Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bill O'Reilly Cherry Picks


This week Bill O'Reilly offered one of his typical columns: "The Gospel According To Nancy." In it he's stunned to learn Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged the Catholic clergy to campaign for immigration reform.

O'Reilly claims: "For decades, liberal Americans have been hammering conservatives about the alleged 'wall of separation' between church and state."

That's O'Reilly pretending to believe his own propaganda.

Truth is, for decades "conservatives" like O'Reilly have been hammering "liberals" as godless atheists bent on forcing church-state separation on the rest of America. It was great propaganda. Anybody paying attention knows it was propaganda. Both the left and right have always used religion to promote their agendas. Ever heard of Martin Luther King, Jr?

So today O'Reilly chooses to acknowledge the well-known fact that "liberals" mix religion and politics. He feigns surprise. I can see him chewing bubblegum while nodding his head to the Jonas Brothers. "Like, WOW, dude!"

The only surprise is that people keep listening to this pretender. The way I see it we have two choices. Either O'Reilly is an idiot, or he thinks everyone else is. He lies when he implies the left has no interest in mixing church and state. He lies when he "discovers" the lie he helped create. O'Reilly is reliably dishonest. He weaves stories that sell: political fictions -- a popular genre these days.

But O'Reilly is not finished with this fable. The real issue, it seems, is abortion. He notes that Pelosi is "a Catholic who is stridently pro-choice." He warns: "you can't cherry pick your issue, Madame Speaker, and the Gospels are quite clear about the sanctity of life. Are they not?"

Well, not quite. We cannot separate the Gospels from the rest of the Bible. That's cherry picking. And if we look at the whole, this alleged "sanctity of life" quickly becomes muddled. How much sanctity is there in godly mass murder? We can't exit Genesis without being forced to ask that question. And the answer doesn't look too promising. The Bible, if looked at honestly, is not about the sanctity of human life. At most, it's about sanctity of a certain kind of belief, a certain kind of authority, a certain set of laws. As for human life, Paul says it best: "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh." That sentiment is the opposite of human sanctification.

At least Paul looked inside and found his innards wanting. I doubt O'Reilly takes that step. I doubt he bothers to peek inside at all.

-- Don Jindra

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dirty Blonde Strikes


At the end of the day, Ann Coulter is as serious as a chipped nail. In a curious puff piece she claims, At the End of the Day, Diversity Has Jumped the Shark. What prompted her latest outburst? It was horrible. General George Casey "responded to a massacre of 13 Americans in which the suspect is a Muslim by saying: 'Our diversity ... is a strength.'"

Well, that travesty nearly ranks up there with a botched pedicure. To Coulter, diversity is like painting each fingernail a different color. We can't have that! She asserts: "Never in recorded history has diversity been anything but a problem." It's true, color coordination is so cool. Clearly nail polish and high heels must match the blouse. We wouldn't want fashion-clash, would we? No, not like nasty "Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian populations."

I wonder why she didn't mention the USA with its nasty religious diversity and ethnicity? Has this been nothing but a problem? A failure? Does she crave the uniformity of a national church? What about capitalism with its economic diversity? Was the USSR's coordinated state monopoly a worker paradise? Is this what she envies? Or could she envy the Muslim world. They managed to keep diversity in check. How is it working out? What if we fielded a football team and put a 300 pound offensive tackle in every position. Does that sound like a winning team?

Ann Coulter and her breed are overrunning the conservative movement. They're nothing but issue whores. Coulter may be more upscale than most but that doesn't change what she is. As soon as a case can be made that "liberals" are for something, the issue whores line up against it. The issue doesn't matter. It's done for easy money, this breed being too lazy for actual thought. I might say it's done for easy political capital but that's too generous. In reality, Coulter's whole article is little more than an excuse to promote her own "electrifying" book, Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America. Politics is the means. Self-satisfaction is the end.

For those of you who are tired of lipstick conservatives, let's remember "America's most irritating cliche" was at one time a firmly held conservative belief. Conservatives used to cherish diversity. "Balance, diversity, creativity -- these are the elements of Republican equation" -- so said Barry Goldwater in his 1964 acceptance speech. His conservatives "cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments." He added, "This is a party, this Republican Party, a Party for free men, not for blind followers, and not for conformists." But the Coulter wing of the Republican Party, which now seems to be virtually the whole thing, is a party of conformists. They worship conformity. They loathe the evil called diversity. They've forgotten Ronald Reagan who championed it:
It seems to me that America is constantly reinventing what "America" means. We adopt this country's phrases and that country's art, and I think it's really closer to the truth to say that America has assimilated as much as her immigrants have. It's made for a delightful diversity, and it's made us a stronger and a more vital nation.

But our diversity is not only ethnic. You'll find, if you haven't already, that this country is full of different and, sometimes, conflicting ideas and philosophies. Walk by a newspaper stand, and you'll see scores of magazines and newspapers arguing this point and that. Listen to television and radio, and you'll hear more than enough opinions with which to agree and disagree. In fact, if you don't over the next several years find one time, at least, when you feel like taking off your shoe and throwing it at a television screen, then you will have missed out on one of the great American moments. [1]

Even Coulter's one-time hero, George W. Bush spoke the dreaded cliche: "But I am mindful that diversity is one of the strengths of the country." [2]

Coulter is a symptom of the death of the conservative movement. It's not a shell of its former self, it's the reverse of its earlier self. No doubt something will rise out of the ashes of the 2008 defeats. But it won't be conservativsm. It won't be freedom loving. And in a country made great and defined by its cliched diversity, it won't be truly American.

