives a whole new meaning to the motto prominently posted on the Secretary of State's website: "Change Our World."

Of course I did get my "Seinfeld Preview" on the local news this morning and my "American Idol" recap.
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Speaking of Hunter S. Thompson. . . .

I had a long day Monday. I started the day in the extreme NE corner of Ohio, a town called Conneaut that hugs the PA border. After 8 hours at a school, I returned to Cleveland, picked up a company van, and drove to Cincinnati (for those non-geography majors, that's in the opposite corner of the state, almost 30o miles away). In between, something weird happened.

On the way from Conneaut, my colleague, Steve, turns to me and asked if I ever read any Hunter S. Thompson. We spent about a half hour swapping quotes, reminiscences, and lore. The drive was a gentle reminder of period of time when people actually read books and articles on a regular basis and that intelligent discussion of those works was the mark of an well-rounded person. I was pleasantly surprised (no offense intended, Steve) to discover that one of my co-workers shared some of my tastes in literature and humor.

We stopped at the office, I swapped vehicles, and left for Cinci. One of the first stories I heard on NPR was HST's obit. I can't quite explain the feeling that overcame me. My first thought was that Steve must have heard about the suicide earlier in the day and that must have prompted his question. I immediately got Steve on the phone to find out. No--he hadn't heard before I told him. So we spent a few moments comparing our "something is really weird about this" reactions. Then we agreed to, separately, drink a memorial toast to Hunter S. Thompson later in the evening.

I generally reacted to HST's writing with a combination of wonder, amusment, and horror. I learned a lot about of lot of things that I've never directly experienced--and don't really have much desire to experience. His writing was vivid enough to make me understand what it felt like to touch the iron--without getting burned in the process.

And now, post mortem, he gives me another connection to a fellow human being.

Thanks, Hunter. Rest in peace.
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    contemplative contemplative

(no subject)

Does this strike anyone
else as a problem?

The Powers That Be refuse
to address national health care, but they do plan on tightening bankruptcy laws
to protect creditors. . .

Problems Cause Half of Personal Bankruptcies

By Karen Pallarito

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDayNews)
-- Illness and medical bills contributed to roughly half the personal bankruptcy
filings in 2001, affecting as many as 2.2 million Americans, a new Harvard
study says.

More than 75 percent of
the filers had insurance, but many of them lost coverage during their illness,
the research showed.

I watched my aunt and uncle
go through worse. My aunt had an aneurysm followed by surgery. The surgery created
a wound that never healed and she never regained consciousness. She was brain
dead but kept "alive" by machines for over a year an a half (my uncle
was told by his minister that my aunt's muschle twitches were signs from god
that she was trying to come back--but that's another story). It seemed like
much longer. Long and short of it, the insurance ran our quickly (aunt had been
a cleaning lady in a hospital and uncle worked for the state highway department).
The only option to pay for care was Medicaid--but my uncle would have to give
up the house to qualify. He's allowed to live there until he dies--then it goes
to the government. I don't know what happens if he needs care. . . .


Responding to a Mid-life Crisis

My friend Sam is having a mid-life crisis, which he wrote about at great and eloquent length at I've posted my response below

You are SO on the money with your concerns about the state of the world, country, career, education, etc. that I don't really know where to begin.

Two points:

The Dumbing Down of America started in the 1970s--but not for the reasons people usually give. Conservatives usually blame the educational experimentalization of the 1960s for our sad state--but what did that produce? You, me, and a lot of people like us. The move to "back to the basics" took root in the late 70s and we've been going backwards ever since. It should come as no surprise that we're back to questioning evolution. Ever since the Goldwater era, when Kennedy's people were referred to as "effete eastern intellectuals," there has been a movement to paint intelligence and intellectualism as suspect. In this period that I've dubbed "The NASCARization of America," that which is low culture is preferable to anything previously considered "cultural." At least for people of average income.

Second, I'm waiting for the end of public education as we know it. As we become--as we seem to becoming--the "ownership society," only so many people can "own." That includes education. Only so many people can afford to "own" a "good" education. The rest have to make do. And, quite frankly, when all a
young person has to look forward to is a job at WalMart and food from McDonald's (or the other way around), why bother with education? Why bother with LEARNING? And the First Amendment? It means NOTHING to people who don't THINK. If religion and politics cease to be THOUGHT about, argued intelligently, or viewed as dynamic, then why would people be concerned about threats to them? People are increasingly unwilling to support public education in an argument that goes something like this, "I'm paying too much for something rotten and I know it's rotten because the media tells me so based on test results. Teachers are lazy,
greedy, and stupid." Of course there's not enough money to get them in the classroom for a day. . . .

Okay, now I'M getting depressed and I've got two months until my birthday. . . .
  • Current Music
    Mutiny on the Bounty (movie, not music)