-- Don Jindra

Notes:

[1] Remarks at Naturalization Ceremonies for New United States Citizens in Detroit, Michigan, found here.

[2] When asked about an impending Supreme Court nomination, quoted here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brent Bozell's Moral Lapses


It's funny how conservatives claim the moral high ground but end up wallowing in their own stench. In Seeing Moral Grays in 9/11, Brent Bozell, president of the right-wing Media Research Center, breathlessly asks, "Does The Washington Post really think that the death and destruction of 9/11 'could' be right, or 'could' be wrong?"

Well, no they don't. There is not a hint of that question in the article he fusses over.

Bozell is first bothered by the headline: "9/11 trial could become a parable of right and wrong: Before worldwide audience, both prosecution, defense seek control of narrative." But this is simply laying out the stakes. There is no attempt to make a case for or against moral certainties. The Post's "news analysis" is not about matters of right and wrong, nor is there any reason it should be.

But a propagandist like Bozell demands stories with his peculiar point of view. Apparently the world revolves around Bozell. If stories don't focus on his favorite theme he'll simply lie about them and refocus the "analysis" in his terms. This is the heart of a liar.

Does Bozell deny that "both sides hope to use the case to define Sept. 11 as a parable of right and wrong?" Careful readers don't need to "dismiss" this prediction as what Bozell deceptively terms "willful moral ignorance." Morality is no part of it. The article merely makes a prediction about what both sides will do. And because Bozell is itching so badly to cast the trial as a parable of right and wrong, he's proving the prediction correct.

Bozell asserts: "Liberal journalists always admonished President Bush for his 'arrogance' and 'certitude,' and this is what they meant: He remained certain that the Americans who died on 9/11 were victimized, and were denied their civil liberties in the most complete and horrific way." But the Post article contains no evidence for Bozell's weird accusation. Nowhere does the text imply the victims of 9/11 were not "denied their civil liberties in the most complete and horrific way." Bozell simply invents a lie. This is how the Media Research Center comes up with its bogus evidence. It crafts lies and depends on eager, uncritical followers to swallow every falsehood.

Bozell may be correct, "most Americans would prefer hustling KSM to the top of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty and throwing him off." But we are a nation of laws, not of mobs. Did conservatives stop believing in the rule of law?

Bozell takes offense that the article quoted David Cole without calling him a liberal. But the article also quoted Frances Fragos Townsend without calling her a conservative. So Bozell has no use for fairness. His game is called Tag All Liberals. When someone doesn't play his game and follow his rules he cries foul like a spoiled child.

Bozell ends with a whopper: "Why can't our media have enough respect for facts and for their fellow countrymen that we can all see a mass-murderer like KSM as a much greater villain than say, our naked-pyramid builders at Abu Ghraib?" But does Bozell offer a shred of evidence that either the article or our media sees our naked-pyramid builders at Abu Ghraib as greater villains than KSM? No he doesn't. He imagines what is not there. No evidence is required in his craft. He's a true propagandist. No doubt his big lies will take root in uncultivated fields.

-- Don Jindra

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Olasky's Obfuscation


Marvin Olasky predictibly asks, is there morality without God? He claims to find his answer from an "unlikely source," one Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (hereafter called WSA), "an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to depend on the Bible."

WSA complains his Dartmouth students often use Dostoevsky's memorable line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." Apparently WSA disagrees. So Olasky put WSA to the test. The test consisted of one written question: Is abortion wrong?

Now let's remember we have only Olasky's side of this story and he's not the most credible source. Anyone who implies a moral foundation reduces to that one question is not serious about getting at truth. But let's play anyway.

It turns out WSA didn't understand this was a true-false test, so he replied there is no "simple solution to this complex problem, .. the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders." He went into needless elaboration: "What matters is the present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions."

That's a freshman mistake. The student obviously didn't understand the nature of a true or false test. Even if a check box is not provided the student always needs to supply what the professor expects. Conservative professors like Olasky want simplistic answers. That means true or false, sometimes multiple choice. For obvious reasons essays are forbidden. There's no point in confusing the professor.

Olasky pressed the issue. He practically gave WSA the answer by asking for clarification on how "harm to the fetus" related to other, non-fatal harms. WSA still didn't get it. He responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble.... They are just too difficult for us to figure out.... The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common."

That's a refusal to circle T or F. As a last resort Olasky asked him if people could really live with "I don't know." WSA responded, "Why not? People get used to having a belief about everything, but they do not have to. Life can be lived like an experiment where you guess but do not believe until you see how it turns out."

Olasky comes across as a patient man but this had him seeing red, as in "Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other Communists." It strikes me that these were not 'I don't know' fellows. They were certain they knew. Olasky hedges a bit by claiming we should have known "the preaching of class conflict, envy, and resentment will have ... real-life effects." The implication is clear. He blames "I don't know" for millions of deaths but clearly "I do know" was the true culprit. It wasn't shades of gray that lead to 20th century horrors. It was good old-fashioned black and white certainty. So Olasky's certainty condemns the innocent.

He justifies his bad verdict with the following: "In theory, a person might say he doesn't know what's ethical in regard to abortion. In practice, he or she has to choose. Should a college cover abortion in its health plan or not? Gotta choose. A young man calls up and says his girlfriend is pregnant. Gotta choose. A professor claims to ride the fence. Gotta choose."

Gotta set Olasky straight: I don't have to choose if my neighbor's health plan covers abortion. My neighbor gets to choose. A boyfriend doesn't have to choose childbirth for his girlfriend. It's her body, not his. She chooses. The moment he deposited his sperm into her body he gave her that right. The professor, be he liberal or conservative, has no right to use the State to make these personal choices for us. But a statist like 'compassionate' conservative Olasky demands a "moral" government that imposes itself into our most private affairs. He quotes Proverbs, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."

Translation: "Trust in the State with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." That's ultimately where "I know" leads.

Olasky ends by returning to Dostoevsky. But everyone who has studied history should know Dostoevsky was 180 degrees wrong. A supposed knowledge of God does not limit moral behavior. In fact, with God, everything is permitted. No crime has proven to be beyond biblical justification. Not even laws of nature are safe. A capricious God might stand the sun still or raise the dead for his own amusement.

Deep in our hearts we know, whether we admit it or not, that morality does not come from holy books. It's usually an instantaneous and overwhelming reaction. Olasky may not like it but there is no way around it. "We don't know" is a perfectly valid answer to a question which waits for no answer.

Antelope don't know why they travel in herds. Geese don't know why they mate for life. Why should we be expected to know why human cultures universally agree murder is wrong? Why is morality such a sacred question?

I don't need to know why my hand hurts when I stick it into a flame. The Bible doesn't answer the question. My body provides all the information I need and it reaches a decision fairly quickly. I yank my hand out of the flame to stop the pain. My body reaches a good decision without introspection and without God's help.

Let's say I need some sleep but my neighbor insists playing loud rap music at 2am is good for his soul. Do I consult my Bible to see if I'm being wronged? Do I look for a godly definition of "too loud?" Do I search for the proper chapter and verse which will fill my neighbor with the fear of God? No. But that's Olasky's pretension. The other, equally silly pretension is that I should consider my sleep deprivation in relativistic terms. My neighbor doesn't have the same point of view on the need for my sleep. He suggests my sleep requirements are a cultural construct. I proceed to reconstruct his nose.

I say both the certainty of an Olasky and the moral relativism he fears are wrong.

Olasky asserts God is the alternative to "I don't know." But he merely masks his own ignorance. God is an evasion. It's no answer. It finalizes nothing. God is a one-word rephrasing of WSA's answer. When Moses asked God his name, he answered, "I am that I am." More simply, "I just am." God just is, like morality just is. To base morality on God is to base it on "just is." So Olasky's answer is no more of an answer than the atheistic Dartmouth professor. God ultimately means accept this because, "I don't know."


-- Don Jindra

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conservative Dupes -- Part 1


So let's examine how easily conservatives are duped. Of course they're not alone. All ideologues are prone to believe what their ideology says must be so. But for now I'm putting conservatives under the microscope. I'm afraid this is going to be a long series.

Cal Thomas published Communism's Enablers and Excusers which claims to show how the "liberal media were the handmaidens of one of the greatest totalitarian evils to strike the planet."

But the article is laughable. The alleged evidence is fraudulent.

First, Thomas attacks Strobe Talbott. Supposedly Talbott, "soon to be an influential member of the Clinton administration," wrote, "(Soviet leader) Gorbachev is helping the West by showing that the Soviet threat isn’t what it used to be, and what’s more, that it never was.” But a quick check of the source, Time magazine, Jan. 1, 1990, confirms Talbott, did not write that sentence. It was a teaser in the table of contents. The Time staff wrote it. If Thomas had bothered to read the article he would have learned what Talbot did write about. He characterized the Soviet Union as an "ossifying, demoralizing, brutalizing system of institutionalized inefficiency," a "stultified Soviet society, economy and culture" which was "trudging down its own dead end." Talbot assured us "the place is a hopeless mess where nothing works" and that it was history's "damning revelation" that the soviet system was "a huge mistake."

This is an "enabler?" In conservative circles this passes for excusing communism?

Thomas asks, "How is it possible to simultaneously have been a threat, but not a threat?" Of course Talbott simply argued the threat was overblown. The whole soviet system was a wreck, including the military. Militarily they were never our match. And maybe more important, ideologically they were never a serious threat.

Thomas admits as much. He's alarmed that Dan Rather said, in 1987, “Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy.” But for decades conservatives have warned us repeatedly and hysterically that we Americans are being turned red by covert propaganda. Apparently conservatives believe Americans are weak. We're manipulated by Hollywood's subliminal commie messages and fall under the spell of leftist professors. But those hearty Russians can tolerate 70 years of overt commie propaganda day and night and still crave capitalism. In the twisted, contradictory logic of Cal Thomas a Dan Rather becomes an "enabler" simply because he assumes what nearly every conservative assumes -- that communist propaganda works.

Still, does history not show Rather was right? Some would say Putin's popular grip on Russia looks more like Stalinism than Western democracy.

The irony is that Rather could have made those remarks about conservatives. Despite their rhetoric, many conservatives do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy. In their minds, those have led to cultural decay, atheism, and weakness. Certainly neocons and theocons reject the Enlightenment principles behind Western democracy and therefore reject it at the foundational level.

Second, the article asserts a LA Times reporter touted "communism’s ‘good old days,’ when the hand of the state crushed personal freedom but ensured that people were housed, employed and had enough to eat."

But this misrepresents the LA Times report (by Carol J. Williams). The reporter's sentence was: "Living conditions are so much worse in the reform era that Bulgarians look back fondly on communism's 'good old days,' when the hand of the state crushed personal freedom but ensured that people were housed, employed and had enough to eat."

The reporter did not "tout" communism's 'good old days' at all. She merely reported that some Bulgarians did. She reported what some Bulgarians perceived as their new-found condition. Conservatives whine about liberal political correctness but when it comes right down to it conservatives want their own version. It's politically incorrect to report a transition from communism to capitalism might have a few bumps in the road. It seems conservatives want only a rosy picture. They want "and they lived happily ever-after." Anything else is "excusing" communism.

Similarly, Thomas claims a 2006 Associated Press story said, “For all its flaws, life in Cuba has its comforts. Many Cubans take pride in their free education system, high literacy rates and top-notch doctors. Ardent Castro supporters say life in the United States, in contrast, seems selfish, superficial and -- despite its riches -- ultimately unsatisfying.”

This is a botched quote. Here is more of it:

"For all its flaws, life in Castro's Cuba has its comforts, and unknown alternatives are not automatically more attractive. The idea of Cuba without 'El Comandante,' who has been in power for nearly five decades, provokes alarm and uncertainty -- and a tremendous fear they could lose their way of life.... Drew Blakeney, spokesman for the U.S. mission in Havana, acknowledged that Cubans are fearful of change. 'This is something totally new and disorienting for them,' he said. 'There seems to be a lot of fear, and a lot of worry, after 47 years of constant rule by one person.'"

Obviously this reporter is merely relaying what some Cubans think. There was a fear that Castro's ill-health would lead to change. Surely conservatives -- who fear change -- should understand this. But Thomas wants us to believe the reporter is "enabling" communism. That's clearly untrue. Thomas cannot seem to separate the messenger from the message.

Third, Thomas finds fault with John Chancellor who said in one of his many reports, “the problem isn’t communism; nobody even talked about communism this week. The problem is shortages.” But what was the context? Thomas is either too lazy or too deceptive to tell us.

So I'll tell you.

It happened on the August 21, 1991, NBC Nightly News broadcast. That was the day the Russian coup fell apart. The soviet hard-liners had tried to oust Gorbachev. But they failed. Gorbachev's dismantling of communism would now continue. Tom Brokaw opened the news with these words: "This is a day for bold print in history to be remembered and savored as the day when the power of the people in the Soviet Union proved to be greater than the power of the gray and cold blooded men who thought they could return that country to the darkness of state oppression.” Later when Chancellor was asked what was next, of course the answer was not centered on communism. That issue had just been settled. Gorbachev's pressing problem was in doing something about the shortages. On that day communism appeared to be behind them.

Only an ignorant propagandist could construe Chancellor's remarks as an "enabling" of communism. "Wait," writes Thomas, "according to the Los Angeles Times reporter, there were no shortages because everyone was housed, employed and had enough to eat? Both can’t be true." But Thomas is wallowing in his ignorance. As shown earlier, the reporter did no such thing.

Thomas accuses Time magazine of a "howler" when it described Gorbachev as “the communist pope and the Soviet Martin Luther.” Well, he was the then leader of the communist religion and he did ask at least 95 questions. That "howler" is from the "Man of the Decade" story in 1990. It describes a soviet system that "lumbered on for years in a dusk of denial." Gorbachev was faced with "the salvation of an entire society that has gone astray." He had "not found an answer to the question of how communism can be redeemed and still be communism." "He is trying to transform a government that was not just bad or inept but inherently destructive, its stupidity regularly descending into evil." And: "Despite the pretensions of Marx and Lenin, the system that bears their name is manifestly not the ordained design of history, not superior to all others, and not even the master of its own house."

Thomas may not like Time's characterization of Gorbachev, but honestly, how "enabling" is that article? Does it sound like Time wanted to run out in the streets and join a communist parade? Are they singing the praises of the system? The ideology?

Cal Thomas is not credible. He based his article on "research" by the Media Research Center. They are not credible. In fact, they are outright liars. Thomas may have been a simple dupe. He wanted to believe so bad he never bothered to check original sources. But this is no excuse. In fact, it's one of the main problems. We have ideologues like Thomas who pass on lies simply because they don't want to know the truth, or worse, don't trust the truth.


-- Don Jindra

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Medved's Immediate Gratification


I suppose psychoanalyzing the masses is a cheap thrill. The so-called Balloon Boy incident permits Michael Medved an opportunity to do just that. So here's the doctor's report: We "gullible millions" need an "escape from the dull, predictable aspects of our own lives into a world that seems bigger and better." The "excitement and immediacy" of "clearly delineated climaxes" resulting in "triumphs or tragedy" provides "satisfying denouement" and "voyeuristic thrill." We crave "clear winners and losers" and get caught up in the latest "short-lived national craze." We are addicted to "showy spectacle" and "tube-ready extravaganzas." "We cherish coverage that allows us to believe that we're part of unfolding history-viewing occurrences of epic significance or grandeur."

All this he gets from news coverage of a pointlessly floating balloon. A sensible person might analyze news organizations. But Medved is omniscient. He looks into the privacy of our homes. He knows exactly what we think. He knows our desires and needs.

It reminds me of Adorno and Horkheimer's silly Marxist critique of the culture industry. The media's barrage of "mass deception" will not allow "any suspicion that resistance is possible." Regardless of what is promised, there is no escaping "everyday drudgery." Everything leads back to the same ridiculous starting point. So says the Marxist. It's a sad day when conservatives are in basic agreement.

Medved has a prescription. He will heal us through the "mature realization" that recommended dosages of "incremental change" will provide "slow, steady progress toward goals" and "quiet but lasting rewards earned through discipline and deferred gratification."

Medved is more than a frustrated Freudian. His psychobabble has a political agenda. He conjures up an "Age of Obama." Apparently Obama "offers the same powerful appeal" as balloon-boy. For example, the "president and his minions" supposedly provide an "all-or-nothing attitude toward health-care reform." We must choose from two stark options: "either a sweeping, glorious victory" or a "shattering, tragic defeat." Democrats will either claim "exclusive credit," or "a shattering, tragic defeat for which they can blame Republicans."

Does anyone but a confused ideologue believe this melodrama? Obama has gone out of his way to find a compromise on health care. He has shown great flexibility. Republicans are the ones painting the canvas in broad strokes of black and white. Everything is "socialistic" even when there is no serious proposal to nationalize hospitals, doctors or insurance. Do conservatives even know what socialism is? I doubt it. The term is simply used as a slur. Why don't they refer to the military as socialistic? After all, it's much more socialistic than any health plan put forward so far.

But here are some better questions for Medved. Were "liberals" tuned into the balloon-boy event in greater numbers than "conservatives?" Does Medved have numbers on that? Were the conservative viewers plagued by the failed "Age of Bush?" Maybe the "fresher fetish or fad" is more politically acceptable when it's an angry Town Hall meeting, Tea Party, or "Shock and Awe" bombing run in Baghdad. What would Medved make of the “Baby Jessica” coverage in 1987 during the "Age of Reagan?" What was our national disease then?

Face it. Showy spectacles and tube-ready extravaganzas are a conservative staple. It's either idiocy or hypocrisy for Medved to imply the balloon-boy event had anything to do with an "Age of Obama" or similar events will disappear once he is gone.


-- Don Jindra

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Mad Workings of a Neocon -- Part 1


David P. Goldman, aka Spengler, has written a piece for First Things which I offer as a typical example of neoconservative drivel. It's entitled "Be Afraid -- Be Very Afraid" and is ostensibly about the growing horror movie market.

It's true, in the cyclical nature of the movie business horror is on an upswing. It's climbed to around six percent of the market. A reasonable person would see six percent as a niche. And the numbers are somewhat subjective anyway so we have to be careful not to overplay the significance. Not so for Goldman: "what used to be a Hollywood curiosity" is now "a mainstream product." To create his sense of foreboding he imagines an invasion:
"Among all the film genres, horror began as the most alien to America. The iconic examples of the genre in the 1930s required European actors and exotic locales -- vampires from central Europe, for example, and zombies from Haiti."
But how alien was horror to America? As early as 1910 Edison Studios -- an American company if there ever was one -- made a 16 minute short of Frankenstein, the world's first. Staring as the monster was not some European import but Ohio-born Charles Ogle. Another early Frankenstein was the 1915 American production, "Life Without Soul", directed by Massachusetts born Joseph W. Smiley.

In 1913 a short American film called The Werewolf might have been the world's first Werewolf film and it was based on a Navajo legend, not the European.

In 1914 Kentuckian D.W. Griffith released The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

In 1917 there was an American adaptation of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" called The Darling of Paris which stared Ohio native Theda Bara as Esmeralda. Five years later America produced a more faithful "Hunchback of Notre Dame", this time famously staring Colorado native Lon Chaney and directed by American Wallace Worsley.

Chaney appeared in the 1923 American production While Paris Sleeps, a horror movie based on the novel "The Glory of Love" by Britisher Leslie Beresford. Another Chaney notable was A Blind Bargain from 1922. In 1925 he appeared unforgettably as The Phantom of the Opera. Two years later he appeared in the vampire film London After Midnight written and directed by American Tod Browning. That same year Browning and Chaney teamed again in The Unknown. This time Chaney's character has his arms hacked off for true love, an act which ultimately means nothing since his girl falls for someone else. "A visit to the dissecting room in a hospital would be quite as pleasant," claimed the New York Evening Post review. It's certain that Chaney, not Bela Lugosi, would have been the 1931 Dracula had it not been for Chaney's early death.

Also notable in 1927 was The Cat and the Canary based on the American stage-play and staring American Laura La Plante.

Simply following the career of Lon Chaney or Missourian Vincent Price would convince us horror was not alien to America. It did not require European actors. It's true that many horror films were set in "exotic locales," but most movies were set in exotic locales, including romance. Is romance foreign to America? I suppose it's not fair to expect honest analysis from a neocon. They have higher interests.

Goldman continues: "By 1948, the few horror films being made were the likes of Abbott and Costello encountering Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster. Laughing at monsters was emblematically American -- and remained so, as when Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder did it, perhaps best of all, in 1974 with Young Frankenstein."

However America did not wait for Abbott and Costello to discover comedy in horror. We were laughing at The Monster and Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde in 1925, followed by The Bat (1926), The Gorilla (1927), The Old Dark House (1932), Bob Hope's Ghost Breakers (1940), Zombies on Broadway (1944) and even Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). Goldman wants us to believe after 1947 "nightmares of tormented Europeans were mostly naturalized as sight gags for American adolescents." But it's difficult to understand how anyone could reach that conclusion. Quite a lot must be ignored. Here's a partial list of traditional horror produced in America during that time period:

Thing from Another World (1951)
The Black Castle (1952)
Donovan's Brain (1953)
House of Wax (1953)
Them! (1954)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Mad Magician (1954)
Cult of the Cobra (1955)
Dementia (1955)
The She-Creature (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Back from the Dead (1957)
Blood of Dracula (1957)
The Cyclops (1957)
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)
The Disembodied (1957)
From Hell It Came (1957)
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
The Undead (1957)
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
The Blob (1958)
Bride and the Beast (1958)
Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)
The Fly (1958)
Earth vs. the Spider (1958)
Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)
I Bury the Living (1958)
Macabre (1958)
Monster on the Campus (1958)
Thing that Couldn't Die (1958)
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)
Curse of the Undead (1959)
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)
The Tingler (1959)
13 Ghosts (1960)
House of Usher (1960)
Psycho (1960)
Tormented (1960)
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
Homicidal (1961)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Premature Burial (1962)
Tales of Terror (1962)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The Birds (1963)
Blood Feast (1963)
The Haunting (1963)
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Color Me Blood Red (1963)
Dementia 13 (1963)
Diary of a Madman (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
The Flesh Eaters (1964)
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Incubus (1965)
Chamber of Horrors (1966)
A Taste of Blood (1967)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Last House on the Left (1972)
Sisters (1973)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Obviously American audiences were not laughing at every monster between 1948 and 1974. The "national mood" was much more complicated. Goldman insists with the "height of the national self-confidence that followed" World War II "the genre almost disappeared from American film." But the truth reveals a booming horror/sci-fi business in the 1950s. [1] Goldman is simply wrong.

In his "Monsters and mad scientists: a cultural history of the horror movie", Andrew Tudor noted: "Of the 990 horror films released in Briton between 1931 and 1984, 57% were American produced, 25% were British, 8% Italian, 4% French." (p.18) So, if horror was foreign and unnatural to Americans, how come we were the primary exporters of the business to the rest of the world? Ignorance is the neocon's natural resource.

Goldman is about my age so he grew up knowing what I know. All of us kids of the early 60s raced home from school to watch the scheduled afternoon sci-fi monster movie. We waited up late to see Shock Theater. Anyone who cares to argue that horror was, until lately, an American curiosity fed by foreign interests will have to explain Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Hitchcock Hour (1962-1965), Outer Limits (1963-1965), Dark Shadows (1966-1971), Night Gallery (1970-1973), and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). Sure, we laughed at The Addams Family (1964-1966) and The Munsters (1964-1966), but laughing was the exception, not the rule. Horror was regularly piped into our living rooms.

I suppose it's a given that Goldman's sloppy research would lead to "a pattern to the highs and lows of the horror genre." But with Goldman's shallow expertise there's little hope for deep and solemn thoughts. So prepare yourself for a series of bogus assertions that have no basis in reality nor any relation to the preceding. He asserts: "If you do not believe in God, you will believe in anything;" the corollary being, "if you do not feel God’s presence, you will become desperate to feel anything at all. Terror and horror create at least some kind of feeling."

Does Goldman have evidence that horror fanatics are irreligious? Do atheists and pagans watch more horror than Christians? Do Christians actually ever feel the presence of God? How do we measure and verify this alleged presence? Does Goldman know of a single documented case in which a person who does not feel the "presence" of God becomes desperate to feel anything, anything at all? I mean, do pagans or non-believers have difficulty feeling while Christians are sensory sponges? Where is Goldman's documentation?

There are other questions an honest seeker of truth would consider. How do we explain Christians flocking to Mel Gibson's visual horrorfest, The Passion of the Christ? Were they desperate to feel anything at all? Did bloody torture of their savior fill a vacuum in their sad lives? Did regular doses of horror from the "Left Behind" series leave them lusting for more? Or how about if we merely read the Bible and underlined all the horrific elements? Goldman must have his tongue firmly planted in cheek when he claims Christianity "stands, finally, as the rejection of the horrors that paganism always accepts and often embraces."

His assertions are idiotic and ignorant. But these are exactly the types of things neocons offer as learned observations. This is the neocon's method. It's mythmaking for a self-serving purpose. A dark mist rolls across the land. We should look over our shoulders for that looming demonic shadow. Without those neocon creations, those cultural bogeyman loitering "in dark corners just off the public square," nothing will get done. The people need terror. They react to monsters, not reason. A Straussian looks for the monster that "properly" scares the public, that's the only difference between Hollywood monsters and neocon monsters.

His nonsense continues: "After pornography has jaded the capacity to feel pleasure, what remains is the capacity to feel fear and pain." So now he dumps porn into the mix. It's becoming a grab-bag of spooks. It doesn't matter that nobody runs wires into brains to see if pornographic monsters jade a capacity to feel pleasure or pain. All that matters is that the target audience believes the appropriate ghouls are within striking distance.

Pagans have infiltrated the culture! They summon demons! Your children will be eaten alive!

Let's examine Goldman's claim that American horror is "all drawn from European fiction: Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray." Even if it were true (let's pretend Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Brockden Brown, and Nathaniel Hawthorne never existed), what's the relevance? Our political system is of European origin. Our religions were drawn from European roots. Our romance, mystery, tragedy and drama were all transplants from Europe. We are a young country. Goldman singles out horror because it's convenient. He ignores the implications of this convenience because it shows his point is practically universal to all endeavors and is therefore meaningless. Neocons have a habit of inventing false issues. They prey on people's gullibility.

So what is Goldman's purpose? What neocon web does he weave? That can be found in his baseless assertion that Christian "civilization stands, finally, as the rejection of the horrors that paganism always accepts and often embraces." In his mind it follows that our current 6% acceptance of those "pagan" horrors means we are a weakened Christian civilization. The "remnants of the old Teutonic nature-religion" are not underground anymore. Are these rumblings of an impending Nazi America? Not hardly. The solid Christian America of 1944, "the land of new beginnings and happy endings," crushed the Nazi monster, "and that was that. Americans did not want to think about it anymore." Good had triumphed over evil. It wasn't worth a second thought. The "neopagan" Nazi who wore "GOD WITH US" on his belt bragged, “We will either go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or the greatest criminals.” But "Christian" America knew better. History cannot make that judgment. Evil is evil no matter what history proclaims.

But that was 1944. Today we think too much. We see so many shades of good and evil we may not even recognize which is which. That's the rest of Goldman's fable. It's the Garden of Eden all over again. He's restating the first commandment: "From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat." In the 1960s a Serpent slithered into our garden. It appeared in "images of civilians burnt by napalm." Apocalypse Now tempted us with "the sense of being lost in a nightmare of pointless and pervasive cruelty." The Serpent's blasphemy was bold yet simple. The monsters were not chasing us, they were us.

That kind of thinking bought a ticket out of paradise.

So where to turn? How about a movie theater? In there "the sense of safety we derive from watching make-believe things helps us tolerate the prospect of real things."

This supposed tolerance -- or lack thereof (he can't decide) -- is Goldman's primary concern. In his article, "The Torture Debate Shows Our Vulnerability to Radical Evil" (May 12, 2009) he worries that "terror and horror will blot out the memory of the good and leave behind only the capacity for more evil." We find here the principal tenet of the neoconservative ideology: "The erosion of the West's theological understanding of good and evil since the Second World War and the Cold War leaves us vulnerable to radical evil." By vulnerable, Goldman is not concerned for your eternal soul. He's worried about your fighting spirit.

With typical neocon inanity Goldman invents a stalking monster called "radical evil." We must not confuse this evil with the more wholesome variation which merely "kills for profit or rapes for pleasure." The newfangled evil "has no object but to destroy the good, that is, to propagate evil for its own sake." As a mythical category it might include a Freddy Krueger, a Hannibal Lecter, various vampires, zombies and degenerate hillbillies with chain saws. But Goldman prefers to nominate Nazis, Vietnamese Communists and Islamic terrorists. So I guess he's kind of right. Islamic terrorists don't seem too radical after fighting off hordes of flesh-eating zombies in the comfort of a movie theater -- at least for those who, like Goldman, have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

But neocons are obsessed with fantasy games. Envision Saturday morning practice with plastic swords and magical incantations. Considering themselves first-rate mythmakers, great importance is attached to the power of "salutary" myths in guiding their role-playing games. Civilization itself would disappear without a handful of carefully crafted lies yapping at our feet like sheepdogs.

To further understand the wreck that is Goldman, you should read "Sir John Keegan is wrong: radical Islam could win." Using Goethe's Faust as evidence and the Ayatollah Khomeini as model, he recasts Al-Qaeda as the Great Satan. In what could only be described as nervous delusion and a strange channeling of the prophet Isaiah, he has a revelation. Al-Qaeda is invincible. Where the Nazi war machine failed, expect a handful of desert nomads to succeed. We will be brought to our knees (either in prayer or defeat). With that bombshell he drifts off into mood poetry:
"Evil for its own sake becomes imaginable only when the Christian civilization of the West abandons Christianity and stares into the abyss of its own destruction."
Will someone please translate that for me?

Digging deeper, in "CRISIS OF FAITH IN THE MUSLIM WORLD PART 2: The Islamist response" we find Goldman doesn't at all believe Islamic terrorists kill merely "for the sake of doing evil." It now seems modernization has created a "crisis of faith." The revolutionary Islamic radical sees "the seemingly unstoppable encroachment of American popular culture and modes of consumerism, and the transparent hypocrisy of the American rhetoric of universal rights and liberties." This creates a "sense of vulnerability and outrage." Additionally, and unlike the West, Muslims know the secret of infertility: "Urbanization, literacy and openness to the modern world will suppress the Muslim womb." So they fear "cultural extinction" even more than death. The desired response is "to create a new kind of totalitarian theocracy that orders every detail of human life." [2]

Goldman is pessimistic. "Of the world's endangered cultures, only one can and will fight to perpetuate itself, and that is Islam." Obviously this version of Muslim is motivated. He kills for self-preservation. Goldman makes culture a reason for self-defense. The plan is to goad us into doing the same for similar reasons. What happened to that carefully constructed idea that Muslims destroy merely "for the pleasure of destruction?" It's dropped when it suits him.

If we are still foolish enough to believe anything Goldman claims, he assures us we cast off the horrors of World War II through adept use of our greatest myths. These myths he collects into a package labeled "civil religion." Through civil religion Americans saw "a contest of good against evil, and thus were inoculated against the effect of" Nazi "terror and horror." We saw ourselves in "a crusade against the forces of evil." A super-powerful civil religion was used as "an instrument of American strategic aims." The Nazi "theater of cruelty did not bring down the West" because "America, at least, understood its war policy as a Christian response to radical evil." But by "Christian" Goldman doesn't mean Roman Catholic, Baptist or Methodist. He means a special sort of civil religion crafted by politicians and pundits, not theologians.

Therefore, America lost in Vietnam "when its government failed to persuade the public that its adversary embodied an evil so great as to justify the use of terrible countermeasures." That is, the civil religion disintegrated because the government failed to see its importance. It mothballed its super-weapon. A civil religion does not fail at the pulpit, it fails in the Presidency, in Congress, and in its political operatives. Civil religion cannot be trusted to the people because it's specifically designed to manipulate the people. The people must not eat from the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. They are incapable of processing "images of civilians burnt by napalm". (Goldman is so transparently Straussian.) Inevitably, "the face of the horror of Vietnam" led to "America's moral collapse."

Now, after witnessing planes flying into buildings and people jumping off burning towers, we have suicide bombers, torture debates and innocent civilians caught in the cross fire. Goldman fears we will lose our nerve, and with catastrophic effects. Why? Because we no longer have that good old civil religion, that special religion that allowed America to drop nuclear bombs on Japan and destroy German cities without a second thought. We caused "not only millions of deaths but also dreadful physical suffering upon noncombatants compared to which waterboarding seems trivial." This misplaced sensitivity is a catastrophe in an open, democratic society. Loss of civil religion permits a country to question policy. It doubts. It might even find a heart. Civil religion protects us from our natural hearts. It gives us permission to be barbaric -- as need requires. "How do we arrogate unto ourselves the right to inflict death and extreme pain upon innocents -- leave aside not-so-innocent terrorists -- without corrupting ourselves?" The answer: unflinching religious faith in the goodness of our mission. Without it, "we cannot envision the Good" so we "stand dumb and uncomprehending before radical evil." Our eyes will be open and we will see the horrors. With it, we are "inoculated against its deadly side-effects."

To neocons this nonsense passes for deep political philosophy. But at the very least Goldman should make up his mind. First an absence of religion creates a numbness and therefore a craving for any feeling at all, including horror. But the same godlessness lets us feel too much when we see the horrors of war. So which is it? Do the godless feel too much or too little?

We are told that in order to protect the homeland we must stop feeling -- terror and horror must have no effect on us. That would imply godless horror-freaks are a good thing. But, mysteriously, when those same godless consumers are "exposed to an enemy that uses horror as a weapon," they lose all taste for the product. So we are told to stop feeling. To do so we need to become glassy-eyed religious zombies.

On the one hand, for those lacking religion, "Terror and horror create at least some kind of feeling." On the other hand, the irreligious feel too much and that makes "the conduct of war too horrible for the West to endure." All of those hours watching horror movies didn't acclimate them to the real thing after-all.

Obviously these contradictions confirm Goldman is seriously confused. He has no idea what he believes. Straussians rarely do.


-- Don Jindra

Notes:

[1] - One problem is in deciding which genre fits some movies. Is The Amazing Colossal Man a sci-fi or horror? As a child it seemed a horror to me yet it's classified as sci-fi on imdb.

[2] - As a Straussian he has to blame "modern education" for that.